Maiik struggled to walk forward, the chains around his wrists weighing him down greatly, but he made his stride long, his back straight.
"Lady Marika, welcome," asked a whispy looking woman in her early fifties perhaps. "How was your trip?" She was short, bone-thin and had a nose to rival a hawk. The angry flush on her cheeks and her wide-eyed stare gave the impression that, even at her height, she stood taller than Maiik.
"Helenne, Good afternoon." Marika gave a stiff smile. "My trip was rather boring, thankfully." The rest of the Council were lined up, some were smiling, but most were not. Marika looked younger than the rest of the gathering, though none managed her level of pompousness. Their outfits differed greatly. One man wore only shades of grey and black, while another wore outrageously bright colours, and another wore a robe of pure white. The only thing they had in common was that their clothes were unmistakably fine, and their faces showed nothing.
"This must be him, then?" Helenne approached Maiik. Despite his greater height, she slung a judging eye over him, and he felt as though he were being impaled by a thousand places. Maiik made sure to look her in the eye, but the noble woman didn't bother to do the same.
"Yes," Marika replied. Helenne continued to measure him up, before snapping her fingers. Two of the surrounding guards – Forces soldiers all - jogged to her side, and bowed.
"Take him to the cells," she commanded them. "Give him food and water, I suppose." The taller of the armored guards positioned himself in front of Maiik, the other behind. They led him like that into an archway in the right side of the courtyard, and deep into the building. Maiik had to walk slowly, the added weight of the shackles making his weeks of strength building almost worthless.
They strode through long, bright, carpeted corridors, the afternoon sun shining through large windows down the right side. They passed other soldiers, and well garbed servants whose eyes didn't leave the ground. The footsteps of the guard's heavy boots against the slick tiles were the only thing breaking the quiet as they marched him through various halls then down a set of stone spiral steps. The bright, expensive atmosphere soon faded down those steps, as the windowless foundations were lit with wall mounted torches, the bare cobblestone walls stained with ancient soot. The stairs stopped at a door, which the lead soldier slammed his gauntleted fist into. The eye-height panel slid open, someone on the other side grunted, then the door clunked open.
"Who's this one then?" A fat, balding man gurgled, holding the door open.
"I've no idea, some thief probably," Maiik heard the woman behind him say.
"I doubt it. Think Lady Marika would bring a thief in her personal carriage?" The leading male guard responded.
"I suppose," she replied half-heartedly. They continued down the dark halls, and turning a corner, came to the iron-barred cells. There were only five cells, surprising for such a large palace, and the heavy door deeper in looked like it hadn't been opened in decades. The Jailor unlocked the second to last cell, shoved Maiik towards it, then kicked. Maiik's face collided with the cell wall, and his cheek ripped open.
"You'll get your food in a while." One of them yelled as they walked away, ignoring his screams of pain. He slid down the wall, and leaned against it. The left side of his face burned in agony. Lifting his shackled hand up, he touched the spot, and the gash was wide, the blood already flowing freely. Taking a rag from his pocket, he applied pressure, and gathered his wits. The small space of the cell was enclosed on three sides with the same cold cobblestone that Maiik landed on, and the other side by a lattice of iron bars. There was no bed or seat, merely a padded roll in one corner, and a bucket, all of which he could barely see in the dark.
He got comfortable against the corner of the cell, and wondered what was going on without him, mostly to ignore the screaming in his face.
Drucilla would be causing an uproar at his disappearance, no doubt. Despite it being for his benefit, he still found the thought an annoying one. Perhaps, he thought, he'd already grown tired of her quick temper, or the way she coddled him as if she knew better, or her irrational mood swings. Or Marika; she may have apologized to Maiik, but he couldn't help to wonder why on earth she got so angry in the first place. While he certainly didn't blame her for taking him here to be questioned, he hardly needed to be shackled, or put in this lightless cell. If he were free, he might be able to examine the Heart of Arden closer, or get more information on it, or do anything other than bleeding.
He noticed the trend his emotions were following, his mind falling into this spiral of depressive thoughts, but he didn't care. To him, they were only depressive because of the emotions seared cruelly around his mind. Drucilla was only so unreasonable, because her petty emotions made her so. Marika was losing control because she was afraid. And now he was in a foul mood too. He'd had none of this nonsense before, he knew it. Slowly but surely, he saw more and more flaws in humanity, both in himself and other. He grew angry at it, grew angry at his own body, wishing he could just reject it all.
Drucilla was tired, but angry. When Dirk stopped the cart, she'd seen Maiik being taken away by two guards, in shackles.
"Shackles! How dare that woman!" Dirk heard her, and stopped her from running after them, giving little more than a shake of the head. Marika was talking casually to a group of people – of course, they were all dressed like kings and queens - as they jaunted merrily to the far end of the place. After she had stared holes into the back of Marika's skull, she turned to Dirk. "He shouldn't be in shackles, Dirk. He's barely more than skin and bone! And a cell?"
"I understand, but there's nothing we can do. We just have to wait."
