Stone Warriors

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Chapter 38

My fear felt tangible. It threatened to seize up my limbs and stop me from climbing into the driver’s seat. If father did happen to catch me, I had no excuse good enough to explain why I was home in the middle of the night.

A problem I have to face before then is going across the drawbridge. If the guard let’s me through in the dead of night and then back across within minutes later, my father will definitely be contacted. I’ll not be able to escape the questioning and he already suspects something is going on with me.

How could I have not known someone would find out about Zakyrik and I? Jyrixi knowing is one thing, father knowing is a devastating other. How could I have been so careless? When I seen that banner of Zakyrik I couldn’t help, but stop and stare, not knowing my father was watching from Jyrixi’s penthouse window.

He’s going to pull some scheme to where Zakyrik will be either disqualified, which is immediate death by execution, or weakened and an easy kill for Cicatrix. I can’t even go back and warn him because I know that the stadium will be watched until tomorrow. Father is going to want to know if I go to see him so he can catch me, giving him no choice except to punish Zakyrik and never allow me to leave the manor for the rest of my life.

No, I cannot risk that. I won’t give father the satisfaction. Cicatrix might win tomorrow, but I’ll not help make it easy for him.

As I passed town square, I slowed the horses down to a trot. The smell of burnt flesh still hung thick in the air. Jessuvi was not a nice person, but he didn’t deserve to be burned alive, especially because he was telling the truth and was set up. Father showed no remorse as usual, and Trevalo was delighted in the upgrade this got him.

After I escaped the smell, I slowed the horses down so we were barely moving along. I had arrived at the hedges with thorny rose bushes entangled in the growth. I hadn’t seen these in ages.

My mind took me back to a less complicated time in my life, when I was a child. Well before I knew what kind of monster my father was, I played among these hedges innocently. One day I even found a pathway that led to the servants entrance beside the kitchen...

Holy starlit heavens! That’s it!

After my epiphany hit, I jerked on the reins, signaling the horses to immediately stop. I haven’t thought about that trail for a long time. I would disappear from my nanny and she would go frantic trying to figure out where I went, then I would pop back out of the hedge from the path and scare her to death.

Of course, there wasn’t rose bushes at that time to slice my flesh open. I was also small enough to comfortably fit in between the spaces connecting the hedges. Now if I could only remember where exactly it was located.

There was an alcove a few paces behind me that I stored the coach and the horses in, knowing they would stay put because of Lon’s immense training. I marched up and down the road for a few minutes trying to pinpoint the exact spot I used to walk through the hedge, but my memory has grown foggy from childhood. Not to mention the only lighting I have is the moon.

Time was wasting, so I picked a spot and wished for the best. The thorny branches were so thick that I could get a foot hold on the lower parts as I carefully placed my hand along the top of the hedge so I wouldn’t slice open my skin. I had reached the middle so I could throw my legs over the top and hop over when a problem presented itself to me; my dress.

The light, but serious amount of fabric kept getting caught along random thorns and tearing, then jerked me back down. This made my short trip over the hedges into a laborious job of freeing my dress just to move up an inch. I thought of pants without flowing material and shirts that were tassel free men wear and decided that those would be nice to have on right about now. If I get through this without incident, I may never wear a dress ever again.

It took a half hour, a tattered dress and about a thousand miniature cuts later before I went head first over the hedge into the overgrowth behind it. That cost me even more time as I had to disentangle my damn attire from it, too. After treading through fallen branches and thick weeds, I found the pathway. I could only guesstimate that I’ve wasted nearly an hour and hoped I was right.

The moonlight illuminated my dress and it looked as if I was attacked by a wolf. I was surprised to see this passage wasn’t overgrown with the same greenery as the hedges. It looked as if it was still used by the kitchen staff, though for what I’m not quite sure. The head chef always informs father what they run low on and he always make sure they have everything they need delivered to the manor.

The door at the end of the path led to a storage pantry adjoined to the kitchen. As long as everything is deserted I’m fine. The night cook is on duty, but he won’t be in the kitchen unless he’s summoned.

Carefully I crept through the door into hallway that led to the dining room. Unfortunately, I have to go straight through it to get to the grand staircase. Right now I really wished I would have asked for a ground room floor.

