Chapter 1 - Begin
A wagon jostles down the road, accompanied by a small banner of men, led by six sisters, the youngest, a girl of six.
Inside the wagon a woman lays, her back exposed and festering, she moans in pain as her fever rises, causing a sheen of sweat to cover her body. The woman is in pain, her face is twisted and her teeth bared as the sound of a whip cracking, echoes in her mind.
By the wagon a half-scarred man rides close, taunting the captured woman with cruel and dark words. The man speaks of the woman's death, he speaks of dark things that will happen once she is gone, how she'll never see her family again and how she will never be queen.
They have been travelling for weeks, stopping only for brief moments for rest and food. The prisoner only gets scraps and a few drops of water, they're keeping her alive, barely.
“We have to do something,” one of the young ladies says, whispering softly to her sister as she looks back to the wagon.
“We step out of line, we die,” the eldest says, keeping her hard eyes on the road in front, “our families die.”
“If we don’t stop, she’ll die,” the other girl says, her voice hissing at her sister.
The eldest finally dares to look elsewhere but the road, she turns to her dark-haired sister and her eyes soften, it's like she is looking right at the prisoner.
“Ilannda ahead,” a soldier reports, cutting through the soft silence.
The eldest lady looks up to her castle, to her home that is growing into view.
The castle stands silently with its banners waving in the wind, three swords on a red and blue field.
“We should rest at the castle for a moment,” the Lady Genorra says, finally slowing her horse and turning back to the man who rides by the cage.
“No stopping,” he grunts, turning his sickening eye towards her, “We keep moving.”
“The prisoner is badly injured and has gone weeks without treatment,” Genorra argues her eyes narrowing on the man, “if she boards a ship like this, she will die before she reaches the ice lands. She will die before she receives the Queen’s punishment.”
The man pauses and then looks up to castle Ilannda, the castle seems empty and haunted with only old memories.
“Fine,” the scarred man gruffs, he gives his order to his men and they continue on, riding through the gates of castle Ilannda and coming to a halt in the courtyard.
The castle welcomes the Illian women with warmth, but to the others, the black stones and high towers are daunting and cold. Tall, evergreen trees peak above the castle walls with dark leaves and black branches, they seem to be climbing over the walls, watching the invaders. The man escorting the prisoner shudders as he looks around at the dark castle that glares down on him, here he is vulnerable.
The ladies dismount their horses, the prisoners doppelgänger is the first to rush to the wagon, throwing the door open and trying to pull the prisoner out. The rest of the Illians come to their sisters aid and help take the prisoner gently out of her cage.
“She stays within my sight,” the scarred man says, following every step the ladies take.
The two youngest sisters run at the sight of the prisoner, they flee into the safety of the black castle.
“Go with them,” Genorra says, sending her sister, Tasha into the castle after the girls.
The three ladies then carry the prisoner into the healer’s hut where they lay her down on a table where they can get a better look at her back.
The prisoner’s back is torn up, swollen and leaking yellow puss and upon closer look, there are small maggots festering in the wounds.
“I’m going to be sick,” the scarred man, Ecthrois, announces before scurrying outside, escaping the smell and sight of rotting flesh.
Genorra can still hear the sound of the whip cracking against her sister’s back, she can still hear the feint whimpers her sister tried to hold in, she remembers the fear and sickness that clenched at her stomach that she had to keep down to keep the queen from turning on her and the rest of her family.
“This is really bad,” Imogen breathes as she ties her tangle of orange hair up out of her face.
“I know,” Genorra responds as she too ties her hair up and then sets to rummaging through the healer’s work shop.
“Thora,” a new voice breathes.
The three ladies turn to where their mother has entered through. The secret enterence is recovered as Genorra rushes to her mother’s side.
“Mother,” she whispers as her heart fills with fear, “You shouldn’t be here.”
“The girls told me what happened,” Lady Diana says, she keeps her eyes on the woman on the table, “I hardly recognise her.”
The woman, who’s breathing is raspy and shallow, is impossibly thin and looks incredibly close to death.
“My daughter,” Diana breathes, she goes to the table and looks down to the girl she raised.
Thora’s face is shrunken, with hollowed eyes and cracked lips. Her skin is pale and chalky, her hair is like black straw and full of knots and bugs.
“We have to get her out of here,” Lady Diana says as she caresses her daughters face, gently as Diana fears the girl on the table might shatter from the slightest of touch.
“We do that and everybody dies,” Genorra hisses as she sets to cleaning Thora’s back, “Besides, where would we take her?”
Lady Diana knows her daughter is right, but she cannot simply ignore her motherly instinct to protect her child.
