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Summary: It was truly a miracle the man lived at all, his emaciated body testimony to his extended suffering. In his extremity he raved and begged for mercy, lost in some dark place within his mind, as though he was still naked in the hole lying amidst the dead, and not in a bed in the infirmary, his broken bones splinted and his immediate discomforts attended to.

Author's Note: Watching a paranormal investigation of an oubliette, followed by spending a long weekend visiting historical sites in Edinburgh, results in a story about a sentinel and guide in times gone by (who may or may not be our sentinel and guide). For me this is a logical progression!

Oubliette: Pronunciation \ˌü-blē-ˈet\
Etymology: French, from Middle French, from oublier 'to forget', from Old French oblier, from Vulgar Latin oblitare, frequentative of Latin oblivisci 'to forget'.
Definition: A dungeon with an opening only at the top, into which prisoners were deposited and left to die. A 'forgetting place'.

Rating: No rating

Warning: Eventual character death.




Oubliette

By Fluterbev

April 2010


Inside the oubliette, its wall broken open by the siege engines, they were astonished to discover that one occupant yet lived. Broken and bloody, he was, and lying on the cadavers of those gone before him into the hole, stinking (like the place itself) of death.

For reasons known only to himself, the lord ordered him brought out into the light to be tended.

That decision made no sense at all to the healer who, in the wake of the battle, had plenty of their own to attend to, as well as those of the enemy to whom the lord had chosen to show mercy. But the lord had willed it, nevertheless, and so it must be done.

It seemed hopeless, for the most part. It was truly a miracle the man lived at all, his emaciated body testimony to his extended suffering. In his extremity he raved and begged for mercy, lost in some dark place within his mind, as though he was still naked in the hole lying amidst the dead, and not in a bed in the infirmary, his broken bones splinted and his immediate discomforts attended to.

As the day went on the healer was half of a mind to give him a draught to put him out of his misery, that he might better direct his expertise towards their own wounded. Yet despite his indifference the man stubbornly did not die. Instead he continued to rave at intervals, his traumatised mind apparently perceiving nothing but terror and pain even where comfort was grudgingly given.

It was later that night when the lord came amongst them, speaking softly and approvingly to those who had bought victory at the price of their own wellbeing. Finally, after spending considerable time at the bedside of every single warrior, the lord came at last to the man from the oubliette.

The healer watched disapprovingly when, as the lord bent over him, the man cried out in terror. “Mercy! I beg you, please, no more. Please... please!”

“Hush,” the lord spoke, his voice at once commanding and soft, reaching out a hand to smooth across the sweaty brow. “All is well.”

But the man would not be comforted. “Please,” he begged. “Please, don't... I can’t... I can’t-"

The lord leaned close, and grasped the man’s face between his hands, halting the panicked, side-to-side movement of his head and forcing the man to look at him. “What is your name?” the lord demanded.

The man froze, his senseless ranting for the first time aborted by the lord’s imperative query, which had been delivered in a voice accustomed to obedience. He breathed in shallow gasps, his eyes fixed tensely on the lord’s face. Then his lips moved and he uttered a single word, no louder than a whisper. At the lord's nod of encouragement he whispered something more; clearly a question, delivered haltingly.

“Your former master is dead,” the lord responded. “I now rule these lands, and all who were his enemies are united under my banner. Your ordeal is at an end, my friend. Be at peace.”

“Am I to die, now?” For the first time, hearing coherent words from the man, the healer realised how very young he was. Under the grime and the filthy beard the skin was unlined and smooth, his voice, now he was actually conversing with a modicum of sense (albeit hoarse with dread) that of a youth.

The lord shifted one hand to stir the man’s matted hair gently. “No,” he said. “You will live, and you will heal. But for now, you must simply cease to be so afraid, and rest.” He spoke more softly. “Trust me. I will not allow any further harm to come to you.”

The healer found other duties to occupy him after that but he was aware, as he worked, of the lord still sitting at the stricken man’s side, speaking to him in soft tones. He noticed awhile later that the lord had stripped himself of his mail shirt and, linen sleeves rolled up in a businesslike way, had engaged himself in washing the boy clean, having imposed upon the cowed servants who came and went (the mundane drudgery of their lives singularly unaltered by the abrupt change in overlord) to bring him hot water, clean cloths and scented oils.

The healer knew that it would be no easy task, given the wretch’s filthy condition, and most certainly was not something that should be done by the master himself. Able to keep silent no further he protested, “My lord, someone else should see to this. Are there not other, more important tasks you need to do to keep mastery of this place, now we have taken it?”

