It had been close to an hour since Laila had decided to try and talk to Hans in the dungeon, and she was convinced it was the quietest hour she'd ever spent with another human being in her life. The multiple times she attempted to start a conversation were met with disgusted scoffs and annoyed sighs, and she was almost at a loss for words. She was as patient as she possibly could be, but it was starting to get to her. She paced around the front of Hans' cell, desperate to make some sort of headway in her mission today. Hans was sitting on a barrel in the middle of his prison, bored as could be, only finding entertainment with the occasional drip of water that'd fall from the ceiling. Every so often he'd glance over at Laila, who in his eyes looked ridiculous trying to make any progress with him. He'd then shake his head and continue watching the water falling in front of him. The princess suddenly stopped in her tracks and faced Hans.
"What do you like to do in your spare time? I tend to love reading and horse riding myself. Aside from talking to the townspeople, it's what I practically live for." she asked and exclaimed, chuckling a tiny bit to herself. Hans bumped his head against the wooden post behind the barrel he was sitting on and closed his eyes.
"Princess, the only things I CAN do in my spare time are watch water drip and count the bricks in this cell. If I'm really lucky, I get to count how many lightning strikes occur during a passing thunderstorm. Thanks for making me feel good about what I'm missing out on, though." he quipped, standing up and stretching his legs.
"Alright, let me be more specific. What DID you like to do in your spare time? You know, before you doomed yourself to this solitude and loneliness?" she asked again, folding her arms across her chest and hoping she was clear enough this time. Hans walked over to a wall and kicked it casually with his foot.
"Well, the usual stuff…" he muttered, not looking at Laila. She rolled her eyes and huffed.
"Look, is this an interrogation or something?! Why on earth should I tell you ANYTHING about myself?!" Hans suddenly shouted, starting to get annoyed with the royal. Laila wasn't happy with his negativity, but it was the most response she had gotten from him thus far, and was willing to work with it.
"I figured you'd like to have an actual person to speak to! You know, someone who wouldn't immediately condemn you before you'd have a chance to say anything!" she shot back, albeit not as rude.
"Well guess what? I DON'T! I'm not like you, dearest. I don't depend on being social with random strangers to keep me sane! I am perfectly fine with just being by myself. The sooner you realize that, the better..."
It took everything Laila had not to reach through the bars and give Hans a well deserved slap. She came as close as gripping the bars with both her hands, so tight that her skin turned red from the pressure. She glared at the man walking around in the cell and cleared her throat.
"Why, then? Why do you like to be alone?" she asked as calm as she could.
"…because I'm the only person I can trust. No one has ever given me a reason to put my faith in them, to hope that they won't disappoint me. These things that all you people believe in…trust? Caring? LOVE? They don't exist. They never have and they never will." Hans stated, staring at Laila with cold, unnerving eyes. She kept her glare firm and continuous.
"So is that the reason you tried to murder innocent lives and unrightfully claim a throne?"
"I did what I thought was best for myself, Princess. Anyone who stood in my way sealed their own fates."
"Listen to yourself! Can't you hear how much poison is flowing in your words? Every word that comes out of your mouth reeks of anger and disgust! Why must you do this to yourself?! To those around you?!"
"LOOK AROUND YOU, YOUR HIGHNESS! Who is around for me to sicken and repulse? Who cares enough to be in my presence for even a moment of their time?! The only ones that ever do aren't there by choice. They're commanded to, by my father, and if they could choose they'd never want to see me again! No one cares about poor Prince Hans, the man who couldn't resist trouble!"
"Well if no one cares, why does your father even bother sending servants to keep you fed and cared for? Surely that shows he cares for you?" she suggested, hoping it would sway Hans even just the tiniest bit. He shook his head though, and laughed his sarcastic laugh.
"He only cares about himself and his reputation. If he didn't care for me, the sympathetic people of the Southern Isles would feel he was a cruel father and horrible King for killing his own son. You saw how he treated me earlier. There's nothing but disgust in his eyes." he finished. Laila bit her lip and looked around, trying to think of a way to keep the conversation going.
"How about your family? Your mother, perhaps? Siblings?"
