She woke up on top of the covers as the door opened. Eleri sat up and looked around the windowless room. It was all she had seen the past few weeks during her stay at the Silver Palace. It was not an unpleasant or uncomfortable room, but she hated it. It was large with a soft bed at the end. Towards the door was an ornate fireplace with a few wolf heads carved into it. In front of the fire were two large chairs and a low table. Eleri usually took her meals there if she could manage it. Often she was too tired, or her mind was too foggy for much of anything.
Figuring a servant was bringing in some meal, Eleri hopped down off the bed, her head feeling clearer than usual. She adjusted the leather cuff she wore, and it burned against her skin. If she tried to use any magical power, it sent a wave of intense pain through her body. She believed it might do more than that as she had difficulty concentrating on much at all.
As she lay in her half-sleep, she could not think of a way to escape, whether physical or spiritual. They had taken away even her right to end her life if she chose it. She was able to think of those she left behind, and she thought of them all often. She worried over her father, who would fear he had lost the last part of her mother. She hoped that Aron had not been injured when Lord Fellen subdued him.
Her thoughts of Caerwyn had grown more charitable the longer she stayed in the Silver Palace. At first, she hated thinking of him. Though she might have worse problems, the pain she felt at his betrayal was still fresh. She felt like either raging or crying when she saw his face in her mind. As the days went by, her thoughts turned kinder. She knew he would blame himself for her abduction. It would be worse for him, knowing he had hurt her. He would find some way to punish himself. She hoped someone could comfort him, even if it were Lady Farrow.
It was strange, but she did not feel anger towards the woman. She had a feeling Emilia Farrow had long been in love with Caerwyn, and how could she blame the woman for giving in to her desire to be with him? Eleri understood how hard it was to ignore his pull. Instead of anger, she felt pity for Lady Farrow. She must have felt like some stand in which Caerwyn could release his pent-up desire. How much it must hurt the poor woman to give her love to Caerwyn to know it was not fully returned.
Her thoughts of love would always bring Conri to her mind, and it hurt worst than anything to think of him. Memories of their time together continued to come back to her. She dreamed of laying his arms. She recalled the times he would make her laugh. The pleasure of his touch echoed through her body. He loved her, and she remembered how his love and devotion made her feel. The pieces were coming together, and she was beginning to see some hidden deep feeling for him rested within her.
She walked towards the fireplace, thinking some meal would be set in front of her. She never knew what until it was laid out or she asked. Meals were the only way she had to know what time of day it was. She had a few regular visitors, but they were no help. Ciara only came to do some spell on her that caused her to fall into some deep sleep. It left her ill for hours after, and Eelri had no idea what the point of it was.
Bren Farrow came to see her as well, and their visits were not pleasant. He berated her and her family. He taunted her and threatened to end her. She did not take his threats seriously. A few times, he may have pushed her around. He even stuck her once, but she knew he would never do much more. Lord Fellen wanted her as his queen, and that kept her safe for the time being.
Lord Fellen came to see her, she believed, every day. Sometimes she was too tired or confused to talk, but he would sit near her and speak of strange things. He would speak to her of her father’s younger years as though he was old friends with Lord Cadwin. He would ramble on about some random kingdom business or some family that had visited or problem he had fixed. He never required a response from here which was good because whether she was able or not, she never gave him any.
As she came close to the chair in front of the low table, she stopped. The two servants entering did not bring a tray. One held a brush, ribbons, and pins—the other a fine gown.
“What is this?” asked Eleri.
“We have been requested to dress you for supper, my lady,” said the servant holding her gown. “You are to go to the courtyard to eat tonight.”
“Absolutely not,” said Eleri. “You can go tell Lord Fellen I will not be leaving this room.”
The servants exchanged glances. The one with the dress stepped forward. “We were informed if you were not complying that we should go get Miss Sullivan to see you. We were told to tell you she could convince you if you need convincing.” The servant looked away as though frightened.
The servant with the brush and pins approached Eleri as though Eleri might strike her. “We were told there would also be a punishment for us if we could not get you to dress. Miss Sullivan does not like to be disturbed.” She spoke in a voice barely above a whisper.
