“What exactly is the Bloodstone?” Jazera asked, her eyes wary. “Because it doesn’t exactly sound like something that I want an all-powerful royal getting their hands on.”
Orro risked letting go of my arm between steps so that he could pat her arm. “Don’t fear, dear, the Bloodstone is small and will be well hidden. Marqis would not find it.”
“It’s not Marqis I’m worried about,” she grumbled, glancing at me, making several reactions happen at once.
Arion hissed, ”Jazera!” sharply.
It was Ridiq that said the most, grabbing her arm and yanking her roughly to a halt. “You will not speak of Queen Meira in that fashion or I will have you gagged, foolish girl.”
Arion tensed and turned. “And you will not speak to my sister in that fashion or I'll have you killed.”
Which of course, made me burst out in laughter, nearly curling over by the strength of my fit of giggles. When everyone looked at me in surprise, I grinned at Arion, still clutching at my side. “Sorry.” I cleared my throat. “It’s just... Ridiq sounded very much like you at that moment.”
Aitch started chuckling in agreement and Jazera took that opportunity to yank her arm from Ridiq’s grasp, shooting him a look in the corner of her eye that was no less threatening than if it had been face on.
I decided I would speak to Jazera alone later to speak about our problems. Now that she knew my identity, perhaps we could talk enough to at least respect each other a little. For now I let it drop and we kept walking, the four Shadows lifting their fire for light.
The tunnel we walked through was not anything grand. With rough stone walls, dirt floors that dipped without warning, and water dripping from cracks informing us that it was raining, the tunnel was quite gloomy. It broke off in places, going down other tunnels, some caved in a bit, but we always stuck to the main line, shuffling along mostly in silence, keeping at Orro’s slow pace.
Then we abruptly turned off and Ridiq went ahead to light some lanterns around the room.
And what a room it was.
Oh, it was still the same cracked wall and dirt flooring, though this was improved because of the lack of dripping water. But the room was stack filled with items all hiding beneath silk covers or in heavy chests of wood and iron. The few things that were not hidden were of glass arrows, ancient shields, helms of plated iron inlaid with the occasional jewel, revealing the crests of Greyov kings and queens long dead but not forgotten. Most covered in a fine layer of stone dust but it did not dull the sight.
Aitch gave a whooping sound and went on ahead, making my lip twitch as I looked around.
“This was all in the front room where we call the main room now, but we’ve moved it all down here so we could be closer to the statue and know when you came,” Orro was saying. “Most of it was maintenance stuff, but there were these items as well. We’re not sure why they were left here when–.”
“Coins!” Aitch shouted with childish glee after opening a chest. He started putting things into the pockets of his cloak. Orro watched with amusement a moment and let him be.
“This way, dear, it’s right in the back.”
We passed paintings between wooden protectors, hundreds of pieces of raw sandglass molded into strange shapes, and some chests filled with crystals or even gold and gems. However, my eyes were for the thin pedestal with a silk cloth sitting over it under a heavy layer of dust.
Ridiq did the honors of slipping the silk off in a dramatic gesture.
The Stone was small, no larger than the nail on my littlest toe. A pale grey it was with flecks of white, but the deep red ribbon in it looked like blood. It shined slightly as blood would in the sunlight before it dried and my hand reached out to it without thinking.
I jumped, startled, when Arion pulled my arm away, giving me an odd look. I flushed, wondering why I would reach for the Bloodstone so easily when I had not even dared touch the White. A lapse of intelligence I needed to be sure never happened again. I kept my hands at my sides, clenching the loose wool there to be sure they stayed put.
“So... what does it do?” Jazera asked, breaking the silence. She eyed the stone warily, as if it would reach out and stone her to death at any moment.
I shook my head, unsure. “All I know is that whomever wielded the Bloodstone in the past could do impossible things.”
“Oh, ’tis a bit more’n that,” said Orro with a smile; it seemed the longer I spent around him, the more slang he let come from him mouth - slang he'd picked up from the others during their seclusion no doubt. “The lore says it makes the one who wields it as safe from ghosts as the trees are. It brings fear to anyone with evil intentions. They say it whispers to you, knowledge of things none could know now. They say it gives you dreams.” He said all this with awe, but then he went more fearful. “There are also ancient scripts of it claiming to be... addictive, and if wielded by the wrong person, it can be used for deadly purposes. Dangerous." His eyes were serious, reminding me of Jovian for the briefest moment. "Be careful with its power, Meira.”
I nodded, taking his words into my memory, then with a moment of hesitation, reached out and—
Arion stopped me. “Best save it as a last resort,” he said. “I trust you as queen, I do, but perhaps...”
He was right of course. To handle a magical element without being sure of its’ dangers should not be taken lightly. Yet...
I am Meira Greyov. Nahdiera my kingdom. With this Stone I may claim the throne, or I may lose it because I was not prepared.
I took a step back from it forcefully.
