Chapter 5:

The Princess and Her Loyal Rats

The Wolf Among Rats

While Naz lectures us on the intricacies of dwarven religious politics, an idea strikes me. We're going to die. One day soon, the temple will get tired of us being alive and ditch us. We are doomed. And I've mostly accepted my fate, but what if I don't have to? What if I can save us? And our chance to escape is mingling around in her absurdly lavish dress.
If it was the duke or even one of the princes, I wouldn't even bother. They all have the power to free us, but they wouldn't. There's nothing in it for them. Which is also true of the princess, but she's socializing with the common rabble. They're merchants and lesser nobles sure, but that may as well be common to royalty. Based on rumors, I can't imagine any other members of the royal family doing this. Maybe. Just maybe, if I act humble enough, I can free us.

There are, of course, issues with a heretic attempting to speak with royalty however. I probably shouldn't interrupt  any of her conversations, though I wonder how much she cares. That might not even matter though if she can't hear me from this far away. Maybe I don't have to get her attention specifically. If I can turn enough heads, she's bound to at least glance at the commotion.
What am I even going to say if I do grab her attention? I'll figure that out when I get there.

Without me asking questions to keep Naz talking, he grumbles to himself and the other two continue listening to the crowd. I sit diligently and patiently as the princess continues to speak with random merchants again and again who all bow and plead for their offers. Judging by the way most of them march off, I assume they've been refused.
After, who knows how long, she finally begins to walk away with her knights clearing a path. Time to act. Let's do this! "MY LIEGE!"

I kick my cage to launch myself into the roof and make the cage shake widely. Naz panics. "Kid! What are ye doing! You tryin' to get us killed!?"

I can barely hear him over my own shouting! "MY LIEGE!"
My head slams into the cage over and over, but this is all or nothing!

The others call my name. "Kar! Stop!"

The knights closer to us notice. "Silence yourself!"

Ignore them! They're doing what I want! "MY LIEGE!"
With the majority of the crowd staring at me, the princess finally looks my way! She actually noticed! I shout and thrash again! "I have a request!"

That's it! No more! Naz shouts at me. "What the fuck were ye thinking! By the stones-"

I can finally explain myself. "We're doomed if we wait right? I have an idea that can get us out of our fate. I'm sorry, but we either die right now or we take the chance at freedom. This is our chance."
I don't bother listening to whatever he has to say. I don't need any more distractions now. Naz, Wal, and Maheed all shut up and wait to see what happens.

After some discussion with her knights, they clear a path for the princess straight to us. I can't read her expressions from this distance. Maybe when she gets closer. Naz grumbles curses and obscenities at me her entire march to us.

When she's finally close enough for me to talk at her, she stops. The knight beside her calls out, "The princess has given you but a moment of her busy schedule. Do not waste this chance."

Now that she's closer, I would normally analyze her stance and face to get a read on her mood. But her truly extravagant dress and painted face renders it impossible. I've seen women use face paint to make themselves look better, but to this extent? I can hardly recognize any original features of her face! Fuck!

Before I let any time get wasted I call back, "I can not thank you enough. My liege, we wish to serve you. If you would mercifully release us, we would gladly and loyally serve you however you see fit."

Though I can't read the rest of her face, the way her yellow eyes lit up at that definitely means she's intrigued! She gradually studies each of the cages before saying to me, "You all wish to serve me? Why not all garner for my attention?"

"We thought it impudent enough that I alone call out your title. We would not want to insult you my lady."

She grunts unamused. "You've piqued my interest. Justify your motives and I shall pardon you."

Before I can respond, a priest who had followed her warned her of our release. I'm certain it won't go anywhere though. The priest warns, "Your majesty, these are heretics and criminals. This will reflect poorly on your standing with the church. Not to mention-"

She dismissed him by waving her hand. "Then I shall resolve to seek absolution."

He persisted. "Think of the political implications. You can't-"

She laughed. "Oh, this is hardly a political matter. This is no more than a personal endeavor of mine."
With her eyes fixed back on us, she rolls her hand. "Continue."