Eleri sighed and looked at the two young servants. They probably weren’t even twenty and appeared as though they were not given enough to eat. “Very well, I will dress for supper. There is no need for you to suffer.”
Eleri let the servants help her out of the simple, comfortable dress she wore and into the velvet one they brought. She noticed it was green like Lord Fellen’s colors with silver accents. It had long sleeves but came off her shoulders and showed more cleavage than she was used to. The servant tied it tight around her, almost making it hard for her to breathe. The other servant pulled her auburn curls up high on her head. She left a few to brush her neck before securing her hair with pins and adding the green ribbon. Before they left, they powdered her face to hide the dark circles under her eyes and used paints and powders to add color to her cheeks and lips.
When they were done, Eleri stood up and looked into the mirror. She could not say she did not look well. She looked dressed for a fine party and would be almost perfect if not for the strange leather cuff on her wrist. She thanked the servants as they gathered the dress she took off and opened the door.
“You are to go the small parlor at the end of this hall,” said one of the servants. “It is the last door on the left.”
Eleri nodded as she walked by, and they curtsied low. She made her way slowly down the hall to the parlor, wondering who or what would be waiting for her. If nothing else, she felt more like herself than she had since she arrived. She was tempted to try a bit of magic, but she believed she knew how it would go. Coming to the door, she paused and took a deep breath. As she put her hand on the handle of the door, she tried to remind herself to be strong. No matter what they did to her, she would not lose who she was. She would not let them break her.
She opened the door with as much confidence as she could find. The room was intimate and designed to be cozy. A small fireplace with a plush blue coach in front of it took up most of the space. A very small piano stood against one wall with a few chairs near it. As she looked around, Lord Fellen turned from the fireplace to look at her. He had a glass of some liquor in his hands. He took a sip as he looked her up and down.
“The good goddess, you are a beauty, aren’t you.”
Eleri stood near the door, keeping her eyes on him. He was dressed in a dark green shirt and coat with silver embroidery. It matched her dress perfectly, which annoyed her. She supposed he was a handsome man, though a bit older than her. He was only about half a decade younger than her father. She thought he must have been young when he arranged to kill the king and queen.
He walked towards her, putting his glass on the mantle and brushing his dark hair out of his eyes. He smiled as he neared her, but it did not meet his cold blue eyes, which unnerved her. She tried not to let it show.
“I will not hurt you, my lady. I have said that many times, and I wish you would believe it.”
“It is hard to trust your word with how you brought me here. You may not have put a hand on me, but that has not stopped others,” she said.
“I have spoken to Ciara about not causing you any unnecessary pain. I know some of her spells or uncomfortable, but once she finds the right one, there will be no need for others,” said Lord Fellen.
“The right one? What is she trying to do?” asked Eleri.
“You don’t need to worry about, my dear. If you believe she is unnecessarily cruel, you can let me know. I do not want you harmed.”
“I hardly know what Ciara does to me,” said Eleri. “The other member of your court that regularly visits me is another matter.”
Lord Fellen sighed. “Dealing with Bren Farrow is a delicate matter. I have already made him give up one of his concessions. I do not like him coming to you daily, but there is not much I can do. I will remind him that you cannot be harmed.”
“What does he hold over you, my lord?” asked Eleri.
“That is another thing you do not need to worry about, Eleri. I hope you have little cares and worries here. I would like you to be happy as my queen.”
Eleri rolled her eyes. “I suppose I should scream and declare I will never be your queen, but what good would it do?”
He laughed. “You amuse me. I wasn’t expecting that. I knew you were beautiful and said to be intelligent, but you are quite funny as well. I am rather pleased I shall have such a woman for a wife. Lord knows I have waited long enough to take one.”
“I guess I am supposed to ask you why, but I don’t really care. Instead, would you tell me why I have been summoned for supper tonight?”
“I thought you would be bored spending all your time in that room. I wanted to treat you. You must want others to speak with, and we have some guests tonight, important ones.”
