Part Ten July 24, 2016
Rough voices surrounded the air around him as he bathed in the river Tye. He climbed out and hurried towards his clothes. A group of mean looking men appeared before him. He grabbed at his backpack, but a strong backhand rattled his wits and he rolled onto his back. Four cruel looking men stood around him. One of them, who was now holding Bran’s dagger was lean and old and had piercing blue eyes. Thin cheeks clasped the bones of the jaw so hard that the man’s expression looked like the worm paths on the belly of a log. The narrow face broadened into a wide head with a mound of whitish hair that reminded Bran of a fleece ball partially unravelled by a kitten. He searched the faces of the other three hoping one might be friendly.
Beside the old man with the wild hair stood a large burly figure with hair the same colour as his own. He saw in the clear, brown eyes an unquenched anger and yet a gentle glow.
Beside him, a short, bald man stood. The bald man carried the appearance of a jackal. His right eye was dark blue and accentuated by oversized pupils; his left eye was covered by a black eye-patch. Black eyebrows and a constant smirk gave him a sinister, yet dense appearance.
The last man he saw glanced at him with indifference. Bran could not help but see how different this man was from the rest. Longish black hair glistened from the animal fat that greased it. His eyes were dark blue and he stood average height. Three of the fingers on his left hand were missing. Bran wondered if he was a Residence.
All of them wore clothes made of an assortment of animal furs: fox collars, deerskin pants, and wolf-fur vests.
Bran thought about the other night, how he charged at the one creature and escaped thanks to the wolves. With the men standing in a circle around him he couldn’t outmanoeuvre them, but the bald man, who stood shorter than the rest Bran felt he could knock out of his way. He made his move just as the old man was about to say something. He drove his right shoulder into the bald man, knocking him easily out of his way, but a pair of hands grasped onto his shoulders. Bran struck upwards with chaotic ferocity. One of the men screamed out in agony as Bran’s fist made contact with his jaw. Bran dove into the river. The men plunged into the water after him. He thought he could escape in deeper water until he felt a fist pound into the back of his head and his vision blurred.
They threw him on the shore and pinned him to the ground. He stopped struggling and stared angrily at his captors. The old man with the cruel blue eyes sat on his chest as the others stood by. “What a fish ye are,” the old man cackled with a sheering voice. A shadow suddenly drew over Bran. He looked over his left shoulder to see the very tall and powerful looking man. The man’s hair was cut much like Bran’s, long on the sides with a wave from left to right at the front. But the man’s hair was much thicker than his own. He noticed, much to his amazement, a lute nestled under the man’s left arm.
“You’re a Bard?” Bran rasped, surprised that such a man would travel with rogues.
The man shook his head with a weary smile. “No Bard, laddie. Just meself.”
“‘e’s our Bard, boy,” interrupted the old man.
As the older man was speaking, the bald man with the eye patch grabbed a hold of the jewel that lay against Bran’s chest and tried to tear it off. A blinding flash of yellow light exploded into his face. All eyes turned to the bald man, who stared silently at his hand.
“If you touch my jewel again I’ll kill you!” Bran hissed.
The bald man looked at Bran with his one eye wide with shock.
“Better not kill dis one, Angus,” the big man with the lute said dryly to the older man.
“No, ‘arold, but ‘e could fetch quite a price across da sea,” Angus replied greedily.
“Y-yes…but…‘e…may…be…a…witch,” argued the bald man as he blew on the burn mark that covered the palm of his hand.
“Shut-up Plaglo, ye dumb nephew uf mine! The boy is no magician or ‘e wouldn’t be out in da woods!” screamed Angus, spit flying out of his reddening lips; the bald man cringed.
“Maybe ‘e’s one of dose Druids,” said the oily-haired man.
“Not likely Dwight,” Harold said. “Most of dem Druids live farther east, near dat campus. They ‘aven’t ‘ad need te guard de land dere fer sometime; from what I ‘ear.”
