I was the first to wake up. I opened my eyes, where am I? I thought. The roof was completely made of stone. My bed, which I realized was the ground,  smelled like mold and felt like a prickly rock. I was afraid to move for fear that I would be stiff. I sighed, might as well get it over with. I heaved myself up with a groan. Yup, pain all over. Then I started to remember what had happened last night: the victory, the weird forest, the strange woman-thing, the castle...ugh. I was hoping that had been a dream...apparently not; I thought to myself as I moved again, setting off a whole new set of pain. 

I looked around, no one else was up yet, I had always been the early riser of the group. If experience is anything to go by, then no one will be up for a few hours...so I decided to have a look around the castle. I quietly slipped out the door, taking all my equipment with me. I slipped past a guard at the doorway completely unseen, he was asleep after all; really these people could use a lot more training, they would never be allowed to stay in the peace keepers. They wouldn't survive very long in a battle in our world, they would need to be much more on their guard. I suppose it didn't matter, they weren't, so I put the thought out of my mind and moved on.

I went farther down the hall and came to a door that led to a court-yard. When I got there I did not like what I saw. There were a bunch of run-down huts and then several windowless stone buildings.  People were just starting to wake up and move around. As I watched I saw a variety of different things in their eyes: hunger, desperation, pleading, and some were simply dead and hopeless. I was watched as a guard walked into the camp; how they all cringed as he passed them. One girl, she looked about fifteen, tripped as she went by the guard, splattering the guard’s boots with mud.

 “You filthy girl,” the guard shouted angrily, “how dare you get mud on me!” He bent down and pulled her up by her hair. 

She winced, “Ahhh, I’m so sorry sir! It was an accident!”

“Accident doesn’t cut it girl,” the guard sneered in her face as he slammed his fist into her stomach. She screamed and the guard threw her to the floor. “Let that be a lesson to you slave, respect your superiors.”

The girl lay in the mud, curled up and crying. I waited for the guard to move away and then went over to her. I didn’t bother to ask her if she was ok, “Where are your parents girl?” I asked, making my voice as kind as possible.

She looked up at me and gasped, “Pleas sir! Don’t hurt me! I’ll get back to work! I had just fallen!”

I was very surprised by her reaction, then I thought about the impression that my scared face must have made on her.

“I’m not here to hurt you, I’m not one of those guards,” I told her, “now where are your parents?” I asked again,

“Gone,” she said, still cringing, “they died last week in debtor’s prison, I was sent here to repay their debt,” she finished, starting to cry.  I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I picked up the unfortunate girl and brought her back with me.

When I got back I slipped past the sleeping guard and into our rooms, still holding the girl protectively to my chest.

“Where did you pick her up, and why?” Z.Z asked me as laid her down on the bed Z.Z had just recently vacated.

I looked up at her, “She has no parents, and she is a slave here,” I told her, my contempt of Lord Gustin and everyone else here oozing out of my voice, “look at the poor girl! Her parents died last week and she was sent here to be a slave!”

Z.Z.’s face fell, “Oh, I wish there was something we could do…” she said.

“I am going to take her with us,” I said, in a voice that not even Z.Z. ever dared contradict.

Just then the door opened and a guard came in, “The Lord Gustin will see you now,” he told us, then motioned for us to follow.

I looked at the girl, “You need to get up and come with us now,” I told her, she nodded, and got up as we left the room. The whole way to the audience chamber the girl stayed right next to me, cringing every time we passed a guard. How could they do this to someone so young?

Finally we got to Gustin’s audience room. It was a dismal, dirty hall, there was an empty hall-way, and then a huge chair with an enormous amount of cushions. In the chair was a grubby, fat little man with long greasy brown hair and shrewd little eyes. “So, I hear that you are the Peace Keepers from a land called London?” he asked/greeted us.

Z.Z. was about to speak up when I stopped her, “Let me handle this, we don’t want a repeat of what happened with the night last night…it isn’t worth it.” I whispered to her.

She grudgingly nodded, “Alright, go ahead.”

“It is as you say.” I said, my voice booming through the empty stone room, echoing off the walls.

“I have never heard of this ‘London’ you speak of,” he said, sounding like he thought we were lying.

“I’m sure you have never seen this either I said, pulling out a minor explosive from my pack, meant to scare, I flipped the cover and pressed the activator button, throwing it halfway to Gustin’s feet. It exploded causing Gustin to jump. I walked over to the explosive and picked it up, storing it back in my pack.

Gustin settled back into his seat, looking much more wary of us now. I saw a look of greed flicker across his face. He wanted that explosive, it was little more than a firecracker but he didn’t know that. Just then a guard recognized the girl, who had been hiding behind me, but had jumped away in fright when the firecracker went off. “What are you doing here you stupid slave!” He said, coming forward to grab her. She squeaked and flung her arms around my waist, trying to keep from being pulled away. I put my arms protectively over her “Don’t you dare touch her.” I growled at the guard.

He backed off with his arms held out in a placating motion. “That girl belongs to me!” Gustin said indignantly, “You can’t just take her!”

“You want to try and stop us?” I asked. Gustin sat back down, he had seen my explosion and was wary, no doubt his guard had told him about Z.Z’s shotgun too.

“I’ll tell you what though,” I said conversationally, “I’ll give you one of those things I just demonstrated in return for the slave girl and a good meal for me and my colleagues.” I said, indicating my squad.

“That’s preposterous!” Gustin said, “That might be enough to get you a meal, but not the slave girl too!”

“Well then, I guess we’ll just be leaving.” I said, turning around and pulling the girl along in front of me.

“Ok, ok, just give me that thing and I’ll see that you have a meal and you can take the slave with you.” Gustin said.

“Give us our meals and escort us to the gate. Then you will get your firecracker.”  I told him, “And the meal had better be satisfactory.”

Gustin looked unhappy, but he waved at one of the guards who promptly disappeared and reappeared with six bowls of porridge. “I looked at our engineer, make sure there is no poison in there,” I told her, she nodded and took out one of her gadgets, and analyzed each bowl. “All clear,” she told me after finishing. After we had eaten we were escorted to the door and I gave Gustin his firecracker. Then we were allowed to leave.

The End

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