Prologue: Counting down.
It was a dark and stormy night in the castle full of screams. But this night was one of the only where light could be seen. A small faint candle glow, in the room of the dancing boy.
No other candles were lit that night. All were hiding from the ruthless monarch. Who would rather see them killed then happy.
The next batch of victims would be chosen tomorrow, and the the citizens slept in dread of what they would find on their doorsteps at dawn.
The countdown had begun.
The boy continued to dance as his little tune escaped his window.
They bowed to their salvation.
Hid from their monarch.
The last line echoed by as the little candle light went out.
Little lucks sprinkled abound.
Chapter One: Bread a Cheese: Part One
Citizens lined up in the square, yellowing papers clutched in their hands. Numbers were pulled, people stepped forward.
A boy hid in an alleyway, his sparking blue eyes scanned the people as he ate a loaf of warm, soft bread.
"841127," A solder clad in the traditional red armor yelled.
A trembling woman stepped forward and was then ushered away.
There were over fifty people in the square.
Half of them would die in a few months, if they were lucky. The other half would be used by the monarch in other ways.
"136947," The same soldier called out.
Tears fell from the eyes of the boy as a small girl walked forward. He scribbled something in the dirt as he let out a small whimper.
"I wou' be carfu' of don' tat if I twa you," An older boy said, swiping the boy's bread. "Bac' ho you wo' be tur' in fur tat'."
"But I am home," The boy said, looking up at the boy. "Please, give me back my breakfast."
"Wh' wo; I do tat? Tis goo' bre," He said, taking a big bite.
He threw the bread back at the boy and walked to the soldier. "Ri' ere si"
The boy plucked the bread off the ground and dusted it off. He then peeled of the layer of dirt covered crust and began to eat the soft insides as the next number was called.
A boy about his age walked to the soldier. The boy had no emotion. Not a single tear graced his eyes.
The young boy cocked his head at the spectacle. Everyone always had some sort of emotion at the gate. Why not him? He looked to be only thirteen after all.
"Hello," a small voice said, knocking the boy's attention away.
He let out a small smile when he saw the little girl who had snuck up on him.
"Hollow Morn," The young boy said, brushing a lock of blonde hair out of his eyes.
"May I," The girl said, using a finger of all bone to point at his pile of crusts.
The boy handed her what eh had left of the inside of the bread. "here," he said. "have this instead. I can't finish it. I need to get home."
The girl's face erupted into a large grin as she accepted the bread.
Then, as the young boy left, he saw her pocket the bread and begin to gather up the crusts.
His smile fell.
Chapter One: Bread and Cheese: Part Two
Screams surrounded the your prince as he walked down the tunnels, bits of bread and cheese stuffed into his bag.
Hands of people beyond saving reached out to pull him into their torments. The faces attached to those hands were sunken in and starving. Their eyes black with hatred for their monarch, and the ruler's kin.
He quickly stuffed pieces of bread into outstretched hands and moved on.
The further he went, the worse the screams became. Their new lives had barely started.
They rattled the bars of their cages. They shook their chains. They begged to be let out. Some tried to bribe him.
He tossed cheese into their cells. Trying not to make eye contact.
"You're not supposed to do that," Someone said from the blackness of their cell."
This mad the young prince pause. "I thought you would like some food."
"The Monarch demands we only eat once every three to four days." The voice said, emerging from the shadows.
It was the boy from the square, who had resigned himself to his fate before it had even begun. The one who didn't cry or shout.
"I saw you," The prince said. "You didn't cry."
The boy picked up the cheese, shrugging. "You didn't cry."
"Why would I? I wan't selected."
"You will be next time, if the Monarch finds out about this little stunt you pulled."
"She won't," The prince promised. "I know better than anyone that she won't."
"It is only a matter of time."
The prince grew quiet, then fled as heavy, fast foot falls were heard in the tunnels.
The boy stashed the cheese away.
A slender guard ran past the cell, frantic.
"Prince Aldric," he yelled.
The boy in the cell smiled, it was the only smile in the whole of the castle... excluding the Monarch herself.