“Is there some special occasion?”
Lord Fellen smiled. “Perhaps, but you will have to wait and see.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a box. “I have something for you I think you will like.”
“There is nothing I want from you, my lord.” Eleri took a step away from him.
“You will want this as it is very beautiful and will be more comfortable than that awful cuff you have been wearing.” He opened the box and took out a bracelet made of three large strands of silver. In the middle of the strands was a green gem that spanned the width of them.
He moved closer to her and took her hand. She had a strong urge to snatch it away, but something stopped her. He lay the bracelet over her wrist just above the leather cuff. After fastening it, he undid the r cuff and pulled it off as Eleri winced. There were several angry red marks on her arm where the cuff had burned her. As she stood still, unable to react, Lord Fellen brought her hand up to his lips. He kissed the back of her it before turning her wrist over and kissing one of the red marks.
She felt a shiver move through her as he let her hand go. “I hope that is more comfortable, Eleri.”
She moved the bracelet on her arm slightly, and it did not burn or hurt. She tried to summon a simple spell. She still couldn’t do it, but instead of intense pain, she felt only a slight buzzing through her body.
“I asked Ciara to make you something not only lovely, but that would not hurt you. I hope she was successful.”
Eleri nodded. “I suppose you wish me to be thankful, but I cannot conjure up the feeling.”
He laughed again before holding out his arm. “Come along, you wicked thing, our court awaits.”
She stared up at him, not wishing to feel his touch again but knowing there was nothing she could do. She lightly put her hand on his arm, and he walked her from the room. As they moved through the Silver Palace, Eleri looked all around. The place appeared to be massive. The halls were wide, with floors made with stones of various colors. Huge tapestries hung from the walls between torches. She couldn’t be sure, but she believed each one showed a different scene from the history of Elathia.
After traveling down at least three different hallways, they came to a door where two guards stood. As they came close, the door was opened by one of the guards, and Lord Fellen led her out onto a massive courtyard that held many men and women. Stone walls surrounded the area, and she could see a set of double doors on the other side where the rest of the people in attendance must have entered.
There were tables set up all over the courtyard with large fire bowls between them, warming the area. Eleri looked up and could see it was a clear night, and the moon was half fool. As Lord Fellen escorted her through the space, everyone stopped talking and drinking to stare at her. She glanced at a few seeing no one that she recognized, but mostly tried to keep her eyes straight ahead, looking at nothing in particular.
As they approached a table set up on a raised platform, Lord Fellen leaned towards her. “I like this above it all attitude you have tonight. It suits you and adds to your beauty.”
She said nothing in return as she caught sight of Bren Farrow and Ciara Sullivan standing on the platform whispering. Ciara did not look amused by whatever Bren was saying to her, and Bren looked to be enjoying aggravating her.
“My lord,” said Ciara with curtsey after he had led Eleri up the few steps of the platform.
“Is everything ready as planned?” he asked.
“I believe so. We won’t know until it is time,” replied Ciara. “Are you sure you wish to do this, Lord Fellen? You have other options.”
“There are no other options,” said Lord Fellen as he looked at Eleri. “Even if there were, I am not sure I would want to use them. I am finding myself more and more satisfied with my lot.”
Eleri looked up at him, not liking the way he was staring at her. She let go of him and brought her arms close to her, feeling very chilled. She didn’t think it had anything to do with the cold night air.
“Are you feeling cold, Eleri?” asked Lord Fellen. “Come sit at the table close to the fire and have some wine. It is almost time to eat.”
He moved over to a chair at the center of the table and pulled it out for her. She sat down as he scooted her chair up. He stood behind the chair next to her, and all around, people took their places. Much to her annoyance, Bren stood next to her.
“If I could all have your attention, my lords and ladies,” said Lord Fellen loudly. The crowd quieted down. “I am grateful for all of your attendance tonight for this feast. I think you will find it worth your time as I have a few important announcements to make later in the evening. For now, please enjoy your meal.” He sat down, and all followed his lead.
Food was uncovered in front of Eleri, showing a feast of stew, some green winter vegetables, and what looked like stag.
