Season 4, Episode 3
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
I was on fire, but felt no pain. Brilliant yellow-white flames danced in front of my eyes. The light was unbearably bright, and I tried to shield my face with my arm, only to find myself bound tight with ropes that anchored every limb. I knew, with crystal certainty, that I had always been bound, but had somehow not noticed my prison until now.
I smelled something that made my skin crawl: wood smoke and amber, and beneath it a charnel stench. Did I smell my own flesh roasting and rotting off the bone? I struggled, and found that the ropes eased if I moved with them, away from the brightest part of the fire. As I did so, the foul odor, sick under sweet, grew stronger. Panicking, I pulled away, but my bonds tightened cruelly and began to drag me away from the blaze. Yellow-white flames faded to shivering shades of red, and I felt fetid breath on the back of my neck.
“Kaye!” I leapt straight up in bed. “Wake up! Something’s wrong!”
“Yelen?” came his voice in a hazy whisper. “It’s okay, I’m here.”
“No, Kaye,” I said, reaching for him in the dark of our bedchamber, night-blind as if I had just been staring into a bonfire, “that was no ordinary dream.”
“Wait,” Kaye’s voice rose, and his hand found my arm. “What is it?”
“We’re in terrible danger,” I replied, “but I don’t know why.”
I fumbled for my dressing gown as my eyes slowly adjusted to the faint light of the single candle burning in its sconce, cursing my swollen ankles as I went. I heard Kaye tightening his braces as I pulled on my gloves and tucked my hair up into a snood. All was quiet in the royal quarters. A single guard looked up at us as we left.
“Is there any report?” I asked him.
“No, Milady,” he replied.
“Keep a sharp watch,” I said, “something’s amiss.”
His eyes widened and he nodded. Mere moments later, a distant cry of anguish echoed through the palace, rising and falling several times before cutting off. The guard leapt to catch up to us.
“No!” I said. “There may be an assassin in the palace—see to the Queen’s safety!”
The man gaped, then dashed off in the direction of Theobel’s rooms.
The alarm was being sounded as we made our way down and toward the guards’ quarters. Captain Orbellus was there, barking orders as soldiers scurried around him.
“Captain!” I raised my voice to get his attention. “What is happening?”
“Murder in the Priests’ quarters, Regent. Geoff took a few men to investigate, and if you will let me do my job, I need to scour the palace for crazed priests.”
I looked at Kaye. He was frowning in concentration.
“A diversion?” he said.
“This could be the ‘obvious’ signal Lady Dycius spoke of,” I agreed, then turned to the Captain. “Orbellus! Tell your men to be on the lookout for a night assault!”
“What?” he replied. “Surely not.”
“Just tell them to keep a close watch for a battering ram or scaling ladders. I think there is a spy inside the palace.”
Orbellus swore, then strode off, bellowing new orders as he went.
“If this is a diversion,” said Kaye, “the priests must have been in contact with Lord Uombardies’ army.”
“Eolus,” I said.
“What? I’ve known him since childhood.”
You’ve also known your father and brother your whole life, I thought, but bit back those cruel words. It seemed that part of Kaye’s wyrd was to be betrayed by those close to him.
“It was Eolus who interrogated Geoff for Lord Hasimus, Eolus who engineered their ‘escape’,” the word twisted in my mouth, “and Eolus who convinced me to release the priests into his care just days ago.”
Kaye swallowed hard, and met my gaze. “Yelen,” he said, “Geoff trusts Eolus, and he’s in the priests’ quarters now.”
“Right,” I said, the full consequences of my conjecture coming home to roost, “let’s go save Geoff.”
Kaye and I entered the temple, heading for the monastic cells the High Priests had been moved to. He stopped abruptly and I followed his gaze. There, upon the altar, lay a figure in brown penitent’s robes. Blood dripped down the altar and filled the bowl used for burnt offerings.
As I approached, I could see that the victim had been stabbed repeatedly in the kidneys and other sensitive, not immediately lethal locations. Ripping away the robe over one such wound, I noticed that the blade had been twisted in the wound, tearing the pale, wrinkled flesh in a way that made me wince.
“I think I found the source of the scream we heard,” I said, and was surprised to hear my voice boom, louder than I’d intended it to be. The temple had excellent acoustics. “They wanted to make sure we all heard,” I muttered.
Kaye coughed, then began to choke. I looked up as he coughed again, then wiped his eyes. He had pulled back the hood of the priest’s robe, and was staring at the dead man’s head.
“It’s Eolus,” he whispered.
We fell silent, and it was then that we heard the muffled sounds of a fight nearby. I ran on increasingly sore ankles and Kaye kept pace on his crutches as we raced out of the temple, past the monastic cells, and deeper into the priests’ quarters. We passed dead and injured priests and acolytes as we ran, but their injuries all seemed the result of hasty swordplay, not the precise cruelty with which Eolus had been murdered. I had to slow down for Kaye as we descended a flight of stairs, and then we arrived in a room where a large carpet had been cast aside, revealing a trap door in the floor with a rope ladder descending down a narrow passage.
There was an acolyte slumped against the far wall, his left leg bent in a way that suggested a shattered kneecap. As we entered, he reached for a bloody dagger on the floor, only to shriek in pain as he shifted and then gave up.
It was Brother Gosdan, the subservient acolyte I’d met with a handful of times before Eolus’ arrival.
