The princess felt a twinge of excitement that temporarily erased her discomfort. Here was an inmate of the rumored dungeon. Here was one of the things she came to see. Emboldened by her purpose, the princess tried another question. "Why are you here? What have you done?"
The young man did not move or make any response.
The heavy footsteps and the light were even closer now.
The princess could not believe that this prisoner was not even speaking at her request. “Answer me, young man,” she ordered.
“What for?” came an old man’s voice out of the dimness.
The princess spun to look for this new voice. Her eyes could barely distinguish more cells across the hall. One of them held an old man with long, white hair.
The old man shrugged under her stare. “What else can you do to him?” he asked pointedly, waving his hand at the despair around him.
The princess felt that all the wind had been knocked out of her. Slowly, she backed away. Thoughts were swarming through her head – too fast to process. She reached for the wall behind her and instead tripped over something on the ground. It was a thick stick with several long cords fastened at one end. At the end of each cord was a hooked metal spike. It felt wet and sticky.
“No…NO! Nooooooo!” the princess cried. She scrambled to her feet, staggering into the darkness of the hall that would lead her up and out of this pit.
“Who’s there!” echoed an angry voice. The heavy footsteps that had been echoing in deeper halls, pounded into the room, casting light from his torch on the quiet prisoners. But the princess was already gone.
At the top of the dungeon stairs, she heaved the heavy wood and iron door closed and continued her flight upward. As she passed by the kitchen, she thought she heard a servant shriek, but she did not slow down. She did not stop until she had reached the safety of her own bedroom. There she sank to the floor by her bed, trembling.
Her hands had red smears across them. The princess stared at them in horror. It was blood -- blood from a whip – the blood of her people.
Her whole world had been yanked upside-down. The dungeon was not an adventure. It was a nightmare. It was not a fantastic story-book destination. It was a trap.
The young man had looked at her with hope at first, when he first heard her shuffling footsteps. But when he could see her, he no longer expected her to help him.
And he would not answer her. The princess had never anyone refuse an order before. It was incomprehensible. She was the princess – hers was the right to command.
What had the old man said? “What for?” Why did people obey her? Was it only out of fear? What made one person able to command another person’s life?
What else had the old man said? “What else can you do to him?” Did they really blame her for all of their troubles? Did they think that SHE was the reason they were imprisoned? How could they think that a mere, sweet princess had done those things to them? How could they blame her for the dungeon – she who had never known it existed?
Slowly, ideas were beginning to form in the princess’ head. Slowly, it was beginning to make sense. If she claimed the right to command, she also claimed responsibility. And if she proved herself an irresponsible leader, then why would her people give her the right to command? This WAS her fault - all of it.
The princess felt very, very sick.