A Worthwhile Sacrifice
DISCLAIMER: "Jane and the Dragon" belongs to Martin Baynton and company. This is merely a whimsical piece of fan fiction made for no other profit than the joy of receiving reviews.
Note: Happy Valentine's Day! And Happy Chinese New Year as well! This is part of my epic post for the occasion! One-shots or chapters that go with the theme of Vday!
This is a one-shot set in a slightly darker situation than those usually shown in the story. I hope you all like it, nevertheless! Please do leave a review!
She burst into the dark, dingy dungeon, ready to shout out an enraged speech she had rehearsed as she ran her way there. She was just about to tell him how foolish he was for having admitted to such a grave crime, how absolutely pig-headed he was to throw away all his dreams of knighthood for the sake of saving one worthless person.
But she fell silent the moment she laid eyes on the cell's sole inhabitant.
He looked so different from the squire she had always known.
His formerly proud and overconfident bearing was now a sad, humbled posture, as he sat in one corner silently, his head bowed, almost in defeat.
There was no smug expression on his pale face, and his long, dark hair shrouded the rest of his face in shadow.
Had imprisonment broken his spirit already?
He looked so forlorn and lonely that Jane almost broke into tears at the sight of him. But she restrained herself.
Nevertheless, she had never known there to be such a dank and dreary prison as this in Kippernium. The kingdom, at least during her lifetime, had never needed to use the ancient dungeons to house any criminals. Peace and order had always been maintained. Trouble would come but never anything too serious.
And yet, there he was, one of their own citizens, now a prisoner in the castle, proclaimed guilty of heavy crimes.
Crimes she knew he never committed.
She clenched her fist as she remembered the purpose of her visit.
But it was still difficult for her to recite her speech. So she began by simply calling his name.
"Gunther," she managed to say, in a gentler tone than she had expected.
He didn't look up but she knew he heard her.
"What are you doing here, Jane?" he muttered coldly.
He was not surprised at her coming. He knew her well enough to expect it.
So he knew all that she was going to say, and how he would respond to every word. He was not the only one with a rehearsed speech.
"I should ask you the same question," Jane replied sharply.
He said nothing and waited for the tirade to be launched.
Incensed by his silence, Jane continued.
"You're taking the blame for your father, and you know it," she snapped, "but why do such a foolish thing? Why condemn yourself to a lifetime of imprisonment for crimes you did not do?"
"I don't see how it is any of your business," he retorted, raising his eyes to meet hers.
She was taken aback, both by his answer, and by the sunken look in his eyes. He looked as if he had not slept for several days.
"A crime was committed, and a criminal is being punished," he continued, "that is the end of the matter."
"That isn't justice, Gunther," Jane argued, "your being your father's scapegoat is not going to solve anything."
"It doesn't matter," he replied, "he is far away by now, and there's no way any of you can catch him. Better to have someone take responsibility for the mess he left behind."
"And that someone has to be you, I suppose?"
"Don't be stupid. It isn't your fault. You are no traitor, and no thief."
"Thank you for such a high estimation of me but I do not intend to retract my confession."
"There can still be a way out of this!" Jane insisted, irked by his complete resignation to his fate.
He shook his head.
"No, Jane," he said quietly, "what's done is done."
"You're wrong," she argued, "I'll talk to the King, I'll talk to Sir Theodore, there has to be a way to get out of this."
"The law must be upheld," he replied, citing a provision from the Knightly Code.
"Don't lecture me," she snapped, "I know that as well as anyone."
"Then you should accept that this is where I belong."
"No, no," she protested, "we can't just let your father go free while you suffer in here. It just isn't fair!"
"It's too late for you to catch him now, he is beyond reach," Gunther explained, standing up, "and besides, since when has life ever been so fair?"
He smiled with scorn at the last statement, enraging Jane further. Why was he being so stubborn and pig-headed? And then, after a moment, she realized that that was the way Gunther always was. Obstinate to a fault.
But she was resolute as well, and she would not stand having him imprisoned forever just so that sleazy, cruel father of his could roam free, tricking and betraying other people on the way.
She and Dragon would find Magnus Breech, for sure, and bring him to justice. Gunther should not have to suffer.
Jane had stopped arguing and was pondering on something for a few moments. Gunther frowned. He knew that look, that serious, determined look on her face.
And he would not let her go through with whatever she was planning. It was far too dangerous.
As if reading Jane's mind, Gunther spoke.
"Don't waste your time going off to find him, Jane," the former squire advised his fellow knight-in-training, "even with Dragon's help, you will never find him."
"Don't be ridiculous," Jane answered with slight confidence, "Dragon and I have outwitted that father of yours many times. What makes you think we're going to fail?"
But Jane couldn't help noticing the dark expression that filled Gunther's face as she spoke of his father. The shadow that fell upon his eyes sent a chill up her spine although she tried her best not to show her unease.
