As they descended the stairs to the dungeons, Ulric was laughing harshly at Lila. She tried to tune him out, but it was a fruitless attempt. Lila could not ignore his rude words and jabbing humor. She tried to focus more on her surroundings so she could assess the situation that she was in. They walked down at least fifty stairs, maybe more. The further they went, the darker the room became. Every now and then there would be a candle or two, but other than that, darkness filled the space. The walls were damp, and the air was cold. Lila tried to adjust her eyes to the ever reaching darkness. Finally, they reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the main hallways of the dungeon. There were a few candles that lit up the room, and for this, Lila was thankful. She never did do well in the dark. Ulric tightened his grip on her arm and led her past all of the empty cells. The kingdom of Nouvelle usually did not keep prisoners, and as of right now, their only inmate was Lila.
Finally, Ulric pulled Lila to the cell she was destined to stay in. He roughly pushed her insinde, pulled the door closed, and locked it. Lila watched from behind the bars as he laughed at her and began to leave. However, before he went, he turned back to face Lila with a horrid grin on his face. With one swift motion, he blew out the only candle near enough to Lila to give off any source of light. And with that, Ulric left Lila in the darkness.
Lila heard his footsteps fade into the distance. She could hear herself breathing harder and harder. She really did not like the dark. If she listened carefully, she could hear the sounds of bugs and spiders crawling in and out of tiny holes in the walls. She reached her hand out to feel the wall. She stood up and put her other hand against the wall. She took small steps, moving her hands along the wall until it met the back wall, and then to the other side of the cell. She kept going, crossing the door of steel bars, and finally finding herself back to where she started. She gave a slight sigh of relief. At least now she knew the perimeters of her prison, and that she was indeed the only one in it. Lila sat up against the wall, her knees to her chest. 'So', she thought, 'this is what you get for speaking your mind.' Her father's voice immediately popped into her head. 'Be thankful you were not killed.' Lila sighed. She knew her father was right. She missed him and her mother so very much. She never even got to say goodbye to them. She didn't even know where they were buried. She guessed the servant cemetery, but there were so many graves that she could never be sure.
The disease that killed them didn't even have a name. Everyone just called it the "hushed whisper". It was called that because, supposedly, it crept up on you and would overtake you within a day or two. It would make you sicker and sicker, until it whispered death upon you and stole your last breath. Only humans were affected. No magical creature was in danger. Lila envied them. Every ogre, fairy, mermaid, and elf was safe. However, Lila knew that there were just as many diseases that affected only them. Regardless, Lila severely missed her parents, even if she didn't always show it. She knew that they would meet up in the afterlife, but that seemed so far away. But, then again, with the way that Lila was acting, she might meet them sooner than she had previously thought. Suddenly, footsteps caught Lila's attention and brought her out of her reverie. She internally groaned. Had Ulric grown bored already?
As the footsteps got closer, a light came with them. Lila became curious. Ulric certainly would not bring her another candle. So who was her surprise visitor? Lila's question was soon answered as Princess Giselle quickly came into view. Lila felt her expression change into one of surprise, anger, and happiness all rolled into one. She stood up from her sitting position and peered out form behind the bars at Giselle. She was wearing her black, velvet hooded cloak. In the waning fire of the candle, she looked like a thief. They stared at each other for a moment before Giselle set the candle down.
"I know you don't like the dark", she said in a sorrowful tone. Lila looked at her with curiosity. What was she doing here? Had she not shown her true colors just a short time ago? Lila nodded her head in thanks and began to turn around. Giselle frowned.
"Oh, please don't be like that. Look, I'm sorry, okay?", Giselle said. Lila did not turn around. Giselle sighed.
"Please, forgive me. I know I've been harsh and cruel, but you have to understand, things are...well, things are different now", Giselle pleaded, "I...look, you and Karmella are my only friends who aren't pompous, stuck-up princesses, and I know I've probably wrecked that forever but...it's for the good of the kingdom, you see? Please - please, Lila!"
Lila could hear the sadness in Giselle's voice. She slowly turned around and looked Giselle in the eye. She was crying.
"That's the first time you've said my name in the past few weeks, you know. Usually it's just 'servant' or 'slave' or something...", Lila trailed off. Giselle looked as if she would cry even harder.
