The Tower of Justice
It was dawn by the time the guards reached the Tower of Justice with their captives. As they crossed the maswar, the empty square was contrasted by the imposing structure looming above their heads. They entered the tower and found the entire ground floor was one hall. A score of guards sat scattered around the locale, passing the time. There was also a simple cooking hearth, where a pot boiled merrily.
“Get the night warden,” said one of the arriving guards. One of his peers got up and walked down the few stairs.
“Bit of a fight in them?” asked another. He nodded towards Majid’s wounded shoulder.
“More than that. This one tried to swim away!”
Dispersed laughter was heard. “That’s a new one!”
“It didn’t work,” someone grinned.
A man appeared from the stairs below. He was dressed as a clerk with expensive clothing rather than a soldier, having no weapons. “What do you have?” he asked, approaching the newly arrived guards and their prisoners. “Couple of thieves?”
“Not quite, sidi. This one was found setting fire to a warehouse.” The guard speaking gestured to Majid. “The other one tried to help him escape.”
“How bad is it? Has the fire spread?”
“It was on the eastern docks. Wall kept it from reaching the city.”
“Thank the gods for that, at least.” The warden scrutinised them both. “Your names?” he asked. Neither responded. “Do you know the penalty for starting fires?” Silence. “Well, if you won’t talk to me, others will make you talk. Throw them in a cell, and keep them on separate floors. I’ll send a message to the judge.”
Due to its height, the Tower of Justice had many cells; in fact, more than was ever needed. The top floors were never in use; the only purpose of the height was to ensure the tower was visible throughout the city, reminding all of the Kabir’s rule. The criminals kept in the prison never stayed for long either. Usually the day after arriving, a judge would hear the case against them and pass sentence. Those found guilty were executed, maimed, or sent to the galleys according to their crime. In any case, they would leave the tower.
With a chain around his ankle, Brand sat on the floor of his cell. Hay was strewn across the stonework to provide minimal comfort, which he had gathered to himself, making a primitive seat of sorts. Unlike most prisons, since the cells in the Tower of Justice were above ground, there was a small window with bars providing fresh air and light from the outside world. Apart from that peculiarity, Brand’s accommodations were much the same as when he had been imprisoned in Middanhal.
Accustomed to rough quarters and having been up all night, Brand was able to fall asleep soon after his incarceration. It only lasted a few hours before a guard opened his cell door and dragged him to his feet. With not only wrists but also ankles chained, forcing him to take small steps, Brand was led down the spiral staircase below ground and into a well-furnished room.
A man sat behind a table with a writing set and parchment in front of him. His exquisite clothing and jewellery left no doubt that he was a man of certain rank. The guard pushed Brand down upon a stool in front of the table. “The prisoner, sidi.”
The judge looked up from the parchment. “Your name?”
Brand stared into the air with a clenched jaw.
“Starting a fire is a far worse crime than theft, in case you did not know,” the judge informed him. “I am told it was your companion who did the actual deed, and you merely assisted in his escape. Without success,” he added dryly. “I am willing to show leniency if you deserve it.”
Brand showed no sign of having understood.
“Your fellow criminal has already confessed in full. You gain nothing by refusing to speak.”
Brand’s lips were shut.
The judge leaned forward, placing his elbows on the table. “You understand that your life is in my hands? I would encourage you to speak rather than show me such disrespect.”
Brand remained silent.
“Very well. I sentence you to the galleys. Take him to his cell.” The judge made a dismissive wave with his hand, returning his attention to the papers in front of him to scribble his judgement upon one of them.
Soon after, Majid was taken before the judge as well. “Your name?”
“Majid, sidi.” He continued with a quiet voice. “Please, have mercy. I am but a stray cat, unaware of the custom of princes.”
The judge sent Majid a quick glance. “Would you fetch me some tea?” he asked the guard, yawning. “I did not sleep much last night.
“Of course, sidi, if you don’t mind being alone with the prisoner.”
