Regaining my senses was a slow battle. My hearing came first, allowing me to make out the hushed voices of Blaze, Levi and Yuki before understanding snippets of the conversation. I wondered where Kit was, why could I not hear them? Movement came next, the most excruciating pain joining it. Every twitch of muscle would ignite a flame in my limbs and I found myself gasping for air. Levi was quick to notice, he was the reason ice was placed around me. Next was my sight. When my vision cleared, I noticed the room I was in was not in our castle. As soon as Levi walked in, he embraced me and began crying. My recovery, he told me, was uncertain and meant I could have been deemed unfit for the throne. I could still not speak.
“We are in Mirk for now. Bronte and Niven have opened their home to us until we are ready to go back to the castle,” Levi had explained as he held my hand after helping me sit up.
Nodding, I had reached my hand out to touch his cheek before shakily leaning forward to kiss him. The fight was over, for now. The Dark Army was awake and ready to strike at any given order. With that thought, I had hurriedly pulled up his shirt to assess the damage the bolt from the crossbow had caused. My worry had been met with a lightly bloodstained bandage while also bringing notice to the one secured on my arm. Resting my forehead against his shoulder, I had sighed.
“Harper, I need to tell you something.” His arms slowly wrapped themselves around me as he moved closer. “Kit... Kit didn’t make it. They are gone.”
Kit...gone? No. No. No! How? They were alive when I went into the cave. They were right next to me before the mercenaries came, had pushed me towards the cave as the men attacked. Kit had to have gotten away. They... They have to be alive, we need them. I need them.
“I-I know it’s hard to believe, but you were in the cave when it happened. Even though I saw it happen, it still doesn’t feel real.” Levi was shaking while I was crying, borderline ready to scream. He rubbed circles into my back until I had cried myself to sleep.
When I woke up, my speech had returned.
We were sat around a circular stone table, lunch served and waiting to be eaten. Bronte and Niven were yet to arrive while their younger sister, Isla, sat opposite me, chatting eagerly to Yuki who answered just as quickly.
Isla was pretty and had the same glimmering obsidian scales her older brothers had, their edges just smoothed out and decorated with small silver rings. As well as the glimmering moonstone eyes that made her seem even eerier than her brothers. Besides that, she was shorter and childlike in her ways, yet the way she spoke gave her an air of authority and dissipated the naivety she was portraying at that moment.
“Sorry for being late, we got caught up in... Harper?” Bronte’s apologetic smile dropped as concern etched his scaled face. “I told the servant that you should be receiving meals in bed, not come down here. You should be-”
“I have rested enough and lost a week’s worth of time and mourning in the process,” I snapped, glaring at the sliced up red fruit on the plate in front of me. “Do you know how many questions and situations I have had played in my head as I sat in my bed with my tail between my legs? Was this done by Naomi, do we go to war with her? How did they know we would be there? Did they know how many we would be? What happened when I went to wake up the Army? All of these questions have been plaguing me and all you want is for me to continue resting, to keep thinking and thinking until my skull breaks in two.”
Bronte’s head dropped down in defeat as Niven cleared his throat. He stepped forward and placed his hands on the table. He looked ready to give me a speech or lecture before deciding better than to challenge a grieving queen.
“Queen Harper, we have two prisoners held in dungeons. One refuses to talk no matter type of torture is inflicted while other only screams and prays to the gods. What suggest we do?”
“Cut their rations in half, maybe double up on the torture and separate them so they can only hear each other’s screams rather than have the ability to talk. They will break sooner or later.”
“As you say, but I ask what make you confident?”
Clenching my jaw, I could feel my energy waning. What made me so confident? Nothing. I was grasping at straws to get them to speak, to get to the bottom of who would order such a thing to happen. All I wanted was to be strong, to be able to lead even though my heart was crying out.
“Harper?” Levi touched my arm gingerly as tears ran down my cheeks. I hated this position, hated feeling weak and trampled down on. Ebus wanted me to be strong, I was the leader of the Dark Army yet I could not pull myself together. “Niven, try the methods Harper suggested and if they don’t work, we will come up with something else. Let’s just eat for now and enjoy the company, yes?”
