Victor turned in his bed swallowed up in the satins and silks of the feather-down mattress. He had left the window open that evening to allow the fresh ocean breeze to fill the dank tower, his home. The boy slammed his head on the pillow before viciously handling it, puffing it, and again slamming his head on it. He could not get to sleep.
The breeze shifted and pushed the long transparent curtains up into an eerie levitation that seemed never to end, dancing on the air like a forlorn leaf in August. The unwary child watched the curtain display like a tantalizing exotic dance and he thought to himself what amazing things his Father must have seen throughout his adventures.
The boy could hear footsteps pounding down the hall. The peculiar noises weren’t normal for this time of night, so he thought to himself something must be wrong. Maybe it wasn’t as late as he had first considered, he pondered that that would make more sense. The moon was at its fullest as well, glowing red and turning the interior of his room into a crimson spectacle. Something about the night felt awkward and unnatural. He questioned what manner of witchery was afoot this evening that tormented him so.
Victor began to grow more frustrated at the noises that stopped him from entering slumber. He had a long day tomorrow; much like how every day was in the castle spire. In his castle fortress built in the side of the tallest mountain on the island the boy learned the arts, mathematics and sciences, he was taught to handle gun-blades and sword-play. Every day he was being taught and being prepared to control a kingdom.
He considered going out from his room and into the hall to demand that the noise be stopped. Being the son of the king has its advantages. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t hear the end of it from his teacher the next day. Humility was expected of a young prince and the use of authority was to be handled with care and diplomacy.
The child turned in his bed and he wrapped his head in the pillow. He faced the opposite side of the room from the door and gazed aimlessly into the darkest corner he could find. He would certainly find out what all the commotion was in the morning and how to resolve it in the future. No one would dare interfere with his sleep again. He would make a point of it that much he assured himself. But for now, for the love of the gods, sleep!
The door to the prince’s chamber opened abruptly. The sound of footsteps pounding against the wooden planks was heavy and bold. He heard the steps getting closer behind him but he was too afraid to turn around to see who it was. He closed his eyes and wished that he had slept with a dagger under his blanket tonight. His mother had recommended it when he was afraid of the dark. Why hadn’t he kept that suggestion in mind?
Wooden drawers from a nearby cabinet opened and the shuffling noise of clothes and trinkets consumed the room over the breeze and constant toil of muffled noises throughout the spire. Was someone going through his things? How dare someone go through his things!
A heavy accented voice bellowed something about something while shuffling and pulling open various drawers. The prince was not going to take any chances for this intruder going through his personal things and as if acting like a sleeping babe shifting positions as did the boy. His new angle gave him a better opportunity to see and attack this stranger.
“Young Master, now is not the time for games,” the intruder said to the boy without as much as giving a glimpse his direction.
The prince knew the voice of the dark figure above him He knew it as his teacher and protectorate, Thomas Valeck. The teacher was a tall lanky man in his mid fifties. The tufts of grey hair showed his age as did the crow’s feet beside his glimmering blue eyes. Victor had considered him a swashbuckler back in the day, a hero that flew about on clipper vessels fighting the wicked ways of pirates on the high seas. Perhaps he did, Thomas never denied his prowess with the sword or the gun, nor his knowledge of martial combat or topography. The teacher was everything Victor wanted his father to be, he considered this idea more often than he should.
Victor’s eyes narrowed at his teacher and scorned him for entering without permission. He was going to continue but Thomas silenced him the way a parent silences their child.
“Get your things together,” Thomas said, “we have to leave right now.”
His voice was full of urgency and caution. It was also suspiciously quiet considering the noise outside his room.
“Where are we –” Victor’s voice was halted again.
“Do as I say, we haven’t much time,” Thomas’ voice edged perilously near panic. “Do you remember the escape route I taught you?”
Victor nodded, “Aye, in the study, the secret door behind the book shelf.”
