I haven't gotten to revise the last part yet. I'm just desperately trying to cover ground and get into the real story. If you see a blank, that's a place where I need a name...although right now most places/people need names. I'm using "The King" right now in place of his name, and "Imperial" in place of the country's name. If you want to make names up, I'd love the help. I could especially use your help with the fantasy aspect of it. Love.
Corran sat cross-legged on the floor, straw sticking through the thin cloth pants they’d given him. They’d taken his clothes, his few belongings and he felt uncomfortably exposed. Sometimes he slept like this, sitting up, eyes open, but he hadn’t slept at all tonight. The horizon ignited a glowing red, and as sun streamed through the barred windows, the scars on his back burned.
He stood with catlike grace and went to the window. There were only a few stars left in the sky, only the brightest, and the sun was rising fast. Dawn had come, as much as he had prayed all night that it wouldn’t. It was a hanging day.
“Wakey, wakey!” Bailiff Grom shouted, clanging his baton along the iron bars as he passed. “Today’s the big day.”
He banged on the bars of Corran’s cell. “I see our Prince of Thieves is already up. Excited, boy?”
“I’m not a thief,” Corran said, staring hard at the last of the stars.
“What are you then? A Finder? A Smuggler? A Delivery Boy?” Grom snorted. “The Hangman’s noose doesn’t care what you did, boys. You’re all criminals, and you’ll all die like criminals. Including our dirty Drakim over here.”
Corran scraped his knuckles against the stone wall, not letting Grom see he was getting to him. Corran had left his Drakim tribe years ago, had grown out his dark brown hair and covered his scars, but no matter how hard he tried to pass, it didn’t stop people from treating him like a Drakim when he was found out. Though most Drakim lived in the Badlands, and only did dealings with the border towns, their reputation spread through all the lands. They were seen as savage nomadic tribes that worshiped fierce reptilian gods and lived by their own laws. They rarely got involved in the battles of the non-Drakim, but they were fearsome warriors, running into combat with strange symbols all over their bodies and inhuman scars, seeming invincible and fearless.
His blood was still Drakim, he was doomed to wander, a stranger in every land.
In an hour, after they’d been fed water and one slice of bread, the guards began taking out the prisoners that were to be executed. The first one wailed, snot and tears getting into his dirty beard, his thin body wracked as if in pain. The second had to be dragged by two men. Corran held onto the bars of his cell and watched silently. There were only four stations, it could be a double hanging day, when they’d hang six of the city’s prisoners, but they’d gotten a late start and he was hoping it wouldn’t be. The third man led away didn’t cry or struggle, he couldn’t even speak the imperial language, and Corran had no idea of his crime. He could have been innocent. Finally a guard unlocked the cell across from him. “C’mon Thomas, you’re the last one.”
Corran sighed without realizing and then Grom’s baton bashed against the bars in front of his face. He lurched back.
“I wouldn’t be so relieved, Drakim. Captain Theuden himself wants to see to you.”
Adan Theuden was the Captain of the Imperial Soldiers and the King’s Military Advisor. There was no reason for him to interrogate Corran. Sure, he’d been set up by one of his most frequent buyers which made him think the Imperial Guard wanted him for some reason, but all he did was transport stolen objects and smuggle some unsavory people. It wasn’t even like the kingdom had restrictive travel policies yet.
He wracked his brain. A few months ago he had taken a dissident south, smuggling him out of the city disguised as a Drakim. He shouldn’t have returned to the Imperial City so soon, the King was infamously He knew he shouldn’t return to the Imperial City so soon. The King was known for the way he handled those who opposed him. Had Corran not smuggled that man out of the city, he’d most likely have ended up flayed, hanging in the center of the city’s market as a warning. Of course, that wasn’t why Corran had done it. He’d been paid a bar of gold.
Drums sounded in the courtyard. He head a few stray shouts. The tug of ropes. Cheering.
It wasn’t until after a lunch of water and vegetable stock that Corran heard the sound of metal boots marching toward the prison. He heard the prisoners erupt as the party entered and then silence immediately. He stood. Not much could silence men who’d just escaped the hangman’s noose. As the party marched the aisle and passed him he understood. Four High Legion Imperial Soldiers were escorting Captain Theuden and Lady High Chancellor Erryhn down the aisle. And it has hard to speak when you were breathless.
Lady Erryhn was a member of the Arwe race, and her very being seemed to defy the laws of this world. Her dress was the color of an opal, layer and layers of gauzy fabric that floated around her, heedless to the laws of gravity. Silvery-blond curls fell around her thin shoulders, bouncing and waving as if they were snakes with a life of their own. She had the pearlescent white skin characteristic of her race. He swore he could see her curls and the fabrics of her dress crackle with energy when she walked. As she moved passed him, a low hum came into Corran’s mind.
