Chapter 22: Fate's Prisoners
“The King! The King!” the mob chanted in unison, their fists flying. Mariselle stood several feet above them on the royal dais. She smiled and nodded. She gazed across the unshorn and gaunt faces below. It was in their nature to be violent. She would tame them soon. I could see you all in chains before the morning. She raised her hand as if accepting applause.
“Great people of Gilead, hear the words of your humble queen.” Her melodic voice echoed across the courtyard, and the crowd quieted. “We live in troubling times, it’s true. But I will not balk nor shift blame to another. My heart’s been broken by the king’s illness, and I’ve not attended to your concerns as I should have,” she wiped a forced tear from her eye.
Some in the crowd nodded.
“Name anything I can do to appease your concerns and I will make it so,” she said and smiled.
“Your majesty!” one commoner called out, “How is it that thieves and vandals can rampage through our markets, and yet the guards lift barely a hand! The taxes they impose are ridiculous. The city lies in ruin - constant darkness day and night - and now these Amorite slavers hinder our ships and fishermen! How can the king still be indisposed, for a year now? Where is the law?” his words echoed in the courtyard, and like a wave building and breaking on the shore, the mob again cried out and cursed her.
Mariselle leaned close to one of her advisors, “After, I want that one in irons.”
She turned back to the crowd and waved down their voices with her hand.
“Ever direct you are, good man. I agree it’s been a dark time, but don’t let hate fill your speech. For those same ships that illuminate our shores have come to our aid. Our walls have been filled with fear-mongering spread by a fanatical few for decades. Over these last few years, finally, we’ve opened our minds and hearts to new teachings, new ways of understanding, and complete acceptance and unity with those that only seek our goodwill. The King, as beloved as he is, has left us with failed policies, debt, and a burden we cannot shoulder alone. So, for a short time, we ask that all classes give extra in efforts to stem the tide of crime in the city. Our neighbors, the Amorites have brought peace-keeping forces to help us in this just cause.” The last words rolled off her tongue. Chew on that you cattle, she thought and wondered how the same fools would sound when they were being burned alive on an altar.
“And what of tonight?” another yelled out. “What of our ruined stalls and shops?”
“Our tireless watch caught the miscreants not four hours past,” she replied. “We were to fine and release them in the morning, but I feel as if the people should have a say in this. Yes?” She turned and posited to her advisors. They nodded in unison. The crowd cheered.
Calls of “string them up!”, “Flay them!” resounded across the courtyard.
“Grab the wretches and let them face their victims,” she called to the guards. The soldiers bowed and left.
“I am ever your servant,” she bowed to the mob, and they cheered.
Colin held the black stone that had lain in the puzzle box in his hand as he once again tried to scratch his name onto the dungeon wall, always on the second letter his hand would shake, refusing to form the very shape of the vowels in his mind. Whatever power was blocking his ability to say his name had woven itself into his muscle memory as well. He slid the stone back into his pocket and sighed. He had long since stopped trying to break open his cell door. The rusted iron bars seemed like they would give way at first, but he soon realized not even the hardest obsidian could slice through them without months’ worth of effort. They never show you all the downtime those cons have in the movies.
In the cell next to him, Rustag’s former comrade, Gunney, slowly sat up and rubbed his head.
“Morning, twinkle eyes,” Colin said without a glance.
“What rot is this?” Gunney looked about, before standing and rattling his cell door.
“You, my friend, have been hoodwinked. Up shit creek without a paddle. Welcome to the club.”
“Eh? What creek is that?” Gunney turned to him.
The dungeon door burst open and a line of guards barged in. The captain of the guards came up to his cell and unlocked it.
“Prisoner, stand back! You’re to be put on public trial immediately. Where’s the other?” he demanded.
Gunney called to him, “Oh captain! Thank the gods! They had inside men that overpowered me and left me to rot while they run amok!”
“And they left one of their own? Is this true?” the captain turned to Colin.
Colin knew no lie that would save him or Alex. God, give me something here, he thought.
“I support the princess, sure. Who’s to say who’s loyal and who’s not? All I know is…” Colin chose his words carefully, “Gunney led the princess’s savior right to her.”
“She bought you, you little lecher? Traitorous sack of dung!” the captain growled at Gunney as he slammed his keys into the adjoining cell’s lock, swung open the door, and grabbed him. “Grab the boy as well. Both of you will answer to the mob.”
“No! Please! I’m only a loyal servant!” shrieked Gunney as he fell to his knees. The guards grabbed him and pushed him towards the stairwell. The Captain opened Colin’s cell and Colin stepped forward, hands up and submissive. Whatever his fate, he would face it standing.