It reeks of death. My throat is sore and longs for fresh water, and yet I ignore it. My skin is dry and burns. I don't know how I will be able to endure all of this much longer. The limits of the human body shall be revealed to me very soon...
I'm still not quite sure why we all have to go through all of this, but at least I got some answers today. But before that something else has happened...
The sun had been shining for quite a while already when the door of the jail got opened, and the creaking sound alone sent a shock through my body. The king and four of his guards appeared. One guard was equipped with a bow, had one arrow drawn and was ready to shoot. The king stood right in front of the gate to our cell with this broad grin that keeps haunting me in my dreams.
"The woman. I want the woman," the king demanded, calmly and yet incredibly impatient.
Tartek instantly exploded in maniacal laughter. Right after he had finished, he declined.
"Fine," the king said - and pointed at me. "Give her to me or your friend dies." The broad grin on his disgusting face kept increasing in size. The guard with the bow pulled the arrow back and aimed at my head. Feeling my life depending on whether a finger would release a simple string made my head spin.
I looked at Tartek and our eyes met. Sereliaen hid behind her husband's back. I couldn't figure out what was going on in his head, when he finally answered.
"No. She stays."
"So be it," the king said and nodded to the guard who further pulled back the arrow.
I closed my eyes and lowered my head. So be it, I thought. I couldn't care less anymore.
"I'll go!" I heard Sereliaen yell. "I'll go, just don't kill him, please."
I opened my eyes. The guard had lowered his bow - and Sereliaen was standing in the firing line.
"Are you out of your mind?" Tartek shouted at his wife and dragged her to the side. "She stays. You'll have to deal with me if you want her that badly."
"I knew this would happen. You leave me no other choice," the king said, and again nodded at the guard who again rose his bow and readied the weapon to shoot the arrow, released the string - and the arrow hit Tartek in his chest. I will never forget the expression on his face. Slowly Tartek fell down on his knees, Sereliaen started crying and bent down to her husband, embracing him, kissing his forehead, cheeks, softly touching his chest.
The king tilted his head and looked down on Tartek. "Are you alright? You seem a little pale."
The guard drew another arrow from his quiver, awaiting orders from his king. Another guard opened the gate and the king stepped inside, offering Sereliaen a hand, but she didn't even look at him. Her head rested on the chest of Tartek, who was still kneeling, staring on the ground with wide open eyes.
"Get her," the king ordered. Two guards came in and forcefully dragged Sereliaen out of jail. She was revolting, screaming, crying, kicking and scratching, but all effort of resistance was in vain.
With a satisfied look the king went to the door to the jail, and turned around again to look at Tartek, who was coughing and wheezing. He nodded to the guard with the bow - and another arrow hit Tartek in the forehead. My friend fell on his back. The king and the guard left me alone with Tartek's body.
I cowered closer into the corner. For an eternity I sat there, trying to wake up from this nightmare...
At night the sound of the jail door hinges tore through my dreams. I shivered. I saw a small shadow in the darkness. I knew it wasn't the king, and it couldn't be a guard. It was too fragile, too thin and too ... female. The shadow moved to the opposite side of the cell and I heard various noises, then stones and I saw sparks that enlightened the room shortly. Then a constant light source. The female figure stepped aside and I realized that the candle had been replaced with a new one. A small flame crowned the little wax sculpture.
The woman turned in my direction and I recognized her. It was the princess. She hastily gestured me to come closer to the bars. I didn't trust her at first, for all I knew it could have been another one of those morbid jokes of the king. I looked at Tartek's dead body, the two arrows throwing abstract shadows on the ground.
"Come here," the princess whispered. "Please."
Please. That was a word I would have never expected coming out of the princess' mouth on her own will.
"Please," she whispered again. "I shouldn't even be here."
I thought of Carana and her honest smile, the look in her face when she was lying next to me and her soft voice telling me of her deep affection towards me ... If the appearance of the princess was even a small chance of getting out of here, I had to take it.
I slowly stood up. My knees almost gave in, but I managed to grab the bars next to me and I carefully made my way towards the princess, while throwing a quick glance at Tartek's body every now and then.
