“You would become a Whisper’s mate. Is there nothing that you aren’t capable of?” asked King Theo, whose look was nothing short of murderous. Then again all who stood before her wanted, threatened, tried to, and almost succeeded in killing her. She was really in a bad place.
“You allied with a witch after everything that she has done to you, to your family, to Garion...”
“Lies!” he bellowed. “I will not hear your lies anymore! You and your father plotted the assassination of one son and then tricked the other into marrying you only so you could have him killed. She helped him.” he said pointing to Moriah. “She brought him back.”
“Only so she could use him, so she could use his powers. Look at her, how she has him leashed to her like an animal. Like a dog.” she said still nauseated by the fact that the witch had her hands around his wrist.
“Better to be a living dog than a dead one.” said Milos in a cold, flat voice.
“You don’t mean that. The Milos I knew and loved would rather have remained dead than to be chained to her. He would never agree to use an army of wraiths and grim to fight against men.”
“It was fine when they fought for Arnay and not when they fight for us. You are quite the hypocrite. How dare you...” said Matthias.
“Shut. The. Hell. Up.” she said silencing the baron. “You and your daughter had me thrown into Turion Lake. I am not much good with water, but fire will have to suffice.” she pulled on the energy around her and felt the heat engulfing and changing her. “Burn in hell!” she said as she directed a jet of flames towards him. It was deflected as a thin wall of stone shot up in front of him.
“Demos, the pendant!” said Moriah. She covered her chest thinking that the witch meant to take it. But was surprised when another chain was clasped around her neck. Her fire was doused immediately and she looked down to see a shard of black stone. Obsidian. Just like the cave in the Non-Living plane.
A cage of stone then formed around her. “You have caused more than enough trouble child.” said Moriah coming to face her. “It is time we put a stop to that.” her brown eyes flashed with green as it emitted pure evil energy.
Aliana tried to pull at the obsidian pendant around her neck but it was welded to the steel choker. “Death will claim you this time.” she whispered and she waved her hand as an electric orb formed.
“Too bad you won’t be able to see it.” Aliana uncapped the small jar of salt and flung it in her eyes. She screamed holding her face and the ball of energy went blasting through the front of the tent.
“Demos.” she screamed. “Finish her!” she said taking her hand from her face. Her eyes were red and tearful as she tried squinting through them. She got a jug of water and poured it over her face.
The wraith misted into the cage and had his eyes tightly clamped around her neck. “It is too bad that we never met earlier as we would have had something special together.” he said. Very special indeed. He added in her mind.
She tried to pull away but knew that she would fail as it was becoming harder and harder to breathe. She really was going to die this time and all she could do was stare at Milos. He was looking back at her with no emotion. It was like she didn’t exist. Like he felt nothing for her.
No Milos loved her. That aberration that watched her was not her husband.
The Whisper’s grip tightened, so much so that it was like she couldn’t feel his hands around her throat anymore. When she felt the air rushing into her lungs she realised that she wasn’t indeed choking her as he fell away at her feet.
She looked behind her to find Doranand standing at the entrance of the tent in his hand a raised crossbow. Beside him was...her? The lack of air must have really addled her brain.
But she knew that she realised that her eyes weren’t mistaken when King Theo said, “There are two of them. What is going on?”
“Doranand shoot him!” she said as she noted Matthias withdrawing a dagger to stab the king. His aim was true and the second arrow landed squarely between the traitor’s eyes. King Theo looked behind him and gasped.
Clearly outmatched without her wraith. The queen looked slightly irritated and panicked. “By this time tomorrow, you will all be dead.” She took Milos’ hand and in a swift wave, they were swallowed by the earth.
The Aliana who stood beside Doranand twitched and keeled forward. Doranand dropped the bow so that he could catch her. The princess watched unbelieving as the woman’s brown hair turned honey-blond and her figure shrunk until she found herself staring at her handmaid Lania.
The maid looked frightened but otherwise unharmed as she was helped back to her feet. “Are you alright?” asked Doranand concerned. “The potion shouldn’t have worn out just yet.” Aliana heard the worry thick in his voice. When had those two become close? She knew that Lania nursed a secret crush on Doran, but they never spoke to each other at the palace. Doranand had his share of women, but to the best of her knowledge Lania hadn’t been one.
