From the one hundred and fifty boats that had gone to Garion, word surface that only two made it back to Evan. The Dykelands were destroyed, but the Garians had their revenge. Lania had heard many accounts about what happened in Garion. Most contained words like moving stone pillars, magic, earthquakes, giant waves and death. Endless, horrifying tales of deaths.
Doranand didn’t return. He too was feared dead as his ship was struck down in the pass. When she’d last seen the Earl of Whitby he looked stricken and like a man barely tethered to this plane. He’d saved his son only that he may go on to die a more horrible death. At least from the lashes he would’ve had a body to bury, now he would have nothing.
The king was furious and anyone that annoyed him the least bit or stood in his path received the full brunt of it. This week alone there were five executions. Two had been the Captains of the boats that had returned and the other three were servants. One that had spilled wine during dinner, the other for leaving dust on the table, and the other because he laughed at an ill opportune moment. It was whispered that the king was going mad, but no one dared to question or remove him as he would have their heads.
The queen however didn’t seem quite as bothered by the loss. Lania hadn’t seen her talking to any more phantoms, thank the stars, but she was too serene she thought. While the king raved, she would seem to stare off in quiet contemplation. Some thought her distracted, but Lania thought that she looked like someone who had solved a riddle and was calculating her next move.
As if sensing her eyes upon her the queen looked over in her direction. She dipped her eyes immediately and went to refill the wine goblet of another of the king’s guests.
“You there, servant girl. Come hither.” she said. Lania looked up to find the queen still staring at her.
The jug in her hand shook violently and her feet wobbled as she approached the queen. “Your Majesty,” she croaked out and curtsied. Oh stars she must have found out that she’d helped Doranand in the dungeons and was going to hand her over to the king to have her executed. Oh stars! Oh stars! She thought about her poor uncle at home. Who was going to provide for him when she was gone? Oh stars!
“My goblet is empty, fill it.” she said lifting her cup. Lania didn’t relax one bit but she steadied her hands so that not even a single drop of wine would be spilled. When she was done she backed away from the queen and waited. “That is all, you may resume serving the other now.”
Lania almost dropped the jug as her muscles sagged with relief. The queen however slipped back into her contemplative mood as she looked past the balcony and out at sea.
She had been taking off the nightly shift and as soon as the dinner had ended she went home.
“How were things at the palace today Lanny?” asked her uncle as she laid out dinner for him.
“The same as usual. Everyone is still talking about the war and tiptoeing around the king in fear of losing their heads.”
He was about to say something but was interrupted by a loud rapping that came on her door. “Now who is that knocking at this hour of the evening?” grumbled her uncle getting up.
“You sit and eat I will answer.” she said resting the pot and ladle down on the table. She wiped her face and hands in the shawl and opened the door. She found herself staring in the faces of two of the castle guards.
“Are you Lania, former handmaid of princess Aliana?” asked one of the men.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“Come with us, your presence is requested by Queen Ana-Moriah.”
“What business could the queen have with me as I am not on the night shift?”
“It isn’t our duty to question the queen but to follow her orders. You can come voluntarily or we could take you by force Miss.” said the other soldier.
“Lanny who is there? Get rid of them quickly and come inside. You don’t want to catch a cold from the night air.” said her uncle.
“It is some guards that have come from the palace. Someone did something and I think they want me to work the night shift in their place. I am going to go with them.” she said.
“But you’ve worked ten hours straight already what more could they want from you.” he said coming behind her.
“It’s fine uncle. I can get more money for overtime if I go. I will be fine. I will see you in the morning.” she said kissing him on his hallowed out cheeks.
“No use working extra money if you never have time to spend it.” he grumbled.
She pulled her shawl over her head and then guards helped her into the wagon. When she looked back she saw another one of them barricading the door and windows and they seemed to be pouring a liquid on and around the house. He took up a torch and touched it to the roof of her house. Tongues of fire sprang up and hungrily chewed on the thatching.
“What is he doing? Why is he burning my house! My uncle is trapped inside!” she cried out and tried to jump from the wagon but was held in place by the guard. She kicked, bit and punched him repeatedly but his hold never wavered. “Why are you doing this? Why are you killing my uncle?” she bawled as fat drops of tears rolled down her cheeks in torrential streams.
“We are just following orders.” said the soldier devoid of any emotion.
They carried her to the palace but not through the front as she’d expected. There was a grilled area at the south gate which seemed like the opening to an underground tunnel. The gates swung open as they approached and closed as soon as they’d entered. A torch was lit and then the two guards shoved her along the tunnel. Each step leading them further underground as if going to the very foundation of the original palace.
They came upon another grill that swung open again of its own accord. They then moved down to a tunnel going left which opened into a wide room at the centre of which, sat the Queen.
“Ah the prisoner has arrived. You two are dismissed.” she said to the guards. They bowed and exited the room leaving her alone with the queen.
The air was dank with decay and she felt a cold draft creeping up her neck. She pulled the shawl tighter around her body, looking everywhere but at the queen.
“I bet you know why you are here Lania and why your uncle was punished.”
“I don’t Your Majesty.”
“Really?” she smiled but it was one of those that never touched the eyes.
Nothing that she did warranted her uncle being burnt alive in his own home so she shook her head.
“Very well, since you’ve forgotten, let me remind you. I have come to know that you were the one that had helped Lord Doranand while he was a prisoner in the dungeon. Do you remember now?” Lania didn’t answer. “That act of insubordination requires the severest form of punishment.”
“I am not afraid to die and if an act of kindness is what I shall die for, I do not regret it.”
“Brave words but who said anything about killing you dear child.” she laughed. “I have much greater plans than that in store for you. Demos, Daina.” she said as if speaking to the wall. Two cloudy forms cloaked in blackness crept out of the shadows and took form before her eyes.
“Your wickedness shall not prevail Moriah as Princess Aliana will return to Arnay and she will slay you for what you’ve done.”
“But I haven’t even done anything yet.” she smiled with fiendish glee. “It is funny that you should mention my step-daughter. However, she will not be slaying me. You in fact are going to ensure that never happens as you are going to kill her yourself.”
“Never.” she said and then dashed towards the door.
“Hold her!” she barked. The phantoms ghosted beside her and took solid form grabbing her by the arms and dragging her back to the queen. She then placed a flask at her lips and tried to pour a rather acrid tasting potion down her throat. “Drink.” she said.
Lania spat the liquid out of her mouth. The queen growled and then pinched her nostrils closed. Lania continued to fight and she was quickly running out of air. Her head swam and her face had probably gone blue. Her body betrayed her and she opened her mouth taking in air but also a good amount of the queen’s potion.
She then let her go and she coughed fitfully as some of the liquid had gotten into her lungs. The phantoms dropped her on the ground. For a few minutes she didn’t feel anything, but soon enough she felt a tearing pain creeping from her belly out to the rest of her body.
She screamed as her legs seemed to be growing longer and her figure thinner. She screamed in agony until her voice no longer sounded like hers. She was changing but into what she didn’t know. The pain wore on until it was no more.
The queen hovered over her and held her face between her hands tossing it left and then right. “Better than I expected.” she said.
“Now get up.” Lania stood. Obeying the queen was the most important thing in the world. She was made to obey and she would. “Now my task for you Lania dear is to kill Princess Aliana and then take her place in the court of Garion.” Lania knew that she must obey and she would, but how was she to do that?
“You must be wondering how?” asked the Queen. She then walked over to her table and pulled out a mirror from the drawer and held it up to her face. “Look.” she said and Lania did.
Now Lania understood. Staring back at her was the spitting image of the Princess of Arnay.