“Filthy Elf!” The dwarf screams at me as he is dragged past. “It’s all your fault we are in here! You hear me? You hear me!? All your fault!” I ignore him, and carefully scratch another mark onto my short stretch of wall. “Your kind should just go die! Die!” He screams at me as he is pulled out of our part of the prison.
I sigh softly, I’ve heard it all before. He was a deserter, so maybe if one twists and stretches the facts out to a ridiculous point, what he said could potentially be seen as an exaggeration. Well it doesn’t really matter anyway, he is going to be dead soon.
“Hey, is what he said true?” says a voice from a different part of the room we are all kept in. “Are you really an elf?” I don’t know who spoke, but it was definitely a male’s voice. I look around the room searching for the owner of the question. Under the intermittent light of a grimy lantern I spot a slightly less dirty dwarf than the rest of them clinging curiously to the side of his cage. Judging from his lack of filth, his bearing, and his bright eyes he is probably new. That makes sense, otherwise he would know of me. As far as I know, I’m the only elf to have ever been captured alive. I don’t see any use in withholding the information from him, but I don’t feel any need to share it right now either. So, instead of answering him properly, I ask him what I ask all newbies.
“So, what brought you here? What did you do?”
“I asked you first.” The dwarf shoots back.
“You tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine.” I reply, adjusting my seat on the cold stone floor. A lock of my dirty blond hair falls in front of my eyes and I push it back behind my ear as I lean against my section of the wall. The dwarf studies me.
“Huh, you don’t look like what I thought an elf would look like.”
“I’ve been here for twenty two years. The fashions have probably changed.” I state dryly. The dwarf chuckles, casting a glance towards my raggedy old uniform.
“You certainly don’t look like you’re old enough to have been in here that long.” He hedges.
“Yeah he don’t.” Cuts in one of the other prisoners, “But I’ve never heard him tell ‘is story differently.”
“No spoilers Anslow.” I say to the other dwarf, he snorts, and hacks up some phlegm. “As I said, you tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine.”
“Okay,” the dwarf says. “My name’s Bablok, I’m here because I stole some bread. My family couldn’t pay the fines, duh, we didn’t even have enough to buy the bread. So here I am. Not that interesting.” I shrug in response. “Your turn.” Bablok says.
“My name’s Faladel, Faladel Mithrandir. I’m not just an Elf, but their Prince, which is probably what spared my life when a dwarf battalion killed my patrol and captured me. I’ve been here for twenty-two years, four months, and fifteen days, and each day I add a mark to my wall to help me keep count. It really makes me wish I had a corner cell.”
“How old are you?” asks Bablok curiously.
“If I tell you you won’t believe me.” I say.
“Very true.” Cuts in another prisoner. This starts up a round of laughing.
“Try me.” Bablok says defiantly.
“‘e says ‘es over a hundred.” Anslow says.
“Impossible!” Bablok is shocked, and looks at me to verify Anslows claim.
“I told you you wouldn’t believe me.” I say calmly. “And Anslow, I thought I told you not to spoil it.”
“Eh, you can’t do anything about it, Mister Prince.” I roll my eyes. From somewhere far away a scream echoes, and then fades away.
“What was that?” Asks Bablok, slightly scared I think.
“Just one of the political prisoners being tortured. That’s what probably should have happened to Mister Prince here, if he even is a prince.”
“Well why didn’t it happen?”
“The current rumor is that someone messed up the paperwork so he ended up with us forgotten ones. Might have been an accident, might have been Elven sabotage, he doesn’t tell anyone.” Says another dwarf.
“I’ve said numerous times, I don’t know.” I protest. The other prisoners grumble to themselves about elves and secrets. “Think what you like, but that’s the truth.” I say sighing.
“So why did you want to know my story Faladel?” Bablok asks me.
“I collect them, it helps me stay sane.” I explain.
I hear a soft click out in the hall, and immediately stop talking. The other prisoners quickly hear the rhythmic tap of high heeled boots, and follow suit. Why is someone coming now? It is too soon to be a new cellmate, the dwarf that was taken out earlier probably isn’t even dead yet. It can’t be a meal delivery either, we were given food too recently, that is, if one can call the slop given to us food. Bablok keeps chattering away like nothing is happening.
“What’s with all your sudden silence?” He asks the room as a whole. The creak of the door opening answers him, and a figure steps though. It is our jailor of course. A fat-bellied, red bearded fool, who likes alcohol entirely too much. He’s only slightly better than his predecessor, another idiot who clogged up the air with fumes from a device called a ‘pipe’ in which he burned strange leaves, and then inhaled the smoke. They both share a common trait though, a dislike of prisoners talking.
As he steps into the room, our jailor’s beady black eyes circle the room and land on the last person talking. Bablok gulps, his adam’s apple shivering, casting strange shadows on the wall. I bet he’s glad that he shut up just before our jailor entered.
“Wellll, well, the newbie’s silent for once. Good on ‘im. I ‘eard someone talkin just before, but you’re all like mice now. I’ll bet your wonderin why aihm here?” No one moves. “Weelll then,” drawls our jailor, “ai’ll tell you. You lucky lot,” he pauses dramatically, “are havin an Inspection today.” No one says anything, but I can practically feel the air in the room tighten, and almost hear the unsaid whispers and exclamations of surprise. We have never had an inspection before.
“Ya see,” The jailor continues, “Apar-ent-ly a lot of prisoners died in a collapsed shaft, so dey need more fod-der for the mines. So some of ya lucky dogs might actually be able ta see the light of day again ‘fore ya die.” He turns around to head back out but then pauses. “Then again, ya life will be a lot shorter out there, so ya might want to stay here.” He chuckles at his own joke, but the rest of the room remains motionless. As the door shuts behind him, he calls back to us, “yall better be on yer best be-hav-ior, da ya hear me?”