New chapter July 31
Chapter 7—Rob Gets Thrown Into The Dungeon And Meets Crazy Old Man Who Doesn’t Know His Age
Rob stood at the barred door of the dungeon staring down the dimly lit corridor. He kept glancing behind him at the ghostly men in the cell with him. The place stunk to high Heavens. That was from the slop barrel which apparently had spilled a few times. It was like standing in an outhouse. There seemed to be a waterline on the wall which wasn’t reassuring.
The other men looked liked they didn’t eat very often. Rob saw a few rats who looked like they didn’t eat very often either and Rob had to wonder what they ate when they did. All of them, Rob, the men and the rats were standing in hay and slop. It was hard to see in the cell; it reeked; it was cold. Rob was left to wonder how he got here. No, he knew how he got here but wasn’t sure why he was here. It had to do with a small man- no, two small men. One was Francis and the other was some sort of royalty.
Rob saw a rat standing on his boots. The rat was staring at him and squeaking. The rat then ran through the bars and down the corridor. A small opening got him out. All Rob could think was -damn rat! Then he thought- yet, he comes back here. Pretty stupid rat. Then he thought- I don’t feel any better being smarter than a rat, if I am.
Rob had never been considered smart. He was never considered close to smart. He wasn’t very big or muscular; he wasn’t a hard worker. His father didn’t know what to do with him or about him.
“That boy ‘asn’t got much going for ‘im. The best ‘e can hope for is a war that ‘e doesn’t survive. Then ‘onor.”
“What kind of thing is that to say about our son, our only child?”, Rob’s Mother would say.
“The truth, a sad truth.”
Rob was interrupted by a very old man. He was thin to the extreme and was wearing rags that barely covered him. He had more sores covering him than clothes. He smelled bad and looked worse.
“I say, chap,‘;ow old do I look?”
Rob didn’t want to answer that question. He didn’t want to talk to anyone here. This guy looked older than Moses. Rob didn’t want to think about what that might mean for him.
“Ye look a little old, just a little.”
“Ye are trying to be kind. No one cares about kindness ‘ere. I don’t know ‘ow long I’ve been ‘ere. I was put in ’ere when I was twelve. ’ow long do I look like I’ve been ’ere?”
“Umm, a long time.”
“Well now, ain’t ye a lot of ‘elp?”
“ Ye talked to me. I didn’t speak to ye. I wasn’t going to speakto ye. Why would a twelve- year old be thrown in a dungeon and kept here as long as ye have been?”
“I got caught stealing eggs.”
“Thrown in the dungeon for stealing eggs?”
“No, idiot, for getting caught.”
“Yea, well, still...” Idiot? That seems a funny thing to say to someone ye just met. It seemed odd to say it to someone ye are asking a question of. Maybe I should tell this old man kiss my asrse.. No, I’m too curious.
“It was better than being ’anged. At least I thought so at the time. Not so sure anymore.”
“A lifetime in the dungeon for stealing ,wait, getting caught stealing eggs? Seems a bit ‘arsh. The owner ‘ere must be a real bastard.”
“The one who put me ’ere died a week later. ‘is son took over and I think ‘e doesn’t know I’m ’ere.”
“Why doesn’t someone tell ’im?”
“Who? There is nothing in it for anyone to ‘ere me.”
Rob thought that one through. It made sense to him. Now, was anyone trying to help him? By anyone, he meant Francis. It was his fault he was in this place; mostly his fault. Even if it wasn’t, Francis wasn’t here so he must be free. That’s a good thing only because there was no alternative except this crazy old man, his crazy mates and the rats.
They had been walking for several days, talking and making good time. Down the road came a group if horsemen and one was carrying a banner. That’s when the problem started. Rob was watching them when Francis delivered a kick to his shins.
“Oww! Damn it all to ’ell, Francis. Why did thee do that?”
“You idiot, that’s royalty coming down the road. Ye need to bow you ‘ead and act subservient.”
“Oh, yea, I do.”
The horsemen pulled up and the young Earl at the head yelled,“Too late! You bowed ye head too late. Take ‘im!”
Some of his men jumped down and bound Rob’s hand behind his back and threw a noose over his head.
What’s this? Rob was not happy.
“Ye shall be ’anged from a tree. Ye shall ’ang until dead. Ye peasants need to learn to be civilized and respect ye betters. Being a Duke means something. Ye shall see that.”
How ’anging someone civilized anyone but the ’anged man is a puzzle but a common occurrence. It was traditional and a habit. Worse, it was legal.
The Earl then spotted Francis. He called out to Rob asking where he got his elf.