Chapter Two: The Monarch: Part One
"Alde," A read headed woman said, her arms outstretched, smiling, "I feared that you missed our meeting."
The young prince smiled, nervously fiddling with the strap of his bag. "Forgive me...mother." He said. "I was watching the people at the square. I lost track of time.
The woman smiled broadly. "Oh, it was fun, right," She said. "No wonder you lost track of time."
Aldric's small smile fell a little. "Very fun."
"Good good," The woman said, holding her arm out, "Come over here."
"No thank you mother,” Aldric said. “I must catch up on what I missed during my morning outing.”
The woman’s smile fell. “But you only just arrived.”
“And now I must leave. I have duties.”
“Let your brother handle them.”
“He must train the knights!”
“Hemlock can still handle it.”
“He cannot study for me.”
“She cannot study for me either, mother.”
“Well, you can stay up later to study.”
“Nonsense. I have to do it now.”
“Well, I have tutors that come, I cannot miss the sessions.”
“You have one scheduled for right now?”
“No, but I must complete other things before then.”
The woman sighed. “Well, if you must.”
Aldric smiled and hurried out.
A bit of cheese fell out of his bag.
“Alde,” The woman said, standing from her throne. “What is this?”
Aldric spun around, seeing the fallen bit of evidence.
“That is a bit of my lunch,” He said, trying to keep the red from his face. “I picked it up at the market while I was out.”
“I thought you would eat what the chief made.”
“I was going to have a picnic today.”
“With just cheese?”
“Okay, then I will come with you,” She said. “I will join your picnic of bread and cheese.”
Chapter Two: The Monarch: Part Two
"You came back rather fast," The boy in the cell said as Prince Aldric skidded to a stop before the door.
"I realized," The prince said. "That I never got your name."
"You don't know anyone's name but your own."
"lies. I know my sister's and brother's."
Aldric was quiet.
"Exactly my point," The boy scoffed. "Royals never care about anyone by themselves."
A lump formed in the prince's throat. "That is not true."
"Your mother kills her subjects for fun," The boy said hotly, "Your sister is an active pyromaniac, your brother kidnaps kids and they come back with scars, and I cannot even imagine what you do for fun."
"I... I come here."
"So you watch your mother's work for fun."
"No! That is not what I meant... I meant... I take notes of people. I watch who comes in and then I come here-"
"Why? Why do you come here? Is it to feed us like animals?" The boy raised the bit of uneaten cheese. "Is your hobby to look at the monarch's prisoners like they are animals."
The Prince shrunk back. "Is that really how people think of me?" He asked, his voice growing more and more quiet.
"Giving us food is no service," The boy said, throwing the cheese back at the prince. "You are just allowing us to live longer, allowing the torments to last farther into the eternities."
The prince's eyes watered. "I... do more than that."
"What do you do then?” The boy said. “Humor me.”
“I help the other kids escape back out.”
“And your mother is okay with that?”
“No, she beats the guards for it.”
“And you are okay with that?”
“So why do you do it?” The boy asked, a little bit of the hardness gone.
“Because the kids will die, the guards don’t,” The prince said, turning his face to the floor, thick tears streaming down his face.
Aldric looked up and saw that the hardness in the boy's green eyes was completely gone, and replaced with soft kindness.
Chapter Two: The Monarch: Part Three
"I really don't understand this... fascination you have with nature," The monarch said, plucking leaves out of her hair.
"I find it very peaceful," Aldric said.
"I suppose it is, if you are that sort of person," She said. "But alas, there is to many bright colors and flowers out here for someone like me."
Aldric pulled out some bread from his bag. "Forgive the meal, it is not what you are used to eating, mother."
"I am sure it is fine, if you are eating it."
Aldric tried to suppress a smile. He knew she would hate it as soon as it entered her mouth.
She spat it out. "What is this? It is tasteless and dry."
"It was better this morning, when it was warm. I fear it has gone stale."
The monarch threw the bread out, far into the field. "The only thing that is good for is the birds, and only because it would be an enjoyment to watch them choke on it."
"The bread is fine for human consumption."
Her back straightened. "Are you disagreeing with me. Me, who is your Monarch?"
"All that I am saying is that the bread was still very edible."