"You sure love covering all the bases, don't you?! The Queen hasn't spoken so much as a word to me in over five years! Siblings? I have twelve older brothers that think of me better as a toy they can throw around and tear apart rather than their BROTHER. How does that sound, Princess Laila? Would you like to see how th-"
Hans was interrupted by a loud banging noise coming from the stairway. He heard two male voices gradually getting louder and louder, laughing occasionally.
"Ugh, of course it'd be them…" he muttered, swiftly turning his back to Laila and briskly walking to the back of the cell, sitting down on the ground against the wall. Laila didn't want to be spotted, so she rushed over to one of the other cells and hid behind one of its walls. She peeked around the corner, hoping to see what Hans was talking about. After a few seconds, a pair of young men barged through the doors to the dungeon, both looking similar to one another, yet not enough to be twins. They both had ginger hair, a fair complexion, and even resembled Hans a little bit. Laila could only conclude that these were two of his infamous brothers. She stayed hidden as they approached Hans' cell.
"Oh Hans, how are we today?" one of them asked, knocking on the bars of the cell door. Laila could hear Hans sighing even from where she was hiding. She leaned in a bit to hear the conversation better.
"Franz…Elijah. You should know by now that it's the same answer every time you ask me." Hans replied coldly. She could hear both brothers laugh at his response.
"Well, we thought we might as well ask. We were wondering if perhaps you were getting used to these living conditions. After all, you still have nine whole months to go." the other brother teased, cackling from his own statement.
"Yeah, well I'd love to see you try to live like this, Elijah. Then we'll see who's laughing."
"Oh, but you're forgetting one key difference, dear brother. I'm not a hardened criminal bent on murdering royalty while deceiving an entire kingdom in the process. That's what sets us apart from you, Hans."
"Admit it, you'd do the same if you were in my position!" he said in defense, on the brink of shouting. The brother whom Laila determined was Elijah slammed the metal chain he was holding against Hans' cell bars, causing an echoing ring throughout the entire dungeon.
"NO, I wouldn't. Unlike you, I have common sense and a heart. Not to mention Father cares about me…about all of us…except you of course."
"Oh, oh! Tell him what Father did, Elijah!" Franz cheered, nudging his brother. Elijah chuckled and cleared his throat.
"That's right! We forgot to mention…you'll never guess what Father has had done. You'd love it, Hans."
"Something tells me I actually wouldn't, but go on." he said flatly, sounding tired and annoyed.
"Well, we had the family portrait done this past week's end. It was very well rounded with the even numbers, what with only twelve sons and our Mother and Father. We didn't have to worry about where to put you without ruining the whole portrait. Father insisted it was the best family portrait he'd seen in his life. Something tells me it's not because of the painter hired for the job." Elijah finished, leaving a moment of pause floating in the air as Hans absorbed what he was just told. It was a rather long moment, one that Laila started to feel uncomfortable with, and just when she almost felt too uneasy with the silence, she heard someone rustling from the ground, seemingly standing up.
"Get out…" she heard Hans mutter, almost too low for her to hear. Franz and Elijah just laughed in unison.
"What's the matter? Can't handle the fact that your own FATHER doesn't even want to acknowledge your existence? Gee, and here I thought you didn't have a soul…" Franz harassed. Suddenly the cell bars made a loud banging noise, and the two brothers flinched ever so slightly.
"I SAID GET OUT!" Hans screamed at the top of his lungs, a roaring echo filling the air. Without missing a beat, he then stormed back toward the middle of his cell, out of Laila's sight. Before she could even blink, however, she saw something large collide with the bars, the sound almost deafening , and pieces of whatever it was shattered everywhere. Laila had to pull back a little bit as she noticed pieces flying in her direction. Hans continued slamming the object against the bars, and eventually his brothers got the message. They casually made their way out of the dungeon and back up the stairway, going out of sight. Hans' assault on the poor defenseless object in question was over, and there was only silence in the air now. Laila waited a moment before emerging from her hiding place, and she glanced down to see that some the pieces that had flown her way were wooden. They were sharp, easily able to do harm to someone, at the very least a pretty nasty splinter or two. She peeked around the corner once more to make sure the coast was clear, but just as she was about to move, she saw another figure appear in the doorway to the stairs. There was only one this time, and while he had the fair complexion Hans' family was apparently known for, his hair was a deep brown, completely different from the ginger hair she was accustomed to. She assumed this was either a servant or butler, or yet another brother of his. The man walked over to the cell and crouched down, running a hand through his hair and sighing.
