Chaoter 6 ~•~ THE FIRST
There was total silence in the dungeon, save for the tranquil sound of water droplets forming a puddle over the stone floor, and the clanking sound of Shaka's heels. Rats paved the way at the sight of light radiating from his torch as he made his way down the staircase into the subterrene prison.
The prison was a part of the kingdom that existed almost as if it did not. It was well hidden beneath the mountains, and it held criminals and war captives for generations.
Shaka stopped in front of a cell closed by a large iron door. The door - just like every other - was held shut by a padlock made of iron similar to that of the door. He unlocked the door with a key which he produced from his pocket and moved inside, his torch illuminating the cell as he walked further into the cell.
In the thick darkness of the cell, subtle but yet persistent sobs drew his attention to a corner of the cell where Freya's bruised legs loomed beneath the light of his torch. He drew closer to her and bent down so he could see her face more clearly.
"You must have been crying for a while." He held the tip of her chestnut hair and felt the texture for a minute. Each and everyone of her features were nothing like he had ever seen - her white skin that turned red near a bruise, her red cheeks drenched in tears, perfectly clear black eyes, and her small pointed nose - it was almost as if the creator took extra care when crafting her.
"How old are you?" He asked.
"Eight...eighteen" she trembled in fear as she tried to catch her breath.
"That's almost as old as I am." He said with a quiet smile.
"Get away from her, you animal!" Shaka turned to see who spoke to him in that manner, even though his light barely illuminated the cell enough for him to see. Whipping, torture, decapitation, all crawled up on his mind as he wondered what he would do to the one who insulted him on his territory.
"You would be wise to not talk to me like that," he responded firmly.
It took Thomas mere seconds to recognise the one whom he had just insulted, the king, the one who ordered their imprisonment.
"How many are there?" Shaka asked as he approached Thomas, but he received no answer from the man who thought about the safety of his young niece and that of his colleagues.
"She is beautiful... isn't she?" Shaka said with mirth. The flames casted shadows on his dark face making him appear several times sinister. "I can tell she is someone dear to you, and I can also know your strong will to protect her. Imagine all the things the soldiers would do to a treasure like her. I bet the Gods would like to bare witness." He felt his insides churn at what he said. There were many more ways for him to get him to talk, but that was the quickest way to do it even if he didn't like to casually terrify people.
"Why are you doing this to us?" Thomas asked as he crawled backwards.
"Answer me, old man. Let us be done with this."
"There are forty," he faltered. "They are spread across the region in 20 groups."
"Good, good. That was easy wasn't it? Now you will help me to get rid of them." Shaka said with mirth.
Thomas's jaw dropped as he had assumed the worst
"You will help convince them to withdraw and go back to where you came from, else I will hunt them and kill everyone one of them."
Thomas nodded quickly in agreement.
"Good. In addition, you are going to send a message for me."
"What message?" Thomas asked, looking puzzled.
"You will know when I let you go." He turned towards the door and started out of the cell. Freya pleaded with him to just let them go immediately, but Shaka already had a something else in mind.
He stopped before her and the question came to his tongue. "What is your name?"
"Freya," she said softly.
"I am Shaka. And I swear on my name, nothing will happen to you. Just wait her a little longer." Freya was at a loss. Was he not the one who sent them to the terrible prison? Why wasn't he setting them free? She asked herself as she fixed her gaze on him as he walled out of the cell. At that point her teary eyes and subtle voice were engraved in his memory as he watched her silently beg for her release with eyes filled with hope. He would leave the dungeon remembering those eyes.
Thoughts of the pervasive pleading followed him as he hurriedly left the dungeon after achieving his primary goal. His curiosity earlier got the better of him and he decided to see the strange captives up close, but something changed. It was never his intention to free them or promise their safety, his sympathy grew after seeing them, after seeing her, he thought. What would he do now? He could just ignore them, but he swore upon his name and he would not leave her there. But releasing her would stir up a commotion in the council so he would have to think carefully.
