Cistercian BraveArtists: Ethan Ramchandani – “Untitled”
October 12, 2020
The doors flew open with a bang as a hurried prince barreled down the hallway. He paused at the entrance and a deep breath punctuated his frenzy before he approached his father’s bed. Bordering the room were the royal guard and servants whispering amongst themselves as the prince knelt to the right of the bed. “Father-” he began but the grizzled monarch raised his hand to cut him off.
“My son, Hiro… a king,” the king remarked, “I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am.” He ended the sentence with a fit of coughs. A nurse poured a ladle of red colored liquid down his throat. Tears began to well in Hiro’s eyes as the king’s eyes began to glaze and he slipped out of consciousness. In an attempt to look strong, Hiro wiped the tears from his eyes and stood up. He began to hear the whispers of the crowd around him more clearly.
The garden that his father had commissioned was surprisingly tranquil, despite the lively birds. Hiro ambled through the garden, his thoughts like a muddy puddle. He could barely appreciate the beauty of the flowers his mother once planted. His gaze swayed towards a small, circular patio in the middle of the garden where he and his mother spent their last few moments together. His mind played a scene which he had tried so hard to forget.
A younger Hiro leaned on the shoulder of a properly dressed woman. Her blonde hair and blue eyes shined in the sunlight. “Mama, how come dad is king?”
“The royal family has been unrivaled for years,” she replied. At that time Hiro didn’t completely understand the meaning of her words. He brought attention to the fact that her answer didn’t clear up his question but she only gazed at the sky mumbling to herself. It was clear that his mother was not going to give him a straight answer. His mother continued to be lost in thought while Hiro drifted off to sleep. When he awoke, his mother was gone, the last time his mother would ever be seen.
Hiro blinked back to life after drifting off from the surfaced memory but was suddenly plunged into thought yet again when he realized the excuse his father gave him for the disappearance. “Your mother is an angel. She returned to God.” Pondering it now, Hiro’s heart dropped at the notion that he was so naïve to have believed the pathetic story at any age. He scolded himself for not asking his father what really happened to his mother before his passing.
The next day the prince left the castle for an excursion to the village. He donned a disguise to avoid any unnecessary attention. Dozens of people were bustling in the market streets as Hiro tried to weave his way through the crowd. News of the king’s death had spread like wildfire, and general street chatter seemed to focus on that topic. He tried not to pay attention to it but his thoughts only went from bad to worse as the only other thing he could think about was his other dead parent. The kingdom psychic’s stall was surrounded by a mass mob. It seems everyone was filled with doubt about the future of the kingdom after the monarch’s death. Hiro found his way through the crowd to the front where a gypsy was trying desperately to keep the kingdom’s people at bay.“People,” the psychic said, “I can only answer one of your questions. One among you has a question that can change the fate of this kingdom.” Everyone murmured excitedly. The psychic lifted a finger and pointed at the hooded figure that was Hiro. “You, come inside, we shall speak in peace there.”
Long strands of beads hung from the top of the doorframe, veiling the room inside. The room itself was dimly lit and barely furnished. Two oversized stools served as chairs with a generic crystal ball between them. “Pay no attention to that. It isn’t real, but the people will believe anything they’re told if you stare at a glass ball for a minute,” the psychic said when he noticed Hiro’s attention swayed towards the glorified ornament. “So what do you wish to know?”
“What happened to my mom?” Hiro responded.
“Here.” The psychic handed Hiro an engraved coin. “This should help.” The engraving looked familiar to Hiro. He had seen it as part of a mural many times while touring the castle. Filled with excitement, Hiro didn’t even bother with his disguise and sprinted back to the castle. He surprised some passersby as he ran. He stopped for no one as he entered the castle and desperately tried to remember where he had seen the engraving before. He showed it to the servants around the castle until he finally got a solid lead.
The wall was a mural depicting the blessing of the first king of his family line. A priest held out his hand towards Hiro’s kneeling ancestor. The priest’s other hand held a prayer book which he held close to his side. Around the two figures was a gathering of people made up of knights, common people, and servants. The backdrop was of a church with stained glass windows. Suddenly, a feature of one of the designs on the priest’s robe popped out at Hiro. A small section of it was grooved in the same pattern as the engraved coin.
A low rumbling noise followed the wall as Hiro pushed it, revealing a dark staircase. He slowly descended being careful not to trip. The steps never seemed to end. As he progressed, he could hear a few second of screams of agony at random intervals. Finally light creeped into his view. The room was a long hallway lined with cells. Almost all of them were filled with a body or someone close to becoming a body. Visibly afraid, Hiro ambled down the hallway. “Help meeeeeeee,” one of the prisoners held his hand out of his cell to try to stop Hiro. The prisoner struggled to hold himself up on the bars on the door.
