My heart was in my throat as I sat on the edge of the throne.
Perhaps I wasn’t old enough. I’m seventeen! Perhaps I wasn’t smart enough. But I read everything! Perhaps I wasn’t strong enough. I… I…
“Sire,” the man called to me and I looked over to him, a slow motion that betrayed my trying to act as if what had just been announced hadn’t affected me at all. The man who got my attention was dressed in the rich red colors of his station. A man who belonged to my army. My guards. My men. I let the air out of my lungs in a slow, forceful motion.
The word sounded pitiful to me. How come I couldn’t get my voice to work properly? What was going on? For some reason, despite being told everything. Despite being walked through it twice since the double doors to my hall had opened. Despite all of that. I still couldn’t comprehend it. No. That wasn’t right. I could comprehend. I just didn’t want to. It was too shocking. Yes, we were at war with our neighboring country. We always were. What I couldn’t grasp was the idea that selling out our country to the Queen was in our best interests. Not even that!
What was there to gain in selling me to the Queen? Handing me over to her on a silver platter, done up and pretty like a jewel? Once more, the thought had me breathing quickly and it took all I had to keep it silent and unnoticed by the men who stood before me, the men who had the papers in their hands. Most prominent of the three was the man in the middle, dressed in a long blood red gown with golden sheaves over his shoulders. My minister of the state. The man who I trusted since taking the throne at a very young age. The only person I thought to help me when in dire need.
He was the one who was selling me to the Queen.
Bile filled the back of my throat as I sat there. The sour heat almost made me double over onto my knees to empty the contents of my stomach upon the porcelain floor. How I managed to keep from doing so was a miracle.
“The answer was just explained to you, Sire.”
“Sire,” my minister frowned deeply.
“W-why?” Is that the only word I know? My voice was shaking again as I leaned forward. Tears were beginning to well in my eyes. Slowly my fingers began to curl into tight fists as I glared down at him. Confusion teeming with fear was making it hard to comprehend anything, as well as think straight. Not that it seemed many people thought my mind was straight to begin with. I knew the rumors. I wasn’t the smartest. I wasn’t the strongest either. I couldn’t fight, couldn’t follow politics, couldn’t follow war strategies. All the things a good King needed, I lacked.
For those reasons. I was being sold.
With no one to help me, no one to guide me. I was being tossed aside like a ragdoll and it was going to drive me crazy. What else was I to do though? How could I possibly win against those that were far superior than I in such things? Even at seventeen I was struggling to keep my emotions in place. Just from those few thoughts, heat had spilled over my lower lids and trailed down my face. It must have been an ugly, disgraceful sight. No wonder they were getting rid of me.
“It’s the only way we’re saving our country. Surely you understand? You must do this. As any good King would do. You would sacrifice yourself for your people. Do you understand that?”
My head shot up, gaze finding that of the man’s before me. With my lips sealed tightly together, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to speak again and if I did… I was afraid I would lose control of myself. I would retch upon the floor, scream at the top of my lungs wordlessly in an effort to vent my frustrations. In the end, it just wouldn’t end well if I opened my mouth.
“I-I…” My voice cracked horribly and I had to swallow down the stinging bile in the back of my throat.
“Sire.” The guard next to me inched closer and I watched him in frozen shock. His hand gripped my arm tightly and lifted me from the throne. I wasn’t sure what happened after that, but I was taken from the throne room. The halls drifted by as a group of soldiers encircled me. I knew it wasn’t to keep me safe. It was to keep me from running away. All I could do was walk with them in shocked silence. My eyes on the floor, blurring every so often as the tears welled and then fell.
Down a flight of stairs and into the cool damp dungeon was where I went. The grinding of metal against stone sent shivers down my spine. Staring at the wall, it wasn’t until the resounding slam of the bar doors closing firmly shut that I turned around. I watched the soldier who had put me there. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. The man simply turned and left me while the elder council members watched from the other side.
“Tomorrow, you’ll be given to the Queen, my Lord. Just remember. This is to save us all.”
He left me with those words. I managed to keep standing until they were all gone and out of sight, the fire light of their torches dropping away and pitching me into darkness. I let out a choked sob then, dropping to my knees on the floor. The tall boots that went up over my knees gave enough of a cushion to keep it from hurting too badly, but I was sure I’d bruised them. Looking down at my trembling hands, I couldn’t help the soft, strangled sobs that choked out of my tight throat.
