-16 Years later-
The early sunrise poked through the small room, warming the dark corners. The grey stone walls were covered with rudimentary paintings and drawings, the floor was also covered with colourful books. Piles of old worn books sat scattered across the floor in hazardous stacks, a few torn pages lay amongst the books, a small wooden desk was pushed up against the far wall, its one leg balancing on a stack of books. A few small pressed flowers were strewn across the surface of the bare desk, their edges wilted and dying. Towards the centre of the room sat an aged wooden bed that groaned and creaked with every toss and turn at night. Under the threadbare blanket lay a young girl, her light blonde hair tossed about the pillow. The loud banging on her door woke her from her pitiful slumber. Elora groans at the intrusion, every morning they woke her up for breakfast the same way, same time.
Each day followed a pattern that she came to perfect years ago. First, she would climb out of bed and pull on her worn pair of slacks and button up shirt, which was missing two buttons. She would then proceed to lace up her slippers and let the guard know to open her door. Together they walked down the empty corridor, down the staircase and came out into the large eating room. Food in the prison was dismal and each morning she would be led to a far table where a bowl of porridge was placed before her.
The small wooden table where she sat was empty save for the guard sitting across her, keeping watch. Despite the food, Elora enjoyed breakfast time, it was when she got to see everyone. During lunch and dinner, the inmates were separated into groups, Elora wasn’t put in any group, she kept to herself, not by choice. As she ate, she could feel the guard’s hard eye across from her on her face. She knew he was willing her to eat faster so he could get out of there and back to his other duties that didn’t include having breakfast with the inmates. To spite him she purposely took small and slow spoons of her bland porridge, cracking a small grin when she saw his jaw tighten. Over the previous years the guards were rotated throughout the year, but he was her favourite, with his large stomach and impatient manner he was so easy to rile up. It wasn’t long before Virion was put in charge of her, much to his displeasure, she often heard him complaining to the other men about it. However, she thinks he secretly prefers this job over his previous one, night watch. She wasn’t sure why she was constantly watched over or why she was even here, but it has been that way since she was little. The other prisoners looked at her with disdain and so did some of the guards.
When she was a few years younger, old enough to notice the reaction she had on people she had questioned Virion, at first, he was hesitant to answer but eventually he told her it was because her parents were dangerous people and left it at that. Elora did try asking the other guards but they were as stubborn as Virion. The closest she had gotten to an answer was from the old bookkeeper who looked after the prison’s library. When she had asked him, his weathered forehead wrinkled as he looked at her, eyes troubled, he told her of rumours about her parents and their involvement with magic. He refused to tell her more, shaking his head, he walked away. After that she eventually gave up asking.
Elora was shaken from her thoughts when Virion slapped his hand loudly against the wooden tabletop. “Time to go to your room.” He grabs her arm and lifts her off the chair, huffing to himself as they walked back to her room. Shaking her arm free, Elora addresses him. “Do I really need to go back inside there…it’s such a beautiful day”, her head turned to look out the small window of the corridor. The tall building built into the mountainside gave them a clear view of the entire kingdom of Wirenth sprawled below them. The tips of the houses were shining bright under the sunshine and large puddles in the street glinted in the light. It was an unusually warm day, the suns golden rays melting the frost off the windowpanes. It wasn’t often that they had sunshine like today, throughout the year the ground was covered in a perpetual layer of snow. With a chill that seeped into your very bones and never went away.
Each year the kingdom of Wirenth would host the Ice Festival, where everyone would gather and share a feast until the late hours of the evening. The festival was thrown in celebration of the King. Elora had heard stories that the King has never attended the festival, not even once. With no set religion in the Northern Realm, the people of Wirenth looked to the reclusive king for guidance. Very few had laid eyes on King Ylyndar, the man so mystified he became a god. The first Sunday of each season was spent standing in line to offer up the first reaping of the harvest, a declaration of faith and obedience to King Ylyndar. Of course, she has never been, she’s never even left the prison grounds. Sometimes Virion would tell her about the occasions he attended the festival, she would listen intently to his tales of laughter and dancing that the villagers took part of. A visit from the King was something to be feared and the only person who she knew had seen him was the strange doctor who sometimes visited the prison.
“Please, I promise I’ll be on my best behaviour for the rest of the week!” she pleads, grabbing his hands and shakes them. Virion groaned loudly and snatches his hands away from her. “Fine.” Elora grinned and claps her hands in excitement, “Let me go grab my stuff”.
As fast as she could, Elora filled a small canvas bag with her drawing papers, a few pencils and a book she had probably read about four times already. With a big smile she slips on her woollen coat the doctor had given her and followed Virion down the stairs to the gardens. As she entered through the courtyard, a few scruffy inmates commented amongst themselves and sent hateful glances their way, one of the men muttered something in the native language of Wirenth, she could only make out a few of the words. Even though she had grown up in Wirenth her whole life she had never been taught the native language or basic phrases, perhaps it was to make her feel even more like an outsider than she already was.
Virion would sometimes teach her words when he was in a good mood and she was grateful for that. She tried as best as she could to learn from the books in the library, but it was difficult to learn the language on her own. Elora knew he had two daughters and a wife at home who would occasionally donate Elora the girl’s old clothes and books as they outgrew them. Her whole life she has lived on hand-me downs and she knew no other way.
