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CALDORA: Chapter 1: Lord and Lady of the Forest


Lord and Lady of the Forest

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            The ageless trees of the Enchanted Forest stood tall and lush, their roots digging deep into the earth and their branches reaching towards the heavens. It was a primeval forest, existing from the dawn of time as the center of the world from which all life sprang. It was the domain of the gods, and of ethereal god-like beings who had hidden bits of their wisdom in every leaf and rock. Here, the veil between the worlds was thin, and every inch of the woods dripping with magic.

            The trees now stood wrapped in the golden hues of twilight, inviolate and permeated by the sacred stillness of whispered secrets. Night was creeping up on the forest and though it was dusk for the denizens of light, it was the dawn of a new day for the creatures of darkness. Mischievous tricksters crawled out from beneath boulders and roots to greet the moonrise, and the Dark Sidhe were stirring in their underground abodes in preparation for their nightly Rade on the mortal lands.

            There was a time when the Light and Dark Sidhe were one, and Onedia was their Queen. She was the goddess of beauty, weaver of dreams, muse of the arts, inventor of magick – everything the noble Sidhe held dear. They showered her with praise and adoration, but alas, their reverence soon turned into bitter rivalry for her attention. Egos were ruffled, tensions rose, and conflict escalated until the leading Sidhe families split into the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Their endless war to win her exclusive favor made Onedia increasingly annoyed. Eventually she withdrew from the conflict altogether and retreated deep into the forest, alone.

            In the very heart of the Enchanted Forest stood the Tree of Life, a sacred link between the spirit and material planes. Its thick trunk seemed to breathe as an animate being. Nestled like a spider in a web of gnarled roots sat Onedia before a magic mirror formed of dark crystal. Growing weary of her monotonous existence, she gazed into its depths in hope of seeing something – anything – that could possibly amuse her. So the Dark Sidhe launched another attack on the Light Sidhe – what a surprise. So the Queen of the Forestside Kingdom died – so what? So an Earth Dragon attached itself to the Lossi mainland – intriguing, but irrelevant. Always observing, never participating. When would something involve me, she wondered.

            She envied her four sisters, the goddesses of the seasons, for being appointed matrons of their own lands. They ruled over mortals from the ether, watching countless generations pass before them, while she was left behind in a place where time stood still. But most of all she blamed her parents, who were responsible for this arrangement. Her mother Laurel was the Lady of the Forest, and she spent all her time with the Lord of the Forest , Pan. They were worshipped throughout all of Lossi as Goddess and God, providers and sustainers of all living things. Onedia felt as if they valued her no more than their innumerable mortal children, far from the appreciation a true divine child deserved. She who was Queen of the Sidhe, Lady of Magick, Mistress of Illusions…

            “Onedia! Mistress of Illusions!” came a distant voice that startled her in mid-thought, “Hear me!”

            Bewildered, she looked around, trying to find its source.

            “In the crystal!” the voice said impatiently. Onedia turned to the mirror and saw that it shone with a shimmering violet mist. The haze slowly began to drift apart, revealing a blurry yet luminous shape of a man with flowing robes the color of the starry evening sky. His hypnotic gray eyes met hers and immediately she could see that he was no ordinary astral being.

            “State your name, spirit!” Onedia commanded.

“I am Aloquin, rightful King of Caldora,” answered the being.

“Ahh, so you’re from the new continent,” Onedia perked up, “What is your purpose?”

“My purpose is to make you my Queen.”

            The statement was so blunt that Onedia could scarcely find the words to express her astonishment. Finally, she blurted out, “…of Caldora?” She hoped that didn’t sound terribly condescending.

            “The world!” Aloquin replied with a wicked gleam in his eyes, “Both Caldora and Lossi!”

            Onedia raised her eyebrows in disbelief. “To rule the world…” she repeated, but decided to humor him for the time being, “Sounds interesting. And how, pray tell, do you suggest we do that?”

            “It is simple,” Aloquin explained, “The Queen of the Forestside Kingdom has died. You can take her place. Then we –”

            “But, Aloquin,” Onedia cut in, playfully curling a stray strand of hair around her index finger, “I do not wish to rule the Forestside Kingdom , I would much rather rule the world.”

            “All in good time,” Aloquin assured her, “Power is most stable when it is acquired gradually and subtly.”

            She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Very well, what’s the catch?”