The prince had gotten up and slipped on some clothes that had been picked out by his teacher. They were simple and modest clothes assuredly not from his majesty’s noble wardrobe. Where had Thomas found these? He had inspected them, even smelled them before putting them on. At least they smelled clean he thought.
“Then where do you go?” Thomas followed up continuing his quiz on the boy.
“The stairwell leads into the mountain. Follow it until I reach the end of the tunnel out to the shore.”
“Yes, young master, but we cannot use the route we predetermined.” Thomas threw a bag of the prince’s clothes he had selected to him.
“What is this about Thomas?” Victor caught the bag and tried changing the subject.
Thomas shook his head and leaned toward the boy and whispered, “The world has finally gone mad.”
The boy swallowed hard as he processed the words. He looked deep into his teacher’s eyes and for once he felt unadulterated powerlessness and fear. The yelling throughout the castle had become clear to him. Someone was after him, but where was the guard? Why hadn’t they come for him first? Why was it his teacher that came to aide him?
Thomas could sense the dreadful feelings consuming the boy. His innocent eyes and face gave him away too easy. Victor hadn’t been a good student in the arts of deception, not yet. He was still too young to be dropped into the pit of politics. It was a skill that the boy would learn later.
“Victor, listen to me now. Only me,” The seriousness of Thomas’ voice grabbed the boy’s core attention, “Follow close behind me and do not fall behind. Don’t be frightened young master, today you become a man. I will explain everything when we are safe.”
Victor wanted to ask so many questions but Thomas put him at ease, at least for the moment he gave the boy a sense of commitment. All will be answered when they were safe Victor thought to himself. The boy nodded to him and slipped the bag around his shoulders.
“I’m ready Thomas.” The prince said to him with new found fervency.
Thomas clenched Victor’s shoulder and squeezed tightly. He nodded to him and smiled. The teacher lifted up and moved gracefully toward the door and placed his ear against it. The teacher withdrew his gun-blade and held it near the seam of light that entered from the hallway. With that same hand he extended his index finger to his lips and hushed the young prince.
The protectorate squeezed the bronze doorknob and turned it slowly. The clicking sound of metal contraptions unbolting the door sounded louder than it really was. Victor was afraid of what might be on the other side of the door. He was even more concerned with the route to the study where the escape door was located. Never before had he thought and practiced the movements he was about to commit himself to.
A crack of gunfire erupted in the hallway. There was a shout of pain and then an expected heavy thud followed. There was a howling scream of pain that was quelled by a sudden chopping sound that rattled the floorboards viciously. Victor felt the hairs of his neck straighten. A sudden chill overcame him and he felt flushed as if he was about to pass out. He looked towards Thomas who was in turn watching him.
Victor took in a deep breath and recovered himself. He nodded his head and leaned heavy against the cabinet where his clothes were. He was ready to spring out and down the hall. From there he would dash right at the T intersection and dash across the hall and into the third door on the left. He repeated these directions to himself over and over.
“Are you ready Young Master?” Thomas asked one last time. His body was leaning against the door, his fingers rewrapping around the stock of his gun. The bolt was drawn into the door and all that was necessary was a quick pull and the light in the hall way would flood the room.
“Aye,” Victor said.
The door opened fast and slammed heavily against the wall. Victor felt the collar of his shirt being tugged violently. The prince was thrown into a furious dash, striding with the spread of a gazelle he stayed focused on his objective. His eyes squinted from the instant flood of light making it difficult for him to see his surroundings.
Run straight, turn right, one-two-three doors, cross the hall, enter study, ESCAPE!
Victor leaped and stumbled over a corpse. He was so focused that he couldn’t recall if the body was a guard or a servant. He could hear himself breathing hard and fast. His chest pounded violently and it felt as though his chest was about to cave in. Tears were in his eyes and he struggled to keep up with his teacher. The prince was being tugged about like a rag doll and it was up to him not to stumble and fall or even worse, to get caught by whatever men sought him.