"Wait?" Drucilla asked. "Oh, sure, you feel free to wait while Maiik's being thrown into the dungeon." She tried to walk off, but again Dirk caught her.
"What exactly do you think you'll do, Drucilla?" Dirk put on his most placating smile. "Look, I'm sure Maiik's fine. Marika wouldn't let them mistreat him, so let's just be patient, okay? Besides, what would you do once you got in there? Break him out?"
"I don't know what I'll do, but I'll do a damned sight better job than the rest of these idiots!"
The Council Hall felt her wrath then, as she marched throughout the palace – The old king's bloody palace as their home, fitting! - yelling at anyone who got in her way, and demeaning anyone who might be able to help. First, she kicked Dirk's shins until he led her to the dungeon door so that she could demand by right of sheer anger to be let inside. When that failed, she climbed sun-lit halls to the head guard's office, refusing to leave until he gave her authorization to get into the dungeons. The head guard turned out to be unbearably stubborn. Dirk got an ear full when he tried to defend the man. Unsuccessful, she left almost an hour later, and marched straight to the doors of the Council Chamber to demand to see 'That bloody woman and her band of well-dressed idiots.' She yelled until her lungs ran out of steam, before Dirk suggested she get something to eat, lest she collapse. That took another hour, as she refused to eat or drink anything before receiving three different assurances that food had been sent down for Maiik.
She ate a scant meal in the aroma-ridden kitchens, and told everyone she could about how ridiculous it was that a young boy, a half-starved boy at that, had been thrown in the dungeons. In shackles! Most ignored her, but the head-cook, a hefty woman, whose ill-fitting apron was covered in a mucky rainbow of stains, listened intently in between yelling abusive orders to her staff. That woman – sharper than the lot of them - also assured Drucilla that she'd seen the tray of bread, cheese and water that was destined for the dungeons. Despite the gratifying conversation, Drucilla finished her meal quick, and stomped back to the Council chamber, to find out if they were finished yet. They weren't. Somewhere along the way, she'd lost Dirk.
Finally, Drucilla decided to hunt down Sergeant Korsen. After a while of wandering, she finally found him back in the courtyard, preparing to leave for the town barracks. He pleaded as humbly as he could, but Drucilla hammer him with harsh words, insults and pleas until he broke.
With him in tow, she made her final trip to the door of the dungeons, some four hours after their arrival, with the Sergeant following sullenly behind her. At his command, the jailor trundled to the door, and unlocked it to allow her in.
"Where is he?" she asked the flabby, short, moustached jailor. The man stank – exactly the sort of person she'd expect to be working there. He looked for a nod from the Sergeant before pointing down the hall.
"Second cell over," he said.
She rushed down the damp hall to the cell in question. It was dark, but she could make out Maiik's form in the corner of the cell, resting against the wall with his knees curled up.
"Maiik! Are you alright? Did they feed you?" All her concern bubbled out as she asked, barely restraining herself to give him a chance to answer, though he did not answer straight away.
"I'm fine, Drucilla."
"I'm sorry that it took me so long to get here, they threw a hissy fit when I tried to get in, and you wouldn't believe how much I had to do to get in here." She was struggling to see more than his silhouette, but as her eyes adjusted, she saw the shackles still affixed to his wrists. "Those bastards! You poor thing! Korsen, open this cell and-"
"It's fine, Drucilla."
"It most certainly is not fine! It must be bloody painful for you, and there's no need for it!" Korsen dragged his feet to the cell.
"Yes?" he asked
"Open the cage and take those manacles off his wrists. He's too skinny, it'll cause a lot of damage to his skin."
"I'll go see what I can do." Drucilla waited by the door as Korsen walked back to talk to the jailor.
"Of course it's not fine," she continued. "These lot might be a bunch of blighted idiots, but there's no reason you should suffer for it."
"It's fine." Drucilla frowned at the shadowy silhouette.
"Maiik, what's wrong? Did something happen to you?" she asked in growing concern. Maiik didn't respond. She was about to say more, but she'd dealt with her own depressed teenager before. Offering help was always the worst thing to do. Leaning against the wall, she realized just what she'd been thinking about, and suddenly she didn't want to talk at all.
"The Jailor doesn't have the shackle key," Korsen said, returning, "and even I can't order him to open the cell without proper reason."
"Fine," she said. "Please leave us alone,"
"Of course." Korsen said, swiftly turning around and striding away.
Maybe just one more try. "Maiik, please tell me what's wrong? Maybe I can help," she pleaded to the shadow in the corner.
"Nothing's wrong Drucilla, I'm fine."
"No, you're not. Please, let me help."
"Leave it, Drucilla." Her mouth hung open for a moment.
"Okay," she answered quietly. Turning around, she found a stool and sat against the wall. She looked around at the inside the cell, cringing inwardly at the bareness of it. She looked down at the hall, at the greasy jailor sitting in his chair, napping. Resigned, Drucilla leaned against the wall, and waited, wringing her hands as she guarded over the boy she'd named after her grandson.