The Prince and the Pirate
From the highest window in a castle by the sea, a young prince watched the people down below. There was no leaving this place for the prince, nor wandering down the hall, or anywhere. There was no door to his room. He knew there was a hall though, and a flight of stairs. The sound of people coming through echoed into his room. Whispers about him and the gossip of the court, he could hear it all. No one ever tried to speak to him though. Not since he had been put in this place. Not a single soul had so much as looked at him in all that time. After all, he was so high above everything that no one could see him from that window. His prison was permanent solitude with a perfect view of everything he was missing. What he needed to survive was lowered down to him by a rope from atop the tower. In the morning, he would collect up what he had been given. Today was washing day, as he had been given extra water. The only clothes the prince owned were the ones on his back, and they were hardly suitable for wearing in public. He dreaded wash day as much as bath day. The water given to him was always frigid. And as he owned only one set of clothes, wash day also meant having to wait for his clothes to dry in the sun with nothing to wear. The window was warm, as was the weather outside, but his little room was cold. When he had first been put in this place, he was afraid and confused. As time went on, he became hateful. Now, he felt nothing. Today was another day. Tomorrow would be no different. There was no point in holding on to anger when no one cared about him nor remembered his face. His reason for being placed in that prison was by unfortunate association. His father had many mistresses, but one in particular had managed to convince his father that she ought to be queen. Their kingdom did not allow marriages to be dissolved except under specific circumstances. With nothing to use against his mother to dissolve the marriage, he invented a crime for her and had her hanged. The wedding was held the same day. That night, he was lowered down into this place by a servant. From the words he heard over the years in the hall, that woman had wanted him executed as well. To ensure the future for her own heirs to come, she needed him gone. His father didn't have the heart to murder a six year old, even if he had no qualms about doing it to his wife. The prison was his compromise. It had been eight years since then, as he had counted by the changing seasons and trade. Today was another day, he told himself. He prepared the water and removed his clothes. Sitting on the icy stone floor made him wince. He often wished for at least one more set of clothes, to make this process a little more pleasant. When he finished, he hung his clothes by the window. It would be a few hours before his clothes would be dry enough to wear. For refuge from the chilliness of his room, he crawled back into bed and wrapped his only blanket around himself. Not long after he had gotten somewhat comfortable again, he heard shouting in the hall. "Pirates! They're raiding the city!" "They've gotten as far as the castle!" Pirates were a regular threat, but none had ever reached his prison. He knew they did all sorts of nastiness, but he didn't see that as any different than most people. He watched them often. There was a twisted amusement he took in watching those who had imprisoned him scrambled around in panic. He returned to the window to watch, the blanket still tightly wrapped around him. There were more than he expected, and with more weapons than usual. The castle guards went down with ease. Still, he knew they would never reach him. No one ever entered this room. "Well, well, well, so there is a way in here." The prince fell back. A girl hung down from the rope by the window. She wore tattered long shorts and a shirt that cut off partway down her stomach. Her arms and neck were were littered with jewels and beads. Huge, golden earrings peaked out from behind her messy, spiderweb of bangs and her hair was tied up in a high ponytail with a silk sash. Barefeet glittered with the rest of her, with anklets galore in complete contradiction to the filthiness of the underside of her feet. He couldn't tell her exact age. Judging from her frame, he reasoned she was likely a couple years younger than him, on the cusp of that rapid growth spurt he was already experiencing. But he knew some take longer than others at their age range, so he couldn't be positive either way. The pirate girl swung into his room. She pulled out a golden, emerald-encrusted dagger as she landed. "What treasures are hidden here, boy?" In shock at seeing a stranger in his room, he sat motionless. Coming to his senses, he managed a few words. "There is no treasure here. This is a prison cell." "Ah, you're a prisoner? What'd you do? Anything good?" She waved her dagger at him. "I was born to the wrong woman." "How so?" "My mother was the