The cell stank of the shit and piss of the last two weeks. A fortnight as one of the guards so gallantly put it. Zwain nestled himself as close to the shoebox of a window as possible, hoping to get a breeze of fresh air to pass through his nostrils. Through it he could hear the hodgepodge of sounds as the people went to market on this dull and grey day.
There were some other men in the other cells of King Stephen’s dungeon. Pickpockets and other thieves, alongside trespassers and various other small time crimes. Zwain considered himself lucky to at least be paired off with these folks. Especially since Leopold told him that the punishment for his crime was death. Death that Stephen’s head wizard, Finnegan, called for the minute Leopold finished recounting the story. An indefinite amount of time in the dungeons was the King’s compromise to the pleas of his two most trusted advisors.
Zwain remembered the way that Finnegan spoke to King Stephen. The way the words slipped out of his mouth like snakes slithering along the ground. He questioned the position this man was given and how anyone could not see how manipulative he could be.
The latch at the main entrance lifted and the big oak door swung open as one of the guards allowed Sir Leopold to enter. Leopold was dressed head to toe in the leathers of his casual wear. Not as protective as his steel armour, but better than cotton, in case he needed to keep the peace around the town. He walked straight up to Zwain’s cell and said, “Good afternoon, Sir Zwain of the Flock of Cows.”
“Please, Leopold, it’s just Zwain. I am no sir. Not even my father was sir. Also, that is a hell of a mouthful to say every time you meet me.”
“I apologize, si–Zwain. I’m not used to such non-noble customs.”
“No need to apologize. Just relax. No need to flower up the English language. This isn’t Shakespeare.”
“I know not of whom you speak. Is he a front man, such as yourself.”
“In some ways. Anyhow, so what about my appeal?”
Zwain sighed, “We went over this. It’s a chance for me to plea my case to King Stephen once again and get me the hell out of here. It’s starting to stink really bad.”
“Oh right. The King is not used to such an unusual request. Finnegan has suggested that he leave it alone, that you’ll stop asking for it eventually, and live out your days here in the dungeon.”
“Oh great. And I’ll starve to death on some bread and water. Maybe the contents of my own shit bucket will get me sick long before that. Zwain gave a cynical chuckle, “I might actually experience an Oregon Trail death right here. Oh would ‘Sir’ Lexington would just be getting a kick out of this.”
“Ah, is he a Knight from your homeland?”
“Never mind. He matters not– doesn’t matter. Sheesh, I’m starting to pick up the lingo around here. You know, I don’t trust Finnegan, he’s slimy. I think King Stephen would do well to not trust him at every word.”
“Alas, I would all but agree with you, but the King is his own man and he makes the decision as to whom his advisors are. I am merely just honoured to even be considered amongst them. I trust not that snake as far as I can toss my sword, but I would not go against the King in his beliefs.”
“There’s got to be a way to make the King see the man for who he is. I saw it the moment the man opened his mouth. Also, he was clearly threatened by me. That’s why he was so opposed to your decision. How many other wizards are in these parts?”
“Well, none. All others that we’ve caught were killed on the spot for the unsanctioned used of magic. That is the King’s law. Magic gives too much power to invading armies should they try and storm these walls. It would take naught but one of these wizards to be captured and fooled into helping the enemies of our King.”
“So let me guess, Finnegan came up with the law?”
“T’was instituted before my time, but as I have heard, indeed it is he that introduced the law to the King. What has that got to do with anything?”
“When we first met, you said there was one thing about wizards. Do you remember?”
“Yes. I said that wizards are all cunning and will try to outwit us with their words.”
Zwain took a step back from the bars and lifted his hand in a presenting gesture, “You see?”
“I’m afraid that I do not. Finnegan has been here long before me, he would have simply no reason to treat the rest of us like that. In fact it was he that warned us of the cunning of other wizards.”
“That’s the simplest lie to make. Surely the one who makes the rules is the only one exempt from them, correct?”
“That should not be the case, but it would seem…” Leopold drifted off, deep in thought. Zwain held his tongue. It always meant more when people completed the thought journey for themselves.
“Wait a minute, Sir Zwain. You are trying to outwit me into doing your bidding, are you not? You want nothing more than to escape this prison, and I am but a mere pawn in your scheme.”
“I am sorry, Sir Zwain, but you will not fool this knight. I aim to prove myself worthy to be King Stephen’s heir and trusted advisor. I warn you not to try this again. Good day, sir.”
With one swift spin on his heel, Sir Leopold spun around and strutted out the door that he entered. The guard pulled the door shut and latched it closed. Zwain stepped back from the bars and slumped on the tiny stool they had provided for him.
“A bit daft, in’nt he?” asked a voice from the far end of the dungeon.
“Pardon?” asked Zwain as he lifted his gaze in the direction of the voice.
“Sof’ in thee ‘ead. His ‘eart’s in th’ right place, but barely ’nuff brains t’ swing ‘is sword. Noice try, though.”
“He’ll come around. You’re right, he is a bit slow, but I could see the inner workings of his thoughts. Something was ticking there.”
Zwain looked out at the grey sky and hoped that it wouldn’t take too long for Leopold to come around.