“Ok. We are all here. Now, will you talk?” The queen of Antia said, stepping up to the bars. Behind her, the king and the two princes stood in amused irritation. They had emptied this wing of the prison of other people, hoping to keep the newly caught prisoner’s identity secret, at least for a time.
The prisoner was Elena Falco, who was leaning against her prison cell’s stone wall. Even now, in the bowels of the palace with a single sconce flickering on the stone wall, among the stink of unwashed human, with the only fresh air coming from a small, barred window behind her – even now she seemed perfectly at ease.
“I still don’t see why we have to keep her in this awful place.” The queen said, for at least the fifth time.
“Is it really you then?” The king asked, ignoring his wife and the argument they’d been having for the past day, ever since their daughter had been arrested after attempting to break into the treasury.
“Do you not recognize your daughter, your majesty?” Elena smiled at her father.
“It’s not her.” Her eldest brother Tomas leaned in and squinted at her.
“Oh, go piss out of your nose Tomas,” Elena said.
“Ok yeah, it’s her.” Tomas grinned.
“We have to release her immediately!” The queen insisted.
“If we release her, we will violate the compact. That bastard Crane only needs three other ring bearers to support him, and he can unseat me!”
“What did you want to talk to us about?” The youngest prince, Edgar, leaned toward his sister to ask.
“Did you really steal all of those things?” Tomas interrupted. “The lady’s diadem, the sword of Caleb Adara, the scrolls of mourning?”
“All those, and more,” Elena smirked.
“And you scaled the great tower?” Tomas asked.
“Got to stay in shape somehow,” Elena said.
“But… why?” The queen asked.
“Because it’s the furthest thing I could think of from being a princess. Because it’s fun. Because I’m good at it.”
“Not that good,” Tomas smirked. “You got caught after all.”
“Did I?” Elena flared an eyebrow.
Tomas laughed but realized he was the only one.
The king shuffled awkwardly back to the door behind them. It was locked. “Guard!” He called through the bars. “Hello? Where has he gone?”
“Away,” Elena said, not looking at her father.
“What have you done?” The king stormed back toward the cell, toward his perfectly at ease daughter.
Elena let out a long, satisfied sigh. “Nearly everything.” She pushed on one of the stones of the exterior wall. The stone slid free and fell away.
“What is going on!” Tomas looked left and right, panic sneaking into his voice.
“You wanted us all here; why?” The King growled, gripping the bars of the cell.
“The rings,” Edgar said. “She’s going to steal the rings.”
“But the rings are locked away in the residence. Only members of the royal family can-” The queen muttered. “Oh.”
Elena stepped up to the bars in front of her little brother. “Knew you were the smart one.” She tousled his hair affectionately.
“This will not stand!” The king raged. “You can’t take the rings. I’ll lose my kingdom! You’ll lose… your dowry! Craine will… They all will!”
“Can I come with you?” Edgar said quietly, leaning into the bars.
Elena stepped back toward him.
“Taxes will go up! We’ll probably go to war with the Vorish! Your mother will have to sell her dresses!” The king continued to rage.
“Not this time.” Elena winked at Edgar. She stepped back toward the hole in the wall with a glittering smile.
“Elena,” Tomas asked. “Why?”
Elena Falco paused and looked back at him. “Because being a queen is the furthest thing in the world from being a thief.” She winked at her previously-next-in-line-to-be-king brother and leaped backward out of the window.
© 2021, Aaron Zimmerman. All rights reserved.