Super Short Story: Keeper of Keys


“You will thank us before the end” the scrawny one, Finnik, said standing at the open door, the growing light of the morning piercing into the darkness of the chamber.
“There will be no thanking from anyone if I were to follow you” the big one, Harlath, said while sat behind a desk stacked with books.
“Harlath I’m leaving, as are the rest of the guards. Come with us” Finnik said.
“Thank you, but my duty is here. I bear you nor the rest of the guards any ill will over the dereliction of duty. You understand that your wages are forfeit” Harlath said.
“Gold has lost all value, and you sit there informing me that I will not be paid as if I were to care. None of us will feel owed.”
“I have heard that before. Some people would tell you that they have no need for the common currency but always find a way of holding out a cupped hand” Harlath said.
“You think we mean to defraud the crown for some extra gold? You think that the chaos that has swept the land, driven fathers to slay sons mothers to devour daughters was a conspiracy on our part? You think that it is part of some elaborate orchestration on the guards part to pry several gold pieces loose from that miserly commander? That you think us capable of such deeds is a great honour.” Finnik said. Finnik crossed the threshold of the doorway into Harlath’s chamber. Finnik stopped himself halfway between door and desk.
“Look Harlath; I don’t like you, none of us like you. A man so honest devoid of vice is not to be trusted. A man should have a weakness that he is prepared to display. Now I can tell the rest that you do have a weakness, you have a conviction to carry out your duty when all else have abandoned hope, even those who command you to do that duty.”
Finnik stood looking at Harlath whose eyes were cast down at the parchment on the desk. Harlath stopped writing briefly and shrugged. Finnik could not tell if the shrug was motivated by his words or Harlath had discovered some irregularities in the accounts.
“Put the quill down, stand up, come with us. We are heading west. The plan is to get a ship; there is nothing in the tales that say the giant can traverse the oceans” Finnik said palms up, running teeth over the dead skin of dry lips.
“If I were to take you up on your offer then the men that are under our charge would starve,” Harlath said looking up to Finnik for the first time since the conversation started.
Finnik leaned back onto the balls of his feet. The rough stone of the chamber floor put him off balance. Finnik took a step back towards the door.
“Let them, they had their chance, they can rot, and no one will care,” Finnik said.
“Let them rot, I see. Some of these men have sentences that are finishing their sentences, they are to be released, and there is no keeper of keys, they would feel betrayed by the system that they are part of.”

“Who cares, when they are released there will be no world for them to return to, better they stay here unaware the choice removed,” Finnik said.

“Now you are thinking like me, there’s no point in running from the inevitable. Awaiting death can be worse than the execution itself. Stay, distract yourself with work, remove the choice and life will become easier”.

“You belong on the other side of those bars”. Finnik said breaking eye contact.

“I may join them. A caged beast does not care about what age it will grow, all it thinks of is escape” Harlath said. Harlath rose from the chair and went and stood before Finnik. “Cowardice is not a choice I would make.”

“I’m not a coward,” Finnik said.

“I didn’t say you were, but seeing yourself in my words is something for your own conscience.”

“I will not be mocked by some jobsworth.”

“A jobsworth who has chosen to face the fact head-on, not cower from it in some lie. It is fortunate that you are a bastard, had you carried on your families name the bloodline would have been ended out of shame.”

Finnik clenched a fist and struck Harlath. Harlath didn’t even wince. A smile grew wide across Harlath’s face.

“I would forgive the insolence and the admission of dereliction of duty. Striking a superior officer is where I draw the line” Harlath said. Finnik went to flee, but Harlath had already a hand pinching into Finnik’s shoulder. Harlath’s strength had Finnik hunched over.

“I will escort you to your cell, and before the end, you will thank me”.

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