Arion nodded at my action and ripped off a piece of his shirt, wrapping the Bloodstone inside of it before he handed it to me. I put it in my cloak with the Ruberous Faun at first, but then after a moment decided it was best kept in a place where I would not touch it by accident and removed it, slipping it in the hidden pocket that held my ointment instead.
“Not that I believe it possible, but what would we do if someone like Marqis got a hold on a Stone like this?” Ridiq wondered.
Orro pondered this a moment. “To destroy it, I suspect, you’ll have to force it to go against its purpose. Such as using a Ruberous to harm someone instead of heal them.”
I frowned. “What would happen if it were destroyed?”
“Can’t say, but if history is any indication, I’d guess it would kill off whatever or whoever caused it to go against the force it t'was. Best not be you who tries to destroy it then, yes? If the time ever did come?”
I nodded my agreement, having no intention of destroying something with so much power. It would be such a waste.
Then it seemed to hit me all at once.
I had it. I had what I needed. I had the White Stone and the Bloodstone. In addition, I also had the Ruberous Faun and now I even had knights to follow me.
I felt a strong, almost violent urge to head off right then at that very moment but knew it would be a few days before the knights were ready to leave and those few days would not do myself and my fellow companions terribly.
For the second time in as many minutes, I had to talk to myself.
I am Meira Greyov. Nahdiera is my kingdom. With breaths of patience I will gain my crown. With impatience, I may fail my father.
That reminded me. “Orro, do you have any idea what my father had been trying to tell me at the end of the note?” I asked him. Most importantly, the Stone w- it had said. Most importantly, the Stone what?
He hesitated a long moment and I straightened, sure he knew something. But then hummed, shaking his head. “I’m not sure, dear, but I will think on it. Though I do know much about the Grey Stone, I can think of nothing of it that would put you in any kind of danger. If anything, it is the safest thing for you.”
That was all I knew as well. I sighed as we turned and headed back out into the gloomy tunnel; I’d felt a touch of hope that I would finally find out what came after the w. I should not have let myself hope – I’ve known for a long time that I would never truly know.
“Can you tell me about the Grey Stone?” I asked instead. “I know much, but Jovian repeatedly tells me that he didn’t know as much about the Stone as how my mother used it.”
He patted my arm. “Later dear. I believe it’s time for my nap.”
I felt a flash of irritation, then felt ashamed of myself for feeling it; the walk had clearly exhausted the man and I had no reason to be short with him.
I am Meira Greyov. Nahdiera is...
I trailed off in my mind and waved my own words away as obviously they weren’t doing much good today, so I didn’t bother.
I found Jazera arguing with Ridiq again. The two seemed to argue about everything anyway, but today was particularly difficult for them to be civil as they were packing things for the trip. We would more than likely never return here, so they took all they could, while at the same time they didn’t want to be too overloaded for the journey to Qa'elah.
Trying to find the balance was difficult as it was but having those two together... whoever had that idea was foolish or deaf.
I knocked on the side of the wall as I entered, interrupting their argument about the best way to grow carrots, of all things. They both turned their glare on me, but Ridiq quickly changed his face from anger to immediate respect and bowed his head in greeting. Jazera somehow looked even more irritated by the interruption.
“Ridiq, may I have a few moments alone with Jazera, please? I believe Arion needed your aide on the map anyway.”
He nodded. “Your Majesty,” he said, then left without even the barest glance at Jazera. I didn’t bother to correct him or tell him to use my name – over the past four days of being around him, I had no doubt that it was useless as he would not change his ways. I was a queen to him and that was that. I would never be Just Meira.
Jazera turned back to the arrows... how they had come to argue about growing carrots while they were stuffing quivers, I couldn’t be sure but didn’t bother to ask. I went next to her and grabbed my own quiver then went through the assortment of arrows as I spoke.
“Why is it you hate me?” I asked. “Have I done something wrong to you? I mean, surely you understand now why I did the things I did. Not for power or greed but for the kingdom.” When she said nothing for a while, I grimaced and continued. “I don’t expect you to just start liking me because of my blood, or my marks, but... surely you can at least not be so hostile and... and hateful.” Still nothing. I put the quiver down with a sigh. “Is it because of Arion? Because I—”
“Look, I don’t hate you, alright?” She sighed in irritation and pulled her hair back over her shoulder.
I had a brief moment where I could only wonder how she managed to keep her hair so straight and untangled all the time while mine was a constant mess, but then she spoke again and my question was forgotten. “I know Marqis is terrible. The Beoworth’s need to be removed from the throne and I’m glad to be a part of doing that.” She turned to me completely, leaving the arrows alone entirely. “But just because you’re a Greyov doesn’t mean it should be you.”
I blinked. ”Excuse me? I’ve fought my entire life for—”
“Exactly. You’re filled with hate and anger and impatience.”
“Because my people are suffering. Because they killed my parents. Because—”
“I know. You have every right to be all those things.”
