Prisoner of Love
Chapter 3: The King's Agreement
Tristan awoke to the hard grate striking his knees as he was released from the shackles. He fell forward onto his face and bit back the scream that threatened to escape from the pain. He could see the bell-lined shoes before him and would not give the bastard king the pleasure of seeing him in any more agony than necessary. Instead, he struggled to lower his arms to his sides, the task surprisingly difficult after days in their forced upright position.
He had been hanging in the cell alone for what must have been at least two days with no visitors and no guards to check on him or even give him food and water. He had been forced to piss on himself, although he regretted the loss of water immensely as it left him even more parched. But he was determined to survive, so he had clung to the few moments when his body was too numb for pain and they had gotten him through the agonizing ordeal. Now he was on his knees, unable to stand on his swollen and sore feet, unable to move or even feel his swollen and sore hands. He prayed to the gods that he would regain use of his hands because as they were, they were utterly useless to him.
“Have you decided to tell me the truth, prince?” the king asked.
Tristan flinched, but he had come up with a plan to deal with the king’s questions. He would tell a different story, a story about what his father might do after finding out his only son was captured. It was all speculation and probably – hopefully – false, but it was something. He opened his mouth but his throat was too parched and he could only croak. A soldier stepped forward, grabbed his head and twisted it backwards, then poured water down his throat. He greedily slurped it up, keeping his mouth open until he nearly choked. Then the water stopped and the king tapped his jingly foot against the stone floor.
“I’ll talk if you agree to release me,” Tristan managed.
Ryan was right; he had been too eager to talk before. He had to attach a price to this new knowledge or else the king wouldn’t value it. The king scoffed.
“You will be released when your father ceases his useless attempts to claim the throne. Now tell me what you know.”
“I want better care,” Tristan insisted, knowing he was pushing the king’s boundaries but also knowing that the higher a price he put on his knowledge, the more the king would value it. “I want real quarters. Food, water. I don’t want to be treated like a common prisoner.”
The king paused. Tristan was in too much agony to look up at the man’s expression so he stared at his shoes instead as they shifted and the bells jingled.
“If you give good information,” the king finally said, “then I will release you to my son’s care. Is that acceptable?”
Tristan was glad that his face was flat against the ground because he blushed. Ryan’s care. What would that consist of? Would Ryan treat him well, or were Ryan’s previous actions a ploy to get him to agree to this and secretly the prince planned on torturing him more? No, Tristan thought. Anything was better than this.
“Agreed,” Tristan said.
Then he spilled his carefully constructed lie, pausing in many places to give the impression that the information had to be forced out of him. In truth it was all fiction, but the king accepted it as if it were the gods’ own words and the scribes wrote his words with a gleam in their eyes that had not been there the first time. Tristan was able to look around after several long minutes, and soon he was able to hold himself up. An iron-clad foot against his back put an end to his attempts to rise up, however, and the grate pressed hard against his belly while he spoke. Soon he was done with his lies and the king seemed satisfied.
“We will talk again, Prince Tristan,” the king said. It was the first time the king had acknowledged him as a prince, as a person worthy of a name, and Tristan knew it was a positive sign. “Until then, I leave you in Prince Ryan’s care. Obey him as you would obey me.”
There was a jangle of bells and then the room was empty again. Tristan pushed himself into a sitting position. He still couldn’t feel his hands and they were a frightening purple color from lack of blood flow. He needed a witch to heal him, and soon, or else he would lose use of his hands permanently. His feet were a little better; they were sore and numb but no blood had been deprived from them.
“Well, my little prince, it appears you told the right story this time,” a familiar voice said from the entrance to his cell. He turned to see Prince Ryan leaning against a solid wood door, a cruel smile lighting his features. He casually gestured to the guards.
“Clean him up and bring him to his new suite.”
Two guards hauled him to his feet and he tried to get his feet to work, but it was useless. He was dragged through a dungeon filled with gaunt faces peering through bars, then another guard grabbed his feet and he was carried up several flights of stairs. The sunlight burned and he sneezed as his eyes stung in the sudden light. He had a glimpse of an ivory castle before he was taken inside and dumped into a large basin of water. A witch stood over him and he held his hands up to her, silently pleading with her to heal them. She dismissed the guards and took his wrists. He barely felt her.
“I am glad you are free,” she said.