            “The catch?” Aloquin faltered, “You will have to betray your mother and father.”

            “You call that a catch?” Onedia laughed, “I’ve waited ages for this opportunity.”

            “Good… good,” Aloquin goaded her further.

            “But I’m afraid there’s a problem with your plan.”

            This caught him off guard. “A problem?”

            “You see, if I leave the sanctity of the Enchanted Forest , I would age as the humans do.”

            “You would retain your powers!” Aloquin insisted, “You could wrap yourself in any glamour you desire, make yourself look more beautiful than any maiden in the land!”

The goddess was not impressed, but he didn’t let her get a word in edgewise.

“And when the time comes, the Queen of the Forestside Kingdom and the King of Caldora will rule side by side, uniting the two lands. On that day I shall bathe you in the primeval waters of the Earth Dragon and you will be forever young again. No army on the whole Lossi mainland could stand against us, and together we will conquer the other kingdoms!”

            “You paint a beautiful picture, Aloquin,” Onedia mused, “But how do I know that you can truly do what you say?”

            “For me to prove myself, you will have to set me free!” Aloquin implored, pressing his hands against the inside of the crystal, “A powerful sorceress trapped me between the worlds ages ago, and you, Mistress of Illusions, can let me out.”

            Onedia scanned the nature of the enchantment, but to her dismay found that she was utterly unfamiliar with it. All she could infer was that it was strong and most likely cast by a goddess at least as powerful as herself. Figuring it to be a spell from the new lands, she swallowed her pride and grudgingly inquired, “How do I do that?”

            “Just say the word, and it will be so,” instructed Aloquin.

            Onedia paused in thought. A trapped deity so obviously desperate for her help hardly seemed like a threat, and although the offer appeared outlandish, it would at least be amusing to see how far the venture could go. Her nonchalant attitude towards major decisions was often misconstrued by others as evidence of recklessness or naiveté. A most dangerous misconstrual indeed, since it actually stemmed from well-founded confidence in her power to extricate herself out of any situation. This goddess didn’t take kindly to abuse of her good will.

“Very well,” Onedia bent her head to the side, “I let you out! Be free to come and go between the worlds at will,” she said with a wave of her dainty hand.

            Aloquin became enveloped in light. He took a gasping breath as he felt a static energy field fall away. Reality around him stretched and curved, creating intense suction akin to being pulled into a vacuum. Aloquin blindly reached out through the mirror and stepped onto a very solid forest floor. His ankle twisted under his own weight and he fell to the ground clutching his head, which throbbed with the dull yet potent pain that came from shifting between spiritual pressures too quickly.

            Onedia looked down at him. He was old and weak, barely looking like he could hold himself up. His long white hair was unkempt and tangled, and his wrinkled skin sagged loosely off his bony body, making him look aged far beyond the limits of mortal years. She recoiled in disgust, “And I’m expected to rule with you?”

            Aloquin laboriously lifted his head and said in a hoarse whisper, “This is not my true form… I must… must go back to Caldora. We must both prepare in our own way.”

            The goddess of beauty was seldom exposed to anything short of perfection, and was still trying to compose herself while Aloquin continued.

“The Enchanted Forest serves as an astral gateway between Caldora and Lossi. It is the only way between the two landmasses while the Merpeople sink any ship that dares try to cross their waterways.”

            Onedia averted her gaze, “And your point is…?”

            “My point,” Aloquin flinched from the pain, but continued, “Is that you must find a way to control the traffic between Caldora and Lossi. I believe it could be done by manipulating the forest’s astral matter.”

            Onedia nodded, “I understand. This could easily be done.”

            Aloquin returned her nod and anxiously pawed for a crystal on the ground, “I can travel between crystals. Take a piece of crystal with you so that I may keep contact with you and instruct you further.”

            She squeamishly took the small crystal from his hand and dropped it into the folds of her voluminous dress. The man gathered his tattered robes about him, clenched his fist, and growled softly at something in his mind before disappearing in a ripple of time and space.

            Onedia blinked, still processing what had just transpired. Aloquin was no Prince Charming and his plan was sketchy at best, but he had managed to intrigue her and give her something relatively interesting to do, which was a change, and any change was a change for the better. She smirked; truly the alleviation of boredom was the sole motivation of immortal divinity.