I was in the cell for hours. Long enough that the light had shifted, and I’d given up on kneeling to sit against the wall. My tears dried away into a blank stare as I watched the light change in the small, barred window that was far enough above my head that I’d never be able to reach it. It was just when I was drifting into sleep, with nothing else to do, that I heard an odd sound, stone grating against stone. If it had been from the direction I had come from when the guards brought me in, it would have made sense, doors moving. But it came from further in the dungeon. And it was followed by the soft, pleasant sound of humming. I was certain the guards wouldn’t be humming.
When the grinding of stone stopped, footsteps replaced the sound. Light enough that I wouldn’t have been able to hear them if the dungeon weren’t completely silent otherwise. The humming got louder as the footsteps did, and by the time light glowed at the end of the hall my cell was in, it seemed to surround me. I pressed myself forward against the bars, and whatever soft sound I made had the humming cutting off in an odd, strangled sound.
“Good god, you scared the daylights out of me!” The voice was just as pleasant as the humming, as pretty as the face of the person who leaned forward, holding their torch so they could see my face. It was nearly impossible to tell what gender they were; their hair feathered around a soft face and light green eyes that could belong to a man as easily as a woman.
“Odd. They never put people down here. What did you do, step on somebody’s cat?” The longer the person the person spoke, the easier it became to judge that it was a man standing in front of me, his head cocked slightly to the side and a playful smile teasing at his lips. Like I wasn’t in a cell about to be sold off to the Queen.
I wish. My thoughts were bitter as I stared at him. My hand took hold of one of the bars in front of me and I bowed my head down, the other hand gripping tightly into the thick cloth of my pants. The man in front of me must have been blind. I was still dressed in the rich garb of my station. How could he miss that he was sitting in front of a King? Oh… But I wasn’t really the King right then, now was I? Thrown into a cell to be held in one place so I didn’t run. Kept imprisoned so I could be sold in the morning.
“You should go before my guards find you,” I said softly. Despite the words being so soft, they rang out in the room almost three times as loud as I had wanted them. Squeezing my eyes shut, I ground my teeth tightly to keep from crying yet again. I already had a pounding headache and all I wanted to do was sleep.
The laugh was almost as musical as the humming. “Oh, I would like to see the guards try to catch me. I have a copy of every key in the castle. Not to mention I know about all of the tunnels. They don’t get near me unless I want them to.” He sounded very proud of himself while talking to a king about something that could have gotten him thrown in jail. “But you know them too, don’t you? Surely your father told you. What I don’t understand is why you’re still in the cell. Do you find it entertaining?” He pulled back from the bars of my cell, looking puzzled.
“I suppose it’s not any of my business what pleasures the late king’s son finds in sitting in a cell all night. I have a lover waiting. I do hope you enjoy your… strange pastime,” he said, giving me a charming smile as he turned away from me, heading for the other end of the hall, the one that led out of the dungeon.
My head raised as he spoke. Shock and astonishment painted clearly over my face as my mouth opened in a small ‘o’ of surprise. It took a moment to get my voice back and I wasn’t sure why I yelled at him to stop. Throwing myself into the bars and thrusting my hand out for him, my voice shook with fear. “Wait!”
When he did, I faltered. Leaned into the bars, my outstretched hand slowly sank down and I fell back. “This… This isn’t for my entertainment. I don’t enjoy being in here and I’ve no knowledge of these… Tunnels you speak of. My father did not tell it to me. I never was anything more than something to doll up and pretend to be a prince. And now, I can’t even pretend to be a king either.”
I had an odd urge to tell the stranger everything. To spill to him what my own council had done to me. At the same time, I had a small voice telling me that I should just accept it. That any good King would do what they needed to save their country. To sacrifice themselves first before anyone else. I swallowed thickly as I pulled away from the bars and fought to keep from wrapping my arms around myself like a child.
Though the man had paused to listen to me, his soft features sharpened at my words. “So… you are telling me you’re an insult to your father’s memory? Is that meant to convince me to help you?” His head cocked to the side again, his expression more disapproving than taunting that time.
“You look a little like him, I’ll admit. But do you have any of your father in you? Or do you just intend to mope around in this cell giving in to whatever has happened?” He rocked back on his heels, shaking his head; glass beads chimed together as he did, bringing a smile to his face for just a moment. Then the disapproval was back.