"I don't know what's come into my father," the princess began, still whispering. "I have never seen him like that."
She was talking very fast and I had serious troubles following the stream of words flooding my ears.
"He has been acting weird ever since my mother was killed by a band of thieves. It's been a long time ago. Right after her death he kept crying and mourning for days. Nobody was allowed to see him. And when I thought he was getting better these people suddenly appeared in jail, normal town people. My father was probably trying to look for people that could be held responsible for mother's death."
She stopped and looked around. I was standing directly in front of her. She smelled of flowers and fresh food.
"I asked him about those people," she continued, staring directly in my eyes, forming every word with high precision, as if those words were the last ones she'd ever form. "But he kept yelling at me to leave him alone. I told him that I'd bet that it would get better soon, I promised it to him. Then I received word of more people appearing in jail for no apparent reason, getting paid money afterwards. I didn't know what to do so I tried to at least cheer up everybody by organizing a feast."
She paused, breathing heavily, throwing a nervous glance at the door.
"One night a band of thieves - probably the same pack that murdered my mother - stole the most precious item my mother ever possessed, her wedding dress. My father held it in a separate room, it was sacred to him. When it was gone my father raged through the halls of the castle, shattering plates and cups, drawing his sword and cutting all my mother's portraits that hung on the walls. He sent me away, told me not to make false promises ever again."
She caught her breath, looking at the door again as if she was expecting something terrible from that direction.
"The journey to Namtolan gave me a lot of time to think, but the longer I thought about everything the more frustrated and depressed I got. The Namtolan priests and their strict regulations didn't really improve my situation. Then you, your wife and friends arrived. I kept watching you, I knew that Tartek's and your face were familiar and after the day the bear attacked I finally realized you were the men of the Insomida Delivery Service. During the whole journey back to Insomida I hated all of you, I hated my life, I hated all the people we met. I ... didn't know what was happening all of a sudden. My life had been peaceful once, and then suddenly everything changed when my mother was killed. When we returned to Insomida I heard the whole story about what you did, that you killed Officer Weiler and a few guards and left the town. Scarlat told me that other people left as well, but my father received word of the uproar - and quickly placed guards on every entrance and told them not to let anyone in or out. Then he let more people bring into prison and ... "
A loud metallic sound roared through the room, coming from behind the jail door. Somebody was on the way here.
"He killed Sereliaen. I ... I don't ...", she stuttered. "I can't describe it, it's ... I didn't know my father was able to do ... things like those he did to her ..."
I couldn't quite follow her words anymore. Tartek's death was already too much to handle. To imagine that the king would just play around with us and kill Tartek and then murder Sereliaen anyway...
The door was opened, and a guard stepped in, closing the door again.
"Finally, you're here. I need you to open the gate," the princess told the guard in a demanding tone.
The guard did as he was told. The gate opened.
"Come, quick," the princess said, reaching for my hand. I looked back at Tartek. It felt terribly wrong to just leave him here. Something inside me held me back.
"We don't have much more time!" the princess said loudly, pulling my arm.
I don't know what came over me, but I kept looking at Tartek, lying on the ground, surrounded by foul food and blood. Then I glanced at the corner I had been sitting for the past days. My journal. I broke free of the princess' hand and walked to the book lying on the ground, the short pencil next to it. Right when I was about to pick up the journal the door was opened again. Kina flinched. Her father appeared in the shallow candlelight.
"Close the cell," he ordered the guard, who immediately acted as commanded. "Get out of my sight," the king hissed at his daughter. "Now!" He drew his sword and pointed it at the princess, who threw a look of sorrow in my direction and then quickly ran away.
The king stared at me, still holding his sword in his right hand. He kept piercing me with his glare, time seemed to have stopped.
"Give him water and food," the king suddenly mumbled. "He will need it."
Both the king and the guard left the jail, and immediately afterwards the same guard brought a bowl of water and bread.
Up until now I haven't eaten or drunk any of it. It's still lying on the ground in front of the gate. I just can't do this in front of Tartek. I just can't...