Another shot was fired from somewhere near the sound recoiled in the boy’s ear and a pitched chime sung in his skull. Victor raised his hand searching for something to grasp. His fingers found around Thomas’ wrist and he held tightly to his cuff. The prince noticed for no apparent reason other than because it was there that Thomas’ fist still clenched bare-knuckle white on his collar, held for dear life.
A picture frame shattered above the two of them as they dashed around the corner. Debris flew about and Victor covered his face seconds too late as shards of wood and fabric lashed the side of his face. At that moment the boy knew that someone was shooting at them.
“THOMAS!” Victor yelled out for him, either to speed up or to help him move faster through the gauntlet. Either way the sounds of the hallway swept his shout away into a fray of chaos. A nearby vase fell from an ornate wooden side table. The porcelain shattered loudly at Thomas’ boots. Victor nearly slipped on a smooth fragmented piece of the puzzle but he kept himself up merely by the arm that held to his collar.
Where were they? The stretch to the study was longer than he had expected it to be. Did they turn right? Is that where he received the cuts to his face? Victor recited the route toward the study again and again doing his best to forge his mind shut from the ensuing confusion. Of course he had turned right. The doors to his left he recalled were passing fast, the vase he remembered was near the second door. The third door was –
“Get the boy!” A voice shouted over the noise like the crack of thunder in a terrible storm.
There was another gunshot followed by another. The third door was passed them. The next door was their escape but it looked so distant. Victor could see the door nearing and he stretched his arm out for it knowing well that it was still out of his reach. There was another sharp pain in Victor’s ear as another gun fired in the hall. Thomas tripped over his own foot and stumbled forward. He lost his grip on Victor who was thrown forward with excess momentum.
The prince charged towards the door and picked up his stride from the throw as if it never hindered his movement. He stopped and watched from the far end of the hall two sentries heading his direction. They wore the King’s tabard but he couldn’t be sure if they were friend or foe. He looked behind him and saw Thomas on his knees and behind Thomas were three more men in pursuit.
The two men behind Thomas wore the King’s tabard and were aiming their gun-blades at Victor. The third man must have been the one directing the orders He was different than the others. He wore blinding red robes like those worn by the bishops of his church. Was he directing the guards to get him? Victor’s hand clutched the doorknob to his escape.
“Go on Victor! Move your ass!” Thomas tried to get to his feet but failed.
Thomas held his side and with his good arm he flicked the back of his hand at him as though shooing a fly away from him. The guards were pursuing from both directions. Victor ripped open the door and as he did two bullet holes snapped through the wood. Wood shards flail about.
“Halt! Stop and forfeit!” The guards demanded loudly between gunshots.
Victor took another glance toward Thomas and then without thinking of his own safety ran toward him. He dropped to his knees and slid on the marble floor tile toward Thomas. Victor wrapped his arm around his teacher’s waist and lifted him to his feet.
“Stupid boy,” Thomas hissed with irritation and needled pain.
“I’m not leaving you behind Thomas!” Victor grunted loudly as he pulled Thomas with him.
Insults were the least of the boy’s concern. As they made it to the opening the door in front of them swung from the impact of bullets tearing holes through it. The two of them were threw themselves inside the room and Victor bolted the door closed shut. Thomas was on his feet and was moving quickly toward the book case and to the inconspicuous lever that would lead them to safety.
His majesty looked desperately for something to put in the way of the guards once they broke through the door. The room was simple however there wasn’t much in the way of obstacles. A chair, a table, none of this would be adequate enough. The bookcases were more that welcome but he was too weak and his teacher was injured.
Victor jumped back in surprise as the first crashing hammer-noise hit the door. He turned his attention from his search of furnitureback to the door frantically looking for anything to fend off the guards but he stood there defeated and pitiful. Another shattering crash rattled the doorframe followed by a crack of wood, and the tip of a gun-blade pierced through the door.