"I noticed Franz and Elijah just stopped by?" he asked, looking around the floor where all the wooden debris was scattered. Laila could hear Hans scoff at the sound of their names.
"Why do you ask? Feel like finishing what they started?!" he quipped, gesturing to the mess he created. The man lightly chuckled and shook his head.
"No, no, I'd rather not." he paused for a moment before continuing, knowing he needed to tread lightly. "So…what did they tell you?"
"What do you think?! The same story of how Father is ashamed of me, would rather want nothing to do with me, you know the drill."
"I…take it they told you about the portrait?"
Hans sighed, acting as though he was explaining these facts to a four year old. "Yes, yes they did. Let me guess, it looks amazing without me in it."
"It looks really well done, yes. It doesn't feel the same though, that I'll admit."
" From what I hear, Father would say differently."
"Unfortunately, that he does. Hans, I wouldn't take it too much to heart, though. He's just still coping with the fa-"
"I'm not taking anything to heart, Daniel! It's just what all fathers do. You don't do what they feel is good in their eyes, you're dead to them. I've come to terms with that a long time ago. It's nothing new to me."
"Hans, that isn't what I mea-"
"Now if you don't mind, I need some time alone. Please leave…" Hans ordered. Daniel shook his head, refusing to budge.
"No, Hans. You don't get it. Father just hasn't come to terms with all that's happened. With time I'm sure he'll lea-"
LEAVE, Daniel…I mean it." Hans warned, raising his voice just enough so that his brother would get the message. After a moment, Daniel got up in defeat and started towards the stairway. He turned back towards Hans, his stare lingering as he seemed to contemplate something else to say.
"For the record…if you were truly sorry for what you did, people wouldn't be nearly as hard on you as they are now." He paused, waiting to see if Hans would respond in any way. When nothing happened, he sighed and bowed his head. "…just, keep that in mind, brother." With that, Daniel turned back to the doorway and walked out, heading up the stairs. Laila waited until she heard the door slam from the top of the stairs, signaling she was safe to emerge. She slowly walked out and approached Hans' cell, noticing more and more of the wooden fragments as she got closer. When she finally reached the cell itself, the first thing she saw was Hans lying down on the ground, facing the ceiling. His eyes were closed and his hands on his head, seemingly trying to clear his mind. She looked around his cell and finally found the source of all the wooden scraps. There was a jagged chunk of wood that was apparently thrown across the room and on its side, and with closer inspection, Laila realized it was the barrel Hans had been sitting on before. It only made sense, since it was the only thing that was both within his reach and also wooden. She stood in front of his cell for a moment, analyzing the situation whilst biting her lip and folding her hands in front of her. Hans opened his eyes slightly to see her standing there, and he groaned once he realized she had been there to see everything. He really didn't have anything to lose, but he had preferred if his humiliation was kept within the family, at the very least. Laila cleared her throat and prepared to speak.
"You know…you just destroyed your only chair." she stated, pointing to where the pathetic piece of wood once stood. Hans sat up straight and gave her a puzzled look.
He raised an eyebrow to the princess, while she kept her stance and shrugged. Hans continued to stare at her until he broke eye contact and suddenly howled out in laughter, holding his stomach from the hilarity. Laila was resistant for only a mere moment before she let go of her stance and joined in on the guffaws. Hans fell to his side, unable to control his amusement, while Laila fell to her knees and covered her mouth as politely as she could. She found a larger piece of wood that was sitting next to her and threw it to Hans through the bars. "Here, perhaps you can sit upon that now!" she shouted in-between spurts of laughter, and Hans could only continue his mad chuckling as a response.
After the cackling ceased, both royals wiped the tears from their eyes and readjusted themselves back to their proper selves, and with Hans' case, the best he could given the circumstances. Laila cleared some wooden debris off the floor by the cell door and went to sit down on the spot she prepped when another man suddenly came through the door, holding a tray in hand. Laila froze for a moment, not sure who this was and not sure if they'd inform her father of her true whereabouts. Hans looked over to the figure standing before them, and he tilted his head in confusion.
"Anders? I thought the evening meal wasn't for another couple of hours…" he stated, noticing the tray he was holding. Anders cleared his throat, noticing Laila sitting on the floor but not saying a word about it.
