They called her the Dead Queen. It wasn’t a title she exactly wanted, but now it was her responsibility and her duty to accept the name her people had given her. Her people. The words might as well have been alien to her. But she knew them to be true.
She had seen the backlash of magic unleashed through The City by the death of her father. She had been warned that his death would unleash the magic of The Prophet of Dreams. Her father’s death was the last trigger to make the prophet’s dream prophecies come true. She had spoken to her father many times before his accident, and she knew what he expected of her. She had read The Prophet of Dream’s book many times now, and before tonight, she would have considered herself ready.
But nothing could have prepared her for the onslaught of magic she had just seen. She could only imagine what her father’s chambers looked like at the moment. She had been told not to be at his side when he passed away. The sages had explained the magical energy released by the king could and would devour anything and anyone within the boundaries of his chambers. Only those with the gift could remain safely at his side.
It had taken all her will to finally leave his side the night before. They had insisted that she leave the castle and go to a safer location, but she had refused. She had been so adamant about her decision that no one had tried to change her mind afterwards. And now, after seeing the wind literally take shape before her eyes and hammer her city with nature’s greatest force, she hated to admit to herself she was grateful she had not been there.
Which brought her to her next thoughts. Standing alone in the balcony of her royal chambers, she quickly felt the weight of her situation press down upon her. She was queen, which meant only one thing: her father was truly dead. Tears welled at the corners of her eyes.
She wasn’t sure how long she allowed herself to cry, but when she finally looked up the moon was quickly sinking and the sun was steadily rising. Dawn had snuck up on her, much like everything else in her life at the moment.
She felt, more than heard, her bedroom door open silently behind her. Standing outside in under the brightening horizon, she knew it would not be any of her serving maids. She felt the sound of hard leather creak and turned to find The Guardian, Ellen Pinto Roe, standing behind her.
The Ellen Pinto Roe was the epitome of darkness. Night seemed to eternally wrap The Guardian of Castle Bonemeyer. Through out the land she was known as many different things. Here in the castle she was known as the Flame on the Candle and as the Life of the Keep. Within the castle walls, there was no place she could not see or feel, no one she could not find that tried to hide, or anything that could get lost she could not find.
Ellen Pinto Roe was the strongest witch the kingdom known as The Valley of Life had ever seen, and the only magic wielder in the entire country. She was the protector of the queen from the baying wolves that howled at the gates.
The queen felt the woman’s dark eyes stare at her from the shadows that still prevailed in the coming morning. The Guardian of Castle Bonemeyer wore her usual black leather. The trappings were skin tight from neck to foot. She had long, black hair that fell to her waist. At her hip, she wore a single belt that held up her ornate long sword.
The sword was made of the finest steel, and the pommel was made with a red ruby that made the weapon ring with a magical energy. The sword was a part of a trio made for the king’s protectors many years ago. More importantly, the sword allowed The Guardian to speak with the other two sword wielders. One sword was currently in the hands of the Lord-General Johannassen Khabriel. The other had been lost many years ago.
Ellen Pinto Roe was her father’s protector. In time, she would have developed her own guardian, but under the circumstances, Ellen Pinto Roe had become hers by default. And the rift was obvious between the two women.
The woman waited until Joleen Zelonis called her over from her spot next to the door.
“I have come to speak before the queen,” said the witch. She bowed her head in supplication. Joleen Zelonis knew she would stay this way until commanded to speak.
“You stand before the queen, Ellen,” she said. “There is no need to be so formal before me. You will die serving me or I will die under your protection. We might as well become like sisters. My father would not have wanted it any other way.”
“As you wish, my queen,” was the quick reply. “I have come to you as instructed by you and your father, the king, who is now deceased.”
The words struck a strong chord in Joleen Zelonis’ heart. Which other man could ever compare to her father? The dead king had been a noble man, a just king, and a loving father. Those were three combinations hard to find in anyone and the thought of having to settle for anything less for the sake of the throne did not sit well with her. Who, she asked herself, could ever replace her father?
“Addigo, my lady,” came the unexpected answer.
The name made the queen take a step back against the railing of the balcony. “How did you know that’s what I was asking?”