"Lila, I'm so sorry. It's just...you know as well as I do that Father has been putting so much pressure on me to marry, and even though I never showed it, I was scared. Scared that there might not be anyone who was right for me, scared that I would let my family and the kingdom down. But when Dimitrius walked through that door, I knew. I just knew, Lila, he was different."
"How could you know that just from looking at him?", Lila inquired. She could sympathize with Giselle's fright, but she still did not understand why she chose him.
"I, well, I don't know. i just felt something about him", Giselle responded. There was a silence that passed between them. Giselle had her hands tightly wrapped around the bars of the cell door, as if to say 'I'd join you if I could'. Lila looked at Giselle and took her hand in a sign of peace. Giselle looked down at their hands, and back up at Lila with a happy yet thankful expression. She grabbed Lila's hand tighter.
"Oh, Lila, I would hug you if I could! You don't know how much this means to me", Giselle practically shouted. Lila smiled lightly.
"Believe me, I do", she said. Giselle smiled and wiped away her tears. She began to speak once more.
"Well, I should probably go. They'll be wondering where I am. I had to duck quite a few guards to get here", Giselle said laughingly. Lila smiled, but grabbed Giselle's hand once more before she left. Giselle turned back around.
"Make your peace with Karmella as well", Lila whispered. Giselle nodded vigorously.
"I will, Lila, I will", she said. And with that, Princess Giselle turned and ran back up the stairs and out of the dungeons. Lila sat back down up against the wall. She decided to close her eyes, and try to sleep.
Lila opened her eyes to the sound of footsteps. How long had she been asleep? And who was coming down the hall? Lila got up to look through the bars when Prince Dimitrius' face met hers. She jumped slightly in surprise, but then regained her cool.
"What are you doing here?", she asked coldly. A flash of hurt crossed the prince's eyes, but it was quickly replaced with slyness.
"Well, I had thought it would be nice to bring you some food, seeing as how you didn't have time to eat, but if you're going to be like that, then I'll just...", Dimitrius trailed off, turning to go. Lila's eyes widened. She hadn't eaten all day.
"Wait!", she shouted. Prince Dimitrius turned, clearly amused. Lila blushed slightly, and for the first time was thankful for the lack of light.
"I mean...I would like something to eat", she said. Prince Dimitrius smiled genuinely and sat down on the dirty dungeon floor, spreading out the leftovers from breakfast. Lila was surprised by his willingness to sit in the filth, but quickly sent that thought along its way. She sat down across from him, behind the bars. Prince Dimitrius slid her some bread between the bars.
"Thank you", Lila said, taking the bread. Dimitrius raised one eyebrow.
"Oh, what was that? A 'thank you' from the hardened handmaiden? Why I never thought I'd-" Dimitrius started. Lila quickly cut him off.
"Oh, hush. My name is Lila. Not 'handmaiden', just so you know", she said. Dimitrius smiled.
"I know', he said, looking towards the ground. Lila found this to be curious, so she followed his head with hers. When she found out why he looked to the ground, she smiled.
"Oh ho, so the hardened prince blushes! And at the mere mention of the name of a handmaiden, at that! How sweet", Lila teased. Dimitrius looked up a smile in his eyes, though the blush had not gone.
"You hush up and eat", he said with a false sternness that almost made Lila laugh before she caught herself. She took a bite of the bread. They sat there for a while, her chewing on the bread, him watching her. She would look at him, then look elsewhere, only to look back at him. Finally, she cracked.
"What on earth are you staring at?", Lila asked wildly. Prince Dimitrius opened his mouth, but paused.
"Well?", Lila encouraged. Dimitrius regained his composure.
"You", he said nonchalantly, picking at the stem of an apple he had brought. Lila was not amused.
"Okay. That's it. That's enough. I thank you for bringing me food, but I think it's time you left", Lila said harshly. Dimitrius looked up.
"Why?", he asked, his pride bruised. Lila looked at him like he was a worm.
"You come here to marry my mistress Princess Giselle, and here you are, flattering me! I knew you were no good. Look at you, thinking your so special, when you have done nothing to make you special!", Lila raved. Dimitrius tried to cut in many times, but he couldn't get a single word in. Finally, when Lila was finished, he retaliated.
