Chapter 11: Branding

Will groaned as he regained consciousness, lying face down on a cold stone floor. Every part of him ached and he trembled as he remembered the way that Morgarath had attacked him. Slowly he tried to open his eyes and he panicked when all he could see was darkness. Frantically, running his hands along the ground beside him, staring into the impenetrable gloom, Will slowly realized that he must be back in his cell.

He groaned loudly, not caring that the guard outside his cell could probably hear him, and would most likely torment him for it later. The guards absolutely loathed him and used every moment they possibly could to make his time in Morgarath's dungeon a living Hell.

Very cautiously, Will sat up, trying to move as little as possible so that he didn't hit his new bruises. He was feeling very tender, his head thumped with what was possibly the worst headache he had ever had, and to make matters worse, the wound in his shoulder was throbbing. He hoped that Morgarath's beating hadn't done any more damage to it, but Will wasn't too optimistic considering the way things have turned out for him so far. Propping his back up against the cold stone walls, Will licked his lips in a pitiful attempt to get rid of the dry, swollen feeling in his mouth. There was no point wasting energy searching the cell for food or water, he knew that he wouldn't have been left any.

As Will moved against the wall, attempting to find the position that hurt the least, he felt his elbow connect with something hard and made of metal and he gasped loudly, clutching at the aching bone. Cautiously, he inspected the wall more closely, and he discovered he that he had hit the palm sized metal ring that was fixing him to his prison. Will swore loudly, ignoring the Halt-like voice in his head that berated him for his foul language.

He tried to ignore the growing feeling of helplessness, but it was impossible; Morgarath could do anything that he wanted to him, and there would be no way that Will could stop him. Every part of him hurt from the earlier beating, and he was physically exhausted. He had been given very little food, and although there was very little to do in the small cell except for sleep, Will hadn't been able to rest. He was plagued by nightmares every time he closed his eyes.

Taking a deep breath, Will tried to think past the fog in his head to find a way out of his current predicament. He asked himself over and over again, what would Halt do? But there was no way that he could see to escape, no matter what angle he looked at it. He was chained to a wall, barely able to move, in the dungeons of the most feared man in Araluen. Will held his head in his hands, feeling useless and wishing that there was something, anything, that he could do.

At the same time, Will wondered what had happened to Evanlyn and Horace. Had they made it back to the plains? Were they even still alive? Did they know what had happened to him? Surely if Halt knew that he was here, he would be on his way, wouldn't he? Unless he had been injured. Will tried to push that horrifying thought away, but in the darkness of the cell, he found that he couldn't. It was all too easy for the fear to take over, to cloud his thoughts. He abandoned his position propped up against the wall in favour of curling up on the floor, trembling, with his knees hugged tightly against his chest. He was oblivious to the sound of footsteps getting closer and closer to his cell.

The loud click of a lock caused Will to look up, startled out of his depression by the unmistakable sound, and he visibly winced as the light from a torch aggravated his headache. Closing his eyes tightly and cursing Morgarath under his breath, Will decided with newfound determination that he would set something on fire the first chance he got.

As Will had literally sent Morgarath's plans at the bridge up in smoke, he knew instinctively that if he was able to set something else on fire it would vex Morgarath more than anything else he could possibly do. While provoking his captor might not be one of his smartest ideas, Will couldn't help but feel that chaos was exactly what this morbid black castle needed. The throbbing in his head seemed to agree.

It was good to finally have decided upon a course of action and even though it might not be an escape plan, it was still enough to keep him focused and determined. After all, if a chance to escape did appear he needed to be able to recognize it.

There was a group of five men standing in the doorway and Will had no doubt about why they were here; they were going to take him back to Morgarath. As he pictured Morgarath and his gloves, his entire body began to shake, and he felt his newfound resolve crumbling. He didn't bother to stand as three of the men pushed their way into the cell; he doubted that he could stand without support anyway. He was shaking too badly.

