Flash Fiction: Panic in the Courts (467 words)

“The job is simple,” Commander Joseth said. He strode across the paved yard, fast, moving in chain mail, leathers and heavy boots as if it was no more difficult than coming down for breakfast in his morning jacket. Thom tried to set his feet to the same rhythm, but always seemed to be half a step behind.

“You know how to stand?” Commander Joseth asked.

Thom looked at him to make sure it was a joke, but was already halfway into a laugh. “Yes, sir.”

“You know how to keep your eyes open?”

Thom smiled a little wider. “Yes, sir.”

“Good.” Joseth smiled, nodded, and kept on walking. “Because most of what you’ll do, is stand at a gate, and keep your eyes open. You can shout?”

“Loudly, sir.”

Joseth looked at him sideways, mouth crooked at one end. “Very good. You’ll do that occasionally. If you see anyone who looks suspicious. If you see anyone staying too long near the wall. If anyone approaches you for help. If anyone approaches you for permission to pass through. If anyone tries to pass through without permission. If anyone sneezes at you, and you don’t like the sound of it. You stand, you hold and you shout for the man with the double stripes on his sleeve.” He pointed to the command stripes on his own uniform. “Understand?”

Thom nodded, looking down. “Yes, sir.” It was a speech he’d heard before. Hold and Holler: the footman’s ready instructions for any situation.

“Boring, I know…” Joseth said amiably, and didn’t bother finishing the sentence.

“How about stray cats, sir?” Thom asked. He caught a fluffed tail disappearing around a corner, then heard a short bark. “Or stray dogs? Can I take care of those myself?”

Joseth looked at Thom, then to the corner. A red-brown nose appeared and then two round black eyes, and a set of floppy ears perked forward in interest. He blinked. “Um, no, boy. For that dog you call for stripes.”

Thom stared. “Sir?”

Joseth had already turned away, headed for the corner. He ran the last few steps, scooped up the dog in one quick motion, and held it on its back as he turned back for Thom. The dog, muddy from the chest down, fur studded with bramble, nipped at Joseth’s hand like a lap dog.

“This is Rufus Spotus Maximus,” Joseth said. “We call him Ruff.”

“And he warrants a call to a commanding officer?” Thom asked. He tried not to let his mouth hang open after his last word.

Joseth looked at him very seriously. “Yes. This is Lon’s dog.”

“Lon’s…”

“And you have never seen panic, if you’ve never seen a ten-year-old Clan Lord looking for his rascal dog.” Joseth raised his eyebrows at Thom, then carried the dog away, double-paced.

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