Immediately upon regaining consciousness, Cassandra could tell that something unusual was happening, and a quick look around the room confirmed her suspicions. For Calvin was not sitting next to the door, which is where he had always been when she awoke since before she could remember.
A knot was steadily growing in the pit of her stomach. For it appeared to be dark outside now.
An eerie silence hanging in the air like a pall was certainly not helping. For the big house was usually buzzing with activity at all hours of the day and night.
After taking a moment or two to collect her bearings, so to speak, Cassandra made her way down the hallway that led to a small alcove located near the kitchen. For this is where the servants liked to gather when they were taking a break, and she figured that anyone still around would most likely be there.
Cassandra was overjoyed to finally find someone when she first saw the captain of the palace guard and four of his soldiers sitting at a table in the center of the room, but her euphoria quickly faded. For they did not look very happy to see her.
Cassandra blinked, and when her eyes refocused, the scene was quite different. For the captain and his men were now standing at attention. Furthermore, they were all now looking at her with deep concern, and she knew that this was concern for her welfare instead of their own.
The captain asked, “Would you like to sit down, my lady?” Cassandra nodded her head in agreement, and he walked over and pulled out a chair for her.
When she was seated, the captain asked, “Would you like some hot cider, my lady?” Casandra again nodded her head in agreement, and the captain motioned for one of his men to pour her a cup.
Cassandra eagerly reached for the steaming cup when he returned, and after taking a couple of sips, she started feeling a little better. This also quickly faded after she asked, “What has happened?”
The captain answered, “Do you remember fainting when I informed you of the Prince wanting to see you as soon as possible, my lady?”
Cassandra responded with a meek, “Yes.”
“Well, the Prince was very upset when you did not arrive that evening, and Calvin has taken your place in prison,” the captain told her with an ever so slight tremble in his voice.
His mouth had not yet closed from speaking when Cassandra jumped to her feet and demanded, “How could this have happened?”
The captain took in a hard gulp of air before answering, “It is the law of the land, my lady.”
In a voice an octave or two higher than normal, Cassandra asked, “What law?”
“I am sorry, my lady, but I am under orders not to discuss that with you,” the captain replied in almost a whisper.
Undaunted, Cassandra demanded, “Take me to Calvin now!”
“It is very late, my lady, and it would be better if we waited until after sunrise. In fact, it would be even better if you did not go until sometime in the afternoon,” the captain informed her.
Cassandra exclaimed with a very uncharacteristic sternness to her voice, I don’t care!”
“Surely you must be hungry, my lady,” the captain countered. “For it has been almost three days since you have eaten anything that I am aware of.”
Visibly shaken, Cassandra managed to stammer, “What are you talking about?”
The captain took in another hard gulp of air before answering. “It was almost three days ago when I first informed you of the Prince wanting to see you as soon as possible, my lady.”
The color drained from Cassandra’s face, and she gingerly sat back down in her seat. Then she gathered her resolve, stood back up and told the captain in a very stern tone, “No, I am not hungry! Now, if you and your men are unwilling to escort me, I will just have to go there by myself.”
Without hesitation, the captain motioned for two of his men to lead the way. He walked alongside Cassandra, and his other two men trailed behind.
On a good night, a walk to the King’s Castle from there would be a very pleasant experience to most. For it was not all that far away, and the sight of its four ivory watch towers gleaming in the moonlight was breathtaking. Nonetheless, it was anything but a good night.
The four ivory watchtowers were not the only breathtaking things to the King’s Castle—be assured. For it is said that its front gate was carved out of a single pearl that was thirty feet in diameter, and the outer walls were constructed of white marble slabs too large to be handled by conventional means.
Panes of solid amber lined the main hall, and each interior room was a different wonder in and of itself. On the other hand, there was one part of the castle that was not so well adorned.
Cassandra sorely regretted refusing to eat something before they left when the putrid stench of the dungeon invaded her nostrils. For dry heaves always make bad situations worse.
Monstrous rats watched Cassandra’s every move, and they seemed to be daring the soldiers to kick at them before scurrying off in every direction. Cassandra burst into tears when she saw Calvin chained to the wall inside of a cell that was made of heavy iron bars covered with a thick greenish-black slime that also coated the walls of the entire dungeon.
“Please do not cry, my lady,” Calvin softly told her.
“I don’t…understand…why…this is…happening,” Cassandra replied between sobs. “I know…that I upset the Prince, but…why…why are you in chains down here?”
“I am down here doing my duty, my lady. For I am charged with protecting you from all harm to the very best of my abilities,” Calvin answered.
“But how can you protect me from anything in that cell?”
With a look of great pain on his face, Calvin answered, “I am taking your place in here, as I will be also doing at dawn.”
“What happens then?”
“I would rather not say,” Calvin replied.
“Please, do not seek to protect me from this, Calvin. For not knowing would surely do more harm than good.”
