Pain of Love Part Two- III

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Grayne looked up at the hand-painted sign that hung over the door to the shop. Though he could not read the words he recognized the map of Westeros on the wooden sign and knew he had come to the place he could purchase a map.

Grayne took a moment to look at the other shops to make sure there wasn’t anything else he needed to purchase for his journey home. Standing in front of the mapmaker, his good eye scanned the businesses that were open on the quiet overcast afternoon. He had warm clothing, weapons and armor. Even a horse was stabled for him. He caught his own reflection in the mapmaker’s window. The northerner had put on weight now that he was eating regular meals, and more than a year of cross-country travel had redeveloped his muscles. He took a moment to readjust his eye patch over his right eye so it covered more of the scar. Even though he was what any but the most scrutinous observer clean-shaven, he felt his own face for stubble and was displeased to find some. His years in a stagnant windowless prison had left him with an unquenchable thirst for cool air and no tolerance for facial hair. He stopped to shave no less than three times each day.

In the window’s reflection he saw a figure exit the weaponsmith’s shop across the street. He noted the figure carried an unsheathed blade in his hands and was armored in chain mail. Grayne turned to get a better look at the fighter.

Horrible recognition crashed onto his face like waves upon the shore.

Grayne knew the man, though he couldn’t make out his face from across the street. The armored man had long blonde hair tied into a ponytail that told Grayne he was not a commissioned soldier, for no military in Westeros would allow their men to have such long hair.

The figure watched with trained interest as Grayne strode determinedly toward him. As Grayne walked, he drew his sword in a swift, almost angry motion. The blonde soldier did not move as Grayne approached. The soldier’s naked blade remained loosely held across both of his hands. Grayne stopped a few feet away, close enough for a sword swing and stood there, his sword at the ready. Several people stopped to watch, paralyzed and uncertain of what was happening or what to do.

The blonde man simply asked Grayne, “Have I wronged you in some way, ser?”

Grayne scrutinized the man for long moments, long enough for him to doubt his actions. How could this man be the man I think he is? It is insanity! I am three-hundred leagues and a year from where and when I encountered him. I never saw him clearly, yet I know it is him!

A single voice shouted for the guards, yet Grayne and the man never took their eyes off one another. Finally Grayne spoke. “You took my eye.”

The man smiled sheepishly and said, “How do you know it was me?”

“I know not. But by the Gods old and new, I know it is you.” And with those words, Grayne attacked!

With both hands on the hilt of his greatsword, Grayne brought the blade down in a downward strike, fully intent on cutting the warrior in half from crown to crotch. However, the pony-tailed warrior had other ideas and sidestepped Grayne’s blade easily and tapped the greatsword with his own blade to create a perfect ping of metal on metal.

A woman shrieked.

Grayne stood before his opponent with his larger sword before him in both hands. The other man simply held his blade in one hand with his body facing sideways. The men began clanging their blades together as Grayne sought to cleave his enemy in two, while the other man kept Grayne’s larger blade at bay, while seeking an opening himself. The two circled one another while the sounds of their grunts and the clanging of their blades rung through the city streets. The melee lasted for a minute with neither landing any serious strikes, when a pair of city guards approached with swords drawn. “Halt!” they commanded.

The blonde fighter deflected another of Grayne’s furious attacks and said, “Lest ye wish to spend the night in the city jail, we’d better change our tactics.” Grayne backed away but did not take his eye off his opponent, his two-handed sword at the ready.

The guards approached the combatants cautiously, “Throw down your blades!”

“Men, men”, said the blonde warrior thrusting his sword point in the ground so that the blade stood straight up harmlessly. He held his hands out palms first in surrender. “My friend Grayne and I were just testing the balance of my Valarian steel blade I just had re-hilted.”

Grayne looked quickly at the man and back to the guards. “Yes, sers. My friend…”

“Talbit”

“…my friend Talbit, and I were just practicing.”

“You!” a guard shouted at the man with the Valarian steel sword. “Kick your blade over to me.”

Grayne saw several more reinforcements running down the road to assist the two guards. He said to the blonde man, “Our situation worsens. We cannot let them take us. You will never see your Valarian sword again.”

The man nodded and said, “And I suspect you have had enough of prison cells. “

Grayne laughed for the first time in a very long time as the five city guards encircled them. “More than enough.”

The clang of steel and the sounds of combat lasted less than a minute.


 

“Who are you?” Grayne asked seemingly to his empty ale.

Talbit,” said the blonde warrior, patting Grayne on the back. Innkeep, two more ales!” he said with a shout.

The bartender came quickly and refilled both of their mugs. “Sers, you have had twenty-two ales between you. I must insist on settling your tab before I can let you continue drinking.”

Talbit flipped a gold lion to the man and said, “Keep them coming every ten minutes until one of us passes out.

The innkeeper greedily snatched up the coin and said his “yes sers”, and became obsequious again.

“It is you, isn’t it? The knight on horseback.”

Oh, aye.”

“Eye?” said Grayne standing up. “Is that some kind of joke?” he said, pointing at his eyepatch with feigned anger. His legs became tangled in the stool and he fell over to uproarious laughter from Talbit and the other tavern patrons. Talbit leaned over and with a mighty pull, yanked Grayne unceremoniously to his feet.

“Let’s get some air,” suggested Talbit as he firmly pushed Grayne toward the door.

