James: A Valid Means of Escape

Though I had learned to trust the queen beyond all common sense and despite rantings from my mother, I was troubled that we weren’t doing anything more for Eliza. My feelings for her troubled me as well. We were both of royal families,so there was no conflict there; however, to fall for someone from Ibera was such a persistent stigma among Handrin nobility that even the mere thought of it gave me a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t. If her majesty was certain of Eliza’s safety, who was I to question her?

Jon, the messenger Eliza had spoken of, was a good looking fellow. Even without hearing him speak, I could tell why the girls were captivated by him so much. There was something else about him, though, a quality hidden beneath the surface that demanded respect. I hadn’t been in the presence of many that were not of noble birth. Was this trait common among non-noble citizens?

He inquired about the girls that had been imprisoned with him. The queen smiled, hiding a thought. “They are safe. Alexandra is with them now. Let us go see how they fare.”

The rest of Jon’s team had been held in a cell not far from our present location, close enough to hear Jon’s screams if he had been tortured. The thought made me cringe.

When they were reunited, Jon hugged one of the girls and kissed her on the lips. The other girl joined the embrace after the short kiss. A little to my surprise — though I am not sure why — Alex wrapped her arms around the other three.

Words were spoken among them that I could not hear. The queen and I had stayed at the entrance, giving the group a small amount of privacy.

“I’m sorry to break up this little reunion,” the queen said, approaching the group, “but we aren’t safe staying here. My power only goes so far.”

The girl who had kissed Jon dropped to her knees and attempted to kiss the queen’s feet. The queen brought her up by the arm. “Though I appreciate the sentiment,” the queen said, “I am not your queen. I would like to think of myself as your Iberan sister, though.”

The girl looked at Alex in surprise who said, “I will explain later.”

Instead of exiting the dungeons through the normal route, the queen steered us along a different path, eventually turning into a non-lit section of the tunnels. She picked up a torch from a wall bracket, lighting it with a match she fetched from a fold in her dress. A hidden pocket, I thought.

“Do you always carry matches with you?” Alex asked, unconcerned about the rules of etiquette for addressing her majesty.

“No, my dear.” The queen smiled. “Only when I know that I am going deep into the dungeons, or I am going to use the secret passages.” She handed the torch to me, and we continued on our journey.

After making several more turns, we entered a larger tunnel. The queen stopped and faced the rest of us.

“By now the king has been informed of my activities,” she said. “Acting in secret is no longer an option. To keep you safe, I have brought you here.”

“But, we are still in the dungeons,” Alex protested. I noticed that none of the others had said anything, which either indicated an aspect of their various personalities or the fact that Alex had been with the queen slightly longer, allowing herself to become more familiar with her.

“That is not entirely true,” the queen replied. “We are in a section of the underground tunnels which are many years — hundreds, even — older than the dungeons which are in use today. Few if any would know of their existence, much less know the route to take. You are as safe as you can be in the confines of the city.”

“So, what do we do now?” The girl with the blonde hair who had kissed Jon held her head low, her question whispered.

“Your name is Katrina, isn’t it?” The queen asked. After Katrina nodded, the queen continued, “Well, Katrina, I need to speak with the king. Otherwise, any future plans I have to help you would surely not be successful.”

She approached the wall closest to her and pressed against a brick, which caused a secret door to open, revealing a hidden room or passage.

“In the meantime,” she explained, “there are plenty of provisions in this room: fresh water, food and comfortable furniture to rest upon.”

Despite my own reservations, I decided to bring up the topic that was probably worrying everyone. “What about Eliza, ma’am?”

Placing a hand on my shoulder, which was very non-queen like, she said, “You have been quite patient, James.” Before continuing, she looked at each of us in turn, nodding her head slightly as she did so. “As I have told Alex and James, Eliza is quite safe. The king would be foolish to harm her, knowing who she is.”

She paused and looked at the floor momentarily. “She may have been masquerading as a member of Handrin nobility, but she is nobility in her own right. The same cannot be said for the rest of you. Until I can judge the king’s intentions and perhaps influence them a little myself, I cannot guarantee your safety, even here really.”

Jon spoke for the first time since leaving the dungeons. “Then, surely we must leave the palace, though I do not wish to leave Eliza.”

“All the more reason for you to stay here until either I return or you are in danger of being discovered,” the queen explained. “There is a hidden passage near here that leads directly out of the city, and as an extra measure of safety, it does not exit via the outer wall. Instead, it continues underground for a time, exiting in the forest.”

“How do we know it is safe?” Alex asked.

“Though I cannot confirm the absolute secrecy of its existence,” the queen replied, “what I can be sure of is that I have used it successfully before. It is a valid means of escape.”

The End

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