The King's Ransom

This is another story set in the world of the Gwion. Known, in part, as the Forty Isles, each island has its own history, sometimes brutal. In this case magic plays an important part. The inspiration for the story was taken from a quote I found on Pinterest. It's been used several times in other stories, so the idea must resonate. 

Considering the world the Gwion live in, it isn't surprising kings could, and would, use magic to their own advantage. With no one to stop them, those who control life, control everything. 

The King's Ransom

The king had a crown studded with twenty jewels each of various size, shape and color. They were worth the king's ransom, it was said. How much is one man's life worth, Caitlyn wondered as she took three steps through the small wooden door on the side of the North Tower in the capital district.
She was one of the royal jewelers who worked to prepare the most priceless and rare jewels for the king. The twenty he wore in his crown were the ones he brought to the jewelers for the crown he wore every day. The royal coronation crown was only for special occasions and rituals. The everyday crown was simple enough - merely a gold band with the twenty jewels.

The crown was ugly, but the king wanted it, and what could the royal jewelers do save do their king's command?

Two days ago, the king had discovered another jewel he wanted added to the crown, and demanded the royal jewelers to do so. It was said to be a rare and extremely valuable gem from a far-off land on the other side of the world. The most recent diplomatic entourage had brought the jewel according to the inside sources.

Now, Caitlyn was to gather the crown and jewel after the king had approved the instillation of the jewel. It was a simple task, but the royal hallways were many and confusing and a wrong turn could lead to a person's death.

It wasn't her death, though, she saw through the crack in the door. The king stood before a dark male, one of the very who was part of the diplomatic mission from the far-off kingdom. The diplomat appeared tired and weak, but his shoulders remained back as the king pointed his finger at him and spoke some ancient word.

The legends returned - those dark things she had never been able to confirm - that the king retained his youth from the blood of youth. Surely it couldn't be, but ... The man had vaporized and clattered to the floor in the form of an orange topaz.

"And that's why you ended up in here?" A man inquired from the cell across from Caitlyn.

"It is," she confirmed.

The man's stool creaked. "What's the real reason - you lied about being pregnant?"

Caitlyn leveled her gaze on the older man. "Just because you cannot imagine what the truth is, doesn't mean it still isn't the truth. Besides, I wouldn't be locked in prison had I lied about being pregnant by the king - I would be dead."

The man leaned back. "Fair enough. So what will happen to you, do you think?"

Caitlyn shrugged. For the past month she had been kept in the prison below the royal chambers.
There were four cells down here, and all were filled with three people, save her cell, which only had herself and no other.

The other three cells all had men inside them. In two of the cells were men held because they opposed the king. Those in the cell across from her, where the man sat, were those who were traitors to the kingdom.

Though, one could argue, that all were traitors since they opposed the king.

All except Caitlyn who had only observed something no one was supposed to know. The others believed her, to one extent or another. After all, why else would she be there? A lying woman was easily extinguished.

"You think you'll be able to leave here, Caity?" Manuel, one in the cell beside her, inquired. He had only arrived three days ago because he spoke against a new tax.

"Now, Manny, you're too knew here to be asking foolish questions like that," Renauld, the eldest in the four cells, admonished. "I've been here twenty years now." He jabbed his finger towards Caitlyn.

"When the king demands for your appearance, make certain you bow and say you will serve only him."

"And what good will it do?" Manuel asked.

"I didn't die, but was sentenced to time here." Renauld turned to look at Caitlyn. "Remember that your life is more important than anything else."

Two years passed before Caitlyn was called before the king.

Two years had offered her plenty of time, and as she walked the hallways to the king's royal chamber, the only sound she heard was her own shackled footsteps and the heavy metal clank of the guards march.

During the two years, the king had aged terrible - though it was only around his eyes. His eyes were dark, masking pain only he could feel. His hair, however, remained the same chestnut color it had been two years previous. His body remained the same svelte figure of a man in his prime.

Along the wall of the room stood the royal jewelers. All twenty of them, many of whom were her family. They stood with heads bowed, silently accepting.

None dared look at her.

"You are Caitlyn Goltsmythe," the viscount intoned.

"I am."

"You are charged with treason. How do you plead?"

"Not guilty."

The viscount looked up. "Not guilty? Then why have you been sentenced ..."

The king held up his hand. "You do understand the repercussions of being found guilty, do you not?"

"My life, I would assume."

The viscount lowered the book in his hand to see Caitlyn. "And what have you been doing these past
two years?"

"Reading."

"What?"

"Books in the royal library. I have been a model prisoner, and the guards allow me to spend most of my days reading."

"Yet you have never attempted to escape?"

"It is well-known that the king's men will track any and everyone who escapes. If I must live my life in a cage then so be it."

"You are brought forward today to discuss your sentence, and yet you plead 'not guilty.' That does not sound like a woman who has repented."

"Whoever said I had anything to repent from?"

The king slammed his hand on the chair. "You have conspired to discredit me before the kingdom.
You traitorous wench!"

"For what purpose?"

Quiet, Caity, Renauld's voice hissed in her ears. He wasn't there having died the previous winter, but perchance his ghost hovered around her.

Caitlyn ducked her head, and said nothing else.

"You have a choice then, Caitlyn Goltsmythe," the viscount said.

Caitlyn looked up.

"To prove your innocence, you must bow before the king."

Simple. Beg for your life.

Taking a deep breath, Caitlyn moved back, but in doing so, the king moved forward, and the sunlight glinted on an orange stone.

Caitlyn stilled.

The room gasped.

Bow, Caity, Renauld's ghost insisted. He's changing his mind. You just said a life in a cage is well enough. 

Caitlyn shook her head. "Kill me if you must, but I will not bow to a king who wears a crown emblazoned with jewels of those he has killed."




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