She spoke with a strange accent, as many witches did. Most were prisoners, like him, except they were treated like queens because of their great gifts. They came from a distant land where magic was common, and slave ships regularly kidnapped the witches and dragged them back to Elmira. It was a mark of honor for a household to have a personal witch, and royalty like King Layton undoubtedly had dozens. Tristan’s father had thirteen witches living in the palace and several others traveling with the army. Tristan wondered how old this witch was when she was ripped from her home. She appeared quite young, but age was deceptive in witches.
“There is a great fate attached to you,” she continued. “The gods have marked you.”
Her hand trailed across his wrist and hesitated on his pulse. She muttered healing words and the swelling in his wrist began to go down. Feeling began to return, but just as he was able to twitch his fingers, she stopped. Her face was drawn and haggard and it looked as though she had aged a decade.
“That is all I can do for now,” she whispered. “But you will keep your hands.”
“Thank you,” he said, tears filling his eyes. “Thank you.”
She stood and left him soaking in the large basin of water. His fingers twitched again as he focused on them, and feeling was returning to his feet as well. When the witch left, the guards returned. One of them stared down at him with a smirk, then grabbed a washcloth and started rubbing him down in the basin. He protested at first, but he was in no condition to argue and he simply went limp against the man’s harsh strokes. The man’s cloth scraped against his back painfully and Tristan knew the wounds from the whipping were being reopened. The other guards murmured something and started laughing, but Tristan couldn’t make out what they were saying. Then the washcloth landed in his groin and the guard stared him straight in the eyes as he stroked Tristan’s length with the cloth. Tristan tried to back away and the guards laughed again.
When he had been thoroughly scrubbed, the guards hauled him to his feet and helped him get out of the basin. They chatted to each other in a different language as they dried him off, but gave him no clothes. One of them bandaged his back, and then Tristan was led into a small suite of rooms. The room they led him to was a small room, but stocked with a pleasant enough bed that looked incredibly alluring, and a table with two chairs. There was a narrow window, too narrow for him to squeeze through.
The guard pushed him into one of the chairs and he could just see out the window. He was several stories up and the view of the countryside was spectacular. But when food was placed in front of him, he ignored the view and dove in. It was delicious, but he didn’t care. He just needed sustenance. He didn’t care about manners or anything, he just stuffed the food in and chewed and swallowed as quickly as he could.
When he was given water, he drank it with as much abandon. He had been without food for at least two days and he was unaccustomed to going without. Even on the battlefield, he always had the necessities. Food was sometimes scarce when they were surrounded, but it was never nonexistent.
“Slow down,” a voice said. Ryan.
He obeyed, but more because he knew it was good advice than because he wanted to do anything the prince said. His plate was empty before he looked up at the prince, seated across from him at the small table. Ryan watched him with eyes like a bird of prey observing his chosen target. The guards had vanished and the door to the room was shut.
“You’re under my care now,” Ryan said.
He sounded pleased and Tristan flinched. He didn’t know how to react. He was too confused by what had happened the last time they were alone, after the whipping. Why had Ryan gotten on his knees to pleasure him? What was the purpose? What would Ryan do now that Tristan was utterly at his mercy?
“You must be exhausted,” Ryan continued. “And you need more time to heal. I’m glad the witch was able to heal your hands.”
Tristan stared at his hands and realized they had recovered enough for him to be shoveling food in his face. They were getting better quickly, as were his feet. He suspected he would even be able to walk on his own if he tried. But his shoulders hadn’t recovered from the strain, and his back still burned. He wondered how badly the wounds had been reopened and if the guards would get in trouble for hurting him, or if that was the plan. Everything about this place and this situation confused him.
Ryan leaned across the table and cupped his cheek, drawing his thumb below Tristan’s eye where a tear was forming.
“I understand how frightening this must be, little prince. But you’re safe now. Why don’t you get some rest and I’ll visit you tomorrow.”
Tristan nodded, too weak to pull away from Ryan’s touch. At least that was what he told himself. Deep down he appreciated the kind gesture, even from an enemy. Ryan took his arm and helped him stand. He wasn’t quite able to walk on his own and Ryan assisted him to the bed. Ryan even pulled the covers up around him as if tucking him in. Then Ryan leaned forward and planted a kiss on his forehead.
“Sleep, little prince,” he murmured.
Tristan shut his eyes, too confused by the kiss to look at his enemy. There was a sweetness about the kiss, a chaste longing that frightened him. What did Ryan want from him? He had always felt a connection to Ryan because of the circumstance of their births and the way their fathers used them, but he had never imagined a romantic connection. Until now, that was. He took deep, steady breaths but he knew he would get little sleep with thoughts of Ryan running around his mind.