Chapter 1: Misery Loves Company
Traitor. Backstabber. “Beast with no leash.” Those are but a few of the names that he was branded since the turmoil began when he left the city of Valenhold, the largest city in the southern part of Crimea. Once being in the great company of well-respected elites of the nobility and cherishing the union they had forged together over the few years he was in it, the future looked to be bright for the growing nation: that is, until a series of events would eclipse that future and plunge the continent into chaos once again, as it had occurred only several decades ago. Only this time, there would be no quick truce to stop the ensuing bloodbath; there would be no martyr to plead for peace from the conflict; there would be no dawn to pierce away the darkness; no, only disorder would remain.
Now surrounded by cold walls of stone and only the evening sky to cast a ray of light into the dark open cell that he now resided in, the prisoner hung his head down to reminisce on the situation at hand. For the last four days, he had been questioned and whipped to within an inch of his life by the Lord Inquisitor and city guards for the whereabouts of his fugitive father, the supposed “traitor” of Valenhold. With two councilmen left slaughtered along the city ramparts and only a few leads as to who had done the deed, the Lord Inquisitor was furious to find out who was involved, and would utilize any resource at his disposal to ensure that justice was upheld for the crime. But viciously torturing a youth of good standing for information of all things? What kind of justice could feel right for such an act? No matter the circumstances he had so quickly been put in, be it true or not, the broken youth that lay chained to the wall of his cell could only focus on the task at hand: surviving another night alone. *shiver* “Keep it together…endure… persevere. Otherwise my…lessons will have been a waste,” Jude murmured lowly to himself.
His name was Jude Magress and he was the oldest son of Lord Rowen and the late Lady Elaina Magress, born into a family that placed honor and etiquette above all else in the household, at least for whatever it was worth nowadays. He was an average built youth with a shaggy dark blonde haircut and beaming eyes of blue that currently resided under his beaten brow, left to that of a homeless man from the six days he had been incarcerated for a crime he knows nothing of. He sat quietly along the board of his “bed” with nothing but the dirty collared shirt and trousers he wore when he was apprehended to retain whatever humanity he was left with. He clutched his left shoulder in pain, still freshly broken from the beating a few days ago, which now accompanied the many lashings that still plastered his back from the whippings. Amazed by his own vitality (for being fit but with only some muscle), Jude didn’t quite feel the sharp pain that gripped him just a few days ago from the broken shoulder and arm, even the though the least could be said from the lashings that still stung him every time the medic came for his shower and to dress the wounds. Why did it even matter: the following day would host a new round of torment to occur again anyway. It wasn’t like the Lord Inquisitor enjoyed torturing the youth. He was working against the clock to find the boy’s father. With each passing day, Rowen could have extended the distance from the city and found a place to seek shelter while the Valenhold authorities still had no leads to work with. And with the rest of his family already dead from the mysterious murder that occurred several years ago, it was only natural to assume that the main person who could lead them to him would be his remaining son.
Jude shook his head furiously at the thought. His father was one of the most respected nobles in the city and had always supported efforts for Crimea’s favor. In his own right, Lord Rowen was a voice of the people, which had earned him great respect from Duke Fry and the rest of the council (except for the stubborn Lord Bryce). He protested every day to the Lord Inquisitor that he knew nothing and that his father was a gentleman. However, he also mentioned that his father was a man of many secrets, even to his family. Jude tried to assure the Lord Inquisitor that his father was no murderer and that it went against everything he stood for as a man, but still the man remained unconvinced of his guilt and that only viable proof would be enough to show his innocence. Unfortunately, Jude didn’t have the luxury of providing proof while he remained constantly chained in iron shackles and under the ever watchful eye of the City Watch. Day by day, he was lead to the castle courtyard for his beatings and then promptly back to his cell. He felt so alone and confused since it all started and wished he could find answers for himself as well as for the Lord Inquisitor. “Why was I brought in?” “How long will they keep me here?” “Why did father flee and leave me behind?” Jude pondered these questions for the last few days while he was alone, only having a solace to know that somehow he would get out of this. He always seemed to have a knack on relying on his instincts and good fortune when things got rough, and he wasn’t about to give up on it then. Shaking out of his trance, Jude peered off toward the metal bars of the cell door as he saw a faint light creep from the right of the wall, growing brighter with each passing step. Someone was coming. His first visitor in days, perhaps?
The main guard stood at attention as the figure approached, perplexed at the individual. “Master Cicero? Where is nurse May? I thought she was the only other person who had permission to be down here to treat Jude.”
With a gentle wave of his free hand and chuckle, the slender gentleman replied: “I figured the poor girl could use a break for now. She’s been through a lot I’d imagine, and I find it my duty as a gentleman to ensure she is taken well care of.”
“Heh, very well my lord. Shall I assist you with the dressings this evening?”