“This isn’t going to hold them for long Thomas!” Victor yelled over his shoulder.
There was nothing around him that could quickly be put in the way to hinder their pursuit. He could hear the voices of the sentries on the other side of the door. The voices of the guards were filled with malice and discontent. Victor took a shocking step backward when another blade slashed through the wood, a wide sliver flew away from the door letting in light.
“Thomas!” Victor shouted with fright. “We don’t have much time!”
There was a grinding sound of stone against stone and in the darkness Victor could see something even darker. The fireplace was shifting to the right giving way for a small escape tunnel for the two desperate men.
“Lets go Your Majesty,” Thomas said, his voice resounded with pain. There was a quivering in his voice.
The door pounded and shook again, another sliver of wood tore off door. Light and the peering eyes of sentries watched hatefully as the two swept into the darkness. There was a pained howl from the hallway followed by more violent smashing and pounding on the door.
Victor went first down the stair well followed instantly by Thomas who held to the boy like a crutch. He also grabbed a staff from the stone wall with what little light was given from the torn out slits from the door.
“We’ll be safe soon,” The protectorate said weakly.
The sound of grinding stone filled the small black spiral stairwell. Dust fell from the ceiling of the tunnel as the fireplace moved back into place. Moments later the two were overwhelmed in darkness so dark that Victor couldn’t see his face even if he placed it directly in front of his eyes. He did his best to take steps down but the stairwell was old and the stairs were uneven and sweating with humidity from the bowels of the mountain.
“I can’t see anything Thomas. It’s as though I’m blind.” Victor growled to Thomas. His voice echoed back to him.
“The corridor is old Young Master. Tis much older than you and I,” Thomas said, “one moment.”
Thomas lifted his weight off of Victor and blindly felt for something on his body. He was muttering something incoherently under his breath. It was a habit that Victor grew to dislike about his teacher and it was always a sign of when Thomas was growing anxious or angry.
“What is it Thomas?” Victor asked with frustration.
The prince had also grown anxious. He thought to himself, now wasn’t the time for rest. They were being pursued by guards that could not have been more than a stone’s throw away on the other side of the granite fireplace. As he considered this for a moment he could hear a subtle pounding echo in the stairwell. The muffled pounding of stone and the quiet hush of voices gave way to fright. There was no doubt that the enemy was upon them just trying to find a way to move the fireplace. Victor only hoped that the secret passage remained secret for as long as it took for them to vanish.
Victor heard a strike of flint and saw sparks flash around the room. He turned his head and watched the sparks again and for an instant he saw red. The flash struck a third time and Victor squint his eyes and looked down at Thomas’s chest he saw red. Instantly he could feel the warmth of fire and the sound of it greedily roaring as it swallowed the oxygen around them.
“Aye, now we can see where we’re going,” Thomas smiled down at Victor and gave a promising reassurance that things would be fine. The swashbuckler effect that Victor had learned to love about his teacher kept him courageous.
“You’re injured Thomas,” Victor’s gasped in horror as he saw Thomas’ clothes covered in red.
“Just keep walking, we have a long walk ahead of us Your Majesty,” Thomas spoke, “it’s just a flesh wound.”
“Will they follow us?” Victor asked as he began his trek down the long corridor.
“Aye, they will pursue us,” Thomas said flatly, “we won’t be safe until we leave the island.”
Victor put his hand to his cheek and felt splinters from where the picture frame shattered from the hallway. He remembered how close to death he was and how he felt pure danger and fear for the first time in his life. It was still too early for him to process everything that had just happened.
He didn’t know what to think of anyone anymore, his guards had just tried to kill him, his teacher was injured and to what degree he couldn’t tell. The young prince tried to put everything together but there was so much uncertainty. Victor concluded in all of this turmoil that there was no going back to the way things were. Thomas was right, he was no longer allowed a childhood.