WARNING: There is strong language, explicit references, and content only suitable for adults in this story. There is a particularly sensitive topic of SUICIDAL IDEATION written in this chapter and carried throughout the story, so if this topic hits very close to home for you, I just want to forewarn you so you can decide if you wish to read or not. Again, please consider yourself first if this topic is a sensitive matter to you before reading. I do my best to handle it in my writing, but no matter how much research I do on the topic, I do not struggle with this myself, so I can only write what I have learned through my research. Thank you.
Chapter 1 Life Worth Living
"Father!" I cry out, tears streaming down my face. I try to run to him, but the hideous man who led this attack digs his talon-like nails into my shoulder, causing me pain and trapping me at his side. Father lies there on the black stone steps gasping for breath, his blood soaked hands clutching his stomach.
"Snow," he says, tears in his voice. "You're"—he coughs violently, spitting up blood onto his beard—"safe."
"Papa!" I wail. I know I shouldn't call him Papa, but I can't help it now!
"Brother, let her go!" Ravenna calls, pulling my teary gaze from my father to her. Just hearing her voice uplifts my breaking heart, but why did she call him brother? Despite my blurry sight, I can see the fuzzy white of her night dress hanging from her shoulders and the gold glint of the crown atop her equally golden hair. She, too, is being held prisoner by the two black glass knights standing to her right and her left! I look up at my hideous captor; his bloated lips, his sneering face, his white hair cut straight across his forehead with a razor sharp edge. This man looks and feels every bit evil. He cannot be her flesh and blood brother. He's too hideous and evil, and she is too beautiful and good—the hideous man releases my shoulder!
"Ravenna!" My feet are racing me to Ravenna before I know it.
"Daughter!" She drops to her knees and catches me in her arms.
I throw my arms around her neck and embrace her tightly. More tears spill down my cheeks. "What–what's happening?" I whisper tearfully into her ear, grabbing handfuls of her silky gold hair. "Why are there black glass knights killing our guards!? Why did you call that ugly white-haired man your brother!?"
"Shh, shh, I'm here," Ravenna whispers, her soft voice easing my fears. "The man who brought you here is my brother." What!? My eyes widen, but she continues, "His name is Finn. My brother attacked us and took all of us prisoner. I had no part in this." She grabs my arms and pulls back to look me in my eyes. "Your father…he was mortally wounded by one of Finn's black knights. He...is dying."
I gasp and look back at Papa lying there on the steps, agony twisting his face. He's dying!? No, I cannot lose him, too. Not after mama!
"By my brother's mercy, he heeded my pleas and brought you here to me. You now have the chance to save your papa." I look back at Ravenna with tearful eyes, her face grave. "Do you want to save your papa?"
"Yes, yes!" I nod, no hesitation. "Please share your power with me so I may save Papa."
Ravenna tightens her grip about my arms. "I will." She nods, genuine, resolute, the mother I never had. "I will share my power with you, but it comes at a great cost to me," she says quickly. She must speak quickly. Father is—"Remember all I have taught you. Do not look back at your heart for it may kill you. Reach into the other's chest, take his heart into your hand and drain every last bit of his life. Hold onto his life, take it not as your own, and give it to your father. It will be enough to bind your father's wound. Your father's time is short. You must act quickly. No matter what, do not look back at your heart! Do you understand?"
"I understand," I choke out.
Ravenna nods and rises to her feet, releasing me. "Finn, knife and bowl."
I wheel around and run to Papa, falling to my knees at his side. "Papa!" I hug him gingerly. I pull back and brush his soaked hair off his sweaty forehead. "Don't worry, I'm going to heal you. We're going to be alright."
"Snow"—he coughs—"don't"—he coughs more—"don't do this. It's evil."
I shake my head, more tears filling my eyes, blurring Papa more. "It'll help!" I place my hands over Papa's bloody ones and hold them tightly. "Ravenna can save you. I can save you!"
"No," he says weakly, his eyes closing as he continues bleeding out!
"Press down on his wound," Finn orders me with his hideous voice.
Hellfire rushes into my cheeks, making them blaze. "DEVIL TAKE YOU!" I scream at him, but I do as he says and press down on Papa's hands, his hot blood soaking my hands and staining the white sleeves of my night dress. Papa whimpers from the pain.
Finn scoffs and says under his breath, "He already has, little bitch."
Though Finn's curse cuts me deep, I lean forward and kiss papa gently on his soaked forehead. "I'm sorry, Papa." I don't mean to hurt him, but this is the only way to keep him alive long enough.
"Come forth, Maacthis," Ravenna chants. I look back at her—my jaw drops. She kneels beside Papa and me on the steps before a big gold gong mounted on the wall! How did I not see that gold gong before!? It's so big! Did those black glass knights mount it while I was looking at papa?
Ravenna raises a porcelain bowl in both hands up to the gong, her reflection in the gong clear as day. "Come forth, Maacthis! Heed me!"
A putrid stench fills up my nose with my inhale—like severely burnt meat! "God!" I exclaim with disgust and almost cover my nose, but I keep my hands on Papa's. Something shifts in the air over me, like…like somebody cast a heavy tapestry woven out of pure darkness and evil over me. My body starts trembling and my heart beats harder and faster. It grows difficult to breathe beneath the weight of the invisible tapestry. I'm afraid.
SHRIEK! out of the mirror, distant and glassy sounding. I startle on my knees, but I manage to keep the pressure on Papa's wound. That glassy shriek is very different from the black glass knights that attacked the castle and slaughtered so many innocents. The gold gong starts—moving, rippling like a raindrop fell into still water! The ripples go outward from the center of the gong, the gold rippling as if made of water!
A flash of black draws my teary eyes down to the bottom of the gong. The faint silhouette of a hand rises up from the bottom of the gong and goes to the center. The hand turns and twists, its bones cracking, its black skin crinkling like parchment. The hand points its talon-like nails towards the center of the gong and pushes against the rippling gold, contorting the gold gong outwards at a sharp point. He's leaving the gong! I watch, trembling with fear, as he climbs out of the mirror and tumbles down onto the floor with a loud thud, caught up in the entanglement of gold stretching out of the gong. His dark figure dissipates as a cloud of black smoke, but his form remains beneath the gold.
"Rise," Ravenna orders. I glance at Ravenna. She is still kneeling before the gold gong, sharing the same ground as the man hidden beneath the gold.
"As you command, my Queen," a gravelly, icy voice speaks, chilling my blood in my veins. I look at the man entangled in gold still lying on the ground. My Queen?
He moves beneath the gold, metal clanking as he slowly pushes himself to his feet. That stench of severely burnt meat grows even stronger as he rises to his intimidating stature, his shoulders broad, his arms bulging with muscle beneath the gold. This stench must be the man's. I look over the man's gold covering from the top of his head down to the floor. His gold covering hides every inch of him from sight and has now separated itself from the gong, but four blackened chains with thick links run out beneath his gold covering and travel up into the gong. His chain links clink against each other with his small movements. It's...as if he is a prisoner to the gong.
"Why have you summoned me?" the man asks with that same terrifying, gravelly voice. His evil wafts off of him with his stench.
"I seek to share my power with this dear girl," Ravenna gestures to me. "She wishes to save her father."
"No," Papa protests weakly, drawing my eyes down to him.
"Shh papa, it'll be alright." I try to comfort him. No relief soothes his twisted face.
He forces his eyes open and looks up at me, pleading. "Don't do this, Snow! Don't take"—he coughs once—"this evil into you!"
