Chapter 2: A Painful Cost
Chapter 1 is here
“We’re going to help them, right, Papa?”
The little prince looked heartrending. Standing almost to his father’s chest, he had to look up to meet his eyes.
“We’re going to help them, Will”, the king said and pulled his son into his arms.
“I’ll do anything”, said William even as he shared a look with his father that said they knew how high the cost could be.
William remained in the palace that morning while his father rode to negotiate with Maduch. He paced the great hall for hours before returning to his rooms to await his father’s return.
It was long past midday when king Jedidiah returned. There were no advisors to summon because they were in captivity so he went straight to his son’s rooms and found the prince seated on the floor, attending to his lessons.
“Papa!” He called “What did he say? Will they be let go?”
“Yes” replied Jedidiah. But he made no move to go to his son. The boy moved closer slowly, sensing his father’s dismay.
“What does he want in return?”
In response the king did something he’d never before done in front of the prince. He wept. William ran to him then and held him. On his knees, the king clutched his son in response and they remained that way for a long time. When he was finally composed, he looked into his little boy’s eyes and saw the determination there.
“They want me.” William said softly
His father nodded “They’ll return all the captives unharmed if I hand you over, bound and stripped of your powers, by sunset”.
“You know I’ll do it, Papa. And I’ll let them go if that’s what you want.”
The wretchedness of the situation settled about them like a fog. Jedidiah knew that his son loved their people. He loved them too. Neither would subject them to the cruelty they were certain to experience at the hand of such a madman. But Jedidiah loved his son too, and knew only too well that Maduch would not hesitate to do unspeakable things to him. And the prince loved his father with all his being and knew that the king would hurt if he was forced to let his son or his people suffer. Maduch had executed his plan well. They were trapped.
“I’m strong” said William “Like you, Papa. I can handle anything he throws at me. We’ll do this together. I know you’ll come for me. I can wait a little while. Free them. Then free me.”
Several leagues away Maduch pondered the dilemma he had put Jedidiah in, he didn’t see this coming. He thought that he was forcing the king to choose – between love and duty for his son and love and duty for his people. But both the king and prince were determined to choose both. So, mere minutes before sunset, having prolonged it for as long as he could, king Jedidiah presented Maduch with the prince. He’d bound his hands behind him, then pulled him close and carefully drained him of his powers. The prince could no more break through his bonds than any other mortal child.
“I wasn’t certain of your choice” Maduch called across the field that separated them. Behind him a camp was filled with men, women and children, all chained to each other. “Your love for your son is said to be legendary. I suppose he doesn’t love you all that much, William”.
The prince was pointedly ignoring Maduch’s taunts and searching for his friend among the captives. But it was an impossible task.
“Come closer so your people can watch the exchange”, Maduch called.
Jedidiah took the prince closer, but kept him closeby. “First we agree on the terms”.
“Of course” a smirk lifted Maduch’s face. “I will gave you half of the captives from the capital now, and the rest when I have left your kingdom with the boy.”
“No.” replied Jedidiah “You will do all you wish to do here and I will keep my son’s body”.
“Eager to watch him die? Perhaps I want him alive. I can teach him to be my son.”
“You’re going to kill him. I will not have you prolong it unnecessarily.”
Maduch sighed. “You really are eager to watch him die. In that case, You can have the rest of the captives along with your son’s corpse in seven days”
“That will do”. Jedidiah took a deep breath. “Where are the captives you are releasing?”
It took a few hours to round them up and for William to realize that his friend was not among them. Before leaving the palace his father had hugged him tightly and said, “This will hurt a lot – more than anything you’ve ever felt – but I will be with you the entire time. It might not feel that way, but I won’t leave you. If at any point you want me to stop it, I will. I swear it.”
The king had been shaking then, but he was composed now. He watched silently as half of the captives were brought to him and then allowed Maduch’s soldiers to take the prince. A soldier came forward with a bucket of tools but Maduch waved him away.
“I’ll just need a knife and a fire. I can work quite well with that”. He smiled, displaying all thirty-two of his teeth. You would be hard pressed to find a stronger expression of happiness on that day.
He began by taunting the king.
“I think I’ll skin him and then roast him over the fire. Or maybe I’ll only roast small pieces at a time.” To test his theory he cut a piece off the prince’s thigh, impaled it on the knife, and threw it into the fire. The scream came right as expected, chilling everyone and everything for miles. Maduch smiled and inhaled.
He kept his promise. For three days the prince’s screams went on. Though his voice grew hoarse and softer until he could barely whimper. There are a lot of things that can be done with a sharp knife and an open fire, none of which you need to imagine. Just believe that he did terrible things. Maduch tried to make the king beg and Jedidiah would have done so if he thought it would do anything but embolden his enemy. Maduch did manage to bring him to his knees and make him weep like a baby in front of the entire kingdom. And he never stopped the taunting.
“What kind of a father are you?” he asked “With all your power, you can’t even protect your son.”
“That’s not true” WIlliam moaned
“You can end this at any time. Beg for mercy and I’ll let you have your son and perhaps even the already freed captives. Of course I’ll torture them for the rest of eternity, but choosing them over your son? Who does that? They’re traitors. The plotted against you. They put you in this place. Yet you turn your back on the one person who has always been loyal. For them.”
Towards the end of the third day, when the prince’s screams were no longer as satisfying, Maduch had a spit made over the fire, tied the boy to it, and made one of the soldiers roast him like a pig. No one knows when he died, but by the time the sun set on the third day, the prince of Dawn was no more.
The entire kingdom must have heard it. While the enemy was still closeby, Jedidiah pulled his still son into his arms and lamented his grief at the top of his longs. All creation felt it. Grass wilted in a circle around the royal duo for miles. All the animals – from tiny earthworms to the boars in the forest stopped their activities to listen. The newly released inhabitants of Dawn fled – all but one. Zima had struggled with his restraints throughout the ordeal and, once freed, ran towards the grieving father. They both sat there long after their tears had run out.
The other citizens returned after a few hours. They might have been freed by Maduch but they had quickly found that an invisible wall kept them prisoners. They king wasn’t letting anyone go till his son was avenged.
When his grief was spent, the king ordered his guards to move all the people into the city and lock the gates. Every city gate in the kingdom was locked. No one would leave, he declared, until he was done with them. Rather than prepare for a funeral, he took the prince back to his chamber, bathed and dressed him, then lay him in his bed. He kissed him, breathing into his lungs, and lay beside him. At dawn the next day, when light from the windows hit the bed, the prince opened his eyes.