Without delay she turned to her dark mirror and laid both her hands on its smooth crystal surface. The goddess closed her eyes in concentration, gathering power from the Land of Illusions , the wellspring of all magic. She began to shine with purple haze and her feet left the ground. The cloudy image in the mirror, in turn, swirled like the sky before a tempest. An otherworldly wind blew through the trees, their rustlings reminiscent of ominous whispers. Slowly opening her eyes, Onedia began to chant:

Father, Mother, sun and moon,
Your reign will be over soon;
I bind your eyes and ears and hearts,
That you may always seem apart;
Shadows dark, ye Tricksters vile,
Shroud this forest in your wiles;
No mortals venturing here shall leave,
In the forms that they so please;
Dark Mirror, reflect my will,
Distort all things and twist the real.

         She channeled the gathering energy into the dark mirror, which reflected the full force of the spell in all directions. It settled on the forest in a dewy coat of illusions. The Tree of Life shuddered and creaked as its roots burrowed out of the ground and wrapped around the slab of dark crystal. They drank their fill of the energy and its taint spread quickly through the sap.

Onedia landed on the ground and gazed at her mirror. It stirred like turbulent waters, and she knew the spell would sustain itself even in her absence. She breathed in the eerie air and grinned smugly to herself. As the goddess of magick, she was also the matron of curses, and was certain this would be her masterpiece.

         Saying goodbye to the woods she had called home for so long, she walked briskly and deliberately, so that by the twilight of the third day she had set foot out of the forest and onto the ground of the Forestside Kingdom . Onedia trekked across countryside and from town to town, heading for the Forestside Castle at the capital city, Iyutel.


  *          *            *

              Aloquin traveled under land and water through a chain of crystal gateways. He knew how to convert his body into pure light and travel by focusing that light through the crystals. In no time at all he felt he was in Caldora, a land much like the otherworld mirror of Caldora that he had been trapped in for so long. Except this Caldora was vibrant and alive, unlike the dying world he had escaped from. First thing first, he just had to see how his beloved twin was doing.

            It was night. The stars twinkled warmly in the sky, and the Crystal Castle was deep in slumber. Aloquin cast a powerful barrier around himself that cloaked his presence and flew inside, undetected by the vigilant guards. The god floated through the central hall and into the bedchamber. His image danced as a prismic reflection off the crystalline walls as he hovered over the sleeping Dinictis and her consort.

            “Sleep well, my twin,” Aloquin whispered, “For soon there will come a new dawn; a dawn without you or your pet buffoon. Do you truly think he can fill my place? No, the rightful King has returned, and I will reclaim my throne.”

            Dinictis shivered and woke up with a start. All her senses were on alert as she peered into the darkness of the room, but Aloquin was gone before she could pinpoint him, seeming only a trick of moonbeams.

Jason rubbed his eyes lazily and sat up. “What is it?” he asked.

            “Cold… cold like a ghost,” Dinictis answered, concerned. She pulled the covers closer about her. “I-I don’t know what it was. It-it was like a void, it had a block on it. I just don’t know… I don’t know what it was!”

            “Shhh,” Jason told her, “Nothing in Caldora can exist without you knowing it. Proves it was nothing. Go back to sleep.”

            He towed her back down into the bed and wrapped his arms around her, murmuring, “You’re right, though, it is a bit chilly in here…” before lapsing back into sleep.

            Dinictis bit her lip and stared into space. Something was not right.

  *          *            *

              The whole of the Forestside Kingdom was in mourning for the late Queen. The brightly patterned clothes and merriment in the villages were replaced by somber and gloomy colors, and the royal court was the most melancholy of all.

The Forestside Castle itself was an exquisite work of art: its elegant gothic motif was refined by conical peaks, four spiraling watchtowers, and arched, stained glass windows framed by interweaving knotted designs carved into the stone. Acres of gorgeous palace gardens surrounded the main structure and a sturdy brick wall protected it from the intrusions of the outside world. But now black carpets were draped across the floor, black flags were hoisted up the castle’s lofty spires, black curtains were pulled over the windows, and black ribbons were tied around the garden trees. There was much sniffling and much crying. Dark garments hung on the nobles like a heavy burden and their faces were painted with ash in grief. The King was sitting alone on his throne wrapped in sorrow.

            Just then, a cool breeze flung open the castle doors, blowing in a multitude of brightly colored autumn leaves. Ethereal faery music resounded throughout the castle and heavenly light poured through the doors and windows. The mourning nobles went silent and looked on in speechless awe as the leaves settled gently on the floor, revealing an enchantingly beautiful maiden among them.