One of the men quickly unlocked the chain around his ankle while the other two pulled him roughly to his feet. Something strange was happening. Last time they had just unhooked the chain from the ring and used the chain to pull him along. This time they had removed the chain and shackles altogether. Will didn't have any more time to wonder about what this change in routine could mean however, as one of the men pulled him out of the cell and marched him along the maze of dark corridors. They weren't going up to the throne room, he could tell that much, and he tried to memorize the pattern of turns in case he got an opportunity to escape. He wasn't able to remember more than a couple corridors though, as Morgarath's castle was huge and built like a labyrinth.

Eventually, they stopped in front of a door the colour of blood and despite never having seen it before, Will shivered instinctively.

One of his guards knocked heavily on the door and without waiting for a reply, pushed it open and gestured to the men holding Will to drag him in. The room inside was surprisingly small and round, but there were four more blood red doors, closed, adorning the walls. Morgarath was standing in the middle of the room, grinning sadistically. Will knew that whatever was about to happen to him was going to be very bad. It had to be, to put Morgarath into such an obviously good mood.

Standing at Morgarath's right side was a man he had never seen before, and he had a nearly tangible aura of fear and death surrounding him. He was dressed in dark, nearly black, leather, and covered in scars. There was a large variety of knives and tools hanging from his belt and more strapped to various other parts of his body. All of the sheaths, including the belt, were the same blood red colour as the surrounding doors. The entire right side of his face was adorned in grotesque red tattoos in the shape of what Will realized were drops of blood.

"What's your name, boy?" Morgarath's voice was merciless, taunting, and Will studied the man properly for the first time since he had entered the room. He was grinning from ear to ear, and once more wearing the chain-mail backed gloves.

"I'm Will." There was no point in lying. It couldn't do him any harm to tell Morgarath that. Resisting however, Will thought, glancing at the leather-clad man, would probably hurt. It wasn't as if he had a family that his name could put in danger, and Will found that for the first time in his life, he was glad he had no family. A brief image of Halt flashed before his eyes, and Will desperately pushed it away.

He might never have seen rooms like these before, but Will was smart enough to recognize a torture chamber when he was dragged into one. The young apprentice tried to still his shaking limbs and brace himself for what was surely coming.

Morgarath was going to have him tortured; it didn't matter that he didn't have any valuable information; he was a Ranger, even if only an apprentice, and Morgarath would torture him just out of spite and hate. Unless something miraculous happened, unless he either escaped or was rescued, Will knew he was going to die here. The thought didn't terrify him nearly as much as he thought it would; it just made him angry. Will took a steadying breath and forced body to relax, to be ready to move. If he had to die in this bloody castle, he was damn sure that he wasn't going to go without a fight.

Morgarath felt pleasure burn through him as he drank in Will's obvious fear. Then, unexpectedly, the fear seemed to vanish, and the boy looked up, fists clenched in defiance. He stood frozen in shock as the boy threw himself at him, and tackled him to the ground. Morgarath grabbed for the dagger in his belt, but the boy was faster. The blade glinted threateningly as Will raised it, two handed, above his head to deliver a deathblow.

Before he could drive the blade downwards, he was grabbed from behind by the torturer, Nathaniel. The man gripped him by the hair and effortlessly pulled him up off the ground. Morgarath got to his feet quickly and ripped the dagger out of Will's hands. Stowing the dagger, he brushed off his clothes calmly, as if nothing had ever happened and watched the heavily muscled man bodily throw the young apprentice across the room. The boy would soon learn the folly of defiance.

Will let out a gasp of pain as he felt his shoulder impact the stone wall but he ignored the pain and clambered to his feet. He had been so close! He had had the knife in his hands and Morgarath had been beneath him, helpless! Now, the moment was gone and it was doubtful that he would ever get such a chance again, but that didn't mean that he would just give up! If he had gotten a lucky shot in once, what was to say it wouldn't happen again? He just had to keep trying.

