Malachi & Madrighan-A Tale of Two Brothers
By Patrick Hester
© 2010 All Rights Reserved
“This is all your fault, Brother.”
Malachi scowled at his younger twin brother who, like him, was hanging from his wrists in the dank dungeon. There wasn’t enough light to make out much, but he knew that he was there, just as naked as Malachi himself, wrists locked in manacles attached to chains that were connected to the ceiling somewhere far above them.
Like Malachi, Madrighan had long, black hair and dark eyes. They took after their Mother since they had different fathers and they were twins born a couple years apart. At least, that’s what their Mother always told them. “Look like me, you do, my wonderful twin boys,” she would say, then cackle and rap one or the other across the knuckles with her wooden spoon. He hated that spoon…
Malachi was exactly two years and fourteen days older than Madrighan, but he tried not to hold that over his head or anything. Just as Madrighan did not lord over Malachi the fact that he’d been able to scratch his name first or how he was constantly being taller than him on purpose. Malachi was simply a late bloomer.
“This is not my fault,” he said defiantly. “How was I supposed to know she was promised to another man? She never said, did she? Not once! All night!”
“A Lord, brother. She was promised to a Lord. Duttany of Lux. And she was the King’s daughter. Think she would’ve mentioned that bit before the good stuff started.”
“Well she didn’t, so how was I to know?”
“The wedding posters hanging all over the town may have been a clue, brother.”
“Look,” said Malachi. “When we get out of here-”
“Get out?” Madrighan laughed. “What makes you think we’re going to get out? The King will probably have us chopped up into little bits and fed to Lord Duttany’s prized hunting dogs!”
“He has hunting dogs?” Malachi asked. Madrighan snorted. He knew that Malachi had always wanted a dog, but Mother would never allow it and Madrighan said it didn’t seem practical or fair to keep one when they traveled all the time. Still, a nice Mastiff had always been his dream. Something to play with, to train, to hunt with. No more eating rats when there’s no meat around, oh no – with a proper dog, they’d always be able to sniff out a decent meal. That was the argument he made on a regular basis anyway.
“I’m hungry,” Madrighan announced to the darkness. Malachi stared down at the spot on the floor of the dungeon where their dinner supposedly sat. How they were expected to get to it when they were hanging from the ceiling boggled him. Something told him the Gaoler wasn’t all there in the head.
“You’re always hungry,” he said absently.
“I’d even take mutton,” Madrighan muttered. Malachi opened his mouth, then shut it again with an audible click. Madrighan hated mutton. If there were any single thing on this earth that Madrighan hated more than mutton, it was a double helping of mutton. Malachi knew his brother better than anyone; if he was pondering the thought of mutton for dinner, he must truly be hungry.
“Remember Mother’s mutton?” Malachi said with a laugh. Madrighan chuckled.
“I remember that her mutton killed our fourth father.”
Malachi sighed. “I liked fourth father. He used to take us fishing – do you remember?”
“I do,” Madrighan answered. “We’d spend hours to catch a few trout just so he wouldn’t have to eat Mother’s mutton.”
“Pity she had to bash his skull in with a mutton leg.”
“Irony, that. Still, if not for her bashing in his head, we wouldn’t have had fifth father or sixth father!”
“Sixth father! Mother wasn’t happy when she caught him with the tavern wench.”
Both men involuntarily crossed their legs.
“Mother always was the best when it came to handling knives,” Madrighan said with a smile that could’ve been a wince.
“You take after her that way,” Malachi told him. “I never had the skill you two share.” It was an honest compliment and utterly true. Madrighan said nothing but his chains clinked.
“How are we going to get out of here, brother?” Madrighan asked at last.
Malachi had been pondering that very question for quite some time now and still didn’t have a clear image in his mind of how that might happen. He did have a couple of thoughts on the matter, thoughts that he was more than willing to share with his brother.
“I suppose the Princess could put in a good word with her father? After all, I was an exceptionally good lover. She should be quite grateful.”
“You deflowered the girl on the night before her wedding! I doubt the King will look kindly on us for that! Besides,” Madrighan said with another clink of his chains. “I would be willing to bet you a gold crown that the King married her off as quickly as possible so the Duke would never find out. They’re probably half way back to his lands by now with him utterly unaware that he is about to raise your child for the next eighteen years.”
Malachi groaned. “What a horrible thought, brother!”
“That the Princess may be with child?”
“No, that the Duke of Lux may raise my child! He’ll grow up to be a berk.”
