Chapters 09 -15

 Chapters 9 – 15 are all on this post. You may print and read at your leisure.

New Beginnings

Chapter 9

Farewells

Dor sat on the back of the wagon and watched as the castle and surrounding town slowly shrank in size. He knew every dark corner good for hiding in. He knew every locked door closed to him and every friendly door open to him. He knew who to steal from and who to stay away from. He’d taught himself how his trade and chose not to take everything available. Castle guards suspected him, but were unsure if he was a thief. It was a game to him and not to get caught. The games were becoming more and more meager.

Over the years, the war had become too much; people left and those who stayed had little to steal. The day of the royal wedding had been unusually profitable. Now that the war was over, people and their money would be returning, but Dor would be gone. He was leaving the games behind.

“You’re too friendly,” Rheaux used to scold.

“If I wasn’t so friendly, we’d have never met,” he laughed.

“I’m serious. How can you steal from your friends?” she asked.

Dor knew almost everyone in town. He had to be extra careful so as not to be recognized or caught.

“If I’m not friendly with them, how will I know who to steal from? Beside, everyone knows no one steals from a friend.” He laughed.

“Someday one of those so call friends will figure it out and then you will see how friendly they are. And you’ll get everything you deserve.” Rheaux didn’t like him thieving. She worried too much at him getting caught. Moving him to the farmland was her way of keeping him safe.

Except, he liked the adventure. It kept him alive.

His eyes outlined the town buildings. There was the tavern where he and his friends drank. There was the eatery where Rheaux worked as a waitress, where they first met. There was the church were they wed, the house where they lived and made love.

“We’ll make new memories,” she’d said.

Dor liked the old ones.

No sooner was the war over and the royal wedding finalized than Rheaux and her father were making plans to return to their farm in the valley. Dor tried to delay their departure, but Rheaux didn’t fight fair.

“I don’t want our children growing up in this filthy town. I want them to grow up on our land,” she’d said. “I want us to go with Father when he moves back to the farm.”

“What children?” Dor argued. “I don’t see any children, because we don’t have any children. I’m not leaving. Maybe, someday, if we have children, just maybe, I’ll think about moving then.”

Instead of answering, Rheaux placed her hands on her stomach and he knew. She was with child. He’d lost the argument.

Now if she’d wanted to move to the city by the sea, he would have gladly agreed. No one knew him there. And there were plenty of rich people to go around. He’d have to join the Thieves’ Guild. They wanted half of everything one stole. They said it was to pay for training and protection from getting caught. But they taught little, and many of the guild found their necks in the hangman’s noose.

Ideally, Dor would have loved to start his own gang. He’d teach them to thieve and how not to get caught. Then he’d take over the Thieves’ Guild. But Rheaux would never say yes to that.

As the town and castle dwindled with the miles, brown buildings and gray castle walls blended into hazy lavender. He could no longer distinguish one building from the other. Even castle towers faded into the afternoon sky.

Dor’s heart felt as if a small iron hook was deeply buried in his heart and attached to a rope. The other end of the rope was attached to the castle and town. As the wagon moved farther away, the imaginary rope became taut and tightened until it pulled at the gaff. His heart shook. The rope would not release its hold. The imaginary hook pulled until it felt as if it ripped from his heart.

His hand sprang to his chest expecting to find a hole where his heart had been. He looked down, surprised there wasn’t any blood. When he looked up, they’d begun descending a hill into the valley. The castle was gone from view.

“No use staring after it any more. It’s gone,” Dor said, to himself. His street life had taught him not to look back. Looking back while running forward often caused one to stumble. Dor didn’t stumble. One could get caught and hanged. “That life is over. Time to move on.”

The town he loved was gone along with all the adventures and dangers it offered. He loved Rheaux more. He could survive without the thieving, but he couldn’t imagine life without her.

With a heavy sigh, Dor stood and, careful to keep his balance, picked his way over bags of clothes, sacks of food, and farm tools, and stepped onto the wagon bench, and sit next to his love.

She and her father moved over to make room for him.

“See how beautiful it is?” Rheaux swept her hand across the view before them.

All Dor saw was grass, trees, emptiness, calm and quiet. No more drunken nights. No more gambling. No more thieving. Keep looking ahead, he reminded himself.

