Monday, August 4, 2014

My Kingdom for a Quest - Chapter 1

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1 In the Dungeons

Once upon a time, in a land called Bookania, two servants were locked in the dungeon for the mere crime of not knowing where their prince was. He had disappeared in the middle of the night, and none knew where he had gone, the two servants least of all.
Truth be known, no one truly suspected the pair of the conspiring against the prince, but Vizier Mordreth, the prince's uncle and regent, couldn't punish the true suspect, leaving the two boys as scapegoats for Mordreth's wrath.
The true suspect was an old man, who had appeared out of nowhere the day before the prince disappeared and convinced the miserly uncle that it was imperative that the young prince visit some of his peers. Unfortunately, the old man had disappeared with the prince.
It would be hard to find a pair more unlike the two servants who now resided in the dungeon. One languished in a corner, having given up all hope of seeing the light of day again. The other paced their confines with a vengeance that belied their situation.
And so they were doing at the start of my story.
“Oh, do you hear that, Gavin?” announced the pacer, stopping and turning to the door, his arms crossed over his chest. “Here comes our faithful waiter. Shall we order chicken dumplings or apple pie? They both sound so good, I don't know which one to pick.”
“Oh, knock it off, Leo,” complained Gavin. “Your tongue is going to get us into trouble.”
“We're already in the dungeon,” Leo pointed out. “I don't know how we could be punished any further.”
“Do the words 'torture' and 'death sentence' mean anything to you?”
“No, I must confess,” said Leo, as the tiny window in the door opened and two bowls of watery gruel were shoved through, “those Briton words are foreign to my ears. What do they mean?” He claimed the two bowls from the guard's meaty hand and wrinkled his nose as the window was slammed shut. “Ugh! They messed up our order again! I shall have to complain to the proprietor of this establishment.”
“The Vizier wants us to tell him something we don't know, and he's not a patient man. I don't think …” Gavin swallowed. “He threatened us the last time he was here.”
“And I laughed. It was such fun!” Leo sat one bowl down in front of his fellow, then gave his own a stir. “Whoever told us that prison food is a delicacy ought to be thrown in the dungeon himself!”
Gavin didn't have the heart to respond to that remark, and was too busy eating.
Leo shrugged and took a bite of his own gruel, shaking his head in disgust. “How you can put up with these horrid conditions is beyond me, friend.”
“Well, there isn't anything we can do about it,” said Gavin. “So there's no use complaining.”
“Oh, sure there's use in complaining. It gives us something to do, otherwise we'd be thinking about 'torture' and 'death sentences.'”
Gavin was spared the necessity of response by the sound of another familiar step outside.
“Oh, here comes out friendly neighborhood threatener now!” Leo announced, barely keeping the excitement out of his voice. The window swung open to reveal Vizier Mordreth's face. The flickering torchlight of the dungeon halls made him seem even more sinister than normal.
“So, are the two of you ready to tell me what has become of my nephew?” he asked, drawing each word out to its full potential.
“Unfortunately, we've been stuck down here in a dungeon with no way to receive messages from our spies,” said Leo, carelessly. “Are you ready to let us out so that we can return to our normal lives?”
“Impertinent fools!” Mordreth hissed. “Don't you know that I could have you beheaded?”
“You could also let us return to our lives and families, and we'd be eternally grateful to you,” Leo pointed out.
“Insolence!” Mordreth shouted, even louder than before.
“Sir,” said Gavin, in his best consolatory manner, “we truly do not know where Prince Author went. When we went to bed, he was there. When we woke up, he was not.”
“I do not want excuses, I want information!”
“If it's information you want, I may as well inform you of the horrid living conditions of this dungeon,” offered Leo. “I mean, look at this food! Nothing more than watery gruel. How is a man to keep body and soul together living off of this? And let's not even get started on the …”
“Silence!” Mordreth roared. “You know full well what sort of information I demand, and you know how to give it to me!”
“It was the old man,” Leo suddenly said. “He gave us a tea before we turned in for the night. I would be willing to bet that he slipped some sort of sleeping potion into it. And then we couldn't notice when he magicked our prince away.”
“Well, then,” said Mordreth, lowering his voice – which was even worse than the shouting. “If you don't have the information I seek, then I don't have any use for you anymore. You have until tomorrow afternoon to tell me where to find my nephew. Otherwise …” his mouth curled into a wicked smile. “Well, I think I'll just leave it to your imaginations what I'm planning.” The window was slammed shut, and footsteps were heard trudging away.
“You don't suppose that he's going to be giving us seats of honor in a parade tomorrow?” asked Leo, turning to his friend. “Because that would be a lot of fun.”
“It would be, wouldn't it,” admitted Gavin. “But knowing Mordreth, it'd be a parade to our death!”
“You don't say? Well then, we ought to figure out a way to escape before he has the chance to do that.”
“And how do you plan to do that!”
“Haven't figured it out yet. No worries, though. We have at least twelve hours before the threat comes true – probably more, since I doubt that even Mordreth is fond of midnight visits to the dungeons. We have plenty of time.”
“Only twelve hours! Leo, there is no way to escape Briton Dungeons. No way!”
“That's what they said in the dungeons of Fronce, too,” said Leo absentmindedly, taking a sip of his gruel. “Now be quiet while I think. And eat up. We're going to need our strength!”
“Dungeons in Fronce!” Gavin squeaked.
“Yes, now those were dungeons! Now be quiet.”
Gavin fell silent and simply stared in the direction of his friend, the look on his face (had it been visible in that dark cell) a mixture of confusion, awe, and horror.
“You wouldn't happened to have fallen in love with any young lady who would be able to arrange for a soldier to play traitor and get us out of here, now would you?” Leo suddenly spoke up.
“Ah, well, I suppose that not every young lady can be so obliging. And now that I think about it, it's as good a way into the dungeon as out. Now where was I … No, bribing the guards is out of the question. All we have is gruel to call our own, and I'm sure they have much better food in the soldier's quarters.”
“We'll never get out of here!” Gavin moaned.
“That's what you think. That's what everyone thinks,” said Leo. “But I tell you, there's always a way out of every sticky situation. You just have to be observant and look it.” Leo frowned as he set his now-empty bowl to the side. “It's too bad Mordreth doesn't have any daughters for us to charm. Only that good-for-nothing Kew, and I really don't see him helping. And Arthur's gone, so that's out of the question.”
“If Prince Arthur were here,” said Gavin, dryly, “we wouldn't be in the dungeons.”
“Good point,” said Leo. “As I was saying, we could always try to steal a key and unlock the door, but that can be a very tricky business, and it's very easy to get caught. And then where would we be? Probably talking about death sentences some more. Honestly, they don't bother me, just all this talk about them. It's enough to drive a man mad.”
They lapsed into silence once more, Leo pacing the floor, Gavin frowning at the darkness.
“What's that sound?” Gavin suddenly observed, sitting straight up.
“What? The tapping?” asked Leo, turning to the wall Gavin was staring towards. “Sounds like more of those friendly mice. I wonder if they're going to sing for us. That would be fun, wouldn't it?”
“It's louder than mice.”
“Is it? Why you're right, Gavin! Those must be awfully big mice, then.” Leo rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “Here to sing for us on the last day of our lives. Oh, my mother always did say I was destined for great things, she did!”
Suddenly a stone slid out of the wall and a man carrying a dim torch appeared. The light was not enough for him to be recognizable.
“Well, what are the two of you waiting for,” came the harsh whisper. “Let's get out of here!”

The two servants exchanged glances and a grin broke across Leo's face. “A secret tunnel! Now why didn't I think of that one!”

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