Damage Control

The air was cold and damp, with no hint of a breeze. Ragnar could hear the dripping of water echoing down stone halls, and could smell the must of mold or fungus in his surroundings. He moaned, shifting his weight, attempting to sit upright, only to hit his head on hard stone above him.  He opened his eyes, only to feel his lashes flutter against something. He could not see.  He could not raise his hands, due to chain strung behind his back, loose enough to rattle a bit as he moved, but not enough to pull his manacled hands up to his face. He could tell as his breathing quickened, though,  that his head was covered in loose fabric. A bag perhaps? 

Where was he? What had happened? 

He squirmed, and wiggled , chains rattling. He grimaced in pain as two links pinched his skin through the fabric of his clothing.  He pushed with his legs, carefully, slowly, uncertain where the wall might be, and not wanting to hit his head again. The chain rolled from the small of his back to his buttocks just as his head touched rough-hewn rock.  He lifted his buttocks, tilting his head to the side to avoid scraping his skull further against the rock. He put his manacles to his sides to gain as much slack as possible and swung the chains towards his feet as best he could. Lifting his legs,  he lamented his stiffness,  and the inability to stretch his legs before hitting stone above him.  He brought his knees to his chest, joints popping and creaking as he moved,  and wrapped the chain around his hands  to pull it tighter, and wiggle the bonds in front of him.

Sighing in relief he rolled to the side,  in order to pull himself up into a crawling position.  A cry of panic escaped him as the ground disappeared  beneath his left leg, and he fell. The quick thud as he hit floor stopped the cry of panic from achieving the status of a scream.  It was then he heard the sound of a key in a large metal lock.

“Ah, good, it is awake. The little man is ready for his final steps is it?” said a voice,  raspy and guttural. “Quickly now…on your feet.  The Assembly has reached a decision. Too bad for you.” 

A kick slammed into Ragnar’s ribs…He grunted in pain, and struggled to his knees. He saw stars then as another blow hit him in the head.

“Hurry, you little demon-spawn. I haven’t all day!” came the voice, sounding entirely too pleased with itself. Ragnar took a deep breath and held it, focusing on the source.  “The sooner that head comes off, the sooner I get to play with the elf. She’ll learn what those lips are really...”  

Ragnar struck, snarling, his manacled wrists slamming into the guard’s knee,  a sickening pop as it gave way, the guard falling atop of the dwarf, screaming in pain. The dwarf pushed himself up as  fast as he could, and broke for the door, or where he guessed the door might be, only to feel more hands grabbing, grasping at him…he couldn’t break free, couldn’t bite the hands upon him, couldn’t do anything but yell for help he didn’t expect to come.  He slumped, as the hands grasped more firmly, his limbs immobilized…

But then he heard her voice, and another, calling for him…They were near! A rescue! He wrenched an arm free, roaring in desperation, struggling to rise, flailing at his captors…

“Ragnar! Ragnar! You’re safe, we have you! Wake up! Open your eyes, by the Passions! Ragnar!”

Ragnar opened his eyes, blinking, his throat raw from roaring, or screaming, he could not tell which. Diniella  was sprawled on the floor to his left, panting,  a trickle of blood coming from her lip. Vamir and two chainmailed soldiers held his other arm and pinned his legs.

“Ragnar…it was a dream…calm yourself!”  said Vamir, panting with exertion.

Ragnar  nodded, gasping… “Let go…you can now…I alright…” He lifted his hand to wipe his brow, and started as he heard the clink of chain, and felt the weight of a manacle on his wrist. Adrenaline that had not yet subsided renewed flow through his veins.

“What is meaning of this? Unchain at once!” shouted Ragnar, kicking the one guard that had not had the sense to let go yet. He leapt to his feet on the bed,  and attempted a spinning kick towards Vamir, only to be caught short by the length of chain attached to the wall.  “You treacherous son of a dung beetle!  Your mother cleaned latrines! With her tongue!”

One of the guards had reached for his sword,  but halted at Vamir’s laughter.

“WhathasDiniella been teaching  you, Ragnar? “ chuckled Vamir.

“Don’t dare laugh at me, you…you arse- sniffing curr!” said Ragnar, face red with rage.

Diniella grasped his wrist, the manacled one,  and he spun to strike, stopping upon seeing her face, in particular the lip, still bleeding.  

“Stop, Ragnar…please.  We did not do this to betray or hurt you. We had no choice.”