Madrighan chuckled. “You don’t even know the man, how do you know he’ll raise the child to be a berk?”
“Well, he’s a Lord isn’t he?” Malachi said matter of factly. “It’s just in their nature.”
Both brothers laughed at that, but the laughter died quickly. There was a loud bang quickly followed by the sound of boots on stone and flickering torch light. Malachi looked to his brother and was sure he was looking back.
“Oh good, it’s time for the torture,” Madrighan said brightly. Malachi shushed him and stared through the bars towards the light. There was only the one torch, but after the utter lack of light previously present in the dungeon, one torch was enough to appear as if the very sun herself had just risen in the corridor.
Blinking, Malachi tried to make out who it was accompanying the Gaoler to their dungeon. Someone important by the looks of him. He was tall, but not taller than Madrighan, perhaps a hand shorter with short cut brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard to match. He wore the king’s colors of blue and white over a simple woolen shirt and leather pants. He looked bulkier around the chest so Malachi assumed the man wore some sort of leather jerkin or vest beneath the tabard. He had a soldier’s sword on one hip and a dagger on the other.
“No crown,” he whispered to his brother.
“That can’t be good for us,” his brother whispered back.
The man stopped just outside while the Gaoler worked the lock on the door. He was a bent over old man with hairy arms the size of tree trunks and a smell that offended even Malachi, who could normally go weeks without seeing the other side of a bath. The lock clanged and the door groaned open, the Gaoler stepping back to let the cleaner man step in just to the top step. Several breaths passed while he stood there staring.
Malachi looked at his brother, who looked back and winked.
“Think we got us one of those funny fellows,” Madrighan said, then turned back to the man. “Like staring at naked men chained to walls?”
“Do you want to get out of here?” asked the man. Somehow, he managed to speak while sounding like he was looking down at them when in reality he was forced to look up at them. That thought hurt Malachi’s head for a minute.
“Of course we want to get out of here,” Malachi answered for them.
“Good,” said the man with a nod. “There are two ways out. In the first, the King takes out his not inconsiderable displeasure with you, by first having you flogged until you have no skin left on your bodies, at which time he releases his dogs-”
“-I told you it would be dogs,” Madrighan whispered.
“-to gnaw on the remaining bits of meat while his doctors keep you alive and alert for as long as possible. And when you die of your injuries or simply from the excruciating amount of pain you will be in, then, and only then, will your bodies be taken from the castle and placed in a gibbet for the crows to pick at.”
“I’d like to pass on that one,” Madrighan said loudly. Malachi nodded his agreement.
“Well then, there is the second option. We understand that you are not completely without certain skills, skills which my master might be able to use.”
“You need hired swords!” Malachi and Madrighan said together, then smiled at each other. They might get out of this after all!
* * *
The man they now new as the Captain of the King’s personal guard, spread a large map out on the table, pushing a candlestick into each corner to hold it in place. Madrighan was paying more attention to the plate of roast chicken than the map while Malachi swigged his fourth mug of ale.
“Here is our castle at Bend, here is the town of Beddit,” he said pointing.
“Oh, horrible place, Beddit,” Madrighan said over a mouth of chicken. “They want our heads on pikes.”
Malachi smiled at the Captain. “Misunderstanding. Happens amongst even the best of friends sometimes. You were saying?” He shot his brother a warning glare, who shrugged and pulled another chicken leg from his plate and proceeded to pop it in his mouth to pull the meat straight off with his teeth.
“Right,” said the Captain. “Here is the bog of sorrow, here the castle of Luttany and here the village of Volst.” He stabbed a finger at each point on the map, Malachi nodding each time in between sips of ale. “Here to the south, we have Korl, Gabberdine and Minst before you cross the border into Adria.”
“Nasty place, that,” Madrighan said. Malachi nodded his agreement. Mother always told them not to meddle in the affairs of witches or wizards and in Adria, they’d done both. Purely on accident, of course.
“Here is the forest we want you to visit for us,” the Captain placed his finger on a point southwest of where they sat now. “In it is an exceedingly arrogant and annoying Troll, who refuses to vacate his King’s forest. For your freedom, all you have to do is remove the Troll from the forest. Escort him from these lands or kill him – whichever is more expedient. Obviously, we would prefer that he be killed. Less messy that way.”
“Right,” said Malachi. “Easy-peasy. Um, where are our weapons?” Even though they’d been given back their clothing and armor, he still felt naked without his knives and sword and axe and hatchet and dagger and whip. He also missed his lucky caltrop.
