“Hey Red,” said Andrews.
“Andrews,” Redajinn replied with a nod from inside the confines of the cell he shared with the others.
The cell at the Quentin estate was rudimentary. It was little more than a iron cage in one corner of the storage barn. Other than the odd poacher, or drunken serf, the cell rarely got used. Redajinn suspected that he’d been in it more than most.
“What they got you in for this time?” Andrews asked. “They won’t give me details.”
“That,” Redajinn replied, “is a long story.”
Andrews had been the estate physician for as long as Redajinn could remember. He was also the estate’s executioner, even though he had never been called upon to perform that duty beyond a bit of flogging.
The old man was balding with just a ring of grey hair. He wore small round glasses that caused him to constantly squint and walked with a limp from where a yak kicked him when he was young.
“How’s that back of your’s doing?” he asked.
“That ointment you gave me helped, but it’s pretty scarred up.”
Strange that the person who gave Redajinn those scars was also the person who tended to him afterwards.
“Be glad they didn’t get infected,” Andrews said. “We had a serf who got whipped this past summer for beating their wife. Too much of a drunk to give a damn about looking after their wounds. Got infected and died a week later.”
“Moonfather,” Redajinn exclaimed. “Anyone I know?”
Andrews shook his head.
“Nah. He only joined in the spring. Came from Laird Munroe’s apparently. He was trouble there as well.”
Redajinn looked back to where the others sat slumped, their backs against the iron rails.
“Think we’ll be getting a flogging tomorrow?” Redajinn whispered. He was sure that he and Drummond, and possibly Marli as well, could handle being whipped, but he wasn’t so sure how the youngsters would fare.
“Quentin’s on one tonight,” Andrews replied. “Has asked Freeman to rig up the gallows.”
Redajinn swallowed hard.
“You think he’ll go through with it?”
For all his faults, Quentin was largely a soft touch. Some of the Northern Lairds would never tolerate people living off their lands, and would have scorched the far side of the mountain to ensure that no poachers were hiding out there. No-one had been executed on this estate since before Quentin’s grandfather’s time.
“Harvest was poor,” Andrews said, pointing at the space in the usually overflowing barn. “Can’t been seen as weak when he’s going to have to ration supplies over the winter.”
Understandable thought Redajinn. It didn’t bode well for them though.
“Hey,” said Andrews, doing a poor job to sound hopeful. “You know how often he changes his mind.”
Redajinn looked back at his group.
“You reckon he’ll do one of us to make set an example, and then flog the others?”
Andrews reached through the bars and patted his friend’s shoulder.
“I’d prepare them for the worse,” he said grimly.
Redajinn was tempted to ask Andrews to help them escape. But he knew that if Quentin was in the mood Andrews was reporting, it would be Andrews and not them hanging if he aided them.
“I understand,” Redajinn said.
“I wish I could do something,” Andrews said. “I’m sorry.”
Andrews turned and head back towards the main building.
“Let’s hope he changes his mind,” he said, doing a poor job of sounding optimistic.
Redajinn walked back to the group.
“So what’s the escape plan?” Jaxx asked. “Or do we plead mercy once again and appeal to Quentin’s sense of fairness.”
Fairness? Redajinn thought about the scars burned into his back. They may have escaped Quentin’s justice a few times over the years, but that had long been changing.
“He’s planning to hang us all,” he said bluntly.
That made them all sit up.
“Hang?” Gynea exclaimed. “For what?”
“They did find us on his property laden with fruit,” Marli said.
“Technically,” Jaxx said, “it wasn’t on his property.”
“You try explaining that to him, kid,” Drummond huffed. “Not surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. He’s always been considered weak and needing to make a show.”
“And we’re going to be the main entertainment?” Gynea asked.
“Been living too easily for too long, girl. Marli has done a good job of keeping both you youngsters safe but you need to face up to the realities of the world.”
“We did nothing wrong! As Jaxx said, the fruit didn’t even come from his property. How is that fair?”
“World ain’t fair,” Drummond huffed. “Sooner you learn that…”
“Enough,” said Marli. “We’re not going to get out of this by arguing with each other.”
“I don’t feel well,” Gynea complained clutching her stomach.
The girl could be overdramatic a lot of the time, but Redajinn could hardly blame her for feeling sick at hearing she was likely to hang. And as usual, instead of leaving it, Drummond had to stick in the knife.
“No wonder, amount of fruit you ate. That could have fed me for…”
“I said enough,” Marli barked.
She turned her attention to Redajinn.
“None that you’re going to like,” he said. Given that harsh winters tended to follow harsh summers in the Clanlands, no serf would be willing to risk expulsion to set them free, whatever they offered. Not that they had anything to offer.
Their best options either laid in fighting their way out and hoping that one or two of them made it out before Quentin’s guards cut them down; or Marli trying to plead with her father, hoping that the familial bounds would give rise to mercy. Quentin had never been the fatherly type and Red suspected he wasn’t going to start now.
“We’re screwed,” Gynea complained, rocking back and forth.
She was probably right.
“Shh,” said Marli trying to comfort the grief-stricken girl. “Getting wound up will just make you more ill.”
“Maybe if you let off one of your mega-farts we’ll all die from inhalation instead,” said Jaxx, trying to be funny. And failing.
“Jaxx!” everyone said in unison.
“What?” he protested before mumbling to himself. “Better than hanging.”
Redajinn sighed. To think to have discovered something so wonderous as a tear in the world, and then never be able to fully appreciate it. If he got out of this, either alone or with the group, he’d go back to that world and he’d make it his home. Whatever dangers it held – and like every place, there would always be some danger or other – it couldn’t be as bad as here.
“I think I’ve got a lump,” Gynea complained, reaching for her back.
Drummond just sighed.
“At least if I get hanged tomorrow, I won’t have to listen to your constant moaning,” he grumbled.
Marli stared at him but Drummond just shrugged. If he was a dead man walking, he didn’t have to care about upsetting the others any more.
“They could have a least left us the fruit,” Jaxx said. “I’d like a final meal before I go.”
Redajinn took them all in, perhaps for the last time. They’d been his family these past few years and he couldn’t bare to lose a single one of them, for all their faults.
He looked up to see Freeman at the cell door.
“Not even going to wait until morning?” Redajinn complained to him. At least give him one last night together with his friends.
“Shut up, Red,” Freeman replied. There was something about his tone that suggested something was very wrong.
“I need you to all come with me,” he said, adding, “now.”
“You ate that fruit we found you with?” he asked.
“We all did,” he said. “Why?”
“All three of my men who tried it just died. And in the most horrific way imaginable.”
The characters are now starting to find their feet and the story is in motion. This makes the story a little easier to write.
However, if I were coming back to this, I’d look at the conversation and ask if it could be tightened up, more tightly focused.
I’m also someone who is very light on description in my initial drafts. I’d be looking at the existing descriptions (such as the character descriptions of Andrews) and ask if I could tighten it up at all