The Legend of Vasnia: Part Two
“Mornin’, Philon,” Chef greeted the Maraquan Gelert as he swam into the palace kitchen.
“Good morning, Chef,” he replied sleepily. He hadn’t slept well; he kept having awful dreams about the rebellion, the council, and the True Princess. He couldn’t shake the terrifying images from his head.
“The king requested cream broth with coral cake today—he and Lias are celebratin’.”
Philon’s ears perked up. If the corrupt king and the Trekkan leader were celebrating something, it couldn’t be good news.
“What are they celebrating?” he asked slowly.
“The capture of the princess,” Chef replied indifferently. “Apparently she’s been hiding on the eastern side of Vasnia, and there was an entire rebel fortress underground. It looks like they were tryin’ to defeat our Trekkan leaders!”
Philon said nothing, for he was in complete shock. His insides turned to ice and he couldn’t breath. Princess Isolde had been captured!
I must remain calm, Philon told himself. I can’t give myself away—I promised the princess I wouldn’t! I have to retain my cover for her.
Finally Philon was able to swallow and reply.
“Wow, Chef. That’s really something.”
Nine hours (and several meals) later Philon was free from the inquisitive eyes of Chef. He drifted up to his quarters in the eastern tower and flopped onto his bed in a haze. During the monotony of the day he had realized several things. First, he was the only person who could save the princess. Undoubtedly she was now in the palace dungeon, so he, being the only rebel in the entire palace, was the closest one to her. Second, he must retain his cover at all costs. If he was discovered now, the princess—and the entire rebellion—would be doomed. Third, the princess would surely be executed within a couple days. Thus, Philon had no choice but to rescue her tonight.
The Gelert pushed aside his fears and set to work.
“Councilors, I have some terrible news,” Hektor sadly told few of his beloved council who had agreed to meet again. It wasn’t easy to get even these few here—after Lias, the Trekkan leader, had discovered their underground headquarters, everyone was terrified of being captured. They were now sitting near a rusting, seaweed-covered anchor just outside of Vasnia. Alodia had suggested it, as it had been her shelter for a few nights before joining the council. “You may have already heard. In addition to our headquarters being discovered, the True Princess was captured and is now in the clutches of the Trekkans.”
Several councilors gasped and cried out in horror; others simply burst into tears. One withered Jetsam mumbled something about hopelessness and swam off in a frenzy,
“Please, councilors!” Hektor cried, pounding his massive flipper on the anchor, producing a deafening vibration. The council quieted down and looked helplessly up at the Elephante. He had subtly assumed position of temporary council leader, and no one seemed to mind. He looked around at his comrades, one by one. His eyes met half a dozen eyes widened with fright and hopelessness. Two pairs of eyes, however, held only fury and determination: the outsider Alodia and the youngster Akios. They sat next to each other and were clutching fin to paw in their distress. But neither of them acted afraid or helpless; only angry.
“We will have to begin the attack immediately,” Akios said. “We no longer have the time to continue preparing. The princess is in danger.”
“Indeed,” Hektor replied grimly. “Alodia, how quickly can you assemble your Abovian fighters and bring them down here?”
“Twenty-four hours if I leave at once,” Alodia said, standing up. “Shall I?”
“Yes, go now. You may arrive when we are at the most dire of need—or after the whole battle is over. Please hurry.”
Alodia bowed and began her journey to the surface, which was miles away from the surface and completely unable to be seen from this depth. She soon disappeared in the blue abyss.
“Now,” Hektor said as soon as she was gone. “Akios, I want you to alert our fighters that the war has begun. We will need them to assemble right away. Don’t tell anyone that the princess has been captured, as it could frighten the warriors from fighting.”
“Yes sir!” Akios said enthusiastically. He swam off in Vasnia’s direction.
“All right, councilors. This is our time to prove our worth to the True Princess. We mustn’t let her down.”
It was well past midnight, and Philon was wide awake. He had created a detailed plan and memorized it perfectly. The actual execution would be the real trouble. Luckily, after his time serving as a servant boy years ago, he remembered all of the palace’s secret passageways, less-guarded corridors, and the safest route to the dreaded dungeon in which Princess Isolde was presumably imprisoned.
