The Adventurers

The Mad Duke's Tale

“First thing’s first, let’s talk about the Mad Duke. Everyone wants to know about the Mad Duke.”

Reg had no idea who in the Nine Hells Markus was talking about, but he offered what he hoped was a confident “Okay, tell me about the Mad Duke.” Honestly, he took the job as a ward at the Madhouse of Gilliam because a bunch of goblins had burned down his family’s farm and it was either this or working at the Foundry. It was a hell of a choice, working with either the mad or surrounded by molten steel, but the Madhouse paid a gold piece a week better and it was certainly more comfortable than drowning in your own sweat for ten hours a day.

Markus gathered himself to recite his speech. It was, honestly, his favorite part of the job. “So the Mad Duke has a name – Sir Evan Cadwallader – but that don’t really matter. It’s not like he cares what you call him. He’s been catatonic,” which he pronounced as three hard syllables, a word that might as well have been in Deep Speech for all his familiarity with it, “or main plainly he’s been a vegetable for nigh on a decade now. He’s actually a model inmate – he don’t do or say nothing. He just sits all day, and a couple times a day someone has to go in and feed him, water him, bathe him, make him pace around the room for a few laps.”

“That hardly sounds mad,” offered Reg.

Markus erupted with a hearty guffaw. “That’s not the mad part! It was how he got here that was so mad. Bugger went batty one day and butchered his entire household staff. And I mean butchered – the Mad Duke cut ’em up like they was animals. Then he invited his parents to the manor and fed them his serving staff. When he told them what they had eaten, he started laughing. He laughed for weeks on end, when they brought him here. Finally, he stopped laughing and turned into the vegetable he is now. But bloody hells, huh?”

Reg thought that he probably should have eaten breakfast before, not after, his tour of his new workplace.

“Oh, don’t worry. He’s fine. But he’s famous, all sorts of stories about him. The penny-dreadful press loved it. At the time there were at least three plays, a dozen poems and even a puppet show about the whole thing. I can’t believe you hadn’t heard of him. Anyway, let’s show you his cell.”

Reg followed Markus into the bowels of the madhouse. He could hear sobbing, and screaming, echoing through the halls. He wondered if he should have taken his risks with super-heated metal. After a few twists and turns – how on earth would he ever make his way around, wondered Reg – they came to a wooden door with a barred window slit about head-high. Markus gestured to the window. “Go on, now, take a look at him.”

Reg peered into the room. The room was bare, with some narrow windows far too small for even a halfling to escape through eight or nine feet from the floor. Seated on the ground cross-legged directly across the room from the window was, Reg assumed, the Mad Duke. Perhaps Markus had gotten used to him, but Reg felt a shiver through the tips of the hair on his head to the ends of his toenails. The Duke was clean shaven – Reg assumed that the wards must do it for him – but his teeth were rotting and his complexion unearthly pale. It was clear he had not seen the sun for years and would not see the sun for years to come. He was very thin, and his ribs could be counted to a one. But it was his eyes that chilled Reg. The irises of his eyes were a wan and sickly yellow, like a sodium lamp he had once seen a traveling alchemist demonstrate. His pupils were wide and unfocused, as if he was looking at something far, far away. His gaze was fixed beyond the door and so it seemed as if he was looking right through Reg.

“Anyway,” said Markus in a tone so offhandedly casual that it broke Reg out of his stupor, “he’ll be your first task here. It ain’t hard. Just go in, walk him around the room clockwise 20 or so times, check to see if he’s soiled himself and if so remove his pants and come find me and we’ll get him a washed pair.” Markus handed him a heavy iron key and gave him what seemed to be an attempt at a reassuring smile.

Reg nodded, not quite back to verbal communication quite yet. He was all but sure that he was going to tender his resignation and see if the Foundry still needed help. He’d rather paint his face and streetwalk than do this for more than one day. He watched as Markus walked down the long hall and faded into the darkness. Just one day, Reg, he thought to himself. Just one day and you’ll be done. He turned back to the slit in the window, and came eye-to-eye with a set of sickly yellow eyes.

Reg startled, his fear choking off a silent scream. He froze, his own eyes wide with terror. He could smell the rot and decay on the Mad Duke’s breath. “Y-y-you, you’re awake,” he managed to squeak out.

“Yes,” came a voice that was flat as the plains surrounding Shard. “And after all these years, I’m rather hungry.” The Duke’s arms shot out between the bars of his door’s slit and grabbed the back of Reg’s head. He pulled Reg toward the door, slamming it into the heavy wood and stunning Reg. The Mad Duke pulled Reg’s head close, perversely cradling it as he began to gnaw at the flesh of Reg’s face. Reg cried out in pain and terror. As he did, the other inmates began to scream in a ghoulish mockery of his predicament, drowning out his desperate pleas for help. Soon Reg’s screaming turned into a wet, unintelligible gurgle and not long after Reg didn’t make any more noises at all.

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JamesOuroboros

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