Pulling himself out of his head, he looked around the crowd of spectators that were looking up at him. Their expressions seemed to unanimously convey boredom. He felt a flicker of irritation at that and wondered why they didn't just go home. He didn't want to be there either, at least they had a choice in the matter. He didn't.
Everyone older than him from his father's side of his family had stood in his position on their sixteenth birthday. Since that fateful day a century before when his great-grandfather, James Trent, incited a failed rebellion, all of his descendants had paid the same price: their pride. That might have been the part of this mess that bothered him the most. He was a prideful person and he knew it, so giving up a part of him that was so dominant in his personality wasn't sitting too well with him.
In the back of his mind he thought about how lucky he was that the king hadn't made him wait until it was nighttime to do this stupid ceremony. The majority of the people from the lower classes, Commoners and Peasants, were too busy working to show up. The only exception that he could see from his vantage point was a small group of three Commoners in the center of the first row. His family. He couldn't really tell if the way that his stomach felt as he looked at them was a positive feeling or not.
He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose, something that his father had coached him on doing to calm his nerves and his anxiety down. When he opened his eyes again, he saw that only about half of the people were looking up at him. The rest were talking to their neighbors, some of them going as far as laughing obnoxiously. He figured that this was as good a time as any to get started. If he was lucky, they would be too busy talking to each other to pay him any mind.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," James said. He kept looking around, not allowing his eyes to sit still on any specific part of the crowd. If he did, then he might actually have to acknowledge the spectators' eyes on him, something that he wasn't comfortable with. "I'm sure that not many of you know me, but I'm James Trent. My great grandfather, who also went by the same name, was a Commoner farmer. He incited a rebellion that resulted in the paralysis of King Sebastian and the death of his wife and son."
He paused, trying to get his thoughts to clear. The chattering in the crowd had ceased completely and everyone was looking at him expectantly. The majority of the Elites were probably anxious to watch him swallow his pride, something that they made the majority of their 'lesser citizens' do on a daily basis. The thought sickened him, but he pushed it away, faintly remembering what his speech professor had nagged him about to no end during his final year of school the previous year. The professor had always been adamant about him keeping his head straight and now he was starting to see why.
His mind was racing around and thousands 0f glimpses of thoughts were rushing through and disappearing before he could make any sense out of them. He knew that he was freezing up, but he didn't know why. He was used to attention, and he didn't mind it in the least. Then one thought finally stuck, though it wasn't a good one.
He was about to stand on this stage with his head held low and submit himself to a man that has made his life and the life of the majority of his family on his father's side hell. The thought brought forth a wave of anger so potent that his mind was suddenly clear of everything. He looked down at his family. The three of them were looking up at him with varying expressions. His brother was looking at him with an almost worshiping expression that just drove what he was contemplating doing even farther into his resolve. His mother was staring at him with concern while his father had pride all over his handsome features.
He could tell that the three of them knew what he was about to do, and since they weren't even signaling for him to stop, he took it as a sign to continue.
His eyes drifted away from the trio and back on to the rest of the awaiting crowd. He felt his features morph into a scowl before he began speaking. "I'm here today because our glorious ruler believes that somehow I, along with half of my family, am responsible for a rebellion that was incited almost a century ago. I don't know how I could be, since I was born eighty four years after James Trent was tried for treason and escaped before his hanging. To be honest, I don't even see how it was the fault of anyone in my family.
"Did anyone ever stop to consider the fact that the people that rebelled were all from the Commoner and Peasant sectors? No Elites were ever mentioned, because none of you guys were ever forced to do anything other than take advantage of people desperate to take care of their families. They were sick of being poor because everyone else wanted to steal their wealth. I'll be damned before I say a single word to slander my family. He was right and if I had it my way, I would go back in time and tell him exactly what he did wrong so that he would have succeeded, that way I could watch as what you guys do comes back and bites you in the ass, and hopefully it's our joke of a king that gives it to you."
When James ever envisioned getting in trouble with the City, which was something that crossed his mind more than just a few times, he never really imagined being stuck inside of a musty and dark room. He didn't know what he actually thought was going to happen, but this was the last thing he would have believed being arrested felt like. He leaned his head against the rough brick wall behind him as he allowed the entirety of his situation to wash over him. There was a word for people like him: screwed. Actually, he'd been thinking of a much stronger word, one that would have made his mother wash his mouth out with that god-awful soap that she had to barter with the local store clerk for.