“We could take ‘im to dat old hag’s place!” Angus shouted as if the others had said nothing, “Dat bitch would take ‘im in. She’s gotta ‘ave somethin te offer fer im!”
“Who’d get dat close te ‘er?” Harold asked doubtfully.
“Hell, I’ll take ‘im te ‘er!” Angus offered.
“Alright,” Harold agreed. “But fer now ‘e can carry our tings. Dat way ‘e’ll serve some purpose and et night ‘e’ll be too tired te run.”
Angus jumped up and gleefully began tying their sacks together with a rope. Sporadically he glanced at Bran with laughing eyes and a toothy smile. Bran tried to push his way through Plaglo again, but the one called Dwight drove a readied fist into his side. His breath lost, Bran began to gasp. For a brief second, out of the corner of his eyes, he saw a sad glance from Harold.
“Maybe we should give ‘im some brek?” Harold suggested.
“He’s gotta earn ‘is keep,” Angus lashed out. Turning ruthless eyes towards Bran he continued, “‘e’s gotta carry our stuff fer awhile. Strip boy, just as an extra incentive fer ye not te run.” Eyeing Angus with uncertainty, Bran did as he was told. When he was finished, Angus, with great expertise, proceeded to tie a rope around Bran’s waist and neck. Angus kept the leftover rope in his hand.
The rogues all stood up and slowly began moving onward. Impatiently Angus tugged on the rope. The sacks weighed heavily on Bran’s shoulders but he managed. It was the thistles and snake grass that burdened him the most. He constantly wanted to scratch his lower legs. By midday the rogues stopped and Bran fell to the ground. Twisting his head awkwardly to the side he could see they were still near the river. Not far from where he lay he could hear the pop and sizzle of meat. He closed his eyes and tried to calm his breathing.
“Lookee, da boy’s gone asleep on da job, should I wake da lazy dog?” Angus shouted with a voice full of menace.
“Let ‘im sleep,” Harold replied dryly to Angus. “And put ‘is clothes on so ‘e don’t freeze!” He snapped at the bald man named Plaglo.
Bran heard Plaglo move over to him, grumbling about how he was treated like a slave. For a moment Bran thought of escaping, but his limbs were too numb. “C-can’t… ye…do…tis…yerself…y-ye…lazy…dog,” groaned the Plaglo who seemed to struggle after each word as he unsuccessfully tried to push Bran’s trousers on. Unencumbered Bran was able to sit up. He did not try to escape; Angus sat facing him. A twisted, deadly look of concentration darkened on Angus’s face. In Angus’s left hand was a knife. Bran could see by the old man’s bent arm and determined look that the knife would fly if he even pretended to try and escape.
“Give da boy some grub, den we’ll move on fer awhile,” Harold said. Plaglo rubbed his baldhead and groaned but took some strips of meat from a pan sitting on the coals of the fire. Starving as he was Bran shook his head. Never knowing fully why his mother and father never gave him meat except for eggs; he found the idea of eating it repulsive now. His stomach ached for food, but he could not take the meat.
“‘e won’t take it,” whined Plaglo, “Stup’d fool!”
“‘e won’t take it, ye say Plaglo?” Angus asked darkly to the bald man. In a frenzy the old man tore up some sod and stood up. Face steaming red he stomped up to Bran. “Ye inhospitable excrete.” Before Bran could clench his mouth closed, Angus had shoved most of the grass in. Bran tried to spit it out but Angus’s hand pushed it deeper into his throat.
“When Angus is done wastin’ time, give da boy some of ‘is carrot,” he heard Harold tell Plaglo.
“Oh, I’m done playing!” spat Angus.
“Give ‘im the carrot Plaglo, and give me da meat ‘e don’t want,” Harold said patiently. The bald man’s squat body moved awkwardly over to Harold. Harold tore the meat from Plaglo’s hand and gulped it down. “‘ow long te da witch’s place?” Harold asked the greasy-haired man called Dwight.