by Sarah Ann Watts
Chapter 8: Agis Scarthaga
Naraya, the lion girl, enters my room. I turn from the window where I’ve been staring out at the sky. She carries her crossbow and a knife at her hip. I walk towards her as far as the chain permits. I’ll never get used to the weight of the iron collar at my neck.
‘The queen’s physician is here to tend to your arm.’ She glances at the untouched plate on the table and the cup of water. ‘If you don’t eat, you won’t heal.’
‘Or dream,’ I say and her eyes fall.
The physician enters and I sit while he undoes the sling and checks the splinting of my arm. ‘It is healing as it should.’ I flex my fingers. The flesh has shrunk away from my hand but he says, ‘You will regain your strength in time.’
‘How much time do I have?’
Gavril flushes, packing away the tools of his trade. ‘Is the pain still bad at nights?’
‘At night I dream I can fly. Then I wake and I know I’ll never fly again. Can you heal that?’
‘I can send you a potion to help you sleep.’
‘I might drink it if I thought I’d never wake up.’ I’m lying. The dark goddess still exacts her toll at night. Dreams are where she finds me and I struggle to wake with her weight on my chest. For the first few days while the fever raged I would drink anything. Not anymore.
The physician lays a hand on my unharmed shoulder. I think he means it kindly but I can’t forget how he stood by and tended me while they stripped the feathers from my wing. He is a servant of the queen. I force myself to remain still but after a moment he removes his hand. ‘You should eat,’ he says.
Naraya ushers him out, but I can see Daan, the axe-man waiting outside. I have a better class of guard now. Lorcan, Daan and Naraya are with me day and night. My room contains a bed, a table and chair. I have water to wash in and clean clothes to attend the queen each day. They have given me what I asked for, and I am wary.
Naraya returns. ‘He is trying to help you.’
‘And you are here to protect me?’
‘Perhaps you would prefer Vitor?’
As it happens, I would. Naraya, Lorcan and Daan make an all too efficient team. The queen can be quite certain I am safe in their hands. Moreover, she pays them well for their loyalty. Daria is a queen who rules.
Naraya interrupts my thoughts. ‘It is time for your audience with the queen.’
I leave my room, flanked by Daan with his axe and Lorcan with his sword. Naraya follows with her bow. Daan carries my chain.
The audience follows a familiar pattern. Daria is seated in her library. It is almost as large as the library in the temple, and scribes sit at their desks, copying ancient manuscripts. On the ceiling there is a picture of Nyx, the night goddess and her children, Aither and Hemera. The divine twins, Light and Day. I spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling. There are maps on her desk and a secretary in attendance to record my words.
I’m allowed to sit on a stool and she questions me about my father’s kingdom.
‘How many Lords are loyal to the king?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Can you describe the defences at Castle Crag?’
‘Tell me the name of Majvaz’s Captain of the Guard.’
I note she omits his princely title. This is discourtesy from a rival queen to my father’s heir. She can’t think her children will supplant my brother. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Who is the king’s principal counsellor?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Tell me about Lucid, your father’s brother.’
‘Lucid is dead.’
‘Who killed the king, your father’s sons?’
Only the last two questions never vary.
Daria smiles, unscrolling her papers. She beckons to her secretary, who takes up the scrolls and reads. ‘There are twenty-two lords loyal to the king. Here are their names, their property, and the names of the sons the king holds hostage for their loyalty; the arms, riches and lands they command; weaknesses and vices that may be used against them.
‘Here are detailed specifications for Castle Crag, including the drainage system and the mechanism for the gate.
‘Majvaz’s captain of guards is Constantin. He had Alin killed when he slept with his sister, Alina and Alin had the temerity to object.
‘The king’s principal counsellor is Dragos. He supplies the king’s whores for his bed.’
‘That’s a lie!’ Daan’s whip falls across my shoulder.
Daria smiles. ‘Henbane can be very persuasive, Kyran Kinslayer. You told us so much in your twilight sleep. There is very little use in pretending.’
She turns to Daan, ‘Take him back to his room.’
Back in my room, the afternoon light is fading. Lorcan brings in a tray. I leave it untouched and pace over to the window. It gives me an illusion of freedom.
‘How can I give her information I don’t know?’ It’s hard sometimes to remember I’m not alone and that I’ve spoken aloud.
Naraya says, ‘The queen’s spies are very efficient. She is testing you to find out which questions you will answer.’
For a moment I just stare at her. Why would Naraya choose to speak to me now? Unless the queen thinks she can catch me off guard.
‘She wants you to think you’ve betrayed your people. The names you don’t recognise make you doubt yourself. How do you know that the information she gives you is true?’
‘I don’t.’ Naraya has shaken me, but I’m not rash enough to confide in her.
‘Much can change in seven moons.’
Later when the lamp is lit, she says, ‘The queen wants you broken, Kyran. Is that what you want?’
She leaves me with that bone to worry over and the question of why she would help me.
At my next audience, I challenge the queen. ‘Why do you play this game? I may be a murderer, but I’m no traitor. If I understood the politics of my father’s court, I wouldn’t be gracing your guest chamber now. Your spies must have told you I was a scribe, reared to serve in the temple. What use is news seven moons old?
Daria smiles and the quill she uses snaps beneath her fingers. I flinch at the sound, as no doubt she intends.
But I continue. ‘I will not betray my people. If you ask me, I can tell you of their manners and customs, our stories and gods. My mother was queen. You can’t hope to lead an army against my father’s kingdom; Castle Crag hasn’t fallen in a thousand years.’
For a moment I think she may listen but then she says, ‘Your father is dead. They say he died of a broken heart. Majvaz rules in Castle Crag.’
Daan and Lorcan seize me by the arms and I fight until I’m dragged unconscious from the queen’s library.
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Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Ann Watts