"There are many things you don't know about my father," Gunther said in a very grave tone, "and what he has shown himself to be here in Kippernium is just a façade of his true nature. He wants to be underestimated so that he can strike you hard when you let your guard down. You have no idea what he's capable of."
Jane's eyes widened at this revelation, not sure of what to say next. She had never heard Gunther speak of his father in such terms and had never known Magnus Breech to be such a threat. But the son certainly did not seem to be lying about this matter and Jane paused to ponder a little more on what she was going to do about the situation. There was a ferocity in Gunther's gaze that frightened her a bit. He was clearly warning her against interfering in the situation.
Gunther sighed with relief as he saw Jane pausing to consider what he had just said. It was the truth. Magnus Breech was not a man to be trifled with. He may have feigned ignorance and foolishness at times but he still had many a sly trick up his sleeve. How else would he have gotten away with such an elaborate treachery, leaving Gunther to pick up the pieces?
But Gunther knew how stubborn and determined Jane could be. He had to make sure she wouldn't endanger herself by getting involved in this matter. After all, he had already convinced the King and Sir Theodore that he was guilty, but Jane saw through him so well. He needed her to be convinced, if only to protect her further.
"Don't do anything rash or stupid, Jane," he added resolutely, "I assure you it will all come to nothing. You don't have any evidence to implicate him, and you will find none. Just leave things as they are. This is the best possible outcome, you'll see."
"But I don't see how this can be right at all," Jane rebutted, "I refuse to think that this is how this issue is going to end."
"Why do you care so much?" he retorted, hoping to delay her next argument.
Jane opened her mouth to reply but was suddenly unsure of how she would respond. Gunther took this chance to speak.
"I am the only one who stands to lose anything in this arrangement," he continued, "and I have already accepted the consequences of my actions. No one else needs to be involved."
Jane was surprised again by his simple resignation to a life of disgrace and confinement. She could hardly believe that it was indeed Gunther Breech who was before her at that very moment.
But when she looked at his eyes, she saw that same headstrong, pigheaded determination that he always had. Given the circumstances he even seemed a bit smug.
Jane sighed, although she was by no means finished.
"But Gunther," the red-headed squire said, "what about all your dreams about becoming a knight? You and I have worked very hard to be able to fulfill this dream, and we aren't too far away from seeing it come true."
He looked away from her uneasily.
"I can help you," she tried to convince him.
"You are under no obligation to do so," he replied curtly.
"It isn't too late," she urged him, "you can still become a knight if you…"
"It doesn't matter," he interrupted her.
"What?" she cried, with wide-eyes. She could not believe what she had just heard, "you're lying!"
But the look in his eyes told her otherwise.
"It was my dream, yes, but I guess that road is closed to me forever," he conceded softly, "besides, I have given it up willingly for something far more important."
"I don't understand."
"You don't have to."
They stood together in an awkward silence, more than just the metal bars of the cell separating them. Jane was trying to take everything in, trying to figure out what to do next.
He might have resigned himself to such a sad end but she was not willing to let him live like this. She knew how much he wanted to be a knight, and how much he had had to endure at the hands of his worthless father just to come this far.
Jane would not let his efforts be in vain.
He may have thought that it was none of her business, but it was.
This was her chance to be a really good friend to him, a friend that he needed in this dark time.
In fact, as Jane suddenly realized, until this moment she had never really known how dear Gunther was to her. It was a new and almost scary sensation, but she would act upon it.
More than just out of a sense of justice or honor.
She nodded, and turned to leave. There was something about the way Jane's face lit up that bothered Gunther.
He grabbed her hand through the bars of the cell and called out her name. She turned to face him.
"Promise me, Jane," he begged, "promise me that you will leave this matter alone. Promise me, instead, that you will become the greatest knight this kingdom has ever seen."
Jane's eyes widened at this strange request and for a while did not know what to say.
"I can assure you of the second," she said simply, "but I cannot promise that I will let you rot in this prison forever, not on my knight's honor."
In order to leave him no time to protest, she quickly shook off his arm and left the dungeon.
Gunther watched her depart with wide eyes before he sat back, leaning against the cold stone walls, laughing slightly at the turn of events.
Was it all in vain after all?
The squire looked towards where Jane had just left. She was as stubborn as ever.
But you don't know, he thought, addressing her silently and secretly, you can't know the real reason why I did this. It wasn't out of loyalty to my father, no, that bond has long been dissolved.
I did this to save you, Jane, all only for you. He would have put you in harm's way, and I could never allow that to happen. And he had known that as well. He had known that I would take the fall, if your life was at stake.
The Merchant had played his cards well, and now all was going according to his nefarious plan.
You will not be able to catch him anymore, Jane, Gunther thought with relief, and all the better. You will be safe.
She was hardly the type of girl who needed rescuing. So he had been somehow glad to be given this opportunity to save her, for once.
I swear, on my honor, to always protect you, Lady Jane, Gunther recited in his mind with a smile, even at the cost of my dreams, my freedom, my life.