The Man in the Dungeon
Eliza bit her lower lip and stared at the short straw in her hand. She was sure that the other maids had rigged something so she, too, would have to go down into the dungeons and feed the prisoners. Sure, they were behind bars, unarmed and, after years of being fed yesterday's leftovers, not exactly in their best condition. But still, Eliza thought, there was a reason why they were locked up.
Followed by everyone's looks, Eliza picked up the basket full of bread and heaved it up.
One of the older maids smiled at her. "Just stay out of spitting range. And don't show them any fear."
Eliza nodded. "I'll do my best," she mumbled and walked out of the kitchen onto one of the side corridors.
When she reached the entrance to the dungeons, Eliza dropped the basked and shook her wrists.
"Who're you, miss?" the guard at the door asked. "I've never seen you here before."
"I-I'm new." Eliza nodded. "I'm here to feed the prisoners."
The guard nodded. "So we got another one... let me check your basket. I can't let some girl I've never seen before walk in with a basket full of god knows what."
Eliza stepped back and let the guard search the basket. "Are they dangerous?"
"Yeah, that's why they're here... nah, I know what you're asking. Just don't get too close to the bars." The guard resumed his original position next to the door. "Have fun, miss," he said, smirked and pointed at the door.
Eliza grumbled, picked the basket back up and leant against the door to open it.
The dungeons had their own, disturbing atmosphere. The air was a bit thicker than usual and smelled exactly like you'd expect a bunch of unwashed mostly male prisoners expected to smell. Most of them were male, ranging from young and lanky to tall and bulky. Some looked downtrodden, some angry and some agressive and some even upbeat, but most of had their own brand of threatening aura.
"They're behind bars, and there's a guard right here. No need to worry," Eliza muttered and bit her lip. Slowly, she stepped forwards, continuously looking around for anyone who might jump at her from a dark corner.
A mere moment after she entered the corridor, the first prisoners noticed her presence and, more important to them, the presence of food. One after the other, they lunged for the bars and stretched out their hands. Even in cells with more than one prisoner in them, they managed to arrange things so everyone had his place.
Carefully, one loaf at a time, Eliza handed over the old bread. Occasionally, someone tried to get a second one, only to be pulled from the bars by another prisoner.
Eliza tried not to think about the amount of violence she had, so far, only heard about.
After a while, Eliza came across a section with no prisoners at all. Having been told to go through the whole corridor nonetheless, she picked up a loaf and walked on.
Eliza almost overlooked him, mostly because he didn't bother to stretch his arms in desperation at the sight of food. Instead, he just sat in the darkest corner of his cell. His hair, a rather shining tone of blue, hung over half his face in greasy strands.
"Uhm... excuse me?" Eliza peeped and held up the loaf.
Slowly, the man pushed himself up, patted some dirt from his whide, black coat and, finally, looked up, right into Eliza's eyes.
"So it's time again, miss." He walked over to the bars in a slow and deliberate way and held out his hand like a civilized human being. There was no hint of desperation in his clear eyes. Yet, from the look of his hair and clothes, he'd had to have been in that cell for a rather long time.
"I've never seen you before, miss. Are you new?"
Eliza nodded, while at the same time wondering if it was a good idea to talk to a prisoner. "You're not like the others."
"I know," he said, and looked in the direction of the noisier cells. "Because I ain't. I'm as far from them as you could imagine." He let out a dry laugh. "Not just literally."
Eliza handed him the loaf, which he took and held, instead of gulping it down like the others.
"You're interested in who I am. I can see that in your eyes."
Before Eliza realized her own actions, she nodded excitedly.
"I'll tell you, since I think you might believe me. I'm the queen's younger brother."
Eliza blinked. "Really?" She then laid her chin into her hand and squinted. "Now that you say it, you could really be."
The man's face lightened up a bit. "So you're willing to believe me."
"Maybe. Is this about the throne?"
