“I don’t want to die!”
Rolf screamed himself hoarse. Darkness and silence. His pulse pounded so loudly that he thought he heard it. All he’d heard about the third dungeon; men went in but never came out. The only exit was said to be down the drain. The stench confirmed its function. Telling himself not to panic didn’t help.
They meant for him to die here. He couldn’t see any way out. See? The third dungeon defined dark. Just as he felt. Lost. Hidden. Hopeless.
“I don’t wanta die!”
He sat with his head between his knees, breathing through his mouth trying to lessen the disgusting odor. All he could think of was dying. He’d starve or freeze or be attacked by rats. As he considered how he might perish—alone and unlamented—panic’s icy fingers tightened around his heart. He breathed faster. He heard his heart beating in his ears.
“I don wanna die!”
Nothing. There was nothing he could say or do now. Only wait to die.
“Who said that?” Rolf’s voice echoed in the small, hard-walled room. He saw nothing. He was sure he’d heard a voice. He knew that voice. He’d heard it before. Out in the hills.
Seek. Okay, he’d seek. Maybe he would die, but not today. Once his breathing slowed, Rolf felt around himself. Solid stone, roughly chiseled out in a dish centered on the drain.
He wouldn’t be fed. If he was to explore, he must move now while he had strength. He felt around the perimeter of his prison. What a strange chamber. First, the third dungeon was round, like a hollow orb. Why? Second, it had been carved from solid stone. The chisel marks were clear to his questing fingers. He could only speculate at the skill and technique required to carve such a chamber from living stone, albeit soft sandstone. A lot of effort. Again, why?
It stunk, of course, and was slick with mold or moss, but he found no bones or bodies. In fact, the whole thing was relatively clean. The smell—stale and putrid—came from a drain as wide as his shoulders dropping from the orb’s lowest point.
He searched the lower part of the chamber with his fingers. Leaning forward he touched something hard and light, which skittered away. He listened for it to plop down the drain. Nothing. He swept his hand upward from the drain, searching for what he assumed was a bone fragment.
It shifted away, but he patted gently until he located it again. Less than a hand span long: too short for a long bone. One end was softer and rounded, but the other cut off square and hard. The hard end felt like a metal cap. Circular, hard, with an irregular surface. His fingers weren’t sensitive enough to discern what the pattern represented. Still, it might be useful. He tied the tool to one of the lacings of his shirt and continued exploring.
Judging from the curve, the drain was ten feet below the opening. The cell was so round that he could only jump at the entrance hole above from astraddle the drain. Even if he grasped the bars above, he couldn’t imagine what he’d do then. The bars were blocked from above. And covered.
He sat on the floor and reached down the drain—the same diameter as the entrance. Fine grooves scored the sides as if made by a cutting tool. Maybe the masons had a stone auger, like carpenters used to bore holes in wood. Boring through even sandstone required an amazing tool. The cleverness of this dungeon made him blink.
He lay on the floor and stretched his arm down the drain. Smooth sided as far as he could reach. He heard water gurgling below, but he couldn’t tell how far down. He had nothing to drop but the new-found tool, but he—oh, he did have something to put down the drain. Rolf stood and dropped his trousers. The stream of his urine hit the water below. Not that far, but the drain must be barred. He could feel the rising cold.
The walls were too curved to lean against for comfort. He sat on the edge of the drain with his feet dangling. He imagined he’d sleep—if he could sleep in such a place—curled around the opening.
Well, he told himself, you’ve distracted yourself from the hopelessness of your situation so far. Despair knocked at the door of his soul, but he tried to ignore the clamor. He wouldn’t surrender yet.
Clearly, the Dragon was not just a bad man. He was evil in some way that Rolf couldn’t put into words. That creature Rolf glimpsed when Silvester was murdered must be the real Dragon. Rolf’s mother and father talked about good and bad, and about angels and demons, but Rolf’s world revolved around sheep. Up on the hills things happened. Some of them might be called bad, like wolves and thieves, but mostly they were just problems to solve.
The evil that Rolf felt in that throne room went far beyond the good and bad of the hillsides. That evil was like the demons which populated the tales of the saints’ lives. Some saints conquered evil with only a word of command, but others died horrible deaths while staying true to their faith.
He shrugged. At least he wasn’t faced with a martyr’s death. He’d just starve and die. No torture, no demons with batwings, and certainly no glorious stories told to future generations. No one would know where he’d died or how. His mother wouldn’t know what happened to him. At that thought, his misery forced open the doors of his heart. Rolf leaned to his side, drew up his knees, and cried himself to sleep.
Copyright © 2022 by Ron Andrea. All Rights Reserved.