Long Live the Queen (Past)
Jynn . . .
Let no man leave this city . . .
Jynn . . .
Lock all gates . . .
The caster’s eyes inched open.
Jynn woke amidst an uproar. Loud horns blared through the bedchambers grated windows, and he could hear screams and clamor from panicked crowds in the inner city below. Guards and high-ranking officials were shouting orders as they stampeded through the palace hallways; their armor clinked and clanked against the marble floor. Towering above him was a familiar face, that didn’t look nearly as inviting as the last time he had seen it.
“Lord Craetys,” Jynn mumbled, rubbing his eyes.
“Rise,” Craetys said once again. He grabbed Jynn by the arm and dragged him from bed.
Jynn staggered to his feet. “What’s the matter?”
“Ill timing,” Craetys said with his baritone grouse. “Gather your garments and make haste of it.”
Jynn did just that. He didn’t put on the dressy garb he arrived in, but slid on a sable, hooded robe with the Nim insignia woven into the back in jade-green. He threw on his boots and had not even a second before Craetys had him by the arm again and practically drug him from the chamber.
Jynn was starting to feel panicked himself. They made their way around the outer circle against the grain of rushing guards. They passed the King’s corridor and at the end stood Azrael. It scared him to see the King’s face severely beaten; screaming and waving his hands in a coughing fit.
“How am I to remember?!” Azrael yelled, “The hour was late. The bastard nearly killed me as well! It’s all a blur. He was the height of a standard man, wore a heavy cloak, hooded.”
“But Your Grace, you must have saw a face?” a guard said , “Anything?”
“I will not say it again.” Azrael spat. “He wore a hood! His face was veiled.”
“And you say he escaped through the window?”
Azrael growled and knocked the contents of a decorative table off in one brisk swing. Ornamental plates and other fragile pieces fell and shattered against the floor. He went out of sight as Jynn passed the corridor, but he continued to listen to Azrael’s howlings.
“You will question me no further. I’ve told you all I know. Do as your King commands this instant! Find the bastard. Find him and kill him, unless my wife’s blood runs in your hands.”
Jynn eyes widened. “What does he mean by that?” he murmured. He looked to Craetys for an answer, but there was none, just his rugged, stern, and reticent expression. They quickly made their way through the circular halls. He struggled to keep up with the bulky giant. Craetys kept one hand tightly around his arm and one around the hilt of his cleaver-like blades. They descended a couple flights of stairs and took the corridor with large double doors at its end. Guards stood posted at the entrance. Craetys snapped his head in a move gesture. The two nodded in return and made way, speaking briefly as they passed.
“G’mor, Lord Craetys.”
Craetys only grunted and continued into the dining hall.
An abundance of folk crowed the room, but it wasn’t for breakfast. From highborn and royalty, to select servants and others, they were all talking amongst themselves. Jynn heard some of the mutterings.
“How could this have happened,” one woman said.
“I know, she was so young too. Who would do such a thing.” said another.
The queen? Jynn thought, has she passed?
Guards lined the walls in high alert, armed and ready to kill. Through the hall’s muttering, Jynn heard sobbing and mourning. Towards the back stood prince Sora, with his sodden eyes of red and blue. A woman held him in her arms. A woman who was taking the news as bad, if not worse, than he was. Around them were what he assumed were relatives or close friends of the queen. Tears rolled along most of their faces while some blew their noses on silken cloth.
“Lysandra,” Craetys said.
The sobbing woman holding Sora looked up. Her face was the staple of distress, tear-soaked, and snot-ridden.
“Craetys,” she cried, running to embrace him. Her arms clenched around his neck. “How could this have happened?”
Craetys held her. Gently rubbing her arm in a silence. Her tears struck and rolled along his ivory breastplate. I’m so sorry,” he said finally, rocking her slowly. His usual rugged voice fell frail.
“Why her,” she bawled, “What has my sister done to anyone?”
“I know not,” Craetys said. He pulled her away and wiped away her tears with his thumb. “Try and find peace, love. We - I, will find the hand that cast this stone.”
Jynn saw that she found assurance in that, she nodded and brushed her face with the back of her palm. Gods it must be true, he thought, the queen is dead.
“Lysandra,” Craetys said, “Keep an eye on this boy for me.” He turned and looked at Jynn
“The caster?” she asked.
“Aye.” he said. He placed an inviting hand on Jynn’s shoulder and introduced them. “Jynn, this is Lysandra. My wife, and sister to Queen Eva.
Jynn saw Lysandra’s eyes begin to well up again, but she held them back with a pained smile. He bowed. “Well met.”
“The pleasure is mine,” she replied.
“You all stay put until things calm.” Craetys said “The whole damned kingdom is in an uproar.”
Jynn nodded and asked, “My lord, how can one man make his way through an entire palace without being seen or even suspected by anyone?”
“For that I am not certain, caster” Craetys said, “I’ve ravaged my mind of this also. Azrael requested no guard be posted at his chambers yester-night. To spare vulgarity I won’t mention details, but -”
“The sick bastard!” Lysandra flamed, “Belly deep in some-”
“Calm yourself,” Craetys growled in a harsh whisper, glancing around at a few who’ve taken notice to her outburst.