“With arms and legs chained, I will be fine.” The judge made a dismissive gesture, and the guard left. He looked at Majid again. “You understand that if you invoke the Prince’s name in vain, it will not help you. He will have you killed.”
“I know, sidi. I swear that I am his servant. I was told to mention him discreetly, should I ever find myself in this chamber,” Majid explained.
The judge nodded. “Yes, and if this were common theft, something could easily be arranged. But this is arson. I must sentence you to the galleys, or it will arouse suspicion.” Seeing panic flash across Majid’s face, he raised one hand. “But word shall be sent to your master. He will arrange for your freedom. Until then, keep your mouth shut and be patient. Understood?”
“Yes, sidi,” Majid exclaimed with relief.
“What of your companion? Is he to receive aid same as you?”
Majid hesitated. “No, sidi. He does not run with the Prince.”
“Very well.” The judge began scribbling on the parchment before him. Moments later, the door opened, but it did not reveal the guard. Instead, two men entered in yellow livery with a falcon emblem.
“Sidi?” asked the judge. One of them crossed the room to whisper into the judge’s ear. “Very well. As you command.” He looked at Majid. “You must go with these men.” The men in yellow grabbed the prisoner under the shoulders and pulled him to stand, taking him away.
Although the life of a galley slave awaited him, Brand did not seem weighed down by this. He sat as before, back against the wall, staring out the small window. Sunlight reached between the bars, illuminating his space. While his thumb ran over the leather string around his neck, his other hand played with a few straws, pushing them in and out of the sunbeams, watching their yellow colour intensify.
A guard entered, pulling him to his feet. Once more, Brand was escorted down the stairs; this time, he was only taken to the ground floor. Majid was already there. They exchanged looks, but nothing more. Besides the manacles around their wrists and ankles, a blindfold was added.
Guards on either side of them placed a hand on their shoulders, leading them outside. Their awkward gait and lack of vision made them stumble more than once; their watchers only laughed at this before ushering them forward.
Outside, they were roughly grabbed under the shoulders and thrown onto a cart. Brand gave a gasp as Majid landed on top of him, knocking the wind from him. Grinning, the guards pulled them apart and placed them to sit on the bottom of the cart. This accomplished, the driver set the draught animal into motion.
They bumped through Alcázar on cobbled streets. With the blindfold, the prisoners could only deduce the sun warming their bodies and the sounds of the city waking around them. Children laughed as they passed, but otherwise they drew no attention; a couple of prisoners under guard was of little interest to the people hurrying up and down the streets, busy with their own errands.
The journey lasted more than an hour before the cart came to a halt. They had left the street by now; their surroundings were too quiet to be anywhere public. The prisoners were hauled down from the wagon in the same rough manner as before. The guards led them out of the sun, indoors. They went through long hallways and down staircases. The air grew stale and filled with unpleasant smells. Their hair bristled from the coldness of their surroundings.
“Right here,” said a high-pitched voice. Keys jangled and turned locks. Hands grabbed their chains, and the prisoners were pressed up against stonewalls. They each felt their arms and legs spreading to the sides, pulled by the shackles. Finally, the blindfolds were torn away.
Brand blinked several times. He found himself chained against the wall in an upright position. There was no slack upon the restraints, forcing him to stand spread out, unable to move any of his limbs. To his side, Majid was in the same position. In front of them stood a rat of a man, grinning from ear to ear. “Welcome! I am Imad, your host.” They were in a cell of sorts, small and empty besides the captives and Imad. “Please wait here. My master will be with you shortly to explain.” He turned and left the cell, entering a larger room beyond. Stretching his neck, Brand could see a table with various vicious-looking knives upon it, a rack, and other devices of pain.
“Where are we?” Majid asked with a whisper.
“I can only think of one place with dungeons besides the Tower of Justice,” Brand muttered, keeping his voice low as well. “This must be the Kabir’s palace.”
“Gods, no,” Majid breathed.
“Save your prayers. Nothing will help us now,” Brand told him. In the other room, Imad began sharpening his tools.
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Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.