The two stumbled from the stuffy, smoke-filled bar and into the cool night air. Grayne lifted his face to the sky and relished the cold air on his face. The two men clumsily walked with arms around each other, each trying to remember the words to a Marbrand drinking ballad.’♫…in flaming fields, we praise ye ♫” they ended the song in separate keys, neither of them correct.

“Grayne, I want you to have this,” said Talbit.

Grayne didn’t turn his head to look at his new friend and teased him saying, “I told you, Talbit. I’m not drunk enough to look at your tiny shillelagh. Save it for the tavern wenches.”

“No, you drunk idiot. My sword. I want you to have my sword. For my remorse. For your eye.”

Grayne stopped and slowly turned. Talbit held the naked blade before him as an offering. Grayne put his hands on the smooth, almost blue steel of the Valarian steel broadsword. The metal came from a continent far away and only the richest men carried a weapon of the finest steel. Many lords and knights would sooner lose a son than a Valarian steel blade.

’Tis the finest weapon I have ever seen.”

“Take it. I want you to have it.”

“I am not worthy. I am not the swordsman you are. I am a three-legged horse compared to you.”

“I can teach you. You have what no other man I have ever seen has. You are the toughest man I have ever met! Or even heard about. Even the mighty Bjorn the Indomitable of the Age of Heroes would have been lucky to carry your codpiece. When that soldier hit you over the head with the flat of his blade and his sword broke! I thought he was going to shit himself!”

Grayne chuckled and smiled at the memory of the fight they had been in hours before. He turned away from Talbit and the blade. “I haven’t the time for lessons, Talbit. Nor can I take on the responsibility of such a weapon. After what I have endured, I simply don’t have it in me to care for such a fine weapon.

“What is it, Grayne? Where do you have to be?” Talbit asked with sincere concern in his voice.

He turned back to face his new warrior companion. Grayne opened his good eye wide, smiled, and said, “I am trying to get back to Summer.”

Pain of Love- Part Two- I

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Grayne woke with a start. He threw off the blankets that covered him and struggled to stand. A pale-skinned woman with curly black hair stood from the chair by the fireplace and rushed over to him.

“Grayne, you need to take it easy,” she said urging him to return to the bed.

“Who are you?! Where am I?” he demanded from a crouched position. He looked ready to spring and his single good eye scoured the room. He acted like a wild cornered animal although he was still emaciated and could barely stand. In fact, he looked as if he might topple.

The black-haired woman spoke in a soothing voice. “Grayne, we are at the Cardinal’s Roost, an inn in the town of Falnook. We left Farzan and the Citadel weeks ago. I am Raven. Do you remember me?”

Her words seemed to take the fight out of him and Grayne fell backwards onto the bed. “Yes, I do remember.” He put his hand over his damaged eye and felt a patch covering the grisly opening. He struggled to remember and said, “I am so very tired.”

“You have been asleep for twelve hours,” Raven said as she moved over to the table near the door. She brought a tray and set it on the edge of the bed. “I have apples and milk.” She held out an apple segment for him to take. “I didn’t think you’d want bread,” she said lowering her eyes bashfully.

Grayne snatched the apple piece from her hand and ate it voraciously. “Go slowly,” she warned. “You will make yourself sick. You need time to adjust.” She handed him another piece of apple and took the knife from the tray and began to cut more segments.

Grayne ate the second piece more slowly, but he still eyed her suspiciously, like a wild animal, as though she might take the apple away from him. She handed him another piece and began to pour milk from a pitcher into a metal cup. As she handed it to him, she asked, “Who’s Summer?”

Grayne’s eyes narrowed. He threw the cup full of milk aside and it splashed onto the wooden floor. With strength borne of anger he grabbed Raven by her black hair. She screamed and he took up the apple knife and placed it against her neck. A line of red trickled down her porcelain neck.

Desperately she cried out, “You said her name in your sleep. Please, I meant nothing by the question.”

He let out a guttural noise from his toothless maw. “What is this? Is this a trick?” Years of physical, emotional and psychological torture left him with the belief that even this could be part of Farzan’s cruelty. “Answer me, or by The Seven I will cut your pretty throat without a second thought!”

“Grayne! No, this is no trick! Farzan is imprisoned by your house.” Grayne tensed up at hearing Farzan’s name. “I swear to you, I only want to help you.”

“Why?!” he asked as the blade pushed deeper into the flesh of her neck.

“I…I,” she stammered. “I want to repay you for what I have done to you. For the years you lost. For…for my role in..” she trailed off.

“I don’t need your help!” he shouted as he pushed himself off her while still holding the blade at his side. “I don’t want your help,” he said just above a whisper.

“Grayne, I will do anything to save you. Please, you have to trust me.”

He turned back, and in a flash was back upon her. “I have to?” he asked with a pink gummy smile. His single grey eye bore into her skull before he pushed her away.

“On the table there is a small leather bag. Please look in it,” she said short of breath.

Grayne looked at her for long moments, searching her face for a clue as to her motives. Finally, he rose off her and moved unsteadily to the desk. He lifted the brown leather bag and looked back at her. The bag was light. He expected it to be filled with coin, perhaps a consolation for her participation in the years of torture he withstood. He looked at the bag and back at her.

She looked down at the floor as she said, “Go ahead. Open it.”

