Doranand went back to the Garion camp with King Theo. He was hesitant about leaving Lania behind, but she was insistent about retaking her place as Aliana’s handmaid. Although Aliana relieved her of that duty, she persisted. She however grabbed his neck and pulled his head down to kiss him on the cheek and told him to be safe.
Doranand was surprised but not displeased it seemed. He in turn captured her face and kissed her full on the lips and after some amount of throat-clearing by Aliana did he release her and told her to keep safe. He then walked away with the king.
When she noticed Aliana and Huma staring at her, she blushed and stammered. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean to...”
“No need to apologise Lania.” smiled Aliana. “You two deserve all the happiness you get.”
“So you are not upset or angry? Doranand, I mean Whitby he is...”
“My friend. My very good friend. I love Milos. I made the mistake of not telling him while he was alive. It is good that you are expressing how you feel. If you love someone, never hide it.” she said bumping her with her hip.
Lania relaxed. “Do you think he likes me though?” she asked nervously. She wouldn’t say love, as that would be assuming too much. She was still just a maid and with his father gone, an earl. That kind of relation in court were only the illicit kind. Earls married ladies, not maids.
“If that kiss was anything to go by, I think that he more than likes you, but I think Doran would appreciate telling you himself what he feels.” Lania nodded. She felt better but still not fully convinced.
As they made their way back to the tent dawn was breaking and more soldiers began stirring. She saw a familiar silhouette among the soldiers. “Corvas,” she called once and then again. He heard his name and then turned to find her. He tapped the old man, her grandfather, which was beside him and they came over.
“You are alive. When I saw that wraith take you I thought that was the end.”
“It was, but then Lania and Doranand came and saved me.” she said smiling at her friend. Nausea overtook her once more and she wretched and spat out clear, bitter saliva.
“What is wrong with her?” asked her grandfather.
Huma answered. “Her body is reacting to the child she carries and the obsidian stone around her neck is making her weaker.”
“She is pregnant?” asked Corvas.
“I told you that I was no maid since I was married.” she said weakly.
“You knew and never said anything and we had you walking all this way.” Lania was beginning to fuss.
“I suspected, but I wasn’t sure.” when her period didn’t come, she thought as much. But in going to the Non-Living plane and being exposed to so much magic, she thought that there was a possibility that her body had been affected.
“I am sure. You can smell her blood and the prince’s mixed into a new scent emanating from her. That was the only reason the Whisper would be interested in her for a mate. They cannot have children on their own, so they are attracted to pregnant women. They infuse parts of themselves in the growing child and makes it their own.”
“You didn’t tell me that part of the story.” she said looking at her uncle accusingly.
“I didn’t know.” he said and she believed him.
“And I am not surprised by his ignorance,” started her grandfather. “My youngest tends to enter elaborate schemes without thinking them through.”
She could see where her father had picked up his bull-headedness and why her uncle chose never to be at home. She empathized greatly with him. Corvas ground his teeth and looked pointedly at Huma pretending that his father hadn’t spoken. “But how can he smell a baby?”
“Because he is a river wraith. Queen Allison had him in his employ for years.” said her grandfather. “We perhaps should enter the tent. I have a file that can cut through the chain on her neck.” he said going back into the tent.
When the chain was off Aliana felt better as the sucking feeling was gone. She was given ginger ale and cracker to eat and her belly also settled. She was going to be a mother. A day she knew would come eventually, but she had always imagined that her child’s father would be there to help. She hoped that she could rescue him, but there was always the possibility that she would fail. She drew in a sharp breath and a silent panic started to build. Her child could be fatherless, never knowing his love and she would be alone for the rest of her life.
No, she couldn’t fail. She couldn’t think that way. Even a small bit of doubt could make her falter and she tried very hard to erase her fears. No one seemed to notice her minor breakdown as they were discussing how to best join forces with the Garians. A message was sent to the other earls and in short order they came storming in the tent. Chrisoncor was the last one and he brought with him a strange parcel wrapped in burlap.
“Where is she?” he said searching the tent. His eyes then fell on Aliana. “I was not pleased to find out that my prisoners had escaped.”
“It is a good thing we did,” said Lania. “Or the princess would have really died.” said Lania.
“And who are you?” he said raking his eyes over Lania.
“One of your prisoners that escaped.” she snapped. “Doranand is with King Theo of Garion.”
“So you chose to betray us.”
“No, he chose to help us.” said Aliana standing.
“They said you were dead and now you are miraculously alive.”
“I can explain.” She told the newcomers of her ordeals since she left Evan.
“But how do you know that we can trust you? That you aren’t another one of Moriah’s minions.”
“You have the answer with you.” said Huma.
“That I do.” He said unwrapping his parcel. He took out a gold staff on which a huge red sapphire was mounted. The gem glowed brightly in the room and she had to shield her eyes to protect it from the sudden glare.
“My mother’s staff. You had it all along.”
“She gave it to me for safe keeping princess.” he said seemingly accepting her. The staff continued to pulse with energy. “This thing is blinding. How do you turn it off?” he said pushing it away from himself.
