I didn’t think that I would be able to be in the light ever again, consumed by darkness twenty-four hours a day, except for the small moments that the slot in the door opened where food spilled out in a heap of mixed messes. Sometimes I could see what it might be, but others, it turned to mush. Globs of slop that were warm in some spots and cold in others, giving a sensation that was unlike anything that I had felt in my time in the palace. I spent most of my time huddled in a corner, trying to keep warm. The metal walls were always so cold, yet when I sat up against them for long enough, they could become warm. Every time that a meal was served, I was bathed in light, seeming as though a fraction of the sun were sent through, blinding me for several moments, but when the spots faded, a plate of food was left. Sometimes a miracle occurred and the plate was completely right side up, but on a normal day it was upside-down and had bugs crawling in it. You know how far you have fallen when your only competitors are beetles. I could only hold the fond memories of when I was considered royalty. I was the one everyone wanted to be, the lone soul that was envied throughout the world. Little did they know, they were all wrong, and in a way, I had fallen further than they could ever know.
Today was no different from any other day, I woke to find a room, if you could even call it that, so dark I couldn’t tell if I was truly awake. So dark, I started to see things in my sight; pigments of green and blue moved across my vision, in a synchronized dance until they decided to move on and leave me to my increasing insanity. I figured my food was going to be coming soon, so I positioned myself in front of the door to catch it before it clattered onto the floor, only for the real door to open to my right, blinding me once again and spilling cold oatmeal all over me that seemed to be too hard to be eatable. I picked up what I could salvage from the bowl, which wasn’t much. I scarfed down the disgusting lumps of oats that seemed to collect in my teeth more than down my throat. I had just finished and thrown my tray onto the mountain of trays that the guards never seemed to pick up when I heard a bang that rattled the steel box in which I was kept. I leaned into the door and listened. The sound of clicks and clanks were just beyond the door, and all of a sudden my cell door was opening, screeching against the stone door frame. After over a year in prison, I was finally able to see the sky again, and even though it was night it felt as though my eyes were being burned from the light. My contentment was short-lived because after I was done allowing my eyes to adjust, a guard ran past my cell to see me sitting there. He seemed to be furious and wanted to take it all out on me. He was overweight and inexperienced, but he didn’t seem overly incompetent. This was my first opponent in my grand escape, and it definitely wasn’t going to be my last. I stepped towards him as he ran at me, and right before he was ready to swing, I jabbed my foot into his back foot, and used his own momentum to carry him over my back and sprawling down onto the floor behind me. Even from that small move, I’d already felt winded, out of breath and out of shape. These prison cells were meant to break you and make believe that there was no hope for escape or salvation. This should have been true of course, but here I was outside of my cell and ready to get out of this place any way I could.
I progressed through the halls to see cells in other wings had been released with prisoners running amok and ransacking unconscious guards. I couldn’t help hoping for a release issued by my father, but I knew that he would never let out these traitors and psychopaths; not to mention he would never want to see me after what I had done. I stayed low and against the nearby wall trying to close off any sightlines to potential guards that had not been taken out yet. I needed to stay out of sight as much as possible because if the guards found me I would be put back in a cell even worse than the last, but if any of the prisoners found me I knew that I would be dead.
I soon realized my foul stench and even worse physique. I had been reduced to a skinny, pale, bony boy that you might have seen lining the road after a raid. I progressed to the main door, and as I looked around the final corner to my escape, there was another party there waiting: my brother, Lau, the one who had abandoned me at the Battle of the Final Days.
I swore a long time ago that I would kill him, but now that he was standing in front of me, I was hesitant. I decided at that point that it would have been unwise to attack. I wasn’t at my best and he could definitely overpower me if I tried to attack directly. Given my luck, that moment was when Lau decided to look behind him and in doing so, caused me to reel back so quickly I could feel the strain in my neck. I heard his footsteps closing the distance between us quickly, so I turned and ran until I heard something from him that made me stop.