Levi had persuaded me to climb back into bed before sipping at the herbal tea Bronte urged me to have. I did so without complaint, my non-existent energy had been placed further down after the walk here and the will to fight had diminished. When the tea was finished and the fragile cup placed on the bedside table, I leaned back into the stacked pillows and glanced outside the window. In the distance, I could make out our castle.
“I was too harsh earlier, wasn’t I?” Muttering, I let my hands rest in my lap as Levi sat down on the stool he had pulled up alongside the bed. “I snapped when I should have smiled and thanked Bronte for helping us, effectively ruining lunch.”
“You surprised them, that is all. Remember what I said about your condition being uncertain. Up until now, we all were treating you like a fragile porcelain doll waiting to fall and break. You snapping was just frustration.” Levi met my eye as he touched my knee. Tears stung my eyes.
“How are we supposed to rule when we don’t have Kit helping? They were essential for our integration and my...my only connection to my sanity since coming here,” I admitted, feeling the tears falling. “Levi, I feel so weak and powerless, like I’m falling into a void with no hand reaching out for me to grab. I need you. I need you to be my rock, my anchor or else I’ll go insane.”
“You know I’m here for you all the time and I stand at your side because I am here to be your rock.” He moved to sit next to me on the bed, hand gingerly touching my cheek and wiping away tears. “I want to tell you a secret. You are the reason I did not break during our first week here. I saw how strong and determined you were and knew right then that you were my rock, my motivation to become the right king for you.”
Smiling, I touched his hand and turned my face so I could kiss his palm before taking a deep breath to calm myself. I was strong and capable. If this spiral had continued any longer, I would have been defeating the reason why Kit had brought me to Evaron. Levi was by my side to help lessen the burden and Blaze and Yuki were to help at any given notice. The same could be said of the Mirk brothers and the Thane of Alderreach.
“I want to talk to the prisoners tomorrow morning,” I stated, gripping Levi’s hand as I felt myself slipping into sleep. “Will you come with me?”
The dungeons of Mirk were built within the mountain much like most of the town was. Inside were guards pacing the corridors and walking on raised platforms while some prisoners milled about in a hollowed-out stone pit. A young Lizard Folk woman had walked up to us and offered to assist us. When asked where one of the mercenaries were, she happily guided us to a larger area where cells stared into a torture chamber. A rough voice was mumbling something before it became clearer.
"I heard a call from far away. Come to the river, where the Goddess comes. I will find my peace at the riverside..." There was coughing and the jingling of chains before the singing continued. "Come to the river. I will find my hope and I will find - I will come to the river."
Taking careful steps forwards, I stared into the cell and at the mercenary there. He was younger than both Levi and me, possibly around seventeen years of age. His skin was paler than mine as if he had never truly touched the sun. That aspect seemed to highlight the dark purple and green bruising on his limbs before bringing a horrible light to the gruesome scar making its way up his throat to rest just under his cheekbone. His black hair fell in messy curls over his eyes as he lay on the ground.
"Who were you singing to?" I asked, crouching down before sitting on the straw-littered ground. His breath came out as a wheeze. Glancing back at Levi and the guard, I nodded towards a bucket that had fresh water in it. "Answer me and I will give you water."
He slowly sat up, his tight shirt pulling against a hollow stomach as he stared at me through the gaps in his fringe. His eyes were an eerie grey with a silver shine around the pupils.
"It was a song my mother sang." He coughed fitfully, his entire body shaking like a leaf in a storm. "W-water?"
Smiling, I took the ladle from Levi and dipped it into the bucket before gingerly passing it through the bars. He took it just as gingerly before hastily downing the water. He gulped, eyeing the bucket as he handed the ladle back, hesitantly coming closer to the bars with a grimace.
"What's your name and who sent you?" Levi asked, leaning against the stone wall.
"C-Colt Stone... A man asked us to go after you, I think his name was Fendrick s-something."