“If I’d thought to hope for anything of you, it would have been more than this. What did your father name you again… Ina? No, Inea. That’s right. Well. Inea. If you do decide to do anything about it, I hope you find your way out of here. As I said. I have more entertaining things to do than insult your father’s memory as you do.” The cheer in his voice was a little biting that time, though why he was so insulted was a mystery.
“I-insult… I wasn’t… My father was a great man! I looked up to him, wanted to be him but I just… I couldn’t. I wasn’t accepted. I couldn’t understand half of the things he did. And though I have some grasp of it now, I still can’t compare. I will never be as great a king as he was.”
I let my gaze drop back to my hands again. They were shaking once more. Taking a deep breath, I closed them into tight fists that shook. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you. The least I can do for my country is this. Offer myself to the queen who threatens us.” Tilting my head up and to the side a little, I offered him a bittersweet smile, the taste of my tears edging into the corner of my mouth. “Do you think that will make me a step closer to being a good king? One that sacrifices himself for the greater good of his people?”
The man’s eyes widened for a moment before narrowing to mere slits. “You don’t need to insult him. You are the insult,” he said, reaching up to pull at one of the glass beads in his hair as he gave me a dark look. “If your father could see you now. He would be so disappointed in you.
“Where is your courage, child? Do you think we sing songs about your father because he meekly turned himself over? Who told you it was for the good of the kingdom? My money is on that bastard, coward minister of state. I didn’t like him even when your father was alive. I don’t know how he ever tolerated that man,” the stranger sniffed, giving another soft shake of his head.
“Though I suppose there’s a certain courage required to be a coward, isn’t there? What songs will we write about you? The idiot prince who had himself thrown away on a whim. The pretty slave of the queen. They’ll be wonderful, won’t they? I ought to go start on the first of them now.” It almost seemed to be a threat, the way he said it.
At first I had only been shocked. A slight gasp of air into my lungs, but as he continued, sharp pangs threaded through my chest and deep into my heart. Though the tears flowed, I was on my feet in an instant, shaking the bars in blind anger. “You! Are a cruel man! I don’t even know you! Why would you say such things to me? It wasn’t my choice to be locked in here! I didn’t have a choice in anything!”
My voice was hoarse, scratchy even as I shouted at him. I kept going, shaking the door to my confinement to try to emphasize. “Yes! It was the minister of state. He told me I had to. For the greater good of my country! He told me that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be a king. Told me that I had to make sacrifices and that it was better for me to do it instead of someone else! I don’t want this! I don’t want to be her slave! I didn’t ask for any of this!” My voice grew extraordinarily loud, to the point of hurting.
Heaving in deep breathes, I let my head fall forward to smack into the bars rather hard. It didn’t help my headache and the sting only made me dizzy. Gripping the bars tightly, I twisted my hands around them as if wringing them enough times would free me. “I don’t want this. But I’m so lost. I don’t know how to get out of this without having her decimate this country. When my father died… When that man was laid to rest… I… I lost everything. His men were never mine, and they sure as hell don’t care what happens to me. What did I do wrong?”
The stranger hardly seemed affected by my speech at all. At least until he snorted at me. “Oh, please stop pitying yourself. Do you think you’ll save your kingdom by crying over your misfortune? For a moment I thought I saw your father in you, but apparently I was wrong.”
He took a few steps forward, leaning casually against the bars of my cell. “You wouldn’t know me, would you? Your father wouldn’t let me near you. Though I’m rather insulted you don’t at least remember me from my performances. You must be deaf,” he decided, nodding his head as he made up his mind.
“So…” he hummed the word, his eyes narrowing again as he looked me over. “Little captive bird. Do you want to sing about your troubles- which your voice is not pretty enough for. Or do you intend to do something about it? You complain about being lost, but there will be no being lost if you stay here; there will only be captivity. Though you would make a pretty pet.
“Your father… would have had my head if he knew I even thought about leaving his precious son here. You’re very lucky for that. It’s the only reason I’m giving you this chance, because you’re his son. So- would you like to stay in this cell? Or would you like to leave?” His words were followed by a soft metallic ring, coming from the ring of keys he spun around his finger. “I suggest you choose quickly. Your voice may not be pretty, but it is loud, and I suspect they’ll send guards down before long.”
I sucked in another sharp, deep breath. I wasn’t sure if I liked the man in front of me or not. He knew my father, and was obviously loyal to the man even in death, which was far more than I could say anyone else was. Swallowing thickly, I looked up into his eyes and stared for a moment. I didn’t know exactly who he was, at least by name, but after mentioning performances, the sound of his voice helped kindle old memories. A pretty performer. A musician with an angelic voice. That was most definitely him.