That terrible, gravelly voice of the man beneath the gold fills my ears. "Sharing your power with her comes at a great cost to you—"
"I know," Ravenna says. "I need to perform this ritual now, I need your power."
The man beneath the gold slowly turns his head my way and looks down at me with his featureless face. My God, that featureless face—nothing tonight has nor will make me tremble more than his featureless face. He chuckles darkly beneath the gold, his voice so gravelly that it sounds like a bunch of rocks are stuck in his throat. "I will give you my power for your ritual, but answer this first"—he turns his featureless face to look down at Ravenna—"why do you seek to share your power with this dear girl?" he mocks. He lifts one of his hands to gesture to me, the gold rippling with his arm.
I look at Ravenna. She glances at me out of the corners of her eyes, a softness and tenderness in them that warms my heart just like Mama's eyes used to do.
She looks up at the man beneath the gold. "I have spent much time with her, teaching her what this power is and what it is not." She holds the porcelain bowl up higher to the man in gold as an offering. "She is a daughter to me."
The man beneath the gold laughs wickedly.
Ravenna's fingers tighten about the bowl, her nails digging into the porcelain. "WHY DO YOU LAUGH!? Answer truthfully or I will not call you out of your imprisonment for a century—"
"No!" The man beneath the gold—Maacthis—throws out his hand as if to stop her. He kneels on the ground before her. "This is why I laugh. You cannot see what I see," he sneers beneath his gold covering, his hatred for Ravenna as clear as her reflection in the gong despite Maacthis kneeling between her and the gong. "She is the answer to a prayer being uttered by hundreds of thousands at this moment. I see her heart and what is in it, and I see your heart. Her heart is still good while your heart is evil—"
"I am not evil," Ravenna says resolutely.
"Ha! Yet here you are communing with me."
"My cause is just," Ravenna sneers at Maacthis. She snatches the sleeve of his gold covering and yanks it up, exposing his chained wrist and charred hand. "I will rid this world of all its evils with your power!" She grabs his chained wrist and forces his hand into the bowl. The man throws his head back and howls in pain while steam rises up from the bowl, his painful howl unearthly, demonic.
"I will save everyone I can!" Ravenna declares. She throws his hand out of the bowl and scrambles over to Papa and me. She looks at me with soft, urgent eyes. "I will save you, my daughter." Finn comes up to Ravenna's side with a knife clutched in his fist. My heart skips a beat. "And you will save your father," Ravenna says softly, covering my whole cheek with her warm hand.
"No," Papa says weakly, pulling our eyes down to him.
"Your daughter and you can live in peace, safety…freedom!" Ravenna says. "You will live long enough to see the life of every evil man taken and given to good men. Then, you will see a world of good and not of evil. Magnus, we can create this world!"
Papa shakes his head at her weakly. "You cannot…rid this world of evil…with evil."
You cannot rid this world of evil with evil? Is that what this awesome power is? So long as the person is good and has good intentions, why not use this awesome power to save those we love? Is this power evil if it is being used for good even though Maacthis, this evil—entity gives it? I look to Ravenna for her response.
She looks down at my father, her face glum, and takes her hand from my cheek. "I will prove you wrong," she says. She reaches out behind her, holding her hand out to Finn. "Brother, cut me."
I look up at Finn. He does not move to cut her hand with the knife in his fist. He looks from Ravenna and narrows his gaze at me. "You heard what Maacthis said," Finn says and looks down at the top of Ravenna's head. "She is the maker's answer to her people's prayer. You share your power with her and she will be able to kill you!"
"I know!" Ravenna yells, snapping her gaze up to him. "No one knows our future except the maker, but whatever plans he has for us, we can choose otherwise. I have chosen otherwise"—Ravenna looks down at me—"just as I know she will, too. She will save her father." She nods at me once, expectant of my choice. She shakes her upheld hand at Finn. "Cut me."
Finn glares down at me as he takes his sister's hand roughly in his and turns her hand palm side up. He moves her hand over the porcelain bowl that Ravenna had set down on the floor beside her. He presses the blade against her palm and slices across her flesh, drawing blood from the clean slice. Her blood catches some of the candlelight about the room as the crimson beads roll down the side of her hand and drip into the bowl, disturbing the milky substance in the bowl and tinging it pink. Finn lets go of her hand.
"Maacthis, make my blood hers," Ravenna demands. "By your power, bind us. Gift her freely with my power to take life from whoever and wherever she seeks and to do with that life whatever she wills. Do you hear me, Maacthis!?"
"I hear you…my Queen," Maacthis says. "Have her drink from the bowl now."
"Do as he says, child. Drink." Ravenna lifts the bowl to my mouth.
"No!" Papa pleads, drawing my eyes down to him briefly. "Do not drink that…evil, Snow!"
"Drink," Ravenna whispers, pulling my gaze back up to her.
"No!" Papa begs. Something tugs at me from within, warning me to not drink from the bowl. I look down at the milky substance tinged pink from where Ravenna's blood spilt into it. Disgust churns my stomach. I'll be drinking Ravenna's blood. Yet if I do, I will have the power to save Papa. From here on out, I will be able to save anyone. I could have saved Mama with this power. No, I will not give up this chance to save Papa!
I lean forward, bringing my mouth to the bowl's rim.
"Snow, no!" Papa pleads weakly, putting one of his blood soaked hands over mine. Ravenna tips the bowl forward, pouring the milky substance pouring into my mouth. Surprising, this tastes only like milk. I cannot taste any burnt flesh from Maacthis' hand nor the tang of Ravenna's blood.
I gulp down the milky substance to the last drop as quickly as I can.
"Good," Ravenna praises, taking the bowl from my mouth. I…I feel no different on the outside, but deep inside me…something else is there that wasn't there before. That something feels empty, cold—like the same evil that I felt from Maacthis! I cannot feel his evil anymore! That evil—his evil is in me! My heart takes off racing, beating harder and faster than it ever has. I want to flee this room! I want to run as far away from Maacthis and his evil as my short legs can carry me.
"Come, Snow," Ravenna says softly. She sets the empty bowl down beside her and pulls Papa's weak hand from mine. I try to ignore this evil feeling inside of me and look down at Papa. His eyes are closed, his chest trembling with his breaths. My heart drops and I look at Ravenna.
"We must be quick," she says, grabbing my hand and pulling me to my feet.
Panic grips me. "But Papa!—"
"Finn!" Ravenna yells.
"Yes, sister." Finn kneels beside Papa and presses his hands over Papa's wound to stem the bleeding, but he leans into Papa's wound much harder than I did, causing Papa to cry out weakly.
"Bring the dwarf to us!" Ravenna orders.
"Papa," I murmur as Ravenna turns me around and starts leading me to the open door showing some of the dark corridor outside, putting more distance between Papa and me. Ravenna stops with me near the open door.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Black glass knights! Just hearing the distinct, glassy thuds of their boots is unmistakable. But wait, weren't there two black glass knights in this room holding Ravenna prisoner? I look about the room. Hundreds of candles line the walls of this room in three distinct rows, all their little flames flickering in different directions. Maacthis is still kneeling at the top of the steps chained to his gong. Finn still looms over Papa holding his blood soaked hands against Papa's wound. Finn glares up at me with yellow eyes—that glow! Fear grips me in its bone chilling hands. I recoil into Ravenna's side and tear my eyes from Finn, searching every inch of this room for the black glass knights. I even look up at the domed ceiling with it's decorative support beams.
