Gilded Cage

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He could not see anything. His vision was narrowed, no longer seeing the people around him. He could not hear anything. His heart beating in his ears, drowning him in the sound. He could not feel anything. His skin on fire, burning under the stare of a thousand people. His friends could not console him. His mind was running too fast to even listen to their words.
   He had not been in the public eye for years, dead to the world while he worked underground. The people of this city had no idea that he walked among them, but they would. They would see him, all of what he was. A leader, a revolution, a son, a fallen prince. They would see the scars laid upon his skin and know just who was responsible.
   They would know that their King, who had wrought evil within his kingdom, had done that seem evil behind closed doors, to his own family. The people would see that the castle upon the hill was just a gilded cage, that he had finally escaped.
  "Hey! 'Lijah!" her voice broke him out of his thoughts, throwing him back into reality. "Hey, what are you doing out here?"
   He looked at her, finding comfort in her presence, "Thinking."
   She smiled, knowing him too well, "You think too much. You'll work yourself into a headache."
   Elijah shrugged, "I'll be alright."
   He glanced back towards the castle. The hole in the concrete perfectly displayed the image like a painting had been placed over the decaying wall. To perfect, the glimmering castle in the rising sun, to perfect, here in this city of magic and beauty. To perfect to have held such horrors, to hold such a beast on its throne.
   "Hey," she says, her hand resting on his shoulder, "Quit it. I can see the gears workin' away back there."   He smiled at her, "Justine, I'm fine, really."
   Her lips turned down at the corners, "He's in there, our spies got out this morning. He's apparently locked himself in his throne room, only taking visits from his highest advisors."
   Elijah nodded, "He knows were here, or he is at least guessing."
   She nodded, her stormy eyes glancing past him, staring at the castle walls. Sometimes he forgets that he is not the only one who trembles at the sight of it, that cage was not just his own.
   "Did the spies find her?" Elijah asks, trying to draw her eyes back to him, to help her out of her own mind just as she helped him.
   She shakes her head, her hand falling off his shoulder, "Many of the palace children have gone missing. Dawn hasn't been seen since... Since my mom-"
   Her voice breaks slightly, holding a deep pain that Elijah knew all too well. His hand reached for hers. His fingers snake around her wrist, trailing down to her balled fist.
   "Hey," he whispers, "We'll find her. She's a smart kid, just like you. She's ok."
   Her fingers entangle themselves with his own, "I hope you're right."
   "When have I ever been wrong?" he smirks.
   She chuckles under her breath, "I could list it but I think we'd be here all day."
   He snorts, "I wish we could stay here all day."
   They couldn't stay there though. Years and years had been spent putting them here, at this moment, together with a revolution on their heels. Elijah had spent years running from his father, and now it was time to stop running, to march right up to the doors and take his kingdom back, to avenge the people who had died at the tyrant's hand. His mother, sister, Justine's mother, his best friend, and millions of innocent men, women, and children.
   If all went right, his father would die for the end of the day, at the hands of his own son. Elijah would draw the sword at his hip, the one that belonged to his best friend, the one that saved his life so many years ago, and he would drive that blade into his father's heart without any remorse.
   "It's time," Justine whispers.   
   He looked down at her, trying to find his strength and courage in her eyes, "I'm not ready."
   "Me neither," she sighs, "And I don't think we will ever be ready, but- but if we don't go now, we won't ever get this chance again."
   Their eyes trail back to the hole in the wall, to the painted castle upon the hill. The morning light was just reaching over the tall walls, lighting it up like a beacon of hope.    
   Elijah and Justine walked, hand in hand, to the center of the massing revolution. They looked out among the sea of people, the faces are new and familiar. Young and old, rich and poor, every type of person was seen there, all looking to him. The revolution had more than tripled in size from the night before.
   "Our scouts have been recruiting people all night," she tells him, noting his awed expression, "Word has spread that the Prince is alive and he has come home to save them."
   The people before him watched his every move, some stared as if he was a ghost, others, a god. Each had a different reason for being there, a different drive. Yet, they all held the same defiant look in their eye, ready to follow him, ready to die for his revolution. Was he worth it? Would he let them down? He couldn't help but doubt. Why would these people give up their lives for him and his revolution, why would they follow him, their discarded prince, the boy who hid from his father while they suffered at his hand?
   Justine gripped his hand harder, drawing his attention back to her, "You will not fail them."
   How could she read him, every thought and feeling that crossed his eyes? "How do you know?"
   "Because," she whispered, "you've never failed me. And you won't start now."   
   He searched her face for anything, any hint of doubt, but he could not find any. She believed in him, and she would follow him no matter what choice he made.
   He turned back to the crowd, scanning every face over and over again, memorizing them, the room is silent as he begins to speak, "My father's cruelty has reached far and wide. He has taken the lives of many, my mother and sister, my best friend, and hundreds of thousands more...  Today- today could end very badly. We could all die and be nothing more than a story told to children in their history books. We could all die and no one will be left to stop my father. Our revolution would die with us, and hope would be lost to those left behind... But- Today could also end in victory. We could march up to the palace walls and knock them down with our bare hands. We could rip my father from his throne and end his cruelty. I cannot guarantee either outcome, I will not promise you death nor victory, all I can do, is ask, will you follow me? Will you fight with me? And, will you trust me?"
   His low voice echoes through the room, falling on the sea of people who stare at him with wide eyes. This was not the boy they remembered. The silent prince who winced when his father reached for him, who hid behind his mother, his sister tucked into his side.
   "I know what you've all endured beneath him," he says, "I spent 16 years behind those walls, trapped in his grasp with no escape. When he took my mother and sister, I ran, I ran and did not look back. I left you all to him, and you suffered because of me. I'm done running, I'm ready to fight, I'm ready to die and join my mother and sister as I should have done many years ago."
   The people watched their prince. They saw him for what he was, a leader, a true leader who would fight beside them and die beside them. And they would follow him. They would fight with him. They would win because they had no other choice.
   A cry, a deep, roaring battle cry rose within the crowd. It struck Elijah at once, a cry that came from pain and sorrow. His voice rose from his throat, fueled by the memories of his mother's final words, his little sisters cry, and his best friend's screams. Beside him, Justine joined the cry, her own voice carried by her pain. The revolution was a roaring beast with a lion's head, ready to charge.
   Elijah took Justine's hand in his, grounding himself long enough to yell, "Let's go!"   
   They followed him, roaring and chanting. They flooded the streets of the glittering city, marching behind Elijah and Justine, who led them hand in hand. The two of them locked their sights on the castle, the one that held so many memories for each of them. They had escaped the terror and now they marched towards it, towards that gilded cage upon the hill.

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⏰ Last updated: Mar 30, 2020 ⏰

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