The Boy In The Carriage (Part 2)
I was taken into a room. It was clean, but old stains marred the smooth, cold stone flooring. In the poor light of the meagre triad of candles, they were black, but I had a horrible feeling that, fully illuminated, the little dots and splatters would shine red. “I d-didn’t do anything,” I found myself spluttering. I was beginning to panic. “I didn’t d-do anything, please!”
The guard holding me, Tolliver, clipped me round the head and growled at me to be quiet. The official seemed unsurprised and uncaring, simply announcing, “I’ll inform his Majesty that the accused has arrived into custody. Tolliver, George, secure him to the chair. I shall return with the Duke shortly.”
With that, he left, locking the three of us in the room.
“The Duke?” I squeaked. Why? Why would they bring the Duke down here, just for a mistake? The guards, in a practised gesture, each took one of my arms and dragged me to a high backed chair. I sat, without resisting, and yet they still removed my manacles, only to secure my wrists to the arms of the seat with iron bands. I was nearly small enough to slip through them, they’d be tight on a grown up. When that was done, they also secured my ankles. I had to stoop my head uncomfortably, because above it, protruding from the chair, was another iron band, presumably for an adult neck. I wasn’t tall enough for it. “Why is th Duke c-coming here?” I asked. They ignored me, but at least didn’t hit me. Then one of them crossed to the other side of the room, over to a small table in the corner where a clay jug stood. He sniffed its contents, and winced. The other, who now seemed slightly younger, watched him do this. “It’s not right,” he muttered. His companion turned to glare at him. “Careful, George. You know what it’s accused of. It’s the only way to deal with them.”
My heart began to pound.
“But he’s just a-”
“So what? Same crime, isn’t it? You mind your place.”
Their exchange had terrified me anew. Where they talking about me? They had to be. But it made no sense. I’d done nothing wrong. They couldn’t hurt me if I’d done nothing wrong. That was the rules. Still, a nervous sweat broke out on my cold skin. It was getting a little difficult to breathe, even though I’d be home soon. They’d find out I was innocent and let me go. They had to.
I clung to that, like driftwood. The door swung open on creaky hinges, and this time the official was accompanied by a man. Also in black, but more fine. The heavy crown on his head rested upon a dark auburn warriors tail, and he carried authority about him, just as I carried bruises. Visibly and obviously. I couldn’t see much of him in the candlelight, but I knew that I faced the Duke of Mattergate. Mindful of that, I murmured a deferent, “Your M-Majesty.” I was only trying to be respectful, and show him I was no criminal, but he hastened his step toward me. “You dare address me, traitor? After what you’ve done?”
Shocked, I began to stumble over my words, digging myself deeper and deeper. Fear made me blurt out, “P-please...I’ve done n-nothing, sir. Your Majesty. There’s b-been a mistake...I...I didn’t...I’m n-not...It wasn’t m-me. It wasn’t.”
He straightened, even more offended and angry than before. “A mistake?” He snarled. “Insolent brat, you accuse my Royal Guardsmen of misdoing their duties?” He let the question hang in the air, demanding an answer. I thought very, very carefully about my next words, and said them several times in my head before opening my mouth.
“I meant no offence. Sir.”
I spoke as calmly and politely as I could, but it seemed I’d somehow done wrong again. “You mock me?” he shouted. “Me, your Duke?”
“No!” I screamed, growing desperate. “No, never! I only m-meant that-”
“I know exactly what you meant, disgusting blasphemer. Do you know what you stand accused of? Sorcery. That is a crime punishable by death in my Kingdom, boy.”
Tears streamed down my face, and I began shaking again, uncontrollably. In the iron bands, it hurt. “Death?” I whispered, nearly fainting from fear. “But... I’m innocent.”
He laughed, harshly. It was a single bark, without humour. “Of course you are. Everybody always is, when they reach this stage. You’re to face a test, boy. A test to determine whether you posses the ungodly magic that you stand accused of using. If it’s found to be true, you face public execution. Age has no consideration when applied to such a vile crime. Tolliver, bring the lamp oil.”
The last two words echoed in my head. Again. And again. Like a funeral drum.
The guard Tolliver fetched the jug, and began pouring its contents in a circle around the chair I was fastened to. “W-what are you doing?” I stammered. Even though I knew. I was just desperately hoping I was wrong. “The witness accounts say that the fire at your Mother’s home was extinguished quickly and completely using foul magics,” said the Duke. He took a candle from the bracket on the wall. I began to struggle in my bounds, squirming and uselessly trying to wriggle free. “If you did such a thing before...”
He dropped the candle to the floor, and it landed in the oil. As the circle erupted around me, blinding and searing, I heard eight words over the roar of the birthing flames.
“You’ll be able to do it again.”