Aside of making him lose whatever type of appetite that he'd previously had, the thought of his mother made him even more uneasy about what was going on. Why hadn't he just said what he was supposed to say and just gotten it over with? He could have walked away, his head would have been hung low and all of his pride would have been stripped away, but he would still be free. At the moment he didn't know what was going to happen to him, something that he desperately wished he would have considered before he allowed his mouth to get ahead of his brain.
More people than he could count had told him that he was going to get in trouble from his big mouth one day. He figured that they meant that his mother was going to end up grounding him for the rest of his life or the City Guard, who he hated more and more with every breath he took, was going to end up killing him. For that matter, James couldn't get over the fact that he was still alive and breathing. The king had been at the back of the crowd, listening to his speech and James hadn't known.
He was the first person in over a hundred years to be publicly arrested and he had a feeling that it hadn't given him a place of high honor in the king's eyes...especially given that James had insulted him. By all rights, that should have signed his immediate death warrant, something that he hadn't thought about until he'd been shoved inside of the tiny closet maybe three hours before. A large part of James was unsure if he'd been thinking at all while he was on the stage. He was fairly certain that he hadn't been.
He brought his head forward a bit before allowing it to slam back into the brick wall. The pain of it cleared his thought track a little bit, but it wasn't enough for it to add to all of the other aches that he had on almost every inch of him. The men that had escorted him to his newest resting place were not very subtle with how they felt about him and they conveyed their animosity with clarity. He took all of the anger that was whirling around inside of him like a tornado and pushed it out of his system. There was no use beating himself up over what was to come, he was fairly certain that the guards would take care of that for him well enough.
He forced a bit of the tenseness in his body out as he tried to think of a safer topic to ponder over, but nothing seemed to come to mind. The only thing that he could see is his family being punished for his actions, something that James was certain White wasn't afraid of doing. James' apology ceremony was proof of that. He gritted his teeth as another wave of bitter anger washed over him.
Maybe the king would kill him for his insolence and leave the rest of his family alone. He knew that he was hoping for too much, and what was making things so much worse was that he was looking at his own death as a best case scenario. If that wasn't a testament to how messed up their 'beloved' monarch was, then he didn't know what would be. A hysterical laugh escaped his lips a few moments later, surprising him.
He shook his head, clearing it as best as he could before he settled against the wall and forced himself to calm. He was not about to lose it! Closing his eyes, he made his body relax by sheer willpower and took in a deep breath. Exhaustion that he hadn't even realized that he was feeling hit him so hard and fast that he really didn't have time to fight it. He fell to sleep with a newspaper heading in his mind's eye "Wayward Teen Saved by Our Glorious Ruler."
Even unconscious, the thought made him sick.
He never liked anyone sneaking up on him, and he counted walking toward him while he was asleep as sneaking. He figured that he'd been manhandled enough in just the short while after his ceremony to last him a life time, so the fact that he'd been snuck up on and roughly shaken awake by a stranger was enough to put him in a sour mood. Before he could curse and lash out, a large hand had buried itself roughly into his shoulder and he found himself being hauled to his feet. By this time, he'd managed to snap out a few choice swear words.
He wrangled out of the grip of the hand and turned to face his intruder. It was a younger guard that was maybe two or three years older than him. James guessed that he was handsome, but the large scar that was from his temple to the corner of his mouth marred his features a good deal. James might have felt a pang of sympathy for the man at any other time, but at the moment all he wanted to do was find a knife and finish off the job that his attacker had started.
He found himself looking into a pair of hateful green eyes and hoped that his blue ones were conveying the same feeling just a clearly. Probably not, though. This guy seemed to be a pro at giving a good 'go to hell' stare. It made James partially curious as to why he looked so sour at such a young age.
"Come on, Trent," the guy's voice came out as little more than a growl. "Time to go."
James looked at him and said, "Where exactly am I going?"
The man gave him an almost suspicious look and James felt his eyes rolling. Before he could stop himself he said, "Sorry, I forgot that I had a complete knowledge of the palace's layout. Just let me know where I'm going, so I can write it down on the escape map that's sitting in my back pocket."
James didn't see the man's hand move, though that could be due to his still adjusting vision. He only felt the sting in his cheek and the ache in his jaw after the guard had hit him. "You've got a big mouth, Trent," he snarled at him. "You should have your tongue cut out for not knowing how to speak to your betters."
