The Lady and the Falconer – Chapter Two

The Lady and the Falconer by Laurel O'Donnell

Prologue     Chapter One     Chapter Two     Chapter Three

Chapter Two

The darkness of the dungeon surrounded Logan Grey like a dense fog.  A stench of decay and urine reached his nose, attacking his sense of smell with an acrid sting, but he didn’t flinch.  He was used to the smell of the dying, having encountered it numerous times throughout his life in the thick of battle and on the dark, dangerous streets of London.

He sidled cautiously around a corner, knowing he was nearing the dungeon guard’s position.  After watching the changing of the dungeon guard for a week, he knew there was no better time to attempt a rescue and escape than at dawn.  Now only one man stood between him and his brother.  Logan wrapped his fingers tightly around his long, wooden staff.  Just a sharp rap on the head would knock the guard out long enough for him to find Peter and escape.

Peter.  He had not seen his brother since that fateful day thirteen years ago when Peter had begged him not to leave the castle.  All these years…  He had thought Peter was dead, killed along with his mother and father.  Then, a little less than three months ago, a close friend had told him that a friend had spoken with Peter… in Castle Fulton.  Logan had traveled straight to Fulton and had spent his days and nights seeking out any word, any sight, of his brother.  He knew he had to be careful of the questions he asked and of whom he asked them, which made his search all the more difficult.  But he had neither seen nor heard any mention of Peter in the week he spent at the castle.  It was as if he were hunting for a ghost.  The thought had crossed his mind more than once.  Perhaps the man had not spoken to his brother at all.  Perhaps it was a different Peter.  But Logan could not risk it.  He had to know for sure.

A memory flooded into his mind, with images so strong that he was powerless to ignore them — he and his brother pretending to be valiant knights, clutching the wooden swords and shields their father had carved for them, wearing the “chain mail” their mother had embroidered for them, searching the dungeon for spies.  Now here he was, skulking through the dungeons like the spies he and Peter had so loved to hate.

Logan pushed the memory away and pressed himself against the damp stone wall to slowly, quietly, peer around the next corner.  A crackling torch lit the area before him, illuminating the guard who sat in a wooden chair with his back to Logan, his heavy boots propped on a second chair.  Logan froze as the guard tipped back on his chair, casually tossing a heavily gnawed mutton bone to the floor.  The man stretched, his dull and dirty chain-mail armor struggling to glisten in the torchlight.

Logan moved in, clutching the staff tightly in his hands.  He crossed the expanse of the room silently, moving quickly toward the guard.  Just a sharp knock and the man would have a headache, but little else to show for his wound.  Then a crunch came from beneath Logan’s boot and he froze, glancing down at the noise.  He raised his foot to see an old crumbled bone from a previous meal lying crushed on the stone flooring.

When Logan lifted his gaze, the guard was standing before him.

“What are you doing here, falconer?” the guard demanded.  His gaze flicked quickly to the staff in Logan’s hands, then darted back to meet Logan’s stare.

Logan remained quiet, certain the guard could understand the resolve that now filled his own eyes, certain he could see his jaw clench tightly, certain he could sense his muscles coiling taut in his body.  He sharply flicked his wrist, bringing the bottom end of his staff up into his open, waiting palm.

The guard was just as quick, his hand curling around the hilt of his blade, his elbow bending, releasing the sword from its sheath.  He turned the drawn blade back and forth in front of him, the torchlight shimmering on its glossy silver surface, the fire’s glare dripping along the blade as if it were freshly drawn blood.

Logan could only think of Peter lying in a pile of his own refuse, chained to the wall like some pathetic caged animal, his skin hanging on him like some ragged piece of cloth as starvation ravaged his body.  He let his knees go limp, and his body suddenly dropped toward the floor as he whipped the end of the staff toward the guard’s legs.  The heavy wooden pole hit the man’s right knee.  The big man grunted painfully as his legs buckled beneath him, and he dipped his sword to the floor so the sharp edge could prop him up.

Logan swung the staff again, knocking the blade away.  The guard plummeted forward, landing on the stone floor with a tremendous thud, the metal covering his arm grating harshly against the rough rock.

Logan brought his staff down on the back of the man’s head.  The man grunted once and then was still.  Logan bent to retrieve the key from the guard’s belt.  He quickly removed the torch from the wall and disappeared down the dark corridor of the dungeon.

“Peter?” he called into the eerie veil of darkness that lurked beyond the circle of light thrown from his torch.  But all that greeted him was an echo of his own voice and the plip plip of water dripping somewhere in the distance.  Logan stepped deeper into the black heart of the dungeon.

He stopped at the first cell door he came to, stepping closer to the small, rust-covered bars that lined the window opening.  He peered through them, calling softly, as if afraid to wake the dead, “Peter?”