They are not here! When did the knights leave this room!? Surely I would have heard their footsteps and their glass armor clinking. Thump. Thump. Thump. Their footsteps are so loud, bouncing off every limestone brick and wood beam of this castle. A swoosh of silken black comes into the room. The silken black of its cape falls away, revealing the stoic, eyeless black glass knight as he enters, dragging in a child behind him—no, a dwarf with a white beard and balding head.
"Before me," Ravenna orders coldly. She–she has command over Finn's black glass knights? The knight drags the aging dwarf and forces him to stand before Ravenna and me. The elderly dwarf looks at me, his green eyes clear and healthy, so full of sadness.
"Hurry," Ravenna says, pushing me towards the dwarf.
"Is he evil!?" I ask, looking up at her.
Ravenna nods. "He is a petty thief. Now reach out towards him and take his heart into your hand."
I look at the dwarf who is my height. He is so old, his face kind. He looks to be wise, like some kind of sage…wait, I've seen him before walking about the castle with Papa! He is part of Papa's personal council! Papa would never pick someone who is evil to be part of his council! A petty thief, perhaps, but never a man whose heart beats with evil.
The dwarf looks at me with sad eyes and shakes his head. He opens his mouth and says, "Do not wield this evil, Snow White. It will consume you just as it has consumed our Queen." Consume me!? Fear fills me.
"THIS POWER HAS NOT CONSUMED ME!" Ravenna yells, so full of rage. I glance up at her, shocked by her outburst. Never have I seen her lose her composure like that. Never. She stops herself and sucks in a deep breath, cooling her rage some. "It has only saved those I love, and it is about to save again." She looks down at me sharply. "Your father has little time left. You must act now or lose him forever!"
It grows hard to breathe. Time is short. I look at the dwarf, up at Ravenna, and back at the dwarf. Time is short, but everyone except Ravenna says this power is evil. I feel it's evil within me ready to spring and flow out of me. It wants to take the dwarf's life, but there's something else in me telling me how wrong this is. It's murder.
"Magnus is near death, sister!" Finn shouts. "A moment more, he'll be gone!"
"Snow, you must act now!" Ravenna takes my hand and places it over the dwarf's warm leather vest, over his heart. "Look down your arm to your hand and clutch his heart. Walk the strand of hair. Do not look back at your life lest you give it to him, and take all his life. Your father's wound is mortal and requires a whole life to bind it."
"Do not do this, Princess," the dwarf says, his voice raspy with old age, but it carries the calmness of wisdom with it. "I'm telling you this not for my sake, but for yours."
"Take his life," Ravenna orders beside my ear. She moves to stand behind me and grips my shoulders tightly. "Do not look back at your life. Doing so may kill you."
"Sister!" Finn shouts. I dig my fingers into the dwarf's chest, not piercing him, but somehow I reach into the darkness of his chest and take his beating heart in my hand. The dwarf gasps with pain and lurches forward, grabbing onto my arm out of instinct. I jump back, startled, but Ravenna keeps me rooted to my spot.
"There!" Ravenna says, squeezing my shoulders painfully. "His life is in your hand," she whispers beside my other ear. "Now take every year, every day, every moment he has. Take it all. Your father needs it."
The dwarf gasps with pain. "My eyes," he says between each agonizing breath he takes. "I–I cannot…see." He lifts his eyes to mine. My heart misses a beat. His eyes are no longer clear and healthy, but they have a milky haze over them. I…I took his sight!
"Do not stop!" Ravenna urges me. "You must take and take from him until he is ash at your feet! Hurry!"
Great guilt strangles my heart. I…I cannot do this. I took his sight. I cannot take anymore. I cannot kill him, not even to save Papa.
"Take!" Ravenna shakes my shoulders.
I choke on my sudden sobbing. "I–I can't!" I look back at my heart. I have so much life in me, sixty-five years and exactly three days left to live. I would die when I have seventy-four years, but what is sixty-five years and three days more of my life when I took his sight and I have lost all but Ravenna?
"I can't!" I cry out and reach into my heart. Like taking a knife to my heart, I carve out half of it. Pain, immense pain! A huge gushing of lava flows out of my heart, scorching and burning the inside of my chest. I scream in agony and push half of my heart into the dwarf's heart, the sheer force of it knocking him onto his back. The pain leaves me instantly, but it leaves me profoundly weak. My wobbly knees give out, taking me down to the ground with the dwarf.
"He's dead!" Finn announces. Papa…my world nearly crumbles apart, everything threatening to disappear around me. The only one I have left is Ravenna.
Harsh footsteps approach and stop near me.
"You!" Finn sneers. He grabs my arms and hauls me to my feet before Ravenna.
"Be gentle with her, brother!" Ravenna orders, both sympathetic and angry.
"You must kill her!" Finn says. "It's you or her. Us or her, you know that!"
"I know," Ravenna says solemnly.
I gasp, the last bit of my world about to crumble. "Ravenna?" I whisper. She truly could not be in league with Finn…could she?
Ravenna's eyes glisten as she reaches out and takes the knife from Finn. The last bit of my world crumbles to dust. Papa's dead. Ravenna betrayed us. For an entire year, she shared with me the secrets of her power, taught me the morality and the principles of it, the beauty and goodness it is capable of producing, but this power she spoke of is pure evil. When she turned that pink apple blossom to dust in her palm and brought forth lush green grass out of the barren earth, that was evil she was wielding. I wielded such evil against the poor dwarf. I rendered him blind. Me.
I look up at the curved blade of the knife, my sight blurry as Ravenna arcs it above me. She lifts the knife to the highest point, ready to bring it down on me. I close my eyes and wait for her killing blow…and wait…and wait. A loud, womanly wail helps me to open my eyes. Ravenna collapses to her knees before me and throws the knife far away from us, its blade clattering across the stone floor.
"I can't!" Ravenna sobs and she looks up at Finn. "I can't kill her, Finn!"
"But you must!—"
"NO!" Ravenna yells and points sharply at her brother. "Lock her up! Just…lock her up." Ravenna lowers her hand to her lap and looks at me, though I cannot clearly see her because of my tears. "I thought…" Ravenna trails off.
I weep bitterly as Finn drags me away. I try to look at Papa one last time, but Finn drags me out so fast that I can't catch one last glimpse of him. I will never see him again. I will never see Ravenna again. She betrayed us. She was part of this attack the whole time. She lied to me. For two years, she has been lying to me.
Finn drags me all the way to the prison tower and throws me into a cell, my face hitting the stone floor.
"You will die here, little bitch!" Finn curses me, slamming my cell door shut and locking me up with the jiggling of keys. He marches off, his footsteps growing softer until the wood door slams shut—I jolt awake and sit up quickly, gasping for air. My heart pounds against my sternum, burning and aching. I clutch at my chest and breathe hard, trying to relieve my tight, burning lungs. Breathe, Snow, breathe. I slow my exhale. I breathe in slower and breathe out slower. In through my mouth, out through my nose. Breathe, Snow. Breathe. My heart calms, it's burning, aching pain fading. I want to keep my eyes open and never close them again, but they are getting too dry. I blink fast, only once, and brace my hands behind me on my straw bed.
I look about my dank little cell. Daylight comes in through my small window high up in the corner of my cell, my chamber pot still turned upside down beneath it. The pile of ashes in the opposite corner are still there from my fire last evening. I look down at my body. I'm still wearing the same tattered green dress and dirty wool stockings. At least Ravenna is still keeping Finn away from me. God, to think of him standing at the threshold of my cell with only my rusted iron bars to separate us, so easy for him to remove by unlocking my cell door with its key, his lustful, yellow eyes watching me unabashed while he licks his lips—I shudder with disgust, trying to banish the fear in my gut. I won't think of it.