“I was reading your mind, ma’am.” The answer was plain and simple. “After your father fell ill, he could not be reached nor could he reach us. I had to read his mind. It was the only way to communicate. It was his instructions for me to do this if he was ever incapacitated.
“Those are not my instructions, Ellen.” The queen was grateful for the diversion. “I want you to stop reading my mind.”
The other only bowed her head in acknowledgment. “My apologies. It will be as you have commanded.”
The mention of Addigo only added to the pain she already felt at the loss of her father. He had left years ago, much to the disdain of her father and herself. Addigo, the greatest tracker the kingdom had known, and no one had heard of him since. This was the first mention of his name she had heard besides from her own mouth in a little over a year. How she missed him. It was with chagrin that she wondered how long it would take for her to come to terms with her father’s death.
“My lady,” came the witch again, “Your father passed a little over an hour ago. It is as the Prophet of Dreams prophesied.”
The circumstances of her father’s death was not something Joleen Zelonis was prepared to discuss, but she pressed forward with the resolution of a skilled diplomat. She would have to get used to doing things she did not want to do now that she was queen.
“And what have you found, my Guardian?”
For the first time, the witch showed some signs of humanity. She took a long pause and a deep breath before she continued. “The Prophet of Dreams and The King of the Valley of Life both passed at the same exact time, on the same day, a year a part. The first defense against the prophecies has failed. We are left with only one defense now.”
Joleen Zelonis was never a weak girl. Growing up, in better days than her coming of age years, she had always excelled at being resolute, proud, and strong. But it was all she could do to keep the tears from falling, until finally, like an avalanche, the mountain of fear and uncertainty came crushing down on her frail state of emotions. Tears rolled down her face and cheeks like rain. Her red-rimmed eyes could barely make out Ellen Pinto Roe’s figure before her through the blurriness of her tears.
But she kept her face straight and her chin held high, as she gave the following command. “There will be no proper ceremony for the now dead king of The Valley of Life. It is in the best interest of the land and the people I now command that we burry him along with his advisor today, and without fanfare. Let it be known that we are enacting the last and final defense against the prophecies of The Prophet of Dreams, my father’s advisor and best friend of many, many years. May they rest in peace within the land and earth that spawned them both and created us all.”
Ellen Pinto Roe’s face showed a trace of sympathy. “You should visit him before we give the announcement. Once the lords of the Council find out, they will want to tie your hands in meetings and other discussion groups so they can think and plan of a way to get rid of you. You will have no time to spend alone with your father then.”
Joleen Zelonis followed the woman as she moved towards the door. The Guardian moved into the queen’s bedchambers and Joleen Zelonis took note of how dark it was within the castle. As they moved away from the balcony, she noticed that it was no longer dawn, but early morning, adding much to the shadows in the corners of her rooms.
They walked out into the halls and into the very bowels of Castle Bonemeyer. She was mildly surprised to find servants and maids already about beginning their chores and the daily routines of their lives. A young serving girl curtsied as she passed the queen and her silent, single woman led entourage. Things were never going to be the same.
She had command of one of the most powerful armies in the world, possibly the most powerful witch in the world, and ruled over one of the greatest kingdoms in the history of man. How would it be when she was done with it, when she passed away into the folds of history? Would she be considered one of the greatest rulers to go down in history, or would she be leaving a people ready to start in a different direction, with a different name to rule them?
When it was all said and done, would there be a kingdom left for someone else to rule? She hoped so. The Prophet of Dreams proclaimed she would die trying to save her people. In his prophecies, he also stated her people would burn and her city would fall. Should she believe everything she read? Her father certainly had. Facing the destruction of everything she held dear to her, she figured she didn’t have much of a choice.
They entered a spiral stairway made of stone and brick. This was one of her stairways, made to open to her touch. Just last night, it would have only opened for the king, she noted. Now it will only open for me. Who will be next?
As they traveled deeper into the lower levels of Castle Bonemeyer, the shadows seemed to creep closer to her.
Ellen Pinto Roe seemed to sense her wariness. “My lady, there is nothing to fear within these walls. There is nothing that can escape my notice. If there is a newly bought chair placed anywhere within these walls, I will sense it. If someone wishes to bring you harm, I will know it. I am The Guardian. I exist for only one purpose. And that is to protect and to serve you.”