She wrapped her arms around his arm and rested her head on his shoulder. Dor wished he wasn’t wearing a shirt so he could fully enjoy the softness of her red hair cascading down his back. He wanted the touch of her skin against his. He kissed the top of her head, rested his head on hers and let his mind wander to their love making later that night under the stars.

“You’ll love it here,” she said. “You’ll see. Just wait until you sink your hands in the dirt and plant seeds. You’ll understand the thrill when you see that the crop you’ve planted, and care for all summer, and is now ready for harvest.”

Dor’s head popped up. Instead of seeing himself sweaty with love making, he saw himself sweaty and dirty from hard work. He knew he was leaving the town and thieving behind, but until that moment, it had not dawned on him that he’d have to do manual labor.

 

Chapter 10

New Journey

Witch sisters were like vultures, devouring every bit of magic with no purpose or goal for their powers. For the sake of expediency, she abandoned most of her possessions and only packed three of her most valuable books of spells, two dresses, one red, one green, both so dark they appeared almost black, her deep blue-gray hooded cloak, food and water. Since she did not know where she was going or what kind of herbs would be available, she brought potions and seeds to start her own garden.

Tamerad had hand picked Lo Tite to mentor when she was first given, by her parents, to the temple as a child. She was a bright girl and if Hudtalo had asked Tamerad who she wanted for a daughter, she would have picked Lo Tite.

She was the only one Tamerad truly trusted to share her vision with.

Together, she and Lo Tite walked to the riverbank where Tamerad had left her mare, Whisp. To her surprise, Tamerad found herself a little heavy hearted.

“I will be leaving and I will not be returning,” Tamerad said.

“You will be missed,” Lo Tite said.

“As will you.” Tears threatened to cloud Tamerad’s resolve.

Lo Tite            placed a hand on her arm. “Our Goddess requires true sacrifice to receive her blessings. You have been given a great honor. Only that which is most precious to you is worthy of such an offering.”

“True, but it doesn’t make this any easier,” Tamerad said.

The fifteen-year-old girl smiled. She was brave. Another might have begged and pleaded. Lo Tite closed her eyes and lifted her head up to the sky, exposing her neck.

Tamerad closed her eyes and bowed her head. How could she do this? The vision had called. She needed Hudtalo’s blessings. If only there was another way. There wasn’t. When was ready, she opened her eyes, lifted her head and with one swipe of her knife slit Lo Tite’s throat.

Blood splattered on Tamerad’s dress, cloak and horse. She licked a spot of blood that landed on her cheek near her lips. She knelt by the girl and wept. She gently picked the girl up and lovingly placed her in the funeral boat filled with purple lilies, the flower of honor and devotion. She placed Lo Tite hands on her stomach and placed a red rose, devoid of stem and thorns, on top of her hands; Lo Tit would not be forgotten.

Tamerad waded into the river as she pulled the boat out with her. She lightly kissed Lo Tite on each cheek and on the forehead before she pushed the boat into the current.

Almost immediately, the boat burst into flames, a sign that Hudtalo had accepted the sacrifice. When Tamerad waded out of the water, her clothes were dry and clean of blood, a sigh of Hudtalo’s blessings. The blood soaked ground, showed no traces of blood, a sigh the journey was blessed.

Tamerad placed on foot in the stirrup and heaved herself up onto the saddle and arranged her skits. She spoke a calming spell over her mare, Whisp, even though the horse was used to magical flight. Finally, Tamerad cleared her mind and concentrated on the magic that had called her name.

Tamerad might not know where the vision originated, but Wind did. Nothing could stop Wind from going where it willed. In its travels, Wind saw and knew everything, and with the proper spell, it would take her where she willed.

Carefully, she opened a pouch and poured zinc powder in her palm. Zinc was the Un-binder. It would make Tamerad and Whisp as light as a slip of paper. After closing the pouch and replacing it in her shoulder bag, she held her hand to her lips and blew the zinc into the breeze, and spoke in the ancient language of magic, “Whisp and I are as sand, carried by Wind.”

Instantly, Tamerad felt translucent. Whisp also acknowledged the change by lifting her head and neighing. If anyone had seen them, they would have shimmered like a mirage on a hot desert day.

