As the day progressed, things in Castle Whitefall began to assume a façade of normalcy. Percival the Troll finished shoveling his dung, and brought the three prisoners their breakfast. The breakfast was not exactly hot, nor was it particularly appetizing, but it was filling.
The Duke, still in a state of mental disarray, decided the best thing to do would be to proceed about his normal duties, all the while debating with himself the best way to inform the citizens of Whitefall that an army of grey reavers was about to appear on their doorstep. He wasn’t sure which scared him more, the Chimerae, or the grey reavers. He told himself without much conviction that as long as the White King was there, the reavers would remain in control.
Ser Robert left the Duke and Duchess alone for the day, allowing them time to assimilate the news he had brought. He left the Castle and ranged the countryside across a great distance, looking for signs of the Chimerae. He found none, but that did not make him feel better.
Nearby in the town of Whitefall, the villagers also began to go about their normal business. The men decided that there was nothing to be done until they knew more about the situation, and they assured themselves that the Duke would keep them safe. He always had before (“And besides, doesn’t he have a Dungeon Troll?” they asked. “I’d like to see even the Eagle get by one of those blighters!”). The women, tiring of their gossip when it became clear that no one had anything new to say, returned to their houses to find their children muddy, out of breath, and exhilarated. A great many scoldings in a great many houses commenced.
And so it went. In the Castle dungeon, little was said. Occasionally, one of the prisoners would make a comment or ask a question to another. The other would then give a curt, monosyllabic reply – usually more of an acknowledgement that he heard than any sort of actual response. The High Physician stood still, arms crossed, lost deep in thought. The Eagle sat and fidgeted, occasionally standing up excitedly as though a flash of insight had occurred to him, before sitting down again, whatever brilliant idea he had fading as quickly as it had come. The third prisoner, Cameron, paced. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and then switching directions, up and down, up and down, up and down. It was perhaps telling that the Eagle said not a word to Cameron the entire day; indeed, he would not even look at him, though at times could be seen to glance in his direction, muttering darkly.
The sun reached its zenith, and then began to set. A cool breeze sprang from the north, signifying the cold of winter that was to come. Dusk fell, and then night. There was no moon. And Cameron could not sleep. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Up and down, up and down, up and down. Long into the night, Cameron paced. Finally: “Gods, you treacherous bastard, will you sit down? You’ve been pacing that damn cell all day long, and half the night as well, and I haven’t slept a wink,” the Eagle growled menacingly.
Cameron flinched, but he sat down. Yet still, sleep would not come for many hours, and when it finally did, it was fitful and restless.
Age five. Cameron tagged along behind his older brother Rhys, and his friends. “Rhys, can I come with you? Please, Rhys? I won’t bother you at all, I swear!”
Rhys scowled down at him. “No way, you little runt. Scat!”
“But Rhys! Mom said you had to let me play with you!”
Rhys paused for a moment. “Oh, did she?” he finally said. “Well then, I know just the game. Let’s play hide and seek!”
One of the other kids, a big burly lout with butch black hair, said in a low voice, “Rhys, don’t be stupid. We don’t want to hang out with your little runt brother.”
Rhys shot him a glance, “Oh, don’t be silly. We’re going to have fun. Cameron, you hide first.”
Cameron tottered along through the house gleefully, two large buck teeth sticking out from his upper lip, looking for a place to hide. He didn’t really care where. He was just glad to get to play with his big brother. Most days Rhys treated him like dirt, but today—today would be different!
He wandered into his mom’s pantry absentmindedly. Maybe he could crawl up on top of one of the shelves. “I bet Rhys would never find me up there,” he said to himself. “And I know all the best places in the house, so when it’s his turn to hide, I’ll find him right away!” The thought pleased him to no end as he cautiously tested the shelves to see if they would support his weight.
A shadow fell across the doorway before he got too far up. “Found you, little runt,” Rhys said cheerfully. “This was a good hiding place, though, little brother. In fact, it’s so good, I think you should just hide here the rest of the day!” Rhys slammed the door shut, and Cameron heard the heavy wooden thud of the crossbeam fall into place, locking him in.
“Ha, ha,” said Cameron. “Very funny, Rhys. Let me out of here, it’s your turn to hide!” There was no response. Cameron heard footsteps fading into the distance. “Rhys?” he asked, starting to get worried. It was dark in here. “Let me out, Rhys!” There was no response.
Cameron sat down and waited. Surely Rhys couldn’t leave him in here forever… could he? Wait! What was that noise? It sounded like something running across the floor. Was it a rat? Did the pantry normally have rats in it? Something brushed up against Cameron’s leg, and he jumped upright, breathing heavily.
“Help! Help! Mom? Dad?” Cameron started banging on the door. “Anybody? Let me out of here!” Then he heard the sound of the bolt lifting, and he tumbled out into his mother’s waiting arms.
Age seven. Rhys could be pleasant enough when he was by himself, and sometimes he was even fun to play with, but Cameron knew to stay far away when he was with his friends. Some days, he couldn’t avoid them, though. Like today. Cameron was watching his father chop down a great old oak tree in the woods near their house, until he got bored and started wandering aimlessly through the woods. Before long, he stumbled across Rhys and his friends, all gathered around some large wooden crate. They were poking at something inside and laughing. Before he could react, they spotted him.
