Drip. One thousand-one.
Drip. One thousand-two.
Drip. One thousand-three. Another drop, another thought flittering into existence before disappearing into the engulfing darkness of the tower.
Drip. One thousand-four. Counting drops, counting memories, counting the moments that had brought me there this time.
“I want you to know how disappointed I am with you Gwyneth,” my father gave me a stern look as he repeated the same line he’d said a thousand times. How much of a letdown I was, how disappointed he was in the person I’d become, and on and on and on.
“I expect more from you and so does this city. If I’m to do my job I can’t have some renegade daughter gallivanting around the streets protesting government policies. It doesn’t sit well with my colleagues, it doesn’t sit well with Mr. and Mrs. Whoever who read about you every Saturday with their morning coffee, and quite honestly Gwyneth, it especially doesn’t sit well with me.” He sighed as if he genuinely cared about the fact that I was a “renegade daughter” because I was his daughter. As if he cared about me and my well-being. But no, there was no emotion, no family connection attached to me. There hadn’t been for years.
“Gwyneth, do you think I like having this talk with you every other week? Do you think I enjoy using the power of my office on my own daughter?" I think you’ll do whatever it takes to stay in office, regardless of who I am in relation to you.
I enjoyed that he used so many rhetorical questions in his lectures. It meant that I was supposed to know the answer he was implying so I didn’t have to actually respond.
Honestly, I did know the answer he was implying, but we both knew that the answer he was implying wasn’t the truth. He was a cold and heartless politician who had sacrificed everything to be where he was; including the right to think that we had a relationship that could even be compared to “father-daughter”.
Fathers cared about their daughters. Fathers chose school recitals over press conferences they weren’t required to be at. Fathers forgave their daughters for mistakes. Fathers didn’t lock their daughters in dark, damp towers because they were “embarrassing the family name.” Fathers cared more about their daughters than their image. No, my father had long given up the right to pretend we had a real relationship. It made it harder for him to get re-elected if his daughter was one of the people he was writing laws, curfews, and regulations to stop or at least manage.
“You’re barely 17, dear,” Dear? Where the hell do you get off calling me dear, Father DARLING, “Don’t waste your future chasing some adolescent dream and running around with people of such a lower standard. You’re better than this Gwyneth or I at least raised you to be better than this.” You didn’t raise me at all and those people of a “lower standard" care more about me than you ever have.
He was cold, calculating, and deadly and the only thing I had to thank him for was teaching me to be the same. Part of the reason he was so “disappointed” was that I was the only real opposition him and his government had faced in a long time, and that scared him. I don’t think he’d quite accepted the fact that he might have created his own demise.
“Now when you get back there’s a very nice young man I’d like you to meet by the name of Blake Hemsburg who comes from a very respectable family," I’m sure he’s a perfectly snobbish brute with a lovely pedigree. “I’ll have a dress brought up for you and we’ll host a banquet with—” at this point I tuned him out completely. Another favorite past time of my father’s was finding suitors from respectable families to introduce me to. I suppose his hope was that I’d fall madly in love with one of them and he’d show me the error of my ways, or some such nonsense.
There were still enough differences between the two of us for me to not be totally disgusted by myself though. I hadn’t reached the level of emotional numbness he had. I hadn’t quite reached the point where I would condemn my family (even him) to sit in a tower for about a week with nothing to do but count drops of water. Each trip to the tower brought me a little closer to total emotional apathy but I wasn’t to his point. Not quite.
Drip. One thousand-five. Counting the drops of water gradually flooding around me was the only thing I could do to fight away the hatred of my father. If I focused too much on that then hatred would become the only thing I thought about and the only emotion I would be able to feel. I wouldn’t become him. I couldn’t.
Drip. One thousand-six.
Drip. One thousand-seven. Sanity was always another issue at hand.
Drip. One thousand-eight. A drop came about every minute, falling into the cramped, moist depths of the tower. The drops kept time better and more effectively than a clock in terms of my lucidity. With a clock, I would be constantly watching the minutes drag by and the persistent itch for the time to change would be enough to drive me crazy by the 4th hour. The drops kept me mildly preoccupied and distracted me from my sanity slowly leaking from my brain and the hatred threatening to consume me.
