The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 20 - MOTHER AND DAUGHTER

While walking towards the banquet table to rejoin her guests, Shafis glanced back at the doors towards the balcony where she last left her daughter.

I didn’t close the doors,” she found herself wondering. “Maybe Ysha came in and closed them herself.”

She looked around but couldn’t see any sign of her daughter. She looked at the seat where Alkan had sat and felt trepidation begin to form. He still hadn’t shown up since he took a walk for fresh air and all colour drained from her.

Daris got up and pulled her chair out for her to resume her seat. Gunner and Hepharis were walking around the great hall, drinking and laughing with their guests while Isarin sat next to her son, sharing a cup of wine and talking quietly.

Daris saw the change in Shafis’s features and asked, “are you unwell, Queen Shafis?”

She looked up at him, but her eyes were unfocused. Now concerned, he leaned forward and asked, “should I call your ladies-in-waiting to help you to your chambers?” His voice was soft with genuine worry.

Still, no answer.

Queen Shafis?” Daris repeated, a little louder than before. Isarin looked across the table, frowning. Shafis quickly gathered herself.

“All is well, Prince Daris. Thank you for your concern, but I assure you, I’m perfectly fine!” He bowed and took his seat next to Hatmin when Isarin came to her.

“Shafis? Is everything alright?” Shafis was trying her best to hide her fears. Finally, she turned and looked at Isarin and gave her a reassuring smile.

“I’m alright, truly, I am!” The queen of Rake Turf looked at the doors where she came from and asked in a low whisper, “Did you happen to see Alkan outside?” Shafis tensed but hid it well.

“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t looking for him in any case.” Shafis took a sip of her wine. “That part was at least true,” Shafis thought.

She needed to change the subject. “I’m sorry for distributing silver barthics. It was a well-intended gesture and not to put you in any discomfort whatsoever,” Isarin put her hand over hers.

“Don’t apologise. This is your kingdom, and I thought it very honourable of you. I wish our finances were in good order,” Isarin looked at Shafis with a sad expression.

“Hepharis has been spending more barthics than he ought to and had taken out loans just to strengthen our walls and construct new weapons made from only the finest of timber, which, of course, can only be procured from the Hartar Førest. But we failed to take into account the cost of shipping that sort of timber, so we found ourselves borrowing barthics again!” Isarin sighed.

Shafis leaned forward and put her other hand over Isarin’s. “All will be well, I promise. You have us as your ally. We’re family now, and I would never want to see you suffer in any way.” Isarin gave her a thankful smile.

Just then, Shafis saw in the corner of her eye the doors opening, and in came Ysha. She was flustered and looked rather dishevelled. When Ysha saw her mother looking at her, she quickly looked at the ground and walked slowly towards the main table, trying to keep her pose.

“I was beginning to worry where you’d disappeared to?” Joshen smiled as he pulled her chair out and took her seat beside him. She finally looked at her mother, who silently shook her head. Her daughter blushed and looked away.

“My sweet child,” began Isarin. “Look at your dress! It’s all muddled up!” Ysha quickly began to dust off the dirt and began straightening the creases in her dress.

“Apologies, Your Majesty. I took a walk for fresh air and lost my footing with all these overlays around my dress!” Everyone at the table laughed, except for Shafis.

“My dear,” Joshen said after a moment. “You said you wanted to go freshen up. How did you land up in the gardens?” Ysha felt as if ice water had been thrown in her face. She looked at your mother, whose stern expression demanded an answer. Her father and Hepharis came back to the table.

“I did indeed go freshen up,” Ysha began. “But I took another route to come back here. I suppose I should’ve stuck to the corridors!”

Shafis gave a tight smile. “Indeed you should have!” Everyone looked at her, frowning at her tone. She looked around the table and declared, “My daughter was never one for gardening. I would often warn her that even though roses may be amongst the most beautiful of flowers, she would still need to be careful of its thorns, lest they cut her and leave a scar!” Ysha looked at her plate. She knew the double meaning behind her mother’s statement.

“Thorns don’t cut a person,” Isarin put in.

“No, they don’t,” Shafis agreed, “but if you push the thorn deep enough, the wound would be great, and who knows? May even fester and then? All hope of recovery will disappear!”

Just then, Alkan appeared, smiling and had a cheerful countenance about him. Shafis let out a frustrated sigh. He, too, looked dishevelled, his hair was a mess, and his clothes looked as if he dressed in a hurry. He poured himself a cup of wine and began speaking with Hatmin.

The two of them sat a bit further away from the rest of those at the table. When Hepharis saw Alkan talking to Hatmin, his face turned sour. Isarin got up and walked over to her husband.

She quietly said, “My darling. They’re not plotting or talking about battle tactics. Don’t create a scene with these two kings. Let us rejoice in the union of our son and new daughter.”

Hepharis gave a curt nod in agreement and took his place next to Gunner, but now and then, he would look at Hatmin and Alkan with suspicion.

The hour had come for the ritual of consummation and Ysha became nervous. Prince Joshen put his hand on hers and whispered, “I promise to be gentle, kind and loving, now and always.” She gave him half a smile, then leaned towards him and whispered something in his ear, causing his smile to drop, and looked at her curiously.

He said nothing, but both of them got up and walked towards their separate chambers to bathe and change.

Shafis thought, “Now or never.”

* * * * *

Shafis got up and followed Ysha from a distance. As soon as Ysha entered her chambers, she heard the doors slam behind her. She whirled around and saw her mother walking towards her, her face flushed with anger.

