After sleeping through most of the day, I awoke to sunset when my brother had returned to shake me out of a dream.
"You'll be late," Lyle pestered me.
He was seated on the other side of the bed, removing his boots as I sat up.
"What hour is it?" I asked.
Had we not already been in the shade of our lord's castle, fading daylight would have been clear. Regardless, I knew if my brother had to wake me, I must have overslept.
"If you were an apprentice, they'd take your wages," Lyle said while I stood to ready myself.
Before I could speak, Father's cough cut into our conversation. It was loud and monstrous, like a beast hiding in his throat. Mother said there was less blood in his rags, but the sound of his fight was the same.
"I'm not late yet," I told my brother as I stood at our curtain and pulled it out of the way.
Mother wasn't home, not yet. Had she been, there would have been something in the air enticing bellies. More importantly, there was no one other than my brother to look after Father.
"You'll have to give him his medicine," I said, stepping into the dining area.
Father's cough continued with little rhyme or rhythm to be predicted. As he lay behind his and Mother's curtain, only that vail hid us from his blunt suffering.
Lyle, barefoot and yawning, followed behind me just to complain, " He nearly killed me the last time I did it."
"Then be gentler with the needle," I laughed.
"Mother can do it when she returns," he argued.
"Mother may be hours away. Jordan might keep her till dawn if he's hosting a party."
And Lord Jordan loved hosting parties. From what Mother told me of her employer, Jordan was respectable, kind, and agreeable. Still, he had a habit of frivolous taste. At times, our Lord's way led to great gains across the city. His wishes were the reason most men and women were given time during holidays to spend in celebration rather than work. Jordan himself created several holidays known only in our city. But in most instances, he concocted events only kings and other nobility could enjoy. He conceived events that strained his workers.
"Then you stick Father before you go," Lyle told me.
"Aren't you a breeder? Should you not be inept in handling animals large and small? Father is but another beast."
"If Father is an animal, no lord would ever wish to see two of his kind."
"Then you'll surely be better at your craft for taming him," I laughed as I finally took my leave.
Our great city was far livelier at dusk. Like a forest of bodies, streets were crowded with little room to run.
But I ran.
Gallo hardly ever reprimanded me, but that was greatly in part to my avoiding his bad side. It also helped that he and my father were like brothers, making us family in an unspoken way. Be that as it may, rumor had it Gallo once put a man through a stone wall. The violation was forgetting to turn in their keys after a shift. I didn't want to know how my uncle dealt with late attendance.
To my surprise, when I arrived at The Salt Barrel, I couldn't get inside. There were several knights in full plated armor forming a narrow walkway from the pebbled street onto the barrel's beach. A single prisoner, with his arms bound and mouth gagged, was escorted through and into the spiral. The lengthy man was dressed in rags, tattered and unwashed, that I could smell from my distance. His long silvery white hair hid his face as he walked by.
Many other guardsmen and I could only watch until the knights followed the escorted prisoner inside.
Such a show rarely happened, but I'd seen it before. Prisoners who committed the greatest of offenses hardly warranted a knight's pack unless they were a witch.
"You're late," A voice pulled me from my thoughts after many moments of pondering who the newest prisoner was.
Turning around, I found Gallo at my side.
"I apologize," I said with my eyes turned away.
My superior, my uncle, simply grunted and went on his way. I followed until he stopped just beyond the entrance and told me, "Take the night."
"I can't afford to miss a day, Sir," I pleaded, assuming Lyle had been right and my wages were being taken.
"This place won't belong to us till they secure Velmon in his cell," Gallo explained.
I hadn't noticed till then, but the other guardsmen who had watched the event seemed to have dispersed rather than coming inside.
"Velmon?" I asked.
"The witch. They'll need to enchant his cell, and until they're done, The Salt Barrel is under knight's watch."
"What about the other prisoners. What about my block?"
"The knights will see to them. But your block was released this morning shortly after you left."
"They were minor offenders. The knights will have more than enough to worry about without a few pickpockets wasting their time."
"But they," I started to argue till Gallo cut me off, "Go home, Bastien. Return in 3 days. That should be long enough for the enchantment process."
At that, he went up the spiral, and I remained at its spout. My prisoners were gone? They were released? I hadn't a job to do for three days. For three days, I'd be without wages.
The Gods had trapped us in their territories. Ships could only travel so far before hitting what we came to know as an ocean's divide. They were large gaps between territories, between oceans, with the sole purpose of keeping mortals dependent and loyal to their Gods. If a ship tried to cross the gap, it simply fell off the water's edge into a black void of seemingly nothing. No one knew what existed in the void, and no one ever returned from its abyss.