“What would you like, my dear?” asked Lord Fellen. “You must be hungry.”
Eleri ignored him and filled her bowl with stew before placing a few winter vegetables on her plate. Lord Fellen said nothing as he poured her some wine.
“I suppose you are relieved to be out of your room, Eleri,” said Bren as he put some meat on his plate. “This is not how I would treat a prisoner.”
“She is not a prisoner,” said Lord Fellen with annoyance. “She is an honored guest and soon much more. I will be talking with you later about your treatment of her.”
“You will forgive me, my lord, but I cannot trust her. I believe she would run back to her prince and the Bright One if given a chance. I am sure she has shown them both much attention and has a hard time keeping away.”
Eleri picked up a knife to cut a large piece of meat in her stew. She held it up and looked at Bren. “If I were to run, I would be sure to say farewell to you first, Bren. I would hate to leave without giving you the goodbye you deserve.” She stared at him as she held her knife before slowly putting it down.
Bren glared at her as Lord Fellen laughed. “I am glad to have you by my side to deal with this one, Eleri. He thinks too much himself.”
“Here, here,” said Ciara from the other side of Lord Fellne before she took a sip of her wine.
“You should remember what you owe me, my lord,” said Bren as he seethed. “You do not want me to be displeased.”
Lord Fellen flashed a charming smile at Bren. “Of course not. This is all in good fun. You should learn to take a joke, Lord Farrow.”
Bren put his fork down and looked over Eleri at Lord Fellen. “Lord Farrow?”
“Your father is dead, isn’t he? You are his heir, and I am as close to a king as can be found. I think I have the authority to state you are officially Lord Farrow now.”
“What of the late Lord Farrow’s will?” asked Eleri. “Has it been read? He may not have wished for Bren to take his title.”
“Who else would have?” asked Lord Fellen.
“He was fond of his wife. She may not have given him any other issues, but she could carry the title if he willed it to her. She might pass it on to other children she has in the future,” suggested Eleri.
“But I am the leader of Elathia,” said Lord Fellen. “I can take and give titles away.”
“Only the king can do that,” said Eleri as she looked at Lord Fellen. “You are not the king.”
“I am not, but I believe that will change soon.”
Eleri stared at him as he went back to eating his meal. She tried to eat a few bites of her stew as others chatted around her. Bren tried to engage her a few times, but she would not rise to his bait. When the meal was over, Lord Fellen took her hand and asked her to stand. They walked down off the platform to the middle of the space that was clear. He looked over and nodded. Eleri saw that there was a group of four musicians by the far left wall.
The music started, and Lord Fellen held out his hand. “Dance with me, my lady.”
She looked around at all the eyes on her. Guards were all over the space, and Ciara stood close by, staring menacingly at Eleri. Deciding she had no choice, she took Lord Fellens hand. He brought her close and put his free hand around her waist. She stood as far away as he would allow and placed her hand on his back. They started moving to the music as others got up to join them.
“You know, Eleri, I thought this part of ruling would just be something I had to get through. I didn’t expect to enjoy it.”
“What part is that?” she asked.
“Picking a woman who would serve as my queen. I knew I would have to have some woman by my side, and I have been attracted to many. None of them seem right, though. I suppose it is because it was meant to be you.”
She felt a sickness in her stomach as they moved around the space. She had so much she wanted to say in response to his ridiculous statement, and she had a hard time picking just one. “I am sure you could find someone more suited to yourself than me, my lord,” she finally said.
“Why do you think we aren’t suited? You are a brilliant, passionate woman. I don’t believe I am without intelligence, and you can probably guess that I live my life getting what I want.”
“You do, but I do not care for how you do it. Your passion is laced with evil intentions. While I have made mistakes, I have never wished to hurt anyone. I am not obsessed with power as you are.”
He pulled her closer and whispered in her ear. “You think you know me so well, Eleri, but you don’t. I don’t even think you know yourself. When you taste the power I can offer you; you will want more and more of it. You cannot help but be obsessed with it because your very nature is powerful. Do you know how hard Ciara had to work to make that cuff and bracelet? She won’t admit it, but she is not the most powerful magic-user in Elathia. It is you. You have been held back for too long by yourself and others who claim to love you. I will help you see who you truly are.”