You can't tell nobility they're wrong little priest. You've only helped us. Let's see, what excuse can I give her? Let's go with the 'Son of Solaris' skit. "Though I have been imprisoned, I hold only love for this city. I would be remiss if I missed this opportunity to serve the city where I was born, where my family-"

She nods and interrupts me. "Yes yes, lower his cage please. And you?"

What? Is that a good thing? I'm being lowered, but... I didn't even finish. And she seemed so bored or maybe rushed for time? I'm sure that's it. She's just rushed for time. Naz, not being prepared to speak, stumbled over his words before spouting out, "I'm a teacher miss. It's my life's duty to teach the young."
Miss eh? You're so dead you old coot. I'll miss you though.

He spoke to continue, but the princess cut him off. "Lower his cage please."
Maybe being lowered isn't a good thing! Shit shit shit! I'll just run as soon as they open the cage! She looked to Wal next. "And you?"

I hear Wal grumble, "I won't lie your highness. I simply desire to live."

If you wanted to live you would've came up with a better excuse! The princess simply nods and says, "Lower his cage."
There's no way being lowered is a good thing!

Finally she turns to Maheed who only stumbles over his words. "Uhh, umm. Eh, I uhh."

Her eyes light up and she squeals, "How quaint! Release him."

What!? That's what it took!? Whatever, I can still run. The temple's jailers break through the crowd that had gathered to watch us and lower the ropes that hold our cages up. Once our cages hit the dirt beneath the tree, they come around to unlock the door. The lock clicks.
Time to run!

I spill out onto the pavement and my legs cramp up and refuse to move! Fuck! Her knights put swords on the back of my neck and wait for her orders. Fuck! Executed because my fucking body won't move!
I look up to see the princess staring at each of us from behind her excessive layers of white paint. She mumbles, "Fascinating specimens."
The fuck is a specimen?  She orders her knights, "Carry them to the castle and make them smell much less terrible. I shall retrieve them when I return."

Wait, so she is releasing us? Ha! I knew it! From my kneeled position on the ground I thank her. "A hundred thank yous your majesty."

The temple's jailers place manacles around our necks and wrists with a chain the knights could drag us by. It's not long before I regain feeling in my legs and am able to walk on my own. I look back to make sure the others are following and give them a confident smile. I did it! I freed us!
We're pulled towards the back of the cathedral, towards the castle. We walk between the cathedral's line of trees and their line of supportive archways. I think I read somewhere that they're called buttresses. The streets are shockingly busy with all the humans attending the temple's gathering.

We pass the cathedral and the road narrows slightly into a road that leads straight to the castle through quite a few market circles. The entire march is silent, save for the surprisingly small crowds still trading and general chatter of a city.
After a long while of being drug through the the streets, the castle finally falls into sight. Surrounded by large buildings I assume are lesser noble houses or storefronts, there is a sudden drop into the river. The castle sits on it's own platform over the river, accessible only by a drawbridge.

After an exchange with the knights, the guardsman atop the walls calls for the bridge to be lowered. Once it lands and the gates behind it open, the knights pull us along into the courtyard. The castle certainly isn't anywhere near as large as the cathedral and not anywhere as grand. Maybe the duke doesn't have as much control as I thought. Strange. I wonder if he's scheming anything against the church? He is a human after all, they'll do anything for power. I'd bet they'd even anger their own gods.

We're led through the castle doors, maze of hallways, and stairs into their dungeon. After being thrown into a large cage the knights finally leave allowing Naz to berate me. He aggressively whispers at me, "Yer the stupidest kid I ever met!"

Wal came to my defense. "His logic was sound. And he managed to free us."
Speaking of Wal, I can finally see him clearly. He has the thick blood-red scales, but his horns are more like extensions of his head. Three stocky bone-like protrusions escape his scales on the back of his head. The underside of his body has smaller, more fine whitish scales. After he finished defending me from Naz, his icy eyes locked on to me. "I am in your debt."

He stares at me with his strange reptilian features. Maheed's furry tail can give away his emotions a bit although he's not as expressive as an actual dog. Wal on the other hand... I can't even begin to read him. Maybe he's waiting for a response? "I'll be sure to put it to good use."
And I will. No way am I going to pass up the opportunity to have someone as intimidating as him on my side.

