The Prisoner

A Lieutenant Markus Reutger Story


Tony Carden


[This is an incomplete story; just the beginning I’m afraid.] 

            ‘Sign here, then he’s yours.’ The constable pointed a finger at the ledger on his desk.

Markus looked where he had to sign. Wilhelm Von Parma, it said. He wrote the date and his name and rank, M. Reutger, lieutenant, Outriders. He spun the ledger around so the constable could read it.

‘The Beast of Borenhalt.’ The man spat. ‘Don’t know why you’re bothering to take him back. Our hangman would have done the job. He’s an expert and would keep the vermin alive for hours.’

            ‘They plan to make a public spectacle—as an example,’ said Markus. He didn’t add that he agreed with the constable’s opinion.

The man grunted knowingly. He tossed a set of keys in Markus’ direction, rose to his feet and disappeared through the door behind him.

He quickly reappeared with the prisoner.

As he was heavily shackled Von Parma shuffled slowly into the room, half dragged by the constable. Markus was able to get a good look at the Beast, the terror of the highways, murderer, rapist, and blasphemer. He was surprised by what he saw. The man was well groomed his face framed by the long flowing hair favoured by the higher echelons of Altdorf society. He sported a well-trimmed beard. Markus was also astonished to see he wore a fine silk shirt and expensively tailored red britches. He also carried, rolled up together in his hands, a dark blue and white padded jacket and grey cloak. Markus knew somehow that Von Parma would also be wearing expensive boots, though he resisted the temptation to look down to see.

Von Parma caught Markus looking at him. The Beast gave him with a wry smile.

‘Just because I’m a prisoner, doesn’t mean I should wear rags,’ he half joked.

Markus knew the man was testing him. ‘I was merely wondering whether your outfit was suitable for the journey ahead,’ he countered.

‘It’ll have to do, I’ve nothing else.’

‘ ‘Ere, you’d better take this,’ the constable said, passing over an intricately inlaid sword and a bundle. ‘Don’t let ‘im have it, though.’ The lawman gave a belly laugh. ‘Wouldn’t want yah getting hurt now, would we?’ He undid the knot and pulled out a pair of handsomely crafted duelling pistols. They had been inlaid with finely patterned mother of pearl in the butt to provide two contrasting patterns. The lawman stroked the intricate decoration. Markus was sure that the constable coveted the weapons and would have kept them.

‘I’ll see to it they’re kept safe,’ Markus said, irked by the constable’s attitude.

He motioned to the Outriders standing in the room to take Von Parma outside. He then picked up the bundle and followed them. As he did so, he gestured in farewell to the gaoler.

With two of his men preceding him and two behind, Markus led the manacled prisoner out into the yard. He was surprised to find a crowd of townspeople blocking their path.

The two soldiers tried to make a passage through the crowd, which in turn cried out in anger.

‘Vermin, filth, death’s too good for him. Hang ‘im here I say.’

Suddenly a group of men lunged forward and hit Von Parma knocking him to the ground. One tried to kick him and two knelt down to finish what they’d started.

Taken aback by the unexpected assault, at first Markus was slow to react. Then he grabbed the nearest man by the scruff of the neck and hauled him off the hapless Von Parma. Swinging the rioter around, Markus threw him into two of the men. Another he kicked out of the way.

The rest quickly retreated. They scowled at him. The crowd surged forward menacingly.

Markus drew his handgun and cocked the mechanism.

‘Stand back,’ he ordered. ‘I’ll shoot the next person who molests my prisoner.’

The crowd muttered angrily.

‘Go about your business,’ he added for effect.

‘Nah, he’s not worth it,’ someone in the crowd said. ‘He’s for the executioner’s block anyway.’ This defused the tension and slowly individuals began to turn and leave. Within a couple of minutes the courtyard was empty.

As the last few members of the lynch mob slunk away, Markus lent down and pulled Von Parma to his feet.

‘Thank you, Reutger,’ Von Parma said when on his feet again.

