art by Melissa Mead
Fields of Ice
by Jay Caselberg
Marsius pulled his coat tight against the wind. The snow blew in flurries swirling about his face and his fur boots sank deep. The sharp, dirt-ice smell crept under his hood, edged and filthy like the season. He looked up at the sheer stone Academy walls, their tops lost in darkness. Somewhere above, the remaining college members were heading off to dinner, or the library, or bed, secure and warm. There was no point dwelling on it; the prison awaited. He pulled his coat around him more tightly and lowered his head into the icy wind.
It took him half an hour to trudge to the broad prison gates, battling through the narrow streets. The high buildings funneled the wind and whipped it around him. Twin torches sat on either side of the gate, guttering and flaring, sending the acrid scent of burning swirling about with the wind. He lifted a leather-gloved fist to bang on the iron-shod door. At his third attempt, someone heard; a small door recessed in the main portal swung inward and a head poked out. There was annoyance on the face it presented.
"I'm here for the children," said Marsius. "I'm Lector Filindal."
The guard gestured him impatiently through the door and into the central courtyard. Marsius looked around at the forbidding stone walls and the narrow cobbled space. Charming. The guard disappeared to a side room and reappeared a few moments later with a board. He checked through the roster, looked up at Marsius, then nodded.
"Right. This way, sir," said the guard. His breath fogged in the air. Marsius wished the guard had asked him inside to perform the checks instead of leaving him to stamp and huddle in the courtyard. There was clearly a small fire inside the guardroom. He supposed common courtesy would have been too much to ask. This was a prison, after all.
The guard led him across the courtyard and to a rickety wooden platform that stood against one wall. He gestured with an open hand, and Marsius frowned his lack of understanding.
"If you'll just climb aboard, Lector Filindal."
"Oh, I see." Marsius finally noticed the ropes leading up into the blackness. He readjusted his pack, climbed aboard and gripped the railing. The guard disappeared off to one side and started the winch. As the platform crept up the wall, Marsius looked up at the leaden darkness, hesitating to cast his glance downward. Heights had never been a strong point.
The platform creaked and strained beneath him. Even the ropes creaked, strung taught with his weight. He could just picture them giving way and his body being dashed upon the cobbled courtyard below. With each turn of the winch the platform crawled higher and his fear grew. Finally, with relief, Marsius saw an opening in the wall far above him.
Another guard met him at the entrance. A deep tunnel lit by torches trailed away ahead.
"Lector Filindal. Here for the children," said Marsius, throwing back his hood and fumbling with the front of his coat.
"Oh, lucky you," said the guard. "I'll show you where they are, and then we can see to your chambers. You in for the duration?"
"Hmm," said the guard. He tilted his head to one side, stuck a finger in his ear and worked it around and around, then grimaced. "You're a bit young, aren't you?"
Marsius frowned. So what if he was young? He knew what he was doing.
"This way," the guard said, gesturing down the corridor when he'd finished inspecting the results of his ministrations. At least there was a hint of warmth inside. Marsius stripped off his gloves and tucked them under his arm as he followed along behind, feeling the gloom and the stone walls pressing down on him. The place smelled old, of dust, and old piles of rubbish left in forgotten corners.
He hadn't known what to expect of the children. Of course, he had seen likenesses rendered of the royal family, but he'd never paid them much attention. His mind was normally on other things. So, when the guard finally led him up a passageway and directed him inside the small cell, Marsius stopped in the doorway, to observe. The boy was the image of his father, but the girl...
The guard cleared his throat and Marsius shook himself.
"I'll come back for you in a while. Give you time to get acquainted," said the guard behind him.
"Very well," said Marsius over his shoulder, then turned and stepped inside. The door locked behind him with a loud clunk.
The two children watched as he stood there, returning his gaze. The boy was dark, with the same prominent nose and thick brow of his father. The girl--Antalya was her name, he thought--was as pale as the ice fields. Liquid blue eyes watched him impassively.
"Prince Sten, Princess Antalya--" He rolled the sound of her name over his tongue. "--I am Lector Filindal. I have been assigned to you for the duration of your internment, or until...."
"Until they kill us," said the Prince.