Drip. One thousand-nine. It had been almost 17 hours so far.
Drip. One thousand-ten. Considering I was usually let out around 10,000 drops, my imprisonment had hardly even begun.
Drip. One thousand-eleven.
My head shot up in response to a noise disrupting the quiet that always rang supreme over my tower. It scared me, truth be told, to have something foreign disturb my place. It’s not that I enjoyed the tower, quite the contrary in fact, but there was something familiar about the cold stone and the continuous drip.
I pressed my ear against the door of the tower and strained my ears, willing the stone to carry the sound through. At first all I heard was a muffled chorus of low rumbles. They had a certain rhythm to them I recognized, a steady barrage followed by swift silences followed by… I listened harder and the stone revealed a parade of softer, slightly higher sounds arguing with the rumbles. No, they weren’t arguing, the rumbles were causing the softer sound which was emitted in the gaps between the barrages.
I shuffled as far as I could away from the door. The rumbles were painfully familiar now as they grew closer and louder. Those rumbles were attached to a deep green coat, a set of hard leather gloves that hurt more than almost anything, and a mind that had lost the ability to empathize. I crunched myself against the wall, quieting my mind and erasing my emotions as I melted into the stone. It was a trick I had learned when I was 14. If you make yourself less important to look at than the stone wall, they’ll see the wall before they see you, if they ever do. It was simple camouflage magic that merely distorted someone’s ability to perceive something.
The door slid open and Watcher Hicks appeared silhouetted in the light, holding with his tree trunk arms a boy of about 17 with his hands tied behind his back. Hicks’ yells barreled out of his mouth and the sound erupted through the tower, echoing horribly.
“You’re the muck even mules are too proud to walk on! You think they’ll give you a fair trial, rat? No, we’ve got too many rodents like you crawling around the streets to waste our time on one useless filthy thief. I bet you’re the one who’s been rallying the vermin in Old Town too!” here Hicks paused his barrage briefly to shove the boy from the hallway down into the tower. With his hands still tied behind his back, the boy fell the four foot drop onto the cold stone without being able to catch himself. He fell on his face and simply lay there, apparently numb from the pain as Hicks spit,
“Well boy, you won’t get off easily this time. I caught you, and I caught you right good. The judge’ll have your head for thievery, treason, kidnapping, murder, and whatever else I’m in the mood to stick the much esteemed “Thief of Ryden” with. I can tell you your reputation won’t do you any favors anymore, ‘specially not down here. Better get some sleep scum, before the pain really sets in,” Hicks cackled.
Whoever had tied the boy’s hands had been particularly cruel as they had tied them so tight his wrists were already raw from the rope being rubbed around them. He rolled onto his side and curled up slightly from the pain as Hicks continued,
“Let’s see you escape from this one then filth,” he spat down at the boy before sliding the stone door shut again. The light that had previously flooded the tower sprinted through the closing crack between the door and the wall and was extinguished as it slid shut, leaving us in total darkness. I stayed completely still and pressed even a little further into my wall to watch him intently.
He uncurled and winced as he did so before sliding painfully into a sitting position. He cracked his neck, rolled his shoulders back and stretched his arms as far as they would go since they were still tied before bringing them back to a relaxed position behind his back with a sigh. He took a quick glance around the tower, his eyes passing right over the spot of the wall I was melted into. Then, showing a surprising amount of energy considering the state he’d seemed to be in when he was thrown in here, he rolled onto his back, rocked backwards, and rolled forwards again to spring to his feet. He stood for a fraction of a second before groaning from some pain he hadn’t been expecting and collapsed back on the ground. I suppressed a laugh that would have given me away as he lay still for a moment before twitching a little on the ground. He had been caught completely off guard by what appeared to be a broken rib. He winced again, this time more painfully and sat up with a muttered,
The boy scooted to the wall right underneath the door and pushed himself against it and into a standing position. He stretched his right arm as straight as it would go and pointed it at the ground, beginning to shake and hop until a small pocket knife slid into the palm of his waiting left hand. He flicked the knife open, leaned against the wall, and sawed his way through the ropes binding his hands. The rope fell loose from his wrists and he brought them in front of him, rubbing the sore red skin delicately. It seemed this boy wasn’t as helpless as he had made it look to Hicks. He was clever, and therefore dangerous. Any minute now he was going to see me and then he’d have a weapon and I’d have a bit of explaining to do.