It was impertinent in the extreme to speak thus, and the healer expected chastisement at the very least. But to his amazement the lord did not pause in his ministrations, nor even look at him. He spoke, though, his voice rapt with wonder. “There is no more important task I will ever do in my life,” he said. “For every hour I have lived since my birth has been leading to this moment.”

Shocked with sudden understanding, the healer looked down at the sleeping youth, his gaunt face marred with exhaustion and pain despite his current insensibility. “Him?” the healer exclaimed. “He is the one you have been seeking?” It was said that for men like the lord, blessed with a preternatural ability to perceive what others could not, a single, blessed soul-mate existed in the world. Such a mate, if found, would bring order to senses which were frequently in chaos, and would be beloved by his partner above all others.

The lord nodded, the tenderness of his expression an unfamiliar sight on the face of such a fearsome warlord. “I have no doubt,” he confirmed. “Every one of my senses – and my soul - sings in his presence.”

The healer cast an incredulous eye over the boy once more, his broken limbs unlikely to ever regain whatever straightness or strength they may once have held, and his mind no doubt deeply scarred by the time he’d spent alone in the hopeless, stinking dark. It seemed impossible that he would survive the next few hours, let alone grow to become what the lord needed – a fellow warrior standing steadfast at his side, providing guidance and succour and watching for threats from all around whilst the lord’s attention was focused elsewhere.

As if his thoughts had been perceived, the healer felt himself fixed by the lord’s intimidating stare. “You will heal him,” the lord proclaimed. “You will ensure that he survives whole." The words were uncompromising, the threat behind them crystal clear.

The healer was not inclined to disobey, no matter how hopeless the matter - cruelties like the oubliette were nothing to what the lord might inflict as the price of failure. He immediately put his other duties to one side and got to work re-setting the bones he had previously paid only cursory attention to. The lord himself acted as nurse and fellow-surgeon, taking it upon himself to provide comfort and unflinching assistance while the boy suffered brutal agonies all over again, this time at the healer's hands.

To the healer’s relief (and continued good health) his patient survived, although many a time it seemed that he would not. During his long infirmity he gradually, in fits and starts, began to thrive, in no small part because he was constantly subjected to the lord’s unstinting personal care. He emerged several months later mostly whole, proving to be, once his bruises healed, surprisingly fair of face, and retaining nothing more debilitating than a rolling limp and some weakness in his left arm (which the healer had been unable to set straight despite his best efforts). And it was said that he retained a dread of the dark, such that the lord ordered that a candle be kept alight in the chamber they shared, even throughout the dead of night.

Once recovered he never strayed far from the lord’s side, hovering at his elbow like a quietly-spoken shadow, the lord treating him always with extreme gentleness and courtesy. Yet the lord showed another face entirely to any who might disparage his mate, acting with brutal decisiveness in response to any insults his superior senses allowed him to perceive. It was that evidence of his continued grasp of authority which prevented any of the noble-born warriors from attempting to usurp him, now that his heart had been so comprehensively won by a weakling.

Life continued on without change for those, like the healer, bound by fealty to the lord’s retinue. Battles continued to be fought, ground won and (more rarely) lost in the endless fight for land and survival. The lord possessed, so it was said, a charmed life; his prowess in battle only enhanced by the presence of the younger man at his side, who displayed a fierce, lethal protectiveness for the lord in turn which no one could have predicted him capable of, had they seen his broken body carried out of the oubliette. Thus respect for the lord’s loyal partner grew, such that in time his place at the lord’s side was questioned no more.

It was commonly said that it would take devils from the otherworld to bring the lord and his army to their knees. The prophesy turned out to be true when, after years of unsuccessful forays, a vast army of painted warriors from the north overran them at last, their suicidal berserkers cutting swathes through the lord’s well-disciplined soldiers like knives through spitted pork. Trapped on three sides by the murderous invaders and on the fourth by flooded marshland, the lord and his men stood fast to fight their last battle.

The healer, lying wounded and winded on the field, could only watch impotently as the warriors he knew so well died one by one. As the ring of surrounding men fell away the lord and his mate could be seen fighting bravely back-to-back, their swords felling all who came against them. Yet despite their skill and determination they were but mortal too, and even they must fall in the face of such overwhelming numbers. The lord went down first, an arrow protruding from his neck. Straddling his unmoving body protectively the lord’s companion fought on, his eyes ablaze with grief and fury, until he too was beaten down under the onslaught.

All hope lost, the healer succumbed to his own wounds and knew no more.

