Sonya couldn’t count the days she had been held behind bars. The sun had risen and fallen but since her prison allowed no light she couldn’t tell how many times. What had been her crime? The beloved King Roman had fallen ill. Since then, the Kingdom of Navaria had fallen into anarchy. Cries of witchcraft spread panic throughout the snow covered land like untamed fires blazing through a dry forest. General Drenisov of the Navarian Guard had taken a firm grasp of the people. He held them in fear. He allowed the rumours of the cursed kingdom to circulate unhindered because the more frightened the people were, the more they turned to him for leadership. The sick king had been falling further and further into madness. His second wife, Annabelle, had retired from public view without explanation.
Sonya had been expressing her views.
“We’re being treated like animals,” she said. At first she had only whispered this to a few friends in the marketplace but before long more and more had gathered to hear what she had to say. She stood on top of a box to voice her opinion further. She lifted her skirts as she climbed to the new height. The hem was muddied from the ground where the snow had been trodden into filthy slush.
“We are stronger than they and they know it. We have had no word from the castle because they don’t deem us important enough.”
A merchant cried, “Here, here!” from behind his stall. Some of the gathering nodded in agreement with a firm shade of anger across their brows. There were others who hunched their shoulders and cowed away for fear that they would be seen listening to such thoughts.
“We demand to know what ails our beloved king. There are no such things as witches in Navaria, merely a symbol of fear designed to keep us under the control of the Guard.”
As she said this, the crowd began to part. Through the ragged clothing of sombre peasant colours charged a group of tall, young guards wearing the vibrant red and gold that was their signature uniform. Word of her malcontent must have reached The General at the grey, brooding castle that sat high on the mountain looking down on its subjects below.
Two guards snatched Sonya by the ruffled collar of her dress. She fell onto her knees in the mud. No one moved to help her, not even the grey haired, doe eyed merchant who had been cheering her on moments before.
“Don’t let them silence you!” she shrieked. “We are stronger than they.”
Sonya was taken to the castle and locked away in the dungeon. Word reached her that King Roman had been murdered. She heard two guards discuss it as they brought in a new prisoner. She even heard it from The General himself.
“You have murdered the king and doomed this land with your witchcraft,” Drenisov barked. She heard heavy footsteps on the stone floor. She pressed herself against the small window to the outside corridor on the door of her prison. She could only see the red of The General’s coat. There was no reply from the prisoner. The guards departed and all fell silent.
“Stay strong, comrade,” she said, not sure if her fellow prisoner would hear her.
“Is someone there?” The voice that returned to her was that of an adolescent boy. Sonya guessed him young enough to be her son.
“They can’t keep us here forever,” she assured.
The boy’s voice was eerily calm for the horror that he had no doubt just endured. “The king is dead,” he stated. Although youthful, the voice carried the wisdom of age. It’s owner must have been well educated. The son of a nobleman.
A deep motherly instinct that Sonya possessed looked past the obvious maturity of the boy and sought to lay comfort at his young feet.
“It’s a terrible tragedy. I heard The General say you are the murderer but I don’t think that is so. When the eldest prince, James, is granted the throne Drenisov will have no choice but to release us.”
The boy gave a laugh, the kind that bordered on hysterical. It held no real humour.
“I salute your optimism, my dear woman, I truly do. I fear that here in this darkness is where we will live out our last days.”
Sonya was chilled by the youth’s acceptance of fate. “Prince James…” she began.
“The prince can do nothing to help,” the boy interjected.
Sonya could feel tears on her brittle eyelashes. “He will …” Now it was she who was needing comfort.
“Take solace in knowing that soon it will all be over,” said the boy softly.
“I will get word to the Prince,” Sonya offered. “He is much like his father. He will help us.”
“He already knows your plight. My lady, I am Prince James and any chance I ever had of helping my people died with the king.”
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