Chapter Twenty-Four- LIVIA
My footsteps echo off cold, damp stone walls as I descend into the dungeon. The light from my lantern flickers in the dark. It didn’t take long to find out where the wing for prisoners was located. A simple question masked with concern, and my chambermaid let it slip without guessing my intent.
I can still feel the brush of Reddik’s lips on my own. The moment we discovered the Silent Watchers on the horizon, we both rushed to find Regent Grif. Luckily for us, Commander Barrett was already aware of the Watchers’ location, and the Violet Guard was already in position.
Come morning, I would be in a secured location--my chambers. I remember laughing at the idea, thinking it was a joke, but I soon discovered it was anything but. Reddik explained that in the morning, the corridors that lead to my chambers will be lined with guards, all at the ready to protect me from harm.
I don’t know why, but I feel that I am turning my back on my own men. They’ll need me with them to use my gift. I tried to explain all this, but no one will listen. For you to be out there is out of the question. But any of them dying will place a considerable amount of guilt on my shoulders, when I could save them.
I slept for only a few hours, waking up in despair. Vera wasn’t budging. I could not convince her of my help. That’s when I knew I had to visit Bellek.
I finally reach the dungeon door. It takes most of my strength to pry it open. Soon I have it scraping across the stone floor, giving me enough room to slip inside.
Spooky doesn’t quite cover what I feel, and eerie is an understatement. A chill creeps over me, seeing dark shadows cast across what feels like a large open space. A dim light glows up high, displaying a single chain hanging down in the center of the room.
The moment I take a step towards it, the entire room lights up. An unseen flame reflects off the white domed ceiling above. The light that had spotlighted the chain is now gone, and it now hangs from a mouth of darkness.
I turn quickly at the sound of a man’s voice. He’s a tall man, made of nothing but bones in the shape of a body. He has short-cropped hair, and translucent skin that seems never to have seen the light. I shudder.
He crosses the room, keys jingling at his side. He stops when he reaches the center of the room, where the chain hangs above his head. He clasps his hands in front of him.
“And who are you?”
“I’m Princess Livia,” I answer hesitantly. “W...who are you?”
“I am Les. The key holder. I wasn’t expecting such an important visitor. Come, tell me of you love for making music.”
“Excuse me? I don’t know what you mean.” I scratch nervously at my arm. “I’m here to see a prisoner by the name of Bellek. If you will take me to him, I’ll be on my way.”
“He’s quite the popular one these days. But I cannot take you to him.”
“He just had a visitor. Too much music,” he explains, “and it will make chaos with the others.”
I don’t understand his mention of music. But I have no desire to ask, afraid of what he might say.
“Who was this visitor?”
Les shakes his head. “Secrets, secrets. You won’t see. Secrets, secrets. Safe with me.”
A laugh bubbles out from his throat; he seems thrilled with his own rhyme. Tired of this game, I notice a barred door behind him. I cross the room quickly, and grab the handle.
“Stop!” he shouts.
He rushes over and swipes my hand aside. “You cannot enter!”
“Let her through, Les.”
I whip around to find Amah standing behind us.
“Amah! What are you doing here?”
“I would ask you the same, En Oli.”
“I’ve come to speak with Bellek.”
Her sharp gaze pierces me. “Les, hand her the key.”
“Yes, my lady,” he says.
I look between the two, confused. Do they know one another? Les takes a key off the ring at his waist, and hands it to me, showing me all his teeth as he does so. Of which I am surprised he has any.
“Now you can go play music with Amah. She is the best at making the beautiful sounds,” he says.
“That’s enough, Les,” Amah interrupts, “I’ll take it from here.”
Les nods, crosses the room, and disappears behind another door.
“Who is that man?” I ask Amah curiously.
“He is a man who started here as a boy. His father did this before him, and he followed in his father’s footsteps. He might seem strange, but he’s brilliant, and I wouldn’t try putting anything past him. So, you are here on your own?”
“Yes. I didn’t think anyone would care to join me.”
“You have no business down in these parts. But I have a feeling there’ll be no convincing you of that. Are you sure you are prepared for what you might see?”
I try to swallow past the lump in my throat. I nod.
“Then let’s get on with it,” she says.
Amah reaches past me and pulls open the door. I notice scrapes on her knuckles and I’m about to ask her about them, when something inside me tells me not to.
“I haven’t seen much of you lately,” I say instead.
“No?” she replies, “It seems, maybe, you are doing fine without me.”
“I would never say that. You know that.”
She looks back and nods. “Yes, I know that.”
Light trickles down the corridor as a sickly green glow. We pass door after door, walking along damp floors. It’s strange to think an entire ocean is beyond these walls. A single crack would be devastating.