Naz adjusts himself and grunts. "Calculated stupid gets things done. Reckless stupid gets us killed."
He barely looks my way. "Good job on being a calculated stupid."

What a backhanded compliment. I laugh once. "I am a calculated genius."

Maheed besides me hisses, "I wouldn't go that far. Lucky is more like it."

I stare at him before saying, "Really? Says the person who's reason for escaping was 'uhh.'"

He hastily defended himself with, "I wasn't expecting her to ask me so suddenly!"

"You were the last one dude. You had all the time to prepare."
He opens his mouth, but just hangs his head in shame instead. Poor guy. He has no idea how to argue back. I reach out my hand and pat his head. Ooo, his fur is actually really soft.

Naz encourages him to keep fighting with, "Come on kid, don't let him walk over you like that! Fight back!"

While Naz gives Maheed a pep talk, I can't help but feel annoyed. I freed us. They should be more grateful, but act as though what I did was completely normal. Oh well. I'll hang this over their heads later. One of the castle servants eventually comes by with a pail of cold water, a bar of ivory soap, and a fresh pair of rags for us to wear. At least we won't smell like burnt flesh anymore.

A long while passes before a squire finally descends into the dungeon with news that the princess will meet with us in her room. He takes our chains and leads us through another maze of painted halls and stairs before we come before a large set of doors. After a single knock by the squire, they fly open. "Come in, come in! Oh, we've much to discuss!"
The princess excitedly waves us in, still wearing her absurd dress. The squire leading us, took one step and she stopped him. "Oh, not you. And unchain them!"
I'm... A little concerned. Why is she so excited? The squire begins to object but is cut off by her. "I can defend myself. No, I've no need of assistance. They'll cause no harm, now shoo. Begone with you."

With a bow, he obliges. He unchains us, but leaves the manacles around our necks and wrists. After being incessantly beckoned into the room I quickly examine the room for escapes, traps, or anything else that could prove useful. Why is this one room bigger than my entire house ten times over? It's just a bedroom for a single person right? Why go through such lengths? I suppose it's befitting of the princess, but still.
Endless paintings of landscapes or the city cover the walls, velvet rugs conceal most of the floor. Then the furniture is comically oversized. How much chair can one person use! There's even a ladder leading to a second floor I can't see. More importantly, there is an open balcony I might be able to use as an escape. Most concerning, however, is the group of maidservants standing at attention by the fireplace.
The princess merrily rushes to the back of the room towards a tub exclaiming, "Oh, how impatient I've become. I can conceal my excitement no longer!"

She pulls a group of pins out of her dark hair and lets it fall to its natural wavy just-past-the-shoulders length. She then dunks her entire head in the tub then throws her head out with a sigh of relief. She grabs a towel close by and vigorously scrubs the face paint away.
Even for a human, I would've once called her beautiful. But all those scars... Thick, jagged scars cross her face in various places, but leave her eyes, nose, and mouth untouched. I see why she wears so much face paint.

Isn't the life of a princess supposed to be easy? How did she manage to acquire all those? What could have possibly happened? Instead of asking like I wanted to, I simply look to the others. I'm not entirely sure why, but I feel like I need to confirm what I'm seeing with them. Wordlessly of course.
From our position across the room, we watch her move to the centre of the room and hold her arms out. "Lab attire."

Her flock of servants descend upon her like birds to seeds. She's really getting undressed in front of us? She probably doesn't see us as people. I don't mind too much. I'm not attracted to humans but, who wouldn't want to see a body like that unclothed?
In the brief moment she was wearing nothing more than an under-dress I noticed the same scars from her face decorate her arms and legs. Only these were much much larger. Almost like the stripes of an exotic animal from the far East. And just like that she's in a plain tunic and pants. Pants? I'm not sure why I'm surprised. Based off her previous behavior, I guessed this would happen. Still, it's odd to see anyone act like this. Especially royalty.

Her flock of servants flies off to the shadows and she approaches us while tying her hair into a tail. A smile on her face that reads 'danger' and a look in her eyes that screams 'lunatic.' She claps her hands together and looks at each of us with crazy burning in her eyes. "Well then. Let our experiments commence."