Chapter 2 Fear
The next morning, Valeena could not stop her mind from circling back to the creature. She could not shake the haunting voice that had chilled her soul. She was positive that the husky-like voice had belonged to the wolf, but that was absurd. Wolves cannot speak!
Valeena had allowed herself to become too deep in thought. She failed to notice the plump foot that stuck out in front of her, catching her leg. She tripped hard, her hands slapping on the polished white marble floors as she fell to her knees.
“Can you not even walk like a decent human being?” Queen Maylee demanded, her voice dripping with rage. She stared at Valeena as she pulled herself up off the floor. No one offered a hand to help Valeena back to her feet as embarrassment burned on her cheeks.
“But-” Valeena started to say. But she saw Princess Aurory as she sneered from behind her round mother. “I will be more careful,” Valeena said with a heavy sigh, knowing it was best to accept the blame that wasn’t hers.
“See that you do! I have an important visitor coming today and I do not need you ruining things!” The Queen said, her voice rising in anger, her olive eyes burning into Valeena’s, who looked away in defeat.
Valeena always hated the Queen’s wardrobe. She always wore extravagant dresses with puffy sleeves in hideous patterns. Today, the Queen had chosen a royal blue dress with flares of greens and purples on it. It made her appear to be an over-sized, angry peacock. Valeena had to stifle a giggle that dared to escape. She smiled as she pictured the Queen flapping her arms like the bird she resembled. Valeena began coughing instead, thankful the Queen had her back to her now so as not to see her smile.
“Your Majesty, Sir Thanos is here to see you.” One of the guards announced, standing at attention, his face stern. His eyes were hiding the fear he felt for the Queen. She was well known for striking the guards for no reason that anyone saw.
“Ah, good, see him to my conference room. And I ask for no disturbances!” The Queen demanded, looking firmly at Valeena who coward, awaiting punishment.
“Queen Maylee, how great it is to see you!” A smooth accented voice rang out, echoing off the smooth walls of the castle. “You’re looking as lovely as ever!”
Valeena turned and for the second time in her life, she felt a cold chill run its fingers through her body. She had never seen this strange, blind, (he had told the Queen she was lovely after all) man before. And yet, he looked so familiar to her.
He was tall, with long, oily, black hair that he pulled back in a sleek ponytail. He had a thin goatee that ended with a curl on his pointed chin and narrow almond eyes. A scar ran up his right cheek, barely missing his eye, and stopped above his eyebrow. A tattoo of strange writing was visible on the back of his thin neck.
On his body, he wore a high collared ebony cloak with an embroidered red dragon on the collar. He had a rusty red, button up, silk shirt that he tucked into his black pants that puffed from the knees down. On his feet, he wore pointed-toe boots in a deep brown. He walked with a commanding force and had an air of superiority about him.
He passed by Valeena without so much as a glance, leaving the scent of spice in the air. After casual pleasantries had been exchanged, the man followed the Queen into the conference room. He even dared to touch his lips to round cheek. Valeena tried not to gag and looked away instead, pretending to she was interested at a spot on the floor.
“I am sorry, Aurory, but you are not able to attend this meeting either.” Queen Maylee told her daughter. Princess Aurory had been following close behind, sneering at Valeena. The Queen placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder to stop the child from entering the room.
“Mother?” Princess Aurory said. She resembled a fish gasping after it had been plucked from the water. It was not that often that she was told no, or that she was not allowed to do something.
“I mean it!” Queen Maylee informed her firmly. The doors shut in Princess Aurory’s breakfast stained face, leaving her to cry. Valeena watched silently as the stunned Princess stood outside the heavy doors. She was not able to believe what had just happened to her.
A guard gently, placed a hand on her shoulder and steered her away from the door. Princess Aurory jerked his hand off of her and resumed her unpleasant demeanor. She turned and kicked the guard in the shin.
“She is treating me as though I am you!” Princess Aurory finally shouted with her pudgy hands in tight first. She refused to look towards Valeena as she shook with angry.
“We shall see about this!” She then turned on her heels and marched out of the castle. Valeena was stunned. She had only ever seen Princess Aurory move that quickly at meal times.
Valeena wondered briefly what the Princess could possibly be up to. But her mind kept returning to the wolf, like a shark circling its prey.
She had always felt deep in her heart that the castle was not safe for her. The flames of fear had been fanned brightly one night when Valeena was ten. She had asked Queen Maylee if the crystal could be removed from her forehead. She hated the attention she received from visitors and wished she could take the gem off once and for all.
“Not before your sixteenth birthday, I am afraid. That’s when it will be full grown. If you die before then, it dies with you.” The Queen then became angry, shouting at Valeena to go to her room and to not ask her about the Crystal again.
A few nights after the incident with the Queen, Valeena had overheard a private conversation between Queen Maylee and a mysterious woman. The woman had been dressed in silk robes that covered her aging face. It seemed that the woman came to the castle often. Not a single guard or soldier had stopped her as she entered. She headed to the conference room as though she had always lived there. Valeena had been on her way to sneak food from the kitchen but had paused outside the conference room doors. Curiosity getting the best of her as she held her breath to listen.
“Is there any other way? She is growing far too slowly!” The Queen had asked the gypsy, her voice dotted with impatience.
The woman’s voice was cold and soft and crackled like dry leaves as she spoke. “Because it is attached to the main artery. Removing it before her sixteenth birthday will cause her to bleed to death. That will kill the crystal as well. There is no way to speed up the process, as I have told you before. But never fear, once the crystal is fully grown, you can harvest it freely, sparing the child if you wish.”