No, that simply wouldn’t do. I would start this on my own terms, amiable ones preferably. I stayed pressed against my wall until he flicked the knife closed and sank down to lean his head against the wall, setting the closed knife on the mossy ground next to him. I inched closer along the wall, using the mossy stones to cover my already nearly silent footsteps. He buried his face in his palms and rubbed his eyes and I took the opportunity to finish my trek around the tower. I silently scooped up the knife then leaned nonchalantly against the wall next to him with my arms crossed. He took his hands away from his face and tilted his head back against the wall.
“The moss down here does wonders for rope burns,” I said and he jumped at least a foot on the ground which launched him across the floor away from me. He flinched again as he landed on the side with the broken rib. The boy stared first at my casual pose, then my face, and finally to the small black knife I was tossing in the air and catching before swearing under his breath. He stared at me wide-eyed for a minute before blinking to make sure I wasn’t a hallucination, then leaned cautiously back against the wall.
“I’ll try that,” I couldn’t help but smile at his attempt to regain dignity.
“So who are you then?”
“I don’t see why I should tell you,” he replied coolly, “you caught me off guard, seems to me you’ve got the explaining to do,”
“Hardly,” I scoffed, “remember I was here first. You’ve just stumbled into my little…abode,”
“Which means you owe me the hospitality of being my host, doesn’t it?” he smirked at me, wiping the smile off my face. Dammit, now we were on his terms.
“Thing is though, which of us has the weapon in this situation?” I flicked open the knife as I said this and continued tossing it, mentally thanking my mentor for talking me into knife throwing lessons. Now it was his turn to lose the grin. He glared at me and flicked his eyes to the knife.
“James,” he muttered, keeping his eyes glued on the blade. I caught the knife and held it still, then looked at him and said,
“I’m Gwen,” I put on my most reassuring smile and flicked the knife closed. He glanced at it and for a moment I thought about giving it back to him as I remembered my plan to start this imprisonment on amiable terms. Well, threatening him into giving me his name didn’t exactly fit into that plan. Damn, I was bad at this “amiable terms” thing. Still, now that I had dug myself into this hole, now didn’t seem like the right time to give him the knife back considering he might just stab me here and now. I slid it into my pocket and crossed my arms over my chest.
We let several minutes of silence pass between us during which we really sized each other up. He was well built and fairly muscular, if a little lean, but since his clothes hinted he was from Old Town I credited this to poor nutrition. Still, in a fight dependant on strength he would easily win. He obviously could handle a knife with some proficiency and if he really was the Thief or Ryden that added lock picking, hand-to-hand combat, agility, speed, and stealth to his range of abilities. He was dreadfully clever and seemed to have quite the way with words, which made him charismatic and dangerous, although to what degree I couldn’t be sure yet. Dangerous seemed to be the perfect word to describe him overall.
“It’s a bit odd; them putting two prisoners in what’s supposed to be a solitary confinement cell,” it was James that broke the silence. I considered his analysis for a moment before replying,
“I think they just forgot I was in here, they sometimes do that,”
“Not the first time you’ve been here then I take it,” he asked simply in a voice that said “Not that I really care though. Honestly I’m just making conversation.” He was trying to play it cool. Made sense considering I was the one with the knife.
“How do they sometimes forget you’re here?”
“Well you’re the first time they’ve slipped up badly enough to give me a roommate, but it’s not uncommon for them to forget to feed me,” I replied matter of factly. I expected my straight forwardness to catch him off guard but apparently he was already used to the Watchers’ cruelty.
“How often is food supposed to come?”
“About every other night.”
“Good,” he said simply. We sat in silence for a moment since I figured this didn’t need a response.
