Wendell looked around suddenly. It was her! As she walked into the room, it was as if a wind of fiery perfume rushed through. There, on a necklace around her neck, was a red stone, just like the blue one. She smiled a nice, happy smile.
“Well, Wendell, what are you waiting for?” she said, smirking. “There are so many things to be done.”
Wendell looked back at the blue stone, sitting so round and elegant in the man’s palm. All he had to do was take it. He reached his hand out again, his heart hammering terribly as it got closer and closer, the feeling of happiness coming back stronger this time... there was no reason not to.
But somewhere inside, behind the happiness, he felt a twinge of loneliness and desolation, and without thinking he took his hand away again. Karen started to cry.
“You don’t love me after all...”
She buried her face in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably.
“I knew it was true... but I didn’t want to believe it...”
And her sobs became choked and miserable. The two men looked at Wendell, confused. Suddenly, for some reason, Wendell thought of something.
“Um, Karen,” he began very gently, not even knowing why he was saying it, “in the painting of you... why were you smiling? I... always wanted to know. If you tell me, I’ll take the stone.”
She looked up suddenly, startled, a vague, puzzled look on her face. Then she smiled, wiping away a tear.
“Oh, is that all? I was thinking of my mother, the queen. She was so beautiful, you know. That’s all.”
The answer rang hollowly in Wendell’s ears as she spoke on. It seemed as she spoke that it wasn’t such a big thing after all, and he felt disappointed. He thought it was some precious secret she had. He was sure of it!! But it wasn’t.
Wendell turned to look at the stone again. It sparkled brightly and was filled with a deep, wonderful color. But somehow he couldn’t shake the nonchalance of her answer. Now everyone was looking at him, and he reached for the stone again. Somewhere inside, he thought desperately back to the painting... to her smile, so bright and full of laughter.
It couldn’t be!! It had been so long since he had seen it, perhaps it was only her mother after all. He closed his eyes and forced his hand onward, trembling with consternation at himself. He pressed his eyes shut even tighter, and felt the warm glow of happiness, closer and closer... suddenly he stopped.
No. Karen was lying. They made her lie! He knew it. What was he doing? She would start crying again. He just needed to take the stone, and everything would be okay. He closed his eyes more and more, but the memory of her smile wouldn’t go away. At last, he dropped his hand. He knew inside that the answer was a lie.
“What have you done with Karen?” he demanded suddenly, surprised at the loudness of his own words in the room. The two men looked at him with honest bafflement.
“She... she’s right there, Wendell.”
Karen looked at him sweetly now, although tears were forming in her eyes again.
“You can’t tell that it’s me...?” she said miserably, her eyes pleading gently with him.
Wendell felt a familiar feeling of despair rising up inside, one he had felt so many times before, and it seemed to burn away the calm quietness of the room.
“Where is she?!?!” he shouted now, reaching for his dagger quickly. What am I doing, Wendell thought hesitantly...
The first man looked at Wendell questioningly for a moment, and suddenly his face changed, becoming fierce and commanding.
“You don’t know what you’re doing. These things have been planned for thousands of years!!”
Wendell drew his dagger quickly and brandished it before him.
“I don’t care! Tell me the truth!!” he demanded.
The first man stepped up out of his chair, and took a step towards him, looking at once taller and deeply powerful. The second one did nothing. Wendell held the dagger up.
“Tell me where she is, or else I’ll cut you both down!!” he said.
“Do you think you could defeat us?” the man replied darkly, stepping fearlessly towards Wendell’s raised weapon.
Now the second man raised himself from his chair, muttering a fervent, howling chant. The muttering grew louder, and Wendell realized it was music, a music that was terrible and black.
The tapestries on the wall fluttered, and a wind swirled into the room, brushing against him softly.
But then the wind stirred up into a maelstrom, until the fire was dying out. A strange, deadly feeling surrounded Wendell, and bitter fears hid everywhere. He tried to concentrate, but couldn’t even begin.
He needed to get away, but there was nowhere to run to! Danger was everywhere, behind the chair, out in the halls, even under the floor...
Wendell opened his mouth now and tried to scream, but couldn’t. He was shivering now, and wanted to find a corner and die. He dropped on his hands and knees, the dagger clattering to the floor, and tried slowly to get away to the doorway. The men moved quickly to block his path, and he was trapped. Miserably, he crept towards the chairs, but there was no way.
The whisper came again, urgent and encouraging. Wendell opened his mouth a bit, as if afraid that the darkness of the room would creep in, and began to sing with all his might, a fierce whisper, something lively and rousing and strong. Now his voice grew louder, and the others raised their voices forcefully, trying to weave notes of deception into the pure, brave hymn. But Wendell kept on, feeling the song pour out from inside him.
The wind in the room whistled louder... no, it was another voice, a fourth voice, joined with his, ringing with the purity of gold.
“...songs in the night, to break through the fright,
songs in the night, to keep you.
Sing in the night, of the glorious light
and your song will light your heart...
For without eyes you’ll see,
and without fear believe,
when the light is in your song...
Sing in the night, of the glorious light,
and your song will be your dawn...”
The dark men’s voices faltered lamely, and the lingering promises of misery and fear suddenly were hollow and worthless, until Wendell laughed inside that he had ever been afraid of them in the first place.
The fire blazed up again, and Wendell grasped his sword and ran at them, but suddenly the room was nothing but a hollow chamber like all the rest, cold and empty.