Imprisoned under the sewers, the chains that held up Clyden's arms were wet with diseased water, pocked with rust, and biting insects used them as conduits in and out.
Occassionally, just on a lark, the guards urinated through the grate from above, and Clyden would reek of it, blow spray from his lips as it stung his eyes.
He prayed for deliverance, but either his god was dead, or hated him; he believed both were true, so it didn't matter.
Transient families of rats and flies gnawed on him at their convenience, and now, his wasted body, sick of fighting off infections and fevers and toxins, began to give up to the inevitable.
Clyden welcomed the blackness, and it grew longer everytime it came.
Night blended into day, day into night, and time no longer had any meaning.
His memories were pinpricks of pretty pictures, swatches of perfumed scents, tingling fingertips of delicate touches of the women he'd bedded, the spices of their lips and honey of their tongues mingling with his own.
Then came the memories of fighting side by side, back to back, with his friends, and face to face with his enemies. The blood he spilled dropped like a red curtain on his lusty adventures, and the dying cries of the slaughtered replaced the pleasured moans of his conquests, until he no longer knew if he embellished them, or relived them.
His laughter turned bitter, and fever lit his eyes in the darkness when the torches sputtered out, and the inquistive squeaks of scenting rodents reached his ears.
And day by day, as he literally thinned out, the sanity that still lit his mind with keen intelligence, insouciance, and daring lost a little more of its grip, slick fingertips slipping from a cliffside, from the raindrops and piss that pattered on the top of his skull, in the orifices of his face, wearing him down to nothing like massive rocks by the patiently raging sea.
A key turned in the latch of his cell door, and Clyden, half asleep, thought he was dreaming.
The shadow of a guard filled the door, and Clyden wanted to weep with relief at the death that was surely coming, but the guard had no sword, no knife, no rope to kill him with, and he felt his hopes fading.
"Princess Veronica to see you, fool; she's better than you deserved."
A feminine voice reprimanded the guard, just out of hearing.
"My apologies, Princess."
"Don't rise above your station again in my presence," she said.
Though the guard's face was in shadow, Clyden could imagine the dark look that crossed his face, the menace that flickered in his eyes; he couldn't kill her, so he would take it out on Clyden.
Again, the bitter, mirthless laugh jerked his body and hurt his ruined throat.
She entered, a small torch in her hand, and he turned his face from the light.
All he heard from her was a light gasp, and her free hand covered her mouth, her eyes wide with incredulity at his transformation.
He was so ruined, she couldn't even scream, couldn't even sob, just stood there with tears running down her beautiful face, tears of rage at her sister's cruelty, tears of frustration at her own helplessness, tears of sorrow for love lost, and her lover punished.
She gathered her composure after a few moments.
"Bring fruit, bread, and water. Fresh, and plenty of it."
"Your sister --"
"Is not here!"
The guard sighed; the princess was impetuous, and could be vengeful in her own right.
"I will see it done."
"Thank you." Her voice was sardonic.
The cell door closed, leaving them in private.
"Why did you come?" His voice was husky and cracked.
"Vivian is in council. I had some time..."
"You know as well as I that you will end up here beside me if she finds out..."
"She probably will, but I am too dear to her plans. She dares not harm me. And I bring good news."
His eyes, more adjusted to the light now, allowed him to turn his head; and he needed to see her.
Her face, though lit by fire, lined by worry for him, was still beautiful.
The eyes were deep and large under long lashes, the lips full and tense with a false smile as she stood shaking in the cold dank air, the hair over her shoulders gleaming like fresh honey in the amber light.
The sight of her filled him with hopeless despair that they would ever be together, and he moaned her name.
She put a finger to his lips, went to kiss him, but he turned his cheek to her, because his lips were foul.
The door opened, and the guard set a pitcher of water, a small basket of fruit, and a warm wrapped loaf of brown bread wrapped in checkered picnic cloth on a small table a servant brought in; the pitcher had a ladel in it.
She managed to feed him most of it, not talking because of the guards, until they heard voices above them. One belonged to Vivian, unmistakably imperious.
"Where's my twin sister?" she asked someone. Veronica couldn't hear the reply; the grate in the cell's ceiling was a mystery of echoes that were sometimes heard, sometimes not.
The guard came to the door. "Princess..."
"Yes, I heard. I'm coming."
She looked at Clyden once more; he was somewhat revived, but if she was going to rescue him in time, it would have to be soon.
"What is your news for me, love?"
She held her breath and moved in close to whisper in his ear.
"I've hired an assassin to kill Vivian."
© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
December 23rd, 2014
In The Presence of the Queen
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