“There is a price on your head,” Itarra says taking her mother’s hand, “you need to go back to the castle and hide.”
“Who are you?” Ecthrois says entering the room once more, causing all the ladies to go still.
“Mother Frida,” Diana lies, bowing her head, “one of the many mothers.”
Ecthrois scowls at Diana and then looks to Genorra.
“Hurry up,” he snaps, “We leave within the hour.”
“She needs time to heal,” Itarra argues, glaring her green eyes at the man.
“She can heal in the wagon,” Ecthrois growls, his hand rests on the sword by his side as he threatens, “If you say another word, you will join her.”
Itarra wisely remains silent as Ecthrois leaves the room again.
The ladies work quietly, cleaning out their sister’s back while their mother goes back to the castle to find some cleaner clothes for Thora.
Thora awakens when one of her sisters starts to cut away the rotting skin, Thora screams out and thrashes about, though she is weak, she still has a storm within her; she has to be held down as they cauterise some of the deeper, more sinister wounds.
“It’s going to be ok, Thora,” Imogen whispers to her sister as she dresses the wounds with clean bandages.
“Go clean yourselves,” Genorra says, taking over for Imogen, “I’ll finish up.”
The two sisters look to Genorra cautiously and then leave, wiping their hands on their aprons they borrowed from the healer’s house.
Once the two girls are gone, Genorra sits on a stool next to the table, she looks at her sister, her closest friend through childhood.
“Thora,” Genorra says, speaking softly as she reaches out and touches her sister’s face.
Thora opens her eyes and looks to Genorra, she’s been crying, her emerald eyes are glossed with thick tears that spill with every blink.
“You’re going to be ok,” Genorra promises, she then takes a deep breath and adds, “But when you escape the Ittanna prison... don’t come back.”
Thora’s eyes widen at her sisters words, she opens her mouth but her sister cuts her off.
“I know you,” Genorra says with a soft laugh, “I know that as soon as you get to Ittanna, you’ll know a way out. But don’t come back here.” Genorra’s voice hitches and she swallows the lump forming in her throat, “Don’t come back to Lordorthil, there is nothing here for you but death, find life in Husavik, settle and be whoever you want to be. Live the life you always wanted, live.”
Thora starts to cry again, and so does Genorra, the sisters weep silent tears for a moment, holding onto each other’s hands as if they were clinging to life itself.
Then the moment is over, Genorra wipes her tears and then she wipes her sister’s before leaving the room to clean herself and giving Thora time to rest.
The prisoner is loaded back into the wagon by her sisters’ hands, she is wrapped in bandages and finally dressed in pants and a man’s chemise.
The six sisters ride north, to the Ilanndian docks, where a ship awaits in the harbour, its sails are all black and at the bow, the God Jahen is carved out of the ship, ready to take his prisoners to their death.
The ladies of Ilannda watch as their sister is loaded onto the ship like a caged animal, they watch as the crew ready to set sail.
“She’ll be ok,” Genorra says, watching as her sister disappears below deck.
“You’ve done your duty to the Queen,” Ecthrois says with a terrifying smile, “Now, return to your castles and continue to serve the realm.”
The sisters glare at the scarred man, but none of them move, instead they watch as the ship sets sail.
No one moves until the ship is out of sight, until the black sails are no longer visible through the soft mist that seems to be settling over Lordorthil.
Ecthrois waits until the ship is out of sight as well, once he can no longer see the ship, he turns his horse towards home, back to his Queen’s side.
Genorra leads her sisters back to their castle, to their small seclusion where they can mourn outwardly with their mother.
“What are we going to do?” one of the younger girls asks as her stone brown eyes shimmer with tears.
“We are going to survive,” Genorra says, sitting at the head of the table, the place her father used to sit, “Too much has been taken from us, we were reckless, now we have to be smart, smarter than father, smarter than Thora.”
“Are we not going to do anything to get her back?” Itarra asks with a deep frown set on her face.
“We cannot do anything,” Genorra says with a hiss, “we step out of line, if we give our new queen any reason to suspect us of treason, we will all be killed. Thora wouldn’t want that.”
“How do you know what Thora would have wanted?” Itarra snaps, “Thora would’ve wanted us to fight.”
“No, she wouldn’t have,” Genorra responds with a level head, “Itarra we will do nothing, we will survive, that’s an order.”
Itarra scoffs and stands, slamming her chair back, causing it to fall over with a loud bang.
Genorra watches as her sister leaves, stalking out of the room like a storm, she is such like Thora. But Genorra hopes that Itarra will be smarter, and safer than the sister they lost.
“Go back to your castles,” Genorra says, turning to her married sisters, “Go back to your families. We need to wait this out and pray that the gods are kind to us.”