* * *The walls were cold and clammy to her touch. And it was dark -- darker than any place she had ever been. She sucked a deep breath into her lungs, wondering at the heaviness of it. The feeling of oppression was almost tangible in those halls. That was something she had not expected. The weight of betrayed lives pressed in on her from every side.
The hall turned to the right. Here, the ceiling vaulted high above her head. A tiny ray of sunlight filtered down in dazzling brilliance. She paused, searching the high walls for the source of the beam. It was a missing chink between masonry high above her head. Somewhere up there, her parents sat idly with no premonition of the danger she was in.
On she went, pressing deeper into the darkness. Nothing but the persistent craving to see the dungeons for herself kept her moving. If it were not for that driving force, she would have turned back long ago. This was no place for a princess.
Her eyes did her no good in this blackness. She closed them, running her hand along the wall for guidance. A foul smell hit her nose and she coughed. Her hands searched the rough-hewn rocks as, again, the hall turned to the right.
Something on the wall felt slimy. She shuddered. With her clean hand, she fished in her tiny pouch for a kerchief.
"Are you free?" an eager voice whispered in the darkness.
The princess' heart pounded as she opened her eyes and searched for the speaker.
"God be praised!" the voice murmured, expressing both relief and excitement at the same time. "The keys! By the guard room! Quickly!"
"Who are you?" the princess demanded in a whisper.
Heavy footsteps echoed on stone steps from deeper halls. A faint hue of flickering light crept into the room. The princess could see the outline of a cell to her left with the form of a young man crouched in a corner. The vertical iron bars forming the front wall of the cell glimmered faintly.
For a moment, their eyes met: the princess' eyes wide with surprise and the young man's eyes intently searching. Quickly, his eyes clouded with uncertainty and then derision. His head dropped down on his folded arms, propped on his knees.
Emboldened by her purpose, the princess tried another question. "Why are you here? What have you done?"
* * *