In the aftermath the victors raised a mound over the bodies of the slain, then set about establishing a firm foothold in their newly-won territory. In time the mound grew over with grass and wildflowers, the battle that had occurred there, and those who had fought to the death to defend the land from invaders, banished from memory.

Many years later a crippled old man, who had once been a healer in the retinue of a great lord but, for decades afterwards, had served a barbarian king, came to sit beside the mound. And there he wept unashamedly for those who had gone into the darkness in this place, and who he alone would never forget.

The End





Comments are welcome, but absolutely not necessary - all of my stories are offered freely and without obligation. If you do wish to comment below please sign your name/pseudonym if you are not logged-in to Dreamwidth or Open ID, or alternatively you can email me at fluterbev@gmail.com



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Date: 2010-04-13 01:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janedavitt.livejournal.com
Oh, I loved this glimpse at them in past times!

Date: 2010-04-13 01:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! ♥
Edited Date: 2010-04-13 04:05 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-04-13 01:55 pm (UTC)
ext_38484: (FanFic!Karie)
From: [identity profile] karieflybabe.livejournal.com
>.< So sweet, sad but sweet.

Date: 2010-04-13 02:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! :-)

Date: 2010-04-13 01:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cross-stitchery.livejournal.com
welcome back <g>

lovely story. thank you :)

Date: 2010-04-13 02:15 pm (UTC)
ext_14365: If you made this, tell me and I'll credit (Default)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev.livejournal.com
Hee, thanks! Not sure if this counts as being truly back, but I am quietly celebrating actually finishing something! :-)

So glad you liked it X

Date: 2010-04-13 05:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cross-stitchery.livejournal.com
but I am quietly celebrating actually finishing something!

i know exactly how you feel. i finished the story i'm offering for Moonridge today. i can't remember how long it is since the last one.

Date: 2010-04-13 04:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mrs-tilford.livejournal.com
Well done, my dear. I've missed you, so this was a double pleasure.

Date: 2010-04-13 04:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you so much ♥

Date: 2010-04-13 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] carodee.livejournal.com
I really liked the way the story started and ended with a 'forgetting place'. *cough* I am also very glad to be living in the time and place I am now. Such a hard world, but sweet to see the sentinel and guide supporting each other.

Date: 2010-04-13 04:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! Having spent some time recently learning about oubliettes, and what a hopeless and brutal thing they were, I wanted to write about someone coming out of one. Somehow it turned into proto-Blair being rescued by proto-Jim and going on to watch each others' backs. I have this alarmingly one-track mind, it seems :-)

Date: 2010-04-13 06:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bluewolf458.livejournal.com
I do like these earlier incarnation stories. And I liked the way there were no names, just the hints... Very effective.

Date: 2010-04-14 08:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm so glad you thought it was effective. I liked the idea that people's names, especially from pre-history, are also forgotten over the passage of time.

Date: 2010-04-13 06:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hawk-soaring.livejournal.com
Wow, this was hauntingly beautiful. Loved it.

Date: 2010-04-14 08:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you so much! ♥

Date: 2010-04-13 07:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mab-browne.livejournal.com
I enjoyed this wee fairy tale. It's funny what sparks the muse. :-)

Date: 2010-04-14 08:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! And yes, LOL I need to get away more often if this kind of thing results. This is what I was scribbling in my notebook in the cafes and pubs of Edinburgh!

Date: 2010-04-13 08:48 pm (UTC)
ext_9226: (Default)
From: [identity profile] snailbones.livejournal.com


That was beautiful, thank you.

Date: 2010-04-14 08:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! ♥

Date: 2010-04-13 09:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rhianne.livejournal.com
::sniffles:: Awww... very nice indeed! Destined to be together no matter what lifetime they're in :-)
Randomly spookily enough, I was in Alnwick Castle in Northumberland the other week, and they have an oubliette as well, and as I peered down through the grate into the depths of the prison, I thought of Blair - and of you *g* I can't imagine why!!

Date: 2010-04-14 08:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! And how funny you thought of me at Alnwick's oubliette and then I went on to write this. Spooky is right!

I'm getting up to more spooky stuff soon - I must email you with all the goss :-)

Date: 2010-04-13 10:18 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This gave me chills, great story.

Date: 2010-04-14 08:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you! So nice you liked it :-)

Date: 2010-04-14 10:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jadebear07.livejournal.com
This was incredible. So bitter sweet and dark and moving. You have a wonderful talent for telling a vast story in so few words. I loved this.

JB

Date: 2010-04-15 07:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fluterbev-fic.livejournal.com
Thank you so much - you say such lovely things :-)

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