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Rise of the River Man Excerpt

Mutter's life was bad before but it's suddenly getting worse.



MUTTER WAS IN TROUBLE.  No one wanted a Guard like him.  He was too big, too strong and too ugly.  He stretched out on the concrete floor and winced.  His ribs were definitely broken, but he’d fought and won with broken bones in the past.  He started coughing.  It was this sickness that had cost him the match.  He sat up; the coughing subsided.  He’d pleaded with Vickers, his Almighty master, not to make him fight but the money had already switched hands.  He leaned his head against the bars of the cage.  He’d lost the fight and now he’d lose his life.

The door opened and a male Almighty around thirty years old with blond hair entered the room followed by Satcha, the House Servant who ran this establishment.  The Guards’ Shelter didn’t allow visiting at this hour but Almightys did whatever they wanted.  Mutter didn’t bother to stand up.  He’d learned his lesson.  Right after he’d arrived, he’d trimmed his beard and had tried to look pleasant, but it had done no good.  Every time that he’d run to the front of the cage and had smiled at the Almightys, he’d smelled the fear on them.  Most had tried not to look at him, but he was big and scarred and hard to ignore.

They stopped in front of his cage.

“Ableson, this is the one I told you about,” said Satcha.  “Looks like he was a fighter.  So, he should be used to obeying.  I thought he might work for you, but he does have a bad cough.”

“Just a little tickle in my throat from this damp, rotten place.”  He hated Servants.  They didn’t know when to keep their big mouths shut.

The Almighty remained quiet, his blue eyes never leaving Mutter.

“Come here,” said Satcha.

Mutter wanted to stay where he was to annoy the Servant but Guards like him didn’t get many chances for a home.  He stood slowly, letting the Almighty get used to his size and appearance.

“How old are you?” asked Ableson.

“Not sure.  Been around for a while but not too old.”  That was the safe answer.  He had counted nineteen winters but that might be too old or too young.  He never could tell what an Almighty wanted.

“By his teeth and body we estimate around twenty-five to thirty years,” said Satcha.

Ableson twirled his finger.  Mutter understood that signal.  Before the fights had started, when the betting happened, he was often sized up by the gamblers.  He turned in a circle, giving the Almighty time to study him.

“I’m strong and healthy.”  That was a lie but he would be healthy again.  He just needed a little time and some food.

“I need an obedient Guard.”  The Almighty’s eyes roamed up and down his frame.

“Won’t find one more obedient than me.”

“Let’s see if that’s true.”  Ableson walked down the aisle.  “Is there another Guard who he’s close to?”

“Him?”  Satcha laughed, following the Almighty.  “He’s so big and ugly even the other Guards stay away from him.”

Ableson stopped in the hallway.  “Take this one out.”

The Servant opened the cage and slipped a rope over a young Guard’s neck.  Mutter’s chest pinched.  Typical.  The Almighty’s always chose the young ones.  His only chance was gone.  They would walk out and soon he’d be executed.  He started to sit back down, when the three of them stopped in front of his cage.

“Put her in with him,” said Ableson.

“Ah, we keep the younger ones separated from the older ones, especially the older males,” said Satcha.

The Almighty didn’t say a word, but his look was enough.  The Servant muttered an apology and opened the door, shoving the young Guard into Mutter’s cage.

He glanced at the little Guard who stood as far away from him as possible.  She couldn’t have been older than nine.  She had russet hair and large, frightened, brown eyes.

“Hit her,” said Ableson, his tone conversational.

“Wait,” said Satcha.  “That one’s young and attractive.  I can find a home for her.  Let me get—”

“I’ll pay for both.”  The Almighty’s eyes never left Mutter.

Mutter kept his face a mask but his stomach clenched.  He didn’t want to do this.  He’d fought females before but they’d all been experienced fighters.

“I need an obedient Guard,” repeated Ableson.

The girl trembled in the corner, tears running down her soft, round cheeks.  “Please, don’t hurt me.”

Pleading never changed anyone’s mind.  He knew the game and it would be her or him.

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