“Give it to me.” she said.
“No, not yet. Not until we can trust you.”
“The war coming won’t be like it has the last few days. This is beyond the ability of men. Magic will have to fight magic until one source is silenced.” she said going closer. “Give it to me.” The light though blinding drew Aliana in. It was like the staff knew her and her it. It was like a lost extension of herself and she wanted to reclaim it.
“Not yet.” he persisted.
“Then I will take it.” she said grabbing the staff. There was a centre of energy so strong within, it seemed that it would devour everything in the way if it ever broke out.
She touched the gem and felt the warm charge of energy flowing into her. She felt the same way when she had fought the grim in Arbors, on her wedding night and when Milos had returned from the Dykelands. The power of the Red Sapphire, it was all there. But his time it was more. It was more and building. Very soon she couldn’t contain it and when that happened she would burn everything here.
She started to panic. She wanted to let go but couldn’t. Her aura of red engulfed her and she could feel the fire that would soon come. “I can’t control it.” she gasped. She was going to explode and burn everyone in the tent.
“I’ll take it back.” said Chrisoncor.
“No!” said Huma. He then came forward. “Take this.” he said slipping the shard of obsidian in her hand. The burning weakened, but it wasn’t enough. “There is a slit just below the gem, put the shard there.” he instructed. She turned the staff in her hand and she saw the space. She then slipped the shard in. The gem dimmed immediately.
All that energy was overwhelming and the well didn’t seem like it would let go. The source was cut off but still burned. “I still feel ...overcharged.” she said to Huma.
“You took in a lot of energy. You have to release it outside.”
He followed her out the tent and the others trailed at a safe distance. The soldiers milling around stopped what they were doing and they all gawked at her. Some drawing their weapons. “Stay back! Stay back!” warned Corvas and the circle around her widened.
She needed to release, but she couldn’t do it outwards. Too many people would get hurt. The only clearing was towards the sky. She lifted her hands to the sky and dropped the floodgates that she’d built to protect her friends.
Two jets of fire shot from her hands and up into the sky. A large cloud of red began to form overhead and heat rained down around her, burning away the coolness of dawn. More people came and watched. The jet seemed never ending. How could she have taken so much when she’d only touched the gem for a few seconds?
She dropped her hands and then she fell on her knees. Her breath came in short pants as if she’d just ran a marathon.
“Princess Aliana?” she heard Lania coming over to her. She held up her hand telling her to give her a minute. She then pushed herself up to stand, leaning heavily against the staff.
She took in a few more breaths and then held her head up. “Are you satisfied now?” she said huskily as she looked at the earls. “Can you trust me?” she said looking at Chrisoncor.
“My Queen.” he said bowing and the other earls followed. Soon everyone around her fell to their knees.
“Rise.” she said loudly enough for all to hear. “I am not a traitor, neither the whore of Garion. I am an Arnayan, who fell in love and married a man who happened to be a Garian prince. A marriage that should have strengthened the ties between two powerful neighbours, but because of lies and schemes of one woman, has brought those two nations here fighting against each other.
“My marriage was not expected, it was unconventional but it is something I will never regret. It gave me the opportunity to see what lay on the other side of the border, to experience how others lived. It made me realise that though we are different in many ways, at the core, we are the same. When we hunger, we eat. When we are tired we rest. When we are sad we seek happiness. When we need companionship, we seek love.
“A love which expands to our families, neighbours and to our country. A country we will protect to the point of madness, to the point of war, to the point of death. That is why we should fight.” she took in a deep breath and continued.
“But that isn’t why we are here. We are here because evil had found its way into both countries. Evil which directs us to fight so that it may take over. Evil that inspired hate and mistrust, knowing that in severing the true bonds of love and brotherhood, we would be made weaker. That both Garion and Arnay would be conquered kingdoms governed by pure maleficence.
“Our true enemy aren’t men who speak a different tongue and whose armour bears a different standard. The true enemy is evil personified in the witch Moriah. The battles have ceased during the day but will resume tonight.
“She will fight with power and magic and grim to try and wrestle our lands from us. The witch has usurped the power of the Green Sapphire, but the power and loyalty of the Red is at your service. I cannot do it alone. I humbly ask for your help. That you must brand in your hearts all the reasons we fight. For love, family and for our fellow men. We will and must unite under one banner. When the Garians arrive. Look at them not as your enemies, but as fellow men. They have killed us, we have killed them. But if we continue to be divided, Moriah shall kill us all.”
Her earls came beside her to face the crowd. “Long live the Queen!” shouted Chrisoncor.
“Long live the Queen.” came the unanimous chant.
Many of the faces which were drawn out and tired at the beginning had a renewed vigour lighting their eyes. Many were afraid of what was to come, but she could see that they trusted her. They trusted their Queen. She hoped that their belief wasn’t misguided. With the staff she had tapped into her true powers only once and it nearly killed her. It nearly killed them.
She knew that to beat Moriah, she would have to use the staff again. Hopeful next time she had more control.