George R. R. Martin story time.
LET ME TRY
The serving man paced up and down the narrow passageway. The flames of the torches along its walls shuddered like living things with every gust of air from some far-off door. The stones here were ill-fit, unlike those that lined the halls and bedchambers of the lords and ladies of the keep. Little rivulets of water ran where they were joined, slippery traps for the unaware, but he stepped over them with ease. No natural light reached these servants’ tunnels that twisted beneath and inside the walls of the Rose Wood, yet the man knew that it was so early as to yet be night.
The servant fit the place more perfectly than any stone in the floor. He was short, with brown, curly hair that ran into his ears so much so that he could no longer tell whether it was growing out or in. A sheen of sweat highlighted the jagged scar that ran from his left eye to his chin, where a knight had cut him open on a feast day for no better reason than malice. Salty drops trickled down from the servant’s brow to the split flesh, and even his tunic was not spared, though the mud brown fabric disguised it well.
A rat squeaked as it ran along the corridor. The man, Erit, paid it no mind. Erit had served the Lord Thorne’s household since before he was born, swearing that his first memory had been formed while he kicked in his mother’s womb as she scrubbed the sitting room floor of the visiting Lord Fischer. The rats, the swirling torches, the slippery stones — though none scared Erit, fear still circled him like a hawk, awaiting any sign of weakness.
The job of the serving men and women, called the mice of the keep by those who slept in satin and silk, was to be useful, to be obsequious, and most of all, to be invisible. Erit was all of these things, molded to his stunted shape from the small quarters he’d been given as a child, the same ones he would keep to his dying day. The notched, rickety door to his room lay behind him, hardly solid but the only wall he had to buffet back terror. Erit kept one shaking hand against it, while in the other he held a crinkled letter in his palm. It was soft to his hands, the first sheaf of paper he had ever touched. No seal adorned the white wax that joined its sides. Erit did not note the lack.
Fear plunged from the sky and took hold of Erit’s heart when he heard a footfall echo in the passageway, then someone almost slipping, the quick righting and shuffle of steps. Straining his one good eye, Erit made out a figure in black heading his way. The gods had no compassion for the low-born, but Erit said a prayer nonetheless, unable to move for the wracking of his nerves.
The night before, the fire in his loins cooling as the fire in the grate did, Britanny had wiped his brow and said, “Don’t be no fool. Don’t be no hero. It’s not a life for us, not like those knights in song.” No pretty or harsh words would dissuade Erit from his quest, though, and he had snuck out with a sweet kiss to the slumbering Britanny’s brow. Wisdom lies in women’s words, thought Erit, recalling a phrase he’d heard oft enough from his mother before she had been disemboweled by a guard. Erit paid the price for his disregard of that wisdom in sweat and fear as he stood in the corner, watching the figure approach.
“You are…?” said Erit, his voice catching.
The figure darted closer and hushed Erit, a quick, clean hand covering Erit’s mouth.
“Quiet, now,” said the figure in a clipped cadence. “No talking, there’s a good man.”
Erit’s fingers shook as he offered the letter, a gust of wind almost tearing it from his hand. “The letter,” he said, trying to see the face of the man before him, the dark cotton falling over it.
“Don’t be an idiot,” the other man said, hissing. “Don’t look.”
“Yes,” replied Erit, tearing his eyes away. He’d seen the man had brown hair, like himself. If only he could know who the voice of the resistance in the keep was, Erit could labor beside him. For Erit had gotten the letter on Lord Arthur’s last trip to the capital, had he not? And though he did not serve the keep’s family directly, he oft sat in on the winings and dinings of the lords-gathered, listening to their drunken ravings of battles and alliances. “What more can I do?” asked Erit, his scar twisting with his earnest heart.
“You can keep your eyes down.” The man lifted the paper to the lights of the torches, looking at some black marks. Writing, thought Erit. A few moments passed, the torches flickering, and Erit saw that the man had blue eyes, the color shallow like the ponds to the west.
“I will do anything,” Erit heard himself say. “Anything to further our cause.”
“You have done enough to serve,” the man replied, folding the paper. “Go back to your woman. Forget you met me.”
The dreams and desires of the low-born were so oft laid aside, the chaff that came with the wheat that was their labor. Erit knew this, yet he could not calm him heart. He had done well, getting the letter, keeping it safe for a moon’s turn, delivering it. Musicians wrote ballads of the siren-song of battle, stories that Erit only heard when serving in the great hall, but for the first time he felt adventure tug at his belly.
“I cannot forget,” said Erit, voice rising in the narrow corridor. As if hearing his call, the wind swept up, swirling around the two men. “I will do anything,” Erit said, repeating himself as if the man would open his ears. The man shook his head, and as he did, a shock of cool wind stripped back the cowl that had covered him. It was a face Erit knew.
“You — ” Erit had time to say in shock, before a knife slid across his throat and his skin split like burnt turkey, spilling his juices out onto the floor. And so Erit died on the rough stones he had been born on, rank water running round him, the wind his final companion as he wished for the last of Britanny’s kisses.
The man in the robe again donned his cowl and strode to a nearby torch. He thrust the paper into it, and when it had burned to his fingertips let the corner float away down the passage, where the darkness swallowed it. He walked to Erit’s cooling body and knelt.
“Anything,” he said, a manicured hand covering his face in sorrow. “You said anything.”
BAM KILLED HIM IN LESS THAN 500 WORDS