Grayne pulled the bag open and peered inside. He squinted as he looked for several long moments, trying to comprehend what was inside. “Is this a joke?” He threw the bag at her, but Raven did nothing to defend herself from it. She simply let it hit her in the face. The brown bag flopped onto the floor and its contents spilled out onto the oval rug underneath her.

Splayed across the floor were thirty-two teeth.

Pain of Love 10 (End Part 1)

Grayne heard the distant sound of horns and wondered if they were part of his dreams. He dismissed the idea, because he rarely slept deeply enough to dream.

He remained still and listened.

Again he heard them. His muscles were weak and his body was bruised and mangled, but his ears were sharper than they ever were. He spent most of his days listening to the sounds beyond his prison and imagining the forms those sounds belonged to.

He listened for the return of Farzan.

Minutes passed and several times he heard the sound of booted footsteps running outside his prison. He remained lying on the floor, listening to the thrum of troop movements, feeling their unified booted footsteps passing on all levels of the keep he had been a prisoner within for almost five years. He felt a feeling he had not felt for as long as he could remember.

He felt hope.

That hope suddenly washed away as the heavy wooden door to the ten-foot chamber he lived in opened with a clang. Farzan entered the chamber with a rapid clack of his heavy boots. In a flash of motion, Farzan stood above the withered form of Grayne with a blade at his neck.

“You win, Grayne. I know not how you have survived all these years, much less resisted giving me the one thing I wanted from you. Troops from your family house are here and it is likely that they will take the keep. That is why I have decided to kill you.”

From the stone floor, Grayne looked up at his torturer. Though he lacked the strength to resist the sword-wielding man standing over him, his one deep blue eye continued its defiance. The other was milky white and bore a deep scar from the top of his right cheek across his eye and to his forehead.

Grayne’s toothless smile grinned up at Farzan. His ghastly mouth and grotesque eye seemed to mock his torturer. “You almost had me. I was planning on saying your lover’s name later this evening,” Grayne mocked him. “Let’s make a deal. If you can hold the keep until the Hour of the Wolf, I will say his name.”

Farzan was not amused. “You won the game, northerner.” The black-bearded masochist prepared to thrust his blade into Grayne’s exposed throat. Grayne did not resist. He could not stand much less defend himself.

Grayne’s lethargy turned to action and he suddenly yelled, “No!” Suddenly a hooded figure was upon Farzan, but he sidestepped and managed to avoid a fatal strike. Instead, the blade jutted out of his left breast. Blood poured from the wound as he pulled himself from the blade and his attacker.

Stumbling away, he dropped his sword and turned to see the hooded form of his female assistant. She was defenseless, but he was too stunned to attack her. He just stood there as soldiers entered the room.

Three men of house Marbrand entered the torture chamber with blades barred. One pointed his sword at the robed woman and another prevented Farzan from fleeing. The final warrior approached the beaten form of Grayne and started to cut him down. His sword wouldn’t cut the thick chains, so he began to look for keys.

In seconds, the soldier found the keys and freed Grayne. He slid off the torture rack and the soldier struggled to keep him upright.

“Why, Grayne? Why did you save him?” the hooded woman asked.

Grayne answered her with a question of his own, “What’s your name?”

“Raven.”

“Raven, this man’s life is mine to take. I will kill him in time.”

The soldier that freed Grayne unsheathed his dagger and held it out to Grayne. “Go ahead.”

Grayne looked for long moments at the man who had tortured him for years. He stared with his one good eye at the now-powerless Farzan and slowly shook his head. “No. Not like this. One day, when we are both at full strength.” He smiled a horrible toothless smile and said, “I need him to fight back.”

Pain of Love 9

“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.

Pain of Love 8

Grayne swung under the scorching rays of the summer sun. His body hung limply at the end of rusting chains supported by cruel hooks that had days ago stopped hurting. He felt only a buzzing numbness as he slipped in and out of conciousness.

At first, his prayers to the Seven were verbal, but now were silent as his voice was too dry for words. He had prayed for escape and bloody retribution, but now he silently wished for the strength to survive to be with his beloved Summer again. The image of her soft hair and smile kept him alive, the memory of her gave him the mental strength to endure.

Even the peasants that had enjoyed the public brutality he had been sujected to had long ago lost interest as his screams had faded away.

Grayne suddenly became aware of a fluttering and a weight upon his right shoulder. He turned his head until he could see a black raven perched on his shoulder with his left eye. The vision of a flail impacting the right side of his face was the last memory he had with that eye. He only felt discomfort from the area his eye once was as the dead eye was exposed to the elements without even an eyelid to protect it.

The raven cawed at him. Grayne tried to shake the bird off but was reminded painfully of his situation as the sharp hooks dug deeper into his infected flesh.

“Go away. Scat!” Grayne commanded the black bird. Though ravens were routinely used to send messages between men rich enough to afford such beasts, he suspected this was an ordinary wild crow.

He believed, that is, until it spoke.

” Whatcha doin’, Grayne?” the bird asked.

Grayne hissed at it, trying to frighten it to flight. “Well, that’s a fine howdyado,” it responded.

He knew he was having a fever dream, but the raven looked and sounded real enough. The legends spoke of ravens being the messangers of the gods, but they only sent ill omens and he didn’t believe in such childlish stories. “You’re not real. Now go away and let me die in peace.”

“Fuck all that!” it said flapping its wings but remaining on his shoulder. “You ain’t gonna die. What about Summer?”