“Ho ho always the eager beaver on things I see Marcus” he said with a quick wink. “Well, I did run off and leave the pail by the dresser in the barracks before coming here. Could you be a gentleman and go fetch for me with some water? This could be a messy business without it.”
The young guard bowed gracefully to the older man, humbly accepting the task. “Of course. I trust you will be alright with Jude? I can’t say I blame him for being rough on anyone other than May for coming to see him.”
Cicero waved his hand playfully as the guard undid the door lock. “Nonsense. I’ll be fine.” He leaned in close to whisper to the guard before he left: “I do have a way with words on these matters. I’m sure he’ll be in good company this evening.” With a relaxed smile, Cicero patted Marcus on the shoulder before the youth left for the errand at hand, giving some alone time to the two “strangers” before he could return.
As the cell door opened, Jude glanced up at the guest before jumping off the bed in disbelief. “Master Cicero!” In an instant, the drained youth was once again spurred with energy at the familiar sight with a wide smile across his dirty face. Had he not been chained to the wall, he would have probably toppled the old man in a swift dive.
“Ho ho ho, Jude…it’s so good to see you again”, announced Cicero as he strode his way over to the open arms of the waiting boy, tightly embracing him in a bear hug. Cicero had been the main court butler for the council and nobility of Valenhold since he retired many years ago from outside service. Even though Jude’s father had only been a part of the council for a few years, Rowen had quickly developed a strong bond between Cicero after being introduced to him by Lord Stark. Though treating most of the families of the nobility like they were one of his own, that bond seemed to be strongest amongst the Magress household, as they had only a few initial friends to work with when they arrived in Valenhold. Dating back to his youth, Jude had once been tutored by Cicero and some of his associates (alongside Rowen) on the finer etiquettes of living, ranging from lore/social studies to training in hand-to-hand and sword combat. With the whole turmoil of the murdered councilmen and threats of war with Begnion on the rise, it came as no surprise to everyone when Cicero backed up Rowen’s side of the council on waiting for action from the capital before things got out of hand, as he was no slouch in the ways of thinking ahead on things. But with Rowen gone and his only son left alone in shackles, Cicero would be there for Jude more than ever.
“I never expected you to be allowed to see me down here,” spoke Jude as he sat back down on his bed.
“Hah, you should give this geezer some more credit. I still have a way with people as much as I did several years ago.” Jude nodded, knowing full well the reputation Cicero had with the both sides of the people in Crimea, no matter where he was. “But enough about me lad: I came to see how you were fairing. How’s that arm of yours?” Cicero knelt in front of the youth before motioning to examine the broken left arm.
“It doesn’t hurt as bad as it did a few days ago” Jude mentioned as he extended the arm slowly to Cicero. “I still feel a slight ache when I move it or lift things, but whatever that salve and lotion lady May used on it must be doing wonders for it. I never expected it to heal this fast!”
“Remarkable.” Cicero ran his rough fingers along the tanned skin of the arm as he inspected it, but being ever so tender to the touch. Taking a damp cloth he brought with him, he swabbed the dirt from the arm as he cleaned it carefully. “The young miss certainly has learned a great deal of healing from her studies, ho ho.” With the arm somewhat clean, Cicero took the ragged cloth and slowly wrapped it around the arm for more protection as he smiled up toward Jude who was most grateful at the gesture.
Unbelievable. Cicero thought to himself. No amount of healing salves could ever mend a broken bone that fast. And from the looks of it, most of the bruises except for his back look to be recovering much quicker. Cicero stood up as he got Jude to his feet as well. Heh. Then again, he does take after his father. I swear I’ll never get over how miraculous this gift truly is, no matter how many times I see it.
“Something wrong Cicero? You looked like you were in a daze there for a second.”
Stunned at the remark, Cicero quickly shook his head and brushed his brow with his hand. “Oh, I’m sorry Jude. Ho ho. It’s nothing” as he dusted the youth off on the shoulders. “Just having an old man moment that’s all” he said with a warm smile. “Now then, let’s get you a bath shall we? I’m certain you could use it.”
Before he reached the door, Jude stopped and stared at Cicero. “Wait Cicero. Before we do that, I have to ask you something” he said with a strong conviction in his voice. With a perplexed look that faded quickly to a serious face, Cicero stopped and waited for the youth’s question. Going off of his intuition, Jude could sense something was amiss with his friendly master. He felt there was something Cicero wasn’t telling him out front, mostly out of respect for him possibly. “This isn’t the only reason you came down to see me, isn’t it? I mean…you hardly ever act THIS cheery in tense times like this, even though I really appreciate it.” Taking a slow gulp, he continued: “But why did you really come down here?” With a slight motion of his arm, the old man leaned against the wall, a heavy look emerging on his brow as he spoke.
*sigh* “There isn’t an easy way to say this, so I’ll just come out with it.” Cicero turned his head to look the youth square in his eyes. “Jude, I’m sorry but we’ve run out of time. Tomorrow, by order of the council, you are to be executed in the public square for the murders of the councilmen.”