Chapter 3: An Ugly Encounter
Back in his chambers, Konrad interrupted the prince at breakfast. “Sir, a messenger from the prison said there has been a ‘new development.’ He said you would understand.”
Gregor stood up and rushed to the prison.
“Prince Gregor, thank you for coming so soon!” the guard said when Gregor reached the base of the last stairway.
“You have something new to report,” the prince said, trying to sound indifferent.
The guard grabbed the ring of keys hanging on the wall. “Yes, right this way.”
Prince Gregor followed him through the damp passage to the woman’s cell. When the guard moved to unlock the heavy door, the prince stopped him and looked first through the iron grate. The daylight from a high, narrow shaft let him spy the woman sitting on her bed with her back toward the door.
“You there,” said the prince. “Can you understand me?”
She straightened up. “Yes,” she uttered in a husky voice. She cleared her throat. “Yes.”
“I am Prince Gregor. I want to speak with you!”
Watching her shoulders rise and drop, Gregor wondered, Is she resigned or relieved?
The prince felt for his sword with his left hand, then motioned for the guard to unlock the door. The guard retreated two steps, and the prince entered by himself.
Gregor approached the woman, yet remained between her and the open door. “Who are you?” he asked.
With a Corinthian accent she said, “Last night you called me a wench.”
Gregor’s pulse quickened. “I’m asking who you are.”
“That you will discover,” she said in a voice richer in accent, “when my father slays you within a week!”
“Your father?” asked the prince.
“Sergio,” she said, and Gregor could see from the side of her face that she smiled. “King Sergio of Corinterra,” she said while rolling the R’s in her land’s native name.
“The daughter of the mighty King Sergio led a raid on my father’s Kingdom?” he asked. “Who are you really?”
She sprung up and whirled about; the prince stepped backward toward the door.
A bandage stained with dried blood crossed the left side of her face and covered one eye. Her defiant chin was bruised and her hair unkempt. She was not pretty. The prince desired to look away, but feared she would judge less of him if he did.
“Prin-cess Ca-ro-li-na!” she said with strength behind each syllable.
If only Manfred were here! the prince thought. “Prove it,” he said.
“I speak your language,” she said. “Only a princess would master that.”
The prince believed a well-educated woman of the court could master his language. Even he did not speak the language of the Corinthians. He shook his head. “Show me real evidence.”
“Read my father’s letter,” she said. “He wrote it with his own hand. It has his royal seal.”
“There is no letter,” he said. Yet why would she be foolish and claim there was? he wondered.
“Look at this!” she said and reached under her cloak to pull out a necklace. In the dim light, she held a round pendant in her soiled hand. Seeing little at first, he motioned her toward the door. There, in the glimmer from the lanterns in the narrow passageway, he recognized the coat of arms of his father’s adversary, King Sergio.
“Then why did you overrun the sentry post and attack the guards at the city gate?” the prince asked.
“The sentry was a babbling idiot!” she said. “After trying to converse with him, we ignored his attempts at keeping us away from your city.” Her Corinthian accent thickened. “He and his men pursued us, and at the gate there was a struggle.”
The woman stepped to the side to regain her balance. She staggered to her bed, sat down, and held her bandaged head in her hands.
“You aren’t well,” the prince said.
“Your men struck my head,” she said with a groan.
“We normally do worse things to invaders,” he said.
She scowled at him. “Is that what you call a peace mission?” Again she clutched her head. “Just read the letter,” she said in a muffled voice. “Your men grabbed it from me outside the gate before—” She looked up at the prince.
“Before you maimed the lad,” the prince said.
“Defended myself from that oaf who seized the letter and tried to pull me off my horse! Have you seen Siska, my horse?”
Gregor shook his head. I need to ask Manfred about the letter! he thought.
“I needSt. John’swort for the swelling and stinging nettles for the pains,” she said. “Have your doctor brew them together in a tea.”