Posted 3-7-2004   Chris Prior

A dull thud wakes me from my shallow sleep. Tired from a night of fitful travels in Morpheus' realm, I continue to doze, lids across my eyes. The sounds of voices drift through my mind, breaking through the last of the sleep, and tearing an aching gap in my mind. The voices continue. I try to wait, perchance they will stop, but they do not.

Some wine will cool the fire in my mind, I think to myself. Aloud, "Where are you, keeper? Give me a cup of wine."

A slight chill runs down my spine as the conversation stops. One of the voices addresses me, but it is not my keeper. Mayhap dear Richard has sent men to deliver me. But if it is not so, they could be here just to mock a fallen lord. "In God's name, who are you?"

"A man, as you are." The speaker is unshaven and tall, as though a man of the northern wilds. The stench of riverside taverns surrounds him, a cloud of nausea. His companion bears with him the same fetid stench, and would weigh about the same, although shorter and broader. I stand from my pallet, my eyes even with the taller.

A cryptic response. These men could not be from Richard, he would send no one as sly as these, none who duck and weave as a sparrow from my questions. My head continues to burn as the fires of hell. My concentration drifts. I push for information, the man parries with the skill of one who makes a life by deceiving.

"My voice is now the king's"

A ball of iron sinks to the pit of my stomach. Dear Edward has finally been sent mad by the whisperings of that harlot. If only brother Richard had acted upon the wings of Mercury to deliver me from this place. I push again.

The emissary of Belial stumbles over my words and begins to sound as one who had sampled too much of Dionysus' wares.

I draw in a sharp breath as a sudden realisation hits me, "You're here to murder me."

The brigands nod.

A feeling of warmth returns to my stomach, brought on by relief. "You don't even have the heart to speak of killing me. You cannot do it. Why would you want to?" The knot in my stomach begins to unwind.

'The king wishes it."

"I will make my peace with him. There is no need for this."

"I don't think so."

Damn. Adrenalin begins oozing into my body. I will have to be wily to survive this. "What crime have I committed? Who has passed the sentence without trial? If you wish your soul to be saved by our Lord, then you will leave now."

"We do this by command."

The second man speaks up "By command of the King."

Edward would never have done this if he were in his right mind. Blood rushes through my body, and anger rises in my mind. So it was that harlot. Too bad, I will have to talk my way out of this before I can worry about that. "Edward is but a king of men. Lord God, the King of Kings has commanded 'Thou shalt not kill.'"

The short one, 'But you too have killed."

"�Do not seek refuge in the arms of a Lord you have defied." The taller one takes a step forward, menacing me with his blade.

I step back as well, and words rush from my mouth, not thought out, any tactic to buy time. I need time to think, outwit these men. I continue crossing words, enough to hold my ground, yet nothing comes to me. As my last ploy is swatted from the air, my heart sinks. Yet it disturbs a memory, "I will deliver you". Joy returns to me. I am saved. They will not defy both Richard and I, not even for brother Edward. The corner of my mouth twitches in amusement. "I know you do this for reward not duty. Go then to my brother Richard. He will pay you more for my life than you would receive for my death."

The two men look at each other, questioning looks in their eyes. My body begins to relax, This is all but over, I am safe.

The stouter of the two smiles grimly at me, "Your brother Richard will not help you."

"You are wrong, go to him, receive your payment and be done with this madness."

"It is as we planned to do." The taller smiles.

The other, "It is he who will pay for your life to be taken."

I spy a glint of sorrow in his eye. He does not lie. He looked as a liar before, but not now. My chest tightens. Tears prick the corners of my eyes. My legs ignore the commands of my mind, stumbling backwards into the pallet. I shall breathe my last breath this day. If only I could live but a bit longer, to breath more the air of this world. Resigned to my fate, I fill my lungs to speak, to delay, if only for a few moments.

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