I'm a merchant who happened to be in Kings Bay one particular winter night. I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time, for the salvation of the life of one particular baby. I was lodging at a small inn in the night I heard that the baby King Nikolas wanted dead was found near the Northern Coast. At the tavern I was in, news happened to travel quickly, and they informed me that the baby had just been captured and escorted to Kings Bay. News of the baby's apprehension was fairly mixed. There are two distinct types of people in this kingdom: fierce loyalists who are unwavering in their loyalty to the King, and those others who aren't quite as supportive of Nikolas' reign.
I fell into the category of those who would be less supportive, but I was lucky I was a foreigner from a faraway citystate and wasn't under the jurisdiction and law of King Nikolas. I could feel a tremendous empathy for the people who resided in this kingdom, more specifically Kings Bay, because they had to see firsthand exactly how mad this king really was. Nikolas was a bright man, but he was extremely erratic and unpredictable. One moment he could invite you to his table as a brother with ties thicker than blood, and the next he could have your head on a spike in his garden, while he sipped tea watching your beheading. This was appalling and gut-crushing to me, but I had to do my best to keep my composure for at least one night. I could just go to the Grand Market, complete my trades, and be away from the city by sunset, I had to keep reminding myself.
“Sad, sad state of 'fairs, ain't it, boss,” a scruffy looking man asked next to me, before almost burping out his guts from the countless beer he consumed. I could only shake my head, and keep minding my business. As a merchant, I had become accustomed to dealing with rough, seedy people in the past, especially thieves, whores and murderers. This man had the aura of a thief written all over him.
My intuition was correct. “I steal what I can to make me live, 'specially from that piece o' shat King and his guards all 'round the place. Been in the jails countless times.” His name was Julius, a well-traveled thief from all over the Kingdoms. Julius went on and on about how he had done petty things like pickpocketed from the rich people and their guards who strolled around town, and about more serious crimes like nearly murdering a whore in her sleep. Even though he kept going on and on about the ways he had gotten away with stealing and other crimes, I was thinking. I was thinking about how men like him ended up as criminals for the rest of their lives, and what they could to to redeem himself. After this, realization and an idea hit me.
“Julius, come outside with me, away from the spies and others in this place. I have a question for you.”
He followed me away from the tavern, with a hunched back and his stench trailing me every step of the way. “Yes suh boss?”
I cleared my throat, and asked him, “Would you feel like breaking into the Castle tonight? I want to save the baby and take him to my home in safety.”
His hunched back suddenly erected, he flashed a toothy grin and leaned over to whisper in my ear, “Only for a price.” I reached into my coin purse and flashed a sample of 200 gold coins that could possibly appease him. I showed him the coins, he shook his hand in approval, and after he snatched my money, we started walking to the Castle.
He taught me the basic principles and most important things to remember as a thief. As sketchy as this man looked, this man could write several scrolls on the subject of thievery. Thievery and theft were an art to this man, to be appreciated and used wisely. As intimidated as Julius made me feel upon first meeting him at the tavern, he seemed like a good man, even though he violated the law at the expense of the wealthy. He told me that a lot of his stolen property and money wasn't kept by him, as he used it to buy strangers drinks at the tavern or food from the market, taking care of himself before taking care of others.
As soon as we were near the gates of the Castle, he bought a few disguises he was going to use as an aid to getting into the Castle (and staying.) We were going to be diplomats from a distant island, and we wanted to introduce ourselves to the King and keep him as a worthy ally, as we had a common enemy we wanted to vanquish. Julius was a smart man, and he knew how to present himself in the wrong situation without a sense of trepidation. We presented ourselves to the guards in the Castle's gates successfully, convincing them of our backstory and answering their questions well. I could barely contain my fear of being discovered, but Julius was unfazed, knowing the way through every hallway and every nook and cranny of the Castle.
This was my first time in a castle of any kind, in my entire life, and I wasn't quite sure what to think. It was opulent, and humbled the residence of anyone in this city, including the wealthy barons underneath the king and more successful merchantmen like myself. But in this beautiful space, I couldn't shake one particular feeling... It was almost always cold, both in temperature and in the aura of the people around me. The people of Kings Bay were surprisingly humble and agreeable, and I didn't meet many people who I didn't like. But the Castle as a whole, felt disconnected from the rest of Kings Bay. Everything wasn't so humble and festive anymore, it was all about pride, wealth, greed and sin. At least that's what I could sense in the air around me.
