Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 160

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A Bond Is a Contract

The man in the stocks flinched. It wasn’t much, but the guard caught the motion out of the corner of his eye. “When there is a prisoner, sir, yes, this is a typical greeting. I am required by my office to speak certain words to you. You are not required to respond to any of them, however.”

The rider looked doubtful. His eyes wandered between the guard and the guarded. “Will it take a long time?”

“There are several places at which you can stop listening, but I must begin thus.” He cleared his throat. “The man before you is guilty of reneging on debts.”

In the following, sudden silence, the soldier in the stocks coughed once.

“Is that all?” asked the rider.

The guard shook his head. “No, sir. However, I have carried out the minimum of my own contract, if you have heard enough.”

“I can go on? You only had to tell me that this is some form of debtor’s prison? Nothing more to say?”

“Plenty more, sir. Most people choose to leave at this point.”

“Do you have a number of debtors?”

The guard was used to this line of questioning. It didn’t necessarily come at this point or this early, even, but sooner or later most people asked. “If you are asking if you yourself are in danger, sir, the answer is I do not believe so. This man entered into his own contract willingly and failed to live up to the wording. You would have to enter into a contract in order to be in any danger at all, and there is nothing to say that you must do the first. The second, whether or not to hold up your end of the bargain, that is less a matter of need and completely a matter of choice.”

“This man chose to renege – you said ‘renege,’ right? – on his contract?”

“Correct.”

“And thereby he created his debt of his own action.”

“Correct.”

The horse pawed at the ground. Clop clop clip. The rider slapped the mare’s neck in a comforting manner. She whickered in response. Her tail lashed.

“It seems fairly clear that he has brought this fate upon himself,” began the rider, “but I’m curious… What is the length of his punishment?”

The guard cleared his throat. He rather preferred it when people simply went on their way. They were getting into more awkward territory and it inevitably led to unnecessary grief for the prisoners. “He is condemned to stand here until bonded by one such as yourself.”

“You mean you’ll feed him and keep him alive until weather or a bear eats him?”

“Something like that, sir.” The guard squirmed. Children were not as bad as this. He hadn’t had to do many of the lengthier interviews.

“How much does it cost to buy his freedom?”

This would be the first time that the soldier would have heard this part. “The price is in two parts, sir. The first is the payment of the sum of fifty silver coins.”

The soldier coughed again, once. It was the most noise the guard had heard him make up to now.

“And the second?” asked the rider.

The guard wiped his forehead. He’d never actually had to say these words before. “Your wife, should you have one, will be taken from you. Should you not be married yet, your future bride will be taken from you. Should you never marry, before your death, you will be clapped in the stocks yourself.”

Finally, the prisoner raised his head. “Don’t do it, Ivan,” he said.

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