            “It is a sign from the goddess Osenya!” a man shouted as all eyes turned to the strange woman, “All hail the will of Osenya!”

            Onedia wanted to make an impressionable entrance and she was satisfied at her success. She knew well that Osenya, the goddess of autumn, was the matron deity of the Forestside Kingdom and she wanted her appearance to seem like her sister’s doing.

            The King slowly rose from his throne and walked up to the maiden. She smiled at him and ensnared his eyes in her commanding gaze. Obediently, the King kneeled before her, kissed her hand and announced, “The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!”

            “The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!” the crowd echoed.

            Carrying herself with as much pride and dignity as any noble, Onedia accepted the honor of becoming the Queen of the Forestside Kingdom.

  *          *            *

             Aloquin materialized by a pond in the dark depths of the North Forest. For the first time in a long time, he felt fresh Caldorian soil at his feet. Listening, he heard the wild sounds of Trellian night: scampering in the branches overhead, dull groans of big hungry things in the distance, howling of wolves, the roars of dragons, and a pulsating drumbeat which saturated the air. North Forest nights were very much alive with bloodthirsty critters of all shapes and sizes. Then again, so were North Forest days. Aloquin’s soul was deeply touched by the blatant ruthlessness and violence that radiated off of every leaf and rock. He smiled, relishing the feel of the energy as if it was nourishment.

            Shifting his gaze to the pond, his mood changed. The image of a wizened shadow of a man stared back at him. He was still aging, which was rather upsetting and ruined the moment. The god cupped his hands and drew up some water, distorting the reflection. Pouring the liquid into his mouth, he felt a cool stream of freshness spread through his being. He sensed the aging process stop, but it did not reverse as he had expected.

            Aloquin’s eyes flashed in rage. He kicked at the water and twirled around, a flaming violet aura lighting up around him, “She gave that clown my immortality?!”

            “Well,” he told himself, cooling down, “there are ways of revoking gifts…”

            Consoling in that, Aloquin decided to make the capital of the North Forest, Trellia, his personal military base. Its energy was just right for pushing his plans along, and it was isolated enough so that he would have no outside questioning or interference. North Forest loyalties were as stable as leaves blown by the four winds – they would easily be swayed to his side given an adequate show of force.

            “Show of force…” Aloquin muttered, looking down at his withered hands and the flimsy rags that barely managed to conceal his fragile body; he was in no shape to make an imposing first impression by looks alone. True, the god was perfectly capable of an awesome display of power in his own right, but he could save himself the effort if he rode in on a huge, thundering dragon. Aloquin’s recollection of Caldora was hundreds of years old and there was no telling what changes have taken place while he was gone. Even so, he expected one particular cave to be exactly where he had left it, and the wizard began to wade through the brush towards it.

The more he thought about his plan the more it took shape in his mind. Yes, it would be easy to win the flighty loyalty of the North Foresters, but what would allow him to keep it? The forest’s folklore was filled with foreboding tales of overly ambitious monarchs overthrown by the mutinous masses. What could he do differently? How could he ensure a conquest so complete that it would wipe out all memory of the North Forest’s fierce sovereignty? He knew of a way. He would entrap his subjects’ very hearts and minds by capturing the four symbols of their strength, their authority, their life, and their freedom. If the North Forest were a table, these would be the four legs on which it stood. And if those legs were to be swept away, the tabletop itself would fall into his hands.

Aloquin was now approaching the mouth of the cave. It was a formidably large cave, overgrown by several varieties of climbing plants due to the simple fact that nobody dared go near it for years. This was the home of the great dragon Kranti, the undisputed emblem of might of the North Forest. Kranti was a bulky dragon, thirty times the size of a man, with pitch black scales tough as iron and teeth as white and hard as diamond. He was currently curled up in the center of the cavern, the tip of his tail just touching his nose.

The wizard boldly stepped through the opening and kicked a small rock at the sleeping giant.

Kranti’s huge eyes cracked open at the noise, looking like two burning yellow lamps streaked with pulsating orange veins. He snorted out a puff of flame and surveyed his chamber. The dragon was annoyed, very annoyed, and ready to tear asunder any being who had the nerve to disturb his slumber. His gaze zeroed in on the lone silhouette of a man standing at the entrance of his cave.

