The Absence of Her
By Nicole Marcina
Date: June 2, 2022
Ch. 3Chapter Two

We finally arrived in Bethilda’s dungeon, which was located in one of her castle towers. Unlike in our castle, hers was spacious. There were windows where the sun would shine its light through. At the same time, it served as a way of proper ventilation for her prisoners. As we passed by the prison cells, I noticed that they were still all pristine conditions. As if not many prisoners were kept here before. Most likely, her servants were the few of the first ones to be kept here.
“James, did you imprison all of your servants?” I whispered, walking closely behind him.
“Each one of them had to be questioned. I only released a few after they were interrogated and proven to be innocent,” he explained.
We were then led to an open door through the wall. As we stepped inside, it revealed a staircase that led down to the side of the tower. And as we ventured down, the light from the upper part of the tower slowly disappeared. There were no windows as we ventured further down the hidden staircase. The only source of light that we had were the few lit torches on the wall.
Further down the dark path, deep groans and shouts of pain. A few whips echoed throughout the narrow chamber we were in.
My skin crawled upon hearing such disturbing sounds. James and Mother - specifically, Mother - never exposed us to matters such as torturing prisoners. Although it was a mandatory punishment for anyone who did crimes, Mother was against the practices of exposing her children to such horrific dealings.
James might have noticed my discomfort as we came to a sudden halt. Turning to the guards, he said, “Gentlemen, go on right ahead. I need to speak with the prince for a moment.”
They bowed and went on their way.
James turned around to face me and said, “I know how uncomfortable this is for you. You don’t have to accompany me if you don’t want to.”
I stared at him as the sound of whipping and painful moans overwhelmed my ears. My heart raced by the second. My hands shook, slowly sweating as we spent more time within this dark, narrow place. The horrifying echoes of pain bounced from the walls, sending chills down my spine.
“Robert?” James called out to me, getting my attention. “You can leave if you want.”
My mind was torn.
Should I stay and face this uncomfortable situation?
Or should I leave for the sake of my sanity?
As I stared at him, unmoved, my eyes slowly traveled down to the letter that he still held within his being. The letter that contained the confession from the servant.
The very sight of it reminded me of the reason why we were here in the first place. We needed the truth behind Mother’s poisoning. And I needed answers about Laura’s abduction.
Was Bethilda truly the one behind it? Or was it just a diversion that Benjamin created to avoid grave accusations?
I closed my eyes and took deep breaths afterwards. Slowly, I cleared my mind as I remembered what I was here for. I was here for justice.
For Mother.
For Grandpa Ben.
For Nana Olsa.
And for Laura.
Once I collected my thoughts, I reopened my eyes. The sound of torture still overwhelmed my hearing. But it didn’t affect me the way it did when we first arrived. I turned to James and replied, “I’ll proceed with you.”
“Are you certain about your decision?” he asked once again.
I nodded. “I must get to the bottom of everything. And as future king, I need to face this reality. The fear of entering these kinds of scenarios,” I said. “I can’t hide from these situations for the rest of my life. This is one of the bitter truths that I must conquer before I sit on the throne of our kingdom.”
James took a moment before he nodded. He said, “If you feel any discomfort - even the slightest of it - you must tell me. Don’t hide it and don’t force yourself when you know you can’t. Do you understand?”
“Very well.” He lightly tapped my arm before we proceeded down the narrow staircase.
Just as we turned the corner, I was already greeted by the horrendous sight of torture. Two men were stretched on the torture table. Meanwhile, five men were strapped onto the wall, whipped without mercy.
The torturers came to a halt when the guards pointed out our arrival. The torturers and dungeon guards gave us their bows instantly.
“I believe that’s enough punishment for them,” James remarked.
The torturers then stepped away from the prisoners. They left the scene and we stepped forward.
James turned to the guard who handed the letter. “Which one of them wrote this?” he asked as he lifted the letter.
The guard rushed over to the torture table on our left. He pointed at a middle-aged man who was tied to the table. Sweat covered his entire being. His clothes were shredded. Whipped marks were all over him. So much blood oozed from him. And he was obviously exhausted, dehydrated and starved.
“If he already wrote a confession, why was he still being tortured?” James asked, horrified.
“We were reprimanding him, Your Majesty,” the guard answered. “When a few of the lady servants were brought in for questioning, he protested against it. He claimed that the ladies should be left alone.”
“He only did what was right. And you punished him for it?” I intervened, which made James and the guard turn in my direction. “If torture is a part of the interrogation process, I think it is best that the women be left out of it,” I continued.
“Am I right, James?” I asked as I looked at James.
He cleared his throat and replied, “His Highness is correct.” He turned to the guard and asked, “Who thought of this outrageous idea?”
“The prison keeper, Your Majesty,” the guard quickly replied as he bowed his head.
“Have this man,” James pointed at the servant, “Be released and attended to immediately. Cease all interrogations at the moment. And have the prison keeper be punished. Give him a taste of his own punishment for a change.”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” the guard bowed. He called in for the torturers and instructed, “By His Majesty’s orders, this servant,” he pointed at the torture table to our left, “Is to be released. Second, the prison keeper is to be punished for deciding on his own and for inflicting unjust punishment.”
The torturers turned to James and bowed. “Your Majesty, if I may ask,” one of them spoke, “What sort of punishment is to be given?”
James contemplated for a moment before he turned to me. “Let the prince decide,” he replied as he gestured over to me.
My eyes widened at his response. Confused, I turned to the guard and the torturers, who quickly looked in my direction.
They bowed to me and said, “We await your orders, Your Highness.”
I returned to James and hoped that he would change his mind. However, he nudged at me and gave a firm smile after. He then added, “Such actions have offended the young prince. Therefore, the punishment must come from him.”
I sighed as I heard James’ response. I never understood why he would do this to me. For some inexplicable reason, he would always put something on my shoulders. And it was something I never wanted in the first place.
I took a deep breath and returned to the torturers. I then asked, “How many times was the servant unlawfully whipped?”
The torturers looked at one another. One of them answered, “We gave fifty each, Your Highness. It was done in two days.”
I nodded. “Very well, then. Give the same amount of whips to the prison keeper. But do it in one day only. I don’t like to prolong the agony of prisoners.”
They nodded and prepared for their task. The dungeon guards then gently removed the prisoner from the torture table and carefully carried him back up to the prison cells.
“Well-made decision, Robert,” James remarked, which caused me to look at him. “I know that you hate making such decisions. But if I was the one to pass down a punishment onto the prison keeper, it would have been too cruel for him.”
“You’re probably right about that,” I nodded. Now that I thought about it, James would often give the harshest punishment to offenders. It doesn’t matter whether you committed a light or heavy crime. Once James made the decision, it was brutal. As for me, I didn’t want to be the one to punish the prison keeper. But to receive fifty lashes would be better than a possible hanging.
“Anyways, let us follow the servant,” he replied, which received a nod from me.
As we climbed up the stairs, someone shouted as he headed towards our direction. “Have mercy! Have mercy, please! I’ve done nothing wrong!”

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