I reach down the side of my bed and pick up one of my leather boots. I turn it upside down and shake it over the floor. Thankfully no rat falls out of it. I shake out my other boot, thankfully empty too, and I pull them on. At least the rats can't bite through these.
I clamber out of bed, its rotting wood frame creaking beneath my weight, and I take five steps to my window. I grab the cold stone of the window ledge and step up onto my overturned chamber pot to see all I can of the outside world—just the cloud laden sky. My heart sinks. What I wouldn't give to see the blinding sun or a bit of blue sky just once more before my time ends. It's been…years, I think. How many years, though? I look away from the depressing sight and halt. There's the grey rat with one ear again. He stands on his haunches next to my upturned chamber pot, looking up at me with his beady black eyes, his whiskers twitching with his nose.
"Fair morning, one ear," I greet him. "Don't worry, I won't eat you yet, old friend. My hunger…I barely feel it." I laugh once at the lie. Both one ear and I are well aware of the sharply declining number of rats. God, I can't think of it right now. "I had that nightmare again. God!" I look back at my straw bed, its wool and linen blankets tangled up from someone who thrashes about in the night. "I'm reliving that same fateful night over and over again as if it's really happening." I look down at one ear. "Have you ever experienced that?"
One ear twitches his nose and scampers out of my cell between my bars, disappearing around the corner and leaving me alone once more. So terribly alone.
I frown and let my hand slip from the window ledge, the rough stone grating against my hand. "Of course not," I mutter to myself. Did the whole world die and forget me!? I haven't had a bite of bread for years. What I would not give for a bite of bread. I care not if it's moldy. I will still eat it even if the mold kills me! It's not as if I have sixty-five years of life to enjoy anymore. I gave half of them to that poor dwarf. I will die when I have forty-one years. It's only a matter of waiting.
I step down off my chamber pot and pace about. I pace my five steps to the northern corner of my cell, then I take five steps to the eastern corner where the window is, then to the southern corner where my rotting straw bed is, then to the western corner where my cell door is. I almost stop and grab the rusted iron bars to peer out into the hall, but what is the point? The black glass knights haven't brought any prisoners in weeks…perhaps months…"God, not more than a year, right?" I ask the Lord above. I laugh out loud and scoff at Him. "Silent as usual!" There's no point in listening for a response. He stopped hearing my prayers the night I was thrown into my cell.
I pace about my cell, pacing the northern corner to the eastern corner to the southern corner to the western corner and repeat the path three thousand two hundred sixty-eight times. I drop down onto my bed to rest my feet for a moment. The silence…God, I can't take this silence! This loneliness…I hum a few soft notes, then a few louder notes, and I sing softly to myself as I get up and pace the four corners of my cell again. "I once met this trav'ler at this old, rundown tavern. His name he never mentioned, but his tales I quote as legends. He said he crossed the seven lands and sailed the five seas. He slew many beasts and seduced many lasses. All his tales he told throughout the night, never tiring his tongue."
Crack. Thunder rumbles in the distance. I perk up and bound to the window, turning my chamber pot right side up and holding it up to the window ledge to wait for the blessed rainfall. After I gather enough water, I can start a fire and boil it in my pot. It rained yesterday, so I am not so thirsty now, but I'd be a fool to not gather water every chance I get. So, I stand at the window holding up my chamberpot, watching and waiting for the dark storm clouds to reach me.
"When first light broke the black of night, he fell silent." I fall silent for a brief moment and sing softly, "Then he said, 'But throughout all my time, I've come to realize that we are born alone, that we live alone, and so we die alone. Friendships and family are just illusions. Loneliness is nature, an unconquerable force.' Then he got up and left and went out the door. On that same day, he passed away alone in the fray..."
The song is unfinished, one that I am still working on. I wish I had something to write the lyrics on so that I won't forget a single word, but I have nothing to write with. All I can do is try my best to memorize what I have come up with so far. For the longest time, I have wanted to add something to the song concerning the man who sat and listened to the traveler's tales; something about the man refuting the traveler's claim that we are born alone, we live alone, and so we die alone, but now—I'm alone now! Perhaps the traveler is right. No matter the life one leads, whether it be a full and true life like the listener of the traveler's tales or the traveler who led a shallow and selfish life, you still end up dying alone. Friendships, family, freedom…Mama taught me that we all have free will, but how do I have free will when I cannot choose to leave this cell?
Finn keeps telling me free will is an illusion. Perhaps he is right. If I was born alone and I am living alone now, then I will die alone, so it begs the question; why am I standing here awaiting life saving water? Why have I spent all these years fighting for scraps in my cell, letting the rats bite me just so I can break their necks, roast their little bodies and crack open their ridiculously small bones for their marrow? Why do I gather water in the only pot I have, the pot that was given to me to relieve myself in? Why do I struggle to live? What is the point?
I have wondered all this for sometime now, but only now do I have my answer. There is no point. I will die alone…so why not hasten it? My stomach knots up at the thought again, but not nearly as much as it used to. I manage to set my chamberpot down on the ground as softly as I can and tread back to my bed. I slowly sink to my knees and lie prostrate on the ground, peering beneath my bed. My pole and hook contraption that I had constructed years ago to reach into the cell across from mine and gather materials with is still where I left it. My collection of sewing needles and small statuettes of animals that I had whittled out of human bones are just behind my contraption. There, tucked away behind all my earthly possessions, is the noose I had woven out of some old rags that I had collected from the cell across from mine.
I reach beneath my bed and grab the noose out from under it. I sit back and look at the noose in my hands. Funny. I used to sit here and look at this in horror, finding myself in utter disbelief that I would weave such a thing, let alone consider taking my life. The notion once frightened me so much that I shoved it to the far end beneath my bed and refused to look at it ever again. Yet here I am now as calm as can be, feeling only the slightest twinge of guilt and fear. The rest of me feels empty, indifferent, tired. The anger came and stayed with me for years; anger with Ravenna, angry at Finn, at Papa, at Mama, at Wessel and William and Duke Hammond and Duchess Lydia, but it has all faded away. There's no point in being angry. There's no point to go on struggling, surviving off of rat meat and filthy rainwater.
I slowly rise to my feet and step up onto my bed. I awkwardly turn around on my lumpy bed, struggling to keep my balance, but I successfully turn around to face the rotting rafters supporting the stone ceiling. I toss the straight end of the noose over one of the rafters above the floor and stand on my toes on the edge of my bed, tying a strong knot to secure the noose to the rafter. I've heard of people being hung for the crimes of high theft, murder, and adultery, but I've never seen the execution performed. I've woven the noose in a way so that the rope will tighten when weight pulls down on the looped end. I grab the rope in the middle and tug on it hard, testing the strength of its knot about the rafter. Strong and secure.
I grab the loop of the noose and lift it, bringing it closer to my face. A twinge suddenly stirs in my gut, halting me. Will this be quick? Will it hurt? I can imagine it will hurt, but how much? It will pull tight about my throat and strangle me. How long will that take before I die? Is this something I can do?