He stood up straighter, readying himself for another try, but the large tattooed man caught him before he could even move a step, as if he knew what Will was thinking.

It took the man almost no effort at all to subdue the struggling apprentice, simply putting a meaty hand around his throat and squeezing until the young boy lost consciousness. He held Will upright and looked at Morgarath for orders on where he should take him. He might not personally like the egotistical man very much, but he had served him for nearly 15 years, ever since Morgarath's defeat at Hackham Heath. As long as the man continued to provide him with victims, he'd serve willingly. So far, this new boy looked to be the perfect subject.

"Bring him here, Nathaniel, it's time we teach him a lesson. It appears that he is long overdue for it." Morgarath was standing before the leftmost door and he pulled it open with a squeal of the rusted hinges. He smiled as he stepped aside to allow Nathaniel, who was carrying the unconscious Will, to enter ahead of him.

Crowley trotted his horse, Cropper, towards the small cabin that resided in the trees. He had spent the past couple of weeks roaming the country, trying to regain order and helping to track down various criminals in various fiefs. He was currently in Redmount and on his way to see Halt. He felt guilty about not allowing his old friend to go and chase down the bastards that had killed his apprentice but deep down he knew that refusing Halt's request was the only reasonable thing he could do. Halt was needed here, in Araluen. He just hoped that Halt was able to understand that too.

As Halt's small cottage came into view, Crowley's well-honed instincts flared. Something was wrong and it didn't take much thought for Crowley to recognize what was missing. There was no whinny of greeting from Abelard, Halt's horse, and no smoke emerging from the chimney. Both could undoubtedly only mean one thing; Halt wasn't at the cabin.

He had just been to see Arald and the Baron had told him that Halt was home, having just gotten back the day before from chasing down one of the more notorious criminals that had made their way to Redmount. So if Halt wasn't here, where was he?

Frowning, Crowley dismounted and looked warily around the small clearing, trying to spot anything out of the ordinary. When his keen eyes were unable to spot anything to be worried about, he stepped onto the porch and pushed open the cabin door, saxe in hand.

Nothing attacked him as he pushed open the door, but instead of putting his worries to rest, this just agitated him even more. Everything felt too peaceful. Despite himself, Crowley found himself hoping that the inside of the cabin showed signs of a fight that meant Halt hadn't left voluntarily. Halt couldn't have just walked out. He wouldn't have.

Would he?

As his eyes rested on the empty coffee cup on the table, his eyes narrowed, becoming dangerously thin. Halt never left dirty dishes lying around. Instinctively, he knew that he wasn't going to like what he saw next. He was right. He didn't.

Halt's small silver Oakleaf amulet was sitting on the table next to the coffee cup, and Crowley drove the tip of his knife into the table with a thud, swearing as he did so. He had. Halt had left, gone to chase Skandians.

Even as he gathered the small amulet up into his hands, Crowley tried to ignore the part of him that said that he really shouldn't be surprised. Ever since Crowley had first seen Halt with Will together he had known that they shared more than just the normal bond between master and apprentice. He hadn't recognized what the bond was at the time, but as he sat now in an abandoned cabin in the woods, he couldn't believe that he had missed it.

The panic and desperation that he had seen in Halt when Will was missing, the sheer depth of the despair that Halt had shown when Will had been killed, and the sense of misery surrounding Halt when he had returned, exhausted and bleeding, to the plains of Uthal suddenly made a whole lot more sense. He didn't know why or how it had come about, but Halt saw Will as his son, and as he remembered the blind trust and love in Will's face every time he saw the boy looking at Halt, he knew that the orphan thought of Halt as a father.

He didn't know much about Halt's life before he came to Araluen, but he did know that there wasn't anyone that the grim man called family. To finally find someone that he could feel that with, and to then have that ripped away from him in such a sudden and violent manner must have been heart breaking. Crowley felt a fleeting moment of pity for the Skandians that had killed the apprentice, because Halt surely wasn't going to rest until all of them were dead, but then the smiling visage of Will rose before his eyes and the pity was gone. Those bastards deserved every bit of pain Halt was sure to inflict onto them before he killed them.

