6a (Argentum’s Song – PG)

Chapter Six

Walt had planned to stay in Phoentown to try to gather more recruits and supplies over the coming days but he wanted Martha and Franklin earning their keep as soon as possible. So they were sent ahead with Earl the day after their contracts had been bought. Earl was miffed at having to cut his stay short but he took most of his frustration out on Martha. The two weir claws hanging from Franklin’s neck seemed to provide some protection from the foreman’s wrath.

Franklin had been too shocked by the quick turn of events to think of telling the truth about the weir necklace until it was too late. Ladin had signed Franklin’s contract over to Walt first and then given Franklin a look that told him what’s done is done, and he’d better be quiet about the falsehood for both of their sakes. Now it was a constant weight, the knowledge he would lose his position of relative privilege if he was found out. It was much worse that it was Martha who held that power over him. He sorely regretted having let those snide remarks fall in the Silver Cog’s kitchen. He should have played it cool and kept his options open. He’d just been away from court intrigues for so long it hadn’t occurred to him Ladin might double cross him too. Now Martha was in a position to really extort something out of him. He’d have to stay on his toes if he was to find something to use as leverage against her before it was too late.

However, even with the power it gave her over him in the future, Franklin was surprised Martha hadn’t let it slip, with all the strain Earl had put on her the past five days. Earl seemed to get some sort of sick pleasure out of scaring and humiliating the girl. Every morning he’d tie her hands with rope and bind a cloth round her eyes to protect the mine’s ‘secret location’. Then, in the evening, he’d force them both to listen to weir stories around the campfire. Like the one about what had happened to Cookie, the previous cook. It was bad enough for Franklin, trying to figure out fact from fiction in those tales. He often just wanted to tune the brute out but knew he didn’t dare in case something he learned actually came in handy when he was called on to ‘fulfil his duty’ in the future. It must have been even worse for Martha, knowing she was marching into the monsters’ habitat without even the defence of sight.

Franklin had expected Martha to break down and spill his secret the first day. Even if only to cause Franklin to join her in some of her misery. The girl was much stronger than he had expected though. He hadn’t seen her shed a single tear. She’d stayed strong when Bart bribed a bureaucrat to skip to the front of the queue to register their contracts, thus speeding their departure and making a goodbye with her parents impossible. Not even the long, hard trek blindfolded, or Earl’s verbal barrage had broken her. This was a mixed blessing as it meant his secret was likely safe a little while longer, but it also meant she would be a formidable opponent.

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