Elf? The royal guy thinks Francis is an elf. Why, e’s no smarter than I am. Guess ye don’t ‘ave to be smart to be royalty. What a laugh that is. It would be a laugh if I wasn’t being taken to a tree to be ’anged. Perhaps smart ‘as nothing to do with it.
“Why, ‘e’s not an elf. ‘e’s a midget. Not a real midget because ‘e is really a dwarf”, Rob called back.
“Be sure to ’ang ’im high and long, the mouthy cur. What is ‘is name, this elf who is a midget except ‘e’s a dwarf?”
“Francis with an i.”
Rob tried to struggle against the men pulling towards the tree but wasn’t doing too well. His screaming didn’t seem to be doing much for him either. The rope felt strong so no hope there. The tree had branches going way up.
Francis realized he had better do or say something quickly or Rob was going to be doing his last dance ever. He got in front of the Duke, knelt on one knee with his head bowed and said,“You Lordship, I beg leave to speak for this sad soul.”
The Duke signaled his men to lower Rob back to the ground much to their disappointment.
“Yes, what say you?”
“Your Lordship, this is just a simple lad. ‘e meant no disrespect, I am sure.”
“I don’t care if ‘e meant it. ‘e did it.”
“Yes sir, ‘e did indeed. I beg leave as ‘e is not altogether there; ‘e is feeble; ‘e is an idiot; a lost soul. I beg ye to show mercy in the name of God.”
“Hmm, mercy would make me look better to the peasants.‘ell, who cares about them. Still, ye ‘ave asked for mercy. Alright, I’ll toss ’im in the dungeon. From what I ‘ear the dungeon is worse than ’anging. Mind ye, I’m only doing this because you’re an elf.”
“Men, place the elf on a ‘orse and lead the idiot to the dungeon. Let us go.”
They rode on with Francis seated behind a man and Rob being led by the noose.
Francis was standing in an archway when the Duke came through. He had been trying to figure a way to get Rob out of the dungeon and both of them out of the castle. Failing that, he wanted to find a way out of the castle for himself. Perhaps he could hide in a wagon as it left. The Duke would send men to find him but he doubted they would look very hard;. He doubted the Duke would be all that concerned.
“Ah, there ye are. Did thee sleep well? Come, break fast with me. Elves do eat regular food don’t they? If not-”
“Yes, My Lord, we eat as ye eat.” What the hell, he thought, may as well get some food while planning an escape. Maybe the Duke will allow us to leave. If he thinks I’m an elf it might be an advantage. Certainly can’t hurt anything.
“Yes, yes, need to eat, I always say. I’m having a Feast Day for ye next month. It’s not every day someone can display his own elf. To be truthful, I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. I wasn’t too sure elves were real.”
Francis realized he wasn’t going to talk the Duke into freeing him or Rob. In fact, He might free Rob but not me. What an idiot. I want to scream that I’m not an elf but that may not be wise.
Servants brought the food in and it was horrible. It smelled rotten. Francis firmly believed that food that smelled bad tasted bad. This being England the odds of it tasting bad was high regardless of the smell. Wonder what it is?
“It’s a vegetable pie. This time of the year the vegetables are getting a bit ripe and dark but it’s still tasty. There is a bit of chicken there as well.The smell can overcome ye but the taste is wonderful”
Francis took a hesitant bite. Shit! This might be a carrion pie. Can’t spit it out, dare not swallow it and can’t hold it in while thinking of a way to avoid a second bite. Can my pockets hold enough to get be out of here? The Duke tucked right in, slurping away like a pig and, sort of, sounding like one. On the other hand-
“My Lord, while ‘tis true we eat regular food, there are certain restrictions you might say. We usually eat bread, cheese and eggs. Something to do with Elfishness.”
“My apologies, Francis, I should have been careful. I wish thee ‘ad said something to me. I appreciate your subservience but ye must inform me so as to prevent me from ‘arming ye.”
Okay, that worked out. Now, how to get Rob free and the two of us out of here. This Duke is not too smart but as a Duke he doesn’t have to be. If he figures out I’m not an elf I’m going to be with Rob in the dungeon. Have to play this guy as if he were smart in case someone he knows is.
Rob was having his own problems in the dungeon. Between the rats, human and otherwise, and the crap and the smell he wasn’t thinking very well. He was feeling tired and thought he’’d been in the dungeon a while but now ay to know. He wondered when they got fed. He wondered when the slop barrel was taken away, if it was. As far as he could tell right then there wasn’t anything else to be wondering about. It was cold and he saw no indications of fire.
“I guess ye are used to things ’ere after all this time”, He told the old man.
“Ye be an idiot to think that. ‘ow do ye get used to this? Ye just live or die. Probably not mush difference although I’m in no ?urry to find out.”
“When do we get fed?”