A moan sounded from within.

It could be Peter.  It could be my brother…  or it could be some raving lunatic ready to smash my skull to get free.  Logan tightened his grip on his staff and stuck the key into the lock.  With a click, the thick wooden door opened.  He swung the door wide, thrusting the torch into the small cell.  The light cut through the blackness like the sun breaking through a hole in a blanket of dark clouds.  The occupant groaned, shielding his eyes.  He was a skeletal old man, his clothing ragged, sheared away from years of wear.  Beneath the ripped and tattered clothing hanging from his thin body, Logan could see open, pustulant sores.  Leprosy!

Logan backed quickly out of the cell, closing the door.  Dread filled him.  What if Peter…?  Logan shook his head, refusing to acknowledge the thought, even the possibility.

The next cell was empty, as was the third one, both containing only piles of old bones and scraps of clothing.  But as Logan swung the door open on the last cell, he saw a young man sitting cross-legged on the ground, his back to him.  His heart skipped a beat.  My brother!   He thrust the torch at the prisoner, trying to get a better look, taking a joyful step forward.  “Peter?” Logan whispered hopefully.

The man didn’t answer and Logan felt a tightening of anxiety in the pit of his stomach.  He moved closer, stepping around the still form.  As the light crept forward to fully reveal the man, Logan’s happiness died.

The face staring at him was not Peter’s.  The vacant eyes were dull with madness.

Logan backed out of the cell, shutting the door quietly behind him.  Bereft, he returned to the land of the living — a living hell for him.  His brother was not here.  His hopes of the last months suddenly shattered into nothingness.  He was the only member of the Grey family left.  He cursed himself for even daring to hope.  He had learned long ago that hope was the longing of fools, and here he was again proving himself to be just that — a fool.

He returned the torch to the wall and found himself staring down at the unconscious guard.  His head was tilted to the side, his neck bared to the dancing torchlight that flickered across his skin.  What are you doing here, falconer?  Logan clearly remembered the guard asking.  The man had recognized him.  Logan knew he couldn’t risk being imprisoned, being the subject of suspicion.  He couldn’t chance the guard telling anyone he had come to the dungeon.

Too much was at stake.

A strange calm settled over him as he raised his staff over his head.

***

Logan made his way through the keep to the main door that led outside to the inner ward.  He paused in the opening, listening to the calls of the guards from the walkways above.  He lifted his head to the sky.  It was bright red as the rising sun stretched its fingers over the world.  Even with the early hour there was much activity outside.  He heard steady, heavy pounding as scaffolds were being secured to the castle walls.  He could smell the acrid stench of burning oil being readied for the siege.  People rushed around as if the world were ending.

It brought back the memory of preparations for another siege, a siege from long ago.  Logan glanced at the open gate that led to the outer ward.  It had been there that his brother warned him not to go.  He could still clearly see the image of his brother — that worried expression on Peter’s face– in his mind’s eye.

Just then the bells of the chapel chimed throughout the courtyard, bringing him out of his reverie.  Many people paused in their duties and hurried past him toward the morning mass.

He stepped outside into the sun’s rays.  The smell of burning wood from the Great Hall’s hearth filled the air.  He could almost taste the porridge that he was certain was brewing in a cauldron over the hot flames.  Nearby he saw two men loading a final barrel of ale into a horse-drawn cart.  Opposite the ale house, three women were setting their laundry aside, quickly putting their scrubbing boards away.

Logan walked further into the ward, fondly studying his surroundings.  One of the biggest fears he’d had of returning to Castle Fulton was that a merchant or a servant would recognize him and call out to him.  But that had not happened.  No one knew him.  And the one or two he remembered probably recalled only a slim boy, not the man he had grown into.

His mind drifted back to his brother…  to his life here.  All the happy days of childhood spent inside these very walls.  But he could not remember how happiness felt.  He could not recall the joyful abandon of his youth.  It had been so long ago, another lifetime.  Now all he felt was bitterness.  His dreams were filled with regret, and he often awoke in a sweat, cursing himself for his impulsiveness.

Peter is dead, he thought.  And nothing can change that.  Not the idle gossip of friends, not all my hoping.  My family is gone.

The reborn memories of his brother had brought to life the grief he’d thought he had buried all those years ago.  He had believed he could control the anguish, but being back home was harder than he’d thought, as the nightmares attested to.  Now he would have to push aside the memories again, to concentrate on revenge, the only thing he had left.  Thank God, Farindale is not in residence, Logan thought.  I would slit his throat on sight.  His fists clenched.

“Yes!” he heard a voice call out.  “Ask Peter Grey!”

 

Go to The Lady and the Falconer Chapter Three

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