"Why do they have a cow stable so high up?" Leiv inquired. His wide, green eyes roved over the abandoned stalls in wonder. The cobwebs and dust swirled in the air as the pair departed from the empty rooms.
"How do you think our people were getting up the tower when it was first built? It would take us three days to reach the top if we took the stairs. Five cows could pull up a pulley system with ease," Ira explained. Her braids swayed around her heart shaped face. She gave her companion a swift glance before busying herself with the new set of rooms.
The servant boy was dressed in a loose, green tunic that brought out the colour of his twinkling eyes. Ira felt underdressed in her stuffy uniform in comparison. She peered down at the dreary colours in dismay.
Despite her initial reluctance Ira had taken up the mantle of a guide earnestly. She had given her fellow servant a detailed tour of the tower leaving no stone unturned. The whispers of her fellow palace workers trailed after the pair but Ira felt too dignified to respond to the rumours and leering.
"Hmm... I suppose they've found coal to be a better at manoeuvring the lifting mechanism," Leiv murmured. His nimble hands gently glided over the button that would open the wooden doors. The floating platform would lead them to any floor of their choosing.
"I'm impressed. Not many understand the intricacies of how this tower functions," The servant girl said with curious tilt of the head. She observed the man's flawless face until she realised she was staring. She cleared her throat as Leiv saved her dress from being shredded in the closing door.
"Well, the cows are gone and the coal mine is working at full throttle. I cannot fathom any other resource which would be efficient," The ash haired boy answered. His eyes shone with glee leaving Ira uncertain whether he found her mishap amusing or her constant staring. Neither of the options was acceptable.
"Without the coal the whole palace shall come to a frightful stop. We would have no means to go down," Ira muttered. She could a frisson of embarrassment at her constant distraction.
"What a load of effort for a silly tower. Couldn't the ancients have built the palace horizontally. There's miles of barren land around us," Leiv complained. The wooden platform clanked as it transported them to a new floor.
"I've never seen the shaking mountain erupt fire but it's meant to one day. It's still alive and shakes. This tower is meant to save us from its wrath," Ira replied the oft repeated tale with grave intensity. She bit her lip at the thought of being crushed beneath liquid fire.
"Only those who live in the palace. I imagine the villagers are on their own," The boy's expression remained bleak. Ira remained vigilant and kept a close eye on their surroundings. Their topic of discussion could be considered treason.
The servant girl could see the point Leiv was making. The villagers at the bottom of the tower dwelt in hollow caves, miles underneath the ground. The liquid fire would find them no matter how deep they dug. It was another facet of the ungenerous king who did not deem them worthy of saving.
"Do you wish to see the secret passageway? It was built during the time when the palace was sacked and pillaged by invaders," Ira asked, suddenly. She wished to forget the topic at hand for she missed Leiv's wide smile. He looked unrecognisable without it.
"Invaders?" Leiv asked with interest.
Ira led him to a shiny, suit of armour dressed in Royal colours. The servant girl tugged at the armour and an opening appeared next to it. Leiv whistled but Ira's quick hands hauled him inside with a hand over his mouth.
"We shall be thrown off the tower if we are caught," Ira growled. She kicked the wall behind her and the doorway slammed shut.
"Tell me more about the invaders," The boy insisted. He watched Ira rub her hand down her dress not so discreetly.
"We were invaded many, many times when the tower was young. It took us a long time to reach this imposing height but we finally managed to dissuade anyone who dared to rob us of our riches," Ira explained with a hint of pride in her tone of voice, "Have you never wondered why the rulers look nothing like us. The Princess and Prince have such uncommon features. They have the most exotic hair and pretty green eyes... Well just like yours."
Ira blinked as soon as the words jumped out of her mouth. Her ears burned as her fatal mistake hit her. She had just complimented the man's appearance!
"Are you calling my eyes pretty?" Leiv took a confident step so close Ira could see all his straight, white teeth accounted for.
"What I'm saying is you share colouring with them," Ira bit out with fragile patience, "The colour palette of our people is a muddle after all the different invasions. The matron also has green eyes in case you think you're special."
"I promise, I promise I don't think too highly of myself for my looks. In any case I find the local skin tone much more fetching anyway. I envy your skin," The boy declared and thudding in Ira's ears boomed so loud she feared the entire palace could hear her.
The girl tried to remain impassive and continued to lead the way through the narrow tunnel. Leiv had to hunch over to ensure his head remained safe from the low ceiling. The pair finally reached a wider landing where Ira initiated the process of revealing another secret doorway.
The heat rose from Ira's splotchy cheeks as she felt the boy's eyes on her face. She ignored his staring and walked into their destination with a firm finger on the boy's lips.
Ira's tan face soaked up the sun the moment she stepped onto the balcony. In front of her lay half an acre of green garden. There was a classical fountain in the middle surrounded by bushes and pretty flowers.
"Welcome to the Royal garden. It's too hot for the royalty to be present so we can sneak around easily," Ira pulled at the boy's hand. She wished she could snatch her hand away but feared she would be deemed ill-bred for such an uncouth gesture. While she had no wish to curry favours with the young man she also did not want to be offensive.
"This is where the royals spend their free time in the evening. It's also where the Princess takes her tea in the morning," The girl explained, mistaking Leiv's lack of movement for amazement.
"No water in the villages and yet here we have a paradise," Leiv hissed at the sight before him.
The dark haired girl winced as she realised the topic she had wished to avoid was back to the forefront. She was born and brought up in the tower so none of the Royal excesses stood out but to an outsider the disparity was obvious. The King clearly placed his wants over the needs of the people.
"We should end our tour," Ira said, glumly.
"Not a chance. Besides we need to decide where we shall meet next time," The boy caught Ira's fingers in his own.
