The Dark Citadel - Episode 5

“I’ll kill you when I find you, you little bastard!” Petro Marok sat in the shadows of his alley hiding place, nursing his bruised hand and sobbing. He was low to the ground, hidden behind the butcher’s shop, tucked out of sight and forgotten. 
The Dark Citadel - Episode 5
Beggar's Delight

Episode 5

Beggar's Delight

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“I’ll kill you when I find you, you little bastard!”

Petro Marok sat in the shadows of his alley hiding place, nursing his bruised hand and sobbing. He was low to the ground, hidden behind the butcher’s shop, tucked out of sight and forgotten. 

He liked it here, alone and ignored, because it was a place he could rest and think away from the mockery of other children. 

But now, all he could think about was how badly his knuckles hurt. The physician said that nothing was broken. His father told him to man-up; stop being a little coward. But Petro didn’t care. His hand hurt, he was miserable; he was cold, and he was alone. 

None of the kids his age even cared that he was in pain. They laughed at him and scorned him. He hadn’t even wanted to spar with Hank. Hank was the Guard Captain’s son. Hank was being taught how to use a sword, trained to be a fighter. Petro’s father was a miner, spending his days underground mining for minerals and his nights drinking. He was strong, and he was cruel. Petro bore scars and bruises all over his body to show how much his father cared about him. 

None of the other kids did anything. Some pitied him. Most laughed at him. They said they would rather be a bastard than have his life. So, he avoided them. He kept to himself. He was used to being alone and neglected. He was used to their scorn. What he wasn’t used to, however, was their attention.

Today had been particularly bad; little saint Hank, whose father was Captain of the Guard, had been sparring in the courtyard. He liked to show off his skills, beating down anyone his age who tried to challenge him. Never mind that they had never even held a sword before. He liked to show his superiority. 

Hank decided he wanted to spar with Petro. Petro didn’t want to. He’d been searching for scraps of food, digging through refuse piles and pilfering the remnants of other people’s meals. People who ate well, like Hank. But when Hank said he wanted something, he got it. The other kids grabbed Petro. They grabbed him and threw him into the center of a mass of bodies. One gave him a wooden sword, but it was too heavy for Petro to use.

And they’d laughed at him. They laughed at him while he tried to defend himself, while Hank pummeled him with the blunt edge of his wooden blade. Petro had been crying, but that only made them all laugh harder, and Hank hadn’t even noticed.

Finally, to add insult to injury, Hank disarmed him. He’d hit him on the knuckles with the edge of his blade with a sharp rap that made him scream. They’d mocked him as he ran, jeering and cursing at the little coward. He’d run until his lungs were burning and then he’d hidden in a barn, wishing they would just leave him alone. 

They wouldn’t accept him—that dream of being welcomed in their midst had slipped away years ago—but did they need to mock him and abuse him? Was it really so enjoyable to treat him like dirt? The ones like Hank they would never understand.

Hours passed before he finally snuck out of the barn and went home. His father was there, and another man. The man was a physician who smelled of hard liquor. Petro was hopeful, barely daring to believe that his father would hire a physician to look at his injuries. Of course, he found out, his father hadn’t. The man had heard about the fight and come of his own volition to check on the child.

But Petro was still happy for a time. The fact that someone, even an old physician, would take an interest in him enough to pity him made him grateful. It made him feel wanted. He proffered up his hand, and after a cursory examination, the physician declared it to be fine. 

Then he’d asked for payment.

His father had punched the physician, leaving the man bloody and scrambling in the street, and then turned his broiling attention on his only son.  The boy. The reason his wife left him, the reason he was always poor, the reason he was mocked around town. The boy. Not Petro. Not his son, his kin, his blood. Just: the boy.

When he’d finally fallen into his drunken stupor Petro fled the house, finding his dark corner behind the butcher’s shop to hide in and nurse his wounds.  His hand still hurt worse than the rest of his battered body and he could barely bend the fingers.  He wouldn’t even be able to perform the few odd jobs he’d managed to find around town with only one good hand. He’d lost the modest income that kept him fed because a Guard Captain’s son needed to show his superiority. No one wanted a son of a drunk around, let alone the crippled son of a drunk.