“I feel fine.” she said brushing her hair from her face. Her cheeks stained by a blush. She tried to extricate herself from Doranand’s arms, but he didn’t let go. “I feel like myself. I don’t understand how. Maybe the Whisper’s essence was locked into the potion. Now that he is dead, I am free.” she said letting out a strangled laugh.
Aliana looked down at her feet. The wraith Demos, was starting to disintegrate. She dropped beside it and captured a bit of its cloak and hair and stuffed them in the bottle which once held the salt. The rest of him melted away. She held up the vial and saw black wisps of smoke circling around unable to escape.
“Princess Aliana, you’re alive!” said Lania coming over to her cage. “We need to get you out of here.” she said shaking the earthen bars.
“I can help with that.” said Doranand coming over with a stool. “Look away,” he said and Aliana did. Chunks of earth and dust went flying about and the cage was no more. She stepped over the remaining shards of rock.
“You are here? How?” she asked.
“We could ask you the very same question princess, but we probably need to leave before Moriah comes back.” she agreed fully.
“What is going on here?” asked King Theo as for a moment they forgot that he was there.
“Your Majesty, did Moriah give you anything to drink or performed any incantation over you?” asked Doranand as he raised his crossbow at the king.
“Doranand,” said both women.
“After what happened to you we have to be sure.” he said looking at Lania.
“No,” said the king.
“You wouldn’t admit it even if you could.” he said still not dropping the bow. “Convince me that you are yourself.”
“I do not know of what you speak, so drop the weapon.” said Theo.
“Matthias was about to kill him. That is more than enough proof.” said Aliana.
“True,” Doranand capitulated. He then dropped the crossbow. “It is best you come with us then Your Majesty. It isn’t safe for you here. That baron of yours was going to knife you in the back and we don’t know how many more of your men are under the witch’s influence.”
“I am not sure that I am safe going with you either.” he said.
“We are not your enemies Your Majesty. Moriah is. Please just come with us.” said Aliana as she looked over her shoulders. The camp was waking up and very soon they would be surrounded.
“I still don’t understand what I just witnessed especially with that woman.” he said pointing to Lania looking quite bewildered. He grabbed his sword which was on the table before him.
“All of us here are missing parts of the bigger story but if we could go somewhere safe and talk, we can come to a better understanding of the situation and each other.”
“She has my son.”
“That wasn’t your son. Milos is dead. I saw him in the Non-Living plane. The person who left with Moriah was just a shell.” said Aliana. “Are you going to come with us?”
“I will come.” he said nodding his head as if unsure he was awake or dreaming.
They all walked across the Garion camp and into the open wilderness. The camp was a hornet’s nest of activity as the soldiers began to realise that something was wrong and their king was gone.
“So who wants to go first.” said Doranand as he leaned on an outcropping of rock. Tired from their trek. Lania came to stand beside him and he offered to lift her on top of the rock so that she would be able to sit. She declined, but when he took her hand she didn’t pull away.
“I suppose I will.” said Aliana. She started from the morning she was kidnapped.
Doranand was next. He told them what happened from the moment she had ridden off with Milos outside the Arbors. She never thought about what would have happened to him because of her anger for what he and his father had planned. But even after that, he proved himself to be a true friend, still wanting to rescue her, even though she had caused him so much embarrassment and scars that could never be erased.
“I am sorry Doran. I didn’t think. I just wanted the gem.” she started to apologise as she was ashamed of herself. “You proved yourself a most loyal Arnayan and an even better friend, more than what I can say for myself.”
“It was a journey that I hated but not one I totally regretted. It opened my eyes to many things, good things too that were hidden in plain sight.” he said as he looked down on Lania.
Lania didn’t notice the young earl’s expression as she started her story. She told of the queen abducting her and murdering her uncle. She told them of how she was changed and trained to be like Aliana and all the plans the queen had her perform.