"What do mean next time?" Ira nearly shouted and it was the boy's turn to silence her with a hand. Her dark eyes narrowed until Leiv released her with his hands in the air.
"I still have so much more to see."
"Why me? What have I done to be tortured thus?" The girl uttered, flatly. She took two steps away from the boy in hopes she could steady her frantic heart. His hand on her lips had nearly made her drop to the floor with anxiety.
"You deserve to spend every second of your time with me," The boy raised his brow at her antics.
"What did you do before you joined the palace? Maybe they await your impending return?" Ira asked faux sweetly.
"I travelled here and there. It's not particularly interesting. They definitely will not wish to see me again," The boy replied with a shrug. He smoothly took Ira's hand in his own before she even noticed.
"Oh, bother," Ira rolled her eyes and allowed Leiv to lead the way. They had the whole afternoon to explore the garden.
"Where is she?" The guard growled. He grabbed Ira by her fraying neckerchief.
"You may cease your efforts looking for anyone else. I'm the one who beat Luther up and I'm not sorry for it," Ira declared. She broadened her shoulders in hopes they would believe her. She had whisked Jerry off to hiding the moment she had gotten the opportunity.
The guard stared at her blazing eyes and hauled her to her feet, "Come on, girl."
The guards dressed in complete black dragged her through the busy tunnels. None of the passer-bys were familiar enough with her to intervene. No one wanted to place their hides on the whipping block for her.
Ira fell to the ground in a heap in the district office. It was larger then Luther's domain but not by much. Two men sat in the dim candle light watching her every move.
"You should have left matters alone, girl," The elder of the two sighed as if this entire business was giving him a headache.
"She needs a good whipping. She's forgotten her lesson. All of them have," Leroy sneered. He spat tobacco from his reddened mouth onto the rough floor.
"The new king shan't like it," Hugh grumbled. He placed a file on top of another and fixed his monocle as he began to read it.
"New king, new king!" Leroy barked, "I'm sick of that bastard meddling his nose in our business. If he wants results he needs to piss off!"
The man's face was contorted in an ugly fashion. He paced around the office with stomping steps making the desk rattle. Ira winced every time his feet landed close to her.
"That bastard annihilated most of the royal family and half the courtiers. Take her to the weekly court today. He'll like to see you follow the rules regarding punishments," Hugh replied calmly.
"All right, all right," Leroy muttered, " Guards, get her to the loading dock. I'm taking her to the Palace. If we hurry up I can be back before dinner."
Ira inhaled, exhaled only once before she was clutched at both arms and dragged to a loathsome cage. She wanted to beg for her life but she had no words, no tears left to win over the men. They were so used to easy pickings that even offering her body would not induce enough of an enticement.
The sun seared Ira's eyes as the day approached noon. She hadn't seen the sunlight in so long that she could barely open her eyes. She wished to gaze upon her homeland for the last time but her eyes watered too much to allow her the privilege.
Ira was shoved out of the cage as they stopped underneath the tower's shadow. Leroy kicked her as she stumbled forward and landed on her knees.
"Lazy, pathetic lout. This King will string you up and leave your body up for the vultures," The man's fingers bit into her sickly arms.
"I have done nothing wrong to be treated thus," Ira spoke out, brashly. Leroy slammed her thin body to the ground.
"Careful, my good gentleman. I do not wish to alarm you but such a display will not garner any favour in front of the King," A wizened attendant frowned at the spectacle before him. He noted something down on a stiff piece of parchment.
"These animals do not deserve any less. She attacked a mine official. She has blood on her hands," Leroy had a foot on her head but he let go. He heeded to the warning despite his rash character.
"That bastard was robbing a child's innocence. Luther deserves to be pissing blood," The girl growled as she was yanked up by her braids.
"My dear, this is a peaceful place. I hope you adhere to the court rules of non-violence of both hands and tongue," The attendants placid tone enflamed Ira's rage. The man obtusely ignored her accusations. It seemed their serenity held more value then the cries of pain from the coal mine. The new King was just as bad as the first one.
Ira was led into a long hallway she had never seen before by a new set of guards. A huffing and puffing Leroy followed the small parade. Finally they landed in a large room full of people from all walks of life.
"Please, await your turn. You shall be sent in line shortly," The attendant smiled at them as if they were joining the King for a tea party.
The doors opened and all the people in line were led forward. The courtiers sat on either side watching all the hopefuls walk across the blue carpet. Ira was in the middle of the pack with Leroy on her side. He held the chain attached to her neck.
The girl searched around for someone she knew from her former life but she could not recognize anyone. The stoic palace servants were new and dressed in foreign garb. Finally the procession slowed down and stopped in front of an empty throne.
The attendants on the podium hoisted a flag and lit a torch behind the throne. A herald blew his trumpet and announced the King. The crowd around them fell to their knees until no one baring the seated courtiers stood on their feet.
Ira took small frantic breaths as she stared at the new patterns on the floor. Her rough hands clenched on the soft threads not knowing if it were her last day on earth. Was the King going to announce her execution as soon as Leroy narrated her crimes?
The sound of feet indicated the King had made his entrance. There were a few chants about the King's long life but Ira did not dare look up. She had no wish to look at the man who would take her life but she could not overcome her curiosity.
Ira's black eyes rose minutely and she saw a tall figure sat on the throne. He was wearing a gold crown on his head usurped from the former King. A kneeling prisoner in front of Ira moved to the right and the girl placed a hand on her mouth to contain a gasp.
Her vision blurred significantly as she averted her eyes away from the throne.
He looked older, more distinguished but she recognised his green eyes immediately. She knew the man wearing the crown.
It was Leiv.