And so he sobbed. He was a coward, and he knew it. A starving little coward, not fit to be anyone’s friend. Not fit to be loved.

He fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming horrible dreams in the cold damp alleyway where he spent many nights. People walked past. No one noticed him. He awoke the next morning shivering and exhausted. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, stretching out his young back and yawning.

People were bustling outside his alley.  That’s what woke him up. Cautiously he moved to the end of the street and glanced around.  A group of soldiers wearing crimson tabards over polished armor marched past.  He tried to count them, but didn’t know how to go past twenty, and there had to be at least twice that many.

One of the street urchins, a girl named Suzanne, came running toward him.  “Petro, Petro, what’s going on?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.  Who are they?”

“Knights!” Suzanne said. Her eyes were enormous, like shining emeralds. She was younger than him, but only by a few weeks. Sometimes they went digging for food together. “They are going to the duke’s manor.”


“I don’t know,” Suzanne said.  She leaned in close to him, conspiratorial. He could smell her stale sweat, but doubted he smelled any better. “But someone said he’s a demon worshipper.”

“Who? The duke?”

“Uh huh,” she said, looking worried.  “Does that mean I’m a demon worshipper?”

Petro shook his head again.  “No Suzi.  You don’t even know what a demon is.”

She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms, angry. “I know more than you do.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But right now, don’t say anything.”

“Okay,” she said, nodding. Suddenly she smiled. It was a shy smile. “Thanks, Petro.”

He was about to tell her it was no problem, but he never got the chance.  A man grabbed his shoulder, spinning him like he weighed nothing, and he came face to face with one of the Knights.  He was a huge man with a scruffy beard and beady eyes.  There was no sympathy in those eyes, just calculation.

“You. Boy. Are you the captain’s son?”

Petro shook his head.  “No.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“No,” Petro replied.

“His name is Hank, we were told. Listen very carefully, boy,” the man said, lowering down to look Petro in the eye. He spoke slowly, emphasizing each word. “If you know where he is, then it is very important that you tell us where he is.”

Petro didn’t like the knight.  He doubted they had anything good planned for Hank, and even though Petro didn’t like Hank much, he didn’t dislike him.  Hank was nice, sometimes; just self-absorbed and inconsiderate. Like most rich kids. At this time of day, he was fairly certain Hank would be at the armory or in the chapel. 

He also knew, without a doubt, where Hank wouldn’t be. 

“He’s at the library,” Petro said.  He didn’t mind lying to the knight, even for a second. “At this time of day, he’s always at the library.”

“Are you sure?” the knight asked, standing up.  Petro nodded.

“Uh huh. I’m sure.”

“What about ‘im?” another man asked, stepping forward. This knight was dirty and ugly, with a scar running across his right cheek. “The priest said we needed some more examples.”

When this man spoke, he dropped every other letter, talking like he had dirt in his mouth. ‘Some more’ became ‘sumower,’ ‘priest’ was preece,’ and ‘needed’ sounded like ‘nehed.’ Petro disliked him even more than the first knight; he reminded him of his father.

The original knight was scratching his chin. “True,” he said. “But we have enough boys. Girls, on the other hand…”

The second knight laughed. It was a phlegmatic and evil sound. “If the priest don’t want her, then I’ll keep her for meself.”

Suzanne clutched Petro’s arm, a look of terror on her face. The second knight stepped forward, grabbing her around the waist and jerking her away. “Petro!” she cried out. He caught her hand, trying to hold on, but the man was too strong and his grip too weak.

The man threw her over his shoulder. She squirmed, trying and failing to get free. “We got us a live one!” the knight said. The first one chuckled.

“Petro!” she cried again.

“I’ll come for you,” Petro said. The words burst forth. He hadn’t planned them, but when they were out, he realized he meant it. If anyone in this godforsaken town was his friend, it was Suzanne.

The man carried her away. The first knight, still holding his shoulder, chuckled sardonically. “A noble gesture, boy. But you should be grateful that she was here at all. Otherwise, it would be you over my friend’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes. My friend’s tastes run in many directions.”

Then he shoved Petro against the wall and walked away. Petro staggered to the ground and forced himself to his feet. The man disappeared into the crowd and more guards marched past. The people, he saw, were being herded toward the center of town. The central courtyard where all town events took place. 


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