Word Count 1210
Disclaimers I did not invent them
They were moved, repeatedly, from prison to prison, town to town. In smaller towns they were held in cellars, outbuildings, derelict barns. The bigger towns had real dungeons., with ring bolts for his chains. He was always chained now. After the second attempt they were taking no chances.
After years of war, the sight of chained men marching through town, attracted little local attention. People threw things sometimes, rocks, or garbage, but they did it half – heartedly. After years of war, the sight of chained men, who did not speak, did not excite curiously or enjoyable malice. Still sometimes children and dogs followed them. The men flinched from the things thrown, of course, but they did not respond at all to the dogs or the children.
This man in particular, never spoke. He had not said a word that anyone heard, for months. The people who had him now were not sure he could form words at all. They knew other things, however. They knew he was dangerous. They knew he had crippled two members of the National Guard during his second escape attempt. They knew his name was Archibald Kennedy. They knew , his birthplace, and his former ship. They knew the names of his parents. He had a dossier that traveled with him, as the towns, and men around him changed.
He had been highborn once, though that meant nothing in France. Here, the mighty had fallen. Some all the way to death. They could starve and thirst and suffer, it transpired, like anyone else.
He disappointed his captors. He did not respond to verbal baiting at all, He he did not even lift his eyes. And he did not look like much now. His head was bent low, his shaggy hair obscured his face. He had a crusted yellow sore, at the side of his mouth, under a tangle of reddish whiskers. It was the kind of sore, that dirty children get. In fact he looked a little like a dirty neglected child. The muscles of manhood had fallen away, as he starved, revealing again the boy beneath. He licked at the yellow sore, periodically, with his tongue. He tried to remember not to, it increased his thirst, and they were never given enough water. But he licked at it, anyway, when he forgot to remember. It soothed him, somehow.
He was barefoot. His feet were black with dirt, below the tatters of his once white trousers. It was summer now, so the bare feet were not remarkable. But he had been barefoot since November. His shoes and his jacket had been the first things to be taken from him.
The man in front of Archie had a wet cough. It racked him as he walked, and his walk was ragged as he broke stride to spit his sputum into the dirt. Everyone behind him, tried not to step in it.
They had walked, Archie guessed, 15 miles today. Not enough, not fast enough, though their wasting muscles cried, and their bellies cramped, and their feet left bloody pus behind for dogs to lick. Now the guards were tired too, even on horseback, they were ready for the day to end. They wanted to reach the fortress by nightfall. (It would be a real fortress this time, Archie knew. He listened, and though he did not speak, his command of vernacular French was now almost perfect.) Evening was a dangerous time for the prisoners. Now they would start beating the laggards. The man with the cough was in for it.
By the time they reached the Bitche, the coughing man had stopped coughing. He was wheezing weakly instead, and his blood spattered his chin and shirt. The guard had wiped his rife-but in an automatic gesture, as he sat his horse. But Archie could see the coughing man's blood still streaked the oaken stock.
They stumbled in through the barbican. Prodded forward, each man was compared to his dossier. The man with the cough fell to his knees, as his turn came, he croaked something that might have been his name. Meant nothing to Archie, most names had ceased mattering to him. They pushed the man back with a knock to the throat this time. Archie was next.
He stepped forward, rigid, as if for inspection. His eyes were narrowed, arrow slits. His dirty, crusted face was blank.
“This is a bad one.” The mounted man said. “Tried two escapes in the last 6 months. Watch him.”
“No privileges then.” The soldier made a mark on the papers.
Archie understood this perfectly, of course. But he said nothing.
The dungeon was similar to others he had been in. It was dim, and dripping. The stone floor where he was made to crouch had a thin covering of rotten straw. The coughing man was chained beside Archie, close enough for them to smell and hear each other. He was quiet now, at least, his breathing was slow and harsh.
Archie let his head rest back against the damp stone. He rocked it a little, his eyes were open, but there was nothing to see. Rocking his head helped him sleep. He licked his sore lip, he rocked his head against the stone. He let his eyes shut, and after some time, he slept.
The dream came. Archie had had many dreams since the age of 14. Some were foolish, forgotten in the sunlight. Some dreams were fervid, rushing pleasures that left him sticky and gasping. Some dreams were jumbled terrors of his past. He still saw Simpson in some of the worst dreams, with his grasping hands, and the plunging heat and pain. But this dream was the one that he had come to dread most.
It always started the same way. He was lying in a bed, in a dim whitewashed room. He was thin and hurting. He was alone. Then he heard a murmur of voices, a beloved voice came, Horatio's voice. In his dream, Archie was was so happy. He did not know how he had come to be in the little room, but he had been so lonely, he sat up, and reached for Horatio. But in this dream, Horatio, who had always been so kind, was different.
Horatio stood over Archie, and his eyes were so col;d, and his sneer that looked as if it had been there all along. He had a list of Archie's crimes, all the way back to the beginning. Archie had killed Clayton, Archie had led Horatio to sin, Archie had let Simpson have his way, would never never be clean. Archie was at fault. All, all Archie's fault. In the dream, Archie could only lie there, he tried to protest, but Horatio was made of stone. And Archie shriveled, in the strange room, in the strange sickbed, never be forgiven
He jolted awake.
No Horatio. He was chained in the dark. He did not speak, he did not weep. But his lip shook, and he was alone. He had been loved once, Horatio had loved him. Maybe Horatio still missed him sometimes. The dream was not real. He said this to himself, not real.