To Wind, she said, “Take me to this new magic that calls to me.”

A gentle breeze slipped around them, enveloped them, and lifted them as easily as a leaf.

They moved up and over the forest towards the mountains. Wind carried them along hills and through valleys. Everything moved past them as if they were standing still and the scenes surrounding them were the mirage. Then to Tamerad’s surprise, Wind carried them over the Great Waters. She’d never seen anything like this before. The vastness took her breath. It was as if all land had been swallowed up.

Whisp didn’t like flying over the ocean. She neighed, bobbed her head up and down and side to side. Three times, Tamerad repeated the calming spell. After many hours, they sighted land, the mare stamped her hoofs at the air, refused to be calmed, and threatened to buck. It was not natural for a horse to fly. She was not a bird or a dragon born to flight. If Whisp became too agitated, they might become solid and fall from the sky.

“Settle us on land,” Tamerad said. Wind obeyed.

As soon as the mare’s hoofs touched land, she took a few tentative steps as if to make sure the ground was real and calmed down. She might have continued walking, but Tamerad reined her to a stop. Whisp brought her head down to sniff at the hard surface and nibbled at the tender blades of grass tying to grow between slabs of rock.

Tamerad’s hazel eyes inspected the surrounding area. They stood on a hill overlooking the land. To her left, the mostly rocky terrain steeply dropped to the ocean behind her large waves beat against the cliffs, creating plumes of foam. A rainbow reflected in the spray.

To her right, ocean waters settled as it eased towards the mouth of a river, which formed a bay, a day’s walk around, some twenty miles. Tiny bits of crystal filtered throughout the tan sandy coast sparkled in the afternoon sun.

Beyond the sand was a city larger that any Tamerad had seen in her life. She’d heard of such cities, but had never imagined she’d ever see one. The city settled along the river emptied into the bay. There must be at least 5,000 people living there.

Women worked in groups among the rocks just where the fresh river water entered the salty bay water. They were washing clothes in the water and using the rocks to scrub their clothes clean.

Farther up the river, Tamerad saw two no three, bridges connecting the two halves of the city. She saw wagons leaving and entering the city. Large merchant ships lined up in the bay. Sailors rowed smaller boats to shore or out to the ships.

This city was busy.

It would be interesting to see what such a large city was like. But Magic had more pressing matters. Magic had called. She must answer.

On the west side of the river, in the center of that part of the city, dominating over the city, was a white palace, where the king of this kingdom lived. The different angles of walls produced different shades of shadows. Sunlight reflected off the armor soldiers standing guard on the palace roofs. The palace looked like a sparkling jewel.

There was no protective wall anywhere within or around the city. Evidently this king did not fear attack from land or sea.

Perhaps Tamerad was mistaken and the ships in the bay were not for trade, but were ships of war. But each ship flew a different flag. Maybe they were merchants. She didn’t know.

It mattered not to her

Beyond the city and palace rose jagged mountains. Dark green pine trees covered the slopes. The mountains near Tamerad’s village were round and short. These seemed to scrape the sky. Snow covered the tallest of the mountains.

“This land is indeed strange,” she thought.

Once again, she cleared her thoughts and with her mind she searched for that which had called to her. The magic of the land was weak; not from lack of strength, but from lack of use. There were only a handful of witches and wizards. This land was ready for one such as Tamerad to come and, like a mother training her children, nurture the growth of magic.

“Magic will flourish under my care,” Tamerad proudly declared. Once settled, she’d call to the witch sisters she most trusted to join her. She’d begin a new disciplined coven, one without the foolishness of wasted energy. Here her sister witches would not have to live in secret or in score as they do in the land they now reside. Here they will practice their magic in peace.

But that which she sought was neither in the city, nor in the mountains before her. It must be in the far side of the mountain range.

She considered calling Wind again, but Whisp neighed as if she’d heard Tamerad’s thoughts and objected. She leaned forward and patted the horse on the neck.

“Are you sure you don’t want to travel faster?”

The mare shook her head.

“It will take us longer, but we will walk if that is what you want.”