‘There’s nothing to thank me for,’ Markus replied. ‘I was just doing my duty. I am under orders to bring you back to Altdorf.’

‘But your orders don’t state in what condition I have to be when I get there, do they?’

Markus had to admit to himself that nobody would care if his prisoner looked as if he’d been beaten or tortured when he arrived at the court. Everyone knew he was guilty. His request for a trial by his peers was only to delay his inevitable execution. Rope or axe, Markus told himself, or beaten to death by a vengeful mob, what difference was there to the end result.

The way now clear ,the guard party proceeded across the courtyard and out into a cobbled street that led into a town square. Markus indicated a spot for Von Parma to sit down. Markus sat next to him. One of the soldiers went off, the others stood watching the prisoner.

Von Parma examined the Outrider escort, handguns at the ready. ‘Fearful, I’ll escape?’

Markus, the tension from the earlier encounter now gone, was frankly amazed at how his prisoner played on his own evil character. To pass the time he said, ‘You’ve got something of a reputation. Hence the precautions.’ He tugged at the fetters holding Von Parma’s hands.

‘My own fault,’ said the prisoner in a rueful tone.

‘You did kill Count Orlof and his whole family single handed,’ Markus pointed out.

‘I did. The bastard deserved it. He shouldn’t have killed my father.’

‘I thought the court took a different view?’

‘The trial was fixed. The Orlof’s have influential friends.’ He continued with venom. ‘They saw an opportunity to rid themselves of a political rival.’

‘But you tortured his wife and children,’ Markus insisted.

Von Parma looked at Markus and suddenly became serious. ‘Don’t believe everything you hear about me.’

Markus heard a rumble and the snap of a whip. He looked around as a carriage, drawn by four horses, rattled into the square. Behind it clattered three more Outriders, pulling two spare horses. The coach pulled up a few feet in front of the bench on which Markus and Von Parma sat.

Markus indicated to his captive to get aboard.

‘Excuse me,’ said a voice behind him.

Markus turned to see two nuns, sisters of Sigmar. The eldest, in her mid twenties, spoke, ‘Are you lieutenant Reutger?’ Markus nodded. She immediately continued, ‘We’ve been told you’re heaving for Nuln and we wondered whether we could ride with you.’ Markus started to speak, and the woman acolyte blurted out, ‘We can pay.’

Markus finally managed to speak, ‘I’m not sure, we’re escorting a dangerous prisoner.’

‘Don’t say no on my account,’ said Von Parma in a sweet voice, leaning out of the coach. ‘You’ll be much better company than these dirt sticks.’

Markus was at a loss for an excuse to effuse the women. ‘If you don’t mind travelling with a convicted murderer,’ he finally told them.

The two sisters looked somewhat aghast at the prisoner and then noticed the shackles on his hands.

The younger one asked, ‘He’ll be kept tied up, won’t he?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Markus firmly. ‘I’ve been given specific instructions to keep him bound at all times.’

‘So see, ladies,’ said Von Parma, ‘you’ve nothing to fear from me.’ He spoke in a false whisper. ‘It’s the lieutenant I’d be worried out if I was you.’ The two women backed away and looked at Markus as if he had somehow changed into an orc.

Markus shrugged. ‘Be my guests.’

He walked off and checked that his belongings had been stowed in the trunk. He added Von Parma’s sword and bundle to his own possessions, went back and then climbed into the compartment and closed the door. He slapped the roof to indicate to the driver to proceed.

With the driver shouting at the crowd to make way, the coach rattled slowly through the cobbled streets of Nulfeld.

As they went along, Markus gazed out the window at the multitude of shops and artisan’s studios. The two sisters said nothing. At the town gate, the carriage came to a stop when a guard flagged it down. Markus could hear the man talking to the driver.

‘Where are you heading?’ he asked.

‘To Ulrich,’ the driver said.

‘There’s been reports that bands of orcs and goblins have been raiding along the road,’ the guard informed him.

Markus impatient to be away, leaned out of the window. ‘These threats are usually greatly exaggerated.’

‘Just warning yah. Do as you wish.’ The guard gestured to let them proceed.