After taking a deep breath Philon cautiously opened the door of his quarters and slipped into the dark corridor. He quickly swam down the stairs of the servant’s tower and made his way to the main part of the palace. He turned abruptly and entered a long-forgotten secret passageway. It was pitch black and he had to feel his way around, but he continued onward. The passage abruptly began sloping downward, and Philon assiduously swam forward until the temperature dropped at least ten degrees. He knew he was close. He slipped out a short dagger from his belt in preparation for what was to come. He approached a door at the end of the passageway which, to his delight, was unlocked. It creaked as it was open, but no Trekkan guards came running. He had reached the dungeons.
He was actually technically underneath the dungeons, but he quickly opened a trapdoor in the ceiling that blended in perfectly with the grimy dungeon floor. There was only one guard working the nightshift in the murky place: an overweight Tuskaninny with a sleepy expression. He slowly turned at the sound of the trapdoor and jumped when he saw Philon. But Philon, more awake and agile than the drowsy guard, jumped forward and attacked with his tiny weapon. He avoided killing the guard but instead knocked him out and slipped a ring of rusty old keys from his belt.
“Princess?” he called out quietly, trying to avoid capturing the attention of more guards. He could take on one half-asleep guard easily enough, but more than that was simply out of the question.
Philon had only been to the dungeon once before; it had been when he was a young boy. It had been many years since then, but it hadn’t changed a bit. The floor, walls, and ceiling were all made from shadowy, crumbling stone. Hundreds of wooden doors lined the walls: doors to the numerous cells. Princess Isolde could be in any one of these cells, and Philon didn’t know where to even begin with the many keys on the metal ring he had stolen. But he had to try.
He swam slowly down the long dungeon, calling out for the princess as he went. Suddenly he heard a dull thumping noise coming from one of the cells to his left. He began furiously trying every key on the ring until it opened, and there she was. Even when gagged and bound, Princess Isolde was a vision of radiance. A trickle of blood was dripping from a temple, but other than that she appeared uninjured. Philon hurried to untie her. As soon as she was free she threw her arms around him in a hug of gratitude.
“Oh Philon!” Isolde gasped. “You’ve rescued me!”
“Not yet, Princess,” Philon replied. “We still have to get you out without being noticed. Let’s go.”
To Philon’s dismay, Isolde hesitated.
“Philon, there are others... Other prisoners. I cannot leave them here to die.”
Philon was flabbergasted. The princess was willing to risk her own freedom for the safety of others—those she had never even met before. She was indeed noble. He now fully understood why she was the True Princess.
“I understand,” he replied. He handed her the ring of keys. “You get the prisoners out while I stand guard.”
She nodded, took the keys, and began furiously opening doors. It was a slow, painstaking process because Isolde had no idea which key opened which door; it sometimes took nearly the entire ring of keys to open a single door.
Meanwhile Philon stood at the foot of the stairs (the main, better known entrance to the dungeon), keeping an eye out for any guards wandering nearby. None had come yet; most of the nighttime guards were posted outside the palace to defend against intruders. Unfortunately for them, the real threat was already inside the palace doors.
“Halfway done, Philon!” Princess Isolde panted, trying more keys in a particularly difficult keyhole. Several dozen withered prisoners had gathered around the radiant Peophin. She acted as a sort of hope figure to them; as long as Isolde was near, so was hope.
Within half an hour all the dungeon inmates had been freed—those that were still alive. More than once Isolde had opened a door only to find a lifeless body curled up on the dirty cell floor. These occasions were certainly discouraging, but the expressions of pure joy on the faces of those prisoners still living made it worth all the effort. Just under a hundred rebels had been imprisoned—some of whom had been presumed dead years ago. Philon saw a few familiar faces among the crowd, and Isolde hugged them all compassionately, even though she had met only a few of them before.
Absolutely nothing had gone wrong. In fact, the entire episode had been all too easy. It set Philon on edge.
“Princess, we need to escape as quickly as possible,” he whispered as soon as Isolde had finished her work. “I feel something is not right.”
Isolde nodded knowingly and turned to the captives.
“Fellow rebels,” she began, pausing to look around at all the listeners. “It is time for you to escape this place of evil and return to your families. But it will not be easy. There will without a doubt be many Trekkans that will try to block our escape, so you must all be willing to pitch in and fight. Do I have your loyalty?”
The small crowd cheered enthusiastically. Despite the fact that these prisoners had not seen light or eaten food in days, the True Princess evoked them with a passion Philon had not seen before. He now had no doubt in his mind that the rebellion would ultimately succeed. With a leader like Isolde, what else could be the result?
“All right,” Isolde said, turning back to Philon. “Let’s go.”
To be continued...