To the north of the city, a small wagon train moved toward a valley that cut through the mountain range, the valley where Tamerad wanted to go. But by the time she reached where the wagons were now, it would be night and the wagons would have reached the valley without her, and Tamerad would have missed traveling with them. Since she was unfamiliar to this land, traveling with others who could tell her about it would be invaluable.

She and Whisp stood on a rocky cliff with a slow and dangerous decent to the sand. Without the horse’s permission, Tamerad flew them down to the coast. The she urged Whisp forward and with one word of magic, they traveled like a horse moving fast enough to foam from mouth and body from sweat. Yet when they caught up with the wagon train, in less than an hour, Whisp would be fresh.

Thus, Tamerad began her journey with the hunger of a cat stalking her prey.


Chapter 11

Mistrust

“NOooooo,” Abiya snarled as if her handmaiden had suggested that she run naked through the courtyard.

“But, my lady, you have not bathed in weeks,” Yamie declared. “Your dress is filthy.”

She thinks to undress me so she can take my clothes and search for Topaz, Abiya thought. “No, I will not let you!”

At the sound of footsteps, Abiya stopped and stared at the door. The king comes. Every day he walks by my door. He tries to disguise his footsteps. Sometimes, his steps are heavy. Sometimes, he walks softly. I know it is him.

He used to come to the door and ask me to come out, to eat meal with him or go for a walk in the gardens. I did not answer. He wanted me to open the door so he could ravish my body against my will and then take Topaz. He stopped speaking, but he still walks. He hopes to fool me so I will let him in.

“I will not,” Abiya yelled at the door.

Yamie gaped. “At least let me wash your hair, your beautiful hair. It is so greasy and tangled,” she pleaded.

“DO NOT TOUCH ME.”

She was once my maid. My friend. We grew up together. I thought I could trust her, but she betrays me. She thought to bring doctors to drug me. I kicked, scratched, and bit them until they ran from the room.

She brought his mother, his mother, the one with the voice to charm. I screamed and would not listen. She also left without fulfilling her mission to entrance me.

“At least eat,” Yamie said, tears brimming her eyes.

My handmaiden now works for him. She has poisoned my food. Just a little at a time in the hope that I would not notice. I can taste it. I eat very little, so it will not affect me.

“I am not hungry.” Abiya kicked at the table, sending the contents flying. The plate and cup shattered. Food and drink spattered across the floor.

Crying as if heartbroken, Yamie bent to clean up the mess. “My lady, I do not understand. Please, please, tell me what is wrong.”

She thinks to fool me with those tears, but I will not be so tricked.

 

Chapter 12

Yamie

The night after the wedding, Abiya was unusually calm. Yamie hoped Abiya had finally realized her fears were baseless. The king was handsome and polite. He treated servants with respect and the peasants as equals; he was a good man. Abiya had nothing to worry about. But after the wedding night, Abiya had changed. She refused to see the king. She refused to leave her room. She refused all meals not brought to her by her handmaiden Yamie’s hand.

After three weeks, Yamie tried to encourage her out of the room, “But you will love the gardens. He planted all your favorite flowers.”

“No.”

“You can not spend the rest of your life indoors. You must get out and walk around.”

“No.”

“Things are not as bad as you think. You’re imagining the worst and it’s making you sick with fear,” Yamie repeatedly told her. “You should get to know the king. See what he is really like.”

Abiya would not listen.

To see her lady in such a state caused Yamie to stay up at night and watch  as Abiya toss and turn in her sleep. She often cried out, “No. NO. Do not take it from me.” Yamie had no idea what she meant, and when she asked, Abiya would not answer.

It’s just a dream, which she doesn’t remember, Yamie thought.

Eleven weeks after the wedding, Abiya refused her first bath and would not allow Yamie to brush her hair. She began to eat less. As the weeks past, she bathed and ate less and less until she stopped bathing and eating all together. She even refused to change dresses.

Yamie opened the window shutters to let fresh air in and body odor out. Abiya slammed the shutters closed screaming, “They will fly in and take it.”

“Take what?” Yamie could barely keep from crying. She couldn’t eat from her own fears and worry. She was anxious to leave Abiya alone long enough to bathe herself or fetch their meals.

Once, she caught Abiya staring out the window as if she might jump.

“Come away from the window.” Yamie tried to move her away.

