Claus paced between the bed and the table in his little cell. Sometime after waking he had taken to calling this room his prison. He didn’t trust to exit the room on his own not knowing where he might end up. He could find himself in the heart of the city that would hang him on sight, or he could open the door to a shack in the wilderness and not be able to get to safety, or anything in between. He didn’t relish the thought of another adventure. The tragedies that had fallen upon him the last several days would be enough to last him to his old age. If he lived that long he thought.
So he walked. To the bed. Turned. Back to the table. Turned. Back to the bed. Over and over again until he thought he might go mad. Confinement had never suited him well.
He hadn’t heard from the sisters since the night before. There had been a bowl of ground oats on the table for him, but nothing to indicate any more news of what should happen to him. He knew there was nothing to stop him from running other than his own fear of where he would find himself. He’d never been a courageous man, but he’d also never been the fool. He wouldn’t have survived long as a thief had he been too bold or too fearless.
He waited instead, like the good child his father had raised him to be. Claus bit back the sickness that rose up at the thought of his father. He’d dreamed of his father again last night. Not of the deaths, but of his father’s scar. The scar that reminded him to fear magic whenever his father showed it to him. Claus never learned exactly what accident had fallen onto his father, only that it was caused by someone who welded magic. The horrible thing covered half of his father’s body, from right shoulder to left hip across his back and down his left leg.
But that had all happened before Claus had been born. Only the image of it haunted him and his father’s words to never trust magic.
Claus pushed the memory away, thinking instead of Verica. Try as he might, his father had never convinced Claus to fear her. Verica made him uneasy, but she was his friend. His sister, as Claus’s mother would call her. The fae child had a charm about her that eased the fear in Claus.
Claus wondered how Verica was fairing. She was quick and smart. Either she had run and gotten out of the city or she’d stayed and hid in the brothel. As long as she didn’t use magic she could pass as a human, there was enough of her father in her to hide the fae features her mother had passed onto her. Either course would keep her safe. In the forests she knew how to find safe vegetation and shelter, something Claus had never learned having lived in the city his whole life.
All the while, as he paced around the room, a liting breeze kept the young man company. Claus had given up trying to force it away. As long as it didn’t do more than tug at his hair he let it be. He was too agitated to keep his body calm. Besides, he didn’t have any real idea as to how to control this power. His observations have only shown that it’s tied to his emotions somehow. If he were agitated then the breeze kicked up, if he kept his heart beating slow then it stayed away.
Claus’s eyes flickered to the door. Waiting for something to happen, wondering what was going on within the city, thinking of Verica. Still the door remained shut. Had the door eyes, Claus thought, they would be following him and watching as he wore a rut in the floorboards. He already felt as if something was keeping watch on him, the skin at the back of his neck kept prickling him, urging him to turn around and look, but nothing was with him in the room. But the feeling only spurred his pacing.
A peek out the door couldn’t hurt, his thoughts circled back to the thing that had set him pacing. As long as he stayed in the room and didn’t actually go out he would be fine. The window told him nothing, the scene outside had shifted every few hours. He didn’t know if this was an indication of where the room was at that moment or if the scenery was just for his benefit. But a peek couldn’t hurt.
Resolving himself, Claus stomped over to the door and laid his hand upon the handle, and pulled it open a crack.
He looked out on an empty, rundown street he didn’t recognize. The buildings looked deserted: windows boarded up and not a soul to be seen. A movement out of the corner of his eye had him pushing the door open wider. A pair of city guards marched past him. They must be patrolling Claus thought. He recognized the uniform they wore. They were the grunts of the city guard.
But that meant this was his city.
For once in his life without thinking about what might happen, Claus put his foot out the gap he had opened in the door.
A rough hand grabbed his shirtfront and a man shouted after the guards that had passed him by. Claus was pulled from the room and the door shut behind him with a definitive snap and Claus knew without looking that the door would be gone.
“We’d cleared out this area. What are you doing here?” The hand holding Claus shoved him against the bricks that had replaced the door he had come through.
Claus looked up at the man. A captain by the badge on his chest. The other two guards joined their captain surrounding Claus.
“Where did he come from?”
“Do you have a tongue? Or you lose that too?” The guards harassed him. Cutting each other off and not giving Claus time to speak himself.
“If he won’t answer best throw him in with the rest of the lot. Probably guilty of something or other,” the captain said and hauled Claus away from the wall to toss him at the guards.
Claus dropped to the ground before either of the other two could grab him again. He pushed away from the ground and shot between the guards legs and ran down the street away from where the guards had been heading before they’d caught him. Shouts filled the air behind him and the trample of boots on the packed dirt road pursued his steps.
Reaching an intersection, Claus swung himself around the corner to his left and looked for another quick turn to try to put distance between himself and the men gaining behind him. These men knew the section of the city though and easily kept pace with any turn Claus made.
Claus lost hope in escaping in the alleyways and directed his path back toward a bigger road. His eyes scanned ahead, looking for people that he could lose himself in, but the streets and alleys were deserted. Only the guards and he moved about.
All the people were gone. No one peeked out from the upper windows on the street to watch the chase. No sounds other than Claus and his train stirred the afternoon stillness.
Fear clamped down on Claus as he realized he was alone and wouldn’t get away. The ache in his legs slowed him, bringing the guards closer. He gasped for breath, not able to pull in the air his body craved. He was losing the race.
He cursed himself. Long distances had never been a friend to him. His body wasn’t conditioned to running.
A hand clamped down on his shoulder and pulled him back. Claus fell backwards into the men. A boot crashed into his side. Another his thigh.
Claus tried to curl up, but one of the men grabbed his hair and pulled him back for a man to kick his chest. He flailed, trying to protect himself but the men were stronger than him and easily swatted away his limbs to continue beating their prisoner.
“Get a set of shackles on this one. Feet too. We don’t need another jog today,” the captain said planting his boot on Claus’s chest as he lay on the ground. Pinned down the other two men forced his arms and feet together and Claus felt the cold metal snap shut against his wrists and ankles.
The men hauled Claus on his feet where he swayed. Fatigued and aching again, the men shoved Claus along at a shuffling pace. With his legs bound his stride was reigned into a forearm’s length. He wouldn’t be able to run again even if he’d had the energy.
They didn’t lead him back the way they had come. Instead, they continued in the direction Claus had been leading the party. Claus kept his head down, showing the men his defeat, but his eyes scanned the street, trying to find something that would tell him where in the city he was. Nothing looked familiar. He didn’t understand it. Not that he knew the layout of the entire city by heart, but he was at least familiar with the major roadways, especially of the wealthier districts where his work frequently took him. But nothing stirred his memory of this place.
This was his city though. His home. He should recognize something, he thought.
He lifted his head a fraction to look over the captain’s shoulder and see what lay before them. A large building loomed ahead of them over the tops of the small homes. They were leading him to the courts, Claus realized. This district must be what lay beyond the lord’s building. Claus didn’t think he’d gotten this close to the justice building in his life. He n...