“Phoenix , I can’t breathe” I say into his hair. I woke up, pinned beneath his body, his arms wrapped around my waist and his head on my chest.
“Phoenix,” I giggle,“get off!”
He mumbles unintelligibly, his voice hoarse and tired.
“You can’t keep me awake all night then wake me up this early, love. It’s not fair.”
“Early? Phoenix it’s after noon!”
He grumbles before pulling himself up to look at me, “are you hungry?”
He pulls me from the bed, lifting my body against his, kissing me softly, slowly. My desire for food is quickly abandoned as passion builds in the kiss.
A sharp knock from downstairs stops us in our tracks. A deep groan comes from Phoenix′ chest. He pouts like a child as he slips a shirt over his head.
Miles calls from downstairs, “Your Majesties, I need to speak with you. It’s urgent.”
His tone has us racing around the room quickly, pulling on clothes and rushing downstairs.
“I’m so sorry to disturb you today but, like I said, this is urgent.”
We look at him expectantly.
“Your uncle has been arrested, you Majesty. The tax collection officers brought him and twelve others early this morning.”
Phoenix springs into action. “Listen to me, Noelle. I know you aren’t going to like this but I need to go speak to someone and you need to stay here.”
I weigh my options. If I try to persuade him, it probably won’t change his mind and it will delay whatever he is going to do.
“Is whatever you’re doing going to help my uncle?”
“Ok, I won’t argue... this time.”
He sighs, obviously relieved, “I’ll be able to tell you when I get back. I just need to be sure that I can pull this off before I get your hopes up.” He pulls me into his arms, kissing me deeply before rushing out the door.
My mind is in overdrive. I start pacing around the sitting room.
“Your Majesty?” Miles pulls me from my thoughts “I’m going to give you some space, I’ll be right outside.”
I wander around the house for three hours. I spend the whole time pacing, stressing and panicking.
Suddenly, I get a horribly, stupid, awful idea that I absolutely will not be talked out of.
I’m going to the prison to visit my uncle.
A few years ago, one of our neighbors actually made it home after being arrested. I remember sitting on the stairs listening as he told my uncle about the comically under-guarded prison.
He said that wolves were shackled, ankles connected to wrists by silver chains, then a silver neck shackle chained to the wall. All the silver incapacitates a wolf almost immediately. For good measure, each cell has silver bars. He was able to get a pretty good look around on his way in and out. There are no guards inside, only one or two outside the door in a small security outpost. He said they are so confident that no one can escape that they hardly guard it. Apparently, though, that confidence isn’t an overstatement, no one has ever escaped.
I pull the door open with such force that it startles Miles.
“I’m going to the prison to see my uncle and you are going to take me.”
“Whoa! No, no, no! I am not and neither are you.”
“Yes,” I nod my head simply.
“No! Your Highness, the prince will kill me!”
“He isn’t here. Do you think he will be more upset that you drove me, safely, or that you made me go all alone, wandering around, unguarded.”
I see him see my marked neck. He scrubs his face in his hands wearily.
“Fuck,” he whispers. I can tell he’s arguing with himself. “Ok, fine.”
I start to jog down the stairs. I actually have no idea where the prison is. Had he said no and stuck to it I wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere.
He’s grumbling angrily behind me and we climb into a trolley.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
“It will be ok.” I smile at him, he scowls in return.
After several minutes he parks outside of a tiny building with a small security hut next to it.
“Um, Miles. Are you kidding me? This is a shack.”
“It’s underground, your Highness.”
I never would have found this place on my own.
As I approach the shack two guards step out. They quickly bow their heads.
I stop short, feeling flustered. I wasn’t expecting them to bow, especially since Arius announced that I wasn’t about to be Queen any time soon.
I’m not sure what my plan was for getting inside but I can use this to my advantage.
“Hello, I’m here to see a prisoner.” I say with a smile.
They look at each other, then at me, then back at each other.
“I-I...umm... your Majesty, I don’t think...” One of them stutters before I interrupt.