“I know you don’t like me. And I have no right. But please. I don’t want to be a slave. Anything but that,” I said, shaking my head as I stared at him, pleading almost. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but I couldn’t help it. There would be time for thinking properly and maybe trying to please the man later if he wanted. Right then, though, I wanted out of that cell and out of the predicament I was in.
“Please! Let me out! I can’t… I won’t do this for them!” A hint of anger spiked my voice, a dark frown on my lips as I shook the bars again.
The man gave me his charming smile, his eyes bright. “Ah, there it is. I can see your father again. Much better than the pleading, simpering brat.” His voice was very carefree, once more, for somebody who was insulting the person who ruled the kingdom. The keys came to a stop against his palm, concentration pinching his mouth for a moment as he found the key he wanted.
I didn’t expect it to truly work. But the key turned, and he pulled the cell door open with the awful sound of metal grating against stone. It drew shouting from outside the dungeon; muffled, but angry, and the man laughed softly.
“Oh, now I’ve done it. There go my plans for the evening. If you wish to be free, I suggest you come with me, Inea. I can promise I’ll be far more pleasant than the guards who are about to come after you. So, do me a favor,” he said, as he dropped the torch he’d been holding to keep the dungeon lit. The flame died seconds after, and he crushed his foot down on the lit embers to make sure there was no light left in the dungeon at all.
I couldn’t see him, but I could hear the smile in his voice as he put his hands on my shoulders and spoke in my ear. “Run,” he ordered, giving me a shove into the darkness as the door to the dungeon burst open behind us with an ungodly crashing sound.
I stumbled at first, but as the sounds of the guards, my guards, came filtering into the dungeon, my heart leapt into a race. I ran as fast as I could. Rushing deeper into the darkness. I wasn’t sure if the strange, cruel musician was near me or not. I supposed it didn’t really matter.
My legs carried me swiftly, the air sweeping into my lungs as I sprinted. In the darkness, it was near impossible to see where I was going. It was a damn miracle I didn’t run into anything. However, just as I thought about it, the far end of the dungeon came to meet me.
Smacking into the wall, I let out a sharp cry of shock and pain. Stumbling, I lost my footing as the headache increased and the dizziness took me to the floor. Rubbing at my head, I groaned. There was no where else to go. No. That wasn’t right. There was somewhere to go. The musician knew. Twisting a little, I sought for him.
“Now where?” I asked, nearly demanding as my fear was climbing with the amount of noise the guards were making.
He stepped over me without a word, his hands running over the stones. I could hear him muttering to himself as he did, until he made a pleased noise. The sound I had heard earlier, before he first arrived, repeated itself; the grind of stone against stone as the entire wall moved.
“Get through fast,” he said, hauling me to my feet. “Just run straight. Until you can feel the fresh air. It comes up just outside the city. I need to close it up, but you get moving. If they catch me they’ll just be confused, but if they catch you I doubt they’re going to be lenient.”
He gave me another shove, in the direction he wanted me to run. Following me just past where the wall opened before he stopped. “Go!” he hissed, as if he expected me to try and stay with him.
I twisted again, turning to face him and catching hold of his arm as he pushed me into the tunnel. “Your name! Please! So I can remember you when I see you again,” I asked quickly, a clip to my tone as I was frantic to both leave but have his name as well. There was so much more I wanted to say to him, but it would have to wait, as well as the final request before I took off into the darkness. Not until I had his name.
He clucked his tongue at me, an aggravated little sigh pushing out of him as he turned away from the wall. “It’s Ansyn, my lord. And please do try not to forget it this time. Now please. Run. This will all be for nothing if they catch you!” he snapped at me, giving me a harder shove that almost sent me toppling to the ground.
He watched me that time, no doubt to make sure I really left. Shouts rose behind us as the guards must have reached my cell and realized I wasn’t in it. It drew a vicious curse from Ansyn, which quickly became several more as the guards headed our way.
“Ansyn, please. Come with me! There is no need for you to stay,” I said, pleading with him as I slowly backed down the corridor a few steps. The tunnel wasn’t evenly cut, the jagged rock sharp against my palms as I used the walls to lead me, and keep me upright when he shoved me. “They will harm you if you stay! I won’t allow that! Come with me! If they see you now, they will assume you’ve freed me!”
