"Supplies and personnel are low along the Veredon border, my lord." the Captain replied. "There are skirmishes regularly, but Veredon does not press the encounters. Our scouts indicate that they are similarly pressed for supplies and men."
"Have there been any breakthroughs?"
"None of consequence, sir. There have been minor breaches as there have always been, but they have all been contained quickly."
"There has been some advancement made near Nefreda, but that is marred by loss of near equal territory in the hills by Hallowfel."
"Stake the commander near Hallowfel to the bulwarks."
"You heard me Captain." said the Lord of Brelenn. "Strip his uniform and stake him to the bulwarks. Anyone who tries to help him is to be shot. He belongs to the rats now. Give the uniform to anyone in the vicinity who seems to know the difference between their rear and their head. Order the new commander to select a bulwark of his own. Tell him also that if he hasn't recaptured the territory in two months time, then he needn't wait for my order, but to go lie upon it himself."
"Yes, my Lord Sewall." the Captain swallowed.
"What of the Ingardian border?"
"As you know sir, there has been little action there. Ingard and Veredon continue to contest their shared border. Most of the troops on both sides are stationed there."
"An advantage like that squandered by that fool at Hallowfel. Damn."
"There has been no significant action on the border with Aureniol."
"I should hope not, considering the arrangement I made."
"Should we move more troops from the border with Aureniol to press the advantage in Veredon my Lord?"
"No." Kurnod Sewall, Lord of Brelenn said flatly, "I trust Lord Hebrik as little as I do any of them."
The Captain continued to deliver the reports to Lord Sewall as he paid half an ear of attention. Kurnod Sewall had not become Lord of Brelenn through diplomacy or tolerance. He had slaughtered his way to the Lordship of the province. His brutality was born from desire to conquer, to achieve, though he took no delight in it. He was no savage who got thrills from gutting those around him. Kurnod Sewall had a thorough intolerance for incompetence and failure. Anyone who failed him was put down like a feral animal, or worse. Any man or woman or child who obstructed his progress, who denied him his wishes was made a gruesome example to others.
Again, it wasn't out of illness or delight; it was out of disappointed indifference that Sewall ordered their executions. Lord Sewall had things that needed to be done, and would suffer no excuse or delay. He simply cast aside those who failed him and put someone else in place. He would burn the entire Province until he found enough people of necessary competence if that is what it took.
Lord Sewall hated his title. He was not some paltry Lord of Brelenn province. He was King of Therona, or at least he would be when he finally found a handful of people that could execute his instructions faithfully. That none of the other six Lords of the provinces of Therona would recognize his claim, even as they pressed forth claims of their own to the long vacant throne mattered not at all to him. He was the rightful king, because he chose to be. Not by lineage or fealty of anyone to his claim, but because he had the unwavering will to seize it.
Lord Sewall waved the Captain away when he finished his report.
"My Lord, there is one more item that may be of interest to you." the Captain said hesitantly. It was risky for anyone to presume to tell the Lord what he should be interested in.
"A prisoner broke out of Holhauer Correctional Centre in Purdun. As yet, she has not been caught or killed."
"Has there been no report on her whereabouts?"
"It is possible that she escaped across the Ingard border my Lord."
Lord Sewall looked intrigued by that bit of news for the first time in the entire briefing. "Is that so?"
"A woman matching the description of the escapee, wearing what appeared to be a prison outfit evaded a further attempt to capture her near the village of Houghle. Her evasion appears to have been aided by a companion who assaulted the local constable. A chase was set, but they had to abandon it when the suspects were presumed to have entered the border zone."
The Lord Sewall sighed with exasperation. Was anyone in this province competent, even in the slightest? He reached across his desk and grabbed a piece of paper and a stylus. He penned a short note and gave it to the Captain.
"Read this, then deliver it personally to whom it may concern. Follow my instructions precisely Captain."
The Captain nodded and bowed.
"And rescind the order to shoot the prisoner that escaped."
"I would like to meet her and her companion, if they should ever decide to return to territories under my control. Ensure that when they are captured they are brought to me, Captain."
"It will be done my Lord."
Several days later the Captain had arrived at Holhauer prison. He had sent advance notice of his arrival, and saw that the prison had been ready to receive him. The floors were cleaned, as immaculately as one could expect from a prison in any case. The guards were attentive to their duties, and had he not been mistaken, there were far more guards manning posts today than he would normally have expected.
"Take me to the warden." the Captain ordered the guards who received him at the gates.
They led him across the well groomed yard of the prison and into the main complex. A few prisoners on cleaning duty saw the Captain approach as he was led through the building, but they did not dare to look at him. It was no secret who he was, and while nobody knew why he was here, everyone knew who he worked for. There would be bloodshed today.
The captain was led into warden Elise Bowden's office. She rose from her desk when he entered. She did not quaver, did not beg or show fear. He respected her for that much at least.
