Chapter 9 - Unlikely Relationships
Some hours later, I awoke again with the sun in my eyes. The cart rolled endlessly and I discovered that we were headed for home. I shielded my eyes and mustered enough strength to stand. Edward held me up, the syringe still grasped in his hand and I saw an unbelievable sight. Surrounding us were hundreds of people riding horses, some with their own carts hauling supplies, while others walked alongside animals packed with belongings.
“This is only two clans, my lady,” Edward said and grinned. “We have sent word ahead, and many more will join your alliance. It did not take long for them to decide. Like me, there was no better plan than to take the path placed before their feet. Thank you for trusting me with this task. I feel now that I have redeemed my clan.” Edward handed me a huge red apple. I asked him about my grandmother because I did not see her on the cart.
“The journey is proving to be a challenge for her. She’s resting in a more comfortable wagon now. Your grandmother seems to be coping with the needle routine without too much complaint. To be honest, I thought we would lose her when the horses went astray. How are you holding up?” Edward offered me a fruity drink he called “sirrnacle juice.”
“I’m not sure,” I concentrated on my internal battle. “I don’t seem to be getting better, but with my grandmother’s blood I’m not any worse. It’s as though my blood, perhaps mixed with my healing powers, is equally matched to the potion inside of me. It’s just a matter of time before I waver. The only way this battle will end is to find a cure.”
“How will taking you back to your kingdom help you find a cure?”
I explained about the transformed protector I had left in the castle. I did not know if he had discovered a cure for himself. Even if he had, would this newly mortal being even share it with humans, the creatures he was so set upon destroying? I had to lie down once more and rest, but before I closed my eyes I took Sir Edward by the arm and spoke.
“The thoughts you gave me when we met, they fooled me a little, but you cannot hide what’s in your heart no matter how much you try,” I said, kindly. “Through struggles and strife it is the noble of heart who find the courage to change the world for the better.” I closed my eyes and heard Sir Edward telling me to rest.
The next two days followed the same routine. Although I did not appear to be getting worse, I worried that my grandmother would not survive the trip. If anything happened to her I would not survive. Home was just ahead, but hope seemed attached by a mere thread.
When we finally arrived home I woke to see the castle up on the hill. It was the most pleasant sight I had seen, giving me a new vigor. I smiled as my people rushed up to me. They were happy to see me alive. However, they did not know how close I was to death. Their reaction to the thousands of free-roamers following our caravan was quite mixed. I pointed out an area to the north of the castle where my clan could set up camp.
I stayed awake just long enough to see Ashelle and Trixie. Their outpouring of love was better than any other nourishment, but it was tiring to keep up a conversation. Before I left on our journey I had been on death’s door after battling Riley’s illness. Once more the girls had to watch me suffer. Their pain helped me build my resolve to gain ground in my struggles. The thread of hope was beginning to strengthen.
Finally, I rested in my own bed. Although I was comfortable, my future was uncertain. I had vague visions of future events that had given me hope for surviving the illness though my conscious moments were focused entirely on suppressing the protector’s potion.
When I next woke in my bed, Grandmother Rose and Sir Edward were standing in front of me. To my surprise, “Uncle Ally,” our captive protector, stood behind them guarded by two Farmoore’s knights.
“Are you feeling better, dear?” asked my grandmother. I sensed that she was very tired and weak. She could hardly continue giving me her blood.
“Yes, for now. But we must do something. What has happened? Have you learned anything from him?” I stared at Uncle Ally, still amazed that he looked identical to my father.
“Possibly,” said Edward. “Apparently two of your servants convinced this man to give you information that may be of assistance. He told the guards that he had something of importance to tell you.” Edward was not keen on working with one of the creatures who had helped kill his daughter. The guards pushed their captive close to me, and the man who resembled my father stared at me for a moment. I read his thoughts and they were of Ashelle.
“She has come to you,” I spoke first. “You don’t understand what it is, or why you are compelled to please Ashelle.” He nodded. “Maybe she has taught you about compassion. Caring for the sick rather than destroying those who are weak or ill, but it is not that. She has been kind to you, bringing you food and talking with you even when you told her to leave. Ashelle never gave up and you’ve grown fond of her.” I smiled knowing that my young servant had been so persistent. “You must know that she feared you because you resemble my father, and it took great courage for her to spend time with you. Tell me your thoughts, since I’m weak.”
“The other humans explained what you did to survive,” Uncle Ally began. “Like me you used blood. You have already discovered the reason why that did not work for you when using just anyone’s hemoglobin. I should explain why I survived.”
I was already beginning to weaken; however, I listened as carefully as I could.