“Death and torment to the witch and the cripple!” he shrieked impotently.
I ignored him. The sounds of battle rang out from below.
“Kaye, see if you can learn anything from him,” I said, approaching the trap door.
“Is that Father Eolus’ blood on your dagger?” I heard him ask as I descended the ladder, passing down into darkness where Kaye could not follow.
Stone quickly gave way to bare earth, and when I reached the bottom, I had to step over the body of one of the palace guards. There was a tunnel here, running away from the palace at a slight incline. I had to duck my head to enter it. There was no light in the tunnel, but the sounds of awkward and desperate swordplay echoed in the dark.
“Geoff!” I called. “I’m here!”
There was a sudden wet thunk and a groan, the sound of a man getting gored. Goddess, I prayed silently, not Geoff, please.
My prayers were answered, after a fashion, when Geoff’s raspy voice called back, “Too many. Get out! Go!”
I heard another thunk, this one dry, and then a grunt of effort and the sound of timber creaking.
“No!” I cried out as a trickle of dirt fell on my head, but I was already backing out of the tunnel. “Geoff, fall back!”
“Dead gods! Go!” he bellowed, and I heard a series of popping sounds, wooden supports giving way or human bones being broken or both. I would have given an eye for enough light that the other might have pierced the darkness, but all I could do was retreat and clamber up the ladder as quickly as I could go.
There was a rumble, then a great crash, and a storm of dust as I neared the top.
“Yelen!” called Kaye from somewhere in the cloud.
“I made it out…” I gasped, “but Geoff…”
“We have to go!” he shouted.
“We’re safe,” I said, “there was a tunnel leading out, but it was narrow, and Geoff…collapsed it.”
There was a tittering noise. Brother Gosdan was laughing. “You are already dead,” he said. “By now, the gates are open, and the true King’s army is pouring through.”
“What?” I spat.
“Eolus’ death was a diversion,” Kaye said.
“We already knew that,” I replied, my temper flaring, “but Geoff brought the tunnel down on his own head.”
“Too late,” said Kaye. “The first men through were in our uniform, and Eolus’ death-cry was their signal to take the gates.”
“We played right into their hands,” I said, aghast. “Come on, Kaye, we can put a stop to this.”
I was wrong.
As I barreled down the hallway, I slammed my shoulder into the stone wall, intentionally dislocating it for the curse.
“Chew on that.” I muttered the malediction without conviction, but it was good enough.
The soldiers chasing us screamed in pain. The one in the lead tripped, and the rest tumbled down about him, their voices shrill in agonized chorus.
I was growing weary. The palace was chaos, the guard scattered like rice in a hurricane. Kaye and I tried to get to the main gate, but the sheer rush of enemy soldiers was too much. With so many more at their back, pushing them forward, I simply wore myself out.
I lost count of how many of them I cursed, keeping track only by my own self-inflicted injuries: stubbed toes, bruised ribs, candle-seared fingers, bloody lips and tongue, a gnawing emptiness from when I’d hexed a group with my own horror at Geoff’s sudden death, and that dislocated shoulder. With each curse, I found myself less able to focus, and had to do worse to myself to make the magic work.
I slammed myself against the wall again to pop my humerus back into its socket and that hurt worse than dislocating it had. I shrieked.
“This way,” Kaye said, and I followed his lead. There was something vaguely familiar about the twists and turns we were taking, but my head was so fogged with fatigue and pain that I didn’t place it until Kaye closed a door behind us, leaving us in utter darkness.
“Kaye, we have to get back out. There’s only one door to this storeroom.”
“Remember this room, Yelen?”
“Of course I do. Those were good days, but now we have to get back out there.”
“No, we don’t. I do not want to watch you kill yourself trying to hex an army.”
“What then, Kaye? If we stay here, they will find us eventually.”
“Maybe not. You walked through walls once; perhaps you can do it again.”
“Kaye, I told you, I’m not powerful enough to do that on my own. I don’t even know how… wait,” I paused, letting a thought work its way through my exhaustion. “You’re talking about the way the magic has been building on its own when we have sex.”
“Yes,” he said. “Maybe whatever force brought you to my room that night is trying to get you out of here, to safety.”
“What about you?” I said, a bit testily. “I won’t leave you here. Besides, part of the palace collapsed last time—what’s to say I won’t bring the whole Goddess-forsaken thing down this time?”
“Yelen,” said Kaye, “isn’t it better for you and our child to live? Besides, we don’t know how the magic works. It might take me as well.”
“It’s that blighted prophecy,” I said, beginning to weep. “It’s just too cruel.”
“Yelen,” said Kaye, “I love you. No matter what happens, I will always love you.”
He hugged me, pulling me in tight, and I returned his embrace, stepping in so he still had the support of his crutches. Kaye touched my face, then began to kiss the tears off my cheeks. I met his mouth with my own, but had to break the kiss when new pain arced through my wounded lower lip.
“It’s okay,” Kaye murmured reassuringly, then shifted to nuzzle my neck, “don’t try and force anything.”
It was a ridiculous thing to say, under the circumstances, so I laughed, and he laughed as well. Not knowing if either of us would see tomorrow, or if we would ever see each other again, was just too big and difficult. I couldn’t fix it, so I had to let it go.
When Kaye nuzzled my neck again, I could feel the tears streaming down my face, but I also heard myself sigh, and felt my lips twitch into a small smile.
© 2013 Copyright Tof Eklund
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