“I am afraid the prophecies have me a little jumpy at the moment,” was all she could say to the powerful woman. “It states in the prophecies that our long lost foe will come from the shadows.”
Ellen Pinto Roe only nodded in agreement. She had read the same book herself, before the passing of the king. “I assure you, those shadows will not come from these shadows. They will know that I can destroy them within these walls.”
Strangely enough, the queen believed her. It took some of her uneasiness to know that she had Ellen Pinto Roe at her side. And not for the first time, Joleen Zelonis wondered just how powerful her guardian truly was.
“You know that I was correct,” stated the Life of the Keep.
The comment brought the queen out of her thoughts momentarily. She was trying to suppress the loss she felt. She knew she was going to break down when she entered her father’s burial chamber. The thought of breaking down and weeping in front of this strange woman was not something she was looking forward to. She needed to be strong, to show this woman, who was so vital to her continued ruling authority, that she could handle tragedy as well as her predecessor.
“About what?” she asked.
“About Addigo,” came the swift reply.
There it was again. Addigo. He was considered the greatest hero in the kingdom known as the Valley of Life. He was known everywhere outside the kingdom, in the surrounding lands, and in borders far away from her small country. His legend far out grew the number of years on this earth she called home. Addigo was her father’s greatest scout and tracker. The people loved him. And she loved him, as well, with all her heart.
“Why bring him up again?” she asked, not willing to let the thought of him go. “I have not seen Addigo in many years. No one has mentioned his name within these castle walls for almost a year. I only hear of him when he visits the outskirts of The City to help some of the commoners. Now you have brought him up twice in one morning. Why?”
“You wish to see him, am I correct?” came the soft reply. “You ask yourself who could ever compare to your father? Who could ever fill the king’s shoes and the space in your heart that had been left empty? I believe Addigo is that man. And his support would be very beneficial against the Council and those that wish to dethrone the youngest and first female that has ever come to rule over them.”
The queen could not argue against the facts laid out before her. “When did you learn such politics?” But there was a more pressing question already on her mind.
The Guardian only smiled. “I spent many years at your father’s side. Let us just say that I couldn’t help but overhear sometimes. I know the way he thought.”
Joleen Zelonis nodded her agreement. “It does sound like something he would have me do.” She paused before continuing. She didn’t realize her breath had caught until she asked her question. “Would you know how to get a hold of Addigo if I did wish it?”
The Guardian paused. “All men could be found, my lady. All men.”
It was so tempting to ask this powerful witch to go out into the world, and find the one man that had ever meant so much to her. The longing to see his face was only accentuated by the loss of her father. But wisdom did prevail in this battle of hurt, loss, and silent longing. It would not be fair to the man who had chosen to leave, to be dragged back into the routines of courtly life, because of the whims of a girl and a childhood love she never outgrew.
After a moment when the queen did not answer, they continued to walk. They went down so long that Joleen Zelonis lost all track of time. She had no idea how long they had walked for. Soon, she lost all track of where exactly they were, or at what level of the castle they were passing through. Occasionally, she heard footsteps behind her and had to look over her shoulder to make sure it was just her imagination. But the deep shadows that hid the stairs where she had come from did nothing to calm her fears.
After what seemed like and endless walk into an endless pit, they finally came out of the stairs into a long hallway made of brick and stone. The hall went deep into the underside of Castle Bonemeyer. They traveled for another few moments until finally they saw the faint outline of a solid, wooden door reinforced with metal and steel come into view at the edge of both their vision.
Joleen Zelonis brought them both to a halt. It was a few moments before she could speak. “Through those doors lie the man that had doomed us all and my father. We must pay our respects to my king, my liege, and father, and then we must look through The Prophet of Dreams’ book to see what happens next. All of this before we announce to The City what has happened during the night while they slept.”
Ellen Pinto Roe said nothing at first. “As you wish, my lady. Seventy years of dreams and nightmares waiting to come true with your father’s death. Let us see what we can find.”
Joleen Zelonis nodded her assessment. “May the Lord-General find this enemy The Prophet of Dreams speaks of before it finds us first.”
And together they pushed the door open and into the darkened chambers beyond.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler, III