“Hello, my old friend,” Aloquin said with a chilling degree of confidence.

Kranti knew that tone of voice. His eyes went wide in recognition, for he was one of the very few beings old enough to remember the banished god.

“Do not be frightened,” Aloquin smiled pleasantly, “I have come here to ask your allegiance.”

Regardless, the great dragon trembled with fear. He knew that refusing this request was not an option.

  *          *            *

         The Forestside Kingdom’s mourning time ended with the ascent of the new Queen. Vibrant patterns danced through the streets as the populace commemorated Onedia’s coronation in parades and celebrations. The happy chatter of the towns resumed, and routine activity returned to the palace. The kingdom had returned to its former glory.

With internal affairs back on track, the monarchy began to work on strengthening foreign relations. The goddess Dinictis herself, Queen of Caldora, came to the Forestside Kingdom for a diplomatic visit. Even though she knew this was the sorceress responsible for Aloquin’s present condition, Onedia welcomed her with great hospitality and much festivity. They exchanged gifts of crystals and beads. It was a time of prosperity for both lands.

Onedia spared no expense to surround herself in extravagance. The finest musicians in the land were at her beck and call, and she employed the best artisans to remodel the castle’s interior to her lavish designs. She had the palace menagerie stocked with the rarest birds and beasts, and appointed handlers to tame and train them. She hired chefs to prepare the most exotic foods from the four kingdoms, which she ate from jeweled plates with gold utensils. The gardens were filled with the most exquisite plants, but upon her decree, a small plot of land was set aside where she could grow her own herbs. The King found himself pushed into the background, completely eclipsed by her overwhelming magnetism.

In this way Onedia reigned as Queen for just over seven years before she heard from Aloquin again. He came in the dead of night as a cold wind that woke her from her sleep and guided her towards the crystal shard. Luminous mist swirled within the crystal as Aloquin’s visage came into view.

            “Queen of the Forestside Kingdom!” the wizard bowed sarcastically, “It is now time to put our plan into effect!”

            “What plan?” Onedia yawned.

            “You must kill the king by infusing his tea with the following herbs…” he explained, whispering their magical names into her mind.

            Taking note of the herbs, Onedia nodded irritably, waved Aloquin away, and went back to sleep. The god was shocked by her irreverent dismissal, but was prepared to tolerate such manners from a fellow deity as long as he found her useful. However, befitting her nature as Trickster Queen, Onedia was seldom what she seemed. If Aloquin mistook her for a weak-minded pawn, he was gravely mistaken. While she boldly flaunted her love of pageantry, luxury, and diversion, behind this fluffy exterior was the soul of a formidable goddess who never once thought herself anything less than Aloquin’s equal.

That morning, before the first shafts of sunlight heralded the dawn, Onedia tiptoed out of the bedchamber and headed for her garden to collect the appropriate herbs. A silent shadow watched her with vigilant eyes: Lance, a commoner who had gained the favor of the King by his enduring loyalty over the years. He was never fond of the new Queen, nor was she much fond of him – mostly due to the fact that he always felt the need to involve himself in her and the King’s business. From the day Onedia came to the castle, he resolved to monitor her every move.

It was not anything that Onedia did that roused Lance’s suspicions, it was merely her presence. Anyone blessed with the smallest fraction of faery sight would notice that Onedia walked surrounded by a magical aura. It was an ethereal quality that made her glow with radiant beauty, endowed her with a voice as sweet as a mountain brook, and forced the boldest of men to bend to her will when met with her entrancing eyes. Each word she uttered carried the power of a potent spell. While everything around her grew old and withered away, she herself seemed impervious to the passage of time.

Though Lance missed the incriminating incident last night, he did not overlook the odd manner in which the Queen hastened off into an empty room with a cup of boiling water and a pouch. He followed her and carefully positioned himself on the other side of the wall. Onedia set the cup onto a table and began chanting strange incantations over the herbs and water. She hummed a soft lullaby and smiled while stirring her infusion, inhaling the sweet fumes of the brew.

Though his wife was an herbalist, Lance was not schooled in such things and didn’t quite know what to make of all this. A dozen thoughts regarding the concoction rushed to his head. Could it be a healing potion? A beauty salve? Fertilizer for her garden? Or was it poison? Poison was definitely the predominant thought that throbbed in his head.

