The Dawn of the End by Kristen Ashley



He was surprised that Frey Drakkar and Apollo Ulfr of Lunwyn were with them.

It was Aramus who approached first, his eyes moving over True’s face, and thus his lips knew only to ask, “Which one do you want first?”

“Carrington,” True gritted, prowling toward the inner hall without breaking stride, his mantle flashing behind him.

The men all formed a phalanx after him as True took a right turn in the hall.

He headed to where the prisoners of means were kept in spacious cells with cots with down mattresses, small tables with chairs, smaller irons for heating, with three square meals a day and views of the city from its thin windows.

The administration offices for the constabularies of all Wodell and their penal systems were also on the lower floors of that tower in the six-story keep.

To the left was where the commoners were sent. The cells smaller, filled with more than one man (or woman), with naught but blankets, no heating irons, chairs, mattresses or tables.

And the upper cells had views of the city’s dump, cess-swamp, and the shanty village filled with vagrants, uncommitted lunatics, hopeless addicts of ashesh and koekah and other varied disenfranchised elements.

This would change, this separation of criminals.

Soon.

But not now.

Now was the time for something else.

“Where are the others?” True asked, his mantle caressing the corner at the winding stairwell as he swept into it to ascend.

“Down,” Cassius answered.

True was unsurprised at this as well.

For it was as he’d ordered.

The Down was where the worst offenders were kept. Convicted murderers, rapists, and the abusers of the elderly, women and children were locked there in small cells with no light. Communication between prisoners or with guards was forbidden and only the barest necessities for survival were offered for as long as their sentence lasted, or their life ended, whichever came first.

If they survived, they were released into the Shanty, one class of the varied disenfranchised who existed there.

The Down was also where the ancient torture chambers were.

They’d been closed four generations ago after a public outcry became a riot that saw a goodly amount of the city burned, a larger amount looted, and Birchlire Castle had been in danger of both. This, after two young men, neither of them even twenty, were tortured to death for a crime it was eventually proved they did not commit. It was simply the fact that the lord of the manor didn’t like them. Therefore, he’d accused them of a rape that one of his own vassals had committed.

The Down, after nearly two hundred years of being locked, was now open.

True would be going there.

Very soon.

But not in the now.

He stopped walking swiftly up the steps and started jogging, hearing the boots of the men behind him striking the stone treads in a quick cadence, following him.

He ceased doing this when he made the fourth landing, where Carrington was being kept.

But he did stride purposefully down the hall.

There was one guard at the top of the steps, two guards at the end of the hall, two at the door.

One of them moved immediately, putting his hand to his belt to procure the key and open the door.

True, with his assemblage behind him, stopped at it, and he caught the other guard not at work opening the door, bowing to him.

“If you bow to me again, twenty lashes,” he spat.

The guard shot up, and the air in the hall went static.

“I-I’m sorry, Your Grace?” the guard stammered.

“You are a citizen of this realm and in service to it. You may salute me as your superior officer. You may salute me as a citizen of this land, and I am in a position of authority. But you do not bow to me. Ever,” True replied.

The guard’s eyes slid to his compatriot but then he looked back to his prince, nodded sharply, lifted his hand to his forehead and gave a smart salute.

True dipped his chin, turned his gaze impatiently to the other man who seemed frozen in his duties of opening the door.

When he caught True’s attention, he swiftly went about finishing his task.

He threw open the heavy, studded door.

True strode in, and Carrington, writing something at the table, his iron lit, the room cozy warm, his clothing his own—well-tailored trousers and waistcoat made of worsted wool, shirt of fine linen, what looked to be a cashmere rug thrown about his shoulders (also likely from his own home)—stood from his chair, his lips quirking in a triumphant smile.

True wasted no time wiping it from his face.