“Well, look what the cat drug in,” said Rhys. “C’mere, bug-eyes, I wanna show you something.” Rhys’s friends laughed dully at Rhys’s attempt at humor.
“No, thanks, I’ll just go back the way I—”
“I said get over here. Now.” Nobody was laughing any more. Rhys’s friends exchanged glances, unsure what would happen next. Cameron turned to run, but his foot got stuck in a root, and he tripped, face-planting in the dirt. Then Rhys was on top of him. “I’ll teach you to run away from me,” he said in a deadly serious voice. He threw Cameron, struggling wildly, over his shoulder, and carried him over to the crate. The closer they got, the harder Cameron struggled, but it was no use; Rhys was too strong.
“I thought you might like to meet some of my friends, Cam-ee-o,” Rhys said, chuckling. “They’re very friendly, and fun to play with. Just don’t make them mad, or they’ll sting you…”
Were those scorpions in there? Cameron began to scream loudly. “Don’t lock me up in there! Don’t lock me up in there!” He fought and fought to get away, but Rhys just held him out at arm’s length, like a sack of potatoes.
“What do you think, guys, should I give Cam-ee a bit of play time?” Rhys asked the other boys.
Slowly, at first, they began to chant, “Put him in! Put him in! Put him in!”
Cameron was now fighting for his life, screaming as loud as he could, words unintelligible, tears and snot running down his face. The boys just chanted louder and faster, “Put him IN! Put him IN! Put him IN!”
Cameron’s father appeared only two minutes after Rhys had thrown him in the box and slammed the lid shut, but Cameron had already been stung by the scorpions fourteen times. Rhys endured his subsequent beating in stony silence, a triumphant look in his eye.
Age twelve. Cameron and Rhys hardly spoke to each other anymore. Rhys had gotten fatter, and Cameron had gotten faster, and could outrun Rhys now. Rhys quickly tired of chasing him, and resorted to verbal abuse. However, Rhys had few opportunities; Cameron had learned to know where Rhys was at all times, and he stayed far away from that place.
Cameron didn’t have many friends. He kept to himself, and read for hours upon hours, perched high up in a tree branch where no one else could find him. On more than one occasion, his parents spent the afternoon searching for him, terrified in their heart of hearts that maybe this was the day that Rhys had gone too far. Then they would find him, oblivious to the world, deep in his book, perched above them in a tree they had passed by twenty times. With tears of scolding relief, they would gather Cameron up in their arms, and make him promise to never hide from them again. Cameron would agree, puzzled – he wasn’t hiding, he was just reading, and how was it his fault if the books were interesting?
Age seventeen. Cameron received his acceptance letter to Tao’lin University. His parents were so proud of him, but for him the biggest prize was that he would finally escape from Rhys. He walked down the street into the town near his house, excitedly planning his celebrations for the evening, when he was interrupted by a voice. Rhys.
“Hey, baldilocks,” Rhys said in a drawling voice as he took a long drag on his cigarette. Cameron had started going bald two years previously, a fact that Rhys found endlessly amusing. “Heard you got into that wizard school for freaks.”
“I am going to Tao’lin University, yes,” Cameron responded quietly. If he was lucky, Rhys might be too tripped out on… well, whatever it was he tripped out on these days, to really bother him. Rhys took another drag on his cigarette, slouched up against the brick wall of the building. Rhys was quite large by now, and spent most of his time on the streets with his gang. He’d been arrested five times, but got out on good behavior each time, only to immediately resume his old way of life.
“What they want you for, baldy? I didn’t think you could do any magic.”
Cameron patiently responded. “Tao’lin is not just for Warlocks,” he said. “They accept many people who cannot do magic – we can still study the theory behind it, and perhaps teach others to do their arts better.”
Rhys snorted. “Teach? You’re gonna be some maggot professor teach other maggot freaks how to do something you can’t even do?”
“If I work hard, I may someday become a professor at Tao’lin,” Cameron said quietly. This conversation was not going well. He prepared to run.
“You know what I think?” Rhys said, slowly getting to his feet. “I think the world would’ve been a lot better off if Dad hadn’t’a found you in that box for a few more minutes ten years ago. In fact, I think maybe I should put you back in there right now. Last thing this world needs is more bald maggoty professor freaks.”
Cameron ran. Rhys threw a bottle after him, at it smashed into the sidewalk, shattering into thousands of small glass shards at Cameron’s feet.
At Tao’lin University, a few short months later, Cameron discovered a whole new world, a world where people didn’t throw you in boxes just for laughs, where his ideas were not just accepted, but actually praised, and where his jokes were actually laughed at. A world without Rhys. After he fell in love with Evelyn, Cameron swore to himself that he would never be locked up again.
Cameron awoke with a start, drenched in a cold sweat. He looked around in a panic, before remembering. He was in a cell, in Castle Whitefall. Had he cried out in his sleep? He moaned, and rolled over on the hard rock, whispering, “Don’t lock me up again… don’t lock me up again…”