“Amah? What did Les mean by making music?”
Amah doesn’t respond. We have reached the end of the hall. She peeks through a small window, then steps back and motions for me to look inside. I see a bulky form sitting against the back wall, his arms dangling from chains high above him. It’s Bellek.
I push open the heavy door, and the pungent smell of filth greets me. I step closer to the prisoner, and light from the hall is cast over him. I barely recognize him.
A gash runs down the side of this man’s face, and both of his eyes are swollen shut. His once clean-shaven head is now covered in crusted blood, which also covers the bright clothes he wears. He looks nothing like the man I saw in the streets of Pynth.
My body locks up with an unknown rage. “What happened to this man?” I ask sharply. It takes everything for me not to yell. “I said no harm should be done to him.” I look to Amah. “Who did this?”
The cell remains silent, Amah’s eyes look defiantly into mine.
Bellek violently coughs, and I turn back to him.
“Vera?” He speaks hoarsely.
He coughs again, then slumps forward, dangling from his chains. I go and place my hands on either side of his face, and close my eyes. I push my gift through him, taking note of all the fractured bones in his face. I quickly mend them, and calm the swelling.
His head comes back up, and he slowly opens his eyes.
“Vera?” he asks again.
“I am her sister,” I reply, “Livia.”
He tries to wet his chapped lips. It pains me to see him like this. What Vera would think if she saw him right now.
Suddenly he jerks forward, knocking me down to the ground. Amah rushes forward and kicks him hard in the side. Bellek cries out in pain.
I scramble up, and quickly wipe the sludge from my hands. I grab Amah’s arm and push her back.
“Stop it! Don’t lay another hand on him, you hear me? I will not stand for this. What has become of you?”
“He is the enemy, Livia.”
“So is Vera! Are you going to kick her, too?”
“Of course not!” Amah snaps.
“Don’t trust a single word that comes out of that crazy torturous bitch’s mouth,” Bellek shouts unexpectedly.
“So it was you?” I say. “You did this to him?”
“It was I.”
I take a step back, shaking my head. “Why?” Time and time again, Amah keeps proving to me that I really don’t know her.
“Before there was you, there was your father,” she explains. “And before your father, there was Queen Myrtle--your grandmother. She plucked me out from the Temple, and trained me to be an assassin. Your father’s assassin. It’s all I know. Raising you forced me to keep all that locked away. I became soft, as I had to. I had to raise a future queen. You were and still are my life. You are all that remains of your father, a man I loved.” She points to Bellek. “This man would try to take you from me. I will not see that done--ever.”
“I don’t even know who you are anymore,” I say. “From the moment I turned sixteen, I have been told so many hidden truths. I’ve had to discover who I am, and with no help from you.” My anger releases, “You had sixteen years to tell me these things! This whole time I was living with you, I was living with the very thing that was hunting me--an assassin. What makes you any better than them? I can’t have you here in this cell with me. I need to convince this man to reach Vera for me. I can’t have you in my way, ruining that. Leave.”
“Leave! Before I say something I might regret!”
Pain flickers across her face, then she turns and leaves.
I push my anger aside. I can’t waste any more time. Now I must convince this broken man that I’m the good guy--I sigh and try to collect my calm.
I place my hands back on Bellek, and begin the healing process again. But before I get too far in, I’m jarred back to reality and find myself sprawled out on my back. I get back up, and I see his nostrils flare.
“I don’t need your healing touch. I wear my scars proudly, and I don’t need you taking them away.”
“I was only trying to help.”
“Help?” The corners of his mouth turn down. “Why would you do such a thing?”
“It’s the right thing to do.”
His eyes turn into thin slits. “I don’t believe you.”
“Well, you should. You should also believe me when I say, Vera is right outside these walls, and my mission is to keep her here--where she’ll be safe. I need you to help me accomplish that.”
“I will not.”
“Does Vera not mean anything to you, then? You mean everything to her.”
“How do you know this?”
“I just know. You and your assassins are her family. But King Kgar, what is he to her? A tyrant? A monster? How long must you watch her suffer under your nephew’s rule? I know she will come and rescue you. And I will let her. But you must convince her to stay. Where she’ll be safe.”
Bellek drops his head once more, and I fear he’s passed out.
“Get out and leave me be,” he whispers roughly.
“Will you do as I sug--”
“I said, get out!”
I shut my mouth. I knew he wouldn’t be easily convinced. But I’ve planted the seed and that’s all I can do for now. I leave his cell, locking the door securely behind me. Now I must wait, and pray to the Maker my plan works.