It was a quiet day for the guard. He sat at his desk, his sword and shield safely leaning against the wall where they have been for weeks. Most of the guards refused prison guard duty, but he loved it. He had no investigations, no patrolling the streets in the winter. He was safe and warm in his office.
He sighed and stood, ready to make his usual rounds. He didn't know why he still did them. The dungeon had been empty for weeks. The last prisoner that it had held had been executed. Since then, it had been quiet.
As he descended the stairs, he thought about his time here. He thought about the last prisoner to have been an occupant here. The last prisoner was a guy who had been accused of brutally murdering his wife. It was a terrible scene. But he had never scene anything but drawings during the interrogations.
The interrogation table was his desk after all. They had no proper interrogation room, for they didn't need one. They needed only a quiet place where the prisoner could not escape and be away from the others. The guard's office sufficed well enough.
He remembered talking to the prisoner daily, arguing with him over whether he was innocent or not. He remembered something that the prisoner had said once.
“I had never seen anything like it. The man who had killed my wife. He was a demon, It was like he was from another place, he was not human.”
This thought had haunted the guard more than anything he had ever heard before. He sighed as he passed the cell of the old prisoner. He remembered the day that the prisoner had been executed. It had been open to the public. Friends of the victim were in the front, threatening to throw stuff at him. He was on the headman's block. The large claymore had been sharpened before the crowd's eyes, there was no mistake made. It was a clean cut. They didn't even have the decency to put a hood on the man. They allowed his head to look upon the crowd. They allowed the executioner to show the man the blade, and let him know the exact moment in which he was going to kill. It was a gruesome ordeal.
He looked into all of the other empty cells, occasionally throwing bits of meat into the cells for the rats. He was almost back in his office when he heard the door open.
The slop drudge again... Every week a different slop drudge would come in, forgetting that there wasn't any prisoners to feed. The guard waited for the slop drudge to come down the stairs. Then he heard too many footsteps for it to be the slop drudge.
The guard looked curiously up the staircase around the corner and saw three people coming. Two of which were wearing the traditional chainmail and cloth cuirass of a citadel city guard. The third was in peasant's clothing. Leather boots with a vest to match. A white cloth shirt with brown trousers. He had a hood over his head that was made from an old sack.
One of the guards, the larger of the two was leading the new prisoner down the stairs. The other was holding a rather large sack and a short-sword. The smaller guard was the first to arrive. He walked past the prison guard and into his office, placing the sack on the desk in the center of the room. The sword he leaned gingerly against the side.
“Put him in cell one!” The smaller guard called. The large guard leading the prisoner grunted and shoved the boy ahead.
“What has this one done, Louse.” The prison guard asked.
The smaller guard, Louse, looked up at him. “Found him running down the street, away from the castle. We found him with several precious items from the castle's halls. The guards of the castle reported these items missing shortly after we had caught him.”
“Funny, I think I would've heard the alarm raised.” The prison guard said.
Louse scoffed. “Of course they're not going to raise the alarm. They don't want people knowing the castle was broken into, let alone stolen from and the suspect escaped into the city.”
“Why would he go into the city though? Citadel is miles away from the keep, he could have gone anywhere from the castle.”
“Must have had a safe in the city somewhere.” The guard shrugged. “Probably has accomplices.”
The prison guard thought it was really quite stupid, to go to a city where everyone would be looking for you. But he simply shrugged and walked with Louse down to the cells, taking the keys from the hook as they left the office.
The larger guard and the prisoner were standing at the first cell. The prison guard unlocked the door and shoved the prisoner in himself. He walked in, taking a dagger from his belt and cut the prisoner's rope bounds. Then he took off the hood.
He was a boy of maybe sixteen or seventeen. He had a pointed jaw and a scowl that would've made a lesser man fear. He had short, pale brown hair. The boy was rather tall, over six feet. The prison guard was sure that when he stood he would be able to look him in the eye.
He stood and backed out of the cell.
“I did not do anything.” The boy said without any conviction. The prison guard locked the cell again and led the other two back to his office.
“What exactly did he steal?” The prison guard asked.
“If you don't mind, Louse, I'm going back to my patrol.” The burly guard said.
“Yes, yes, Karr, you can go back to your duties. Unless you would like the rest of the day with your wife?” Louse offered. Being the head of the guard in Citadel had its pull.
“Thank you, sir. But I only have a bit more of my shift. Might as well finish it.” Karr said and walked out of his office.
“Devoted man, that Karr.” Louse sighed and turned back to the prison guard. “What he tried to steal is in that bag there.” Louse indicated the sack on the desk.
The prison guard looked into the sack. He was shocked to find a load of jewelry. Rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, a bit of everything was here. On most of it was the seal of Kyel Keep, a lion with a sword in its mouth.
“Why would anybody steal anything like this?” The prison guard asked. Most fences wouldn't take this stuff. It would be too hot for them to buy. They would be caught in an instant for buying this stuff.
“I do not know. It seems crazy, and yet he did it.” Louse said. Louse sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I just don't get the minds of thieves.”
“Neither do I, my friend.” The prison guard said. He took out a pair of pewter mugs from his desk and a bottle of aged mead. He offered one of the mugs to Louse, who shook his head.
“I have to go and report to the King. He will be wanting these back.” Louse said. He grabbed the bag. “You can keep his sword, give it back to him if he ever gets out of here.”
As Louse stood to leave, they heard the door at the top of the stairs open again. They never heard any footsteps following, but the door closed.
“Now that was probably the slop drudge.” The prison guard said.
