The leaves crunched under Uros’ sandals. Each step through the colorful autumn garden was filled with bright colors and lively sounds. A few bugs called out for love, and the birds still sang despite the chill in the air. The morning sun gave the plot a golden hue.
Uros stopped in front of a stone bench and turned away from it. He gripped one side of his robes and pulled it away from himself to tighten them against his legs, then sat on the bench and folded the end over his lap. With a content sigh, he closed his eyes and listened. An icy breeze whipped by him, and he sat still to enjoy it.
The warden, a homely woman, arrived not long after, and sat beside him. “Let me know when you’re ready to go back inside, my lord.”
Uros nodded absently before he opened his eyes and looked up at the clear sky. A wedge of geese flew high in the distance, honking gaily. Childish envy settled in his belly, and he laughed at the absurdity of his jealousy.
His guardian glanced at him uncomfortably, but Uros ignored her. He had more interesting things to pay attention to instead of someone he would see every day for the rest of his life. Only after his lips turned purple, did he let the woman lead him inside.
The warmth felt like a soft wall as he stepped through the door. As the door closed behind the warden, the wooden slab sounded so much heavier. He felt suddenly like he was cut off from the rest of the world. His expression remained stoic, however. Uros refused to show weakness.
The warden escorted him to his lonely, windowless cell and ushered him in, like he somehow still held status. He dismissed her from his mind as he entered his cell and looked around at the ugly stone construction. Behind him, a second door closed, and he felt his frayed and torn connection to the outside world sever. He was never going to emerge alive.
Tightly, Uros closed his eyes to swallow his tears. With bravery he didn’t feel, he walked to the stone bench that was his bed and laid down. It wasn’t even noon, but he had nothing else to do. He laid on his belly, head rested on his arms, as he dozed in and out of sleep.
A knock on the door woke him, and he rose. Was it time already? He took a deep breath, then called in answer. “Who’s there?”
“Ayayay! Someone is in here!” The accent was unmistakably foreign. “I’m here to bring you a present, prison man!”
“Wait, what? Who are you? Foreigners are forbidden from this area!” Uros frowned. “Go away, and stop joking around. Someone will cut off your hands.”
The foreigner laughed. “Don’t worry! Roshan won’t be caught. Will you let me give you a smile?”
“Absolutely not.” Uros rose from the bench and darted to the door. He gripped the inner handle and held it shut as the stranger tried to open it.
“Hey now, that’s not nice. Let me in.” He sounded like a whining child. He pounded the door a few times. “Come on, I only want to give you a smile!”
Uros snarled in irritation. “I’ll call the guards! They’ll chop of your hands and put you in a crow cage.” He hissed as he spoke, and held the door tightly shut as Roshan tried again to open it.
Again and again, Roshan and Uros fought over the door. Finally, Uros heard Roshan step back and begin to pant. “You really don’t want me to bring you a smile?”
“I don’t, and I won’t ever! Go away!”
“That makes my chest hurt.” Roshan’s voice broke. “I came here just to bring you a smile. If I can’t do that, I couldn’t bear to go home and look in the mirror.”
Uros’ reply was cold. “Then break your mirror.”
For several moments, silence strangled the pair. Finally, Roshan broke the silence with a sob. A muffled thud against the door made Uros hold the door shut more tightly for a few moments before he realized Roshan wasn’t trying to get inside anymore. The former prince turned from the door and rested his back against it. Tears fell slowly down his cheeks as he inwardly fumed over the rude attempted entry of the strange foreigner on the other side of the door. His vision blurred as tears distorted his sight, and the slowly dripping water pulled the dye from his black silk robes.
The two cried, back to back, for an hour. Neither moved, and though they sometimes paused, neither fully stopped letting their tears flow. Finally, Uros spoke. “Do you want to come in now?” He wiped his eyes with his fingers and flicked his tears away to attempt to spare his robes any more ruin.
He stood and tried to open the door. It was stuck. “Hey. Try opening it on your side,” he ordered.
The response was silence. No sound at all. Uros quickly rose to his feet and banged on the door. “Where did you go?” he demanded. “How could you do this, you-” He cut himself off and shoved himself away from the door. It was useless. This ‘Roshan’ was useless, he was sure.
Suddenly, something began to bang on the outer wall. In his fear, Uros backed up and looked around for a weapon. He picked up his sandal and held it aloft. If someone planned to make off with him or assassinate him, he would defend himself.
A crack appeared in the wall, and Uros gaped. He expected it to take longer! He backed up until he was pressed against the door, and the wall crumbled from a final blow. Dust filled the room, and he began to cough.
Arms wrapped around Uros’ thin frame, and the former prince became tense.
“The door was broken, so I made a new one.” The voice was Roshan, and he was still choked up.
The ridiculous nature of the break-in shattered something inside Uros, and he began to laugh helplessly, even as he coughed on the dust that still floated around the room.
When morning came, Roshan was gone. Uros was covered in dust from the ruined wall, his shoulder was stained in another man’s tears, and his expression was no longer stoic, but serene as his wrists were tied before him and he was led to the city’s main square.
He bowed to his executioner, and the commoners began to whisper amongst themselves.
“Final words?” the black-hooded man asked.
Uros looked out at the crowd and smiled, then spoke loudly for all to hear. “Thank you, Roshan.” He bowed to the crowd, and took his position at the block, neck outstretched.
For several moments, nobody touched him. Finally, the executioner stepped forward and drew his sword. He leaned down and pressed his hand against his prince’s back, He lifted his blade.