“Lee?” he said stopping in his tracks,” I thought you were dead.”
“Well as you can see, I’m not,” I said bitterly. “Sorry to ruin your plans, your highness.”
“What are you talking about, I tried to find you for months after the battle,” he said in a voice absorbed in regret. “I came here trying to break out other prisoners of war, but I had no idea that you were here. I am so sorry.”
I hesitated at this.
“Well you weren’t here to break me out so you might want to keep to your objective,” I said turning around. “It was always something you were good at.”
“I didn’t know you were here. If I did, there would have been no way I wouldn’t have come for you,” he said desperately. “We interrogated everyone after you were captured to try to find yo-”
“Obviously not,” I snapped, turning around. “I was left to die, by you.” I locked eyes with him and pointed into his chest. I could feel my hands tingling with rage and bitterness, emotions that I had kept bottled up for far too long.
“What are talking about?” he said so innocently that I wanted to throttle the life from his bulky frame.
“What am I talking about? I’m talking about when you left me behind, beaten and bloodied by our father and left without even looking back,” I said in a yell, now steaming with anger. It was at this point that I didn’t care if the guards had found where I was; this was my time to get my rage out of my system.
“We didn’t do any of that, I prom-” he started.
“You promise, I remember the last time you promised something, the time when we were about to assault the palace, the last time I saw your face without wanting to stab a knife through it. You left me to die! The only thing you wanted was an empty path to the throne,” I yelled back. “You’re nothing to me and you shall never be again.” I then turned away, raising the hood of the robe I stole, running down the hall ignoring the yelling of my former brother in the background. I ran until I found the way Lau had come through. As guards came to me I beat them into walls and threw them over ledges into masses of escapees. Some of them weren’t even there to stop me, they were just trying to desert and avoid persecution by the escaped prisoners and I escaped the place that had kept me for so long. I was finally free.
The first thing I vowed to do was get new clothes and take a bath. I stank worse than anything I ever smelled. I wore what remained of my old battle uniform, worn during the siege, under my new robe. I had taken the robe from a fallen guard to provide some warmth to the bleak and unforgiving Northern Mountains. Few could remember when this wasn’t controlled by my father’s tyranny, but the remains of the mountainside villages were constant reminders of what had been, and what was now. I wandered through one of the village remains, houses crumbled, once magnificent buildings of glory and honor stripped away to mossy walls and cracked floors. Bodies littered the streets, the ground still stained crimson with blood, the screams of the dead still frozen on their withered forms. Pacing through the town made me see what my father was capable of. I headed into a house that was mostly intact. I went in, seeing family photos caked with dirt and dust. I looked for a bath and prayed for some running water so I could bathe. I got lucky there, and there was in one of the tubs but the water seemed as if it could have been laced with ice. I looked around the house as the tub filled, finding some rocks and pieces of metal hoping that I could start a fire. I went outside and found some mostly dry things in the leaves, some wood that was kept dry from some rubble next to the remains of a storage house. I brought it in and set them under the tub. If they did light, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of time before it got uncomfortable. It wouldn’t burn hot, or for very long, but it just might do the trick and get me somewhat cleaner. I struck each rock with each piece of metal and after many tries it finally worked, letting out a small flame that danced below the basin. I removed my tattered clothes and lowered myself into the tub. I was still chilled to the bone, even with the fire, but it definitely helped. After a while, I could feel the warmth within the water spreading to each corner of the bath, but it wasn’t going to last, so I got out and dried myself with the robe and went around and looked for a change of clothes. I found some upstairs that fit me quite well and another more formal robe that seemed more my speed. I found everything I needed, a green shirt with a brown trim and grey pants with a deep velvet robe that was lined with sheep wool that could keep me warm outside. I set them all out beside the bed upstairs and collapsed on top of it. I expected to feel relieved but I felt something else. It felt, abnormal. Like it was too soft as it was made of clouds and was made from some illusion, but it must have been made from an illusion that I could live with because I crashed almost instantly.