“She’s better off without me.”

The raven turned its head away from Grayne and said, “That’s the truth. She’s a fine piece of meat, she’ll find a new man with no trouble. Especially with how you look.” The raven turned back and shrieked in alarm. “Ye Gods, man. What’s wrong with your eye?!”

Grayne said nothing.

“Looks painful. It is, isn’t it?” The raven bobbed up and down with excitement. “It’s all pusy and WHEW does it stink!” It scrutinized the eye with a diecerning vision. “Yeah, that’s got to go.”

With his good eye, Grayne saw the raven open and close its beak as it moved closer to his face. “No. Don’t!” he shouted.

“It’s got to go.”

Grayne screamed as the raven pulled the dead eye from its socket like a worm from the ground. Peasants slowly returned with grim humour to watch and laugh as the raven tugged on his infected eye until it was torn free. They clapped as the raven flew away with its grisly prize, leaving Grayne sobbing and moaning with renewed agony.

A Boy and His Weren

An Alternity story starring Tuk and Geo

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Arcady, the Fra’al pilot said as he looked up from his breakfast. “How did an eight-year-old human boy and a bloodthirsty Weren become such close friends?”

Tuk, the gargantuan Weren raised one eyebrow and looked up at Arcady, slowing his rapid ingestion of a plateful of less-than-cooked meat. A thread of food hung from one of Tuk’s tusks. Arcady tried not to snicker. “Uh, ya got something there,” he said thrusting a thin finger at one of Tuk’s larger teeth. Tuk grunted and pulled the offending piece of meat from his tooth and ate it.

“I am not eight years old. You forget, while I appear eight, I have only been alive for thirty months.” Geo didn’t look up from his data pad. The food on his plate remained uneaten and his juice had barely been sipped.

“Right,” said the Fra’al pilot, remembering that Geo was a genetic construct who possessed uncanny and incalculable intelligence and agility. “Tuck, care to fill me in on this no-doubt riveting origin story?”

“Okay,” the bestial Weren mumbled with a mouthful of food.

 

“Would you knock that shit off?!” roared Gunny. The human leapt to his feet in anger and stormed over to where the boy was scraping the stone walls of the shared prison cell with another smaller piece of stone. Gunny waved his arms frantically at the symbols the boy had scrawled on the wall. The etchings filled an entire ten-foot section of wall with seemingly meaningless symbols, numbers and calculations. “What are you doing?! You’re driving me crazy!”

“There is no reason for my work to suffer during my incarceration,” said the boy without halting his scrawling.

Gunny pushed the boy hard from behind. He slammed hard into the wall and crumpled to the floor, dropping his stone carving implement. “Knock it off!”

“Hey!” roared a gravelly voice from the other side of the cell. Gunny and the fifteen other prisoners turned to see an enormous Weren striding toward the boy and the aggressive man. The Weren stood almost seven-feet tall and his thick muscled frame was covered in bristly grey fur.

Gunny put his hands up at shoulder level with his palms flat in a gesture of non-hostility. “Tuk, I don’t want no trouble, but this kid needs to take a break. Right?” Gunny looked to the other prisoners for confirmation. All he received from the other tired and frightened men were blank stares.

“You okay?” Tuk asked, helping the boy to his feet. The boy nodded and stood slowly. When the boy was standing without assistance, Tuk turned back to Gunny and said, “C’mon, man. We’re all under a lot of stress and the kid is trying to deal with it the only way he knows how. You know, with math,” Tuk tried to muster a smile, but his bottom teeth jutting out caused his smile to make him look even more terrifying than he already was. “Now, say you’re sorry.”

Gunny grumbled out an apology and shuffled his way back to where he was sitting. Tuk turned to the boy and saw he had resumed his calculations. “That’s a fine thank you,” Tuk said to the boy.

“What should I be thanking you for?”

“I just saved your butt.”

“I could have handled him.”

“Ha!”

“You disbelieve me? I understand. If it were a matter of age or size, this man would have the advantage.” Geo dropped the stone and strode over to where Gunny was sitting. “Stand up,” he said. Gunny laughed and stood up. “Now, attack me.”

“What? I’m not gonna…no,” he responded looking at Tuk sheepishly.

“One-One-Five-Nine,” the boy stated as if that statement would mean something to the burly alien.

“Huh?”

“This man is right-handed and none too intelligent,” Gunny scowled at the boy’s analysis. “He has survived any physical conflicts up to this point by sheer size and not through formal training.” The boy, who looked no more than seven years of age grasped Gunny’s right wrist. “One. He will attack me with his right hand,” the boy held Gunny’s right wrist up, indicating that his right arm was indeed number one.

“Let go.”

The boy let Gunny’s arm fall. “One-one. I will use my right hand to catch his wrist and use his forward momentum and mass to throw him…five… into the metal bed spine-first paralyzing or killing him-Nine.” Gunny laughed loud and pointedly and the boy said, “Even though I have told him what I will do to him, he lacks the basic intelligence to alter his mode of attack.”

Tuk smiled and asked, “Can you do it without breaking his spine?”

“Of course.”

Gunny roared, balled his right hand into a fist and swung it downward at the boy’s face. In response to the clumsy attack, he snapped his head back and in the same movement grasped Gunny’s wrist in his right hand. In a fluid move, almost too fast for anybody watching to comprehend, much less Gunny, the boy yanked the man’s arm across his own body. With a twist and a bend the seven year-old boy flipped the much larger man back-first into the metal bed. There was a sickening crunch and a pitiful whine from Gunny and silence.

