The catacombs; the dungeons: beneath the castle was unlike the rest of the grounds. Here no sun nor moonlight entered, the halls smelled of piss and putrefaction, and those barred and walled waded into their eventual deaths, and would never be seen again.
By a pair of guards, Thalia was ushered into a cage which was dour and dripping and miserable. However, it was more pleasant than numerous others deeper underground. The guardsman Ryis made a twisted grin in Thalia’s direction.
The cell door closed, with knight and thief on opposite sides, but the reprieve would not be long enough for Thalia.
The corridors had an echo, but the king’s footfalls were silent as he crept down them. Though the passages were lit, Cyrus had a torch of his own in his hands. Ryis bowed when he noticed the king, and addressed him, “Your Majesty.”
Dressed in crimson and steel, Cyrus stood alongside the head guard, standing as straight and proud as the younger man. The old king’s hairs were stark and grey, but his eyes were clear as cobalt and his stare was fierce and jarring.
To Ryis he said, “Who is she?”
“A local girl, Sire. A thief.”
“And now a traitor,” added the king, to which Ryis nodded in agreement. Cyrus then asked, “Do we know how she gained access to the castle? Did she come in with my son’s regular concubines?”
“Doubtful, Sire. She looks quite presentable in that dress and those jewels.”
King Cyrus sighed, “Are your men certain my son was taken? Not simply missing? He has been known to… abscond.”
“Quite, Sire. My man discovered her in His Highness’ chambers, and was able to identify her. He said that she told him the prince had been captured.”
“This man of yours—”
“Loomis. Before dawn, cut out his tongue. Make sure he doesn’t recant his story in the morning.”
“Sire?” asked Ryis, unsure of Cyrus’ agenda.
“I want a trial Ryis. A public trial. I want her to admit her crimes to you, and then to the people of this city.”
“A trial? Sire, do you really think—”
“Yes,” the king snarled, “I do. You musn't worry; there won't be any proceedings. It'll go directly to sentencing. And innocent or not, someone will be punished. I will have my blood Ryis. Before tomorrow is over. And if she isn’t the treasonous thieving whore we’re after, we will find her eventually.”
The king sighed again, “By the gods I hate that bell.”
“Leave it to me, Sire. The bell will have ceased before you reach your chambers.”
“Good. Now, who was helping her?”
“I’m afraid, our larcenist has no known accomplices.”
“Then find out. I want Mithras returned to me. And I want him back now!” ordered Cyrus.
The old king began to walk away, almost certainly to retire for the night, when he stopped with one last thing to say. “And…”
“Sire?” said a waiting Ryis.
“Cut off that gown of hers. Dress her in rags and dirty her up before the trial. I don’t want anyone to doubt who she is.”
Ryis smiled at the command, “It’ll be my pleasure, Sire.”
Cyrus wandered away taking the light and the flames with him; evacuating the grunge, and the mold, and the filth. That was Ryis’ domain.
The door opened once again, and the pair of guards looked at their commander with glee. A glint in their eyes from the dim hall fires, and the armful of sparkling coins and gems. A large sapphire sat at the top of the pile.
Ryis said to them, “Take those to the treasury. And to whomever kills the man ringing that bloody bell gets that sapphire.”
Both men replied simultaneously, “Yes sir.”
The knight entered the darkness once he had removed a torch from one of the sconces. And he smiled again with torture on his mind.