She leaned back and looked up at him. She felt off-balanced and if all sounds around her were muffled. All she could see and hear was him. He leaned forward, and her heart beat faster as she became scared he was going to kiss her. Instead, he bowed as the music ended and let her go.
She stumbled to the edge of the dance floor as others moved around her. She thought to find a place to sit down when someone steadied her by grabbing her arm. She looked up to see a man around her father’s age smiling at her.
“My lady, would you please dance with me?” he asked.
“I am not sure I feel like another dance,” said Eleri.
He leaned closer to her and spoke quietly. “You should dance with me, Lady Eleri, as I would be honored to spend a few minutes speaking with someone from the current court of Gildan.”
He raised his sleeve to show a very small marking on his arm of a crown. She recognized it as one marked as belonging to the court of Gildan. She looked up at him, thinking he must have been on the advisory council with her father.
“What is your name, sir?” she asked.
“Lord Elis Cecil, my lady. I live just outside the city on my estate. I have hosted many prominent people, including the last true king of Elathia.”
She nodded. “I will dance with you, sir.”
He took her to the edge of the space, far away from Lord Fellen, who danced with Ciara. Once they were in position, they moved carefully to stay away from as many others as possible.
“I have been in contact with your father,” he said in a whisper. “He is desperate to have word of you. I have come to every supper, tea, or meeting I could to find out anything about you. I am relieved to see you tonight. I have not seen you since you were a babe, but you look so much like your mother, I knew it was you.”
“You send messages to my father?” she asked.
“I do. I was the sixth advisor on the council with your father. When everything happened, he asked me to stay close to the city and work with Lord Fellen. I have been careful to keep the lord’s trust though it has been difficult to live the life of a traitor.”
“Are there others like you?”
He nodded. “The seventh advisor, Lord Rees, passed, but his son has kept up the ruse of the family. He is dancing with his young wife over there. She and my wife will try to find a way to see you at some point. If Lord Fellen plans to make you his wife, he will want you to socialize with his circle.”
They turned a different way to avoid a few people.
“Lady Eleri, you must do whatever you can to stay safe. Let Lord Fellen think he is winning you over if you must. Do not anger him or anyone close to him. If he thinks he can have you willingly, he will work for it. If not, he will do whatever he can to make you submit to him, and I worry what that will be.”
“I am not sure I can do it, my lord. I am a truthful person who does not like to play games,” said Eleri.
“Unfortunately, you were born into a life of games, my lady. If you are to be our true king’s First Advisor, you will have to play some. I hear you have your father’s intelligence. You will be a master in no time.”
“But to compromise who I am is impossible. Prince Conri is the true king. I serve only him.”
“Then serve him by staying alive, my lady. He will need you. Elathia needs you. Do what you must to survive until we can find a way to get you out of here.” He looked around before moving even closer to her. “The last letter I received from your father included a note for you from the prince should I happen to see you. All it said was tell Lady Eleri to remember we do things together. He is depending on you.”
Eleri felt tears come to her eyes as she thought of Conri. “I will try, my lord.” She moved back from him a bit as others danced closer to them.
When the music ended, he took her hand and kissed it. “I look forward to your reign, Lady Eleri,” he said loudly as he looked over her shoulder.
She turned to see Lord Fellen walking their way. “I hope you will tell our common friend I have not forgotten; in fact, my memory is better every day.”
Lord Cecil looked confused for one moment before he seemed to understand. He nodded before walking away.
“Were you dancing with Lord Cecil?” Lord Fellen asked as he took her hand.
“I was. I didn’t think I had a choice,” said Eleri.
“You did have a choice, but I am glad to see you chose correctly. I will need you to charm my court, and I plan to ask him to serve as he did for the king before. What did he speak of?”
“He tried to talk of knowing my father, but of course, he does not. How can he when they haven’t spoken for many years? He was rather boring,” said Eleri.