Valeena had been too horrified to listen to the rest of the conversation. Instead, she had fled the castle, running blindly into the night as hot tears streaked her creamy skin.
’They do not care if I live or die! I am nothing more than a host for the Crystal!’ Valeena thought, just before she was caught by two soldiers and forced kicking and screaming back up to her room.
Valeena shook her head to clear her mind of those thoughts. She sat down on a red marble bench that was facing the beautifully sculpted fountain. The fountain was of two dragons, one black, the other red. They had their bat-like wings outstretched and tails intertwined. Their mouths were open wide, spilling water into the round basin bellow.
Queen Maylee was madly in love with dragons, she claimed that they symbolized power. All the guards and soldiers had a black dragon wrapped around a red star on their armor and uniforms. Statues of dragons were placed all throughout the castle and kingdom. Even the ebony rugs that lined the floors had dragons embroidered on them in red.
Princess Aurory returned moments later, looking irritated. She was winded, stomping her feet, her face flush. “They are talking about you of all things.” She snapped, smacking one of the dragon statues, acting as though the action had not stung her hand.
“I’m hungry!” Princess Aurory shouted loudly, her voice full of rage. Valeena turned casually to face the princess.
“Are they?” she asked, trying to remain nonchalant as fear nestled its way into her soul. A sly smile formed on the Princess’s plump face as her eyes sparkled in delight.
“Why, yes they are. They are speaking about how you are a threat to the Kingdom!” Princess Aurory was obviously enjoying this new development. She did not notice the timid servant rushing towards her with a lovely plate of assorted sweets.
“How am I a threat?” Valeena wondered. She watched as Princess Aurory’s smile falter as she realized that she had left the area too soon. She had no more information to offer to Valeena.
“Go listen for yourself!” She shouted at Valeena. She grabbed the plate of sweets from the nervous servant, spilling a few of the treats onto the floor.
“Ugh, I hate chewy cookies!” Princess Aurory cried, dropping the plate onto the floor. The fine china shattering to pieces, mixing with the broken cookies. Princess Aurory then proceeded to jump up and down on them, picking up a handful of cookies. She then threw them hard at the retreating servant.
“I-hate- CHEWING!” She yelled, her round face becoming blood red. Her foot slipped out from under her, causing her to fall on her plump rear and onto the mess.
Valeena shook her head at the childish display. She knew that Princess Aurory would not be reprimanded for her bad behavior. The servant had returned with a dustpan and was apologizing over and over. They reached down to pick up the shattered mess, telling the brat she could cut herself on the sharp edges.
Princess Aurory swatted at him wildly as she windmilled her arms, smacking him hard in his face. Her anger had left a bright, red hand print on his cheek. The servant fled again, dropping the dustpan as he rushed back into the kitchen. He wanted to get away from the spoiled brat. Princess Aurory screamed until her face was red, her voice hoarse. Tears were streaming down her ugly face as she wailed.
Valeena knew better than to attempt what she was thinking, but curiosity got the better of her. She rose casually from the bench, leaving the Princess to scream alone. She made her way to the castle doors and out into the bright mid-morning sun.
The day showed no sign of the violent storm that had plagued the land the night before. The sky was a brilliant shade of royal blue. Soft, white, cotton shaped clouds floating in the soft, sweet breeze.
Valeena walked out onto the perfectly manicured green lawn. She ducked under every window ledge she passed until she found the one she was looking for.
For such a secret meeting, she was surprised to find the window was slightly ajar. It seemed careless, something the Queen was not known for being. The scent of spicy incense floated harshly through the breeze.
Valeena clapped a hand over her mouth so as not to choke on the pungent odor. A servant probably had opened the window to spare them from this vile attack.
“There truly are others?” The Queen’s excited voice drifted out to Valeena from inside the room. “But where are they?” Valeena could not hear any other voices, only the Queen’s loud, obnoxious tone.
“If you do not know where they are, then why have you come here? Your information is useless to me! I would kill her now if I had the chance!” The Queen shouted angrily. There was silence, as though she were speaking to a ghost.
“I asked that I not be disturbed!” The Queen shouted; her outburst followed by a thump as Queen Maylee threw an object at the intruder. “Valeena is what?”
Valeena’s insides jumped at the sound of her own name. She knew that Princess Aurory had told them that she was here spying. The brat knew Valeena would sneak away and had more than likely staged the tantrum. Valeena could not believe she was fooled by the Princess.
Valeena broke out into a sprint, darting back up towards the castle’s main doors, away from the Queen’s window. She knew that she would never make it back to safety in time. She decided quickly to sit down on a stone garden bench that was resting near a beautiful red rose bush. Seconds later, the Queen and four guards dashed out of the castle doors.
“What do you think you are doing?” The Queen demanded as spit flew out of her ugly lips. She stomped her feet over to Valeena, her round face burning with rage.
“I am simply getting some fresh air,” Valeena said innocently. She tried her best to breathe normally as her lungs burned, her heart pounding out a solo in her ears. The Queen narrowed her olive eyes at Valeena.
“You may have all the fresh air you want from your balcony for you are not to leave your room until my visitor has gone.” Queen Maylee informed her as she spun on her heels and began to waddle back up to the castle. She dismissed the guards with a flick of her wrist, one of them flinching. He smiled from embarrassment as he thought that she was about to strike him.
“Even if,” The Queen began pausing for a moment to look back at Valeena. “He chooses to stay all week.”