Odie scavenged for food. Benjamin hoped no one would tell him who had eaten the last of the morning gruel.
Odie held his thick hand out for the letter. Denny nodded at Benjamin who delicately set the letter into Odie’s paw, praying not to give him a paper cut. He tucked it into his vest with barely a glance at any of them.
“Farmer Demsey delivers his wool across the border this time of the year. He usually waits for Odie to deliver it, even if he has to wait a month,” Denny explained.
Odie merely bit into a strip of dried meat, ducking his head as he passed through the pantry door.
“In fact he usually lets Odie take them alone.” Denny looked at his younger brother who adjusted the cap on his head with a curt nod. “It might take longer but no one would think to question him.”
And that was that.
Odie shoved food and a waterskin into a small pack. He slipped daggers into his belt and hid them under a ragged cloak. The pack looked insufficient strapped to his hulking back. Benjamin wondered if Odie would need to eat one or two of the sheep to keep up his strength. Benjamin could hardly believe someone as large as Odie could subsist on strips of dried meat, apples, and hard biscuits alone. In a few minutes Odie was down the road and out of sight. Benjamin let out a breath.
Denny cleared the table and settled into drawing a very rough diagram of Shreb’s fortress using charcoal from the fireplace. He marked a few points on the outside as entries and watch towers, pointing out all the things he’d observed from the outside.
“Since Shreb Jr. showed up, men have been making their way here from all over.” Denny twirled the charcoal in his fingers. “Like someone finally got the word out that something big was about to happen. There are guards all over the place, around the clock. Mouthrot knows how to keep his men disciplined. One fight and that was it. Rumor has it that he made sure all involved were left with a visible warning mark.”
Rebecca cinched her wrap around her shoulders and grimaced a little. Denny eyed her and continued.
“I noticed that around meal times the guards are watching for food more than who’s coming and going. Inside there’s men everywhere. More come every day. And the place is a meandering mess. You’re more likely to get lost than anything else.” Denny said resting the stick on his shoulder. “I can talk to Baldo. He’s been there long enough to know the in’s and out’s of that place.”
Benjamin nodded. “A map would be helpful, something that will get us to the Lieutenant. Any information Baldo could supply would be helpful.”
“I agree. I’ll talk with him, but I won’t put Baldo into any danger. He’s the youngest and I should never have let him go there in the first place. Maybe we can get him home now?”
“Absolutely.” Benjamin and Rebecca agreed.
Denny dropped his charcoal by the fire and began to stuff apples, dried meats, and a blanket into a ratty bag.
“I might as well leave now. You two will need to hide out. I don’t want to have to explain why I’ve got two extras at home. Got it?”
“Sure.” Benjamin said, his thoughts roaming to one of the beds in back.
Denny found a scrap of paper and a piece of charcoal and added it to his bag.
Benjamin stretched and peered into the back rooms. He looked over his shoulder and was surprised to see Rebecca grabbing a pack off the wall as well.
“I’m coming with you! Benjamin has been seen, not me.” She stared Denny down. “A second pair of eyes is always a good idea.” She added in a tone eerily close to the Lieutenant’s.
Denny grimaced. “Yes, but the Lieutenant would come back from the dead and kill me if anything happened to you!”
“Nothing will happen. We’re just going to visit your brother. I could be your girlfriend. People would believe that.”
She was too busy stuffing her pack with food in the pantry to notice the blush over Denny’s face as he tried to cover up a ridiculous grin. “Right, Benjamin?” she called out to him.
“Anything that guarantees me some sleep.” Benjamin glanced at Denny and shrugged.
Rebecca rolled her eyes.
“Have you ever slept with a goat?”
She relented and sighed deeply. “Sleep in my room. It’s the one on the left.”
Denny snapped out of his revelry. “Are you sure we can leave him on his own? Can we trust him?”
Benjamin stumbled toward Rebecca’s room. “You can trust me to sleep. She’ll be fine.” He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “She’s probably better trained than you anyway.”
Denny considered this, torn between leaving a villain alone in his house and going off with a pretty girl alone. Rebecca chose for him.
“See? C’mon let’s go!”
Denny’s blush was visible through his hair as he closed the door.
This is a character sketch exercise I wrote in connection with my upcoming novel, The Villain’s Assistant.
Photo Credit: Jill Catley