Ragnar blinked,  forcing his breathing to slow, looking down at her.

“Was I so violent as that?” he whispered incredulously. “Was it I who hurt you?”

Diniella nodded. “It was an accident. You did not know it was me, Ragnar, I know this.”

“Please…I calm now, I am. It was the chains that undressed me.”

Vamir stepped closer… “Talented chains…I believe you mean  it were the chains that undid you. Unfortunately it was not the dreams and your violence that necessitated this. We cannot unchain you.”

“Then, what…”

“Sit. I will explain. “ said Vamir.  

“You were taken back to your chamber temporarily, in order to sleep off your wounds. One of our mages cast a spell to help you get to sleep, considering the ordeal, and your proximity to it.  A crowd grew outside the doors, demanding answers, and raising accusations.  Throughout the city, they know now you are here.  And they are strongly divided on what it means, and what should be done about it.”

Vamir placed a hand on Ragnar’s knee. “Many wish you dead, Ragnar. But not I, I swear it. I am still your friend, or would be if you trust me.”

“Strongly divided,  you say?” said Ragnar.  “And some call for my head. But some believe what I say is…legal…no…legitimate?  Is true?”

“Aye, there are a good number who do.  That you have supporters is a wonderful thing, but at the same time…”

“Division is very bad.”  finished Ragnar, nodding.  “The chains though?”

“Those calling for your head, because they face strong opposition, argue that I was remiss in letting you roam free. In not keeping you prisoner, in a cell, I was remiss in my duties.  I did not take the care required in ensuring you were who you said you were. They claim you clouded my judgement.”

“But I not roam free. I confined to room till creature attacked.”  Frowned Ragnar.

“But you were not chained, nor was the door locked after the first day or two you were able to speak to us.  You remained only at my request. And if you were a creature such as the hate-mongers imagine you are, you could easily have hidden your comings and goings.”

“Thus the chains.” Ragnar nodded. “You plan to tell the people I was never free, was chained all along?”

“No…for that would beg the question,  how did you break free, and help to fight off the Horror?”

“Construct…”

“What?”

“It was no Horror, or it was a lesser one.  It had no mind. Not important, except that it may mean there is another working within the city.”

Vamir looked at him in horror. “Do not say that. It is unsafe. They will ask how you know so much of the Horrors, if you do not work for them.”

“Vamir, if I knew not of the Horrors, I would be one of the few in the world who did not. Study of them is required. But we go astray.”

“ Yes, off topic. The chains.” Nodded Vamir.  “ We have you chained now because the public, or a good portion of it, demands it. No other reason. We cannot lie and claim you were chained before to save my political position, even if I should have cared to do so. Your most vocal supporters are amongst the soldiers you saved. We cannot silence them. We could plant a tale that you broke your chains, or the creature did so in trying to kill you,  and you bore manacles while fighting. But I refuse to operate in such a fashion. Secrecy is one thing. Lies another.”

Diniella interjected.  “Besides…they would ask me. Under oath, and holding a Crystal of Truth.”

Vamir nodded. “Aye…but they can be fooled if the Questioner is not skilled.  If you are asking yourself why a Crystal of Truth cannot be used in your case, it is because they are attuned to us.  We have no way of knowing if they would work on other Name-givers.  They were first tested  near a hundred cycles ago,  long after the Descent.”

“Still, if they ask me, I will attempt.” Ragnar shifted on the bed,  to look at Diniella. “There is no danger to you is there? The Crystal test, it harms not?”

“Only if I lie. The worse the lie, the worse the pain.”

“I never meant to cause pain, you know, do you not?” said Ragnar, a chagrined look upon his face.

Diniella smiled reassuringly.  “If you had meant to hurt me, you would no longer be able to have children. I know you, and have no fear you’d harm me.”

“Yes, yes…and as your manhood is intact, I think we can continue.” Said Vamir.  “So… we must chain you until the hearing at least. That is the long and the short of it.”

“I do not agree, but I will not argue. Chains make me…less truthful? No…they make it so I am less believed.  I appear criminal in front of hearing,  then they see criminal or liar when I begin to speak.”

“If I leave you unchained and another attack happens, then more will blame you. And as yet, we have no idea who or what we are up against.” said Vamir rising. “Much as I hate the situation, I must keep you chained.  A longer one will be supplied to allow you the run of the room. Now, I must go and answer to the Council. I had planned to bring you along, and let you speak, but for now,  I must do damage control.”

The End

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