“He is not an interesting man but very safe. He will do what I ask as long as he keeps his money and position,” said Lord Fellen. “Now, come with me back to the platform. I have something I wish to announce.”
She let him lead her to the short stairs where Ciara was waiting. She walked up with Eleri, keeping very close to her. Lord Fellen had Eleri stand on the very edge of the platform with him as Ciara stood behind her.
“Can I have your attention again, my lords and ladies?” asked Lord Fellen. He looked down at Bren, who was close by, and nodded. Bren walked away towards the door to the palace. “I have two announcements tonight that will move Elathia forward into the land that we wish.”
He paused as he looked over at the door where Bren stood with an old man wearing dark robes. He brought the old man over to stand close to the platform. Bren looked up at Lord Fellen.
“Now, many of you may not know or remember this man here, but a few of you will. This is Lloyd Farrow. He is the last of the Great Silver Priest of the Northern Temple named by King Rory during the end of the Gilden age. He has guarded the original copy of the queen’s prophecy his whole life and studied it. He is one of the few in this land that can read the old language.”
“My great-great-uncle cannot speak as well as he used to and asks that I speak for him,” said Bren. The old man kept his head bowed. “He has come to give his final opinion on the prophecy before he passes as he believes it will be soon. His opinion is based on the understanding of the old language and not how it has been translated, losing some of its meaning.
“While the prophecy does refer to Lady Eleri as our next queen, the rest has been misunderstood. It is the opinion of Lloyd Farrow that our last few kings gave up the Gildans right to the crown by breaking ways with the goddess when they let Orindaries grow in number and strength. Our land has been growing in chaos since this has happened, and it took an act of bravery by Lord Fellen to stop it by disposing of the weak Gildans. Now with the queen from the line of crimson by his side, he will fulfill the prophecy by becoming our king when he marries his queen.”
“Is this statement true, Lloyd Farrow?” asked Lord Fellen. “Does your kin speak truly?”
Lloyd Farrow kept his head bowed, but Bren produced a rolled-up piece of parchment. He has signed his statement saying all I have just related. Anyone may read it who wishes.”
“Is there anyone here who wishes to challenge this?” asked Lord Fellen.
Eleri felt her blood run cold. Everything within her wished to speak out against the falsehood she just heard. Surely Bren took advantage of his great-great-uncle, making him sign some false statement. There was no way the goddess wished the Gildans removed. She crowned Conri at the moon temple.”
“What of the moon crowning?” asked Eleri. She looked down to see Lord Cecil slightly shake his head.
“Lady Eleri brings up a good point,” said Lord Fellen. “For generations, our goddess has crowned our next king with the moon crown. I am happy to say I traveled to the Northern Temple with my First Advisor and palace healer. Both can attest that I was crowned.”
Bren bowed in agreement as Ciara nodded.
Eleri was about to protest, knowing it was not true. Besides, there was no Bright One to witness, but she saw Lord Cecil look at her intently, and she held her tongue.
“Therefore, I am very ready to take on the burden of the crown and rule Elathia. I only need my queen, which brings me to my next announcement. I am a blessed and joyful man tonight as I have gained the agreement of Lady Eleri Cadwin to be my wife. Our wedding will take place during the Winter Moon Festival in a month.”
Eleri felt herself shake as Lord Fellen turned to her and held out his hand. She was prepared to flee when Ciara put her hand on her shoulder. She felt a spell go through her causing a whisper in her ear. It was demanding and persuasive, telling her to take Lord Fellen’s hand and enter into the betrothal. She closed her eyes, blocking it out. She had a short memory of flying over the red forest with her arms around Conri. He kissed her as the wind and magic swirled around them.
A bit of her magic broke free from its bind and worked its way through her, silencing the voice. When she opened her eyes, she saw Lord Cecil look at her pleadingly. She smiled at Lord Fellen, realizing there was no way they could control her if they thought they already did. She took his hand and let him pull her to him, where he kissed her cheek. The crowd politely applauded as Eleri looked out at them. She would have to play the game, and she would make sure she won.