The Southern Syndicate, Part 3

General Arrys was forced to surrender immediately because he was both outnumbered and surrounded.  The Obsidian soldiers were immediately cuffed in manacles, disarmed, and thrown deep into the Seaside Keep stockades.  In the dungeons, they discovered that Anon’s entire army was captured and disbanded, along with all of the capital’s civilians.  So, when the Obsidians surrendered, each solider was separated from his regiment, just as they were from Anon’s army. 

The riverlings paired their prisoners off in groups of two.  All members of any potential insurgent army were allowed to continue wearing their armor to ensure that no one was paired off with another soldier.  Everyone was fed twice daily, morning and night, but no one seemed to formulate what the riverlings had planned for them.  Every other day prisoners were rotated and shuffled around as a method of taking roll.

For several weeks, everyone adjusted to the routine of being underfed, inhaling the fetid smell of growing piles of defecation, and sleeping irritably on hard stone floors.  Some took to leaning on each other’s backs while sitting up for greater comfort and ease of rest.  As time passed and the routine established itself, clothes devolved to shredded rags marred in dust, sweat, and blood.  Armor grew heavier and the edges frequently stabbed its owners in various places.

On the morning of the second month, the riverlings started to beat their prisoners into submission each time they counted roll, even though none put up any resistance.  It was during these days that the prisoners found their first casualties.  Many were knocked senseless and drifted in and out of consciousness.  Among them, Colonel Khrys missed some meals because he wasn’t coherent when those meals were dumped beside his cell.  His stomach growled while he was unconscious and his head pounded to a drunk rhythm when he was awake.  His mind was a cloud, seemingly drifting in and out of dream and reality to the point where discerning the two was a challenge for him.

Outside, continuous darkness crept into the dungeon through barred windows.  The only sounds that could be heard were the grunts and groans of the riverlings working to rebuild Seaside Keep as their needs fit.  There was a constant rumbling coming from them, as they brought structures down and then reworked the masonry.

Khrys came awake late one morning at the sounds emanating from the construction.  He was facedown on his stomach and drool leaked out from the corner of his mouth during his unconsciousness.  He looked around and didn’t recognize any of his surroundings – he was thrown into a new cell while he was out cold.  But, this was part of his routine since the beatings wore on his body. 

When his mind made the connection that there was an opening in his cell, he stumbled to his feet and limped toward the window.  The only things he could see were the river and the now destroyed Frayed Bridge.  He wanted to try to break the window barrings with a stone, but he lacked the strength.  So when he grew tired of watching the river flow, he dropped his head and turned around.

In the corner of his cell, he saw a familiar looking figure slumped back with one arm atop the pedestal of a raised knee.  Their hair was short and dark brown and their clothes concealed sharp curves in spite of the malnutrition of being a prisoner.  Their skin was relatively clean and seemed to glow brighter than the oil lamps around the prison cells.  Khrys’s eyes examined this figure from foot to forehead with an intense, primal hunger.  He felt his heart beating faster with distant memory.  One thought chased the next and the rush of emotion and lust caused his breath to fall short.  And when his eyes finally locked with theirs, they turned away.

It was her.

Sorlyna gazed off to the first direction her eyes could find.  To polish what she was feeling, she lifted her hand to her face and buried her lips between her thumb and forefinger.  Things never seem to change, he thought.

What would he say to her?  What could he say to her?  He wasn’t able to find any words that wouldn’t sound like an overdrawn cliche.  He couldn’t tell her he missed her or beg her that he’s changed – that would just convey his obsessive neediness for her.  He couldn’t open with a joke – that would just prove he wasn’t capable of being serious.  So what was the truth?  The last time he saw her, he wasn’t in any army and didn’t wear any armor.  He was a just weaponsmith in the Crystell Castle slums.  Each of them knew that this wasn’t song or story.  This was reality, and in spite of the physical evidence that each of them still had feelings for what was going on between them, they were both still people.

Khrys leaned up against wall in the corner opposite Sorlyna.  “How long was I unconscious?” he asked resting his head back.

Sorlyna looked down at her fingernails and picked them with her thumbnail.  “They brought you in that way,” she hesitated.  Having realized she didn’t directly answer the question, she tried again.  “About a day.”

An uncomfortable silence stunned the air.  It was a few years since they last saw each other.  They’ve both taken many others to bed in that time, yet through both Sorlyna’s eagerness to forget the burdens she had with Khrys and the sudden shock of his heart exploding in retributive abandonment, both felt lingering effects of their relationship.  They were both different people.  Time and the armor on his back both proved it.

“How have you been?” he asked.

“Fine,” she said plainly.

