Continued from The Heir’s Rise in Heroism.
The man sighed regretfully, then looked to either side. “Search the stables! We’re looking for three girls and a boy. There should be one with heavy armor, two with caster books, and one with a bow!” He returned his gaze to me. “We have witnesses that saw you leave with them, and I know you’d never let them leave on their own.”
Panic coursed through my body. Father was going to have my friends arrested! “Please, let them go!”
He shook his head. “If we return without them and you, we lose our heads.”
Panic became terror. My mouth was agape. It was my friends or the man who helped raise me. I couldn’t decide, and so time chose for me. By the time I stopped feeling numb terror, the five of us stood before my father.
My father was a man in his middling years. He was neither very old, nor was he a young man anymore. To me, he seemed ancient and foolish. Together, we stood tall before him. My father slowly stood. He had a bad knee from a stray arrow fired when he was protecting our lands.
His expression was grim. “This is a serious crime, my son.” he began. “You are my only child, and you have been spoiled for too long. Today, you leave your childhood behind. You will never see your friends again after this day.
“Father, you can’t do that!” I objected as I finally found my voice. I stepped forward. “I’ll just go to them. It’s easy to sneak out of here!”
My father shrugged absently. “That is no problem. They are found guilty of kidnapping, treason, and conspiracy.” He listed their charges so casually, I didn’t believe him. He pointed to Ainslinn. “She hangs.” To gentle Anciel, he decreed she lose her head to the executioner’s axe. Dallan was to lose his hands before he was drowned. Finally, he looked at Obrecht. “This one is the worst of the lot.”
I stared in horror. My father was killing my friends! “Father, don’t do this! Please! Don’t kill them, I’ll not sneak away! I swear it!” I begged frantically. Each of my friends was stunned to silence by my father’s decrees. “Please, Father! I was the one who approached them!”
He ignored me as he listed Obrecht’s fate. “This woman, for not only committing horrible crimes, but also for the crimes of impersonating a man, she gets the worst punishment.” He narrowed his eyes. “Remove her breasts, feed them to her, and bury her alive in a coffin with a bell that will ring outside my son’s window as she writhes and struggles. Put a baby slime in with her.” He looked around the room. “Take them away. Lock my son inside the prepared room until my orders are carried out.”
I was grabbed. I struggled and reached for my friends as they were similarly grabbed. I was dragged away from them. I felt ill. Obrecht screamed a war cry, and became silent. The others sobbed or were silent as they disappeared around a corner. I struggled against the guards, who held me in a grip like a vise. I was shoved into a room with only the smallest of windows. There were no panes, and it was small enough that only my arm could go through. I vomited onto the floor. My friends were going to die, and I could do nothing to save them, not with every man’s life at stake because my father ordered death to any who opposed him.
For hours, I remained awake. When I finally did fall asleep, I woke to a sunbeam in my face. In anger, I turned from it and tried to lose myself to sleep. I woke and slept many times, at varying times of the days. I refused my meals, and once tried to kill myself in a fit of melodrama. I was saved within minutes, and I was stripped of all by my underthings. The room was stifling at the time, so I felt no loss until night came and robbed the stone walls of their warmth.
More days passed, and I began to hear a bell. My empty stomach flipped over, and I vomited bile so fierce I could feel it burn my nose. My tears did little to help as I cried uselessly. I knew when I heard that bell, she would not be saved. There was no way I could flee the castle and rescue her, let alone the others, whose fates were far faster.
Somehow, time moved on. Eventually, the inconsistent ringing of the bell stopped. She was dead, and I could do nothing to save her. Father began to visit me. He force-fed me soups and water. Whenever I glared at him, he looked me in the eye and repeated something to me. “Your own choices led to this,” he said, “Tell me when you are ready to grow up.”
For several months, I resisted.
Finally, after six months of solitary confinement, I had a series of dreams. My friends each came to me in my dream, and they simply stared at me with hate until I woke in tears. I was skin and bones, and I dry-heaved every time I woke. Finally, after four dreams, I had another. My friends were all present, staring at me. I could see the marks of their deaths on them. I realized then that it was entirely my fault that they met such gruesome fates.
When Father visited me, I let my head hang. For several moments, there was silence. I felt broken inside. “I’m done, Father.” I murmured. “I’ll put my childhood behind me.” I promised.
Throughout the following years, my friends continued to haunt me, but I also became more competent in my studies. I studied hard and became a perfectionist, to the point that I began to punish myself for my flaws until they retreated. Eventually, I became a true man,
My life was in order, and I was order. Order became the rule, and though I had few friends because of this, I didn’t mind. Order was the only companion I had, and order saved me from the dreams. I became more strict than my father but less severe. Instead of death for those who opposed me, they simply lost their work with a severance pay, and no others would hire them within the city.