"I have been instructed by Lord Sewall to investigate the matter of the escape of one of your prisoners."
"I have prepared a report for you on the matter." replied the warden. "It should include all of the information you require for your investigation."
The Captain admitted to himself that he was momentarily stunned by the warden's forthrightness. He handed the warden the letter from Lord Sewall in exchange for the report.
"Give me a moment to read the report, and I'll see if I have any further questions before we proceed."
"Of course, Captain."
The Captain read the report. It was one of the most beautifully written reports he had read in his time serving Lord Sewall. It indeed contained all of the information he had been asked to learn, and then some. It was concise but thorough, made no excuses for the incident, and laid out a series of recommendations to ensure it never happened again, all of which had already been enacted. The Captain saw no flaw in the report or the recommendations. The warden waved over one of the guards and issued a set of instructions to him before he disappeared back out of the office.
"Show me some of the work that has been completed."
"Of course. Follow me, Captain."
Warden Bowden led the captain with an escort of armed guards through the prison. The warden's investigation surmised that it was likely that the inmate had escaped into the maintenance area near where she had been attacked, using a set of keys that had been identified to be missing from one of the guards that had responded to the attack. The Captain inspected the new fencing that had been installed along the pipe access ways. Prison maintenance would be more difficult with the fencing installed, but there would be no chance of a similar escape. Every access to an adjoining space from every maintenance room in the entire prison had been sealed. Additional measures had been put in place in the pump room. More guards had been posted in the corridor where the attack had occurred.
"Your remedial actions have been thorough."
"I trust that they should be adequate to prevent any similar incident."
"I would agree." the Captain responded. "Let us proceed."
"Of course Captain."
The Captain and the warden and their escort joined the waiting guards in the yard.
"Your efficiency is to be commended, Warden Bowden."
"I would not presume to waste Lord Sewall's time."
"I will mention that in my report." replied the Captain. "Whenever you're ready, warden."
Warden Bowden didn't have to explain to the two guards who were standing in the yard why they were there. They already knew. She gave them both a look of understanding, and they returned it.
There were eight guards positioned in front of Stuart and Esther, the two guards who had torn inmate Coraline Gerrand off of inmate Peregrine Stephens on the day Peregrine escaped. Coraline had tried to murder Peregrine, and had just choked Peregrine senseless. In the struggle that ensued, a set of keys had fallen from Stuart's belt, which Peregrine used to escape when she regained consciousness.
Esther and Stuart stood without restraints, as they stared ahead at the guards in front of them. A tear fell down Esther's cheek.
Eight shots echoed through the yard, and the two guards collapsed to the ground. There was normally a different process for executions, but the warden knew the Lord Sewall personally. She knew his methods and how he operated. It didn't surprise her that his instructions in the letter were clear.
"Check them." the Captain ordered.
Elise Bowden walked over to the bodies on the ground. She crouched over Stuart's body and checked for a pulse. He was gone. She moved over to Esther. She exhaled for the last time just as the warden put her fingers to Esther's neck to check for a pulse. A few moments later, after confirming that she was dead, the warden stood.
"It is done." she said to the Captain.
"Follow me if you would Captain." the warden said, as she led him back inside.
She stopped at the solitary confinement processing desk, and with the Captain beside her she addressed the desk clerk and pronounced her own sentence.
"By order of Lord Sewall, I am to be confined to a solitary cell until such time as the escaped prisoner Peregrine Abigail Stephens is found and recaptured."
"Yes warden." the guard acknowledged. He fumbled through some papers, trying to find something, but it escaped him as the Captain and warden waited. He finally simply assigned her a cell he knew to be unoccupied. He'd complete the paperwork later. "Cell six."
The warden undressed herself and walked into the appointed cell. She closed the door herself and stood in the dark with no clothing of any kind, nothing which might be used for self harm. No bed, no pillow. Just a cold bare floor and a bucket to relieve herself when needed.
The Captain waited a few moments as he looked at the door. He saw the warden through the window, standing stoically, looking back at him. He shook his head and said nothing as he turned to leave the prison. When she heard the Captain leave, the warden finally sat down and steeled herself against the solitude. Most prisoners emerged from solitary confinement having varying degrees of mental scarring, and that was only after a few days of confinement. Elise knew she would not be leaving alive, and so prepared herself to do what must be done before there was nothing left of her faculties to do it.
The lifeless body of warden Elise Bowden was removed from the cell two days later. Had she not seen all of the ways that inmates had killed themselves over the years as warden of several of Brelenn's prisons, she would probably have not known how to do it. Had she not seen what happened to those who endured extended isolation, she might not have had the conviction to end her life on her own terms.
Elise Bowden had denied Lord Sewall the punishment he had decreed, but when the report was delivered to him he admired the woman's act of defiance. Perhaps she had been competent after all, he thought.