“Because,” she continued, and I felt the urge to snap at her for interrupting me yet again. “You don’t know how to be genuinely kind to people. Or happy. Or giving. All you’ve done your entire life is learn how to hide and to kill!” She threw up her hands. “Yes, sure, you had Jovi, but otherwise you’ve been alone. No offence, Mir, but I can’t see someone who has spent an entire lifetime learning those things while cut off from the world around them, being any good of a leader.”
I felt my anger rise rapidly at each word that sprouted from her mouth. ”Excuse me?"
She shrugged, uncaring of my tone. “Sorry, but it’s the truth. I suspect that your intentions will be good, but you have no idea how to properly run a kingdom, you only know how to kill in order to gain one. That’s not the makings of a good queen, if I do say so myself.”
I hit her.
I hit her before I even thought of doing it. One moment I was staring at her in gaping shock, in the next, I had my fist slamming into her face.
Never hit with your fist. I heard Jovian’s words flashing back to me from a time he had to stitch up my knuckles. If you ruin your hands, you will ruin your ability to use a sword. Use your elbows and knees if you must, but never your hands.
Sorry, Jovi, I thought. But sometimes, a fist to the face is warranted.
Jazera stumbled back from the force, barely catching herself on the stool before she fell to the floor completely. Once standing straight again she rubbed at her jaw, her expression barely changing though her face was already turning the deep red of a soon-to-be bruise. Instead of hitting me back, she nodded as if I’d just proven her point.
Which I had not!
I pointed a finger at her. “You have no right to assume these things about me. I may not have practice with it, but Jovian has taught me all about running a kingdom. From taxes to celebrations to the proper way of sacrifices upon the Stone.”
“Taught, yes, but you have no—”
“Jazera, that is enough.” Arion’s voice was hard and sharp from the doorway. Sharper than I’d ever heard it directed towards his sister at least. When I looked at him, his face was red as if he was just about ready to strangle his sister just as much as I wanted to.
Jazera, knowing as much as I did that Arion would never lay a hand on her, only snorted at his tone and turned back to the quivers.
Childishly, I pushed the long wooden box of quivers over so that they all rolled onto the floor, scattering outward in a horridly musical beat as I turned away.
I shoved past Arion and nearly ran down the corridor I walked so quickly. Of course he caught up quickly and stopped me, pulling me into another tunnel that lead to nowhere as most of these tunnels did, I have found. He gripped my trembling fingers, but I yanked them away for no other reason than because I was still so angry.
“Meira, calm down. Remember what Orro said about your magic?”
I was shaking I was so angry – I’d never had to defend my right to rule before, and after spending my life working so hard at it only to find that one I’d spent months traveling with thought me incompetent hurt me more than I expected. My body though, was tingling in a way it never had before so I listened to Arion and tried to calm down.
Yet it was impossible. I felt like going back there and hitting her again, just to start a fight with her. I wanted to rip out her perfect hair along with her ignorant tongue. How dare she say those things about me! How dare she when she knows nothing about me.
Of course I was angry and impatient and filled with revenge. But that was directed at the Beoworth’s, not my people! How dare she—
Arion kissed me briefly. No passion at all, just a firm, hard, smack on the lips that lasted no more than half a moment.
I blinked at him rapidly, shocked and confused and mildly unsatisfied. “W-what...”
“Calm down,” he demanded, his tone hard.
I blinked another moment, then I sighed and leaned against him, taking the closeness that the kiss didn’t give me. “That worked,” I admitted when I understood what he did. “But I’m still angry.”
He wrapped his arms around me and sighed himself. “You have every right to be. She had no right to say those things to you, but all you can do is prove her wrong.”
That didn’t feel like enough, and if it were anyone other than Arion’s sister, I probably would have gone back there anyway and started a real fight – I really wanted to hit her again. But though that’s what I wanted, I knew it was childish and irrational so I let out another heavy sigh and nodded.
“Just... why does she have to be so cruel?”
Now he sighed again – it seemed as though were taking turns. “She’s not being cruel, not really. She’s telling what she believes is the truth. She’d never lie as you know, which is, I believe, why you’re so angry. But that doesn’t me that she’s right.”
I frowned. “Do you think she’s right?”
He thought about my question a moment instead of just giving me the answer I wanted to hear.
“No,” he finally answered. “You have anger and impatience and all of that, yes, but you also have kindness. I’ve seen it myself. And you’re strong.” He paused. “Stupid sometimes, but strong.”
I gave him a glare for that last bit, but he just chuckled and took my arm as he usually did to walk me around.
I wondered if there would ever be a time where he didn’t grab my arm as if he were preparing to shove me out of danger, drag me out of danger, or shake me from doing something that would put me in danger.
I doubted it very much and let him lead me around with amusement, my anger dissipating by the step, though it lingered in the back of my mind and would more than likely linger there until the day I died.
Though, admittedly, that day was apparently not very far in the future, so it isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, to be sure.