“NO!” Abiya pulled back and almost fell out.

“They might fly in and take you along with it!” Yamie used her lady’s delusions to reason with her.

It worked. Abiya quickly scampered away like a mouse chased by a cat.

Yamie cried, pleaded and begged for Abiya to snap out of her despair, but it did no good. She became worse. Yamie asked the doctors to come in the hopes they might find a cure. Abiya kicked, scratched and bit them as if they were thieves come to steal her away.

The king was of no use. At first, right after the wedding, he came everyday. He knocked and asked if Abiya wanted to have meal with him, or he’d ask if she wanted to take a walk in the garden.

Abiya always grabbed Yamie and pull her to the far side of the room like a frightened rabbit trapped by a hunter and hoped if she remained completely still, she would not be seen. She’d forbid Yamie to speak.

After nine days, he stopped coming. He often spent his days riding that horse with his stable ruffians and left most of the castle affairs to his mother.

That was it – the Queen Mother Lucretia. When asked, she came willingly in the hopes she could help. But when she came, Abiya would not stop screaming until the queen left.

Finally, Abiya locked Yamie out of the room. No matter how loudly she cried and beat the door, it did not open. Yamie slept and ate, no, nibbled at her food, in the hall, outside her lady’s room.

One night, when Yamie went to get a blanket to keep herself warm as she slept at her lady’s door, she did not return. She disappeared and was never seen again as if the shadows had swallowed her up.

Chapter 13

Priorities

“Where have you been?” Rheaux stood on the porch looking tired and swollen, and ready to pop the baby out at any second.

“Providing for my family,” Dor said, as he pushed past her. He really wasn’t in the mood for her yelling.

“Thieving,” she accused. “We have crops to attend. Father can’t do it all by himself and I can no longer help.”

Dor stopped short of the door and pivoted around to face her.

She placed her hands on her stomach to remind him she was carrying his child.

Not this time. He wasn’t going to let her pull that card on him now. “What crops?” He pointed to the brown withered plants attempting to grow. “If it had rained, just once … but it hasn’t. Not one drop all summer long. There’s not enough food out there to feed our baby, let alone us and your father. So I got this!” He tossed a leather bag full of gold and silver coins to her.

She easily caught it and looked inside, but instead of smiling, she frowned.

“There’s enough to buy food for winter, pay for a midwife and buy spring seed.” He stood waiting for her to continue charging him of some travesty.

She looked like she was about to object. Rheaux desperately wanted Dor to settle down and become a farmer. He hated farming and didn’t know how to raise a crop in good conditions; in a drought, he was defeated.

He promised he’d stop thieving and farm the land with her father. He promised himself he’d never look back to his past life. But as a farmer, Dor was a failure. As a thief, he was king. In her heart, Rheaux knew it. She just didn’t want to admit it, not to herself or to him.

“You’ve been gone for nine days.” She spoke as if he’s been gone for over a year.

“It’s a three day’s walk to the city. I didn’t think you’d want me to take the horse.” He’d gone to the city by the ocean, instead of his town, where he hoped to bring back more money. He’d been right. “I needed a couple of days to plan.”

“You didn’t ask about the horse. You didn’t even tell me where you’d gone.” Her angry words were like knifes slashing at him.

“I knew you’d be mad.”

“Well, I’m mad now, but you don’t seem to care.”

“If we’d gotten into this argument before I left …” Dor said, exasperated by the situation.

“You’d have gone anyway, no matter what I’d have said.” Her voice was definite.

“And I would have been too upset to do my job …”

“Thieving!” she corrected. Why didn’t she understand?

“I might have gotten caught,” he finished. “Or maybe you’d be glad that I got caught.”

“You didn’t care that I thought you might be hurt and dying where I couldn’t find you.” Tears sprang in her eyes. “Or worse,” she screamed, “I thought you’d left me!”

“Don’t be stupid …” He was going to finish: I’d never leave you. I love you.

But Rheaux became hysterical. “Stupid? Stupid? Is that what you think of me? Stupid? You never used to think I was stupid!”

There was no reasoning with her. In two steps, he was at the edge of the porch. He leaped off and walked away.

“Where are you going?” Rheaux demanded.

