Season 3, Episode 5
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
WARNING: Although there is no material subject matter within that couldn’t be found in any general bookstore with no age constraint, this series is rated 18 and contains adult situations and content. It is intended for mature audiences only, and should not be read if you are uncomfortable with graphical sexual intimacy.
Lily threw open the door. It slammed into the wall with a reverberating thud.
“Yelena!” she gasped as she ran toward me. “It’s a riot!”
I’d slowly gotten a handle on my hyperemesis through observation. Certain scents, especially burning scents like charred meat or wood smoke, would send me into a fit of retching. Moving too quickly upset my stomach, and I could only eat mild food, slowly, and in small portions. To keep my strength up and nourish the life growing in me, I was eating five or more times a day. Broth, porridge, and mashed tuber. I drank only water. I wished for a cup of inji root tea, with its stomach-settling properties, but my stock of that herb had been lost in the collapse of my rooms.
Needless to say, Kaye and I hadn’t made love since my belly sickness set in. There is a truism that the creation of new life is the Goddess’ greatest miracle, but I’ve also heard Crone Agata say that “miracles are a punch in the tit.” In any case, the novelty of being with child had worn off. Less than two moons into the process, and I was ready to give birth and get it over with.
It was mid-morning when Lily came flying into the room. I was sitting that day because standing up and lying down both made me queasy. Kaye was crutching up and down the length of the room. He’d been doing that a lot lately.
“What?” Kaye spun around too quickly and almost toppled over. “Where are the guards?”
“Guards are with ’em,” Lily replied, then turned breathlessly back to me. “You’ve got to get out of here.”
“Wait, Lily,” I held up a hand in what I hoped was a calming gesture. “Tell me what is happening.”
“It started with the priests, preaching against you again.”
“Again?” I asked.
“Oh,” Lily replied, “they’ve been saying you’re dead. The High King plucked you up. They call it a miracle.”
“Of course,” I muttered. “Death is their idea of a miracle.”
“This time they went further. Said the Queen needed to call the other Lords back, elect a new King. Suggested Uombardies, they did.”
I heard Kaye’s sharp intake of breath. “Uombardies instead of Nestor?” he asked.
“I’m afraid so, Milord.”
I looked at Kaye. His hazel eyes were wide.
“It is within their purview to refuse my investiture,” he explained. “If the priests called for my brother Nestor to be crowned, it would just be following the line of succession. But calling for House Uombardies to replace House Lycius, that’s treason.”
“You think they were trying to start a riot?” I asked.
“Worse, I think,” Kaye replied. “Lily, what was that about the guards?”
“That’s the thing! The captain of the guard showed up, with seven men. I thought he’d put things right, but he spoke for the priests, took their side.”
“And then?” Kaye asked.
“Then I ran here! You’ve got to get out!”
“No,” I said, rising to my feet. I fought to remain calm and collected though my guts churned. Good, I thought. I could use that. “I’m going to put a stop to this nonsense.”
Kaye and Lily both goggled at me.
“Kaye,” I said. “Would this have happened if Geoff was here?”
“No,” he spoke confidently, “Geoff’s not in command, but he knows every guardsman. Most are as loyal as he is.”
“I think this was planned ahead of time. Head straight for the barracks, rouse the night watch if you can. Lily, see if you can find any guards at their stations. I am heading directly for the Queen’s chambers; meet me there.”
“Yelen…” Kaye began.
“But, b-but…” Lily stammered.
“Do not contradict the pregnant witch. I cannot let them get to Theobel and Nestor. Goddess knows what they will do to them.”
He nodded, and Lily looked at me with something uncomfortably similar to reverence.
I was moving for the door when it swung open. Two guardsmen burst into the room, swords drawn.
“You’re coming with us, cripple…” one began, then saw me and gasped.
“Fools!” I bellowed. “Craven cowards!”
They both dropped their swords and ran. That’s half the trick to a fear curse: you have to be terrified and yet able to project confidence. A kind of empty numbness settled over me like a cold mist, the backlash from my curse. As I strode forth, I barely noticed Kaye and Lily taking off on their own desperate errands.
At first, the corridors were empty, but then I came across a throng of people shouting and gesticulating: minor lords, their servants, a couple of the palace servants. I kept walking, and was only a few paces away when a man in a servant’s coat turned to look at me. He immediately blanched and began shaking, though I hadn’t done a thing to him.