A prisoner checked his vitals and confirmed, “He’s dead.”

The men in the cell exploded fearful into conversations and mutterings.

Tuk looked down at the boy and said with a mixture of annoyance and awe “I thought you said you wouldn’t kill him?”

“No, you asked me if I could do it without breaking his spine. I confirmed I was able to do so,” said the boy, resuming his work on the wall.

“You Weren, you’re up,” a guard shouted through the bars to Tuk. The distant cheers of spectators of the arena could be heard behind the guard. “You can pick your partner,” the guard said.

“Hey, kid, what’s your name?” asked the four-hundred pound Weren of the seven year old human.

“Geo.”

“I pick him,” said Tuk to the guard. “I pick Geo.”

 

Arcady blanched at Tuk’s story of violence. “That’s sweet.”

“I like this kid,” said Tuk, placing his gigantic paw on the Geo’s shoulder. “I feel like he’s come a long way.”

“And I feel you have become better at iterating the meaning behind your statements and questions,” Geo said, seemingly to his data pad. His Weren father-figure guffawed in response.

“You guys are a perfect match,” said Arcady wiping his mouth and leaving the two to their breakfast. “Perfect.” he mumbled as he walked away.

Pain of Love 7

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Grayne swayed at the end of jagged hooks, and as he slipped in and out of consciousness, the event that brought him to this moment tore through his mind like the hooks ripped into his flesh. He remembered the soldiers that pushed him into the large officer’s tent. A table and chairs, a bed and even a large bathtub adorned the spacious tent. Croget’s head and shoulders were visible in the bathtub which made sloshing sounds as he moved. The room smelled damp and of jasmine,

He was shirtless and his back and chest were adorned with many red lash marks.

Croget stood up and water flowed from his naked body as he stood there. Grayne looked at the young man with contempt for he had no signs of wounds or scars one would normally gain during military training or the accomplished service of an active knight. In fact, Croget’s lean form showed no sign of having done any manual labor in his entire life. He looked not unlike a twelve-year-old boy with a man’s height.

With his effeminate lisp the man-boy said, “How rude of me. Let me hide my shame.” And with that he stepped behind a semi-transparent partition that had the darkened shapes of trees painted on it. Grayne could still see the Croget’s silhouette as he put on a robe. Croget took extra time behind the barrier grooming himself, and as he did so, Grayne sprang into action.

In one fluid move he swept his handcuffed arms under his legs. With more range of motion he was able to pick at his skin on his shoulder where a sharp wound had healed leaving a jagged bump and  raised scab. Grayne could see Croget through the vanity veil and seemed to be shaving his chest with straight razor. Croget said loudly, “I think good grooming is important, don’t you?” Grayne gritted his teeth as he pulled the metal out from under the skin on his shoulder. He clutched the metal piece in the palm of his hand. Blood was flowing from his shoulder and he swung his feet up over the metal links that restrained his hands as Croget emerged from the transparent barrier.

Croget approached Grayne slowly and deliberately. Each one of his steps looked dramatic, if not pathetic, due to his boy-like features. As Croget came closer he noticed the trickle of blood coming from Grayne’s shoulder. “Oh my!” he exclaimed. “What have they done to you?”

Croget brought over a towel and pressed it against Grayne’s bloody shoulder. Croget gasped again as he saw the lashes on his back and chest. He leaned in close and Grayne could feel his captor brush his lips against his back. Grayne cringed as Croget breathed hot breath into his ear and said, “I’m sorry they did this to you.”

Croget moved around in front of Grayne and traced his finger along his chest before walking away. Grayne unclasped his hand and began to work the very simple metal lockpick into the keyhole of his restraints. He feared the job would be impossible without being able to see the lock, but he was desperate.

With his back to Grayne he picked up a sword that the wounded northerner had not noticed before. Croget swung the blade through the air in a few practice swings. Grayne could hear the rapier slicing through the air. “You may be wondering how I came to such a high military rank at such a young age. I’m not just a pretty face,” Croget teased. “I am one of the finest swordsmen in Westeros, if not the known world,” he bragged. “I also studied military tactics and history under some of the finest minds.’

Grayne worked as fast as he could while trying to keep the metal scraping from making any noise. Every scrape sounded like an alarm of metal pots and pans falling off a high shelf, to his ears.

Keep talking, fop’, he thought.

Grayne held his breath as Croget turned and walked toward him. “Would you like to see my blade?” Croget asked with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his lips as he paced.

“Yes, sir,” Grayne feigned interest and respect with two words.

Croget held out the rapier in front of Grayne for inspection. “I cannot tell you how much it cost,” he said with a smile. “Trust me, it was significant.” Grayne saw more jewels on the basket-hilt rapier than he had ever seen in his life.

“Do you like it?” Croget asked.

Grayne paused as he worked on the lock. The tumbler was quite complex. There were in fact two, so while he held one down he bent the metal pick in half and worked on the other. “It is quite fine,”

“I so wish you could see me use it!”

