In Which Lucia And Thomas Are Set Free From Prison
The sound filled the dank air of the jail, flooding down the hallway and rushing into the cell. Lucia was quite sure she heard two distinct sets of footprints. William the jailer caused the same heavy footfalls as before. Along with his steps came the sound of the metal keys, knocking together like ominous wind chimes. However, when Lucia listened closely, she heard a second set of lighter footsteps following William an instant later. They seemed to have the weight of a man yet the stealth of a cat. The sounds’ echoing off the stone walls made it difficult to determine much else.
The steps fell silent as William marched into view and stopped in front of their jail cell. His burlap clothing bore no pattern, and yet it appeared to be striped when Lucia looked at him through the iron bars. William stood there a moment, lazily staring at his prisoners. He absent-mindedly scrabbled his dirty fingernails along his chest, pulling the V neck of his shirt aside to reveal his hirsute body. Then, he drew a breath, opening his mouth wide enough to reveal his blackening gums.
“Come now, you two,” he bellowed. “Look alive.” At that moment, he must have taken his own advice, for he straightened up and stopped scratching.
“Why, William?” Thomas asked with a grin. “Have you come to tell us a story?”
William glared at Thomas and looked as though he were about to spit. Ultimately, decorum won out – or, at the very least, what William considered to be decorum – and he stepped aside. Gesturing toward the direction from which he had entered into their field of view, William made the announcement.
The words fell from his mouth so lazily that Lucia could scarcely make them out. She had to mentally repeat the grumbling sound twice before happening upon their meaning. William had announced that the prince had arrived and was there to see them.
The prince? Bryant! Lucia’s heart shone. He had finally returned! And to know that she had been wrongfully imprisoned, that must have taken some time to discover. It meant he must have intended to see her as soon as he came home. He must have asked about her, and finding no trace of her in the mansion, he must have taken to the town to find her. Imagine, her, Lucia – in prison! How preposterous. Lucia imagined that Bryant must have had to do some brilliant puzzle solving to work it out that she was somehow here. Of course, that could only mean that he cared about her very deeply indeed, to go through all that trouble and manage it in such a short time.
This was indeed becoming the best day of Lucia’s life. Soon, she would be set free into the arms of her beloved. It would be no burden, no burden at all, to save John and Margaret from the horrible Claudette, and they would all live happily together. Their love and friendship would soon outshine the shadows that hosted unsavoury characters, and Julian would be but a distant memory.
However, that memory made itself known once again rather abruptly, as the prince who stepped into view was not Bryant at all. Julian’s slender figure, dressed in finery that was largely obscured by a heavy black cloak, slipped into view. He paused in front of the prison bars and stared into the cell. The jail was more silent than death as Julian’s gaze passed from Lucia to Thomas and back again. Lucia could have sworn she saw the corner of Julian’s mouth curl ever so slightly upward. Silence reigned for a moment more. Then Julian finally spoke.
“You again,” he said. Lucia could not tell to which of them he was speaking, for he only stared straight ahead.
“Quite an interesting turn of events, isn’t it?” said Thomas. Julian held up his hand.
Julian began to pace in front of the iron bars. The bottom of his cloak swum around the precisely tied laces of his boots. He paused in front of Lucia and stared at her through the bars, as if uncertain if she were really there. Afraid to speak, Lucia could only nod to confirm her presence.
“Funny story,” said Thomas.
“I doubt that,” said Julian.
Julian whirled around, his cloak draping behind him and then swaying back into place.
He briefly glanced at William’s face, and then snapped his fingers while gesturing toward the ring of keys that hung from William’s belt.
Obediently, William fished out the appropriate key and fitted it into the unfriendly iron lock. He twisted it. Metallic clicks resounded from inside the lock, and the bolt slide aside. Failing to disguise the disappointed look on his face, William wrenched open the cell door. Thomas strode out as though he were wandering out of his house to greet a cheery summer morning. Feeling much less certain, Lucia followed close after him. Julian stared at them both. He raised his eyebrows, and this time, the expression was completely noticeable.
“I see you’ve gotten yourselves in trouble,” Julian said. “It is not safe for you to be out here on your own.”
Lucia nodded apologetically for just an instant, until she realized that Prince Julian was speaking primarily to Thomas. Thomas, on the other hand, acted as though Julian had merely made a rather uninteresting statement regarding the day’s weather. Julian continued.
“The townspeople will not treat you kindly. As you know, they can be a savage lot.”
At that moment, both Thomas and Lucia cast a furtive glance in William’s direction. Perhaps William had not heard Julian’s comment, or he had chosen not to respond.
“So, what are you doing here, Julian?” Thomas said.
“Prince Julian,” Julian said. “Your royal highness, Prince Julian, sir.”
“If you insist, Prince Julian and so on.”
“You do know, I could have you put to death for such remarks.”
Thomas leaned in a little closer, putting his face very near to that of the prince.
“Did you know,” said Thomas, “that you have a small bit of some food or something right there on your mouth?”
“Silence!” Cried Julian. In an angry gesture, he brought his fist up near Thomas’ face, and ever so casually, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I came here to do you a favour,” said Julian. “Although, if you will be so… so…”
“Wonderful?” Thomas offered. “Handsome? Brilliant?”
“Insolent, is the word I was considering.”
Lucia thought it might be wise to step in at this moment, preventing Thomas’ irreverence and Julian’s wrath from chasing each other like dogs chasing their tails.
“I thank you for your kindness, Prince Julian,” said Lucia. “What might the favour have been?’
Julian scarcely looked at her, for he was still glaring sharply at Thomas. Lucia imagined if maybe he was also practicing the fire stare. If he was, then he had certainly mastered it, for this glare was indeed frightful.
“I offer you both safe haven in the mansion.”
Lucia stopped herself from objecting that she already had safe haven in the mansion. She realized that to do so might endanger Thomas. Besides, if she could exchange a real prison cell for what she previously thought of as a prison, then the choice was clear. She wisely decided to continue gathering information about the murder in a place where she would be close to the location of the murder’s occurrence. If she could be safe and amongst friends and have her own bedroom, all the better.
However, Thomas had other ideas.
“I refuse to live in fear of my own people,” said Thomas. “And, for another thing, this town desperately needs an apothecary, so I can’t very well go hiding in a glorified shack.”
“That’s the royal mansion you’re describing,” Julian said sharply.
“I didn’t say it was a small shack,” said Thomas. Thomas studied Julian’s face. “You still have a bit of food on your lip. What is that? Porridge?”
Julian whirled around such that he could see only Lucia. He raised his eyebrows at her, a silent means of repeating his offer only to her.
“Yes, certainly,” said Lucia. “I shall return to the mansion with you at once. In truth, that is was I was trying to - ”
“Very well,” said Julian. He waved at William, indicating to the jailer that his presence was no longer required. William nodded and marched off down the hall.
As Julian and Lucia turned to leave, they found themselves facing an empty jail. Wherever Thomas had gone, he had done so quietly. Lucia regretted not having the opportunity to bid him goodbye.