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Grade
10

The Phoenix

Jynsa Lin brushed her hair out of her face and raised a spoonful of broth to her lips. The silky black strands just swung back into her face, brushing her collarbone. She wasn’t even allowed a strip of leather to bind her hair up. The clicking of boots and echoing down the hall alerted her to the arrival of a guard. She bowed her head submissively, staring at her worn black-gray shirt and pants, hair covering her face completely. The leering man appeared, banging on the bars of her cell with his spear. A new guard, she noted. Normally the guards were too disgusted by her appearance to go near her for any reason other than to give her food.

 

“Don’t feel too sorry for yourself- you deserve whatever you got, wench.” the guard sneered, jabbing at her with his spear. She snapped her head up, eyes blazing at the remark, and he startled at her mangled cheek, at her golden eye. “Witch,” he spat, and quickly stalked away. Memories of the wound flooded Jyn. She let them carry her away.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Jyn sat attentively on the carpeted floor of the throne hall. Generals and advisors argued back and forth, discussing how to keep control of Adirah, capital city of Sherrha. Rebellion had sprung up there, and was currently succeeding. Adirah had been her kingdom’s colony for almost two decades, and the king wanted to keep it that way. Jyn reflected that this was the only council meeting she would ever be allowed to attend. Nagging her father had paid off. She played with the sleeve of her sweeping robe. Women didn’t attend war councils, her father had said distastefully before bringing her here. As one of the favored advisors of the king, he shared some, if not all, of the king’s barbaric beliefs. She cast a glance towards the king himself, presiding over the council on his gilded throne on the dais at the end of the hall. The bickering suddenly silenced as one of the generals, Tagara, stood up and faced the king.

 

“My liege, why not simply exhaust Sherrha and force them to surrender? We have an advantage in resources, compared to the rebels, and our army can outlast them. I suggest we besiege them until they run out of supplies.”

 

“But our own soldiers will die in droves in a siege! We barely have enough supplies to outlast the rebels!” exclaimed one of the others.

 

“But we will have reduced the citadel to starving beggars, no, Advisor Muro?” A small smirk crossed General Tagara’s face. “And with that, our control over all of Sherrha will be cemented once more.” Jyn’s shock and outrage consumed her. She jumped up to face him.

 

“You can’t send an entire division to die off so you can regain control of a colony sooner! These are people who love and defend our nation! How could you betray them like that and send them off to die?” She glanced around the room. A few council members shifted uneasily, while one or two nodded. Tagara looked down at her with open contempt. Embarrassed and furious, her father hissed at her to apologize and sit down. She tried again.

 

“Those men have families, wives and children that depend on them. Mothers who will await their return as a war hero back home! What would they think if they knew that their children and husbands and fathers had been sent on a suicide mission like cattle to slaughter? Where is your honor if your do this?” Jyn shook her head. “What you’re doing is callous and dishonorable! There have to be other ways than sending an entire division to die!”

 

“If you would allow me to interrupt your tirade, Lady,” a smooth voice interjected from the dais. “General Tagara, I approve of your plans. And you…”

 

Jyn felt the weight of the king’s gaze as he looked at her, eyes glittering with malicious amusement. “Perhaps it is not clear to you, Lady, but you are not to speak in this council. Nor is it your place to judge its actions or decisions. By doing exactly that, you have insulted my general, and by extension, me.”

 

A bolt of fear pierced Jyn. She shouldn’t have spoken out. The king was merciless, and her outburst would cost her. But if not her, she asked herself, then who?

 

“See how she speaks with such fire,” the king’s cruel voice rang, addressing the council, and then to her: “Surely, you wouldn’t mind a bit more. Guards!”

 

Before Jyn could protest, two sentries appeared behind her and seized her arms. “Take her down to the dungeons.”

 

Jyn was pushed through hallways and down stairs, and she considered the king’s words. His comment about her “fire”- there were braziers down in the dungeons, used for heating branding irons or torturing rods. She started to hyperventilate as the realization struck, trying to wrench her arms out of the vise-like grips. They were going to burn her, they were going to- dizziness washed over her. The footsteps of the council sounded behind her, murmuring to themselves. She was pushed into a room with a table and a fire pit by the king’s silent direction.

 

“Drown her in fire.”

 

She struggled against the guards that held her arms, kicking and flailing, but they dragged her towards the crackling brazier. Closer and closer by the second, she could see the orange-yellow coals and feel the heat of the flame. The watching council quieted at the sight of her struggle, but not one of them came to her aid, not even her father.

 

“The left side of her face,” the king said from somewhere to the side. “Enough that she will live, but with a reminder of her dishonor forever.”

 

A hand clamped over her topknot and twisted her head so that her left eye and cheek faced the flame. Whimpering and shaking became thrashing and shrieking. The hand behind her head shoved her face into the flame, and for an instant she felt nothing until white-hot agony spread across her face, so fierce she couldn’t even let out a scream. Squeezing her eyes shut, she shook from the pain. Choked sobs and shrieks forced their way past her lips as she writhed in that position, her face in the fire, for what seemed like an eternity. She couldn’t move her mouth. Her left eyelid was in burning pain, her cheek searing. She was suddenly yanked out of the flames and tossed to the floor, landing hard on the unforgiving stone. Air fanned across her face, sending it into scorching pain again. Jyn let the wave of black crash over her.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She woke in a dimly lit room, her left eye and cheekbone covered by soft cloth. A soft shift that fell to her shins had replaced her silk robe. As she slowly gained consciousness, the blistering pain hit. Her back arched off the cot, but she couldn’t scream. Only broken whimpers came from her. Someone rushed in through the door, and with a glint of silver she was drowning in black again.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Weeks later, Jyn had healed, at least to the extent that she could walk and talk, could remove the bandage from her face without fear of damage or infection. The first time she’d looked in the mirror she’d nearly vomited. Plasticky burn scars, an ugly burnt red color, stretched from below her left eye and cheekbone almost to her temple and ear. Her hair was mostly untouched, probably because she’d had it in a topknot. Her left eye, also victim to the flames, had narrowed from the melted skin, so she was perpetually glaring with it. The iris of the eye had gone from dark brown-black to an unearthly golden color. She could still see through the eye, which the healer told her was a miracle. Jyn was also informed that a battalion had been sent to besiege Adirah. She’d sat quietly for hours, blood roaring in her ears and pounding through her head, unable to think or speak. Her pleas had been for nothing, had had no effect. One day later, she was visited by her father, who spat at her that she’d been stripped of her station and honor. Two days later, she was carted away by guards and thrown in Jejuna Prison.

 

The largest prison in the nation, Jejuna housed the worst of the worst in its lower levels and temporarily kept people who’d done practically nothing in its upper levels. It extended many floors above and below the ground for space, constantly expanding. Jyn had been put somewhere in the middle. Her stomach had roiled at the sight of all the gaunt, hopeless faces in their cells. This was where she would be stuck for the rest of her life. That had been six weeks ago, if her timekeeping was accurate. In that time her disgust and disapproval of the nobles in that room had turned to hatred; her resignation to resolve.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

She snapped back to the present as another cringing guard rapped on the cell bars and told her to finish eating. Slurping up the broth, Jynsa slid the bowl and spoon out of her cell. One day, she silently promised herself, she would take her revenge. For herself and for all her nation’s soldiers killed in that raid. Even if it took years, she would get free. A soft, savage laugh rasped out of her.

 

She had risen from the ashes, reborn, and she would burn anyone in her way.

State
MI
Zip Code
48103