More people turned. A woman screamed. A few people peeled off and ran down the hallway, but there was still this mass of uncertain, writhing humanity in my way. I reached down to the persistent discomfort in my gut and felt my gorge rise. A single gagging noise in the back of my throat set the curse and spread my nausea around me like the putrescence of rot.
Eyes watered. Hands moved to bellies, throats clenched. I took one measured step closer to the crowd and they broke, some running, some staggering, all fleeing, chased by all the half-believed stories they’d heard about ghosts and witches. There would be a price to pay for having confirmed their fears and prejudices. I shoved that worry out of my mind.
Holding back a rising need to vomit, I moved as quickly as I could. The double doors to the Queen’s chambers had been forced open, and I heard more jumbled shouting. So far, no bodies.
Rounding a corner into a sitting room, I saw three guards facing off against more than twice that many, brandishing blades at each other. All of the High Priests were there, a few steps back, shouting demands and quoting scripture. Theobel stood in the corner of the room, pinned behind her outnumbered guards. It took me a moment to realize that Nestor was with her. She was trying to shield him with her body, but Kaye’s little brother was fighting her, trying to pull free of her grip and shouting something I couldn’t hear over the din.
Someone swung a sword, and there was a loud clang of steel on steel. I was out of time. There was never enough time. A lit taper sat in an iron sconce bolted to the wall. I snatched it up in my left hand and swung my right hand, open palmed, at the sconce.
“Sting, sprain, shatter,” I mumbled the curse as the pain hit me and the slap resonated throughout the room.
Men cried out in pain and there was a series of clangs as swords tumbled to the ground and guardsmen grabbed their sore wrists. All three of the loyal guardsmen held their swords, but only two of the traitors. Everyone turned to face me.
“Enough!” I shouted. “There will be no bloodshed today.”
The captain of the guard still held his sword. He was left-handed, Goddess blind his green eyes. “Grab your sword!” he snarled. “Kill the wi—”
He didn’t finish the command. I retched, tasted stomach acid, and spat. The captain’s eyes bulged and he threw up on the floor.
“We are done here,” I grated, my voice raw from holding back bile. We had to be. I was going to join the captain any moment.
“Our faith protects us!” called one of the priests. “The High King will not let your foul magic touch us.”
“You will hang for your witchcraft!” shouted another.
That tore it.
I held the taper beneath my nose, breathed in the tallow smoke. My stomach convulsed. I blew out the thin candle, and with that exhale, pushed my sickness, all of it, out of my body and into those damned priests.
I finally lost it, and fell to my knees as I hawked up my breakfast. As my tears flowed uncontrollably and my throat burned, all I could think was please, let me not have overdone it. Please, Goddess, no death today. I was still helpless when Kaye arrived with the night watch, and only dimly aware of the rebel guards being taken away. There was someone standing next to me.
“Yelen,” Kaye said gently, “is there anything I can do?”
I waved him away. Shortly thereafter, I had to ward off Lily as well. There was nothing, in that moment, that anyone could do for me.
When I recovered, they hadn’t attempted to move the priests yet, as none of them could speak or stand, let alone walk, but they were all breathing.
As I stood, my position became clearer: these guards, the loyal ones, all looked at me with commingled fear, suspicion, and disgust. None of them spoke up, and many kept their hands on the pommels of their swords.
I turned to Theobel, saw something set in her gaze, hard and certain as stone. Next to her, Nestor’s eyes burned with something like hatred, a strange expression to see on a child only nine years of age.
Queen Theobel spoke up, in commanding tones that riveted the attention of everyone in the room. “Your return is timely, Maiden. Given recent events, it is clear to me that Thrycae is in need of an impartial regent. I humbly beg of you that you will assume that role henceforth.”
What? What does she want me to do? I looked around again. Aside from Kaye and Lily, I saw no allies there. If anything, I was set apart more than before, the scrutiny suddenly heaped upon me heavier. However, there were fewer hands hovering around the hilts of swords. The room was almost silent. The only thing that could be heard was the sound of the priests, still gagging and gasping. I had to say something.
“I am honored by your trust in me,” I turned back to Theobel and kept my voice as steady as possible, “and I will do my utmost to be worthy of it.”
The Queen nodded, and her gaze flickered over the guards. “We shall attend to the necessary details later,” she said. “Let the word go out that Maiden Yelena of Maragoya is Regent of Thrycae.”
© 2013 Copyright Tof Eklund
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