"Oh, and how would you know whether I'm special, or worthy of your respect? You know nothing about me-"
"Oh, I know plenty about you. Everyone does. You are 'Prince Dimitrius of Enderth'. You have one brother, or so I'm told, and your kingdom is just wonderful, isn't it? Do you bring your prisoners there food as well? Or am I different because of my 'lovely green eyes'?", Lila cut in.
"As a matter of fact, I do!", the prince said loudly.
"And for another thing - wait, what?", Lila said, not sure she had heard him correctly. Dimitrius smiled in triumph.
"I said, I do bring the prisoners food. I always have. I don't believe in jailing and chaining of people, as if they were animals...", he trailed off. Lila looked at him with narrowed eyes, as if she was attempting to figure out if he was lying or not. Finally, she nodded her head. Dimitrius waited. And waited.
"Well?", he said impatiently. Lila looked at him, confused.
"Well, what?", she asked. The prince rolled his eyes.
"I believe an apology is in order. Goodness, are you really that stubborn?", Dimitrius asked. Lila stared at him with a sarcastic expression.
"Fine, then. I'm ever so sorry for hurting your ever so important feelings", Lila mocked. Dimitrius finally had had enough.
"Oh, and you're so perfect, then?", he shot. Lila looked him in the eye.
"No. And that's the difference between you and me. I never said I was!", she shot back.
"Well, neither did I! You just assumed that I thought I was based on how I looked, didn't you? You aren't as clever as you think you are, Lila", Dimitrius snapped.
"Well, neither are you. I've seen through you. All you want is to take Giselle away from here, and she deserves better than you!", Lila yelled.
"Oh really? Well, if I am not good enough for her, than who is? For that matter, who's good enough for you?", Dimitrius launched. Lila's eyes widened.
"What? Why do you care about what I look for in a man?", Lila asked, obviously flustered.
"Well, I don't know...what do you look for, anyway?", Dimitrius asked, clearly not knowing where this conversation was going. Lila didn't know how to answer him. She had never really thought about it. She spent so much time judging Giselle's suitors that she hadn't ever thought about what she would want in a man. Then she remembered something. Probably the only thought about who she wanted to marry she had ever had.
"I want that man who made the treaty with the ogres", Lila said confidantly. Dimitrius' head perked up, and he smiled.
"What?", he asked. Lila smiled defiantly.
"I said, I want the man who made the treaty with the ogres. I remember Giselle reading aloud from a scroll she had received. It was about a brave prince who had made a treaty with the ogres of all the lands. It completely ended the war between humans and ogres all together. He did something for others. If only I could remember his name...", Lila said, retreating into her memory. She was brought back, however, by Dimitrius' laughter. He was rocking from side to side, his hands over his mouth. Lila couldn't remember the last time she saw someone laugh so hard.
"And what are you laughing at?", Lila asked ina scolding tone. Dimitrius attempted to speak, but laughter caught him again. Once he gained some composure, he finally answered.
"That was me!", he said with a smile. Lila felt her face go hot.
"It was not!", he retorted.
"Oh yes it was!", he said, beginning to laugh again. Lila began to panic. It couldn't be him...could it? No, it wasn't!
"It can't be you. The ogres gave the prince a necklace in thanks! It was made with of the finest spun gold with a pendant that contained an emerald and-", Lila stopped talking as Dimitrius pulled the very necklace out from under the layers of clothing he wore. Now Lila was really blushing. And she remembered the prince's name. 'Dimitrius', she thought, 'Damn.' Dimitrius practically cackled at her facial expression. He took the necklace off and grabbed Lila's hand through the bars. She was immediately surprised by how smooth his hand was compared to her calloused one. He gently placed the necklace in her hand and closed her fingers around it. Then, Dimitrius stood up, still laughing, and dusted himself off.
"I'll leave you to wipe the egg off of your face, Lila", he said, holding back giggles. Lila stood up to protest, but his laughter was so loud that she couldn't get a word in. She crossed her arms and plopped back on the ground. Dimitrius' laughter rang out through the dungeons as he went up the stairs, and in Lila's head long after he was gone.
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