former queen. When she was done in, I was put up here to make way for the new queen's children." The prince wrapped the blanket tighter around himself. "Tying up loose ends, huh? And they say we're bad." The pirate girl put away her weapon. She sighed. "I scaled the side of the castle for nothing. What a waste. I take it you wouldn't know where any treasure's at?" "No, I'm afraid not. I haven't been out of this room in years." "Damn. I'll need to hurry if I'm going to leave with anything." She went back to the window. Before she went out, she looked back at the prince. "You know, it's not a very long climb. Why don't you escape? No one's going to notice you right now." He faced the ground. "I can't climb it." "Have you ever tried?" "No, it's just so high up..." "Just don't let go. Don't be such a coward. Come on, let's go." She motioned for him to come over. The prince cautiously approached the window. There was no ground below, only water. The waves hit against the castle walls. He leaned out and looked up at the rope. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the rope. The blanket slid down on him. "Heh, well, someone might notice you like that. Why aren't you wearin' any clothes?" She smirked. "I only have those." He pointed to the clothes drying. "Today is the day they give me extra water to wash them with, so I have nothing to wear." "Aye, I've been there. Better just put them on wet and go. They'll dry as you run." The prince took down his clothes and changed quickly. As he changed, the pirate girl watched her comrades below. "They're making a killing. Ah, I need to get in on that. You ready yet, boy?" "Yes." He joined her at the window. "Uh...would it be alright if I asked your name? I want to know who I'm indebted to." She climbed out the window and took hold of the rope. "Rana. And who is the prisoner who owes me?" The prince paused. His name felt foreign to him. "Lan." "Well, Lan, if you can make it out of here alive, I might consider letting you be part of my crew." She was up the rope before she finished speaking. Lan looked up at her. She waved and disappeared. Hesitantly, Lan took hold of the rope once more. He struggled to keep his grip at first, but the moment his feet were off the ground, he moved like lightning. The fear of dying was a perfect motivation to push him beyond his limits. Nearing the top, he struggled again. He couldn't pull himself over the ledge. With every try, more of his strength drained from him. His hands started to slip. Rana grabbed hold of him and pulled. With their combined strength, he made it over the top. His heart pounded in his ears. "That's twice you owe me." Rana unsheathed her dagger. "I will repay my debt to you, I swear." He followed behind her. "We'll see, ex-prince. Words are only words. You still have yet to survive your escape to even begin repaying me." Rana's speed was amazing. Lan could barely keep up with her. The sun beat down on his back. It had been so long since he had been outside, he had forgotten how hot it really was outside. The wetness of his clothes was now keeping him cooled off. The sky above him stretched outward in all directions, and the sea air overwhelmed him. He had been so close to all these things inside that room, but the world outside and the world inside his tiny prison felt like disconnected realms. Inside, there was only cold and dust. As they entered the castle, Lan's excitement died down. The further down they went, the more blood lined the walls and floors. These pirates were more impressive than any who had come before. I wonder if the king will survive. The thought was odd to him. He hadn't realized it before, but he had stopped thinking of the king as his father. Imagining the king dying gave him no grief. He would truly be an orphan then, and more worthy of the rags that man had dressed him in. A cold part inside him wanted to watch. He recalled his mother's execution. I'm becoming a monster too. Is this what all adults are? Rana was already a monster, he could tell. The way she fearlessly entered his room with a weapon in hand--he knew she could kill him if she wanted to. The pirates were all monsters, the court were monsters, the people in town were monsters. What point was there in not being a monster when everyone else was? So, I'll become a monster. That's how it is. He stopped in front of one of the fallen guards and picked up the man's sword. Rana stopped too, waiting for him. He didn't understand why this girl was helping him. She must want to use him for something, he reasoned. Lan didn't mind. She had set him free. He owed her for now. They ran to the bottom floor. In front of them, the king and a large man with a huge beard fought sword to sword. Rana pulled Lan behind a curtain. She smirked and muttered under her breath, "Do it. Do him in." The two fought fiercely. Lan was surprised. He didn't know the king was so skilled in combat. The weight of the sword in his