As he approached the passages that led to the many exits of the dungeon, he paused and decided to take the one that led to the city. The dungeon was made like a labyrinth with one main entrance and several other small exits. Shaka studied the labyrinth and understood how to tell apart each of the passages, and also how to walk in and out quietly thanks to his huge curiosity concerning every corner of his kingdom.
The door that stood at the end of the passage was old and very weak. It was located in a hidden part of the city where no one would suspect such a secret.
With a few steps out of the dark corner in which he found himself he was in the market, and without any doubts all eyes were drawn to their king who appeared out of nothing. They all gathered him, sending him greetings and prayers as they offered him free gifts. He smiled and waved at them for a few seconds before forging ahead and ignoring the rest of them, and almost immediately, he saw his sister walk towards him. She stands out too much, he said to himself as he tried to avoid her but was a step to slow.
"What are you doing here?" She asked abruptly.
"This is a big surprise. I didn't think I'd see you here," he said, trying to dodge the question.
"The only anomaly here is you. What are you doing out of your cocoon of a palace?"
"You live in that cocoon," he retorted.
The onlookers stood still to watch two of the most powerful people in the kingdom converse with each other - a rare sight it was. They might be witnessing an event that would affect them and for many years to come - they assumed while ignoring the bickering between the two siblings.
"Where are you headed?" Shaka asked gently.
"That is not your business," she replied and then they glared at each other.
"How did you get to the market?" She asked him
"That too is not your business."
The air grew more tense as they just stood there, looking at each other. Shaka then decided to use his advantage to put on a show for the citizens which would give him the upper hand.
"You must be in a hurry, general. Why don't I escort you to your destination as we discuss these matters?" He said with a grin. Very underhanded it was, but his general would not openly reject his offer publicly to make him look bad.
"As you wish," she said, resisting the urge to roll her eyes at him.
"You are not wearing any of your beads, and you have a new one."
"You have a lot less to worry about these days."
"That necklace is hard to miss. What is it made of?"
"You will know soon enough."
They kept quiet as they strolled the market until Amina asked him something he wasn't ready to answer. "What will you do with the spies?" Said she
"Explorers, sister. They are explorers."
"They are before they bring an army to attack us
"They pose no threat to us for now."
"I hope you know what you are doing, brother. You can't appear weak to the kingdom."
"I understand that. I am trying to handle this very peacefully."
"It is your decision to make anyway. Your sister will support you." She assured him even though she didn't need to.
They arrived in front of a stall where a man sat inside almost as if he was expecting them.
"Princess, you are welcome. Please sit down." The man said, standing up to arrange a seat for them. "You brought a companion today."
"No khaled, my brother, Shaka. Brother, this is my friend Khaled." Amina introduced the two of them quite cheerfully. Shaka wasn't sure if he should be more surprised by her gleeful smile or the fact that she had a friend.
"This is your brother, the king. Please, forgive my rudeness.
Shaka managed a soft but awkward smile.
"Tell me you have something good." Amina said eagerly, and Khaled quickly drew out a box from which he produced a goldplated anklet.
"This should make it easy to move. It is for your ankles," he said.
"Mock me, Khaled. Just like the rest of them," she said out loud. "Give it to me so, let me try it on." He put the anklet in her above average hand.
"What else do you have that I haven't seen?" She asked.
"If you could give me a minute, I would have to get it elsewhere."
"That is fine, I will wait." Khaled quickly left the shed and disappeared into the market.
Shaka was finding it hard to believe what he had just se, the man wasn't even afraid of her. "How did you meet this man? He asked brusquely. "Did you capture his family?" He added.
"I am disappointed, brother. Do you think I am not capable of making friends?
"Not with any living male, you wouldn't."
"It makes me sad, brother."
"Of course it should make you sad, who knows how much pain you have put that young man through."
"I did put him through anything. He is just fun to be around."
"This is a superb development," Shaka said, leaving his mouth ajar
"Enjoy it while it lasts," she replied with a smile.