“Ok listen Gwen, I’m in pain, I’m tired, and quite honestly, I’m a little offended that such shoddy security is being applied the night before I’m supposed to go before a judge and ‘pay for the crimes I’ve committed against society’,” he spoke as if he’d memorized the speech Hicks had been giving him on the way here and I remembered something Hicks had said,
“Let’s see you escape from this one.”
"This one". James had probably been in and out of countless cells and had likely gotten a very similar speech from every watcher who had ever brought him in. It was funny he should talk about escape so casually when Hicks’ words were actually applicable to this tower. I didn’t care how handy of a lock pick James was, there was no way out once you were in unless someone from outside came and got you.
“And I’d really like to sleep for a bit seeing as apparently this is the last night I’ll get the chance to do that."
"And I’d like to know you won’t kill me,” I laughed at this, I couldn’t help it. He was trying to pull me down to his level, to see how much sympathy he could weasel out of me.
How very clever you seem to be turning out to be James
“I’m not here for killing someone,” I reassured him.
"So is that a 'No James, I won't stab you in your sleep'?"
I simply raised my eyebrows at him in response.
"I'm just asking because it's come up in the past,"
"Spent a lot of time with murderers?"
"I've found I usually have a better chance if I ask them not to kill me instead of just assuming."
"I don't plan on killing you,"
"Thank-you, that's very considerate," I almost smiled at this. He didn't seem to be a threat, but he was also trying to give that impression.
"I am planning to keep the knife though, if it's all the same to you," His smile faltered for a fraction of a second.
“Go right ahead,” he replied quickly as he replaced the smile and we settled back into silence.
“Watcher Hicks seems to like you,” he glanced at me sideways and laughed. It came out easily and freely and he didn’t try to magnify or hinder it; he simply let it come out naturally. It was nothing like the forced chuckles uttered at bad jokes I was used to.
“Oh yeah, we go way back,” his laugh changed after saying this and became short and cold.
“He’s such a lovely person isn’t he?”
“Better than Thatch,” James replied bitterly.
“That’s not exactly a high bar,” I joked and he smiled and responded with another natural laugh.
“No, I suppose not,” his laugh was infectious and I snickered a little with him before I could stop myself.
He yawned loudly and shuddered a little as the expanding of his lungs pressed against the broken rib. He squinted his eyes shut for a second before telling me in a shaky voice,
“Well, now that I have your word, I think I will get some sleep, if it’s all the same to you,” he teased, using the same line I had used earlier. I smirked.
“Go right ahead. Seriously though James,” it felt odd to say his name but I figured since I knew it I might as well use it. Maybe it would make him trust me, “The moss honestly does do wonders for rope burns.” Normally I would have just let him suffer through the pain as it would have made him a slightly easier foe to defeat if it came to that, but I was committed to getting on good terms with him.
“Really really,” I assured him as I scraped some off the wall between us. I crushed it between my fingers and stooped down to rub it onto his raw wrists. He let out a small sigh as the cooling effects of the plant soothed the burning pain.
“You’re sure this won’t ‘accidentally’ kill me?” he laughed as he watched me rub the goo into his wrists.
“You’re really set on this idea of me being a murderer aren’t you?”
“Just…trying to figure you out,” he smiled up at me and I plastered on a smile as I said,
“Honestly James if I was going to kill you I would have done it by now,” I kept smiling but he dropped his for a moment, trying to decide if I was kidding or not.
“Maybe you were just too overwhelmed by my dashing good looks,” his smile took on a dazzling quality as if he was trying to prove his point further.
“Sure kid, you keep telling yourself that,” I rolled my eyes as I finished with the moss then stood back up and crossed to the other side of the tower.
“Goodnight Gwen,” he smiled. He seemed to do an awful lot of smiling considering the situation he was in, “When I escape tomorrow and I’d be happy to bring you with me, if you’re willing,”
“Goodnight James.” I replied and watched him lie down and promptly pass out, completely exhausted from his injuries. I waited for about half an hour before I lay down and closed my eyes; prepared for an uneasy night.