The Arwe lived on the border of the magical realm and the mundane realm, guarding the gates between the two. They were the protectors of the balance between the two worlds, and so, though they existed as magical creatures from storybooks to Corran and most the people of the mundane world, there were one or two Arwen ambassadors at every court.
Corran knew Lady Erryhn was powerful, both in magic and influence. It was custom for the king to appoint an Arwen ambassador as High Chancellor, but Lady Erryhn had become one of the king’s closest confidants and advisors.
After quiet words were exchanged between, Corran guessed, Theuden and Grom, two guards came down the aisle to his cell. They shackled Corran’s hands behind his back; his feet were already shackled, and led him to an old storeroom that he’d seen them use for interrogations. He felt like his heart was beating so hard it would crack his ribcage.
The four Imperial Soldiers stood outside the door, all stiff and staring straight ahead but one, who was studying Corran. His face was mild, expressionless, but Corran felt like he was sizing him up, forming his own assessment behind the good-soldier exterior. He had deep frowning creases on the sides of his mouth and a scar along his jaw, and wore his dark dreadlocks in a ponytail. He looked about forty, and from the way he stood, the way he wore the Imperial Soldier armor, Corran guessed he had spent most those years a soldier. Corran dropped his eyes, not wanting to give anything away to this man—though he had no idea what he was seeking—and allowed himself to be led into the room.
Captain Theuden and Lady Erryhn stood together, they were not looking at each other, not talking, but they seemed united, silently resolved. Captain Theuden gestured to the chair in the center of the room, and the guards forced Corran into it. One went to shackle him to the floor but Theuden stopped him. “Please unshackle him, thank you.” His tone was cool and perfectly measured, the tone of a powerful man.
Corran made it his job to know everything about the lands he was traveling in, from geography to customs to the King’s councilors, but he’d never imagined that he would find himself in front of the king’s closest advisors. Serving as a guide to a big mouthed, deep-pocketed activist couldn’t have been enough to garner the King’s attention. What did they think he had done? Corran wanted to shout, to protest, to defend himself, but he kept silent, waiting for Theuden to speak and reveal something of their hand.
When the guards left, Erryhn walked to the door and said a soft incantation in the old language. “We can speak freely, Adan.”
Theuden nodded. “Such a young man for such a long career of crime. Corran you have been arrested and found guilty of the charge of theft, transport of stolen goods, murder and treason—“
“What? You have no proof!”
“—You have been sentenced to die by hanging one week from today—”
“This is insane. You can’t be serious. What do you want from me?”
Corren was surprised to see Lady Erryhn smile. “You’re very astute, Drakim. It is true; we have a job for you.”
“The Chosen Prince has been found. He is currently safe in the Citadel of the Arwe, but he needs to travel to the Capitol Palace in the Southland, where Emperor _____ will protect him. The journey, dangerous enough already, must go through dangerous lands. You have the reputation as the best guide in all the lands.”
Corran stared at her. The prophecy of the Chosen Prince was not unknown to him, but like everyone, he’d believed it to be a myth. But now two of the King’s closest advisors were standing in front of him, proposing treason and saying they’d found the man destined to bring 100 years of peace.
“Why should I believe that you would betray the King?” he asked when words finally found him.
Theuden, despite the Imperial crest on his armor and the scarlet sash of a high ranking military official, said, “I am a soldier, but I want nothing more than peace for (my country) _____. My allegiance is to her.”
“The Arwe are the guardians of balance. The King has betrayed that balance and his fate has been decreed. We facilitate fate, not fight against it.”
Theuden wasn’t going give him time to let the information sink in. “Lady Erryhn and I do not have much time to spare. The terms are as follows. Should you agree, your part will begin immediately. You will accompany the prince from the Citadel of the Arwe down to Vermar city, across the Vermar Channel, through the _____ Desert to the Emperor’s palace in Southland. You must agree to have Lady Erryhn will place a curse upon you ensuring that should you betray the prince, you will meet immediate death. In return, when you complete the journey, you will have your freedom and a reward of gold to start your new life.”
“And if I don’t accept, I’ll be executed next week?”
Erryhn placed her hand on his shoulder. He flinched. It was small and delicate and hot. She said an incantation and he felt a wave of heat rose through his chest. It throbbed in beat with his heart, spreading to his skin, making his whole body burn until the pain was eclipsed by unconsciousness, and he fell into a death-like sleep.
Captain Theuden and Lady Erryhn left him slumped on the chair in the interrogation room. Lady Erryhn strode out of the room but Theuden paused. “He didn’t make it,” he announced to the guards and Grom, the bailiff, who positively beamed. Theuden turned to one of the guards. “Leon, dispose of the body, please.”
As Leon retrieved Corran’s lifeless body, Theuden and Erryhn returned to the castle.