“Perhaps in the future. For now, I will be satisfied with low-quality gold,” King Torgen said, his smile gleeful.
He knew Gemma was lying through her teeth. Everyone knew it! It wasn’t possible for a normal girl to spin flax into gold, or the magicians and enchanters would have plucked her up as a child!
“Forgive me, My Lord, but I, your lowly subject, must remind you that I cannot work my magic in public,” Gemma said, her voice strong.
“Yes, of course. My guards will prepare a room with the specifications you have marked out. Until then, I will hold you in my dungeons, lest there be a misunderstanding,” King Torgen said. “Guards!”
“Gemma!” Gemma’s mother cried.
The six guards that escorted Gemma into the throne room moved into formation around her, stepping between Gemma and her mother before herding her out. Gemma could hear her mother’s sobs and the whispers of all present as they left the throne room behind. Eventually the guards led her down a winding staircase into the depths of the wooden castle.
The deeper they went, the more Gemma’s dread built.
King Torgen’s dungeons were known for the terrors that happened in them. It was an awful place built out of black stone. All light sources seemed to sputter in the terrible darkness, snuffed out by the horror of the place.
The guards escorted Gemma into a cell. There was nothing in it, but along the way—without Gemma noticing—the guards had plucked up various items they set down inside the cell. One dropped a small wooden stool, another a worn but thick blanket. A third soldier set down a bucket of water, and the fourth placed a cloak down on the ground.
“You acted with honor, Miss,” one of the soldiers said as the others filed out of the cell. “I’m sorry we can’t give you more.”
Gemma folded her lips into a smile with great difficulty. “Thank you,” she said before the soldier shut the door.
With the soldiers gone, Gemma was left alone in the oppressive silence. She stood on the stool to try to look outside—there was a window set in the ceiling covered with a metal grate that let her see bits of the cloudy sky, and two palace walls. She tried half-heartedly pulling on the grate of the ceiling-window, but it didn’t budge.
“I didn’t think it would be easy to get out of here,” Gemma said, walking the small perimeter of the underground cell. “My real chance will come when the King imprisons me to do the spinning.”
To conserve energy, Gemma sat on the folded cloak and closed her eyes, leaning against the wall of the cell. The air was chilly outside, and the dungeon was perversely cool, so Gemma wrapped herself in the warm blanket and buried her nose in the cloth to try and block out the sewage smell of the prison.
Hours passed, and the morning sunlight disappeared. Gemma guessed it was late afternoon when there was a heavy thump of something hitting the ground above Gemma’s cell.
“Gemma Kielland! If you aren’t in this cell I’m going to strangle you myself when I find you. I just ripped my second-best gown climbing that wretched wall!”
Gemma rocketed from her blanket cocoon. “Lady Linnea?” she asked, her voice incredulous.
A shadow was cast on the floor of her cell as the blonde-haired noblewoman leaned over the ceiling-window. “So you are here, good! I nearly dislocated my arm checking the ten empty cells surrounding you before this. Each cell is individually walled in; can you imagine the stupidity of that? Our taxes at work, I suppose. Why didn’t you rip off a piece of your dress and hang it from the window like a good captive? I would have been able to figure out where you were when I tried spying you out from an upper window this morning,” Lady Linnea peevishly said.
“Because I didn’t think anyone would help me,” Gemma said, climbing the stool so she could properly address the lady.
“I’m sorry,” Lady Linnea said, the anger gone from her voice. “I-I tried talking to Papa. He wouldn’t listen,” she said, gripping an iron bar with a hand that trembled in anger. “You’ve been a loyal servant, and he’s willing to abandon you.”
“I can’t blame him. It’s safer for your family. Not to mention it is my father’s fault I am in this mess.”
“I will not allow you to be left behind,” Lady Linnea said, stubbornly tucking her head.
“Thank you,” Gemma said, touched by the fiery lady’s words. “Even if you cannot free me, I thank you.”
“Cannot free you? Just who do you think I am?” Lady Linnea scoffed. “Farset wouldn’t let me into their army if I couldn’t break you out of here!”
“Then you have a plan?”
Lady Linnea’s plans were frequent. Their success, however, was rare.