As dark and dismal as his prison cell was, Aylan Rothowar took little notice. His mind was elsewhere as a rat scurried across the stone floor in front of him. Aylan’s only thoughts were on events that were transpiring outside of his small stone room. He sighed as he lay back on his stiff rush-woven cot and stared up blankly at the ceiling. He tried to focus his dark green eyes, but the light from the hallway torches was failing, so he could not even count the cracks in the stone this evening. That meant there would be no more visitors this day, not until morning. Aylan had already been brought food for the day as well, although he’d rather see the rats eat it than do so himself. He just sighed and ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, filthy from lack of even a bowl of water to wash it in. In his first days in the cell, his young mans pride had been injured by his unkempt appearance, but as time passed only the jailkeep came calling, and he grew less concerned.
How long have I been stuck down here in the dark, he wondered. And whom shall I kneel to when they let me out? It had seemed forever since his own best friend had helped march him down to these cold dark cells, deep in the dungeons of Goldshore Castle. It seemed ages ago, although it could have only been a month at most.
“Are you sure you don’t want a place in the towers? The cells are more comfortable there, more fitting for a prisoner of noble birth,” Prince Jonbryl had said in a rather cheerless tone.
“I don’t want to be living in the lap of luxury in the middle of a siege, Jonbryl. People will suffer and maybe die, and I’ll not watch such folly from a tower window. Have me treated like any other prisoner,” Aylan had replied.
“Fair enough,” said Jonbryl. “I hope that I will see you soon, under better circumstances.”
Aylan nodded, and those had been the last spoken words he had heard since the beginning of his imprisonment. The prince had walked away quickly, and Aylan dearly hoped that would not be the last he would see of him.
It was quite a horrid situation that Aylan had found himself tangled up in. His father, Lord Bannen Rothowar, had taken it upon himself to lead a rebellion against the current ruling family, House Ardeum. His father had allegedly united Imeldia, Tanagaria, and the Underwood to lay siege to Ysthera, the capitol city.
At first word of the rebellion, King Mathair Ardeum had ordered that Aylan be imprisoned to await trial for treason. Aylan remembered Jonbryl’s anger well. The prince himself came with his honor guard to personally escort him to his cell. The prince was visibly upset as he told Aylan the news.
“Treason? How could my father be so blind?” he had raged. His dark blue eyes simmered in fury as he spoke. “He knows you’ve practically been raised here!”
“It’s political, friend,” Aylan sighed. “At least you have convinced him not to kill me yet. Ward or not, he can’t have someone with the last name Rothowar inside the keep unchecked during a siege. He only wonders with whom my allegiances will lie when it is all said and done.”
“It is still unacceptable. I have vouched for you time and time again-”
“Don’t think too much on it. I’d rather not arm myself against my father’s men if there comes a battle, and I certainly do not desire to be pressured into raising arms against your family should I be retrieved by my father.” Aylan shook his head dejectedly.
“I do not wish to turn a man against his father, but surely this transgression deserves it. What Lord Bannen is doing is unforgivable!” Jonbryl was growing angry, Aylan could tell, but there was little he could do.
“It is, but what would you have me do? It is unforgivable to slay your kin in the sight of men and gods. Even if I would forswear my father right now and draw out my sword your father would still have me imprisoned until this was all over!”
“Too true,” Jonbryl agreed bitterly. “I fear we will have much to speak on when next we meet. When this all ends, you will need to forswear your House or even my friendship will not be enough to keep you from the gallows. I will do what I can, of course.”
Aylan knew that his friend’s words were true, and a better friend he could not have. “Even then, who knows what would become of me.”
“I’ll think of something, friend. Is there anything you’d like me to tell Kiana for you?”
Aylan swallowed harshly at that name. Kiana was his betrothed, daughter of Mathair Ardeum, princess of the realm. Formerly his betrothed, he reminded himself. Yet another fly in the ointment, as it were. Everything was falling apart so fast.
“No. It’s best she forget who I am.” No princess would ever honor a betrothal to a traitor family, or a forsworn man. No matter the outcome of this war, they would never be together. Even if his father won the day, then their positions would be the same, except he would play the part of royalty and she of the outcast.
And here I lie, Aylan thought hopelessly, roused from his memories for a moment and once again staring at his desolate cell. Waiting for a father I barely knew to come set me free or face a trial by my friends and neighbors, how splendid. He had not seen much of his father since he had been sent to Goldshore Castle in Ysthera some ten years ago. He had been only seven at that time and did little with his father but dine together in the Great Hall of their castle. Since then he had only seen his father upon his infrequent visits to Ysthera for councils between Houses.
The last council had been held eight months past, and had not ended well. Aylan had not been permitted to sit, of course, but his father had spoken of it to him later that evening.
“The King is a clodpated fool!” his father had raged. “He still clings to the old ways like a drowning sailor to rotten driftwood, expecting magic to keep this kingdom safe. The damned magics are failing, and everyone sees it. What happens when the Vau’kir grow bold again, or the Abandoned push down Yser’s Wall?” Lord Bannen was packing his belongings angrily as he spoke. Aylan did not speak, taken aback by his father’s sudden violent mood.
“And he had the nerve to inform me that I was not King, and could not tell him how to protect this realm!” Bannen paused, clenching and unclenching his fists. “Any King who denies good council certainly does not deserve to be King.”
“Father, be careful, if someone should hear...” Aylan began, looking around nervously. They were in the lavish guest quarters of Goldshore Castle, and fortunately there was no else around, not even a servant.
“If what, Aylan? Would they silence me for treason? Dare I step lightly in my own kingdom for fear that someone may hear my good advice?” He paused from his indignant speech, and looked Aylan in the eye. “When next I come, I may take you with me. I will try again to speak reason with the king, but if not…” His sentence trailed off, full of unspoken meaning.
“Father, the king is old. Prince Jonbryl is not like his father, and when he becomes king he will listen.”
“I cannot stake the fate of a kingdom on the chance that an old man might die sooner than later. Mathair himself will have to listen to reason.”
“What would you have the king do, Father? You said yourself, our magic is failing. Besides the strength of our foot soldiers what can we do to bolster our defenses?”
Lord Bannen sighed. “Anything is better than nothing, Aylan. We must abandon our faith in dead religion and failing magic and look to something new.”
When Aylan opened his mouth to speak again, Bannen silenced his with a wave. “We will speak no more of this. It can wait until my next visit; perhaps things will be better then. Go, get a good night’s sleep.”
Thinking back on that night confused him. His father had seemed rational, at least, despite his anger. Never would Aylan have dreamed that his father would lead a rebellion into Kingsland and attempt to take the crown by force. Even stranger still, his father had never returned to further lobby the king to his cause. There had been only silence for several months, then news of the rebellion. Initially, Aylan had been furious with his father, since his action of attacking Ysthera had nearly been the same as throwing his firstborn son to the wolves. Having the last name Rothowar could very well have been a death sentence when the siege began, he knew. And Father knew as well, he thought. No worries, he has two strong younger sons to carry on his name safely tucked away at the stronghold in Delinash.
He didn’t want to think on that subject any longer. His feelings were too clouded, too confused. Aylan’s dearest friends lived in this city, yet his own flesh and blood lay seige to the walls, searching for any weakness. He tried to turn his thoughts to brighter days, but nothing would come. He grasped at sunny days in the practice yards dueling Jonbryl, or warm nights in great halls dining with Kiana, yet no solid comforting memory would form.
Aylan let a long, drawn out sigh and rolled to his side on his extremely uncomfortable cot. He tried desperately to come to terms with his helpless situation, knowing there was nothing he could do but wait for news, any news at all.