Flight of the Five Swans

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Fear Chapter 8

Cliodne

Cliodne nearly screamed in frustration when, instead of being shown to the throne room, she and her sisters were shoved through the door of her old bedchamber. While she didn’t relish facing Lord Soran again, she also suspected that the next time she did, she’d get some answers. It galled her that he would dare make them—her—wait.

The bedchamber door slammed shut behind them. Thaleia launched herself at the heavy wood, yanking at the handle in an attempt to force it open once more. When that didn’t work, she tried ramming the door with her shoulder, only to stop after three solid hits.

“Ow,” she muttered, rubbing her now-aching limb.

“That won’t work, Thaleia.” Cliodne said heavily. Her sisters turned to look at her, as though noticing for the first time that she was there. Their eyes widened as they took in every aspect of her appearance. None of them had been given an opportunity to change before being so unceremoniously dumped into the room, and Cliodne was certainly worse for the wear. Her dress—once sunset-orange—was colored green from the pond algae through which she had waded. The bottom half of the fabric was still drenched with pond water, and the material was ripped and torn.

With a sob, Eurielle flew into Cliodne’s arms, followed closely by the other princesses. Cliodne’s five sisters all clambered to embrace her in their turn. They looked nearly as bad as she did. Their clothes, already dusty from the road, were now splattered with small specks of blood from the battle. Eurielle was barefoot, having been forced to leave her boots behind in the courtyard. Her stockings were ripped and stained to above the ankle.

Petra was the last to embrace Cliodne. When she stepped back, Cliodne saw a determined look in her younger sister’s eyes. “You said it wouldn’t work to force the door.” There was a hint of a question in her statement. Cliodne shook her head in response.

“I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve tried, but it’s dead bolted from the outside.” She sighed, and then jerked her head to the window. “And the windows are barred as well.”

“They’ve been keeping you prisoner this whole time?” Eurielle gasped, but Cliodne shook her head once more.

“No, not at all! It wasn’t until…” Her voice broke as memories—terrible memories—flew before her eyes. Her legs seemed to lose all their strength, and she sat down heavily on the four-poster bed.

For a moment, her sisters were at a loss as to what to do. Cliodne was often the strong one, the sturdy one. Never before had they seen her look so haunted. Finally, Callia sat next to her on the bed and placed one hand gently over her sister’s.

“What…happened?”

Cliodne looked at her. She choked back a sob. “He…he killed him.”

The other sisters glanced at each other, then Thaleia took a guess. “Lord Soran? He killed King Einor?”

Cliodne nodded. Petra knelt down in front of her. “But…why would he do that? He was heir, wasn’t he?”

Cliodne shuddered. “I don’t know why he did it. He was Einor’s heir. He would have been king, anyway! But...” she said, and looked up at her sisters, fear and confusion blatant in her eyes. “But I think it has something to do with us.”

Raia stepped back, one hand clutching her throat. “Us? What could he want with us?”

Cliodne shrugged her shoulders helplessly. “I don’t know!” she cried. “But it was right after…we’d only just…“ and her voice broke off.

The grip on her hand tightened slightly, but her sister’s voice was still calm when she spoke.

“Tell us everything.”

Cliodne clutched Callia’s hand between both her own like a lifeline. She drew strength from the warmth it provided, and her voice held only a slight tremor.

“He’d been planning it for awhile, I think—it all happened so fast. We’d just gotten word that you were all coming, and Soran suggested making a toast. He left the room for—it was just a couple minutes! But I think that he sent a message or gave a sign of some sort, because all of a sudden there was fighting in the corridor. The king…King Einor…he drew his sword, too. And he stepped in front of me and faced the door, and then…”

She took a deep, shuddering breath to steel herself. “And then Soran’s blade…it was sticking out of him. I…the king wasn’t prepared at all. He’d been ready to defend against someone coming into the room. But he didn’t know…neither of us imagined the enemy was already in the room.”

“Coward.” Thaleia’s voice was a low growl. Though the sound reverberated through Cliodne’s brain, she could barely comprehend its meaning. Her eyes stared distantly into empty space, remembering the past horrors from the tale she was recounting.

“And then guards were in the room and I thought that they’d arrest Soran, but they didn’t! He just stood over the king’s body…and then…he wiped his sword on him, to clean it!”

Her sisters all gave muffled sounds of outrage at that. Cliodne continued.

“And then he told the soldiers to take me to my room, to here…and he would call for me shortly.”

The other princesses drew in a quick breath. Then Petra asked, “Did he…hurt you?”, her voice far gentler than any of the sisters were wont to expect from her.

Cliodne shook her head and for the first time, relief colored her words. “No, nothing like that. There was a time when I thought he might…when I thought he felt…but no. He just asked me questions, so many questions—about us.” She gestured around her at the six of them.

“Before, when he…when I…before that, he’d always seemed so eager when I told him stories about us. I…I just thought that he was interested in hearing about my—our—childhood. But now, he was obsessed. As though he was looking for something. He would send for me every evening for dinner, and all through the meal, he would interrogate me. He’d ask me about the seven of us, what we were like, what our skills were…” She straightened her shoulders. “But I never answered him. After the first couple of days, I just…stopped talking to him altogether. And then a couple weeks ago, he lost patience. He stormed from the table, and I thought he’d finally given up.

“But then he sent for me again, right before dawn. I wasn’t even allowed to dress, I was just dragged straight out of bed to the throne room. And Soran was there. He was holding a book, thicker than any I’d ever seen, and red as blood. And he said that maybe he’d been making things too comfortable for me here. That perhaps I’d be more willing to answer his questions if some things…changed.”

“And that’s when he turned you into a swan?” Eurielle’s hands flew to her mouth.

Cliodne nodded, and her sisters moaned in unison. A kingslayer and a sorcerer? Cliodne understood their dismay better than any of them.

“As a swan, I was allowed to leave my room, and even leave the castle.” She nodded towards them all. “I even found your campsite a couple times. I was desperate to warn you all, but I couldn’t find any way of telling you there was danger. I tried to spook your horses so they’d run away and buy more time to figure something out. Nearly got trampled in the process, and even then, it was all for nothing.” Cliodne was not able to prevent the hint of bitterness in her own voice.

“But why didn’t you escape?” Raia asked, and Cliodne’s entire body seemed to come alive with a searing anger. She looked furiously at her younger sister.

“You think I didn’t want to? I couldn’t. Every night I become human again, but only if I’m on that damn lake!” As quickly as it had appeared, the anger was gone. Cliodne’s shoulders drooped, and her voice became tired.

“Soran said that this would be the worst kind of torture, and the surest way to break me. I’d be free during the day, but every night I would have to return to captivity—willingly. And as a swan, there was no possible way of asking anyone for help. I mean, who would listen to a bird, anyway?”

“I do.” Eurielle said in a low tone. “I just can’t understand what they say.”

The sound that escaped Cliodne’s throat was half-laugh, half-sob.

“Oh, how I’ve missed you all!” she exclaimed, pulling one hand free from Callia’s grasp and wiping her eyes with the back of it. “But I’d give my right arm for you not to be here!”

I’d give my right arm to stab my sword through that bastard Soran’s heart!” Thaleia said, pounding one fist on the wooden bedpost. She paused and seemed to reconsider. “Actually, I’d give my left arm. I’ll need my right arm to hold the sword.”

Cliodne managed a weary smile, and then jerked her head towards the corner of the room, where a large trunk lay open. “I have a couple few dresses left in there. They won’t fit perfectly, but they should fit you all the same. We’ll want to be ready for when Soran finally decides to call for us.”

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