‘I bet you’re fast,” Grayne said and with a satisfying click the manacles fell off his wrists. Suddenly Grayne was on his feet and closing the distance between him and his enemy. Croget was stunned and before he could raise his blade or scream for the guards, Grayne had his hands around his neck. Croget let out a tiny shrill screech that was not unlike a bat. “Not fast enough,” he said. Grayne was sure the guards had heard, but he kept on squeezing the life out of Croget. The fop’s face turned bright red as his mouth tried to pull air into his lungs.

As he anticipated, guards stormed into the officer’s tent with swords drawn. Grayne spun to face them as the last gasps of life slipped from Croget’s throat. With a final gurgle, he expired.

“He’s killed Lieutenant Croget!” one of the guards yelled, cleverly describing the situation. Grayne pushed the dead man’s form into the two guards and bent down to pick up the fine rapier that Croget was moments before showing to Grayne. As they struggled to steady the body and lower it to the ground respectfully, the young northern warrior sliced a long gash in the tent’s fabric, and without hesitation he jumped through the opening and into the camp.

Shouts of alarm emitted from the tent as the two guards shook off their confusion. Grayne used the cover of darkness to hide, but the structures were few and far between. He moved between the officers’ tents without being seen and was moving his way toward the fenced-in area for horses as the encampment erupted in activity. He could hear the rapid double clang of the camp bell followed by several seconds of furious noise. Soldiers huddled around campfires were on their feet and arming themselves.

“Halt,” shouted a voice behind him, but he did not turn or slow to acknowledge it. He did increase his pace to an all-out sprint.

An unarmed soldier appeared out of the darkness and grabbed Grayne around the waist and lifted him off his feet. He brought the basket hilt of the fine sword down on the back of the soldier’s head. Before the man could force Grayne to the ground, he was unconscious and lying face-down in the dirt.

Grayne took a moment to compose himself and get his bearings when he heard the rapid beat of hooves. He turned and saw a horse and rider in full gallop bearing down on him. The rider was swinging a spiked flail alongside the giant horse, and before he could raise his sword in defense or leap aside, the horse and rider were upon him. The last image he saw was the rider bringing the flail down upon him in an overhead strike. His world went black as the flail slammed down upon the right side of his face.

With a gasp, he awakened from his fevered dream. He still hung from the metal hooks as the sun beat down upon him. A teenage boy with a basket of apples stood staring at the wounded soldier. Grayne would have salavated if he had any spit left as the boy took and apple out of his basket and crunched into the delicious red flesh. The boy continued to stare at Grayne as he munched away. “What happened to your eye?” he asked.

Overhead, Grayne saw a black crow descend in a slow circle. It let out a shrill screech as it floated in a downward spiral, occasionally blotting out the sun with its onyx feathers.

Pain of Love 6

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The hot sun hung high in the sky as the soldiers pushed the bound and gagged Grayne toward the hangman’s structure. The soldiers in their heavy armor sweated under the heat of the intense summer sun. As they forced him up the stairs and toward the opening through which many men had dropped to their deaths, Grayne frantically looked for an escape. With a furious eye, he searched the guards desperately and struggled against his bonds. His efforts were useless as his restraints were too strong and the guards too well armed for any escape.

As the guards and their prisoner stopped at the top of the stairs, Grayne took in the scene before him with horror. Where once was a rope attached to the roof of the structure there were now cruel jagged hooks attached to sturdy chains. The rusty links waited unmoving.

“Do you like the modifications I made?” came a familiar voice from the yard below. The silver plate mail of Farzan was blazing in the midday sun and Grayne squinted against the reflection.

The guards removed the northerner’s gag. He defiantly spat in Farzan’s direction. “You are a twisted man, Farzan! You can do whatever you want; you won’t get anything from me,” he said with less determination.

“I’m glad. It gives me the opportunity to test my new apparatus. I dare say this torture device will be copied by all the kingdoms soon enough. You have the pleasure of being the first test subject. Unless you wish to spare yourself the ignominy of this fate.” The cruel knight paused, and when Grayne was silent he simply said, “Very well.” With a nod of acknowledgement to his men, they roughly forced Grayne to the edge of the pit and as he was struggling they began viciously inserting the hooks into his flesh. One hook pierced the flesh of his back, two sliced into his armpits, two more into the soles of his feet and the final one was jammed into the tender meat between his balls and his ass. The men laughed roughly while Grayne shrieked. And without another word the men pushed him into the wooden opening.Grayne plummeted, but before he hit the ground, his descent halted as the hooks and chains did their job. His weight slammed into the hooks as the chains reached their limits and Grayne howled louder than he thought possible. Even the men who seconds before had laughed cruelly at the helpless man winced at Grayne’s torment as he swayed and writhed in agony at the end of the chains.

“Let’s see how a few days swinging in the hot summer breeze affects his mood,” the cruel knight said, but there wasn’t anyone who could possibly hear him over Grayne’s howls of pure agony that pieced the air.

 

Pain of Love 5

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“Look at the teeth, boy,” Grayne’s father said with awe ringing in his voice. From their concealed location on a rocky overhang, the boy and his father had an excellent view of the slaughter. Even though they had a higher position and were upwind of the dire wolf, Grayne wondered if they should move away before beast finished her meal.

The ten-year-old boy and his father had been on the trail of the pair of cows that had wandered from the herd. This was an unspoken lesson to the boy that although there was strength in numbers there wasn’t much in the seven kingdoms that could stop a dire wolf.

“What do we do?” he whispered. The boy had learned much from his father in ten years. The man was cautious, but never afraid. The strength and wisdom of the gigantic man was enough to banish any trepidation from the boy’s heart and mind.