I exhale and grip the loop tighter. There is no other way out of this hell. All I have to do is slip this noose over my head and step off my bed. It maybe a moment of pain, perhaps two, but that's it. This will all be over. No more struggling, no more loneliness, no more pain. If God has not answered me now, then how could He possibly exist? I've been told by many people that God loves us beyond our understanding and that He answers every prayer uttered to Him, but he has not answered me. Although, the evil entity trapped in Ravenna's gold gong, Maacthis—he is real, an unearthly being that can enter our world through Ravenna's gong, or mirror; whatever that blasted gold monstrosity is! He is from hell. More fear fills me, twisting my gut and loosening my grip of the noose. Would hell hurt more than this earthly hell? Is the hell I'm living in now like heaven compared to the fires of hell below me?
SLAM! of the wood door echoes against the stone walls. I stiffen instantly. Could that be—thump, thump, thump, thump – the distinct footfalls of the black glass knights! They are bringing someone! I let go of the noose, leap down from my bed, and bound to my iron bars, gripping them tightly and peering between them as much as I can. Far down the hall, I see a woman walking with the knights, both of them holding her arms tightly. She walks with them…willingly? No, that can't be right. Every prisoner they have dragged to the cell across from mine always fought the knights, or screamed, or cried. This woman walks with them willingly, so she must be drunk? Though, she does not stagger nor sway, her steps feather-light, somber and sober. She is not screaming, not fighting nor pleading with the soulless glass monsters. Perhaps she's crying silently, though it's difficult to tell down the dimly lit corridor.
They reach the cell across from mine and turn their backs to me, the woman standing captive between them. My eyes widen. Indeed, she is truly as meek as a lamb ready for the shearer. She just stands there between the black glass knights waiting for them. One of the knights unlocks the cell door with the jiggling keys, the familiar clicking sound of the lock mechanism turning. The knight pulls open the door, it's hinges squealing loudly, and stands aside for the prisoner and the knight still gripping her arm. The knight holding her captive throws her into the cell. She stumbles and nearly falls, but she regains her footing. No way could someone inebriated regain their footing from a shove like that. The other knight slams the door shut, a metallic hum resonating against the stone while he turns the keys, clicking its lock shut. The knight pulls the jiggling keys out of the lock. Both knights turn and leave, their rhythmic, pounding march fading as they turn the corner and disappear from sight. The wood door slams, the sound reverberating down the hall. How I hate the slam of that wood door.
A short sob pulls my eyes to the woman in the cell. She sits down silently on the floor, hugging her knees to her chest. Her shoulders shake with her silent sobbing, her long, dark, matted curls shuddering over her back. The curls shorten a little when she hides her face in her arms. I draw in a shaky, nervous breath, doing my best to ignore my churning stomach. I hate doing this. I've done this with every man and woman who was imprisoned in the cell across form mine—talked to them, tried to comfort them, but it always turns out in one of three ways. They ignore me, they curse me, or they panic and beg me to save them. Save them. HA! How am I supposed to do a damn thing trapped behind my bars?
"Hello?" I call into the dank hall. "What's your name?" She lifts her head and looks at me, her teary brown eyes burning into mine. I cringe. Somehow, I hate seeing tears in her eyes. I'm not sure what it is about them. I just hate seeing her cry.
"Sara," she says, raspy with tears.
"Sara." I sigh. She's one of the crying ones who will beg me to save her. "That's a beautiful name."
"Thank you," she says. Her eyes fall shut as she breathes in through her nose, her nostrils flaring a little. Here it comes, here it comes! She's going to beg me to save her. She opens her mouth and asks, "Do they feed the prisoners?"
Her question halts me. "W-what?" I stutter. What an odd question. Where's the begging to save her? Where's her anger? Where's her fear? Perhaps it's still yet to come.
She smiles softly and repeats, "Do they bring us food, water?" She shrugs her shoulders. "Anything?"
I frown and shake my head. "No."
"Of course they don't," she says, laughing once and nodding. "How about you, what's your name?" she asks, shifting the direction of our conversation, if it can be called that. She pushes herself to her feet and comes to her bars, gripping them. My eyes widen. There's a clean scar in the corner of her mouth that stretches up to her left cheek. Other than her scar and the dirt smudged across her face, her skin is flawless.
"My name?" I give her a half-hearted laugh and shake my head. "How come you care? How will learning my name benefit you in anyway?"
She frowns at me, her eyes glistening with tears. "I'm not trying to benefit myself. I only wish to know your na…" she trails off, her eyes shifting above my head and widening with surprise. "Oh God," she murmurs in horror. I follow her eyes to the noose hanging from the rafter, its loop swaying a little from the bit of icy breeze that manages to come into my cell. I breathe out until my chest is flat. Why is she so horrified by this?
I look back at her and shake my head. "Don't worry about that. It doesn't concern you."
She shakes her head at me, flabbergasted. "But it does! How long have you been imprisoned here!?"
My brows furrow. Why does she care? "I…I don't know. Days, months, years…" I shrug my shoulders. "It's all the same here."
She looks at me sorrowfully. "I can never hope to understand what you have gone through all these years in that cell. I myself was prisoner for a long time, a different sort of prisoner than you—"
"You're my kind of prisoner, now," I say flatly.
She nods once. "Yes, but what I'm trying to say is that you must feel powerless, tired, wondering where's the hope, what's the point in living anymore…is this right?" she asks carefully.
She is so different from every other prisoner I've spoken to. She doesn't talk about her own wellbeing, but rather she focuses all her efforts on me. Why? What purpose does it serve her? What does she hope to gain?
"You're half right," I tell her. "I once felt that way, but now I just feel…tired, tired of struggling to find enough rats to eat, hoping for enough rainwater to drink, enduring people like you." She frowns at my little insult. A faint twinge of guilt enters my heart, but I barely feel it as much as I used to. "I don't ponder the purpose of life anymore. There is nothing to ponder. You're going to die a terrible death, turned to ash at Ravenna's feet. As for me"—I shake my head—"I suppose I have a choice over the manner in which I die. I can either suffer the long, painful death of starvation or I can hang myself and only suffer for a moment more."
Her frown deepens. "I once thought that way. I once…considered taking my own life."
She peaks my interest. "Are you telling me the truth, or are you lying just to make yourself feel more relevant?"
"I'm being honest," she says with a soft tone. "I used to work as a prostitute—"
"A prostitute!?" I ask aloud, surprised. How could she ever have been a prostitute!? She is modestly clad in a long brown and tan dress. Her hair is long, not cut short. I look down at her left hand gripping the bar. Yes, there's a tarnished silver band on her forefinger as I expected. She's a married woman. Or she was.
"Yes. Men would use me for their pleasure. Over and over, they used me, they beat me. The only thing that kept me going was my sisterhood with the women I was forced to work alongside with. I had one particularly awful night that left me disfigured." She traces the scar from her cheek down to the corner of her mouth and returns her hand to clutch the bar. "It was that night that I drew a bath and got into it. I decided to go under the water and never resurface, but when I went under, I felt the pain. It was tight, burning, crushing my chest. I was overcome with fear. So, I came out of the water and cleaned myself up as best I could. I'm so grateful that I did not take my life that night because the very next day, I met the man who changed my life forever."
"Who?" I ask, my curiosity genuinely peaked.
She smiles softly and taps her tarnished wedding band before returning her hand to the bar. "It's quite ironic, really, because he says I'm the one who changed his life and brought him back from the brink."
"You were good for each other, then," I say.
She nods, her smile growing. "We saved each other."
I turn away from her, jealously in my heart. "How good for both of you," I say, an unintentional edge creeping into my voice. It's like the traveler comparing his eventful yet shallow and meaningless life to the poor sod listening, yet it is the listener, me, who has led the shallow, meaningless life…yet Sara, the one who has turned her life around for the better, is still in the same place as me. She will die alone just as I will die alone. She only has a hopeful outlook on everything. Frankly, it's sickening that she does.