Lysandra took a deep breath and looked around. A few eyes were still on her. Embarrassed, she slid her hand against her face “Sorry,” she muttered. “To be honest, I wouldn’t doubt His Disgrace killed her himself.”
Craetys crossed his meaty arms, rolling his fingers against his bicep. “While I admit his tale seems dubious at worst. We have no evidence it was Azrael, even so, there would be nothing we could do.” He went silent for a moment. “But for a man to enter a guarded palace with no recollection of being seen is quite the feat. The detail that stands out the most is that the assassin escaped - excuse me, jumped - from the bedchambers window. That window yields a distance of at least fifty men from ground up. No mortal man would survive such a fall.”
“Unless you were a caster.” an eavesdropping, bystander muttered.
Jynn quickly took notice to an elderly woman staring directly at him. An unpleasant face. Thin, bloodless lips outlined a frown set in a face riddled with sores and wrinkles. Her eyes were dull and droopy and sat above a nose that was the highlight of someone as short and crippled as she.
“Keep your big nose where it belongs, servant.” Craetys beamed. “Besides, Jynn doesn’t fit the King’s depiction.”
The woman shrugged pretentiously and staggered away on a cane a bit long for her statue
“Pay her no mind, Jynn. All the hag knows is woe,” Craetys said loud enough for her to hear. He looked at his love and sighed. “I must go.”
Lysandra acknowledged him with a dropped gaze and nod of dismay.
He gave Jynn’s shoulder a pat. “Jynn, I apologize for you to have arrived at such conditions.”
“It’s quite alright,” Jynn said, “My heart aches for us all.” Lysandra eyes again welled, this time unable to hold back, and she began to sob. “Oh no,” Jynn refrained “I didn’t mean to -”
“It’s fine, let her be,” Craetys said. He took to a knee and looked the caster eye to eye. “Listen,” he whispered, “I asked Lysandra to see after you, but it’s rather the opposite. You’re more capable than any guardsman here. I know it is a bit ridiculous, but we must do as the King commands. It’s more of a veil if anything - a distraction.”
Jynn’s brow raised curiously, “A veil? What are you saying?” he whispered. “Are you telling me that you indeed believe she was victim to the King’s hand?”
Craetys momentarily went silent again. “Caster, I’m not sure what I believe. If Azrael indeed did such, what purpose had driven him so? What did he have to gain by taking the life of his own? Chilling thought, say true. His sickness is driving him mad.”
“Sickness?” Jynn asked.
“Aye, why do you think he summoned you.”
“Why, to heal him? Is that why he appears the way he does?” Jynn asked.
Craetys nodded. “Repulsive.”
“What is it that plagues him?” Jynn continued, “His own flesh looks like that of dead man’s.”
Craetys sighed “That is something that I cannot answer. Neither can any of our best men of doctrine.”
“Then why summon me?” Jynn said, “Casters can draw sigils for basic remedies, but even as blessed as I, depending on how severe, I may not be able to cure him.”
“We are aware.” Craetys said, “Other casters have tried to no avail, but when the His Majesty got word of you, he thought if anyone could heal him it would be the Nim prodigy of East Eden.”
Jynn gave a small laugh, “How can I cure a man if I know not of even what ails him. Why not bring someone from the Healing Shores of South Eden, an oracle even?”
“To no avail?”
Craetys hung his head. “Nay - rest their souls.”
Rest their souls? Jynn thought and looked at him peculiarly, wanting to know more, but was interrupted before he could ask.
“Craetys,” a voice called.
Both glanced to the entrance of the dining hall, met with the sight of King Azrael storming towards them. His expression, riled, with a split lip crusted with dry blood and a face that housed the swellings of several bruises.
Craetys stood at once. “Your Grace.”
“What do you think you are doing?” Azrael chided, “You and your men should be searching every last corner of this city! Take your leave.”
Craetys bowed. “My apologies, Your Grace, right away.” He looked briefly at Jynn and marched from the hall.
Jynn took notice that Lysandra had stopped crying and was leering at the King with an expression of apparent anger.
Azrael either didn’t notice or didn’t care and took Jynn by the arm, leading him out of the hall as well. “Come with me.” he said, “We have much to discuss.”
All this dragging, I am more than capable of walking myself, you know. Jynn thought to himself, but remained silent. The last thing he wanted to do is upset someone who could have potentially killed an oracle and the Queen of Eden in cold blood, and those were only just of two to his knowledge. Rest their souls? What did he mean. His mind raced as they made their way around the palace’s circular corridors. If it’s true how did he manage to kill an oracle? She must have foreseen her death - right? Why would she have come to Providence if she knew she would surely be killed? Did he truly kill the Queen? Was it Eva who managed to injure him this badly? These were all valid questions.