“Nothing we can do. That cow is dead and I’m not gonna risk our lives to avenge its death,” his father said through a forest of red whiskers. “Though, a dire wolf pelt would fetch many coins.” He seemed to consider the idea for a few seconds and shook his head vigorously to clear the notion from his skull. “We’ll go back and tell old man Rynyn that his cows are dire wolf food, and I’ll begin work on a stronger fence.”

Grayne could not take his eyes of the monster feasting on the not-quite-dead cow. Its powerful jaws took great bites out of the wounded animal. The boy blanched as the salty fetid aroma of the poor beast’s blood and entrails wafted into his nose. He turned away trying to hide his reaction from his father. He tried not to feel sorry for the poor creature as he heard the wolf’s jaws rip the juicy flesh from its bones.

“C’mon, boy. Let’s go before she decides to make us dessert.” Grayne’s father pulled him to his feet and the two moved hurriedly away from the grisly feast.

They ran through the forest for many minutes until Grayne’s father slowed and Grayne was more easily able to match his speed. “Let that be a lesson to you, son.”

“Sir?” Grayne looked up questioningly at his father.

“You’re never too young to learn this knowledge.” His father looked down at him and said, “Though she may be beautiful, never forget that the female of the species is alway more dangerous.”

“Yes, sir,” Grayne agreed as his father tousled his hair.

With the mystery of the missing cows solved, father and son walked quickly and quietly through the leafless late-autumn forest. Grayne soon forgot the scene of death behind them and became entranced by the sights and smells of the wilderness. He was wondering silently where all the animals were when a “Wssst” from his father stopped him mid-stride. He turned slowly to see the big man a few dozen meters behind him. The man seemed paralyzed, frozen in place scanning the forest for something unseen and deadly.

“Grayne. Run!”

The boy didn’t hesitate. He spun and sprinted as fast as his legs woud carry him. Dry branches and leaves cracked and snapped furiously as Grayne trampled over them in a tremendous flurry. He didn’t dare turn to check if his father was behind him, but the man made enough noise stomping through the forest that Grayne knew he was catching up.

As he traversed a small hill, Grayne lost his footing and slid painfully face-first into a steep wet valley. Branches and stones slowed his decent as he came to an undignified halt. Slowing only slightly, his gigantic father scooped him up with one arm and continued his rapid downward decent. Jumping over downed branches and stumps, the man barreled the forsest down. Although the two were in incredible danger, Grayne was never afraid for he knew there was nothing alive, man nor beast, his father couldn’t handle.

From his perch on his father’s shoulder, Grayne craned his neck upward and looked at their path of destruction into the ravine. Deep cuts in the earth where his father slid and jumped were alongside his own smaller openings. There were no signs of pursuit.

Suddenly he saw her and his heart stopped.

At the top of the hill stood a magnificent beast. The monstrous she-wolf that had killed the cow hours ago stood sniffing the air, seeming to see their trail with her nose. Then she lowered her head and looked directly at him.

His father lifted him from his shoulder and suddenly Grayne was face to face with a tree limb. His father commanded, “Grab it, boy. Climb! As far as you can! Climb!” Grayne grappled the jutting tree limb with his arms and legs frantically.

By the time he swung around and looked down at his father, the big man had unslung his axe from his back and stood ready. The mighty two-handed chopping axe looked small compared to his giant of a father and pathetic compared to the female dire wolf that was just beginning her rampaging descent toward the two.

The big man did not look away from the she-beast. “Grayne, climb as far as you can. Do not look down! Do not stop climbing!”

Grayne scrambled to find branches to raise himself up, desperate to follow his father’s orders. He panicked when a branch snapped under his weight, but he lashed out and grabbed hold of another stronger branch, narrowly avoiding crashing to the ground.

He risked a glance and saw the she-beast leaping catlike from stone to open ground and to a rocky outcropping as she combined her jumps with coordinated running to speedily and safely make her way toward her prey. She was grace and power incarnate. Grayne swallowed hard and kept climbing.

In a moment in which time stood still and the forest was silent, Grayne heard his father’s final words. The forest was quiet, and even the monster seemed to slow and hold her breath.

The forsest was hushed as Grayne heard his father say, “I love you, son.”

The monstrous juggernaut slammed snarling into the man with the force of a runaway boulder. The two rolled along the forest floor in a chaotic pile of snarling teeth and violent curses. In moments, the fight was over. The outcome was never in doubt for any concerned as Grayne heard his father’s final moan seep from his already-dead lips. The crunching of bone was mixed with the boy’s flood of emotion as the creature shook the last bit of life from his father with her blood-filled jaws. He wept uncontrollably from his perch.

The dire wolf released her kill and looked up at Grayne with cold blue eyes. Grayne stopped sobbing as her gaze calmed him with its piercing fury. Fresh from the hunt and the kill, her eyes were alive with joy. She left the dead man as she moved toward the tree, but let out a shrieking whimper as she took her first step. Grayne could see her right front leg was crippled, smashed apart with his father’s axe. Now with the energy of battle gone, the reality of her wounds hit her.

Confused and hurt, the beast dragged herself a few paces away from the dead man and the treed boy. Blood still dripping from her jaws, she paused on the snowy ground and licked her wound. The man’s blood mingled with her own as she began the fruitless task of caring for her mangled leg.