"What I'm trying to say is that your life doesn't have to end this way," she says. "Look at me, I once thought my life was meaningless, but the very next day I met my husband and we gave our lives meaning, reasons to live! You don't know what tomorrow will bring you—"
"I know exactly what tomorrow will bring me!" I wheel around to face her, suddenly angry. "Everyday is the same! I get up, I pace the four corners of my cell, I take off my boot and stocking and wait for a rat to bite me, I break the rat's neck, I start a fire, I butcher and roast the rat, I eat the rat, I gather the filthy, dry rainwater in the damn same pot I must relieve myself in! God, how am I still alive!?" I throw my arms up and lift my eyes to the rotting wood rafters supporting the ceiling. "Silent," I scoff at him.
"Though sometimes it's different," I continue. "Sometimes they'll bring a prisoner here and throw them into the cell you're in now." I point at her. "I've tried to talk to them. I've tried to comfort them, but it always turns out in one of three ways. They either mock me for my efforts, or they curse me, or they beg me to save them. You're different than the rest of them, I'll give you that, but it's only a matter of time before you start begging me to save your life, but before you start doing that, look at me." I open up my arms and step back, showing her myself and my cell. "How do you expect me to help you?"
"I'm not expecting you to help me," she says somberly. "I only want to help you."
"And why would you help me!? What do you have to gain by helping me!?"
She shakes her head at me. "Your years of imprisonment, they have made you cynical. I truly only want to help you."
"No, you want to save me," I say, dropping my arms to my sides. "You want your one last good deed. You want your life to end on a high note. You tell me you've led a life of change, prosperity, and hope, yet look where you are, in the same damn place as me."
She sighs and nods solemnly. "You're right. Here we both are."
Thunder rumbles in the distant. I shake my head at her disdainfully and go to my window, peering outside. The dark storm clouds are so close. It will rain any moment. There's no point in gathering water for me, but what about Sara? She was inquiring about water.
"Are you thirsty?" I ask her, turning my head to her. She nods silently, keeping her eyes on me. I sigh tiredly and tell her, "I'll get you some water. Gather some of the rags in your cell and pass them to me."
"Alright." She releases her bars and goes about gathering the clothing left behind by the prisoners. "Why do they leave their clothing behind?" she asks.
I pick up my chamberpot and hold it up to the window ledge, looking out at the dark, heavy clouds fattened with dry rain. "The knights strip the prisoners of their clothing before they take them to the Queen. I'm not sure why they do that. Perhaps it's to humiliate them, or perhaps it's for the convenience of the manner in which they all die."
"How do they die?" Sara asks.
I don't bother looking back at her. "In the same way that you will die. The Queen will grab hold of you and she'll dig her fingers into your chest where your heart is." Memories of how I dug my fingers into the dwarf's chest flash across my eyes. This always happens when I speak of it. "The Queen won't break your skin nor leave a bruise, but it will feel as if she's carving into your chest with a knife. You will feel her take your heart, your life, into the palm of her hand. Then, she will drain every year, every day, every moment from you until you are nothing but ash at her feet."
I glance back at her and ask with no mockery, "Are you still a saint? Or are you going to beg this imprisoned, cynical wretch"—I nod to myself—"to save you?"
Sara comes up to her bars with a bundle of tattered clothing in her arms, sorrow weighing down her pretty features. "I know my end is near, but I'm not going to spend my last moments pitying myself. I'm going to spend them speaking with you." She separates both bundles in her hands and slips her arms between her bars, reaching nearly halfway across the hall.
I shake my head at her. "Keep them for now. The rain is nearly here."
Sure enough, the pattering of rain hits the stone. Thankfully, it comes in at an angle right into my window, striking my face and the iron casting of my chamber pot. The rain itself feels as dry as an arid desert, yet it starts to weigh down my hair and mold my dress to my shoulders. What I would not give now to feel just one wet raindrop. I'd give my life if I could feel just one wet drop of rain land on my cheek.
"I remember when the rain was wet," Sara says. "I loved farming our land while it was raining. It kept me cool."
"I remember it, too," I say softly. "This is the Queen's doing, I think. She has the power to take life away from whoever and wherever she wills. I suppose that means she took the wetness out of the rain."
"This rain does nothing for our crops anymore," Sara says, pulling my eyes to her. "Tabor is so different now. Just over the past few years, we have had no crops. The trees of our forests are rotting and crumbling, our homes are falling apart. These are desperate times."
"So the world is dying," I say flatly and look outside again. "I cannot see an inch of land from here no matter how far I pull myself up to look out this window."
"Not this world, but this kingdom," she says. "Our people."
I sigh and nod. "There's nothing we can do about it from here."
"We can pray."
I burst out laughing at her. "Go ahead! Pray until your knees are turned to ash! We'll see what good it brings about."
The rain falls harder, pattering louder against my chamber pot, the rain water now filling my pot halfway. My hair, face, and chest become soaked with rainwater, but I feel dry.
"You never told me your name," she says.
I sigh, so worn and tired. She's persistent, I'll give her that. If I continue ignoring her, she will keep asking me for my name until I give it.
"Snow White," I say.
"Snow Whi…by God," Sara struggles to speak. I look at her out of the corners of my eyes, furrowing my brows with some mockery and confusion. Her eyes widen as the biggest grin spreads her lips. "You're alive!" Tears stream down her cheeks, washing away the layer of grime covering them. "All of Tabor believes you to be dead. My God, I…" She gasps, her smile growing impossibly bigger. "With you alive, Ravenna has no claim to the throne to supersede yours. If you escape, you could go Duke Hammond's fortress! A great force amasses there—"
"What!?" I ask, doing my best to hide my laughter at her, but I ask her between my laughter, "Escape"—I laugh some more—"is impossible." Her face falls as I continue more calmly, "We're both going to die here, perhaps tonight, or perhaps tomorrow, and you're talking about escape. Ah, there it is!" I step back from the window, my chamberpot as full as can be and sloshing with the water inside. "You're begging me to save you." I set my pot down on the ground beside the pile of ashes.
"I know my only way out of here is to be reduced to a pile of ash," Sara says softly, "but there's hope for you and your people."
"Hope?" I scoff and come up to my bars, reaching between them towards her. "Pass the rags to me."
Sara divides the rags into both hands and slips her arms between her bars, the rags just reaching my fingers. "You've been imprisoned for twelve years," she says suddenly.
I halt in the middle of collecting the rags from her hands. "Wh…," I trail off. Twelve years!? It's…it's been twelve years? I had nine years when I was imprisoned, and if twelve years have passed, then I now have twenty-one, perhaps twenty-two years! I…it's been that long? I feel so…stunned. Twelve years? The days, the weeks, the months…I was aware of the physical changes happening to my body; the increase in my stature, the widening of my hips, the narrowing of my waist, the small, pitiful swelling of my breasts, if they can even be called breasts. When I first bled, I knew then that my body was capable of carrying a child, but twelve years? How could twelve years have passed by without my knowing it?
Sara nods slowly. "I understand how you have lost all hope and your will to live."
"I…" I shake my head, my shock starting to fade as this revelation slowly sinks in. "No. You could never possibly understand how I have come to realize that hope, free will; it's all an illusion." I collect the rest of the rags from her and carry them over to the pile of ashes, setting a few of them aside to handle the pot later once the water comes to a boil. "The only choice I have is the manner in which I die. Do I slowly starve to death or do I hang for a moment?" This fire will not last long enough for the water to boil. I need some of the frozen marrow from the rat bones to help fuel the flames; a precious resource, but if I am to take my life when the black glass knights come to take Sara away to her death, then what is the point of saving them?
