"It's unfair," Partho shrugged. "That they would stretch my neck over so little when that rotten Duke butchers his cousin and still walks free." Matas eyed his companion and shifted himself to the side. He folded his arms and pretended to sleep.
"He has a deal more coin than you," Matas answered after a long time.
"The weights on the scales of justice are of gold and not good intentions lad." He shrugged and scratched himself. "Why worry yourself with it now?"
"You never told me what they accused you of." Partho looked over expectantly.
"Nothing I haven't done before." Matas grinned to himself, but his face soon slackened once more. "I always knew they'd catch me at it some day. The Magistrate has been keen to stretch my neck since I was younger than you."
"You were that infamous?" Partho leaned in closer still, his eyes growing wide.
"No so much," Matas shook his head with a sad smile. "I spent my youth less than carefully if you catch my meaning."
"There was little choice for me." Partho looked down at the grimy stones.
"I was a soldier once, but after the war was done there just wasn't a place for me anymore." He looked to his cellmate for sympathy but found none. Matas had leaned his head up against the wall and shut his eyes once more.
He may not even have been listening. "If I'd not taken to stealing, I'd have starved in the street like some forgotten dog."
Partho spat into the darkness, not liking the bitter taste upon his tongue.
"Spent all your blood money on whores and wine?" Matas snorted. His head tilted a little and he looked over at Partho with a half-opened eye. "I knew more than a few lads who walked home with new scars, less swagger in their steps and nothing else to show for it."
"We all did that." Partho secretly smiled, his thoughts lingering upon the women he'd dandled on his lap, the taverns he'd kicked around in. "Half the men I marched with had lost their coin to camp followers and cheap wine before the paymaster had sealed the coffers back up." He grinned, shaking his head. "The rest couldn't have kept their pay much longer."
"I could have bought an apprenticeship in one of the guilds with what I earned fighting off the Strandi." There was a slight smile on Matas's lips.
"When you're in the middle of all that blood and dying, you've no real thoughts for anything but a girl and a jug of red wine." He sighed and then laughed. "As long as the war goes, you've a full purse and vices to waste it on. Soon as all that's over, you've nothing but the nightmares that follow."
Silence slipped over the both of them. Their chains rattled now and then in the damp darkness as one or the other would try to find a more comfortable spot. Neither man found himself capable of sleep, tormented by a span of time the dark could not measure. Not long after the dawn's light broke the jailors would come for them both and the macabre spectacle would begin.
"To think of all the hangings I have watched," Partho mused, unable to keep his silence any longer. His hand was tapping out an old tavern song once again. Matas opened a lazy eye, looking down at Partho's hand. He said nothing. "I'd always thought the fools they walked into the square were getting their due. " He rubbed at his throat, finding it hard to swallow or breathe. "I'd never imagined I'd find myself swinging from the gibbet."
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