As I put my hand on the dining room door, I heard glass break against the wall in the next room. I jerked my hand away and flattened myself against the hallway wall. Somebody was in there and that somebody was mad.

My heart stopped like it was dead as I heard my father’s voice boom, “I’ll not have it! That is my daughter and I will tell her who to be with! If she thinks different, she’s sorely mistaken and I’ll rectify this situation as soon as Cicatrix kills that dogged peasant! She’s a Tamminalin and she needs to start acting like it! We Tamminalins do not sink to such levels! The lower class are for our entertainment, not to marry! Why couldn’t she have turned out like her sister? But no, her mother made sure she’d be different that’s why I punished her. She was lucky I thought she was pretty or else I wouldn’t have given her the time of day, and she is how I learned my lesson that poor and rich cannot mix. Do you understand?”

My mother was a peasant? That’s news to me. Father actually hasn’t given us much information about her. Anytime I brought her up, he gave me a short answer and changed the subject.

A smooth and calm voice answered, “Yes my Lord. I will do whatever it is you require. Just tell me what you wish and it’s done.”

My father seemed appeased at this, “Thank you, Rox. We’ve been side by side for many years. Sometimes I feel like you are the only one I can trust. I have already stationed three guards in the stadium to immediately alert me if they see Xori anywhere near there. I believe I shall just go to bed. I must get my rest before tomorrow. Go to the study and speak to the girls. Let them know that they will have wishes to grant after the match. They know to listen to you when I’m not there.”

There were scraping of chairs and a barking order from my father for someone to clean that glass up. I heard the scurrying of feet and the tinkling of shattered shards left over from whatever my father broke being swept up. Retreating footsteps assured me that father and Rox were strolling out into the entrance to the grand staircase. At last I could release the breath I was holding in.

At that moment, the maid who had cleaned up his mess came hurrying past my place on the wall, not even noticing me. She was sniffling and muttering curses directed at my father. Can’t blame the poor girl, he is an ass. Cautiously, I peered out the door, listening for any movement, then made my way up the stairs as quickly and quietly as possible.

My handmaid was not waiting on me this time, thankfully. I didn’t want Senna or anyone involved in this. Only I needed to face father’s wrath if this went wrong.

Grabbing a large bag that was stuffed in the bottom drawer of my wardrobe, I started filling it with anything I thought she would need. In truth, Jyrixi never really told me much about what her land is like or how far away it was, so I grabbed dresses, blankets, shoes and ribbons as precautions. The bag was almost full, but my eyes scanned the room for whatever else she may or may not need.

Three linear shelves above my nightstand caught my eye which had a full row of books I had all but forgotten about on the top held in place by my mother’s jewelry box. Maybe Zytriana would like some reading material on her trip to Jyrixi’s land? Of all the conversations we had, I couldn’t remember if she had mentioned anything about a love for literature.

Dragging a chair with me, I stood on it to reach the books. In my haste, I knocked over the jewelry box and it luckily landed on its side on the bed. If it had landed on the floor my handmaid would have definitely heard it and woke up.

These books are large so I am only going to be able to a few. I stuffed two books in the bag, one about princesses and one about giants, that I thought she might like. Zipping the bag closed, I threw it over my shoulder, intent on leaving immediately. However, my eyes swept the room once more and I realized I needed to put everything back where it goes or someone will notice I’d been here.

When I reached for the jewelry box, the lid pooped open and my baby ring fell out. It was a small gold ring with a blue diamond in it. Xera has a similar one except hers has a red diamond. I thought I lost it years ago.

My nanny placed it up top when I was a child and I hadn’t had a reason to look inside it since. Wiping away the thick layer of dust, I seen my name engraved in the only drawer on it. It didn’t come as a shock to see there was nothing inside when I pulled it open.

In between the drawer and the top compartment, there seemed to be a wide section that another drawer could fit, or maybe could be accessed from above to store larger items. Testing my theory, I removed the top compartment completely. Underneath was a hollow space and I was surprised to see a yellowed rolled up piece of paper tied with a green ribbon. Curiosity always tempts me, so I meticulously loosened the tie and unrolled it to reveal a letter addressed to me written in slanted, elegant handwriting.