“I was meant to kill you.” she said to Aliana, “but you were already gone. It pained me that you were gone, but also relieved that I didn’t have to deliver the blow myself. I didn’t think that I could have lived with myself if I did.” She then looked at King Theo who up to this point was quiet and thoughtful. “I was to kill you too Your Majesty. You, your wife, and then Prince Milos. This to make Aliana look like a traitor to your entire country. Then one day the whisper told me that the plans had changed. When I saw Prince Milos after his return from Evan I knew why.”
The king looked up at the sky. “Minerva warned me that I shouldn’t have brought him back but I didn’t listen. I was just so angry.″ said Theo. Of all the tales she heard tonight Aliana thought his was the most harrowing. Tears slipped down her face and she felt a sick feeling rising in her abdomen and a crushing pain in her chest as her heart broke again.
The king told them of how he found his son lying eviscerated in his chambers, blood surrounding him and a sword in his stomach. “He had a shirt, one of yours clutched to his chest.” he said looking at Aliana. “One of my guards came in and saw his body and word spread quickly. People started to come in to look at my dead son. Another dead son.”
“Bells wrung, banners lowered and keening everywhere, but I was angry. Raging mad. I hated you and I hated Arnay for what I thought you did to me, what you did to my son. I had spent many years often irritated by my son’s behaviour, but when he came back from Evan after two years, he wasn’t the same person. I had often doubted his judgement before and probably he resented me for it. But this new Milos was sure of himself, strong. When I didn’t take his advice I often ended up being wrong.
“I favoured the words of my barons over his. He was trying to step up and I pushed him back down. So when he came into the throne room and asked me to believe him, what he said about Moriah saving him, I chose to trust him. I owed that to him. But again I was wrong.” she shook his head and continued.
“When I saw his body, I flung everyone out of the room except for Minerva. As we stood over our son. The Whisper appeared, I didn’t know how Moriah found out so quickly, it was like she scented his blood.”
“He gave the Whisper his blood once before to save me. It had said that it would return for more.” squeezed out Aliana as goose pimples skated over her skin.
The king continued, “He offered me a deal. He said that he could save my son. I didn’t hesitate to take it. Moriah came the next morning. He was laid out in his bed with just, me, the witch and the wraith. Minerva didn’t come. She wouldn’t agree. She tried her best to convince me to let him go. I couldn’t. Not this time.
“I watched as she invoked a spirit in his likeness and she then poured a dark fluid which in retrospect I think was blood. The chanting started and then the spirit settled in Milos’s body.
“The hole in his stomach closed but he didn’t stir at first. It was only after she poured another liquid down his throat that I saw any true sign of life. When she touched him, the earth shook slightly and then she fell. I thought something went wrong but the Whisper held me back.
“After a couple moments passed, they woke together. His eyes were vacant and face blank. I called his name. ‘Father’ he answered. He was not himself. I knew it then. But he was alive. My selfishness caused this and I don’t know if I can forgive myself for what I have unleashed on the world.” the king sighed and as the uneasiness grew in her stomach, Aliana leaned forward and vomited.
The king held her up and she stood, slightly unsteady as a thin sheet of sweat formed on her forehead. The nausea then wore of almost as soon as it came.
“Are you alright?” asked Lania coming beside her.
“The nausea comes and goes. For the last few weeks I haven’t been eating well. My body is probably still adjusting to the change.” she said. Lania didn’t look too convinced. “I am fine really.” she smiled weakly and stood straighter. “The sooner I get this off, I’ll be even better.” she said pushing her finger under the choker with the obsidian pendant, trying to find a latch but there was none.
“We have fallen short in some way and have enough guilt to last a lifetime but we cannot settle on that just now. First we need to rid ourselves of Moriah and end this war.” she looked at the king. “There might be hope for Milos yet.” She said as she held on to the wooden pendant around her neck.
“We will need a plan though. Things aren’t going to get easier after tonight. Moriah has Milos’s power and will be fighting with magic. She will be coming for blood.”
“It is good that I am here then.” said someone coming from out of the shadows.
“Huma. Where did you come from?” said Aliana as she recognised her mother’s oldest advisor. She also noticed something about him that she hadn’t in the years she’d known him. “You are a river wraith.”
“And I am here to help.”