The dungeon below the citadel was dark. Lights only illuminated the hallways between the cells, throwing shadows that made the walls dance with sinister contours as the flames of torches danced.
It was dark, it was dank. The sewage system ran just below and if the dark didn’t drive you mad then the smell would. Prince Herold shivered and he tried to breathe through his mouth. It was so painful. He had been locked to the wall, arms above his head for days now. How long he could not say. The light never changed here. There was a small window down the corridor, but it barely allowed light to enter it. He could not see it anyway, his shackles allowed him to move forward only inches.
When he had learned of the plans for his sister, he burst into the Priest’s sacred Room of Smoke interrupting the nightly ceremony. No one was allowed to enter, and in a brief moment of realization he realized why. The young priestess was writing on the floor, babbling incoherently through the heavy smoke and a priest knelt beside her. The lower half of his face was covered by a leather mask, the mouth was long like a beak. Terrifying to say the least, but the shock the prince had was toward the state of their bodies.
The priestess’s garments were around her, laying her body open to the air. The priest was nude, a hand was sliding between the legs of the young girl who was supposed to be innocent. The other hand was stroking himself, in time to the other hand. The High Priest sat on a high throne behind the scene while the other priests sat in a semicircle around the couple in the middle of the floor, all of them sporting similar masks with the long beaks. In the moments before the smoke cleared out through the now open door, the prince heard the poor girl muttering,
“They’re coming, they’re coming.”
As his breach was registered, the men all leapt up and rushed at him. In no time, though he was an experienced fighter their numbers overwhelmed him and a sharp pain on the back of his head was followed by darkness.
When he opened his eyes again, he was here in the dungeon. As he stirred, a voice spoke through the darkness.
“Ah, the young nuisance is awake.” Herold could not see, but he knew the voice.
“Uncle,” he croaked through a dry throat, “help me. They have bound me!” as struggled against the chain, “Why have they done this?”
“You misunderstand, my boy” a light flickered, and a lamp jumped to life illuminating the face of High Priest Dashkal of the Gettie, the maternal uncle of Prince Herold and Princess Althea. “*I* have bound you. You have seen too much.”
“What have you done with my sister? You have no right!!”
“I have every right. She is mine, my own little toy, and soon she will be Sown for defying my wishes.”
Sown. The prince’s heart dropped into his stomach. So it was true. His sister was going to be sacrificed in this barbaric custom he had tried to stop every year since his father’s death. He was not yet old enough to take the throne as king, not having reached his 20th year. He was the only surviving male of a long line of attempted children all dying in the womb or soon after birth, except for Althea the firstborn. His mother was bedridden most of her life, he was told, either in painful pregnancy, labor, or under his father’s unquenchable lust. He was only 3 when she died, a final stillborn baby taking her life with it.
He was now 17, not quite a man but full of fight and anger. He tried again to wrench himself from the chains, and bellowed when the attempt proved fruitless.
“You will NEVER touch her, I swear! Just let me get my hands on you!!”
The man illuminated by the lamp chuckled darkly as he stood, walking toward the boy restrained.
“And what if I told you, I already had?” His hand slipped into the voluminous robes he wore, retrieving a small bottle. Taking a long draught, Herold caught the unmistakable scent of alcohol. So, the rumors were true.
“You’re a drunken fool, my sister would never let someone like you take her innocence. She is the High Priestess, she was born with a purity that is unbreakable. She would NEVER succumb to you.”
“Succumb? No. But it is not like she had much of a choice. The Smoke Room does terrible things to a young girls mind.” the priest smiled wickedly as he patted the boy on the cheek, sidestepping with a bit of a drunken wobble as the prince tried to snap his teeth at the hand.
“You are our family,” the boy pleaded, tears rising and breath hitching in his chest. “Don’t do this. Don’t let her be taken from me. Don’t let her be Sown.” He hung his head, “She is all that I have left.”
The priest took a step back and put his finger to his cheek, tapping it in a mocking sham deliberation.
“Hmm, shall I not? Shall I let you go, let you both go when you now know too much?” He halved the space between them again and grabbed the boys shirt, lifting him off the ground. “You will not stop this. She will not stop this. I am in charge now, I’ve been in charge since my sister died. Your father killed her with his constant fucking, he couldn’t leave her alone! I have no love for you, or for Althea. You two are the only heirs left, and only you have a claim to the throne now that Althea is the High Priestess.” He brought his face inches away, the rank breath making Herold turn and not meet his eyes, “I will have the throne. You will be deigned a traitor, a meddler, interfering with God’s Own Divine Plan. Your sister will be Sown, and if she does not die during the ceremony, I will make sure she dies after the Reap. You will die here in the cells, slowly and painfully.” He turned on his heels, and walked towards the door. “Enjoy purgatory, Princling.”
The lamp went dark. There was no more to be said, but that did not stop Herold from roaring against his chains until he sank into an exhausted lethargy.
It was days later, and based on the noise outside the ceremony would be happening today. Drums were beating, he could barely hear them through the stones of the floor but he recognized the sound from years before. The Sowing. The inhuman ceremony “revived” after his father had died. He doubted it had ever been real, the priests claimed to find documentation of it from more than a hundred years ago when the last famine swept the land. They claimed the Smoke had illuminated a priestess, her visions leading them to a forgotten tome in the great library that detailed the ceremonial rite. If performed correctly, it would stop the famine and bring the rains again.
If only he could break out of these chains, he would show the abominable priests exactly what he thought of this “religious rite”. As he was giving up hope, and sinking down into despair he heard it. A scream, faint but clear. The bells started ringing and clanking all over. This wasn’t the ceremony, this was something else.
A rushing of feet flew down the corridor, as a guard quickly unlocked the cell.
“My Prince, I had strict order to keep you in chains but there is...I know if I let you go I may be executed, but if I don’t let you go then we all die...” he searched for the words whilst flailing with the key to the manacles. “There is an...attack. You must rouse your men.”
Dropping to the floor from days of starvation and awkward positioning, Herold rubbed his wrists.
“What? Where? Is the ceremony happening?” his only thought on saving his sister from defilement.
“Yes, my lord. But please, do not interfere. We are gathering the guards and rousing the milita. It seems we are under attack by...something not human.” The guard scurried away, obviously frightened and fearing the wrath that the prince would bestow for being so unjustly chained.
“I can do both.” he grumbled, limping towards the door of the cell.