"Prince Hans, I know this is early, but your father has insisted the kitchen staff prepare the food early so as to have meals ready as quickly as possible for our visiting guests." Anders looked at Laila as he said this, and she smiled awkwardly.
"Excuse me, Anders? I'm Princess Laila of Grimmstade. I'm sure you realize I'm one of those visiting guests. I know this might seem a bit much, but if it's not too much trouble, could you not tell my father I've been down here? He's a bit overprotective and I'm afraid he'll get the wrong idea as to why I'm here." she asked as nicely as she could. Anders smiled slightly in response.
"Your Highness, it's no problem. Shall I inform him you aren't feeling well and that you'd wish to rest in your bedchambers undisturbed?" he suggested, surprising Laila all the more. She nodded and smiled.
"That'd be more than fine, actually! Thank you ever so much!" she praised, and in return Anders handed her the food tray for her to give to Hans.
"I apologize, the food is quite cool, Prince Hans. The food was prepared a while ago and I was told to serve it to you only now…" Anders confessed, to which Hans rolled his eyes.
" It's not like it's the first time I've had cold meals, Anders. I'll live." he stated, rubbing his eyes. Anders bowed and exited the dungeon, seeming to have other places to be. Laila went to hand Hans the food, but he shook his head. "I'm not hungry enough yet. Could you possibly hold it for me for now?" he asked, leaning back onto the wall of the cell. Laila giggled ever so slightly and nodded her head, obliging to Hans' simple request. She sat back and held the tray in her hands, her palms resting flat against the back of it. She looked at the piled mush of food Hans was given and raised an eyebrow.
"So, this is the meal we'll be served as well?" she asked, looking over to Hans. He shrugged and tilted his head to the side.
"Yes and no. You'll be getting the fresh, well prepared portions. I get the leftovers that are just one step up from horse feed. Don't' let my plate scare you. Our food's pretty decent."
"Including this stuff?" she asked, raising the tray just a little as a gesture.
"Well, it's no ten course banquet, but it's still edible. Why, would you care to eat it and find out for yourself?" he snipped, taking Laila by surprise. She shook her head and rested the tray back in her lap.
"You know, it doesn't seem like that one brother of yours is all that bad." she commented, looking at the food nonchalantly. Hans chuckled lightly.
"Who, Daniel? He's only second in line for the throne. OF COURSE he's going to act brotherly and kind. Even in only my presence, he's gotta keep up the facade of a righteous ruler…just in case."
"'Just in case' what?" Laila asked, curious.
"In case my oldest brother, Christian, just so happens to have an 'unfortunate accident' as King. I mean c'mon, with only one guy in your way, it's too easy."
"Hans, just because you would do something like that, doesn't mean everyone else would."
"Oh, really? Can you say that you'd resist the opportunity to become Queen if you had the chance? That is, unless you already are first in line for the throne…are you?" Hans asked, a little smirk forming into his weak attempt at a charm. Laila rolled her eyes and scoffed.
"Not that it matters, but to answer your question, I'm fourth in line for the throne, and I would NEVER dream of harming my brothers or sister just to have a crown. A family doesn't do that to one another." she snarled, glaring him in the eyes. Hans shook his head.
"A family only shares blood. It doesn't share affection…and of course you'd kill your family for it. If you were in that situation, your instincts would get the best of you. I'd bet on it." he finished, sitting up straighter in his position on the floor. Laila at this point was done with the topic and glanced at the food tray sitting nice and cozy in her hands. She made a disgusted face and shoved the tray under the bars, surprising the royal.
"Just eat your food. It's going to go bad if you don't." she stated, looking away. Hans took the tray and slowly started to eat, a sudden grin forming on his face.
"Huh, I don't know what Anders was talking about. This food's not that cold at all." he commented, continuing to eat. Laila huffed and looked over to him.
"I guess comparing to the steaming hot plates they normally have upstairs, it's considered cold. Just eat…" she finished, straightening out her dress as the royal ate from his tray. She folded her hands neatly and waited, not ready to leave the prince behind just yet. She still felt like she had to find out what she could about Hans, to see how his life came to this state. She just wasn't sure how long it'd take to figure him out, and her time was running out.