He could not ignore the warning, but the consequences of making false accusations against royalty were severe. Lance decided that he should not make a scene over this, and casually advise the King to be cautious instead. Done brainstorming, he peeked over the edge of the wall to find both Onedia and the potion gone.

The sun was just beginning to rise as a crimson light rimming the horizon. The castle was not yet warmed by its rays, and remained drafty and cold. Breathing in the fresh morning aromas that drifted in from the gardens, Onedia pranced giddily up the stairs. She held a vial containing the bouncing mixture in one hand, and a cup of tea in the other. A few drops of it into the King’s morning drink and she would be rid of her obligations to him forever. Besides, who would miss him?

Slipping ever so lightly through the curtains that hung past the door to their bedchamber, her gaze fell on her husband, who was sleeping peacefully wrapped in silk bedding. Holding back a giggle, she crept over to a table, set down the cup and emptied five droplets of her potion into the tea. Being an ageless goddess, she did not understand nor care about humans’ peculiar concern with prolonging their lives. She saw natural cycles with the immortal eyes of the Sidhe, knowing that all things live and die only to be born again; nothing can truly cease to exist. To her the poison was just a practical joke. Human lives were so fleeting! At least this one would serve her purpose before passing into the Overworld. She took the cup, tiptoed over to the bed, and sat softly by her husband’s side.

Brushing the hair away from the sleeping King’s ear she leaned in close, purring in her distinctly melodic voice, “Rise and shine, my beloved King, dawn is upon us.”

The King stirred under the sheets and rubbed his eyes, looking up at the beautiful Onedia. She smiled widely, and he mirrored her smile.

“It is much too early, my Queen,” he whispered, “All the castle’s asleep.”

“Oh but I couldn’t sleep, dear,” she answered, irritably recalling her nighttime summons, “Too drafty.”

The King had all the explanation he needed. He sat up, put his arm around her and kissed her. Onedia struggled to keep the cup free from his embrace.

“I know it’s early, but what would I do with everybody sleeping? Surely you don’t mind keeping me company,” she smiled sweetly, giggled, and showed him the cup, “I even made some tea for you to make up for it.”

The King accepted the apology, the cup exchanged hands, and he drank down its contents gladly, hoping to please his wife. Judging by Onedia’s elated expression, he did. She wrapped her arms around him and smothered him with kisses. All the King could make out was a muffled “I love you!”

The poison worked fast. It was not painful nor cruel. Indeed one could not hope for a death more peaceful than being gently rocked into numbness by blissful dreams.

Lance was running around the castle like mad trying to track down where Onedia disappeared to. He checked the cellar, the library, the halls and the rooms. This was a big castle and searching it was no simple task. Exhausted and panting he slumped down on a stairway to catch his breath and to collect his thoughts. There was only one other place Onedia could have gone, and that was the royal bedchamber, which he was not allowed to enter.

Lance cursed in frustration at his helplessness in the face of such frivolous laws. Surely these rules could be set aside if the King’s life was in genuine danger. But a measure of doubt still clouded his mind, and the consequences for his misjudgment would be very grave. Yet it was not just his beloved monarch’s life that was at stake, but also the livelihood of his own family, for with the King gone he could be certain the Queen would not treat him kindly. Of course, if he was wrong about Onedia they would fare even worse. Nevertheless his intuition was pushing him to brave barging into the royal bedchamber, and the adrenaline rush surging through his being filled him with enough courage to take a step towards it. But by then it was too late.

The scream that came from upstairs was so sudden and so shrill it chilled the blood in his veins and froze him on the spot. Lance stared up the stairs blankly, instinctively knowing that his worst fears have come true. A second scream followed, reverberating in his ears as he stood paralyzed.

The castle awoke in a din of murmurs and hurried footsteps. Watchmen and servants rushed by him up the steps, hustling into the bedroom. A weeping Onedia was led through the gasping crowd by guards. Seeing Lance, she stumbled over to him and put her arms about him, sobbing into his shirt. He felt a numbing coldness from her, impenetrable as steel.

Raising her head from his shoulder, Onedia looked up at him with the most angelic watery eyes and said in a faltering voice, “The King is dead.” He met her gaze with such a potent glare of contempt that she relaxed her grip on him and frowned, hurt by his mockery of her acting. The goddess returned his glare tenfold, flashing him a scowl so fierce that it drained every drop of confidence he had and sent him dropping involuntarily to his knees.