The monarch's eyes filled with fury, and then she raised her hand and slapped Aldric across the jaw. "You shall not disagree with your monarch."
Aldric rubbed his now red jaw as his mother stomped off.
"Great," He mumbled to himself, picking at a piece of cheese.
It didn't take long for him to forget about his mother's anger. Soon his thoughts wondered to the green eyed boy in the cell, Randolf. He tried to puzzle out a way to help him escape. He didn't deserve to die there. He had done nothing wrong.
Chapter Three: Hate and Longing: Part One
Smiles graced the people of the great city as the soft candle glow was seen, and the dancing boy sang a new tune.
It was a happy sign.
It was a happier tune, that the boy sang.
The people thought that it meant that things were finally going to change for the better.
The people stayed with their smiling faces facing the softly lit window, hoping that things would be better now.
Chapter Three: Hate and Longing: Part Two
"Aldric," A teenage boy yelled, leaping onto a lump in the bed sheets.
Aldric started kicking the boy though the blankets, "Get off me."
"Never," The boy said. "I, like many of your enemies wish to, will suffocate you."
Aldric made himself go limp, and stared straight into his brother's brown eyes.
The boy pulled himself into a sitting position. "Well I guess I could just contented sitting here till Eris shows up, all angry at you for making her fetch you."
"Or," Aldric said. "You could let me go now, and she won't be upset with you."
"She would never be upset with me. I am her older brother."
"You would also be in need of fetching."
"She would understand."
Aldric shrugged. "We'll see."
It took two minutes for a strawberry blond haired girl to rush into the room.
"Aldric you better get-" She paused her shouting. "Hemlock!"
The boy's eyes went wide as he scurried off the bed. "What? I didn't do anything."
Aldric spring up and of the bed in a flash, "Sorry Eris. I was going to get up, I promise. It was just-"
Eris ran and grabbed him, worry filling her eyes.
"What happened to you? Who did this? Were you attacked?" She asked.
She had his face at an uncomfortable angle, his job throbbed.
"Does Alde have a battle wound?" Hemlock said, his voice full of joy. "Will it scar?"
Aldric pushed his sister's burn scared hand away. "It isn't anything to worry about."
"Yes it is," His sister insisted. "You have a huge bruise on your face. Someone attacked you."
"No one attacked me."
"How do you explain it then? Did you run into your bedpost last night?"
"What about her?"
"She was angry with me."
Then, as if summoned, the monarch strode into the room.
"Hollow Morn," She said, a bright smile lighting her face. "Hurry down to breakfast," She said. "I have a day of fun planned for Hemlock and I. I don't want to waste time. Hurry."
As she left the room, she added, "Aldric, cover that nasty rash of yours, on one wants to see it."
Aldric's face became as red as his bruise.
Hemlock patted his shoulder as he left. "Tough luck dude," Then he smiled and walked off.
His sister gave him a sympathetic look as she followed behind them.
Aldric didn't go to breakfast.
Chapter Three: Hate and Longing: Part Three
"You again?" Randolf said, fake annoyance lacing his voice. "It the monarch found out..."
"It is fine," Aldric said. "I'll just tell her that I like hearing the... screams."
"The monarch is okay with that?"
"She is more than okay with it. She would see it as me changing for the better."
Randolf leaned on the dirt covered wall. "So, what give you a reason to actually come see me today? Here to offer me more cheese?"
A look of guilt crossed over the prince's face. "I can't today. My mother and brother are coming, for a day of... what they call fun. If they were to smell it... I would surely be caught."
"So why are you here?"
"To warn you."
"Consider me warned."
Aldric took in a deep breath. "You shouldn't hold back any screams."
"Scream your head off," Aldric said. "If you hold back screaming, it will make the torture all the worse. They like to hear screams. If you please them, it will be over faster."
"If I am too pleasing, I will be their favorite."
"If you are not you will suffer more."
Heave doors slid open.
"I must go," Aldric said, sliding a small pouch through the bars. "Hid this somehow, and when they are done, use this to ease the pain."
Randolf turned away from his friend to shove the pouch in a hole and cover it. When he turned back around, Aldric was gone.