Clenching the silver Oakleaf tightly in his hand, Crowley rose and left the cabin, slamming the door loudly as he did so.

He was hot. Slowly, Will regained consciousness and found himself strapped securely to a heavy metal table. Frantically, he tried to pull one of his hands out of the leather restraints, but he found that he was so tightly secured that he couldn't even move his arm an inch.

He was exhausted from his recent attack on Morgarath and the other man, Nathaniel. To make things worse, the heat of the room and being thrown around and forced into unconsciousness by the large man had caused his headache to return, stronger than ever.

Looking around the room, Will quickly discovered the source of the heat. A large furnace that took up nearly an entire wall of the small room, surrounded by buckets of coal and water. He focused on the weird shaped metal rods lining a second wall, before gasping silently as he realised what the instruments were. They were branding irons of many different sizes, shapes and designs.

As he watched, Morgarath pulled a rather intimidating brand from the wall and placed it into the red-hot coals. As he redoubled his efforts to escape from the table, Will realized that Nathaniel was laughing, the sound echoing around the small room. It was the first time that he had heard the man make a sound and it was chilling. He wished that he could block it out but he couldn't move to get away from it; He couldn't do anything. The straps were too tight and they were digging into his arms, legs, torso and neck, holding him motionless.

After what seemed like an eternity, but wasn't nearly long enough in Will's opinion, the tattooed man pulled the brand from the glowing coals and inspected the glowing tip to make sure that it was ready. He then carefully handed it to Morgarath and pulled out a rather sharp looking knife from a sheath on his thigh, before cutting off Will's shirt in a single slash from the neck down. The motion was careless and the knife left a bloody trail behind as it sliced his skin just as easily as his shirt.

It was only when Nathaniel stepped away and sheathed the knife that Morgarath spoke. "Hold still now, Will. This is going to hurt quite a lot, but I'm afraid that it's rather necessary. You see, the brand marks you as my slave, my possession, and more importantly, my pet."

Will saw Morgarath's lips move and knew that he was speaking but he couldn't make out the words; he was too focused on the red-hot brand that was getting closer and closer to the skin above his heart. He gave a bloodcurdling scream as Morgarath pressed the glowing metal into his skin and he could smell the skin burning. He couldn't escape the pain, it was all consuming and unquestionably the worst thing he had ever felt.

There was a horrible sizzling sound as Morgarath threw the brand into a bucket of water and, grinning, he let Nathaniel inspect the brand. It was directly over Will's heart and the size of a large fist. Sometimes if a brand wasn't applied properly or the victim wasn't properly secured, the brand moved half way through the process and you ended up with a smudged lump of burned flesh or what was referred to as the 'shadow effect' where there was two brands in roughly the same spot with one looking like a 'shadow' of the other.

This brand was well formed, and Nathaniel could distinctly make out the single blackbird above two crossed swords that was Morgarath's personal crest. He turned away from the sobbing boy on the table and nodded at Morgarath, letting him know that the brand was good.

"Shall we do anything more tonight?" The man spoke calmly, as if he was discussing his evening meal, but there was pleasure in his eyes and a slight upturn of his lips that could have been a smile. Nathaniel was in his element and he enjoyed what he did. He enjoyed it a lot. He hoped Morgarath would allow him to continue.

The Lord of rain and Night studied the boy on the table before he spoke. "No. We have as much time as we could possibly wish. There is no need to rush. Just collar him now and leave him overnight. Make sure you ensure he's fed. It would be a pity to have him die before we even got started, especially from something as preventable as hunger." Morgarath didn't wait for the Maser Torturer to reply before he walked out the blood red door, whistling.


Oops, I had this sitting in my inbox from my beta for ages and completely forgot about it. Here you go!

Ali Ranger51