Lania had been busy. In one night three granaries on Turion had been mysteriously burned down. Two fires along the docks. One in the lumber yard. It was known that Aliana was the Red Sapphire with power over fire. Milos was gone and the trouble started. No one had dared to accuse her openly, but the whispers had started. Sometimes only a seed of suspicion was enough to destroy confidence and trust. The queen was right. Garion was going to drown in their own doubt.
She was shocked when the doctor told her that Doranand was alive. She wanted to see him, however refrained. The Queen had already harmed those closest to her and she would not give her another target. Not that she and Doranand were close, but a girl could dream and many nights back in Evan and for the few hours that she slept here, she often did.
By now he was probably furious that Aliana hadn’t come and visit him. The palace doctor had come to check on her the day she arrived and had delivered his message. She thanked the doctor but didn’t go. The queen had been checking on her constantly using the shadow wraiths Demos and Daina. Today they also came to deliver the potion that made her look like Aliana.
She was currently sitting in the study of Prince Milos idly embroidering a pattern on the hem of one of Aliana’s dresses. It was the only thing that steadied her, while she was in the presence of the shadows.
“The Queen is pleased with your progress thus far Lania and in two days she wants to institute the next step.” said Demos who she had come to know by the baritone in his voice. It was pleasant to listen to, seductive and she tried not to get too drawn in as she knew it was a result of dangerous magic.
Which was why male shadows were sometimes called Whispers. Their voice magic was very potent and they often used it to convince the unsuspecting into making unfair deals or wagers with them. After finding a loophole in the contract they would then demand a price, usually blood.
Female shadow wraiths didn’t speak much as it is said that they were once human maidens. Usually the vain type who were given promises of eternal youth when bonded to the male shadows. Daina was indeed beautiful, but you would have to look very hard to see it as it was obscured by smoke and blackness. They too were tricked. Beautiful they might be, but being creatures of the night no one else could admire it.
“What will the Queen have me do?” asked Lania without looking up.
“Nilian is lost to the Garians but they do not know. The queen has created a spell which gives the illusion that the fighting is still going on.”
“The queen cannot be that strong. The amount of power it would take is unheard of.”
Demos smiled. “Human how little you know of the world. The queen made a deal with all shadows and grim. We get our blood and she uses our magic. It was a good trade as the harvest has been abundant and will be even more so.”
Gooseflesh scatted up her arms and prickled behind her neck. She missed a stitch and then had to work at pulling out the knot that formed in the thread. He then continued, “The town is dead, but our soldiers are well and will be ready to move into Turion in five days. They will be taken into the palace through the tunnels. We expect our victory to be complete. Be ready to assume the throne of Garion. That is until the queen comes to claim it for herself.”
“Very well then. But it is time for you to leave. I am tired and have a long day ahead of me.” she put down the sewing on the table and then turned up the lamp. The creatures hissed in protest at the sudden brightness.
“You will regret always doing that! When the queen is....” started Demos.
“When the Queen is through with me, you will have my blood. I’ve heard it before now leave.” she said still turning it brighter. He issued her another dangerous look before going to stand before Daina. They both then disappeared into smoke which floated out the window, taking their inky blackness with them.
Lania paced the room several times. Neither reading nor sewing could calm her down. She then went back into the room and went to sofa to lie down. Try as she might she could never fall asleep in the bed. It was always either too hot or too hard with a buzzing undercurrent which always seemed to know that she didn’t belong.
She knew in her heart that she shouldn’t let the queen succeed, but then she had her orders. She had to figure out a way to go around them. All that she could think of included Doranand and if she did the queen would know. It however was a chance that she had to take.
She grabbed the potion Ana-Moriah had prepared and then walked out of the room. The halls were mainly empty except for the two guards standing outside her door. They straightened up when they saw her come out.
“Milady, it is late. Can we help you?” asked one of them.
“I cannot sleep and I received a message that the Arnayan prisoner had something of importance to tell me. It might involve the safety of Milos, so could you please bring me to him.”
The doctor had told her that Doranand was here but not where he was being held because she was already supposed to know.
The men looked at each other and she could see that they were hesitant. “Look I am only asking for an escort as I promised the king that I would go nowhere unaccompanied. But if you won’t follow then I will go myself and then you explain to him why I was alone.” she said starting off.
“That won’t be necessary Your Highness. If you will follow me.” said the other guard.
She thought that she would be led into the dungeons but was ushered past the kitchen and into the servants’ quarters. Two guards were stationed outside a door and she guessed that this was where he was being held.
The guards didn’t hesitate to open the door. The lamp was lit inside and she found Doranand sitting on the bed waiting. He looked much better than the last time she saw him. His face was slightly gaunt but at least the colour had returned. His grey eyes had an angry swirl as he stared at her.
“It took seven days for you to come. I guess you were too busy to remember an old friend.” he said bitterly.
She didn’t answer but took the bedside chair to the side of the room where no one could see her through the door. He watched her curiously while she sat. She could already feel the potion wearing off.
The cramping in all the bones in her face and body returned full force as they retook their correct shape. She bent forward holding her stomach and bit down on her tongue to stop herself from screaming in pain.
“Ali are you alright?” said Doranand rushing towards her. She held out her hand stopping him.
“Just give me a moment.” she huffed out. “Go back to your bed so the guards can see you.” her voice was a strange mix of Aliana’s and herself. He did as he was told but she could feel his eyes on her every second.
The pain seeped out of her limbs and gut and finally she was able to lift her head from off her lap.
His eyes dilated and then shrunk, “Lania?” he said.
“I don’t have much time. The potion changes me into Ana-Moriah’s minion. I cannot disobey her while it is in me, but I will die if I am off it for more than a few minutes so listen quickly.” she said stopping him. “Aliana is gone. The barons succeeded. I was sent by the queen to take her place. There are tunnels running under the island one leads to the palace kitchen. The Arnayan army plans to get in that way in five days. I am to kill the King and Queen of Garion. Then she will come here personally to claim the throne, possibly by killing me. You cannot let that happen. Princess Aliana wouldn’t want it to. Whispers are in the palace so be careful of the dark. Do not to make any deals.”
Her hands shook and she felt as if her chest was tightening. She uncorked the glass vial and placed it at her lips. It was no better than the first time she tasted it. The vial fell as a new wave of pain overtook her. Her bones stretched and the wisps of hair that had fallen around her face changed colour. At least the transformation process wasn’t as long this time. The pain eased and she took up the vial that had fallen.
She looked at Doranand whose face was contorted in surprise, anger and disbelief. There was much more that she wanted to say to him but the potion had again taken root and her loyalty to Ana-Moriah was grounded with it.
The surprise wore off and he cleared his throat. “Lania,” he said. “It will not be easy, but I will try.”
Good her heart said, but her mind and lips that were now the queen’s answered. “And I will do everything to ensure that you fail.” she then walked out of the room.