“You will be given your weapons once you’re well clear of the castle and city and on your way to the forest and not a moment sooner. Your reputations precede you.”
Malachi frowned at that, but could not argue with it. They hadn’t agreed to anything yet, which meant that they were not yet honor bound to actually do anything that the King or his Captain wanted them to do, which meant that, if they had their weapons, they could simply fight their way to freedom instead of dealing. He looked at his brother and smiled, receiving a smile in return.
“Zhang!” they said in unison, and immediately began laughing while the Captain stared at them. They had been in a similar situation in the republic of Zhang, and had fought their way out before having to make any deals. The Captain cleared his throat and Malachi tried not to smile.
“How come you haven’t done the Troll yourself?” he asked. Madrighan nodded at the question.
“You think we haven’t tried? My soldiers are trained to fight men, not monsters. That’s where you two come in. You’re supposed to be the experts at this. Everyone talks about that dragon business.”
“That’s true,” Madrighan said.
“Very true,” Malachi agreed. They didn’t mention, ever, that they hadn’t exactly been alone when they defeated the dragon. That wizard, those dwarves, the elf Prince and Princes and that old ranger had helped. A bit. But why bog people down with details, eh?
“Do we have an agreement, gentlemen?” the Captain asked. He hesitated on the ‘gentlemen’ part but that was no matter. Malachi looked at his brother, who shrugged in an ‘I honestly don’t care’ sort of way. He supposed it was better than the alternative. It might even be fun. Malachi nodded back at him.
“Though, we’re going to need one more thing,” said Madrighan with a smile.
* * *
Malachi ran the sharpening stone down the length of his blade, chuckling to himself. He was guiding the horse through the forest with his knees and riding side by side with his brother, who was otherwise occupied.
“Wha-?” asked Madrighan, his mouth full.
“Oh, ‘more chicken’,” he said with a laugh. Madrighan got that muley look on his face, the one that meant he thought he was being made fun of and was prepared to fight for his honor. “’We’ll need more chicken!’” he said in an imitation of his brother’s voice.
“AH LI’ CHI’EN!” he said through a spray of chicken bits, and Malachi laughed that much harder. Madrighan’s horse looked at him and whuffed.
“I know you like chicken, but did you see his face?” he chuckled. “It was priceless. I’dve done the job just to see that look on his face. Not getting our heads cut off is just gravy on the mutton at this point.”
Madrighan swallowed. “I hate mutton.” Malachi nodded. “We’ve never fought a Troll before, brother.” Apparently, he’d decided that his honor was not at stake so they wouldn’t have to fight after all. Malachi looked around at the wide trunked trees and low underbrush and decided that was for the best; there wasn’t really any room here for a proper wrestle. Plus, there was nothing to break and that was always half the fun of a decent fight.
“I know you hate mutton. I can’t imagine that it will be very difficult. We did that Giant.”
“We had help with the Giant, brother,” Madrighan said, picking through his sack of chicken. He found a wing and, delighted, started gnawing away at it.
“Pfffft!” said Malachi. “That- He- Look, brother, we did all the heavy lifting on that job! The Wizard was barely involved. Less than barely. He lent us a hand, at best. A finger. Part of a nail.”
Madrighan shook his head. “He had that shiny thing with the-” he made a gesture with two fingers, as if something were shooting out of his eyes. Malachi frowned. He had to admit, that had been helpful. Nothing like shoots of light coming from your eyes to ruin a Giant’s day. Plus, they made everything they touched catch fire, which was just so very handy.
“Still,” he said aloud. “Who tripped the Giant? Who tied him up? Who kicked him in the jumblies for crushing my horse?” He loved that horse. Hardly needed breaking in at all. His current horse made a sound and looked at him. “Trolls don’t crush horses, stop worrying,” he said to comfort the beast. He added a quick pat on the neck to emphasize the point. The horse shook its head but looked back at the road again.
“No, they don’t,” Madrighan agreed. “But they do like to hang people up by their toes and strip the skin from their flesh and eat it. Kinda like skinning a tater except they don’t cook ya, they just eat ya.”
Malachi frowned again. Madrighan had a point. It would be rotten luck to survive everything they’d survived only to end up eaten by a Troll.
“Are you suggesting that we renege on an agreement, brother? That this is somehow too dangerous of a job for we brother’s two and we should just run?”
Madrighan smiled, “Of course not! Just making sure you knew how much fun this is going to be!”