Khrys dropped his shoulders and rolled his eyes to himself.  He wasn’t sure if he should be glad he finally got to hear her voice after all this time or disappointed that she wasn’t interested in talking.  As he examined her body language and considered what she was feeling, he began to realize that she still had feelings for him.  If she didn’t, talking to – or even looking at – him wouldn’t be a concern for her.  So, Khrys stood up and very slowly paced towards her.  The closer he came, the more she turned her body away, but when he was finally in front of her, he struggled down to one knee next to her.  He reached for her shoulder to show he was being genuine, but then remembered how she neglected giving him the right when he last saw her.  And when he remembered that, he placed his hand on her shoulder anyway, praying to every god he knew that she would feel his honesty through his hand.  Her smooth touch brought him stark memories of their time together.  His heart skipped a few beats.

“I haven’t the presence of mind to know what to say to you that you haven’t already heard from other men,” he said.  “We both know that groveling and attempts at persuasion won’t get us anywhere.”  He cleared his throat.  His eyes scanned the room, almost as if searching for the perfect words.  “Just know that I haven’t forgotten you.  I pray for your safety and happiness often, as much as I hate the fact you likely dream of other men now.  I don’t intend to sound cocky, but it seems to me that we both still have feelings for each other.  I said it once already, but to ensure time hasn’t diluted the message, I want to reiterate that I still earnestly desire to make things work between us.”  Khrys scratched the back of his head with his free hand and then patted the shoulder he lay his hand upon.  “That’s it.”  He stood up and slowly walked away from her.

Sorlyna tried not to hear the words because she still believed he was an immature jokester, but it didn’t work.  She picked at her fingernails again and shuffled around some more in the corner.  She tried so hard to run away from him and yet fate seemed to reunite them in this prison cell.  She truly believed that she was done with him, that she bid her farewell and moved on.  Her heart raced many times for other men since she left him, but it was still racing for him in that moment.  It seemed that their time apart was causing her a much larger burden.  The more she noticed herself squirm around, the more she realized that he had gotten to her.  Maybe it was the armor that made him change.  Or maybe time.  No, she thought.  She remembered that neither was true.

When his hand touched her, she recalled how ardently he would kiss her after intimacy.  It always seemed to come from a place of intense wanton and profligate desire.  And his kisses didn’t communicate little messages like  satisfaction, but larger ones from places of deep emotion and caring.  Then she remembered how tightly he held her during the night – not like he never wanted her to leave, but even tighter.  She realized that she should never have focused on what he had to say at all.  True inspiration is impossible to fake, she thought.

She stood up and turned to face him.  Khrys didn’t back down from either her powerful eyes or her insatiable sexuality.  She folded her hands at her waist.  “How long have you been an Obsidian?” she asked, the curiosity in her voice.  She combed some hair behind her left ear to listen.

Khrys took a couple of paces toward her.  His heart unexpectedly melted the way it had when she first told him she loved him.  Before he could answer, a patter of footsteps came from the hallway near their cell.

What could it be?  It was neither the time nor day for a prison exchange.  Sorlyna and Khrys both turned toward the hall suspiciously.  The footsteps came closer and closer, but they didn’t carry the heavy pound of a riverling step.  Two shadows stretched into the cell, elongated into unnatural shapes and sizes because of the glow of the oil lamps.  Very calmly, however, two people, dressed in rags, emerged from the corridor.

“General Arrys!”  Khrys exclaimed excitedly.

Standing next to Arrys was General Anon.  Both exchanged their armor with the rags of their prisonmates, and each carried unsheathed swords stained with the black blood of the riverlings.  Arrys used his sword to break the keylock on Khrys’s cell.  “Come,” he said, swinging the gate open.  “We’ve got many other soldiers between our armies freeing the rest of the inmates.  Do you still have knives concealed in your armor?”

Khrys forgot that all of the Obsidian troops were required to bear concealed weapons for short range dueling.  The riverlings never strip searched the soldiers.

“I do,” he said.

“Good,” Arrys said.  “We need to keep moving.”  He began running for the hallway with General Anon, but then stopped for a moment.  “By the way,” he turned around, “their weakness is the throat.”

The patter of footsteps returned from where they originated.  Khrys turned toward Sorlyna.  Both of their chests dropped heavily up and down from their emotions and what was to become a fight for freedom.  He took both of her hands in his and looked directly into her pupils.  “It is my duty as a colonel in the Obsidian Army to give my life for any and all civilians,” he said.  “If I die, I do it with one in my heart.”  He reached into his armor and pulled out two butcher knives.  He gave one to Sorlyna.  She smiled at his words, and with excitement filling both of their eyes, they ran for the other prison cells holding each other’s hand.

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