The air outside still had its usual bitter cold to it, yet the bright sunshine thawed the cold ground. Delicately she stepped over the muddy ground and balanced on the small steppingstones which led to the bottom of the prison garden. There were a handful of other inmates wandering around the grounds or kicking a small ball amongst themselves. Elora kept her head down as she bounced past them to the old oak tree that sat at the bottom of the hill. The tree had lost most of its leaves and looked old and misshapen, reminding her of an old man leaning over on his stick. Scattered below the tree were some large rocks covered in dark moss, it was here she would sit and draw or read. Virion stopped a few metres behind her to speak to one of the other guards leaving her to sit by herself.
Her mind began to wonder as her chalk glided across the paper. Her fingers were light and quick, capturing the curves and movement of the tall fir trees lining the garden. The jagged lines of the mountain range in the distance began to take form on her paper. The kingdom below looked dwarfed by the large mountain range looming around them from all sides forming a barrier of rocks. The peaks of the mountains which were usually covered by clouds were visible, standing tall and proud in the clear sky. If you looked hard enough at the eastern peaks you could make out the cobbled road that winded down the mountain side into the town. A few small houses were dotted along the slopes of the mountains, most mornings Elora could spot the smoke floating from their fireplaces. She often wondered who lived in the small buildings, what they were doing that day, did they have any children of their own. She imagined herself living with a family in one of those quaint cottages. Waking early in the morning to sell freshly baked bread at the marketplace, greeting her neighbors as she walked down the bustling city roads. It was the kind of perfect life she read about in her books. There were so many things she thought about, so many places she wished to see. So close yet out of reach. She would give anything to just visit the local market or at least walk out of the prison even if only for an hour.
There were no walls surrounding the front entrance of the prison, the only thing stopping prisoners, besides the guards, from escaping was the jagged rockface that dropped into the frigid waters of the river below, it was impossible to survive a fall like that. Many had tried and all ended with bloody, mangled bodies. The large wooden draw bridge, connecting the prison to the kingdom, only lowered once a day to let the wardens in and the prisoners whose time was up, out.
Elora was pulled from her thoughts by a gust of wind that blew her papers out of her hands and across the grass. Jumping to her feet, ignoring her scattered chalk and books, she bounded after the escaping papers. The wind carried the papers to the far corner of the garden where it landed in the soft dirt, crumpled and filthy from its short trip. Grumbling to herself Elora bends over to pick up the offending piece of paper when a glinting in the soil catches her eye. Looking over her shoulder to make sure Virion was still talking to the guard, she dropped to her knees and reached for the glinting object. Her fingers brush away the dirt and reveal a partially buried piece of metal, using her fingernails she tears the soil away to reveal a bronze coin. The coin sat perfectly in the palm of her hand, the bronze peeking out from under the dirt. Squinting, she brought the coin close to her face as she attempted to read the symbols etched around the edge of the coin.
Cold, hard fingers squeezed her shoulder as she was ripped off the ground and pulled into a hard chest. Foul breath fanned her face as the old man leaned in, a wobbling smirk resting on his face.
‘What you got there girly?’ his eyes landed on her dirty hand which had the coin wrapped tightly in her palm. She pulled her head as far back as she could, distancing herself from the retched breath of the old prisoner. Swinging her hands behind her back she glares at him. How dare he grab her like that! With his free hand he lunged at the coin nestled in her palm, almost knocking her off her feet. Letting out an alarmed shout she lifted her knee up to the old man’s groin, ready to strike. However, before she could make contact, they were pulled off each other. Virion stood in front of her with the old man’s collar wrapped around his fingers, while two other guards stood ready behind him.
‘What is the meaning of this?’ he shouts to no one in particular. The old man gruffly answers and points his crooked fingers at her. “She’s hiding money! In her hands…look!”. While all eyes were on the ranting man, she subtly dropped the coin onto the ground burying it under her foot and folded her arms behind her back all while glaring at the old man. Virion let go of the man and sent him tumbling into the arms of the other two guards. She could feel the annoyance radiate off Virion as he turned to face her, sighing she lifts her open hands up in innocence while he searches her pockets. Upon finding nothing he straightens to look back at the old man, “Take him to the basement”. Upon hearing this, the old man thrashes about and kicks his legs out in protest, shouting as they dragged him away.
The basement was where they kept prisoners in isolation, there were no windows or beds. The cell had no walls around it just metal bars, like a cage for humans to sit and suffer in. She had only been there once when she was twelve and she still gets shivers thinking about being in there. It wasn’t really her fault either, she had been reading in the library alone that afternoon when two inmates approached her under the pretence of looking for the bookkeeper. Before she could answer a guard burst through the doors startling the two men and they rushed away. What she hadn’t noticed was the small leather pouch, filled with smuggled items, the smaller man had left on the table beside her pile of books.
The guard had received a tip off about a trade that was happening in the library, which led him to her sitting with the evidence pointing right at her. Ignoring her cries of innocence, he had hauled her downstairs into the basement where he threw her into one of the cells. She had spent one long evening without dinner in that dark cell before being woken up shivering, to Virion’s angry shouts as he stormed to her cell demanding to speak to the guard who put her in there. It didn’t take long for him to get the guard to open the cell and take her back to her room. Ever since then Virion never took his eyes off her, she was under constant watch.
Like now, he stood watching her and she stood unmoving watching him, waiting for him to leave so she could pick up the coin. He eyed her suspiciously one last time before shaking his head and walking away. With his back facing her she quickly bent down to grab the coin, glancing at it for a moment before she pocketed the troublesome coin. The icy wind tugged at her hair drawing her attention to the dark clouds approaching over the mountain tops. A storm was brewing….