“Well, that depends on ‘ow ye feel about rat meat. If it don’t bother ye none, ye can just about eat when ye see fit. Otherwise they will bring some sort of swill around sooner or later. Can’t say it isn’t rat, to be honest. When is when they feel like it or have enough slop left from the pigs. I don’t know and ye shouldn’t either.”
“Why is that?”
“Because ye shouldn’t think about anything ’ere. It will drive ye insane. It ‘asn’t made me crazy because I don’t think about much of anything.”
Rob wondered how the guy knew ‘e wasn’t crazy. Better not bring that up. This time he would be quiet and not blurt out the first thing that came to mind.
The corridor door opened and a guard walked down to the cell and asked,“Okay, which of you is Rob?”
Rob and the crazy old man both answered.“I am!”
Rob looked at the crazy old man as if he was crazy.“Ye aren’t me., you crazy old man. What’s wrong with ye?”
“Prove it! This may be my way out.”
“It may be ye way to the gallows, fool.”
“Then I’m still a winner.”
The guard was getting bored with this.“Listen, I was told to bring a Rob to the Duke. I can’t do that if ‘e’s dead. No one is going to ask ‘ow ‘e got dead. No one is going to ask ‘ow two men got dead either.”
“Then why not take us both? I think the dwarf ‘as something to do with this.“e can tell us apart”, Rob said.
“Perhaps, if anyone cares, ‘e can tell the bodies apart”, the guard answered.
“Perhaps ye are right. Of course, take this crazy old man to the Duke. When the little guy says it isn’t me, why, then ye can join us in ’ere“, Rob told him.
“Or ye can take this young guy and when the, what did ye call him, the dwarf? Anyway, when ‘e says ye brought the wrong guy ye can join us then as well”, the old man told him.
“Okay, I’ll take ye both. The one that isn’t this Rob is going to die from a sword wound, I tell ye.”
As they were taken along the corridors Rob decided to help the crazy old man.
“Ye ‘as to know ye will be killed for this. The Duke will know what I look like. Ye can’t-”
“Yea, royalty pays a lot of attention to peasants.”
“Alright, bloke. I would not be going to see the Duke if my friend Francis was not involved. Ye ‘ear that- my friend.“e will surely say it is me.”
“I’ll take my chances. I’m not going back to that dungeon. I’m going to throw myself on the Duke’s mercy.”
They were taken into the Great Hall to see the Duke. The Duke looked at them with surprise. Two Robs in his dungeon? He hadn’t thought there were two men in his dungeon. Perhaps he needed to take a better look around.
“I say, what is this? I wanted the man I threw into the dungeon. Who, pray tell, are ye?”, the Duke asked the crazy old man.
“My Lord, I’m. I’m. Umm.”
“Come now, tell me ye name or face the lash.”
“Uh, umm, My Lord, I don’t remember my name. I used to ‘ave one, I’m sure. I, umm, don’t remember what it is.”
There was an awkward moment if there ever was one.
“My Lord, if I may speak”, Francis said.
“Yes, ‘ow can ‘e not remember ‘is own name?”
“My Lord, ‘e ‘as not ‘eard it for a long time perhaps. My good fellow, how long ‘ave ye been in the dungeon?”
“Umm, I don’t know that either. It was the old duke threw me in.”
“Oh, that would be my father.“e’s been dead 30 years.”
“Why were ye thrown in the dungeon. What was thy offense? Do ye remember that?”, Francis asked.
“Oh, yea, ‘e knows that part. ‘e was tossed in for stealing a chicken”, Rob said.
“That’s a lie! I was thrown in for getting caught. That was my mistake.”
“My Lord, perhaps ye could show mercy”, Francis said.
“My Lord, I beg of thee. Do not throw me back into that place with those two crazy blokes.”
“What? There are two others there. I need to take stock of this place. Are they to be shown mercy as well?”
“No, Lord, it is far too late for them. There are insane. They spend a lot of time playing with themselves and seeing who can shoot the furthest. They’re crazy.”
“Very well. Guards, see this man to the gate. I will speak with the other and with Francis. Be off.”
There are people living on the edge in what is called Appalachia. They're called ridgerunners, rednecks, hillbillies and backwoods mountaineers. No one thinks of them very often. They don't earn much to society's standards.They stay where they are because they love the area. They are hard workers when they have work and self-sufficient to an extent not known to "outsiders." They are also very funny; they have a great sense of humor about themselves.
They are the salt of the earth and the backbone of America. Their stories are America's stories. These are the stories Of Appalachia.
Book is available as an e-book or in paperback.
More stories of the people of Appalachia.
More of Joe Bob, Bubba and Earl, Mosh Henry and all of the rest of the good folks in Wabash County.
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