“How could you do this to me?! To us?!” Shafis shouted. She was fuming and breathing heavily.

Ysha was stumbling with her words. “I didn’t do anything!”

Shafis was furious. “Don’t lie to me!” She lifted her hand and saw her daughter brace herself for the blow. But the queen took a few steps back, shaken at what she was about to do.

I was going to hit my own flesh and blood!” She felt sick to her stomach that she would even consider striking her daughter. She became dizzy and sat heavily on a nearby chair. She looked up at Ysha and saw tears in her eyes.

“Tell me the truth! Did you lay with Alkan in the gardens?” Ysha began to shake so badly she could only answer by nodding. Shafis shut her eyes tight and leaned back in the chair.

“Do you realise what you’ve done? This could cause a never-ending conflict with a kingdom your father worked so hard in obtaining an alliance with! What hope do we have if Hatmin and Alkan rise against us?” Ysha remained silent. Shafis looked at her daughter with disbelief.

“You’ve gone against everything I ever taught you and for what? A moment of passion that made you lose your senses?” Ysha fell to her knees, sobbing next to Shafis’s chair, desperately clinging to her mother’s arm.

“Please, mother, I don’t want to be with Joshen! I want to be with Alkan!” The emotion in her daughter’s voice took Shafis by surprise.

“Ysha, you are a married woman now. You were proclaimed as such in the eyes of the gods!” Ysha shook her head. “The marriage is not yet binding unless we share our first night together. Please, annul this marriage, I beg of you!”

Shafis angrily withdrew her arm away from Ysha’s grip and stood up. She proceeded towards the doors. Turning around, she spoke in a commanding voice, “I may be your mother, but I am still queen, and you will obey! You will prepare yourself for tonight, and you will go to your husband’s chambers, and you will bind your oath as a wife! Remove all thoughts of Alkan! He doesn’t care about you! His only value in life is that whatever he touches belongs to him!”

Ysha stood. “He touched me! He can have me!”

“I said no! You will stay away from him, and I will no longer entertain this conversation!” Before she opened the doors, Shafis thought for a moment, then turned and looked back at Ysha.

“What did you whisper to Joshen that made him seem so unsettled?”

Ysha’s eyes were brimming with fresh tears. “I told him I’m not ready for tonight.”

Shafis gave a harsh laugh. “Your excursions in the garden have proven that you are more than capable for your wedding night! If you’re not ready within the hour, I will have the guards drag you to Joshen’s chambers! You will fulfil your duty as a wife tonight so that there’ll be no doubt of any possibility in the future that you might be carrying an illegitimate child! Let us pray to the gods that his seed didn’t take hold!”

She turned and left, slamming the doors while Ysha’s wailing could be heard. Standing outside Ysha’s chambers, Shafis was shaking from anger and leaned back against the cold marble walls, blinking back tears, trying to compose herself.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be!” She thought bitterly.

It was tradition for the bride’s mother to see her daughter before her bathing ritual and offer words of comfort and guidance before the ritual of consummation and help take away any anxiety the bride would be feeling. She remembered fondly how her mother came to her the night she married Gunner and how she put all of Shafis’s fears to rest.

But now? The opposite happened. She slammed the walls with open palms in frustration.

She heard footsteps and quickly wiped away her tears. It was one of the spies, Tidus.

“I heard a commotion, my queen. Are you alright?”

After composing herself, Shafis answered, “Yes, thank you. I’m glad you’re here. I wish for you to deliver a message to Prince Joshen.”

Tidus bowed. “I am yours to command.”

“Go tell him that all is well and that his wife will be joining him within the hour.” Tidus bowed once more and as he turned to deliver his message, Shafis called him back. “Once you’ve delivered your message to the prince, come and see me in my office. I have other errands I wish for you to carry out.”

* * * * *

Tidus came to the banquet hall towards the main table. He bowed respectfully to Alkan and handed him a sealed note. He thanked the messenger and broke the seal, only to notice Tidus was still standing by him.

“I said thank you,” Alkan replied, but Tidus remained where he stood. “You may go now!”

Tidus inclined his head and casually replied, “I’m to deliver your reply. I shall wait.” Alkan gave him an annoyed look but turned his gaze on the note and read,

I request an audience in private. Meet me in the Tower of the Queen.

My messenger will show you the way.

Shafis

He looked up at Tidus with a touch of irritation. “I cannot be summoned as if I am a dog learning new tricks!”

Tidus inclined his head and replied, “Please follow me.”

Alkan stood up, anger in his eyes and raised his voice. “Did you not hear me, peasant! I cannot be summoned or bow to the whims of every person who sends me a note!” He waved Shafis’s note in his face.

Everyone was silent now, looking in confusion at the exchange between Alkan and the messenger.

Tidus smiled. “And yet you have. Will you follow me? Or do you require the royal guards as an escort?” Looking around the hall, all eyes were now on him. He looked at Elarosh, who got up and went to his side.

“Your Majesty, a word of caution. Please, don’t create a scene where there is room for none.”

Clenching his fist, he gestured angrily at the messenger to lead the way. Everyone at the table and around the hall began whispering amongst each other, wondering what made Alkan fly into such a rage. They asked Elarosh, but he, too, was at a loss for words.

Gunner, who was watching the exchange with amusement and not knowing what was going on, looked at the empty seat where his wife sat moments before and smiled to himself. Whatever was going on, Shafis would take care of it.

I love her!” He said to himself and gave a silent toast to his queen and the love of his life.

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