My dearest Xori,

If you are reading this, then my worst fear has came to pass and we have been separated permanently. I wish I could be there to see the beautiful woman you have grown to be. You were born with such a vivid light inside you that I’m certain will never darken. I hope you are at an age that you will fully grasp everything I must tell you.

I’m sure your father has said I’m crazy or I died after your birth. He hasn’t concluded at this time which he will use and I assume in a few days, I’ll be gone. I’m physically pained to know I won’t be there to protect you from Vyross, your father and, I’m afraid, your sister as well.

When she was born, the same darkness that infects your father, resides in her. I love Xera, I am her mother, too, but I knew there was no hope for her. She is cursed thanks to Vyron.

I requested an audience today, since I’m fading away with each passing hour, and he agreed to answer some of my questions I had since becoming a prisoner here. He assumed I couldn’t relay any of it to you since I wouldn’t be around much longer. He’s even locked me away on the top floor to ensure our prolonged separation.

Beginning with what confounded me the most, I questioned how he acquired his power, and be aware the answer is difficult to believe, but unfortunately true. He has these magic wielding creatures called mages residing in the dungeon under the study floor, and only serve the Tamminalin bloodline. Your great grandfather tricked them into a life of slavery before Vyross was born.

These mages are how Vyross controls Evanyl, driving residents in the upper class to crave violence like himself. These people are innocent and would never act this way of their own accord. He decided not to waste power such as this on the lesser half, stating they would be our entertainment.

It is a necessity you understand how I fell ill before I continue. Weeks ago, Vyron declared it time our children attend their first competition. Adamantly against it as I was, the fact is I have no power here, so he overruled me.

Appalled, I watched Xera clap and cheer at the carnage. Instantly I understood Xera was hopelessly lost. Clinging to my neck, you cried and buried your angelic little face under my chin. An epiphany of a sort came upon me, Xera was beyond my reach, but you I could still save.

There were rumors that it was impossible to leave Evanyl without a Tamminalin’s permission, but I was willing to try. If I crossed the border unharmed, I would race back to you and we would leave this cursed land together. I waited until your father was busy entertaining guests in the parlor when I made my escape.

The drawbridge was already down because guests were still arriving, so I rode my horse as fast it could go toward the western border. When I tried to cross over my horse made it through, but I was knocked off by a seemingly invisible wall. My body was racked with pain.

Immediately I fell ill, retching, and after that I couldn’t even stand up. I found out later that the mages informed your father I attempted to leave and therefore within a few minutes I was picked up by the guards. Your father had the most evil smirk on his face as they deposited me on the bed.

He said for being weak this is what I deserved, and he could get the mages to heal me, but will not because he wanted to watch me suffer before I die. He’ll raise you two exactly as he pleases without me in the way. I begged for him to reconsider, but as I’m sure you know by now, you father is not a merciful man. I needed to make sure you knew this before I continued.

The next question I asked him is how Xera was born with a malicious soul. He says the mages granted him power to shape her to his will while she was in my womb. All the times that I thought he was being a good father by talking to Xera while she was in my belly, he was actually only doing it to make sure she turned out a “true Tamminalin”.

At least his answer made me feel all the better about deciding to keep you a secret until your birth. Instinctually, something told me when I found out I was pregnant not to tell him. I’m glad I was right.

When I asked your father about the type of bond the mages have with this family, he said it was a blood tie so even if I was able to try to break it I couldn’t. That left me with one choice. I needed to write you and explain all these things where I could have a modicum of peace before I depart this wretched world.

I needed to know I’ve done everything for you that I can locked in this room. You must understand my love, this was not the life I wanted for you. I’m sorry darling, but it’s up to you to free yourself, the mages and all of Evanyl. The mages will only obey a Tamminalin, as I’ve said, and when they discover you want to release them they will tell you how to break the binding.

This is all I have, my love. I was hoping I could give you more to go on, but your father refused to go into detail about this as he started getting suspicious. I made you a jewelry box with a secret compartment in it and I have a sympathetic handmaid who is going to deliver this message in the box for me. Your nanny will see to it that the box is kept safe until you are older.

I only wish I could see you again before I leave this life.

I will love you always,

Your mother,

Xanthea

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