Chapter Twenty-Nine- VERA
The moment Kgar dismisses me, I go search for Zyrik. My need to have his small arms around my neck drives my urgency. It’s been too long since I’ve seen my Little Rik, and even though I can’t save my sister at this time, I can at least breathe easier knowing my participation in her capture has kept Zyrik alive.
It was unnerving to see the king treat my sister with kindness. He knew I would take note, and the sly grin he gave as she was taken away confirmed that. He barely listened as I gave my report about the war and provided news of his uncle. He brushed me away as if I meant nothing. It was a first, and I welcomed it.
Whenever I pass by the Scree’s chamber on my way to Zyrik’s room, I always walk swiftly past to avoid her dark gaze and cryptic words. As I pass this time, I hear her door open.
I freeze in place, and turn slowly in response to the sound of a man’s voice.
“Marcus?” I notice the stub at the end of his arm, and guilt consumes me.
He takes a step forward, filling the space between us. His unruly hair and soft full lips make me swallow. I’m surprised by how quick my desire sparks.
“You are back earlier than expected,” he says. “Did you bring back your sister?”
Of course he knew. “I did.”
“Seems pretty shitty for them to keep the knowledge of her from you this whole time.”
“Yeah,” I say mindlessly. “Why are you coming out of the Scree’s room?”
He looks over his shoulder. “Oh, I was just delivering a message.” He steps closer and wraps his arm around me. I push him away.
“But I’ve missed you, Vera,” he whispers.
“I’ve missed you, too.”
The Scree’s door opens back up and out steps the Scree; she wears a gown that leaves nothing to the imagination, and her long hair falls down in front of her, barely covering her breasts. She leans against the door frame with a wicked smile.
“Vera, you’re back!” she purrs. “Welcome home, my dear. I see you’ve reacquainted yourself with my prized servant. Be careful not to touch him. I’m tired of having to rectify your mistakes.” Her musical voice grates on my skin.
I stare wide-eyed at Marcus; he winces at his betrayal of me. “I’m so sorry, Vera.”
I take a step back and feel my heart crack inside my chest. The memories of passion and what I’d once thought of as love trickle out into nothing. I’m a fool to have believed he was done with the Scree. Why would he want to stay with me when he has this? I fight back the urge to throw up.
“Vera,” he whispers.
Anger bursts inside me. “Don’t ever say my name again!” My gift rushes up and I drop him to his knees. Fear gleams in his eyes, and I know I can easily crush him. Instead I ball up my fist and punch him hard in the face. I hear his nose crack.
Marcus cries out in pain. “Holy shit, Vera!” He holds his nose as blood runs out. I turn and walk away.
I allow myself a small moment to feel the pain of his betrayal. When the moment’s gone I slam a wall up, and lock my emotions away. So many times I’ve experienced the pain of being alone. But pain is part of my life. Am I capable of feeling any different? Can I become something different other than the hard-shelled girl I’ve always been?
I reach Zyrik’s chambers. The moment he sees me, he runs and jumps and I catch him in my arms. My anger fades away as I find comfort in this little boy.
“You are a sight for sore eyes. I’ve missed you so, so much!”
Zyrik lays his head against my chest and I reach up and caress his hair. The worst thing in the world can be thrown at me all day, but as long as I have this boy in my arms, nothing can take me down. Not even Marcus.
Zyrik takes my hair and twirls it in his small hands. I kiss his head and brand this moment into memory. I can never lose this.
I remain with Zyrik until nightfall and tuck him into bed. When I crawl into my own, I think of Bellek and my friends. I hope they find themselves safe. With Bellek back in command I’m sure they’re fine. Tomorrow I’ll speak to the king and see if we can send word to them to come back home.
I roll over on my side and close my eyes. Tomorrow I will begin my planning for rescuing my sister.
My eyes snap open. Morning light fills my room. I hear the latch in my door release and I scramble out of bed just as King Kgar barges in. I straighten my nightshirt and stand at attention.
He walks over and caresses my face, then tilts my chin up. For once, I meet his gaze.
“How much alike you two look. She even carries the stubbornness of your brow.” He drops his hand and turns away. “I’m going to marry her.”