“The potion we made to trap an immortal was derived from one of your kind. We searched for humans with a particular trait, the desire to inflict pain on their own kind. Your father was one such person, but before him yet another male was most effective at exterminating humans, without our help. Before the male died we took samples of his hemoglobin when he was weak. We studied his blood, hoping to turn banished protectors into creatures that would destroy humans of their own free will. After many years of experiments, no immortal had survived the transformation. We also discovered that this trait for destruction was not a physical property. The potion did not work the way we had hoped, so we tested the potion on humans. All specimens died and we decided that we must take action and destroy your kind before they took over this world.” As soon as the protector paused, Sir Edward’s sword was at his throat. I sat up and shouted for him to lower his weapon while the knights drew their swords on Edward.
“So easy it is to take a life,” Edward spoke, his rage brewing while pushing the tip of his blade against the protector’s neck. “What gives any creature the right to destroy another ‘kind’ as you call it? How do you feel now, creature, moments from death? Is it frightening, scary? Is your heart pounding, wondering if the next breath you take will be your last?” Uncle Ally stood frozen in place and trembling. He was experiencing the human emotions that the protectors could not understand. “Remember this moment, for you have caused the same pain to members of my clan. Unfortunately, they did not get a second chance.” Sir Edward lowered his sword and glared at me.
Everyone paused a moment and took a deep breath. The other swords also lowered, and I turned to Uncle Ally.
“How did you survive? You said that all immortals died, so how did you carry the right type of blood when leaving the fortress?”
Uncle Ally held up his hand to stop my questions. “That is what I must tell you,” he said, glancing nervously at Sir Edward. “I did not make the connection until after you left on your journey. The male we took blood from was connected to you, and to her.” He pointed to Rose. “I’m also connected since the form you chose to trap me in was your male parent. The one we chose to help our studies was her male parent.” And he looked over at my grandmother again.
“Are you telling me that the blood you studied and used to create your potion came from my great-grandfather of the West?” I could not believe what I was hearing. I had recently banished Sabastian Elderbee’s ghost from the City of the West, but for decades he had been killing from beyond the grave with the help of the protectors.
“Yes, and it is for that very reason I survived.” The protector seemed almost glad that his long-contained information was finally being released. “When you injected me I took on every aspect of this form physically, but my essence is that of my immortal being. The syringe you saw in your mind, “human male” – its blood matched this form. I took two units of his grandfather’s blood and because that hemoglobin was used to create the potion, it was very effective as an antidote. The human blood I carry is very close to the original blood, so in a sense the potion had been less effective, diluted by the blood of Sabastian Elderbee and of this form.”
Sir Edward asked why the blood of my great-grandfather had not been tainted after such a long period of time. Uncle Ally told him that the protectors had created a substance that, once mixed with the blood, preserved it indefinitely. I understood most of what the protector was telling me, but it was confusing and I was too weak to listen any more.
“Here,” I heard Uncle Ally say while my head lowered to my pillow and my eyes closed. A moment passed and I was awake again. Ally stood over me, his arm extended. Apparently Edward had just injected his blood into me and, like Rose’s, it was helping. It was as he said; the blood seemed to overcome the potion and I felt much better. I sat up on the bed and spoke.
“That’s why we did not die, and the reason I lasted so much longer than the others.” I said. “It is my family’s blood that’s the cure. We’re the closest to the source of the potion and our blood might counteract the sickness.” My hope had been restored and I knew I would survive to see Riley again. I just hoped that my King could repair the damage done at Guesavile by the protectors.
Three weeks passed and the potion inside me had lost almost all of its ability to alter my blood. There were many surprises in store for me back home and one that I had already been aware of was the relationship between Uncle Ally and Ashelle. I read her thoughts and realized she looked up to this man as a father figure. My true father’s curse had killed her own father, but the protector’s physical image did not deter her from forming a new bond with him. One day I talked with Ashelle.
“Thank you for saving my life, Ashelle,” She was surprised and asked what I meant. “Do you remember the day my father’s twin came here? You were afraid of him and didn’t want to be anywhere near him, yet at my request you took care of him. You listened to him, and you probably made him listen to you, too.” Ashelle nodded and grinned. “Did he tell you anything about himself? Where he came from or about his past?” I was curious to see if Uncle Ally revealed what he was to her, though I already sensed that Ashelle still believed that the protector was my father’s identical twin.
“He told me he came from far away and had met many people. He said he knew Riley from before, although I don’t think they were very close.”
“There’s something you need to know about this man, Ashelle, and also about Riley. You have been loyal servants, you and Trixie, and you deserve the truth.” Ashelle stared at me intently, ready for me to explain everything, so I recounted my story about becoming Queen and how Riley had been a protector. Then I went on to explain the plague and our journey across the continent.
