The Absence of Her
By Nicole Marcina
Date: June 2, 2022
Ch. 4Chapter Three

We climbed up a bit more and we came across the guards, holding one of them by his arms. “I assume that this is the prison keeper,” James said as he looked at them.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” they replied.
“Please, Your Majesty,” the prison keeper cried. “Spare me the punishment. I don’t know what I did wrong!”
“You don’t know what you did wrong?” I asked as my brows furrowed. They all turned in my direction. The prison keeper’s eyes widened as I spoke.
James chuckled. “Unfortunately, your plea doesn’t have anything to do with me,” he interrupted, causing them to look back at him. “Because I wasn’t the one who bestowed upon you your punishment. Also, I wasn’t the one you offended with your… actions.”
Frantic, the prison keeper returned to me and begged, “Please, Your Highness, have mercy on me. I don’t know what I did wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“So, punishing an innocent man who stood up for others isn’t wrong?” I replied, raising a brow.
“I was only following instructions, Your Highness,” he quickly answered. “His Majesty said that every servant, every member of the household, shall be questioned. The man went against His Majesty’s orders. I only did what should be done,” words flowed like lava from his mouth.
“If your method of interrogation consists of torturing its suspects, you shouldn’t include the women,” I growled. “There are many ways to question prisoners. Torture should only be reserved to those who are truly guilty.”
“But, Your Highness–”
“Enough of this. Bring him down to the torture chamber and give him the punishment the prince has assigned fo him,” James interrupted, cutting the conversation short.
“Your Highness! Your Highness, please, spare me! Your Highness! Have mercy!” the prison keeper screamed as he was dragged downstairs to the dreaded chamber.
“Let’s go,” James lightly tapped my lower back before walking ahead of me.
Every step I took upwards was heavy. And it only got heavier as I continued. I couldn’t help but be guilty for the decision I made. I was never keen on being responsible for the pain and suffering of others. This was one of my struggles with myself. How was I supposed to be a good leader when I was given such a soft heart?
I was relieved once we were out of the dark staircase. I was finally able to feel the warmth of the sun that came in through the open windows. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of fresh air. The underground torture chamber was too narrow, it suffocated me even for only a small amount of time.
The guards slowly closed the heavy door. But before they could fully close it, a painful scream echoed from below after a sound of a whip was heard.
As much as the torture chamber terrified me, I couldn’t help but look back and watch as the dark passage disappeared. As soon as the door was locked, nothing came from the chamber anymore. I then held my breath as I stopped myself from imagining what was happening down there.
A hand suddenly landed on my shoulder. I turned and it was James. He squeezed my shoulder lightly before asking, “Are you all right?” He must have sensed the inner turmoil after I heard the prison keeper screaming.
I glanced up to him and gave him a brief nod.
“Do you still wish to proceed with the interrogation? You can rest now if you want to,” he continued. “You’ve done enough for today. I think your sanity has had enough with what you saw in the chamber.”
I shook my head. “I can do this, James. I want to proceed,” I protested.
“Are you sure?”
I nodded right away. I didn’t want for my unstable mind and heart to get in the way of progress. Especially, when it came to this matter. It has been going on for far too long. I needed answers and I needed them now.
James searched my eyes for any sort of hesitance. Eventually, he nodded and tapped my shoulder after. He then turned to the guards, “Kindly bring us to where the servant is.”
They bowed and walked ahead of them. We glanced towards one another, reassuring each other before we followed the guards.
We were then led to one of the prison cells where the servants were wrapped in a blanket. A healer attended to the whip marks and other wounds. Two guards laid out food for the poor soul.
I winced as I watched how the healer poured medicinal powder over every wound. The servant flinched each time it made contact with his skin. My heart broke at such a painful sight. No one deserved this sort of cruelty. No one should be ridiculed just because they stood up for what they believed was right.
The guard on our left coughed, alerting everyone of our presence.
“Your Majesty. Your Highness,” everybody but the servant bowed.
“You may all proceed,” James replied as we entered.
The guards served the rest of the food whilst the healer returned to the servant. We approached the servant and James sat in front of him. The servant’s eyes widened. He dropped to his knees and blurted out, “Your Majesty.”
“Good sir, there’s no need for that,” James stopped him, holding him by his arm.
“But I must pay my respects.”
James smiled and said, “You are gravely wounded. Save the formalities for some other time. For now, your main concern is your health.”
Alongside the healer, I assisted the servant back onto the bed. He winced as we covered half of his upper body. In his current state, we couldn’t afford for him to catch a cold. He has been through so much.
“Thank you for sparing my life, Your Majesty,” he mumbled as he clutched onto the thick blanket around him. “I am in debt to your mercy.”
“The treatment given to you was unjust and against any law set by all kingdoms. Allow me to apologize for their cruelty towards you,” James replied as he leaned closer to him.
The servant flinched again before he said, “You don’t have to apologize, Your Majesty. I strongly believe that if you were present at the time I was dragged to the torture chamber, you would’ve stopped them right then and there.”
“Still, allow me to offer my deepest apologies. But, it’s not me who you should thank.” James turned to me and continued, “It was my son who ordered for your release. After he learned what happened, he immediately ordered for you to be spared.”
The servant slowly turned to my direction. I didn’t want him to strain himself. I quickly knelt before him and smiled faintly. “Good sir,” I greeted.
He stared at me for quite some time before he said, “Your Highness.” His eyes watered as he reached out to me. He cupped my face with his frail hands and continued, “May the gods bless you with a longer life for your grace.”
My lips formed into a firm line as I grabbed his hand. I held it tightly and looked directly into his eyes. “I’ll ensure that such an incident will never happen again,” I replied. “Not just to you but for other innocent people as well. I commend you for protecting the women of this household. You didn’t deserve such a punishment.”
He sniffled as tears flowed down his face. “Bless you, Your Highness. Bless you,” he cried. “If you need my assistance - anything at all - please don’t hesitate to ask,” he continued. “It’s the very least that I can do for your mercy.”
I nodded as I gave him time to compose himself. I could only imagine the trauma he experienced whilst in torture. Everything must have taken a toll on him. From the way he was whipped for two days and stretched for no apparent reason. And that wasn’t even a manner of punishment. It was plain cruelty only. One where someone abused the power they were given. One where someone used their power to oppress the helpless.
I turned to James and waited for him to say something. He only nudged at me, which I took as a sign that I could proceed with the questioning.
“Good sir, I understand that you are recently released from the torture chamber. But I hope you don’t mind if I ask for your help now,” I said very carefully.
The servant sniffled as he pulled his hand back. He wiped his tears away and replied, “To what can I be of service to you, Your Highness?”
I looked to James and asked for the confession letter. He handed it over to me and I began to open it. “Good sir,” I asked as I showed the letter, “Is it true that you wrote this confession?”
I handed the letter over to him and he read it in an instant. “Yes, Your Highness,” he replied as he returned it to me.
“Your confession was the only different letter from the ones we read,” I answered as I folded the letter. I continued, “In every confession we received from this household, only yours admitted to all of the accusations passed onto your mistress. May I ask why?”
He was going to respond. But he looked at the other people with us. The fear and worry was evident in his eyes. I turned to James and nodded at him.
James then turned to the healer and the guards, “Leave us.”
They all bowed, grabbed their things and walked out of the room.
“You may proceed,” James said as we returned to the servant.
“This may sound outrageous. But I’m an invisible servant in this castle,” he replied.
James and I shared confused glances. I turned back to the servant and waited for him to continue with his story.

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