The Prince refused to allow Agatha to best him. He would chase his runaway bride through the castle tombs and drag her back to make her suffer for his humiliation.
Lashing out with his dagger, the Prince attempted to defend himself against the onslaught of phantoms pouring out of the catacombs. A vain effort, his blade sliced through air, his opponents mere shadows of long-dead men.
Out of breath, he dropped both arms to his side, still gripping the knife in his left hand. Separated from his soldiers, the Prince was lost in the tunnels. His torch smoldering on the damp stones cast no light beyond the puddle at his feet. Laughter filled the darkness around him. He could feel the spirits gathering around him, and passing through him.
As the last of the torch fire slowly burnt out, Prince Ráfa collapsed in the black tunnel.
Slowly waking, Ráfa was shocked to find himself in a familiar bedchamber. Naked and bloodied, fear eclipsed the searing pain wracking his every orifice. It was terror greater than anything he felt as a child, hiding from the monster who came for him at night. The pain was the same, but Ráfa’s was confused to be in a woman’s body.
Discarded on the floor in front of a roaring fire, covered in his own filth, he could taste sex on his cracked and swollen lips. His vision fading, he wished for the release of death.
Passing in and out of consciousness, each time he awoke, Ráfa was incarnated into another of his victims, experiencing his sadistic torture through them.
After a fortnight, Ráfa stumbled out of the tunnels, jabbering incoherently. It would be weeks before he could be understood, but he refused to describe his ordeal. His health deteriorated steadily every year for the last decade until he was confined to his wheeled chair. Once he rose to be King, the death of his older brother a gruesome accident, his cruelty was abated only by his physical limitations.
Being in the chair did nothing to humble Ráfa. If anything he was more callous to those closest to him, but especially to his only child and son Duncan. He saw the strong and precocious child, and was crazed with envy, sure the boy was already plotting his assassination.
This trip to the seaside offered him an opportunity to study the boy, to expose his duplicity and scheming. Ráfa watched Duncan now as he spoke with a local woman, probably one of his confederates. The king watched Agatha walking away across the sand, the image of a young woman nagging at his memory.
Demanding the boy attend him when he came back to the beach tent, the King questioned him about the encounter.
“Who was the wench you were talking to Duncan?”
“She is called Noone, Father.”
“What did she want?”
Grabbing Duncan’s collar with unexpected strength and speed, Ráfa pulled him closer.
“Don’t lie to me boy!” Angry spittle flew from Ráfa’s lips.
“Truly Sire, she is simple-minded and did not know her King was mere metres away from her.”
Ráfa released his grip, pushing the boy away without another word.
Straightening his tunic, Duncan wondered anew how loyal the soldiers were to the King. It would be so easy to carry Ráfa’s chair out to the crashing waves to be dashed against the rocks. The woman was an added curiosity. She was more than she appeared. She had a courtly manner about her that her homely clothing belied.
He would talk with her again tomorrow. Perhaps she could be a valuable ally.