James swallowed back the urge to jump on the guard and simply looked around, "I don't see any betters," he informed him, "all I see is the sorry excuse for a guard that hits like a five year old girl." Despite his words, James tasted the coppery tang of blood on his tongue. His anger grew again and before he could talk himself out of it, he pushed the blood forward and spat it in the guard's face.
The only thought that came to James' mind as he watched the outraged look from the guard grow into one of unadulterated fury was that he was about to be in a lot more trouble. He couldn't say that he had any regrets about this one, though. The prick had deserved it.
"You get into a fight with four of my guards, one of which has a concussion and another has a broken arm, and you just stand there with a bruising jaw," Ansley White looked at him in disgust and disbelief. The king's dark, almost black eyes were narrowed and his thin upper lip was curled.
"Don't insult your guards like that, your majesty." James said sarcastically, "They all gave me plenty of bruises under my clothes." The guard behind him punched his shoulder with a force so powerful that James almost hurdled face-first into the ground. He managed to catch his balance just before he fell, though.
He turned back around, about to jump at a man that had well over a foot on his five foot ten. Before he could, however, three more guards stepped forward and Ansley White snapped, "Enough! Trent, turn around and look at me while I am speaking, or so help me I'll go and get both of your parents and have them flogged for raising such an insolent brat!"
The threat hit close enough to home that he immediately complied, forgetting about the guards and whatever taunts that they had for him. There was a dangerous glitter in White's eyes that told James that his obvious compliance might not have been a bad thing.
"So you're not completely heartless, are you, boy?" Ansley asked, pushing himself up from his plush throne. "You're just stupid."
Before James could answer insult for insult, the guard behind him shoved his back so hard that he fell to one knee before he was able to catch himself. His back was screaming in pain and James didn't know how much more he could take. "Kneel when your king stands, fool," the man behind him snarled.
"Aaron," Ansley said. James looked up in time to see Ansley wave his hand in the guard's direction. Much to James' surprise, the guard took a step back. James scrambled to his feet and brushed his hands across his jeans, trying his best for an angry and dignified look. He didn't want anyone to know how shaken he was.
"You know what the most damning thing for a Commoner or Peasant to have is?" Ansley asked him, sounding as calm and conversational as James' own father did when they spoke. When James didn't speak, because he honestly didn't know the answer, Ansley continued. "Pride, James. Peasants and Commoners with pride are the ones that always cause trouble because for some reason they seem to think that they are more important than what they really are. You, James," Ansley said, shaking his head, "you have way too much pride."
"I suppose you're going to kill me because of it," James said. His stomach sank at the thought, but he wouldn't give the king the satisfaction of knowing that he was afraid of the thought. Ansley looked over at him with an expression that conveyed just how believable the nonchalance in his tone was, which was not at all.
"I should," the king mused, "but I think that I have a better idea for you." He walked back to his throne, which was draped with some kind of animal fur. James had no doubt that it was rare and expensive. The royal family would have it no other way.
"What?" James asked bluntly.
The king laughed, though it wasn't one that incited optimism in his gut. "I want you to beg."
"You'll kill me first," James promised him. "I'd rather die than beg you for anything, my life included."
"You're not begging for you life, idiot," Ansley said, crossing his arms over his chest as he looked down at James with something similar to malice. "You're begging for you family's life."
James was frozen in place by the prospect. He wanted to spit in the king's face more than anything else, but he knew that his family came first. It was something that his mother and his father had drilled into his and Jack's skulls for as long as he remembered.
"Go on and get on your knees and grovel," White told him. "If I'm impressed, I might allow them to live the rest of their pathetic lives out, though I promise you'll never see them again."
James still hadn't moved, horror and fear making it impossible. "If you don't beg," White snarled at him, apparently losing his patience, "I'll have them all dragged back here and you'll watch as they get their heads bashed in. I might even kill your brother first. How old is he, Aaron? Fourteen?"
"Twelve, sire," the tall guard rumbled.
"Just think about your twelve year old brother," Ansley said. "Do you really want him to die because you didn't beg?"
James felt his entire body shaking, but he didn't know if it was because he was angry or if it was due to grief. He barely felt the sting as his knees hit the floor. He had never hated someone so much as king Ansley White. He dearly hoped that he was around when it came time for the king to meet his death. Or better yet, that it was him giving White what he deserved.