As promised, I’ll resolve the cliffhanger to Pariah Company Le Reject Version. This one is about 20-25 pages and I’ll post what would have been the conclusion.
If you enjoyed this, please check out my writing on Amazon with books like Historian’s Crusade and Disalienation. Pariah Company and the League of Mandarins, stories inspired heavily by the reject Pariah Company, will release during Q3 2018 and Q2019.
One Infiltration and A Betrayal – A Pariah Company Story
The Multiverse ( Earth 7538) – The Year 1581 A.D.
The heavy iron door hinges squeaked as it swung open. It set the mood quite well. Two pairs of leather boots dragged him into the cell entrance. His feet barely touched the ground. Then they pushed him in. Stumbling, he landed on his face. His good side too, sadly. It was okay though. The cold, moist stone floor broke his fall. His eyes couldn’t adjust to the dimness immediately. There was darkness ahead, a bright sliver of light behind.
“Ouch,” he said slowly. Having seen the inside of many a dungeon it was a well-kept secret that your jailors expected something, anything, in terms of a reaction after this old ritual. Otherwise they’d hurt you some more. Taking pride in one’s work he could appreciate and so he obliged. Now they laughed sardonically and closed the door loudly. The locks went back into place.
A body stirred in a corner. It smelled like damp straw. “Anyone there?” It was a nice, female soprano. The most lovely voice on the face of the Earth in fact. Maybe he was biased though.
“Just an old warhorse with aching bones, thinning hair, and some other ailments,” Charles Alberic said, dusting himself off.
The voice giggled in the most delightfully girlish way that warmed the old mercenaries’ heart. “Hello to you too, father.”
Alberic finished putting himself back together. Now that his eyes were getting used to the darkness, it didn’t seem quite that bad. Yet a cell was a cell. His daughter had made herself comfortable on the straw though. She even had a blanket. Almost a luxury dungeon, he remarked to himself. He let himself fall back down next to her, gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She hugged him back. “What did I tell you again about keeping the wrong sort of company?”
“Protecting the Princess of Greater Brandenburg isn’t exactly keeping bad company, father,” Philippa Stahlhand replied, her tone similar to her mother’s in moments like this.
“You’re still imprisoned though.”
“As are you,” she countered, then paused. “Why are you here?”
He shrugged his shoulders. Body language was hard in pitch black dungeons. “Saving you.”
“Be honest now, dada. You never lied to me,” she paused, remembering that time her pet imp ‘Mr Impy’ died after she forgot to feed it the souls of damned mice and Alberic had told her he had gone back to the 6th circle of hell. Good times, he remembered.
“True,” Alberic said with a slight smile, “Alright. I was hired to retrieve the bratty Princess. But I only took it because you were here. If you wrote me sometime I’d have found out sooner.” He was not bitter that his only child didn’t write more than once a year in the age of the express pigeon. Not one bit at all. “That was when we still thought she was kidnapped, not working with the Dragonheart.”
“‘We’,” Philippa said curiously. She took the ‘throne in the dungeon’ experience extremely well, immediately picking up on a well-established routine, well too liberal for polite society, with her father. Then again at 28 years of age, the half-fairy had been there from the very beginning. Pariah Company’s little baby shapeshifter. Born during the rise, raised during the height, coming of age during the fall.
Alberic shrugged again, mostly though to get his shoulders uncorded from the harsh treatment of the guards. “Brought a couple of fresh recruits. Also your mother.”
“Aw,” she said mockingly. Clearly an influence of her mother’s lack of respect for man’s society. It was all the trickster fairy blood. Having been raised by social outcasts couldn’t have helped much though. “You stopped hating each other to rescue little old me?” She smiled, mockingly touched. “How is mother?”
“At this moment probably enjoying herself way too much,” Alberic stated disgruntled.
“I was surprised by your message,” Princess Helene-Sophia said in a much better mood than one expected from someone dressed in ebony black armor from head to toe, riding a black mare, and surrounded by equally unpleasant soldiers.All of that while wearing a cloak with a golden dragon stitched upon it. The coat-of-arms of disgraced nobleman and renegade hedge knight Sigurd the Dragonheart.