His father lay there, looking like a bag of meat, no longer the man of power and wisdom Grayne had idolized for all of his short life. Anger filled his stomach giving fuel to his emotion. The embers of sadness and grief turned to a firestorm of rage in his gut as Grayne began to climb down the tree. He moved quickly and heedless of his own safety or the scrapes and bruises he sustained as he clambored down. He dropped the last few feet and landed on all fours next to his father. Blood was still pouring from the man’s open neck.

The boy’s face was blank and did not show the sickening heat in his stomach as he picked up his father’s bloody axe. The axe was only meant for chopping wood and not intended for battle, yet it looked enormous in the hands of the boy barely more than four feet tall. He found the strength to lift it, however. Unwavering, he carried the axe over to the wounded wolf. Her eyes looked at him and their power was gone. Once a mighty killing instrument, she was now weak and feeble.

The boy’s grey eyes returned her stare with cold determination. Grayne raised the axe, and with strength that belied his size and age brought it down on the once-ferocious wolf. With a single blow he split her skull in two and ended her suffering.

He turned away from the dead creature and toward his own dead father. He dragged the axe, which was suddenly made of lead, to his father’s body and set about the task of burying the man deep enough in the cold ground as not to be unearthed by anything or anyone.

The ten-year-old boy had ended the suffering of the wounded dire wolf, but his had only just begun.

Pain of Love 4

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“By the Seven, what in the bloody hell are you smiling at?!” exclaimed Farzan as he dragged the wickedly curved blade along Grayne’s bare chest. The eighteen-year-old northerner simply smiled in response to his stomach and chest being slowly sliced open. Farzan grimaced in frustration as Grayne seemed to stare through him with a stupid grin. Farzan resisted the urge to plunge the knife into the young man’s heart and be done with it.

Farzan shouted an unintelligible, guttural sound and stormed away from the stone table. He flung the bloody knife to the floor with a hollow clang.

A cloaked and hooded figure scurried to the door behind the dour-faced torturer. A gentle pale hand reached out from the dark robes and kept the door from swinging closed.

Farzan ran his hand aggressively up his own pale face and pulled his black hair in frustration. “It has been almost a fortnight and still he does not break! Two weeks of painful torture and he continues to test me!” the hook-nosed Dorn said to the robed minion who followed him through the stone passageways. “How does he resist?”

“Master Farzan, may I suggest changing tactics?” said the feminine voice from deep within the robes that lapped at his heels.

“What are you going on about?” he said as he halted suddenly, causing the robed woman to step aside to avoid colliding with him.

“When a man becomes accustomed to pain, he becomes immune to it,” she said, avoiding his furious eyes. “Grayne’s body will give out before he yields.”

Farzan grabbed her wrists suddenly and pulled them painfully towards him. She gasped with pain as he demanded, “Never say his name! He will not say Croget’s name; he does not deserve a name of his own!”

“Master, he will die if you continue like this,” she pleaded. Her hood fell away as she struggled to pull her hands away. Curly black locks fell chaotically around her porcelain skin. “You have to give him time to heal.”

Farzan stared at her suspiciously and after a lifetime of his penetrating gaze said, “Yes, perhaps you’re right,” He cast her away and said, “If he will not be broken by physical torture…” Farzan murmured to himself as he walked away, leaving the cloaked assistant behind him. She pulled her hood up over her black curls, and her pale face sunk into the shadowy recesses of the cloak.

The torturer’s assistant returned to the room that contained the bloodied and beaten Grayne. The northern man was naked and lashed to a flat rack that leaned up against the far wall. His eyes were closed, but he breathed shallowly, letting her know that he yet lived.

She pulled a bucket of soapy water next to the rack and dipped a rag into the tepid water. She began to clean his wounds on his chest and face with great care. She took time to not only clean every horrible wound, but to also clean the dirt and sweat from his entire well-muscled body. Although he slept, he had a silly grin on his face. The woman tilted her head questioningly at the man and continued washing. As she cleaned his thighs he seemed to smile more, but when she reached his genitals his eyes shot open and his smile became a hard, stern line. Their eyes met and her hood fell away revealing her fair skin. Her curly black hair fell over her face and her dark eyes closed as her face flushed in embarrassment. She stood and dropped the cloth into the bucket.

Without looking at Grayne, she suggested, “If you do what he wishes…if you say what he wishes, I can convince him to spare your life.” She pulled her hood up, again and busied herself cleaning the torture equipment. “He will listen to me.”

Grayne spoke for the first time in a week. His voice was low and raspy as he said, “I don’t think he listens much to you. In fact, I know he has no respect for you.”

“You know nothing about him. He is a very powerful man, with many responsibilities!” she said as she wiped a long blade clean of Grayne’s skin and blood.

“I know you want him to notice you. You desperately want him to notice you,” Grayne said, finding sick amusement in the reversal of torturers. “However, his heart belongs to another. It belongs to a young man with a limp wrist and a poor sword arm, whom I killed,” he said with a smirk. “It’s impossible to compete with a corpse, isn’t it, my dear?”

“Shut up! Croget was a respected companion! You don’t know anything!” She screamed as she advanced upon the naked and injured form of Grayne.

“I’m sorry, m’lady,” said Grayne with a genuine smile. “I’d bow, if I could…” With a suggestive downward glance he concluded his emotional assault by saying, “Now, where were we?”