His laughter rang off the stone walls. “I wasn’t planning on being caught, little King. It would take more than a few guards to have me caught in this castle. You are the one who needs to escape.”
Ansyn stepped back, out of the tunnel he had shoved me into. His charming smile was already back in place. “Don’t worry yourself about me. I was escaping guards here long before you were born. I’ll be a perfect distraction. If you need me again after tonight, simply come to one of my performances. You’ll find me easily enough.
“Now, for god’s sake, would you run already? They’re going to catch you if you stand there all night!”
“A-Ansyn…” The fact that he wasn’t going with me was a shock to my system. The fact that I probably wouldn’t see him again after that was also a major shock. I wasn’t sure what I needed to do next after I left. I knew that he wasn’t coming with. There was nothing to say to get him to come. I wasn’t strong enough to force him and even as I thought about it, he did something to the wall and the tunnel began to close again. My breath caught, holding fast as I lurched forward.
My voice cracked on the final words that I shouted to him before the tunnel was sealed. “Don’t you dare die!”
A thud resounded, almost echoing my words. Silence filled the pitch black tunnel and I couldn’t see anything. It was almost suffocating. To not see or feel anything around me. There was no presence and I had a shiver travelling up my spine. A shaking breath filled my chest as I turned myself around, using the wall as my only guidance. I would have run, but the most I could manage was a quick walk as I was afraid of smashing into the sides of the tunnel and seriously injuring myself or worse, knocking myself unconscious.
So I stayed against the wall and quickened my steps. The darkness bred fears. Fears of things lurking in the depths of which I could not see. I shook horribly as I hurried down the tunnel. It was supposed to take me outside of the city, but that could be hours of traversing the tunnel. Days even! I didn’t know any better. The further I walked, the more nervous and terrified I became. The smallest sounds had me jumping and pressing up against the wall as I waited for something awful to happen to me.
I half expected the wall to simply drop out from under my hands and send me tumbling into a deep void. It didn’t help that my boots slipped across loose rock constantly, making me jolt and cling to the wall as if it would save me from falling. The fact that I just couldn’t see a damn thing wasn’t helping my state of mind. Already crushed by the council’s declaration of selling me off, being thrown into a cell, and then freed by a man who was neither kind nor quite cruel either… It was a lot to take in.
The darkness wasn’t helping.
I came up with all sorts of fantasies. Things that would happen to me and at one point I was sure I’d hyperventilate. My headache did not fare well from that. For what seemed like days was actually a few hours of walking. Finally, I came upon what Ansyn said I would. A fresh breeze. I sucked in the air greedily. It felt good on my sweat drenched face. The cool taste eased the burn of my lungs. It was a short climb up, a slight incline of the tunnel, and I was out on a grassy hill top underneath the stars and the milky moon.
Throwing myself down upon the grass, I soaked up the cold feel of it under my hands and closed my eyes. I couldn’t keep them closed for long though. For what seemed like eternal darkness down in the corridor, I couldn’t help but want to stare at the silvery rays of light over head. Turning over onto my back, I gazed up at the beautiful blue-black night sky. Laying there for a long while, I tried to figure out what my next step would be.
Staying near my city was out of the question. They would catch me in no time at all. I needed to move, but what I was wearing was too rich. I couldn’t blend in with the commoners. Pushing up so that I could tug my legs up to my chest, I stared down at the tunnel and wished that Ansyn had come with me. He could have helped me more. Although I was certain he would have insulted me a few more times for it. With a heavy sigh, I turned my gaze down to the grass beneath my legs.
It took me a while, but I got up to my feet, deciding that no matter what I did, I just couldn’t sit around. Dressed like a king or not, leaving was the only option I had at not being sold off, or killed by the men who betrayed me. Rubbing at my eyes, I dried the tears that had started yet again. Ansyn would be right. Father would be very disappointed in me if he saw me right then. The only way I was getting stronger, was by doing things myself.
“Thank you, Ansyn,” I said softly toward the tunnel. Turning on my heel, I chose a direction and headed in it. It would be a long rest of my life, and if I had to live it like a hermit in the woods, then I would. Though I had a feeling that wasn’t really what I was going to do with my newfound freedom.
Already, ideas and plans were beginning to take shape.
Interested in how the story continues? King’s Lament got published and you can get the book on www.amazon.com/Kings-Lament-Lilia-Blanc-ebook/dp/B01MYYRTH8