Chapter One

Flames crackled, racing along the floorboards, scorching, tearing her apart. She screamed, but no sound came out--she looked for the door she knew was there but saw only a great, rising wall of fire blocking her way. Her hands were searing hot, then icy cold--burning brighter than any fire, a painful, shredding white. She couldn't put them out. The world exploded into white shards.

Her mother and father were screaming her name, "Risandri--Risandri!" The watchmen were taking them away to the Bastille, to the gallows, to be hung. Her hands flaming brighter, she pushed them inside her dress but her skirts caught fire.

She raced towards the gallows--her parents, Crispin, they were all going to be hang--she had to stop them. The scaffold rose tall, the fire ever licking around it. Water scorched from her eyes and she looked up in agonized horror as the floor of the scaffold dropped, the body swinging.


The fire rose up, and the body slowly swung around, facing her. The scream clogged in her throat when she stared into the glassy, dead eyes of the face.

It was her own.

Ris woke screaming. The intense blackness of the cell made her believe, at first, that she had never opened her eyes. She choked in great gulps of the acrid air, forcing herself to breath.

"A dream, only a dream, it's only a dream..." She mumbled to herself, rocking back and forth. Eventually the terror left her, and her pulse levelled out. She wiped the tears away from her grimy face, wincing as the motion tugged on her bruised and swollen wrists.

The manacles were doing damage to her hands. Everytime she woke up screaming from the nightmares she'd yank against the chains and bruise the scrapes again. She'd trained herself to wake without starting over the past several days, but once in a while the dreams would get the better of her.

To keep herself busy Ris practiced picking the locks with the pick the guard's had overlooked in her boot, but that meant every time she heard the sound of footsteps she'd have to hurriedly lock them back on--which meant more bruising. So finally she'd settled to leaving them on open. It was easier to snap them locked that way--but they still bruised easily.

Ris couldn't decide how long she'd remained in the Bastille. It was difficult to tell time because she fell asleep so often, and the light never changed in her cell; it was steadily black. Guards had slid a metal tray of some kind of gruel six times beneath her door, so she estimated it was either three days or a week, depending on the generosity of the Bastille.

A week, she suspected grimly.

Another pastime she attempted was memorizing her cell by her fingertips--though the exploration ended when she'd discovered a former cell mate on the opposite end of the wall--a pile of rags and bones that had been there a very long time. She named him "Boney" and kept a respectful distance.

It was the eighth---or fourth day of her imprisonment when the guards came for her. She was fiddling with the manacles, twisting the tumblers and locking it and popping it open again. She nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the clamping of many footsteps and the jangling of armor.

She'd prepared herself for this moment, what she would do and say when the guards came for her. Ris just wanted the end to come quickly and painlessly, and she avowed she wouldn't cry--much.

Ris yelped in pain as the full brunt of torchlight shone directly into her face, blinding her. Tears flooded her cheeks and she covered her eyes, whimpering pathetically. A key grated in the iron lock and swung open and then she was hauled to her feet, the chains on the manacles unlocked from the walls.

"Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch!" She cried, her feet barely supported her weight. The guards stoicly shoved her forward, yanking on the manacles so much she moved like an marionette doll. She cursed them openly, fuming. She meant to go as dignified as her present state would allow, but the guard's, apparently, had other ideas.

The corridors twisted and turned and she doubted, even with her strong sense of direction, she could have found the way, even if she had her eyesight. After what seemed like hours the halls widened and the air was fresher, almost as fresh as the air outside the Bastille.

Then one of the guards tapped on a door and a voice bid them enter dimly. Ris was shoved into the room, her heart pounding out of her chest in fear. She wobbled and then lurched to her knees from the weight of the chains. She felt her face burn with shame and indignation. But greatest of all, an paralyzing fear constricted her throat--this is the end. She thought wildly, By all that is good and light please let it be fast.

She sat amid her chains in silence for a long while, until gradually her eyes adjusted to the light. It was not overly bright, but even that was harsh to her eyes. She could make out a tall figure sitting in an elaborate chair behind a desk--and the Ward standing behind him, mostly from the prickling of her skin, more than her eyesight, and felt his black eyes piercing hers.

Ris' heart leapt to her throat, pulse skittering. Oh, please, let my death be by anything but a Ward!

The man in the chair spoke first, and Ris noticed, despite her disabling fear, that he was somewhere in his late twenties to early thirties, and dressed in aristocratic clothing. His nose was wrinkling from the stench she knew was coming from her.

"You try living in the Bastille in a week and see if you smell like rose petals!" Ris snarled before she could stop herself. Her voice was harsh and cracked from misuse, but her voice carried easily.

The Ward's face twisted in anger, "Why, you common guttersnipe!" He hissed, gesturing for the guard to strike her. She held her manacled hands in front of her face, cringing.

"Wait," The second man said hurriedly, stopping the guard's hand. His lips twitched, almost despite themself. "That was entirely my fault. I've insulted her dignity."

Ris scowled up at the man through streaming eyes, face flushing in anger and shame. Who was this pompous Lord who sat there in his chair, above her filth and stench who gratingly saved her from being hit by one of the guards? What was he here for but to watch her be tortured? She had heard of the sickness of some nobles, but this astonished and enraged her. She started to tell him exactly what kind of a man he was, and what exactly he could do with himself when the Ward spoke with a measure of disgust.

"We're not here to torture you, wench, if that's what you believe."

The retort died on her tongue, and her mouth opened in disbelief.

"You're not?"

The Ward eyed her distastefully. "Not that it wouldn't be doing the rest of the Kingdom a favor, mind you, but you may yet serve a greater purpose today than dog meat."

Ris bristled, and spat an particularly satifying insult she'd learned off the docks. The expression that crossed the Ward's face gave her a moment of grim pleasure before the guard really did collar her. The nobleman winced.

The Ward stepped closer, his brows drawing together. "You can and will listen to the Lord Vincalis' proposal, girl. You have two choices. One, you can stay in the Bastille, waste away from starvation and potential disease--and perhaps find comfort one day in the merciful edge of an axe--or," and here he glanced at the nobleman whose face had cleared of all emotion, "You can walk away, on one condition."

"And what is that?" Ris asked dully, already knowing the answer.

"Become a spy, and assassinate Prince Julien of Esca."

A/N: So what do you think? I'm afraid this chapter is very dark--but yeah, that's the general atmosphere of the Bastille, and watching your best friend nearly hung on the gallows and then murdered isn't exactly the most chipper situations to be in.

Eh. Okay, I know. Darkness. I was wondering what y'all thought of "Boney", and Ris' reaction to the whole experience of the Bastille? I hope she didn't seem too nonchalant, but she did come off the streets and has experienced a lot of stuff out there. It takes a good deal to phase her.

Music I Listened to: Your Hands are Cold -- Pride & Prejudice Soundtrack.


P.S. I'll try to update soon. Thanksgiving holiday is getting close so I'll have some time to finish the next chapter.