Today’s flash fiction comes to you courtesy of a wild idea and little time to write. Muse took over and this is what she came up with. It’s the first installment of a much longer story. I don’t know where it’s headed. Only Muse knows and sometimes that’s a very good thing. I hope you enjoy this imagining.
Casting Your Lot
by Claudette J. Young
On either side of him stood hulking brutes, both incapable of smiling. Monte recognized such rigid mouths of displeasure from his travels. They’d told him he’d wait for the pleasure of Milady’s presence and here they’d stood for the time it took for a runner to fetch their superior.
She wasn’t especially intimidating or impressive when she arrived. Wool pants bloused in knee-high boots rustled as she walked. The voluminous tunic covering the rest of her body had smudges along one sleeve and across one breast.
When Monte met her eyes, his world rocked. He’d heard of gray eyes but never seen any. Understanding dawned as he gazed into eyes that could have been reflecting pools of still water.
A basso voice to the right rumbled from the depths of that hulk. “Caught him slippin’ in on the west perimeter, Ma’am.”
Her eyes didn’t waver from Monte’s. “Thank you, Ev. You and Stel did well bringing him in. Who took your place at sentry?”
“Kizer, Ma’am. He’d come out early.” The voice oozed deep respect. “Stel and me still need to report back in.”
Dark hair swished as she nodded. “Good men, both of you. I’ll take this one from you and see to him.”
The brutes must have total confidence in this woman, Monte thought as he watched the two sentries move off down a weed-choked lane to the left. When he brought his attention back, he saw Ma’am standing with her arms crossed but relaxed. She was studying him.
Monte didn’t take the bait. He raised his eyebrows with inquiry and remained silent.
“And how came you to this place, young sir?”
He shrugged. She didn’t need to know that he’d been running for his life from those barbarians to the west. She didn’t need to know how hungry he was or how weak he would soon be, either.
She nodded again and dropped her arms. “I see. It’s going to be that way, is it? Very well. Come with me. We’ll find you what you need.”
Monte almost cringed in his surprise. Did the women hear his thoughts, too? Who was she anyway?
She led off without seeming care that he would follow. Her feet found a path to the right that his eyes hadn’t seen until he was treading it. Birdsong was returning to fill the silence left by his entrance and the scene with the sentries.
Before he could question their destination, they arrived at a small hillock among the trunks of ancient looking trees. As they passed one ridged trunk, she placed a hand on it and murmured low enough that he couldn’t discern her words. She gave it a loving pat and moved around the left side of the mound.
Monte joined her beside a huge pile of leaves. She faced the hillock but stared at him. She pointed to the mound. “Inside with you now.”
Inside! What was the woman going on about? Mounds didn’t have insides. Did they?
His confusion must have been obvious. She stepped forward, swept a hand from right to left, and pointed with her other hand. A dark recess hid behind the covering she’d pulled back.
“Inside.” Faint impatience colored that single word.
She pushed him forward as she moved in behind him and dropped the covering. Monte didn’t move. He couldn’t see anything, could only feel the ground surrounding him, smell the soil that pressed against his feet and threatened to press against the rest of him.
“You are wise to allow your eyes to adjust, young sir. Surprises happen to the unwary.”
He said nothing to her statement. Instead he thought about her words. She had given him a clue. He’d saved himself somehow by not moving forward.
A moment later he could make out the problem. Before him was a set of stairs that went down to a stone floor some ten feet below. The stairs were not straight but ran first left, turned back to the right, and then turned again to face whatever room was at the bottom for the last two steps. He could have broken his neck.
“You may go down now.”
Monte wasn’t sure he wanted to. The little voice in the back of his head told him that he had no option but to follow her instructions. His reward was seeing a great hall spread out before him; tables peopled by families, singles, all ages. Who were these people?
“Welcome to Medley, young sir. We’ll take a meal now and worry about other things later, if you have no objections.”
Shaking his head, Monte kept himself from staring by exercising great restraint. He’d landed in this place, in the middle of nowhere, where the people lived underground, had dining halls to rival the old kings, and no one had so much as asked his name yet.
Milady took his arm and steered him to a serving line and moved in behind him. “For the moment, you are in my charge.” She waited for him to acknowledge her statement.
Then, “And in case you’re thinking of having a meal and then cutting out to run off, I wouldn’t advise it.”
He looked up and into her eyes. Something there was different. A chill ran through him.
“You wouldn’t make it out alive. The sentries saved your life by bringing you in. Just remember one thing. Barbarians come in many models.”
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