Julius led me deeper into the basement of the Castle, the dungeon. This was the barrier where opulence and prosperity ended, where pure despair and hopelessness began. It was still cold and dark, but a very different feeling from the wealth and brilliance of the upstairs rooms. There were multiple prisoners here, most of them soldiers haunted by the gore, blood and loss they've faced in war. There were a few generals here, as I could notice by the distinct facial hair they sported. However, most of these men couldn't have been older than 20, barely old enough to feel the warmth and passion of a woman in their beds, or the seasoning of many wars and years in their units. These soldiers were barely away from the love of their mothers for a few months, and they were in a desolate prison where their best hope was to be put to work in the quarry. I started walking through the cells. There had been numerous other prisoners screaming for help, and I could do nothing but watch.
After walking down the lengthy hallway which went deeper into the prison, I passed a wooden sign reading, “CONDEMNED” and another row of cells filled with men desperate for escape, men who would do anything or give anything to be free from this place. The difference was, these men were at the mercy of King Nikolas and nothing could save them from an imminent death. One prisoner in particular struck me, with the graphic condition he was in and the presence of a wooden crate hidden in his cell. 576Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡhW2i1Fze9c
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I walked to the bars, and saw a man who was beaten beyond recognition, his arms and legs chained to the stone walls and his head hanging low to his chest, the hair scalped or burned from his head. I could tell that this man was tortured, but for what purpose? I caught his attention, and I asked him about the crate.
He sputtered weakly, “This... crate... Contains the... condemned baby. Nothing you can do about it.” He coughed continously, spitting up blood and mucus lodged in his throat. I read the wooden plaque placed above his prison cell. This man was a messenger for the King, charged with treason, harboring of a fugitive, tampering with the Marked Baby, and contempt for the orders of the King. He was sentenced to death tomorrow morning at sunrise, and so was the baby. I was in utter disbelief. I found the baby! But improbably, a cloud of frustration came about me, as I had no key to unchain him or open the bars. As this same cloud came over me, Julius nudged me with a subtle smirk. “Hey, numbnuts, you forget who you're workin' with 'ere?” He jingled a set of keys, and hunched over to open the doors and the man's chains, freeing the man and the baby from captivity.
We started thinking of a way we could sneak out of the back doors of the Castle. Rumor has it the back of the Castle wasn't protected at this hour of the night, according to some intelligence Julius provided, which he got from paying off one of the guards with my gold coins. Julius also told me there was a secret hallway behind one of the “condemned” cells, and it was up to us to figure that out. Julius started opening cell doors until he could figure out the secret path. I suddenly found an anomaly in the floors of one of the cells: In one section of the ground floor, the bricks were laid in the opposite direction from the rest of the floor. I snapped my fingers to get Julius' attention, and pointed to the bricks to get him to examine the cell, which he did in no time. Sure enough, there was a massive hole covered by the “bricks” and I let Julius carry the baby down the hole while I carried the messenger.
We had to hurry, as I heard steps echoing down the floor of the dungeon toward our direction. We walked through the makeshift hallway, and at the end of the tunnel, we found ourselves facing a guillotine and a row of wooden benches intended to hold an audience for an execution. We had to crawl over a multitude of fences, and be careful not to fall off and cause greater injury (possibly death) or risk being caught and imprisoned ourselves. After crossing the fences, we were outside of Kings Bay, and ready to escape to my home city. I found an unoccupied stable after a mile or so away from the execution compound at the Castle. I was ready to feed the man, and give him water and food after days and nights of consistent malnourishment. After we rested and broke bread at an unoccupied stable, we grabbed a couple of horses and mounted them to begin our life on the run as foreigners. As soon as we mounted, we heard the sound of horns blaring and drums beating, the people of Kings Bay now aware of our escape, and searching for us to be murdered on sight: the punishment of an escaped prisoner in Kings Bay...ns 184.108.40.206da2