Louse looked at him like he was mad. “Slop drudge, all of our slop drudges have been let off duty until we received another prisoner. No one has been checking in for the duty for weeks.”
The prison guard looked glared at him. “I've had someone coming in every few days saying they're the slop drudge.”
“Does he look anything like the boy we just brought in?”
“There were a few of them. I don't remember what all of them look like.” The prison guard snapped.
They both turned when a soft, “Hem, hem.” came from the doorway. In the doorway was a young girl. She was slender in build, and rather short. Her face and hair was covered in a salmon colored veil. The two guards bowed.
“Princess Rona.” Louse said, his nose almost touching the floor. “To what do we do the honor?”
Rona raised her hand to silence him. “I have come on behalf of my father.” She said in a soft voice.
“And how is it that we can serve our king?” Louse asked. He raised his head slightly so that he could look at her.
“The prisoner that was brought in today,” She said, “Release him.”
The prison guard rose from his bow, shocked by the statement. “I apologize, princess, but why would your father order such a thing?”
The princess took a step forward, reaching into the dress and pulled out a fresh bit of parchment. “Read this, it will explain.” She said.
The guard took the parchment and read:
By the order of King Archibald Keil, twentieth king of Kyel, emperor of the northern lands, champion of the great Artonian tournament, the prisoner known as Jacen Sorn will be released this day, the charges following that have been previously carried are now dropped:
Theft of royal artifacts
Impersonating a royal guard
Assault of a Keep employee
Twentieth king of Artonia, etc.
The guard put down the note on the desk in disbelief. The signature at the bottom was certainly the king's. The prisoner had been sent in here less than fifteen minutes ago and was now freed and cleared. That has never happened before in the history of Kyel.
Louse picked up the parchment now. He read through it a few times. “Your father would never allow this. This is forged.”
Rona smiled slyly. “Look at the seal, its authentic. There is only one way to make that seal and that is with my father's ring. He sealed it only minutes ago.”
The prison guard and Louse both looked at the seal. They both recognized it as the symbol on the king's signet ring. The guard sighed and walked over to the hook on the wall once again. Once he had the keys, he led the princess down the corridor toward the cells. The boy was lying on the hay in the corner, his hands behind his head as if waiting.
“Oi! You!” The guard yelled.
* * *
“Oi!” Jacen looked up at the sound of the guard's voice. It couldn't be time already, it was much too soon. “You!” Jacen sat up and looked at the group outside of his cell. The first he noticed was the guard who watched over the dungeon. He was a tall, thick-set man who looked like he spent his days not getting much excersice. The second was the smaller guard. He knew full well that this man was the head of the Citadel guard, what he was still doing in the Keep was a mystery.
The third member of the party was the one who drew his interest. It was definitely a female figure, she was short and slender in a pink dress. Her face was covered up but he knew exactly who this was.
“Princess,” He said, inclining his head slightly. The princess nodded and stepped aside while the guard unlocked the cell.
“Special orders from his majesty. Your free to go.” The guard explained with a scowl. Jacen stood and stretched, walking over to the princess, making it look like he was trying to get around the guards.
“I will lead you out.” The girl offered. She immediately took the lead, the two guards backing away from her. Jacen followed behind her. He shortened his stride to match hers.
“Brilliant.” Jacen said when they were out of earshot of the guards. They passed the office, Jacen snuck in and grabbed his sword, immediately tying it to his belt. “That was simply the most ingenious plan you have ever come up with.”
The girl reached up and unhook the veil. It fell to the side to show the top half of her face. She had bright blue eyes and and heart-shaped face. A tuft of dark red hair was peeking out from under the cloth.
“Why thank you.” She said. “But I should have just left you in there Jace.” She said, shaking her head.
“And why is that?” Jacen asked.
“Because the order I gave the guards was not forged. I stole it from the secretary's desk. It was an authentic document.” She explained.
“So, King Keil really did order for my release?” Jacen said. They were now at the bottom of the stairs.
“Shh...” She reattached her veil as the two guards came up the stairs. She waved good-bye in a royal fashion and walked up the stairs.
“Yes,” She hissed, “he ordered for your release. I don't know why, but I have a feeling this is going to be one long trip out of the castle.”
“Sophie, when have our plans ever gone wrong. The creator is with us. He shines upon us. Honestly, what were we going to do with the money we would have made on those jewels?” Jacen crossed his arms, waiting for an answer.
“Feed the others.” She answered with a sigh. “But it is still stealing. You were lucky this time, you were completely insane, stealing from the Keep itself. Its bad enough stealing from the upper terrace families and travelling merchants, but stealing from the King himself.”
Jacen sighed. “We didn't have any choice, you know that. The others are going hungry.”
Jacen was the leader of a small gang of orphans that lived off the street. Jacen and his partner, Sophie Herron, began their lives of thievery about two years ago. They stole gold and valuable artifacts from the wealthy families who lived in the manors on the upper terrace of Citadel. But a few weeks ago, their names had been posted on wanted posters everywhere. Luckily there were no pictures so they could still walk the streets of the slums without being noticed. Most of the people in the lower terrace, or “the slums” wouldn't turn them in anyway. They encouraged them to keep doing what they were doing. They even gave them some food when they were unsuccessful.
“Let's just get back with out being thrown back in here. Okay?” Jacen said. They finished climbing the last few stairs and reached the door at the top. They were about to pull it open, when it opened by itself. They stood frozen in fear at what they saw before them.
“Aw...well if it isn't the two heroes of the lower terrace...” Said King Keil. Behind him, wearing almost the exact same ensemble as Sophie, was the real Princess Rona.