He shook his head. "I never wanted to be king. No, I believe this is some conspiracy my dear sister doesn't even know about."
"I see why people wouldn't believe you."
"You're distributing food. So you will meet her. If you do, ask her about her brother."
"She's the queen!"
"I'm sure she'll listen if you mention me."
Slowly, Eliza nodded. "I'll try. But I have to go now, the others are waiting back upstairs."
"And don't tell anyone else. You never know if they're in on it."
Eliza nodded again, turned around and hurried out of the dungeon, back to the kitchen with the almost empty basket.
It took three days until Eliza was deemed ready to serve a meal to the queen without another maid to accompany and watch over her. Carefully, Eliza knocked on the door.
"I bring your meal, your majesty."
Eliza opened the door and peeked inside. The queen sat at her desk, brooding over a few pieces of paper. Her hair, which was a similar shade of blue as the prisoner's, was done up in a not entirely perfect bun so it wouldn't fall onto the paper and smear everything.
Carefully, Eliza entered the room and closed the door behind herself. "Where shall I put it?" She looked at the desk and found no spot to put the meal.
The queen realized that and stacked some of the papers on top of each other, so Eliza could place the meal in the resulting free spot.
"Your majesty... may I ask you something?"
The queen looked up with raised eyebrows. "Yes, but don't expect a long-winded answer. I'm busy."
Eliza bit her lip. "D-do you have a... a brother?"
Had the queen been holding something, she would have dropped it. "Why would you ask this?"
"What gave you the reason to ask this?"
Eliza could barely breathe. "T-there's a man in the dungeons. He claimed he was your brother, and that there was a conspiracy so you wouldn't find out he was there."
The queen sighed. "The paperwork can wait for a moment. Sit down." She pointed at a stool next to her.
Eliza nodded and sat.
"Yes, I have a brother, and yes, you met him in the dungeons. I had him put there."
"What he did?" The queen let out a barely audible snort. Then she proceeded to eye Eliza closely. "You might be too young, but do you remember the Beheader?"
Eliza frowned. "The Beheader? I... I think I heard about him, from my parents."
"What?!" Eliza clamped her hands in front of her mouth. "I'm sorry, your majesty."
"This reaction is the reason why no one knows who he is. It just doesn't befit a queen that her brother is a mass murderer. You have no idea how difficult it is to have proper diplomatical conversations with people if your brother's known for beheading people." The queen looked out of the window. "You know, I think you deserve to know the story behind this, even if it's just to stop you from freeing him or telling others."
Eliza nodded. "Yes, your majesty."
"You know, he doesn't feel like he did anything wrong. He feels like he's some kind of hero, just because he only killed criminals."
Eliza frowned. "But wouldn't that be... good?"
The queen shook her head. "When I say criminals, you're thinking of murderers and traitors, of abductors and rapists. But he didn't care how minor the crime was. Once, he killed a poor woman who had been stealing bread for her family. Or a petty gambler who conned people on the street. But he felt they should be punished. He even had supporters, but that was only before someone they knew was killed for almost nothing."
"That sounds terrible. Was he always like that?"
"I think it started when his wife was killed by a thief. But that does not excuse his behavior. He's still a murderer. Remember that, should you go down to the dungeons again."
Eliza gave the queen a firm nod. "Yes, your majesty, I will."
"You're dismissed. I have paperwork to do." With these words, the queen picked her quill back up.
Slowly, Eliza walked out into the corridors again. She thought back to the dungeons and to the queen's brother. He had seemed perfectly civil. Who knew, she thought, maybe he had given up already. Maybe he tried the same thing with every new maid. And maybe he really believed that his sister knew nothing. But Eliza would never know. And, so she thought, maybe that was for the best.
This one's inspired by the designated hero, who'd be way better off with being a villain. If only their creator realized it and wrote the story accordingly. Unfortunately, this seems to happen quite often in RM games. For the German-speaking people among you, go read this.