“Excuse me?” I quickly shut my mouth and bite the inside of my cheek. He turns back with a sly grin upon his lips.
“Oh, Vera,” he says, “how I miss our moments together. Please entertain me. Tell me your thoughts. Let this be a chance for you to speak your mind without any repercussion. I’m curious to know.”
I don’t believe him. All I hear is “trap”.
His brow puckers at my hesitancy. “Speak!”
“Why?” I blurt. “Kings in the Eastern Kingdom never marry. So why now, and why her?”
His mouth curls up. “Good question, Vera. You never disappoint, do you? It’s true. We kings in the East never marry. We rule for ourselves. But the magic is back. And the rules have changed. Unfortunately, you don’t have the birthright to give me what I need. If you did, there would be no need for your sister. I plan to create an army.” His eyes sharpen with intensity. “Through my children, born with magic. I don’t care to marry her, but the prophecy states I must bond to her to rule all.”
“When will this wedding take place, then?” I ask.
I blanch. That gives me no time.
King Kgar strolls over and cups my breast. I take in a sharp breath. “Don’t think for a moment,” he conveys, “that I won’t have need of you.” He twists his hand until I cry out, then he releases me and walks out of my chambers. Hate burns inside me.
I slump down on my bed. Today? I noticed the stone necklace he wore. Even if I want to harm him, I can’t. I have to get creative. And fast.
I stand outside the doors to the throne room, waiting to be called in. The morning has gone by too quickly. The king was smart to tell me his plan at the last minute. I adjust the uniform I’ve chosen for this special occasion. The only thing missing is a red mask to hide my distaste.
Livia stands off to the side. She looks beautiful. Her face is painted delicately, a gold dust shimmering all through her hair. She wears a red gown made of satin, cut low enough to outdo the Scree. A silver collar gleams on her neck with a fine chain attached and held by none other than Bruce.
Bellek’s words echo inside my head. That could be me. I know he meant in the Western Kingdom, but I am visualizing it now: married to this very man who has stripped me of my dignity and forced me to be a killer. Then to have to lie in his bed and bear his children. For once in my life, I’m glad I am me.
The doors open and I enter. The audience is quiet. They sit in their extravagant clothes, witnessing history being made. I focus on the steps ahead of me as I walk up the aisle. A man in simple robes stands next to the king. I’ve seen him before, many years ago. He’s our High Healer, and he’s here to solemnize the marriage. I stand to the left of the dais.
The High Healer clears his throat. “People of the Court, please stand to welcome the future Queen of the Eastern Kingdom.”
Everyone stands. I watch Livia as she walks down the aisle to her doom. A sheen of sweat covers her brow, threatening to ruin her fresh paint. I admire how she holds her head up in defiance, refusing to let King Kgar get the best of her.
Bruce hands Livia’s chain over to the king, then moves to stand next to the Scree on the king’s right.
“We are gathered here this day so that you may witness a joining of two kingdoms in matrimony. With this marriage King Kgar will further the magic that has finally returned to our kingdom. May his bloodline have infinite rule and all kingdoms flourish as one.”
Infinite rule? I’m surprised Maker Adon doesn’t strike the High Healer down on the spot for his blasphemous words.
As the High Healer continues on with words of nonsense, I focus on Livia. She avoids the king’s leering looks and stares into nothing. Livia might think she can get away with this behavior now, but the king will break her. But if she could only get that stone from his neck, she could use her gift. Come to think of it, I don’t know her gift’s power. Livia shifts her weight, and a bead of sweat escapes down the side of her face. I am sure I will find out soon enough.
The High Healer continues on with his telling of our history with magic. I should be listening since I’ve never been able to learn this information, but my mind strays off to what needs to be done.
I spent the night staring into darkness, unable to sleep, knowing I had to save my sister. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and if I should fail....well, let’s just say I hadn’t wanted to think of the consequences.
That’s why I had Zyrik go hide in his special place earlier this morning. I made him promise to stay there until I came for him. He didn’t seem happy about the arrangement and I had to reassure him that everything would be okay.
“If anyone here sees this union as unfit, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
Dead silence fills the throne room. They know their lives would be forfeit should a single word be uttered. But I don’t care. It is time.