“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. I’m sleeping in the barn.”

“Stop it!” Rheaux’s father’s voice interrupted from inside the house. “Life on a farm is difficult enough without the two of you fighting. You two love each other. Make up. Come inside.” His voice softened. “Soup is ready. Eat before it gets cold.”

Dor stopped walking, but didn’t turn around. He was still too angry. Maybe, he wouldn’t sleep in the barn. Maybe, he’d go to his town and come back after she’d had the baby. Maybe, then she’d be her old self again. The closer she drew to the child’s coming the more unreasonable she became. That was the real reason he’d left – for the peace and quiet.

Sighing, Dor faced reality. He didn’t want to sleep in the barn or go back to town. He wanted to be with her, to sleep with her and hold her. He missed her. Nine days was a long time. He’d missed the feel of her hair, her smell, her touch, the sound of her voice. He missed her.

After a moment’s silence, Rheaux said gently, “Don’t sleep in the barn.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll be cold tonight.”

Dor smiled. “You’ll be cold? I’ll be without a blanket.”

“I have plenty of blankets.” Her voice was coy and inviting.

He turned. She no longer looked disapprovingly at him. Her eyes shone with love and admiration. With the bag of coins in one hand, she held the other out to him. Dor walked to her and placed his hand in hers. She led him into the house.

 

Chapter 14

New Handmaiden

Abiya woke. She felt chilled from fear. She remembered having a nightmare. Only she couldn’t remember what she’d been dreaming. Where was she? This wasn’t her room. Her four-poster bed was made of bronze. This bed was made of wood. Her canopy and bedding was plum. This was scarlet. How vulgar. Then the truth came flooding back. She’d been given away. That was the nightmare; she’d been given away to a warring prince.

She remembered the wedding day, but she didn’t remember the wedding night.

“Drink all of it, my lady.”

Abiya held a warm mug in her hands. She took a sip. Her nose wrinkled. “It’s bitter.”

“It will make you feel better.” The voice was soothing, comforting, like her mother’s.

Another sip. “What is it? I’ve not tasted anything like it before.”

“No, my lady, you wouldn’t. It is one of my design.”

She looked up at the lady before her. She’d expected to see her handmaiden. Though she couldn’t remember who that was, she was sure the full-figured woman was not her. Her hazel eyes looked concerned. She smiled mother-like.

Abiya smiled back. “I do feel better.” She finished the drink. The fog from her mind was clearing.

The woman took the mug and set it on the table. “Now let’s get you out of that dress and give you a bath.”

“Who are you?” Abiya asked.

The woman’s face grimaced.

“Have I asked you that before?” Abiya felt foolish at not remembering asking or remembering the answer.

“Yes, you have, several times, my lady.”

“I have been sick.” Who was this woman? Who had sent her? Where was Abiya’s handmaiden? Did she have a handmaiden? She couldn’t remember.

“Yes, my lady, forgive me. My name is Tamerad.” The woman smiled so sweetly.

This is Tamerad. Why am I worried? I am safe with her. She didn’t know how she knew that, but Abiya knew it was the truth. She could trust this woman, even with her deepest secret. “First I must hide something,” she whispered so softly.

“My lady?” Tamerad looked surprised. “Shall I leave?”

“Help me hide it,” Abiya whispered as if she didn’t want the walls to hear and tell her secret.

Taking a step closer, Tamerad also whispered. “What is it?”

Reaching into her dirty sleeve, she held it out for Tamerad to see. “It is called Topaz.” Topaz rolled off Abiya’s tongue like a lover’s name.

The handmaiden leaned closer. Her hand twitched. What was that glint in her eye? Abiya pulled back. She’s come to take it from me.

You can trust her, the voice in her head said.

No. How do I know that is true? I’ve never seen her before. How do I know she is my handmaiden? She could be lying.

I would never lie to you, the voice said.

A peace swept over Abiya as she realized the true of those words. There might not be anyone in the world she could trust, but the voice was always true.

Then, Tamerad straightened, took a step back, and slipped her hands in her sleeves. The threat was only in Abiya’s imagination.

You see? It was all your imagination. You have nothing to fear from this one, the voice said.

I can trust her, Abiya told herself. She was just being a foolish girl.