“I’ll be quick!”
“Um...ok?” He says as if he was asking me.
Where have these nervous, meek vampires been my whole life? And why on earth are they the prison guards?!
I turn and give Miles a small wave before stepping into the small shack. It’s just an elevator. There are two underground levels. I decide to start with the first one.
As soon as the doors open I’m hit with the pungent metallic smell of blood. It’s so strong it gags me. Stepping out of the elevator I’m met with a single long hallway, rows and rows of cells on both sides. The floor and ceiling are hard cobblestones. There are no windows and only a few lights hanging sporadically from the ceiling. I quickly check each cell for my uncle. Most prisoners don’t even look up. By the fourth cell my face is streaked with tears. The condition of each prisoner more shocking than the last. By the end of the long hall I count fifty cells on each side and one hundred and ten prisoners on this floor, none of which are my uncle.
I sprint back to the elevator and go down to the next level. As the doors open I brace myself. Stepping out I take a deep breath, this floor doesn’t look quite as bad as the first. It looks slightly cleaner and the smell of blood isn’t as prominent. As I begin to check each cell I notice immediately that these prisoners are in better condition. Most of them are only bleeding from the wounds caused by the silver chains and shackles, they aren’t otherwise beaten.
These prisoners, unlike the others, take notice of me immediately. A few of them start yelling at me to let them out. As I near the end of the hall I finally see my uncle. I let out a sob, a mixture of relief that I found him mostly unharmed and sadness at seeing him chained up.
“Elle! What are you doing here?”
“I had to come see you, to tell you that we’re working to get you out of here!”
“Elle, listen. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be out of here by tomorrow.”
“Your aunt will pay the taxes and I’ll be released tomorrow. I got arrested on purpose. Alex disappeared. I had to see if he was here.”
“He’s not! I’ve checked every cell!”
“I know! No one saw him being arrested but we needed to be sure. We haven’t seen him since the night before last.”
“I’ll talk to Phoenix about it. Maybe he can find out something?”
“Get out of here kid. This is no place for you. I’m ok, I promise.”
I nod and wipe my eyes. “I’ll come visit you soon. I’ll try to find out about Alex."
I run quickly back to the elevator. Now that I know my uncle is going to be alright I focus on how angry Phoenix is going to be when he finds out about this.
When I open the door Miles’ face softens slightly when he sees how puffy and tear streaked I am.
We sit silently in the trolley for a few moments. I can feel that he’s angry at me.
“Is he alright?”
“Yes, thank you for bringing me.”
He nods curtly.
When we pull into the courtyard Phoenix is there with Dannon, Celine and Milli.
“Where the hell have you been? Do you know how worried we’ve been?” He shouts.
I flinch, he’s never raised his voice at me before. Before stepping out of the trolley I square my shoulders. He’s going to be mad, I knew he would be and truth be told, I deserve it. I’m going to accept his chastisement like an adult.
“I went to the prison to visit my uncle” I try to keep my voice from shaking.
“You what?” He grits through his teeth.
“I had to! I know you’re mad. Let me explain.”
He turns burning his eyes into Miles.
“You thought it would be a good idea to bring her there?”
“I’m sorry, Your Highness I...”
“Don’t yell at him! And you” I point to Miles ” don’t apologize! This is my fault.” I turn to Celine and Milli, “I’m safe, sorry I worried you.”
Phoenix turns angrily and starts walking toward the path to the house. I jog behind him with Miles and Dannon following quickly behind me.
He stops, turning around to face me, his brow is set in a deep scowl. He opens his mouth to speak but doesn’t. He lets out an angry breath then turns and walks a few more steps. He repeats this a few more times before finally turning and rubbing his hands over his face while tapping his foot angrily against the ground.
He lets out a deep sigh “You’ve been crying. What happened? Are you ok? Is your uncle ok?”
I step forward sheepishly, “He’s fine, I’m fine. It was just a shocking thing to see.”
He pulls me into his arms, “Let’s go inside. I have things to tell you.”