Stone Rising

Free Stone Rising by Gareth K Pengelly

Book: Stone Rising by Gareth K Pengelly Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gareth K Pengelly
be as bad as you imagine…”
                  The Boy didn’t reply, instead taking a deep gulp of the hoppy ale, face half in shadow, half lit orange by the flickering flames, as Will began talking anew.
     
    ***
     
    It was another two nights before the Shiriff’s men called in again at The Trip and the Boy had begun to despair that their money or their livers would give out before they had a chance at receiving the Shiriff’s coin. It was not to be so. The militia called in.
                  The two outlaws, called up.
                  They stood, side by side, along with other youths, mostly thin, bedraggled and hungover looking sorts, blinking their eyes in the harsh sunlight of the castle courtyard as they stood for their first morning inspection. The Boy scratched at his lower back, the rough, spun-wool red tunic that was the recruits’ attire itchy on his skin.
                     “Belay that, boy!” barked a low and rasping voice. The veteran that stood and watched the parade marched over, figure gnarled lean and whippet-like by years of hard service. He stuck his face right in the Boy’s, one eye milky-white from the scar that bisected it and ran down his cheek. “Arms down by your sides and leave them there and be damn thankful I’m here to tell you. If the guardmaster was ‘ere, you’d be in for a beasting…”
                  As if on cue, the grinding of metal on metal as a bar was drawn back, then the creak of hinges as the gate swung open to allow figures to march into the courtyard. The recruits snapped to attention. Three men, better dressed than the recruits, strode forth onto the flagstones, the sound of their heavy boot steps echoing loud and clear, cloaks flapping behind them in the cool breeze.
                  “Oh, shit…” came a whispered sigh from The Boy’s side, that could only have been Will.
                  He risked a glance to the left, a shiver of cold familiarity passing down his spine as the three marched into place before the youths, inspecting them with the same sneering, distasteful looks as one might inspect dog dirt on the bottom of your boot. The leader, whom The Boy could only assume was the guardmaster himself, scanned the ranks of young men, his cruel eyes narrow in his scarred face. As his gaze passed the two outlaws, it paused for a second, his lip flickering for an instant into a smile of recognition, revealing black teeth, but only for an instant before he continued his inspection. Finally, with a brief nod to himself, he spoke.
                  “Welcome, o’ brave and honourable volunteers to the Shiriff’s service.” He smiled, as did the three beside him, his two officers and Scarface, as the recruits gazed about at each other.
    Could any of them remember volunteering for anything? They could remember little through the haze of hangover. Only two of the throng stood and met the guardmaster’s gaze, defying him now, even as they had two nights before in the wagon on the way to town. The man continued.
    “I’m Guardmaster Cooper. But you sorry lot can call me ‘sirrah.’” His tone changed, as did his eyes, becoming hard like flint. “In three days’ time, the Shiriff himself comes to inspect you. I have three days in which to turn you maggots into men. During that time, you eat when I tell you, sleep when I tell you, shit when I tell you. You take the shilling wanting glory and gold, your life becomes forfeit. Perhaps one day you can earn it back. Until that day, your life is mine.” He smiled again. “Do we have an understanding…?”
                  The two outlaws looked at each other for an instant, wondering what they’d let themselves in for, certain that the following days would be full of hardships, then turned back to face the officer along with the other men at their backs.
                  “Sirrah, yes

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