"Maybe you're right," Sara says as I go to my window and reach out, grabbing the small, primitive sack of rat marrow and shattered bones hanging off a nail jutting out of the stone wall. "I will never understand from my heart how you have come to believe that hope and free will do not exist, but it's logical that after being imprisoned for twelve years, fighting everyday to survive, how you could come to believe such lies."
I roll my eyes. Damn, she is persistent! "They are not lies," I say, trying my best to keep my annoyance and impatience out of my voice. I go back to the ashes. "You and I believe differently, and look!" I look back at her. "You have less choice than me and you still believe in free will."
Her face fills with sorrow, but I ignore her and focus on building my pathetic fire. Silence falls over us save for the sound of me picking up the metal and flint besides the ashes and striking them together over and over, sending out wave after wave of sparks onto the rags, hoping that the lucky strike will start the fire.
"You remind me of my husband," Sara says, breaking the sweet silence.
"Really?" I ask, striking the metal and flint repeatedly.
"You're a lot like him. When I first met him, he was so cynical. I told him this, and he said, 'You're half right. I'm not just cynical. I'm a cynical bastard.'"
A chuckle escapes me—I halt in the midst of striking the flint against the metal. I chuckled, not out of scorn, but what she said was amusing.
"Hmph," I scoff at myself and turn my gaze to Sara. "Am I as cynical as him?"
Sara shakes her head with a small, knowing smile. "No. For you, I see hope. For him, he will never change. He chooses carefully who he trusts, but he's usually, as he puts it, a cynical bastard at heart."
We chuckle together, a strange sense coming over me. My heart feels…lighter.
"Then how did you find a place in his cynical heart?" I ask with a small grin.
Sara laughs and answers, "I asked him the same exact thing, word for word." We both laugh together. As our laughter ebbs, she continues, "He never gave me a straight answer. He just kept telling me that I'm trustworthy and that he loves me."
Sara looks at me with a smile, expecting me to respond. I nod thoughtfully and say, "He has a good judge of character, then. You, well…you haven't changed your story since we first started talking." I look down at the pile of rags and rat marrow and bones and resume striking the flint against the metal. "You're selfless, kind, and persistent." I stop striking the metal again. "Only one other who stood in that cell of yours has cared for me as you have. I never learned his name…" I trail off, falling silent.
I breathe in, let my breath out slowly, and breathe in deep again, the memory flashing before my eyes all over again. "It happened very early on in my imprisonment. The Queen, she…she spared me the knife. She was crying, saying she couldn't kill me, but she imprisoned me. Instead of killing me by knife, she had a tray of food delivered to me. It was the most beautiful assortment of food and drink that I had ever seen on this silver tray. I trusted her then as if she was my mother. I went to eat and drink of it, but before I could take a bite, the man warned me to eat nothing and drink nothing from the tray no matter how tempting. Sure enough, the rats that came and ate of the food fell onto their backs and died. The man was taken away shortly thereafter by the black glass knights, and I never saw him again. From that day on, I never ate nor drank anything that was brought to me. Eventually, they stopped bringing me food and drink, perhaps hoping that starvation would take me instead."
"I'm sorry," Sara says.
I laugh once and look at her. "For what? It wasn't you trying to poison me."
She frowns. "I'm sorry for all you have suffered. We have only been starving for a few years, yet you have not had a bite of real, clean food for twelve."
I shake my head. "That's nothing next to what you have told me about your past."
She sighs softly. "We've led different lives."
"Very different," I say. We both fall silent again. I strike the flint against the metal once more, sending enough sparks onto the rags and starting a little flame. I set the metal and flint aside and carefully blow on the flames, helping them to grow large enough to boil the water in my chamberpot. I grab the two smaller stones from the pile of stones beside the fire, place them on opposite sides of the flames, and I set the long stone down across the two smaller stones, forming a flat surface to safely place my chamberpot over the flames. I have burnt and scarred my hands far too many times from trying to master this technique, and I'm not going to scar them again. I pick up my heavy chamberpot, set it on the stone, and take my hands from the metal, waiting for it to boil.
"I just had a thought," Sara says, breaking the silence and drawing my gaze to her. "How will you pass some of the water to me? Your pot cannot fit through these bars." She looks at her bars and runs her fingertips down them.
"I have a cup beneath my bed that I'll fill with water and pass to you."
"Oh." Sara nods. "Thank you for doing this."
Silence. I sit here enduring the heat of the fire, watching the water until big bubbles rise from the bottom and pop at the surface. I grab the spare rags off the ground that I had not burned, line my hands with them, and pick up the pot off the hot stone. The heat of the pot seeps through the rags and touches my skin, the warmth quickly growing to dull burning. I set the pot down quickly to wait for the water to cool a little. I set the rags aside on the floor and crawl over to my bed. I collect my wood cup from beneath my bed and go back to the water, now cool enough to drink. I dip the cup into the water, filling it to the brim, and I carefully stand up and go to my bars, spilling only a few drops over the cup's edge.
"Here," I say, reaching between my bars with the cup for Sara to grab.
Sara looks up from fiddling with her wedding band and smiles at me. "Thank you." She reaches out between her bars, her fingers barely able to reach the cup. I stretch out farther, a slight pulling pain filling my shoulder blade and under my arm. Sara, too, reaches out a bit farther and grabs the cup.
"Thank you again," she says, taking the cup back into her cell and drinking from it, downing the water in several audible gulps.
I frown. How thirsty she is, yet she has not complained of it once. "Give me the cup." I reach out between my bars. "I can get you more."
"You can!?" she asks, surprised. Her surprise fades while a grateful smile replaces it. "Thank you." She stretches out as far as she can this time, passing the cup to me. I take the cup from her, dip the cup into my chamberpot, and carefully walk it back to my bars and pass it to her. She downs the water greedily and passes the cup back to me.
"I'll get you more." I turn—
"That is enough for me," she says, halting me.
I glance back at her, surprised. "But you're so thirsty!"
She shakes her head at me, still wearing her kind smile. "You need it. Not me."
"Please, you drink." She nods to me and turns her back to her bars. She slides down her bars to sit on the cold ground and fiddles with her wedding band again. An ache enters my heart. She is a good woman, a living saint. I thought Ravenna only killed criminals. So what if Sara was a prostitute in the past? Is what she did really a crime? Why would Ravenna take a good person's life? Who will receive Sara's life?
"Is your husband dead?" I question as I dip my cup into my chamberpot, filling it with water. Sara's back stiffens. Perhaps I shouldn't have asked that—
"No," she answers, the sound of tears in her voice.
I take a sip from my water and swallow. "You sound…uncertain."
Sara shakes her head, not looking back at me. "He's a strong man. He's still alive. I know he's looking for me."
I almost take another sip of water, but her words of hope stop me. I slowly lower my cup from my mouth. "Sara, I…he can't save you."
She nods. "I don't want him to. I know he's trying, but I don't want him to succeed. If he does, he will die, too."
I sigh softly. I pity her…and I admire her. She accepts her fate like no other. I wish I could accept my fate like her; to have no fear of dying. "How are you not afraid to die?" I ask her.