They went down several other hallways, passing through many doors in silence. The palace truly was a magnificent place, massive to say the least. The architecture, the winding halls of spotless marble, the decorative, paintings, tapestries, and things that lined the walls and ceilings. He couldn’t imagine how long it must have taken to design and build such a place.
They walked in silence. He said nothing to Azrael and Azrael said nothing to him. He didn’t mind that. He gathered that the king’s temper was that of a loose cannon and surely didn’t want him to fire over something as trivial as saying what Azrael presumed out of line. The king was acting odd anyway. Not just because of today’s events, but in a physical way. He kept noticing Azrael would twitch. His head would sort of - snap - to the side a little. That itself wasn’t that strange, but when it happened, the king’s eyes would do the same, Twitching and rolling themselves inside his head, leaving his eyes white in their sockets. It didn’t last for very long though; a second or two at best, and the king seemed to take no mind to it, as if it wasn’t even happening.
Jynn felt his heartbeat pick up its pace. His mind wandered aimlessly, thinking of what possibly could be troubling Azrael. What if he couldn’t cure him either, would the king have his head? Did he take the lives of the others that failed? What had he gotten himself into. He had no idea the extent of Azrael’s rule was so perverse and honestly had no desire to know. He had always stayed to himself - had always been by himself. He never knew his parents and didn’t spend much time with his aunt and uncle who raised him. Finding out he was gifted at such a young age, they sent him the magi colleges of Kokiri, the Crystal City, where he studied and passed the time while they worked in the fields. He didn’t follow or get into the affairs of Eden’s politics; not because of his age, but simply because it was something he cared little about.
They came into a library, and much like the palace, even something as simple as a bookcase was crafted by nothing short of a perfectionist. Swivels, swirls, and depictions of birds and mountains were all etched into the edges of massive stonework shelves that were just as inviting to the fingers as they were the eyes. Lining them, was one of the most extensive collections of literature he had ever seen, rivaling even the college’s.Various books and tomes were bound with dyed leathers, colorfully stacked along the shelves. Numerous tables sat scattered around the room, well-waxed to mimic the luster of the polished, marble floor.
A housekeeper stood on a ladder, dusting the many nooks and crannies the library held. Azrael spotted her, and the prolonged silence was broken. “You -- what are you doing here?” he barked.
The housekeeper nearly fell from her perch. She had not seen them enter and jumped from the sudden audible shock. “I-I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” she stuttered, “I was just doing the dailies.”
“Get out of here!” Azrael said, “Have you not heard the news? Leave.”
“Right away,” she began descending the ladder.
She didn’t move fast enough for Azrael. Carefully taking one step at a time. Jynn watched his anger grow to a boil.
Azrael growled and stormed towards her. The servant screamed. He grabbed the ladder and pulled it away from the shelves. Tipped, she couldn’t hold on, and lost her grip. She fell from quite a height and crashed back-first into a table. It gave with her, snapping in half with a loud crack. She hollered out in anguish, gasping for the breath the fall robbed her of. She rolled back and forth in the rubble holding her arm. “It’s broken,” she cried, “My arm!”
Azrael loomed over her with a scornful expression. He reached down and snagged a handful of her long, tawny-brown hair.
“I told you to leave,” Azrael fumed. He twisted his hand in her locks and began dragging the woman across the floor. She sobbed in her agony, crawling like a beaten dog after him. He released her at the libraries entrance and slammed the door behind her.
Jynn’s couldn’t believe what he had witnessed. Azrael was ruthless. His heart laid in his throat and he swallowed an almost audible gulp as the king turned to him.
“Apologies, Jynn,” Azrael groaned, adjusting the collar of his raiment. “Pathetic servants-” he glanced toward the door, wailing. “Who - do -not - listen!”
Jynn only looked at him, apprehensive to say anything.
The king stepped over to one of the bookcases and surveyed it with his eyes. He ran a finger across the bindings of several volumes and stopped on one in particular. He removed it from the shelf and protruding from behind it, a wooden handle. The king took hold and turned. Something clicked. The bookcase swung open to reveal a small alcove.
Jynn determined it was a scanty, little nook at best. A cluttered, round table strewn with scrolls, book, papers, inkwells, and pens, sat center, and maps of the many provinces of Eden brushed the walls.
“I suppose I should tell you why I brought you here,” Azrael said.
“If it’s your will, Your Grace.”
“I need your help, boy,” the King continued, “This may sound absurd, but I need you to aid me in my search?”
Jynn’s eyes regarded Azrael’s with an uncertain skepticism, “Search for what, Your Grace?”
The king went silent for a moment. He stepped toward the wall and studied one of the many maps covering it. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a peculiar looking gem. Jynn observed as he fidgeted with it, rolling the tear-shaped crystal between his fingers.
“I need your help finding the Eyes of Eden,” Azrael said.
“The Eyes?” Jynn repeated back, the statement bewildered him. “I thought of them no more than fable. How do you know they even exist?”
Azrael spun around. Jynn gasped for the breath that evaporated from his lungs. The king’s eyes were deprived of all color and light-- a wretched black, like ebon pools of sin.
“Because, caster, it was my father who created them.”