“Wh-who are you?” Hiro asked anxiously as the prisoner continued to stumble around his cell.
“I’m just a squire. My loyalty lay with a rival king,” he steadied himself and Hiro got a better look at him. “Look at what they’ve done to me. I pose no threat, let me go please.” It was evident that the prisoner was eager to leave and was reduced to begging for his freedom. His body was lined with precise cuts at specific veins on his torso, arms, and legs. His clothes were tattered.
A younger Hiro wielding a play sword whacked a ragdoll dummy, his father supervising in the background. “This may be the last time I can be able to train with you,” his father said. “I will have kingly duties to deal with as your grandfather is winding down.” Hiro paid little mind to his father’s words. “I want you to listen to me very closely,” his father said, taking up a stern voice. He took the wooden sword from Hiro’s hands.“This. This is not a toy. Never use this on an unarmed opponent and only use it for self defense. Do you understand?” Hiro gave a shy nod. “Good,” Hiro’s father said, as he walked away with the sword in hand.
Appalled by the inhumane conditions the squire was subjected to, Hiro backed away and continued to walk further down the hallway. At this point he picked up his pace from a walk to a jog. Again, he was stopped by one of the prisoners. “Sir! Sir, please. Help me. I was nothing more than a peasant. All I did was steal bread. Let me out. Let me out please,” he began to sob.
“Who put you here?” Hiro asked, ignoring his previous pleas.
“Some scary looking guards. Different than anything I’ve seen,” the thief replied.
A young Hiro sat on his mother’s lap in the throne room. A young man in dirty clothes knelt before the king. He was flanked on both sides by guards. “For your crimes of theft and deceit,” the king began. The thief was visibly anxious. He was clearly not looking forward to his punishment. “You are royally pardoned,” the king continued. This came as a surprise to everyone in the room, but no one was more relieved than the thief himself. The king turned towards Hiro and shot him a wink.
“None of this makes sense,” Hiro mumbled to himself. Did his father know about this? Did his father commission this? A common epithet that usually went with the king’s name was “the merciful.” Teisho the Merciful was his father’s name. There was no way any of this could be his doing. There was still plenty of ground left in the hallway and Hiro continued onwards, bracing himself for further horrors.
No matter how much Hiro braced himself, he couldn’t prepare himself for the final blow. In the furthest reach of the dungeon he found corpses. Not literal corpses, but people who were presumed dead for over a decade. In the eyes of the general public these people were as good as dead. A few of these people were easily recognizable and they were all political rivals. Rivals to the throne were few and far between and they always lost. They either lost all support through some exposed scandal or died from disease. It was evident from most of them being here that none of that was true.
His mother’s words struck him like a plague. It’s not a wonder that his family was unrivalled for years, everyone who wanted to try against the royal family was imprisoned here. “Hiro? Hiro, is that you?” a familiar voice called out to him. His vision swept over the dogpile of prisoners in the small cell until his gaze fell upon an old woman in the back. “Hiro! Son!” the woman came up to the barred door. Suddenly, everything clicked. His mother had found this place. His mother was thrown into this place.
He heard a chuckle from inside the darkness and the psychic emerged. “Your father wouldn’t have wanted you to find this,” he said, continuing to laugh.
“Oh trust me, I know everything,” the psychic said, winking. “You should’ve cherished your ignorance while you could, but then again, if you never knew, you’d be living a lie.”
All of this was overstimulating for Hiro. The rage he was beginning to harbor from discovering this place was beginning to show and the psychic was doing nothing to help. It all became too much for Hiro and he lashed out. He grabbed the psychic by his neck with one hand and gritted his teeth. “You think this is funny?” he said.
“This must be such a hard time for you,” the psychic said sarcastically. The psychic could see the physical anger in Hiro’s eyes. “Let’s strike a deal, shall we?” the psychic offered.
“What do you want?” Hiro demanded, with flecks of spit showering the psychic’s face.
“Your father was sick and twisted and now you know that’s who he truly was. I can’t change history, but I can change your perception of him. He can return to being the role model you admired for your entire life. All it will cost you is the throne. What say you?” he said, conjuring a contract out of thin air. He handed Hiro a feather pen. Hiro took a final glance at his mother, who continued to implore Hiro to not sign the contract, but ignored her. A million thoughts were rushing through his head. Having the throne paled in comparison to having his role model back.