“Wake up, my love. Happy nameday!”
Grayne propped himself up on one arm as his three children stormed into the bedroom and leapt onto the mattress stuffed with goose feathers. The two black-haired boys wrestled with their father as the youngest girl, his red-haired daughter, smiled by the foot of the bed.
He looked past the battle and standing there, hair aflame in the sunlight was Summer, his devoted and beautiful wife. “Boys, boys, let your father eat his breakfast!” She shooed the boys away and presented Grayne a tray overflowing with meats and breads. “I will be back with juice and beer.”
“Thank you. Thank you, all,” he said wrapping his arms around both boys. “It all looks so delicious! It’s a good thing, because I’m famished!”
Grayne awoke with a start. He was curled-up and shivering on the stone floor, and as usual, naked. His unkempt brown hair was shoulder-length. His skin had a yellowish hue, a combination of lack of sunlight and a lack of nutrition. The deficiency of appropriate foodstuffs was evident in his frail frame. The once heavily-muscled, young man in the prime of his life and in peak physical condition now looked like a man three times his actual age.
He never slept well and was prone to frequent interruptions of his sleep pattern. He awoke to a noise and was instantly on alert. The sound of a key in the heavy and rusting iron lock of his metal prison cell roused him from his fitful rest. His eyes squinted at the light originating from the lanterns that seemed suspended in mid -air. As his eyes adjusted, he made out the shadowy forms of the armed and armored guards. His eyes opened wide in surprise at the figure behind the soldiers. Farzan’s boots made a clacking sound with which Grayne was all-too familiar.
“Farzan-the-Mighty! Long time no see, old friend,” Grayne cackled trying to stand.
One of the guards ended his attempt to rise with a kick to the jaw that rattled his teeth and sent him crashing into the stone corner with a thump.
Farzan strode past the guards and stood before Grayne’s crumpled form. “Every time I return from the field I half-expect you to be dead.” He crouched down in front of the naked bruised man, his leather armor creaking as he moved. “However, I am pleased to see you alive. It means our fun is not at an end.” He motioned to the soldiers and they picked up the naked prisoner roughly. Grayne mumbled something and Farzan urged him to speak louder.
Grayne struggled to speak. “I said, I would like to see the manager of this inn, the service is terrible.” He smiled a crooked smile as the soldiers strapped him to the cold steel table that was already stained with his own blood.
“I grow tired of this,” growled Farzan.
“Then why don’t you let me go?” Grayne asked. “We will call it even. Months of torture as payment for the death of whats-his-name…Rodderick!”
Then he saw her. She walked into the cell quietly enough and hidden by the shadowy illumination of the lanterns resting on the floor. He knew not her name and had seen little of her form beneath the dark hooded robes. He had caught glimpses, and his brain filled in the gap for what his eyes could not see.
She strode quickly and quietly, and stopped beside Farzan. Grayne saw she carried something metal, and before she lifted the lid, he smelled what was inside the metal serving tray. The enticing smell of cooked goose wafted from the metal lid and he almost lost consciousness.
Farzan said, “Smells good, doesn’t it? I am giving you a choice, old friend.” Farzan punched the last word with a sarcastic blow and held out a small metal item. At first Grayne thought it was a dagger, but upon further inspection saw it was a dental tool, a small metal item used to pull a rotten tooth from its socket. As a child, he had been a victim of a tool similar to the one before him, and the memory of the shooting pain it brought caused him to close his eyes tightly.
“You have three choices. You may stay here in this cell and continue with your diet of toilet water every other day and moldy bread twice a week.” Farzan paced dramatically. “Or, you may have a bite of this succulent goose,” he said with a flourish and the robed woman lifted the lid to reveal the fresh cooked goose. Grayne gazed wide-eyed and the scent overwhelmed him and he began to drool.
Farzan turned back to Grayne suddenly, and said, “But, the food comes with a price. For each bite, I will take one of your teeth.” Farzan raised the dental tool. “Or,” the torturer took a deep breath before continuing, “You can say his name and I will grant you the sweet release of death!”
The robed woman coughed quietly as Farzan’s words lingered in the air with the smell of spiced cooked goose and dried blood. Seconds passed as Farzan waited for an answer.
Grayne mumbled something.
Farzan punched Grayne in the forehead. He leaned in so his face was almost touching Grayne’s. “Speak up, boy! What shall it be? Delicious cooked goose?” Farzan paused and then he said, “Or death?”
Long moments passed as Farzan breathed heavily on Grayne. “I’m sorry. It’s been a while since I was this close to a man. The last one was a bit lower. He had my sword and scabbard in his mouth, if you catch my meaning. What was his name?”
Farzan reeled back in fury as the soldiers rushed forward. “Hold him tight, men. Keep his mouth open.” Before Farzan went to work brutally extracting Grayne’s teeth, he whispered, “You could have had goose.”
Grayne closed his eyes tightly as his mind drifted to his imaginary family. Though his illusory reflections distracted his mind, they did not eliminate the pain of the removal of each and every one of his teeth.