“I will be placed in a pit where I will be stoned to death, and then hogs will be let in to feed upon my carcass,” Calvin calmly answered.
Absolute horror would be the best way to describe the look on Cassandra’s face after she heard Calvin’s explanation. She tried to speak, but no words would come.
When she found some more resolve, she asked, “Surely the Prince could not be so vain and vindictive—could he? For I can understand how he could feel insulted when I failed to show up for dinner that night, but considering the fact that I took ill—can he really justify such a harsh punishment?”
Calvin quickly answered, “Be assured that the Prince does not need to justify anything to anyone. That is, except to his father, the King, of course, and since they are as one in heart, mind and soul about everything, there is never any question of him always doing just exactly as his father would have him to do.”
“Woe is me,” Cassandra moaned. “For both my Prince and his father, the King, are monsters.”
Calvin responded rather harshly, “You should never think in such a way. For it is just not true!”
Again, Cassandra burst into tears, and then let out a mournful wail that should never be heard coming from such a lovely young lass. For it was a sound that should only be heard coming from a wild animal on a lonely mountaintop and echoing down deep canyons in the middle of dark nights. It even brought tears to the eyes of the battle-hardened soldiers standing guard on the outside of Calvin’s cell.
Calvin was able to stifle a wail of his own enough to gently reply, “Be assured that they both love you very much, and n they have no desire to harm you.”
Having again collected herself somewhat, Cassandra managed to ask, “So, why must this sentence be carried out?”
“The problem is that one of the ministers knew of a statute that had been enacted long ago when such rules were necessary in order to promote order. The statute decreed that anyone found guilty of disrespecting a member of the royal family would be stoned to death and then have their remains fed to hogs in order to add all the more to their disgrace.”
In a much steadier tone, Cassandra asked, “Being the supreme ruler over all of the land, why couldn’t the King just do away with such a law—especially since it is no longer necessary?”
“Under normal circumstances, the King would just forgive the transgression and waive the penalty, but since this involves his son and his future daughter-in-law, he did not want any accusations of impropriety to tarnish the union.”
Cassandra pleaded, “Could I go and speak with them before it is too late?”
“No, that is not possible. For they are both indisposed at this time,” Calvin answered.
Cassandra let out another wail, and then fell silent when she heard the sound of heavy boots headed their way. For she knew what was about to happen.
“The time has come,” the captain of the palace guard announced.
Cassandra then turned toward Calvin, and when their eyes met, she said, “I love you, and I will always love you.”
Calvin collapsed in a heap when they unchained him from the wall, but it was not because of the confinement, nor the thought of what was about to happen. For it was hearing what Cassandra had said that so overwhelmed him. For it was something that he had longed to hear since the first day they met.
The soldiers standing guard helped Calvin to his feet, and then they led him out of the dungeon to a pit about a half of a mile outside of the castle. Following behind was Cassandra, with the help of a couple more soldiers.
No, Cassandra did not want to be a witness to the death of her beloved Calvin, but she did not want him to think that she was abandoning him. Adding all the more to her horror was a thought of her being at the mercy of the circumstances at hand.
Then another thought crossed Cassandra’s mind, and this one was about how she could still save Calvin by taking his place, which made perfect sense to her. For it was, after all, her debt to society that he was paying, and as long as it was paid, no one could rightfully question the King’s integrity.
Much to her despair, Cassandra quickly discovered that she was indeed trapped in what felt like a nightmare that would not end. For not only were her legs not working, she found that she could not say a word, nor make a sound of any kind. Neither could she wave her arms in order to get someone’s attention.
When Calvin reached the center of the pit, he turned to face Cassandra. Their eyes met and locked in an intense gaze that seemed to peer into the very depths of the other’s soul. He then told her, “I love you. I have always loved you, and I always will.”
Their eyes remained locked in that intense gaze until a fist-sized stone struck Calvin in the temple. He reeled backward but managed to remain upright. Calvin doubled over when several larger stones struck him on both sides of his rib cage, and then an even larger stone sent him to his knees after smashing the lower part of his right leg.
After a hail of smaller flint stones succeeded in shredding his shirt and much flesh underneath, a well-aimed toss of an incredibly sharp obsidian battle disc by the captain of the palace guard mercifully hastened the end of Calvin’s suffering by severing both the jugular vein and carotid artery on both sides of his neck. This brought a howl of protest from the minister who had forced the issue by bringing up the matter of that arcane statute, but he quickly quieted down and slithered away from the pit after it looked like several of the soldiers were about to start chunking stones in his direction.
Arterial spray covered the chalky-white clay soil at the bottom of the pit for about six feet around Calvin before he collapsed on his back, and this made the imagery of the scene complete. For it could be clearly seen from the top of the pit that what the arterial spray had painted was an exact match for the heart-shaped birthmark that remained clearly visible upon the center of his chest. All in attendance seemed frozen in place, and hogs could be heard squealing nearby.