Restless bones

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Fear having given way to anger, he stood in his cell, rolling his shoulders around in their joints, flexing his neck from side to side and making sure his legs were loose and reactive. The blackened, rusted bars of the jail were before him; elsewhere all was crumbling brick. The cell was small, too small in fact for him to lie on its floor outstretched. His scalp brushed the wet, mossy ceiling. Beyond the bars was another wall, with the corridor running perpendicular. They'd led him down it like a dog, and he remembered the pleading tone of his voice as he'd shouted at that damned head of security.

At first he'd thought they might toss him off the edge of the mesa the moment they found him over Kirya's body; or else he expected a quick stab to the gut or slash across the throat. Instead they shackled him and brought him below, for which he had been momentarily grateful. Having dispensed with the sense of imminent death, he'd had time to assess his situation for what it really was: a farce, an insult and a mistake from which the pompous royals of Lagonia would not recover.

So he stood, refusing to sit or lie on the filthy wire rack of a bed that was squeezed along one wall. He would stand until he was free, or until he'd died trying to escape. When they came for him, they would find him ready and enraged. He would tear through the palace like the animal they'd supposed him to be, proving all of their theories correct, and he wouldn't care. Who here would report back to those few who knew him back in Hollanhead? The people of this valley were lost and isolated and imprisoned, perhaps more so than him at that very moment. He regarded the cell's bars once more, noting the recursive captivity that seemed to define the country and its people, and how bursting from his rusty cage would likely prove a simpler feat than leading the inhabitants of Lagonia out of their cocoon.

It wasn't the first time he'd been in jail, but being accused of assaulting an heir to the throne was new. It was evident that Fenris Silt had doubted the guards' word, ordering him to be left alone until the doctor's report arrived. Silt was a stubborn old man who wanted to be everyone's father, but Tranton couldn't deny that he was still pretty sharp. It was one of the reasons he wasn't unduly worried about his incarceration: the old man would see to it that sense prevailed, though it might take days, or weeks, or months.

Hence anger, not fear. Anger he could work with, and sculpt, and harness. At the sound of a door being scraped open somewhere in the maze of corridors, he clenched his fists and straightened his back. Footsteps approached, heavy and male, accompanied by the audible shifting of metal on cloth that indicated an armoured person. Perhaps an over-eager guard wishing to demonstrate his loyalty to the crown, or his love of the princess - that was something he wouldn't put past the romantic fools that lived in this ridiculous valley.

Roldan Stryke sauntered into view, his thumbs thrust into the pockets of his trousers, a concerned grin plastered across his face.

"Wasn't expecting it to be you," Tranton said, maintaining his less-than-friendly posture.

"They figured you'd appreciate a friendly face," Stryke said, his voice indicating he was already aware of the ludicrousness of the statement.

"Then why'd they send you?"

Stryke shrugged. "I said the same thing."

Taking a single step closer to the bars, Tranton tried to look sideways out of the cell, but couldn't see more than a few feet. "How's the girl?" he asked instead.

"Alive," Stryke said, "and they tell me she'll be fine, with some rest.

"Good. Anything else?"

"They know you didn't do anything," Stryke said. "I'm pretty sure they know you were trying to escape at the time, but they're willing to let that go."

Tranton grunted. "Is that right?"

"On one condition."

"Open this cage door and we can talk."

"You need to agree first," Stryke said, sighing. "They're very particular about this kind of thing."

"Open the door or this conversation is over."

Stryke took his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms in front of him, glaring at Tranton. He let out a deep breath and actually chuckled. "They didn't spend weeks in the cold west with you, "he said, "which is why they think you're open to bargaining. I know how you work."

Tranton raised his chin. "Think so?"

"You'd rather rot in here than do as you're told. Or you think you'll find some other way out." Stryke reached inside his jacket and pulled out a set of keys. "Either way," he said, beginning to unlock the door, "I've got better things to be doing than stand here arguing with you."

Swinging the door wide open, Stryke stood opposite Tranton, one hand resting on the hilt of his sheathed sword. Tranton cocked his head, then turned around and presented his bound wrists.

"You know," Tranton said as Stryke began to remove the restraints, "once those are removed none of you are ever putting them back on again."

"This way," Stryke said, throwing the shackles back into the cell and walking away down the corridor. "You're never to speak of this again, especially Princess Kirya's condition," he continued as Tranton followed him down the dim tunnel, rubbing his wrists where the metal had dug in. "You are also to be announced to the kingdom in two days' time, when the king calls for a week of celebrations. They're naming a festival after you."

"They'll probably regret that one day," Tranton snorted. "Don't go tying your mast to me just yet."

"Too late for that," Stryke muttered. "After the festival concludes you'll be given an honour guard who will take you wherever you please. You will also be given a significant allowance while in the valley, so that you are able to live and travel comfortably."

"Quiet money," Tranton stated. They thought they could buy him - a man who had jettisoned all of his belongings and achievements to cross the Barrier Mountains. And there was no way he was going to explore the valley with a bunch of uniformed idiots in tow.

Stryke laughed, low and drawn-out. "I'm telling you what they told me," he said, "I don't care whether you listen or not. Point is, stick around for a little longer and then you'll be on your way, problem-free."

"Sounds to me like they still want me to dance to their tune." Playing along for now made sense, he knew, even as it grated on his patience.

"If it were me I'd take it," Strkye said. "People like you and me don't get an offer like this every day."

"Me and you, huh?"

Strkye led them both out of the cells and up into the more convivial foyer of the security wing. Indicating a box sat on a table in the corner, Stryke said "I believe those are yours." The box was empty, save for the deactivated hilt, which he picked up, hefted in one hand, then re-attached to his belt.

"So the king went from wanting me strung up to making me the hero of the land?"

"Royal blood," Stryke noted. "They get to do whatever they please."

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