Warning: This post is over 1500 words long.
There was a scrape and a click as a key turned in the rusty lock and the door swung wide to admit a regally dressed, tall man with hair the color of an aging lion’s mane. As usual, the guards quickly removed the chamber pot, vastly improving the room’s smell in the process and placed a large gilded chair in the center of the room. The well-dressed man seated himself in it, facing the little room’s single occupant.
Seated on an old burlap mattress in a wooden framework was a girl who, even covered as she was with dirt and still wearing the once lovely blue gown she’d arrived in, appeared to exude a kind of dignity and loveliness that her surroundings seemed unable to touch. Her beautiful face was streaked with dirt and her golden blond hair was lank and lifeless, but she sat on her bed as if she was receiving a visiting dignitary, her dirt encrusted hands laying lightly in her lap.
“How are you this evening, your highness?” the man began in unctuous tones.
The princess, for princess she was, said nothing.
“Are you enjoying your stay in the tower?” the man asked, looking for some sign in her eyes.
The girl simply turned her face away so that her blue-gray eyes gazed toward the window and its bars.
“You know I don’t relish doing this to you, highness,” said the man kindly as if the girl had just begged for release. “I would be happy to return things to the way they were, if you would but grant me my heart’s desire.”
“You waste your energy, Lord Vesny,” the girl replied coolly, continuing to gaze fixedly at the barred window. “You already have my answer. Nothing you can do to me will change it, and I grow weary of repeating myself.”
Vesny glared at the stubborn girl. “I think, Princess Eleanor, you will find that you are quite mistaken. Guards!”
The door opened and Vesny swept from the room, leaving the guards to remove his chair and replace the emptied chamber pot before locking the door behind them again. Eleanor remained seated on her bed through it all. Only when the door shut again and the key grated once more in the lock did she dare to relax.
Once again, she remembered the moment her life had changed for the worse. She’d been out riding her favorite horse, Sultan, when she’d been ambushed. The ruffians had killed all four of her personal bodyguards and then, oh so politely, “invited” her to come with them to Lord Vesny’s castle.
It was Darvor, the Lord Vesny himself, that had met her at the castle gates, smiling as though she’d come for an official visit, rather than as a prisoner, and proceeded to provide her everything money could buy other than her freedom: closets full of fine dresses, stables filled with horses, boxes and boxes of expensive jewelry, books in five different languages, fine food served on silver plates servants waiting on her hand and foot. After a month of this luxury, Eleanor was brought to the garden and, by a pool in which several swans swam with golden chains about their necks, Vesny had asked her to be his wife.
“Lord Vesny,” she’d replied, fingering a spray of white lilies, one of her favorite flowers, growing near her, “I am not blind, nor am I a fool. I am well aware that I am but a prisoner in this lovely place, like a beautiful bird in a gilded cage.” She’d turned to gaze at the captive swans. “It is because of this,” she continued, turning to face him, her chin up in quiet defiance, “that I must refuse you. I can not and I will not marry you.”
Vesny had flown into a rage. He’d ordered Eleanor brought to the stables. There she’d been forced to watch as he had her horse, Sultan, beheaded. Sultan’s death had been like a blow to her own body. Eleanor had raised him from a colt. “Now, my lady,” Vesny had said, turning expectantly to her, “accept me as your husband, or you’ll lose more than this.”
“You already have my answer,” she’d replied icily, her face wet with tears she couldn’t control. In response, he’d had her locked in her rooms, where she’d cried for hours over the death of her horse.
The very next day, servants had come to dress her in the torn and filthy gown she’d arrived in. Then they’d proceeded to remove all the new clothing from the rooms. From that evening, she’d confined solely to her rooms. As usual, Lord Vesny had joined her for supper, acting as though eating supper in one’s rooms was something one often did. After a week, he’d asked, again, if she had changed her mind. Her response was the same as before. “You already have my answer,” she’d repeated.
That was when he’d moved her to this room, high up in a lonely tower. The little circular room was about five paces across with a bed that was nothing more than a wooden frame containing a large burlap sack filled with grass and bedbugs and set near the door. Across from that door was a small, narrow window with iron bars in it that appeared to have been newly installed. For a while, she was allowed to keep her embroidery frame and Lord Vesny continued to eat supper with her. She was also allowed to bathe regularly with soap and warm water and to eat decent food.
A week later, Lord Vesny once again came to ask if she would marry him. She had simply repeated the same reply as before. Vesny’s response had been to take her embroidery frame, to stop joining her for supper and to give her a bucket of cold water for both washing and drinking. Suppers brought to her now consisted of half-boiled beans and potatoes and stale bread. The chamber pot was only emptied when Lord Vesny came to visit her.
That had been a week ago. Now, Eleanor sat and wondered what new punishment Vesny would conjure up. More importantly, how much more of this treatment could she take? She knew Vesny didn’t dare torture or even touch her, by reason of her royal blood. Still, the man had proved to her that there was much that he could do to her that didn’t fall into either category.
She thought again of her slaughtered bodyguards and her murdered horse and wept new tears of frustration and pent up rage. She must escape, she knew, but Vesny was always very careful. Whenever anything was changed about her, right down to changing the bucket of water in her room, there were always two guards with sharp spears standing on either side of her, preventing even the slightest possibility of escape.
“Milady?” a soft voice said on the other side of the door.
“Who’s there?” Eleanor exclaimed, jerked from her reverie by the unaccustomed noise in her otherwise silent room.
“The guards have gone to have their supper,” the voice said timidly through the keyhole. “May I ask you a question?”
“What would you ask?” the princess replied.
“Why do you not accept my lord as your husband?” the voice asked in plaintive tones.
“You’re one of his creatures,” Eleanor accused, irritated. “Aren’t you?”
“Nay, milady,” the voice responded. “I serve the castle, not its lord.”
Eleanor considered. “Understand, stranger,” she explained, still angry, but trying to keep it from her voice, “I have been brought here a prisoner against my will. I am well aware of Lord Vesny’s desire to take my royal father’s place upon the throne. I will not give that to him. If he wishes the throne, let him take it by force…if he can.”
“But milady!” said the voice outside, “tomorrow they are bringing a dozen hungry rats to your room. Surely there is something you can do to save yourself.”
Eleanor shuddered. She was terrified of rats. She’d once been bitten by a rat while she was sleeping in her cradle, barely a year old. Did Lord Vesny know this?
“If you would be my friend,” she said, going to the door, “you must help me escape.”
“How?” asked the voice.
“I will leave that in your hands,” Eleanor answered.
“What’re ye doing here, lad?” said a deep voice.
“Sir,” said the younger voice, “I was bidden to come and sweep the stairs in this tower, to keep the spiders from the rest of the castle.” Eleanor shuddered again. She wasn’t fond of spiders either.
“Well, get back to work then, boy,” the deeper voice replied. There was a grunt. Eleanor supposed the younger man must have suffered some hurt. “You know the lord’s orders.”
Eleanor heard a sound that reminded her of her nanny sweeping out the nursery. The sound grew fainter and fainter and, finally, died out altogether. Turning, the young princess knelt and, not for the first time, began to pray.
TO BE CONTINUED…
This story was inspired by two words. “Strength” from winebird’s Exercise 39 and “Princess” from my own, since I had no access to any other submissions (see the above link). The basic idea was to show strength in a new way, not strength of muscles but strength of character. My husband and I both agree that, in keeping with Eleanor’s character and the tenor of the story, she should probably rescue herself, rather that having to be saved by some cliched knight on a white horse. Please, click“Like” if you want to read more. Also, if you have any suggestions about how Princess Eleanor might escape from Lord Vesny, please leave them in the comments.