Ahmed was not certain about this fact, being a foreigner on the shores of Europe after all, but he wondered if this Princess was slightly more evil than had been let on. It was just a hunch though. The Quran thought tolerance after all. At least it is what the Sultan’s imam had preached until he was executed for breaching the trust of the harem. Now Ahmed, still uncertain about the horse they had provided for the journey to Camelot, strained to hear the Princess and Catelin talking.
Catelin seemed unfazed for someone who had just betrayed her former paramour. “Let’s just say I was looking forward to something like this for a while.”
It seemed to satisfy the Princess. “And how did you deduce that I hadn’t been kidnapped?” No, Ahmed had read it wrong. She played at letting her guard down bit by bit. It was something Ahmed could appreciate more and more by the minute of observing her body language.
“Besides of the fact that you’ve always done this shit and were a bratty, petulant, angry child with delusions of grandeur?” If she hadn’t been utterly unfazed by the Princess’ posturing before, Catelin sure was now. She carried herself similar to the royal in fact. Almost the same indeed but prouder still. Without much context Ahmed hadn’t been able to see it before. Not arrogance perse. Confidence? Maybe. Experience? More likely. Catelin had an ageless aura about her but while she looked barely ten years older than the Princess, she was much wiser than she normally let on. Ahmed had seen it twice before but not paid it much attention. No wonder she could have played Alberic this way. She was much better at this game than he. Alberic obfuscated, he was your friend. Catelin became someone else entirely depending on the situation. She was your leader. Was it the fairy magic? Alberic had already been sent to the dungeons. Achilleos was sitting on his own horse, simply going along with things for now. A lumbering oaf. Unfit for anything but pure combat. Thinking must hurt him oh so much. Or was he already underneath Catelin’s spell, ready to do her bidding? Ahmed couldn’t leave it to chance and gripped the dagger hidden underneath the traditional robes tighter.
“Philippa is quite alright,” the Princess replied quickly. Warmer. “She is still my friend, Catelin, relax. Despite all of this unfortunate business. She’ll be able to leave once Sigurd and I are ready. Can’t have her send word to my father or his lackey Voigt after all. Had to be done”
Had to be done? Ahmed wondered if this woman was quite alright in the head. Catelin though took it in stride. “That’s good. Maybe I can convince her to join in.”
“Maybe,” said the Princess with a dangerous smile. At this moment Ahmed finally decided that he had gotten off the boat at the wrong spot and wished to relive the last three days if possible.
After another little while of traveling down the road, Ahmed was quite glad to have been provided with a horse, even if an unruly one. Even after a good hour, the castle of Camelot had not come into view. Ahmed started to wonder how large this dimensional bubble was. It didn’t seem too different from the real world, but there was nothing in terms of architecture or infrastructure that had been visible around Paderborn, never mind anywhere else they had flown and traveled past. Yet the sky was blue and bright, the earth brown. Fields of grain lined the road that seemed similar to Roman streets from the last millennia, still visible in the older parts of the Empire. Infrastructure throughout the Three Romes had of course changed over the centuries but there were details that placed it into a 3rd to 5th century context. On Ahmed’s travels a local tutor exiled from Byzantium had always spoken of the time when there was but one Rome, its technological marvels still not overcome even by the successor and sister empires it had spawned. In the far distance there was even a functioning aqueduct, something that had always been broken on the journey through the Holy Roman Empire, the German lands warring so often with each other in all their decentralized nature that everything just decayed, indicative of its status as the sick brother of the Three Romes. As they rode past, there were even farmers on the fields. OVerall, it didn’t seem as oppressive as Ahmed had figured when Alberic had signed them up for this.