During the drive, Markus had nothing to do so sat watching the countryside roll past. He would have preferred to ride, but considered he had to keep an eye on the beast.

While they travelled, the two women kept up a whispered conversation. Markus didn’t bother to try to join in. Von Parma didn’t seem to mind being left out either. The other guard, a soldier from his troop, sat silently watching the prisoner his repeater handgun cradled between his legs.

The day passed slowly. Towards evening, Markus was woken from a light slumber when the coach stopped. He looked out to see a number of heavily laden wagons that were heading in the opposite direction. Several of them had become stuck, blocking the road. He could see whole families, with grandparents, parents and children all huddled together with a few possessions.

He got out to investigate.

Two wagons had locked their wheels. Markus could see their drivers arguing. He strode over to the little crowd standing around.

‘How did this happen?’ he demanded.

Everyone started talking at him at once.

He silenced them and pointed to one of the drivers to speak.

The man started to blame the other driver. Markus held up a hand. ‘We’ll sort that out in a moment. Why is everyone running away?’

‘There’s orcs and goblins—and worse,’ said the man. ‘We just got out with our lives.’

‘Did you see any of them?’

‘No,’ the man had to admit. ‘We just ‘eard.’

‘Where’s the militia?

‘Don’t know,’ the man said. Then he added, ‘We ‘eard they were beat by them orcs.’

Markus got his men to help untangle the two wagons and got the convoy moving once again.

As he climbed back into the coach one of the sisters asked, ‘Shouldn’t we turn back?’

Markus assured her, ‘These people have panicked for no reason. All they’ve heard are rumours. A few orcs come raiding and soon we’re facing an invasion. The militia’s probably already dealt with them.’

Von Parma added, ‘Be reassured, you’re also under the protection of the lieutenant.’ He tipped his head in Markus’ direction.

‘Indeed, we are,’ said the younger Sister.

The delay on the road meant it was quite dark when they arrived at the inn where Markus planned to spend the night. He left the soldiers to unload and sought out the innkeeper. He found the man busy serving a crowd in the bar.

‘We want lodgings for the night,’ he said.

‘We’re full,’ the innkeeper said. He gestured at the people crowded at the tables.

‘Where did they come from? Last time I was here the inn was nearly empty.’

‘They’re heading for Nulfeld. They’ve heard about the invasion.’

‘What have you heard?’

‘Nothing but rumours. You know the usual kind of thing.’ He shrugged his shoulders.

‘We still need somewhere to sleep.’

‘You’ll have to use the stables.’

‘Thanks,’ Markus agreed in a gloomy voice, “just what I need.” He went back out into the courtyard to give the party the good news.

Von Parma was philosophical about it. ‘It’ll be better than the hole I got at Nulfeld.’ The nuns weren’t too happy about it until Markus told them they wouldn’t have to pay.

The next morning they had the bar to themselves for breakfast.

‘Where have all the people gone?’ Markus asked the servant girl.

‘Up and gone, before first light,’ the girl explained. ‘They couldn’t wait to get away from the orc invasion.’

Markus said nothing and tucked into his breakfast. But deep down he was beginning to give some credence to the rumours.

After everyone had eaten, they resumed their journey. The road was nearly empty. From time to time, Markus watched as a rickety old cart or hay wagon pulled by an old nag passed them heading in the opposite direction. The peasant families huddled in the back looked tired and frightened.

Inside the coach, Markus heard the two nuns talking.

‘They say the Beast of Borenhalt practised black magic,’ said the elder one.

‘And that he engaged in unnatural practices.’

‘I heard he was only caught because he was betrayed by the woman he loved.’

Markus wondered whether the two women knew the identity of his prisoner. Judging by the way he talked, he thought they probably did. He looked towards Von Parma. He was asleep, or at least pretending to doze. Markus doubted very much whether the aristocratic and fashionable prisoner he escorted was capable of the things the sisters had heard.


[And that’s where this incomplete story stopped getting written. Umm. How does it end, one wonders.]