own hand pulled at him. He slipped past Rana into the view of the battling men. "What are you doing?" Rana shouted. The men looked over. The old pirate laughed. "Come to save your father, boy?" The king took longer to recognize who he was. "You...how did you get out of your cell? Nevermind, come here and fight with me. I'll set you free for good if you do. Come, my child." Lan dragged the sword across the stone floor as he approached them. If he wasn't a monster, he would do the right thing and protect his father. Even though his father was a monster, it was just to protect the kingdom. He knew he would die doing so, and be out of his father's way for good. The world would go on just fine without him being in it. Lan decided to be a monster. He stabbed the king through the stomach, his blood drenching the pirate and Lan's clothes in a messy splatter. The king hadn't expected that, and left himself wide open despite the boy's intentions being obvious to the pirate. The pirate finished him off, a quick slice through the neck. The body falling pulled the sword from Lab's hands. The pirate grinned at him. "That was an unexpected turn of events. Take it he crossed you in some unforgivable way, aye?" Lan didn't know what to say in response. He had shocked himself by what he had done. The gorey mess before him didn't stir anything in him any more than the other corpses that covered the floor. Rana hit him on the back. "Didn't know you had it in you, ex-prince! He can't keep you locked up anymore. I think I will make you part of my crew after all." "Crew? Rana, are you still going on about that? You're only twelve. No one's going to go running from a pirate ship filled with children." The pirate shook his head at her. "Ah, father, you know I'm not any ordinary kid. I'll show you. Before you know it, I'll have my own ship and everything. People will cower in fear when they hear my name." She grinned. "Right, Lan? You're coming with me, aren't you?" Lan looked at both of them and nodded. "That's right. Besides, you still owe me." The rest of the day was mostly a blur to him. He helped Rana steal treasure from his own family, and followed her back to her father's ship. The crew all asked him strange questions, poking fun out his former status. He didn't mind. Right then, he was glad to have anyone speaking to him. By late night, the ship had set sail. He watched his father's castle burning. Rana stood beside him. "You wonderin' if you did the right thing, huh? Regretting it?" "No, I don't regret anything." "You shouldn't. The world's a corrupt place. You'll see it everywhere. Goodness is a rarity, as fabled as mermaids and sirens. No point in pretending to be good when the whole world is rotten." Rana leaned closer to him and gave him a kiss. Lan didn't know how to react. She laughed. "You're really cute, you know? I think I might let you be my boyfriend. If you impress me enough, that is, and after you've paid off your debt." He blushed. Lan wondered if other girls were this forward with affection, but he had suspected Rana wasn't exactly average. He knew she was likely teasing him, so he teased back. "Hmm...is that so? What if I don't want to impress you?" "And why not?" She looked offended at his words. "Sounds like trouble to me." He grinned. "Rude. As punishment, I think I'll make you count all my money for me. You can't sleep until it's done." Rana crossed her arms and turned away from him. He snuck up behind her and kissed her on the cheek. "If you say so, Captain." As he expected, Rana's rough personality disappeared. She stood there with her face cherry red, holding the spot where he had kissed her. His grin widened. So that's why she was so soft on me. "You'll count it all twice. And you won't be eating in the morning." She grabbed his arm and dragged him below deck. "Yes, Captain." He didn't doubt she would keep her word about his punishment, but he didn't mind. His first night as a pirate, he had slain his father, watched his kingdom burn to the ground, and count thousands of gold coins across from a girl hellbent on standing alongside the adults around her. She was still a child underneath that tough persona she put forward, but he could see it in her that she likely would achieve the goals she set out toward. In a few more years, he knew she would have her own ship. He wanted to see that day come, and he knew that girl would take him to all sorts of dangers and wonders. There was no doubt in his mind he was ready to follow this girl for the rest of his life. As for the idea of becoming her boyfriend, however, he wasn't so certain about. He didn't dislike the idea either. But they were still children, so there was no need to think deeply about things like that. Tomorrow, he would spend his first day completely free. However he would live his life from now on, it didn't matter. So long as he was free, even if he had to be a monster to do it, he knew he could find some happiness.