Ahmed glanced back at Catelin who was now talking to Achilleos. Clearly trying to convince him that setting up Alberic had been a good idea. It had been a shock for them as well after all, having come out of nowhere. The only reason they hadn’t done anything was because they had been surrounded by enemy soldiers. That and Alberic had just shook his head subtly, telling them to go along with it in everything but the exact words. Probably wishing to be freed at the earliest opportunity. That seemed the likeliest option. Ahmed was happy to oblige.
The fields of corn and grass eventually broke up, replaced by a field of tents and horse pens. Ahmed had no eye for European warfare of this century but even a layman could see their makeshift nature. All of this, no, none of this , made sense. Glorious knights, warrior princesses… a loud jawn went through the camp and a 15 foot hairy man got up. A giant too now? No, a troll. That made even less sense with everything else involved.
Thankfully, the princess spoke up again, addressing Achilleos and Ahmed directly as they rode past the exercising troops, resting horses, and three, four trolls. “As you can see, all are welcome with us. Humans, trolls, some dwarfs we managed to persuade too. They are currently in Camelot, fixing the sewer system. 5th century ROman or not, but they have suffered in the long centuries since.” She now looked directly at Ahmed as they rode. “I will not hold it against you that you joined up with Alberic. I reiterate my statement from earlier in that regard: That is a different matter entirely. A private matter. You are free to roam about in this dimension. Join the tournament for all I care.”
“Tournament? I shall volunteer!” It was the first words Achilleos had spoken in over an hour. It made him more unpleasant to Ahmed. How typical that this brute would only care for fighting. And yet… between the brute, Catelin’s backstabbing, and Alberic’s motivating them solely with gold, how much better was Ahmed for that matter? Did Alberic deserve any loyalty at all? Should Ahmed risk everything for a piece of morality that was clearly alien to the people of this era?
They rode past another creek in this endless seeming pocket dimension. And, suddenly, there it was. No one had to call out for it. A great big castle on a hill. Everyone had seen it. Tales of Camelot had reached far and wide for many centuries of course, especially during the Crusades. Wherever Ahmed had gone throughout the Arab world, Camelot had been at least been heard of. It was was ridiculous though. The tales Ahmed had been told as a child differ much from the ones written down, never mind the ones collected on the journey. Be they Chaucer or a local merchant, a great painter dead 800 years or a drunkard in an inn: everyone’s Camelot, both in custom and appearance, differ fundamentally from one another. Not it all made sense though once you laid your own eyes on it.
Camelot was a castle who’s inner ring was almost entirely of glass and steel, maybe even stronger than that, all clad in obsidian. Another ring was stone, beautifully cut granite. The third was simpler stone, growing more common as walls reached higher, all culminating at the point where the currently under construction utmost ring was mere wood and straw. Ahmed had heard of the backwardness of centuries past, only preserved in the East or monasteries. It had always seem like an exaggeration of the sources. Now it made sense.
Ahmed glanced at Catelin. Even the young-yet-eternal fairy looked surprised at the magnificent central tower. This was more than the old Romans could have accomplished, never mind the new ones. And neither the fairies from that look. The dwarfs didn’t build above ground. So who did it? Maybe this was finally it.
They rode in silence and awe now for the rest of the journey. Outside the castle walls, amidst a small market and military encampment, they dismounted. Swords and hammers clanked in the distance, cheering soldiers not far from that. Quite the party, it seemed. “Until Mylord Sigurd returns, feel free to wander the camp. Participate in the fights. Sir Thomas is responsible here, talk to him,” said the Princess. With that Helene-Sophia rode through the castle gate, peasants scraping and bowing before her. Being Ahmed’s first ever meeting with European-style royalty first-hand, it was oddly comforting that the common folk were treated equally badly everywhere. Ahmed looked away and instead up at Camelot’s main tower. Placing a hand over the small backpack strapped underneath the left shoulder and over the tummy, giving the impression of some minimal overweightness hidden by the robes, Ahmed realized that getting up there now had priority. Though it was probably necessary to stick with the charade for a bit longer. Following Achilleos and Catelin was the best bet for now to get in. Glancing back up, the smile got wider. Finally: signs of advanced technology.