Sara glances back at me out of the corners of her glistening eyes. "I'll be honest with you. When I was captured, I knew I was going to die, and it frightened me. Then, I met you. You are your father's daughter, our future queen. Just knowing that you're alive, that you survived this long despite all the odds stacked against you…Princess, you are supposed to be alive right now. You are meant to find freedom, to bring your people hope, and to lead them to freedom."
I laugh, skeptical at best of her words. "Really? All of that because I'm breathing now? I give you hope just because I'm sitting here, speaking with you?"
Sara nods, not a bit of hesitation. "Yes," she answers, resolute. "You don't believe me now, but I know you'll come around."
I laugh at her. "We'll see." How wrong she is. I pity her for that, too. I drink from my cup, downing the water as greedily as she did.
The sky darkens with night, slow enough to allow my eyes to adjust to the dimming light. Sara and I have fallen into an eerie, tense, fearful silence. It is more waiting than silence, though. We both know that the black glass knights could come for her now. We sit in silence listening…listening…listening. Utter silence. There's no scampering of rats, no distant sound of the waves crashing into the rocky shoreline far below. Just utter silence. I glance back at my bed. I would be crawling into bed now, but…I look back Sara's silhouette sitting against her bars, her hands in lap, her head bowed. I could crawl into bed and sleep, but Sara is the only company I have had in a long time. Honestly, she is the best company I have had in twelve years. Perhaps if I had met her twelve years ago before my imprisonment, we would have become close friends, perhaps close enough to call each other sisters.
"Hush now, my cub, for the long cold's come," a soft voice sings in the darkness. I've never heard this tune.
"Come here and lay beside me. Feel my warmth and feel my love. Close your eyes and know you're safe," Sara sings, her voice soft, beautiful, and full of sorrow. It almost feels...like a lullaby.
"Here you lay beside me, yet I feel you shake. Is it cold or is it fear? The wolves howl in the night. You fear they'll come and end you while you sleep?" I listen closely, wanting so dearly to write down this new tune. I want to remember it, learn it, and then sing it, but I have nothing.
"Do not fear, I'm here beside you. I'll protect you. Feel my warmth and feel my love. No wolf can take you from me. Now close your eyes for the long sleep. Though it may seem years, it's nothing to eternity. Hush now, my cub, for the long cold's come."
We are silent for a brief moment. I bite my tongue, unsure if it would be too intrusive to ask, but if I do not ask now, then I will never know. "Is that...a lullaby?—" I pause. Am I treading onto ground that I shouldn't even know about?
Sara nods somberly. "My husband taught it to me. It was a lullaby his mother would sing to him." Sara laughs softly, just once. "He's afraid of the wolves."
"Oh," I murmur, unsure. What else do I say? Her husband is afraid of wolves. Who isn't? They stalk the night and snatch our livestock and children who stray too close to the trees. It was not uncommon to hear of the hunters finding children ripped to bits in the woods when they were sent to search for them by their frightened parents.
The strong weight of guilt comes over my heart, making me forget about wolves altogether. "I'm sorry," I say. I watch her shadow in the darkness, though I cannot see her face. I wish I could so I could see her reaction to my sudden apology. My guilt seemingly came out of nowhere, and so did my apology, but ever since Sara and I first spoke, it has been building up to this. Sara said so herself that I'd come around.
"I'm sorry I mocked you and laughed at you. It was not right of me. I'm–I'm ashamed of myself." I drop my head in shame.
"I forgive you," she says, her tone kind, "but would you do a favor for me?"
I perk up and look at her. She forgave me. I'm glad and relieved. "What would you have me do?"
Sara sighs and pulls her wedding band off her finger!
"What are you—"
"When you escape this place, will you deliver my ring to my husband?" Sara reaches out between her bars, her ring clutched in her fist.
"Wh..." I lose words. What is…escape!? Impossible, and deliver her ring to her husband— "My husband is a good man, but without someone to guide him, he strays from his true self. Will you please—" SLAM! of the wood door resounds through the darkness and rumbles in my ears and skull. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Their glass boots scrap along the stone with each rhythmic step!
"They're coming!" I wail.
"Please!" Sara pleads. "Please, give this to him!"
"Oh God," I gasp, my heart pounding in my chest. I stretch my arm through my bars, trying to reach her. Thump. Thump. Thump. The thuds of their boots reverberate in my chest!
"Hurry!" she pleads.
We both cry in pain as we strain ourselves against our bars, our fingertips barely brushing, the cold metal of her ring ghosting my middle fingertip. Their pounding steps grow louder! This is not working! I reposition myself, easing my arm farther out into the hall. The bars cut into my shoulder and chest like the board sides of two swords. Their pounding steps grow louder still, reverberating in my whole body!
Panic fills me, making me both heavy and light. A sob escapes me. I frantically wave my arm about in the darkness trying to reach Sara's hand! I wish I could stop time and ask her the questions I need to ask. What is your husband's name? What does he look like? Where do I even start searching for him!? What makes you so certain that I will escape my cell!?
"Just a bit farther!" she says. I wave my arm and stretch my fingers, our fingertips constantly brushing but not close enough to grab her ring safely.
The knights are so close! I stop stretching and turn my head to see the two colossal knights almost upon us! I look back at Sara—she withdraws from her bars, her silhouette leaning back…as if preparing to throw herself at her bars! I start screaming just as she throws herself at her bars! CRACK! sounds with the loud ringing of the bars! Her hand comes over mine, pushing her warm wedding band into my palm.
"Oh God!" I weep bitterly, watching helplessly as she slumps back into her cell, her limp arm hanging between her bars. A terrible cough racks through her. She hurt herself just to give me her ring. She must have broke her bones just to reach me.
The black glass knights come between Sara and me, the keys jiggling as one of the knights unlocks her cell door and opens it, the hinges squealing loudly. Sara's arm falls out of the bars with the motion of the opening door. She collapses onto her side with a thud, coughing and groaning with pain.
"Sara," I sob, tears blurring my sight. The knights go into her cell, grab her arms, and haul her to her feet. She cries out in pain as the knights grab at her dress and tear it from her body. I cannot see well in this darkness, but I see her womanly shape as they throw the torn pieces of her dress onto the floor. They drag her out of her cell and start leading her down the hall towards her death. I start shaking my head. No, no she doesn't deserve this. She has so much to live for; her husband, the children she could or does have with him!
"NO!" I scream. I pound my fists on my bars, ignoring the burning pain in my hands, trying to draw their attention to me. "TAKE ME INSTEAD!" I pound, pound, pound. "TAKE ME INSTEAD, YOU SOULLESS BASTARDS! TAKE ME!" I pound, pound, pound, pound, but they keep dragging her away, ignoring me. "Take me!" The wood door slams, echoing down the dark hall. I break down sobbing, clutching her ring to my chest.
"No!" I protest weakly with my sobbing, but no one hears me. No one. I sob aloud, curling up against my bars. "Oh God," I shake my head and look up at my ceiling. I had myself nearly convinced that He doesn't exist, but Sara…how is it that just as I am about to take my life, she comes into my life and stops me?
"Why!?" I ask Him above. "I have nothing to live for! She has a husband! She could be a mother! Why!? Why do you keep me here!? Why her instead of me!?"
Silence from Him above. I'm not sure what God is telling me, if He even does exist, or if He is listening to me now, but why would He allow this terrible fate to befall Sara and force me to remain behind to live with her death, the death of someone I consider a friend to me? I wish I had told her before that she is my friend, but it's too late now. I bury my face in my arms and hug her wedding ring tightly to my heart. This small piece of jewelry, this tarnishing silver band…it's the only goodness in this hell. A small piece of something good.
I refuse to let it go.