Lorden watched as Ceridwen opened the door to Elenia's cell. A feeling of trepidation had been building as he'd followed Ceridwen to where Her Royal Highness was imprisoned. This forced kidnap could easily have happened to him - it finally made him realise that the people he had been forced to work with would do anything to further theeir prospects.
The princess was sitting calmly on the bed; to Lorden's great surprise. she was unbound. She seemed to have been well fed and watered, and certainly had much better facilities in her room than Lorden had had - a clean toilet, fresh water tap, even a wardgown containing a selection of clean clothes. Clearly, even in this underground hellhole, royalty warranted special accommodation.
But Lorden was right about one thing - he could tell by her steely expression she was going to be a tricky customer.
"Good evening, princess," said Ceridwen coolly. "I am sorry for the delay but it was necessary to ensure your safety and security while you are with us."
Elenia snorted derisively.
"I can only say I'm sorry for making you leave your home. It was mandatory so we could convey an important message to you without your parents' interference."
Elenia still said nothing.
"The reason we have - invited you to our - domain today is simple - and you know the reason."
Ceridwen now fell silent, looking expectantly at Elenia. Lorden didn't blame her - he wanted to hear royalty admit one of its "faults" itself.
And finally, Elenia succumbed. She said defiantly: "I can do magic."
"You can do magic."
"And if you think I'm going to help you then you've got another think c-"
"We have no intention of getting you to help us," said Ceridwen, glancing at Lorden to ensure he kept quiet. Lorden registered dimly that Ceridwen's entire demeanour had changed - the severe coldness was still there but it was masked by an aura of approachability. She was trying to let Elenia believe she had room to manoeuvre, that she had options. "What we want to do is show you that your gift is something you need not be ashamed of - something you don't have to hide."
Elenia's forced silence suddenly broke loose.
"Is this it? Is that all you wanted to say? Why couldn't you have told me this without taking me out of my room?"
"Would you have believed us?"
Elenia fell silent again.
"I can tell you want to believe this too, Your Majesty. You -"
"Call me Elenia."
"Very well, Elenia - I can tell you want to believe this too, no-one who has magic wants to be punished for the ability -"
"I wouldn't be punished for the ability."
"How can you be sure? If the King found out his own daughter was a magician and did not follow through with the established laws the entire city-state would be up in arms."
Elenia, once again, said nothing.
"Are you threatening me?"
"No! Not threatening you, at all! We're offering you a way out, a way to escape almost certain justice!"
"Not for free, surely," said Elenia curtly. "You'll want me to join you. To live in these filthy tunnels - you can't make me! I'll escape!"
"You've had plenty of chance to escape. The door to your room hasn't been locked all day. You could have returned to the castle any time you wanted."
Ceridwen had backed Elenia into a corner, from which she had no answer. Lorden knew precisely why she had not fled - Lorden could see the doubt in her face. Would her father punish her for her gift or would he pardon her and risk mutiny from his subjects?
"You're free to make your own mind up, princess. We're not forcing you to do anything."
"Yes, you are! You know I've got no choice!"
Elenia sounded close to tears now. Lorden knew she could not be much younger than he was, but she was still a tough nut to crack. Doubt and desperation had now risen from behind her inscrutable mask, however. Lorden could see the defeat in her face.
"Why can't I live on the - on the streets? Why can't you just leave me alone?"
Suddenly, Lorden found himself talking.
"Live on the streets? You've got to be joking. Everyone knows who you are - you'd be levved off to the castle in about five seconds. Believe me, I tried to live on the streets and it didn't go too well."
Elenia turned to him for the first time.
"Who are you?"
"Er ..." Lorden was unsure whether to bow. "I'm Lorden," he said, half bending his back. He thought he saw the ghost of a snigger on her face. His mouth had gone rather dry. He didn't know if he'd said too much.
"Alright, then." Elenia pulled herself together at last. Lorden's respect for her grew - her poise and self-control were strong even at this age. Lorden had succumbed to rage in her position, but her face was now steely and sober once again.
"I either go back to the castle - you're not stopping me, right - I go back to the castle, risk being found out and punished - or I can live on the streets, or I can join you ..."
She thought for a minute, then said:
"I should be able to keep my powers hidden."
"Nah, it's impossible," said Lorden at once, eager to recover his confidence. "They just get bigger and bigger until you have to use them ... and if you don't you start causing damage."
Elenia's face spasmed momentarily with worry before she spoke again.
"But if I stay here you'll teach me how to use my powers?"
"Everyone here helps each other to learn their powers, you'll learn soon -"
"- and be an outcast for the rest of my life?"
"Either that or risk punishment and a sooner end," said Lorden simply. "I mean, come on, you don't hate magic, surely? Not anymore?"
He felt desperately sorry for her. She had been raised in a totalitarian society where magic was bad, outlawed for the greater good of all D6 citiizens ... it was understandable that she was confused when she found herself with the gift that had caused so many others to be killed ...
"Fine," she said, defeat audible in her voice. "I'll join you. On one condition - you leave my parents and my family and my friends alone. It's not their fault. If you touch them, I'll - I -"
"We aren't barbarians, Elenia," said Ceridwen soothingly (Lorden hadn't believed before that moment that she could speak with such a tone of voice). "How many times have maggots killed your people in cold blood?"
"Alright, alright, whatever! You win! But I'm not helping you out, no way ..."
"You're welcome with us as long as you wish to stay." Ceridwen beckoned to Lorden and he followed her out of the room. Lorden chanced he could hear a quiet sob from the confused princess before the door slammed.