“I don’t agree with this forced union. I find it a huge mistake for both kingdoms,” I proclaim.
Gasps ripple through the crowd as King Kgar turns to face me. “What did you say?”
“I said, this union should not happen.”
King Kgar steps towards me and backhands me across the face. I feel a searing pain on my lips as his rings slice over them.
“How dare you, you ungrateful bitch. Your words mean nothing. No matter what you claim.” He brings his mouth close to my ear. “I was going to save this last bit for later, but I will let you in on a little surprise. I’m in great debt to the Enchanter for bringing your dear sister to me, and I’ve decided to send him my one and only son. I’ve no need of him now that I will have other heirs to my name.”
The king smiles deviously at seeing my pained expression. He has planned this all along.
“If you take him from me, I will kill you,” I spew out in anger.
He hits me again, but harder. The force knocks me to the ground, and blood fills my mouth. My gift comes to surface, but I push it back knowing it’s useless while he wears that stupid stone.
He kicks me in the stomach before returning to Livia and the High Healer. I remain on the floor, wheezing in pain. I turn to the sound of the patter of bare feet against the stone floor. Zyrik is running as fast as he can, holding tightly to one of my knives. Fear stabs through my chest. Before I can move to stop him, the king yanks the knife from his son’s hand and lifts him up, dangling him in the air.
“You disgust me.” He spits into Zyrik’s face and slams him to the ground. A loud crack is heard as his head hits the side of the dais. My eyes widen at the gut-wrenching sound. Ignoring my own pain, I franticly rush over to him.
“Zyrik! No, no, no!”
I place his head in my lap. Already his hair is soaked with blood. I apply pressure to his gaping wound in hopes of stopping the bleeding.
I struggle to breath. My Little Rik! I’m not accustomed to seeing his eyes look so lifeless. I search desperately for a sign to show he is okay. Tears burn my cheeks and I can’t control the rate at which they fall. This boy is my light; he can’t be dead.
The edge of my vision turns into a violet rage and I feel every hair on my body rise. When I look to the king, a shadow of fear passes over him. The crackling of my gift covers my entire body--Kgar has just lost his one and only gambling chip he ever had over me.
How many times have I wished to unleash vengeance on this man, to show him what it is like to have zero power. I gently rest Zyrik’s head on the floor and stand, caressing the charge from my gift.
In my peripheral view the crowd begins to disperse as assassins come forward and surround me.
I grab a knife from my belt and flick it at the king. The Scree steps forward and brushes it aside with an unseen force. The knife skids across the floor. I release another. She blocks it again. Five more blades are released one after another. All are stopped by the Scree. The Silent Watchers come in closer, their weapons drawn. Surely they know how useless they are. Or are they?
One by one I latch onto them. I may not be able to harm the king, but they can. I turn their swords against the king. Bruce steps forward, brandishing his weapon. I send the assassins forward, and like a puppeteer, I grasp their strings to guide the attack.
I send them after Bruce. To my dismay the king takes this opportunity to escape with Livia and the Scree. But it doesn’t matter. I will find them.
Bruce begins cutting down the assassins, one after the other.
Someone shouts behind me. When I look over my shoulder, I see a red-masked assassin throwing me a gold coin. I catch it and see a dove engraved on its face. I can’t believe it! It’s Bellek’s friend from the mountain! Seeing that I recognized it, he rushes past me to put his blade up against Bruce’s, just as the last assassin facing Bruce drops dead to the floor. Another assassin, who had been standing with Bellek’s friend, darts after the king.
I rush back to Zyrik, and kneel at his side. The thought of never seeing his dimpled smile again, pains me. If he had only listened when I told him to stay put. I try to recall the last time I heard his laugh, but instead despair fills me. I lean forward and kiss his forehead.
“I love you; you are my life.”
Bellek’s friend comes over and kneels next to me. He places two fingers against Zyrik’s neck.
I look over and see Bruce lying on the ground. Is he dead?
The man puts his arms under Zyrik, and lifts him up.
“Don’t!” I shout.
“Vera, let me carry him. He needs help.”
“But who can save him? He’s too far gone!”
The man tilts his head to the side.
“Do you not know what your sister can do?”