Still, the thought of leaving the room without Topaz chilled Abiya’s heart. “No, I can’t. I must never be parted from it.” She clinched the jewel to her chest.

“Will you take a bath with it?”

Abiya considered it. “Yes.”

Like a mother disproving her daughter’s decision, Tamerad’s right eyebrow lifted, ever so slightly.

“No.” Abiya felt her face heat with embarrassment. “That would be ridiculous.”

“Then we should hide it so no one will ever find it.”

Abiya liked her suggestion. “But where?”

After carefully examining the room, Tamerad said. “I know.” She drew Abiya to the bed, pulled it from the wall, lifted the sheet from the head, took a small knife from her pocket, and cut an inconspicuous hole in the mattress near the wall.

Reluctantly, Abiya slowly guided Topaz into the slit. Tamerad remade the bed and pushed it up against the wall. “See, no one is the wiser. Now we will have that bath.”

With a worried backward glance, Abiya allowed Tamerad to lead her out of her bedroom to the bathing room.

 

Chapter 15

Abiya’s Freedom

Abiya halted in front of the mirror in the bath chamber and stared in disbelief. Who is that retched creature? She raised her hand to her once beautiful, brown hair, now stringy with grease. Her hand traced the smudges on her face. Both hands passed over her dirty, soft pink dress that hung loosely from her too thin frame. The lace around the neck was torn. There was no lace on her right sleeve.

“What has happened to me?” she asked.

“You have not bathed, or eaten properly, in weeks,” Tamerad said.

“What? Why? Has no one been taking care of me?” Abiya asked.

“You have been beguiled,” Tamerad said.

“Beguiled? What do you mean?”

Tamerad’s reflection stood in the mirror next to hers.

Abiya asked, “How long have I been like this?”

Tamerad’s eyes met hers. “I have heard that you have not left your room since your wedding day, five months ago.”

Abiya sucked in a quick breath of surprise. She still had trouble remembering that day. It was so long ago; not weeks or months, it seemed like years. Her new handmaiden, where had she come from? Hadn’t there been another? Yamie. Where was she? Why had she abandoned Abiya?

“Beguiled. Who would do such a thing to me?”

“As to who would do this to you …?” Tamerad shrugged.

Abiya whirled around. “You know. I can tell by the expression on your face.”

Tamerad innocently raised her hands. “I am new here. I may be wrong.”

“Tell me,” Abiya demanded.

Looking around as if someone might hear and punish her, the handmaiden said softly, “Who wishes to keep you captive?”

Abiya shook her head. She could think of no one.

“I believe someone placed a spell on the jewel you carried with you,” Tamerad said.

Abiya’s heart faltered. “No! Topaz would not do this to me.”

“Perhaps I was mistaken, my lady.” Tamerad hung her head in submission.

Before the handmaiden had finished speaking, the voice said, “It is the king who wishes to hold you captive.”

Abiya spoke, her voice hate-filled. “My husband, the king. He has done this to me.” She moved to leave the bath chamber and return to her room. “I will throw the stone in his face.”

“No! Please don’t, my lady!” Tamerad looked alarmed, as if she’d spoken too quickly. She immediately regained her composure.

“And why not?” Abiya demanded.

“You must subtly trick him into taking it back. Trick him in such a way that he comes under its spell.”

“Enslave him?” Abiya asked confused. Yes, the voice in her head said. Trick him. Enslave him.

Tamerad smiled maliciously. “He is a man who tried to enslave you.” Her voice changed from the softness of innocence to that of hard knife-like contempt. “You must enslave him instead.”

“Yes.” Abiya welcomed the thought. Her reflection in the mirror was so thin. “How long since I have eaten?”

“I think far too long. If not for the power of the jewel, you might have died from lack of food.”

Once, she had been beautiful and full of fun. Now everyone in the castle must think her demented. It was all his fault. It was time to pay him back. “Yes. Let the jewel enslave him,” Abiya said.

“I will see that it is removed from your room, my lady. You will never be enslaved by it or by him again.”

But it never enslaved her. Topaz comforted her. If she gave it to the king, she’d have to give it up. Could she do that? It had never harmed her. It would never harm her. There must be another way. “No. Topaz is mine!”

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Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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