The information I gave her took half the day to relate, but once I started she insisted that I explain everything. Finally, I reached the point explaining the protector in the image of my father.
“You see, Ashelle, if you had not been so persistent and so kind to the protector you believed to be my father’s identical twin, he might not have had a reason to reveal the information needed to heal me. He’s quite fond of you and because you wished for someone to help me, he did it for you.”
“Really?” her eyes sparkled in the lamplight.
“Yes. I read his thoughts and he cares for you. While I was gone, he’s been working in his chamber studying our family blood to help find a cure for the potion that was killing us. He did so because you’ve been kind to him and helped him. You taught him compassion, something that can be very difficult to do.” Ashelle blushed and did not know what to say. I told her that maybe we should go see Ally now that she knew the truth.
It was late that evening and we brought dinner to his chamber. Uncle Ally had been giving me injections of his blood to help combat the potion for weeks, but after recovering I had not seem him for two days.
When we entered the chamber he was startled. We told him that we had come by to talk and eat dinner. A table sat in the center of the room and we pulled up our chairs. Ashelle sat on Uncle Ally’s lap and put her arms around him. I was astonished by their closeness.
“She knows everything about you,” I said. His smile disappeared and his body tensed. He feared Ashelle’s reaction to his past. “Ashelle believed you to be someone you are not. Now she has some questions for you.”
“You really wanted to kill us?” she asked. He did not respond. He kept his head down while she spoke to him. “What about me? What if I had been infected with that potion, would you be sad?” I read the protector’s thoughts and he could not respond to Ashelle. His emotions were intense, overwhelming him.
He finally looked up at Ashelle and pushed back her hair lightly with one hand. He nodded to her, tears forming in his eyes.
“If I died would you miss me?” she asked. That was more than Uncle Ally could bear and he hugged Ashelle, crying possibly for the first time in his existence. It did not occur to me until that moment what this protector had been through since I had injected him with the potion. He was banished from his kind, imprisoned by our kind, and dealing with powerful human emotions that he had never experienced before. He had taken quite a journey and it showed in his vulnerability. He had changed completely from the immortal being he once was just as I had forever changed after my journey to become Queen. For the first time, I sympathized with his position.
Another week passed and I worried about Riley and the alliance. But before I could make arrangements to send someone after them, they arrived.
“My Lady!” shouted Ashelle. “They’re here, they’re here!” The girls grabbed me from the castle courtyard and we went running to the edge of town. The commotion caused many people to follow us.
We stood by the dirt path, shielding the sunlight from our eyes. Riley rode in front. When he saw me with the girls he sped toward us and in no time he was off his horse. He knocked me off my feet and held me tight.
Riley eventually noticed Ashelle and Trixie waiting patiently and he hugged and kissed them. Sir Gabrial and Theo came next, followed by Sae’ka and George. Gullane greeted us last and everyone was relieved that I had survived.
Ashelle and Trixie searched for Devin. I had forgotten to explain his decision to stay in the City of the West. Ashelle was very upset, but I believed she would find someone else to fulfill her dreams. Gullane was a strange sight to the townsfolk and everyone asked about him. After resting at the castle, the members of my little alliance talked about their days separated from us. They were shocked to discover our alliance with the free-roamers and had quite a different view of Sir Edward after our tale about racing through the woods and meeting the free-roamers.
The reason for their delay was something I had actually expected. The last three high-chamber members of Guesaviles imprisoned the group and Sae’ka’s hawk Skinny was their last hope. She flew to Farmoore sending word of their imprisonment and possible execution. Luckily, a group of knights traveled from Farmoore to Guesaviles and convinced the council that the protectors existed and that the danger was great. After some debate, the chamber members reluctantly decided to join our efforts. Like the people of , their long memory of cruel Sabastian Elderbee had hindered their trust in me. It was proposed that their representatives would join us later. Riley was eager to come home because he was unsure if I had survived the illness.
Riley told me later how George and Sae’ka had become very interested in each other, and George had spent much of his trip talking with Riley. They developed a close relationship since I was separated from Riley and George did not have his close friend Wolfe to talk to.
I was getting comfortable with being back at home with my King, though it was time for us to prepare for battle. We were not going to be fighting people, so I had to rely on my visions to guide us. Our first task was to send word to with the hope that they would support our needs.
“Gabrial,” I met him in the morning before he headed back to “I’ve had a vision; fleets of ships sailing from the City of the West toward the protectors’ fortress. You’ll succeed for us, but you may have to rally help from independent members of your city. Your governor and many more will turn you away, although others will listen. They’ll help.”
Gabrial nodded. I wished him well before he raced out of town on horseback.
The next step was for me to recruit as many people as possible with special abilities to fight for our cause. This would be a task of great magnitude, and it began as soon as our knight from left on our behalf.