Wiping her tears, Onedia twirled around to face the crowd, “The King is dead!” she shouted solemnly, “We must prepare the Funeral Procession.” With that, she walked off towards the castle’s Temple of Osenya, the fabric of her dress brushing rudely against Lance’s dazed face.

  *          *            *

        The Funeral Procession was a ceremony that initiated a period of mourning all through the kingdom. The atmosphere of darkness and gloom which hung over the land was as evident as the black colors used to emphasize it. Nobles and peasants alike were dressed in dark garments, pulled dark curtains over their windows and doors, and walked crestfallen, speaking as little as possible.

The castle itself was decorated with black carpets, and dark bedding was made in the bedrooms. Sitting on a throne draped with black cloth, Onedia looked over the preparations. An elaborate funerary float was being made. It was adorned with dark velvet, which was decorated with intricate designs of black beads and raven feathers. The King’s body was purified in herbal baths and dressed with various floral perfumes.

Any minute now they would be ready for the grand Funeral Procession, a melancholy march in which the body of the King would be paraded through every town in the land accompanied by the Queen and all the guards and servants of the castle. Everyone thought it was rather odd that Lance, the King’s most loyal and diligent servant, was missing during such an important occasion. Everyone, that is, except Onedia, who privately hoped that he crawled off somewhere and killed himself. The Procession waited for no one, and it would begin with or without him.

Lance left the castle the day the King died. Hiding his bright blond hair and familiar face under a dark cloak, he easily snuck through the commotion of the courtyard, past the castle gate, and into the gathering city crowds. He disappeared into the marketplace, walking briskly and silently through the familiar streets that led to his own cottage.

            It was a rather small dwelling, made cozy by the fact that he and his wife built it with their own hands. It was made of earth-colored woods, had a modest fireplace, and two beds. Lance was happy to see that the wind chimes he made to calm their baby at night still hung from the roof over the door. A cool evening breeze tinted with scents of lavender and lilac stirred the idle wind chimes, reminding him that it was twilight and night was fast approaching. He knocked on the door.

            Two blue eyes peered out from the peephole, met his, and the door swung open. Gwen jumped into his arms and hugged him tightly. He hugged back even tighter, blindly walking into the dimly-lit house. Setting her down on the floor, he kissed her softly and they exchanged smiles. Whether it was the lingering sadness in his smile or her natural empathic ability, Gwen sensed something was amiss.

            “What happened?” she asked with sincere concern, scanning his face for the slightest hint of the problem.

            “You did not hear?” he paused, “The King is dead.”

            “No!” Gwen gasped, then added, “you think she did it!”

            Lance nodded nervously, “I do not think, I know! I know she did it!” he started to pace around the room, “I knew it from the day she set foot in the castle!”

            “Lance-” Gwen began but was interrupted as he walked over and pulled her close to him.

            “She poisoned him with herbs, Gwen! You above all should know-”

            “Lance you’ll wake the child,” Gwen whispered.

            Lance caught his tongue and his gaze quickly shifted to a crib in the corner. He couldn’t help but smile when he saw his child sleeping peacefully inside.

            “One year old now, is he?” Lance asked, walking over to the crib.

            “Yes,” Gwen said, moving the child’s golden locks from his face. She put her hands on Lance’s shoulders and pulled him backwards towards their bed. He turned around, thinking her more beautiful with the way the firelight was dancing on her face. Sitting down on the bed she slid her hands from his shoulders, down his arms and to his wrists, wrapping them around her waist.

            “I didn’t see you for a long time, my love,” she whispered, “The King is dead, you say? The more reason for you to find comfort in my arms.”

            “The Funeral Procession is tomorrow,” he said flatly.

            “Why dwell on the dead when you are with your living wife and son?” she put her finger to his lips, “You have served our King faithfully the better part of your life, and I am sure he appreciates it even more now that he walks through the Land of Truth where he can feel firsthand the depth of your loyalty. Leave for tomorrow that which is tomorrow, and spend tonight with your family.”

            He closed his eyes and nodded stiffly, pulling her closer in a warm embrace, “Take my pain away.” They held each other in silence for a long while, taking in the sound of crackling embers in the hearth fire, the delicate song of the wind chimes, and the sweet aromas of living herbs.



Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni www.twilightvisions.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:56:45 -0700 .





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