“I am the Queen.” Mina sneered. “How dare you tell me what I have to do.”
It was then that I realized my pleas were falling on deaf ears. There was no point in fighting, and I let Elliot arrest me.
The iron shackle around my wrist felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. Kasper and I walked with our heads down, saying nothing because there was nothing to say. Another guard had joined Elliot, in case we decided to put up a fight, and the four of us walked in silence through the cold corridors of the palace.
I heard hushed whispers as we walked by, but I never looked up to see who was speaking. As defeated as I felt, my mind raced to figure out how to get out of the situation. My father might be able to leverage his position as the Chancellor to get us free, and while I normally hated nepotism, I didn’t want Kasper to spend years in prison for a crime he hadn’t committed.
Both of us would most certainly lose our careers, but if we were lucky we might not have to forfeit our lives. There was a chance King Evert might not act as harshly as his wife, so hopefully we wouldn’t end up in prison for life or exiled.
The highest punishment for treason was execution, but I had to believe it wouldn’t come to that.
When we reached the cells located in the dungeon below the palace, we weren’t the only ones in there. An old man with a long graying beard had gotten up from his cot to watch our arrival, holding on to the bars and pressing his emaciated, dirty face against them.
This was a long-term prison, which was why it only housed a solitary inmate. There was a jail behind the Högdragen dorms where everyday criminals were kept: thieves and tax evaders, drunks who needed to cool off, even the rare murderer.
The dungeon was for crimes against the kingdom.
The old man in the cell was unrecognizable from who he’d been when he was thrown in the dungeon over three decades ago, but I knew immediately that it was Samuel Peerson. In our textbooks, I’d seen pictures of him from when he’d been arrested in the 1980s. He’d been a young man then, protesting the King’s high taxation.
It had been under Karl Strinne’s reign, our current King Evert’s uncle. Karl had been a much stricter King than his two predecessors, and so even though Samuel had been a Markis—a Kanin of good breeding and the heir to a fortune—King Karl had imprisoned Samuel for publicly disagreeing with him at a meeting, calling Samuel “a traitor” and “an enemy of the kingdom.”
And here Samuel remained, wasting away in a prison cell. His skin was pale with years of no sunlight, his eyes bloodshot, and a few of his teeth appeared to be missing.
Even though the Kings who followed Karl were more lax in their rulings, they had never pardoned Samuel Peerson. They wouldn’t undo the wrong that had been committed because they refused to undermine a King, even a long-dead one.
If Queen Mina decided that we should spend the rest of our lives in these cells, there was a good chance that King Evert wouldn’t overrule her. It would seem like a weakness on his part, as if his wife had been allowed to act without his guidance and he didn’t have a handle on the running of his kingdom.
We would die in here, if that’s what the Queen wished, and after how she’d acted today, there was no reason to think she wished otherwise.
My eyes were locked on the sad, weepy eyes of Samuel Peerson. I stopped, frozen in my tracks, as I realized that Kasper and I couldn’t risk waiting for a trial. Elliot had been leading Kasper along, and the guard that had been charged with me nudged the small of my back.
“Get moving,” he barked, and I knew what I had to do.
He was standing directly behind me, so with one quick move I lifted my arm back and slammed the iron cuff into his head. He let out a groan, then fell to the floor unconscious. Kasper and I were still attached by the shackles, so when I moved to the side, he moved with me.
“Hey!” Elliot shouted in surprise and drew his sword on us.
“Elliot, don’t do this,” I said.
“Please.” Kasper pleaded with his friend. “You know we didn’t do what the Queen is accusing us of, and if you throw us in these cells, we’ll end up just like him.”
“They’re right, boy,” Samuel Peerson said in a hollow, craggy voice.
Elliot looked at the old man with a stricken look on his face, and I knew he had to be making one of the hardest decisions of his life. It was hammered into the Högdragen again and again that they must never disobey the orders of their King or Queen.
Finally, he let out a shaky breath and lowered his sword. He took the keys off his belt and tossed them to Kasper.
“You did the right thing,” Kasper assured him as he hurried to unlock his shackle, then handed me the keys so I could take care of mine myself.
“I hope so,” Elliot muttered and handed Kasper his sword. “Before you go, will you do me a favor and hit me on the head, so I have an excuse for letting you get away?”
“Okay.” Kasper nodded. “And thank you.”
Elliot closed his eyes, steeling himself for the blow, and Kasper raised the sword and slammed the bell handle into his head. Elliot cried out in pain and stumbled backward, but he didn’t fall unconscious.
“Do you want me to hit you again?” Kasper asked.
“No, no,” Elliot said hurriedly. His head had already begun bleeding, and he touched it and winced. “I’ll just run and get the guards after you’re gone, and tell them I was knocked out.”
“Can you give us a ten-minute headstart?” Kasper asked.
Elliot grimaced. “I’ll try.”
“We have to get out of here,” I said, because ten minutes wasn’t very long at all.
He nodded, and we turned to make our escape. Before we did, I stopped and tossed the keys to Samuel, who reached his arm out of his cell to catch them.
“There’s one key for the shackles, and one for the cell,” I told him. “Get out of here as fast as you can.”
He’d move slower than us, but since the guards would most likely be far more interested in catching us, Samuel actually had a good chance of making it out.
Kasper reached the top of the steps at the end of the dungeon before I did. They were curved, so I couldn’t see the top, and I actually thought he might have left without me. But he was waiting with his back pressed against the wall, peering out around the corner.
“Is anyone coming?” I whispered.
“Two guards went around the corner, so just to be safe we should wait another thirty seconds.”