A chance meeting between a prince and a peasant results in consequences that will not only change their lives, but also the kingdom.

Cover by Zillah Designs.


10. Chapter Ten: Khyber


      The Head Priest was surprised to see me back so soon. “Your highness,” he said bowing low. “It’s not time for your next visit already is it?”

      Smiling I replied. “No it’s not, but I was wondering if you could help me. You see, I want to learn more about the way the people of the lower town live.”

      “Why the sudden interest, if you don’t mind me asking, your highness.”

      “That painting of yours, it made me realise that I know practically nothing about the lives of those in the lower town.”

      We both knew I was avoiding saying ‘the poor’ by using ‘the people of the lower town’. I wouldn’t have done that before, but I suddenly felt very aware of the difference between the upper town and the lower town.

      The priest nodded and said. “Come with me, your highness.”

      Orien and I followed after him as he led us through the Church.

      “I’ve never seen this part of the Church before.” I commented when we reached a small wooden door.

      The Head Priest gave me a sad smile. “The King didn’t want you to see it until you were ready, your highness.”

      He opened the door and I was immediately hit by the stench of unwashed bodies. There were no windows, so the only light was provided by a lantern that sat on the floor in the middle of the room. The floor of the small room was mostly covered by thin mattresses, on top of which were twenty people. Most of them were bandaged, but there was one woman holding a baby in her arms, while her two children ran in a circle around her.       

      “Why are they here?” I asked confused.

      “They have nowhere else to go your highness.”

      One of the bandaged men started coughing and the priest excused himself to go and help the man drink some water.

      From where he was seated beside the man, the Head Priest told me. “Most of these people are victims of gang violence and crimes. Their homes and all their belongings were taken. So with nowhere else to go, they came here, your highness.”

      I felt sick. I’d had no idea that things were this bad.

      “Is anything being done to stop the gangs? Do soldiers patrol the lower town at night?” I asked.

      Shaking his head the priest replied. “No, I believe not, your highness.”

      Anger overwhelmed me. “Nothing is being done? As soon as the gate closes they are left to fend for themselves?”

      No wonder things like rape were happening. I was going to have a serious talk with my father when I returned to the palace.

      The priest didn’t answer. I felt Orien shift uncomfortably behind me.

      I gestured to the woman with the baby and children. She looked like she was struggling to remain awake. “What about her? What happened to her?”

      Standing back up, the Head Priest returned to my side. “Her husband was murdered and her home was taken. She cannot work because she has to look after the children.”

      A door at the other end of the room opened and the young woman I had given my cloak to appeared. Seeing me she smiled and curtsied before walking over to the mother. They spoke and relief swept across the mother’s pale face. The young woman took the baby from her and the mother left the room. The two children stopped running when the young woman talked to them, and their faces filled with joy before they sprinted from the room. The young woman smiled at their enthusiasm.

      “That is Samera, your highness.” the priest told me. I detected fondness in his voice. “She does jobs for me.”

      Watching as Samera cradled the baby I asked. “Is she married?”  

      The way she was holding the baby made me wonder if she had children of her own. She didn’t seem old, but I had no idea at what age the people in the lower town married.

      “No she is not, your highness, though I believe that she will marry in the spring.”

      Abelard was arranged to be married to a princess from another country. It had been planned since his birth, but nothing had come of it, not yet anyway. I knew that it wouldn’t be long before my father would decide that I needed to marry. I had made up my mind long ago that when that day finally came I would go against my father for the first time in my life and say no. I wanted to marry for love, not so that my country would have another ally.

      Turning to Orien, I said. “Please see that all these people are given clean clothes and food.”

      “Thank you, your highness.” the Head Priest said bowing. “Your kindness will not go unrewarded. May the Goddess bless you.”

      “Thank you for showing me this place, but I must leave now. I have many things to discuss with my father.”

      Following me out of the room, the priest said. “Before you go, your highness, I have something of yours.”

      He led me to his chamber and handed me the cloak that I had given to Samera. I couldn’t help but feel surprised as I turned to material over in my hands. She hadn’t sold it.

      “Thank you. I will be back for our meeting as usual.”

      Exiting the Church I held the cloak tightly in my hand. It seemed that not all of the people from the lower town were bad, as my father had once told me. He had a lot of explaining to do.


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