“Phyla,” he said, looking into her soft gray eyes, clouded with worry, “you must do all that I have asked of you … promise me, on our love, promise you will do as I have asked.”
Phyla shook her head, “I cannot, Kalar, how can you even ask such a thing of me? You are heir to the throne, our daughter after you. I have never seen you run from any danger … any threat. And yet, here you are, ready to flee unseen dangers and hide in the shadows like a thief in the night.”
He nodded, tucking a finger under her chin and lifting gently so she met his dark eyes, “This is important, Phyla. Your life and the life of Kellina are at stake. I cannot tell you more now. Just pack for a long journey. You will be traveling beyond the Ketangular Mountains across the sea. There you will be safe.”
She stepped back from him, aghast, “The Ketangular Mountains? That land is full of savages … women are treated like property to be traded and enslaved. I’ve heard stories … from childhood … of the spirits that haunt the paths through the mountains … of a warrior race of women so fierce none dare challenge them who dwell deep in the shadows of the mountains … and you ask me to leave without any explanation and take our infant daughter there?”
He smiled tenderly, taking a step toward her, already attired in his own travel gear and ready to leave, “Phyla, you must trust me. Promise. I will send you word later, I promise you. But I must go now, and you must ready yourself for a journey of many leagues.”
She looked at him, wiping a tear with the sleeve of her blue silk gown, “Will I ever see Cainnait again?”
He looked past her, out the windows of the chamber that overlooked the Coral Sea and the streets of the imperial city of Cainnait. He turned and went to the door, opening it without looking back, and saying, “No, you will not,” as he left, closing the door softly behind him.
She stared at the closed door. No kiss. No embrace. No goodbye. All that had been done with when he first told her. She’d held him as if he would vanish into smoke before her. Kellina fussed in her cradle, and Phyla went to her. As she held her close, she noted again how very much she looked like Kalar … the same deep, dark eyes and hair. Kellina’s fell in wispy curls around her face … she’d been born with a full head of dark hair and Phyla loved to brush it gently after she would bathe her.
That had been earlier in the day, in the morning after they had broken the night fast with a simple meal of biscuits and cream. Following Kalar’s instructions, Phyla packed hurriedly, having dismissed all the servants, something in Kalar’s manner this morning had left her trusting no one any longer. The chamber doors locked, and still she jumped at every sound. No word had come from Kalar since that morning when he had told her to pack only what she needed for a trip over the mountains. She looked out the window, out over the gentle waves of the Coral Sea, tinged now with fading lavender tones of dusk. There was a faint hint of a far off shore, several days travel by ship she was sure. How was she to secure travel? She looked around, trying to think what else she might take that was easy to carry.
Working quietly so as to not awaken the sleeping Kellina, she paused every so often to gaze at her young daughter. So tiny for such a long journey, and Kalar would say nothing of why they must leave the imperial city. The questions of the morning had not dimmed with the passing of the hours. Was he not the heir to the throne? He alone possessed the pendant that would prove draconic lineage, a pendant only used once on the day of coronation. Were the other forces at work of which she was unaware? Sitting on the trunk to close the latches, she was satisfied these supplies would suffice for the crossing of the sea and the trip over the Ketangular Mountains. The tales of those mountains terrified her as a child, and being a grown woman did little to assuage her fears now.
A knock on the door made her jump. “Who is it?”
“A messenger, Lady Phyla, if you please,” the voice on the other side of the wooden door was soft and feminine. She walked over and unlocked the door, opening it just a bit. A young woman of slender build, her auburn hair pulled up on her head in braiding, stood there. She wore the simple green servant gown, indicating she was of the palace servants. In her hand was a scroll.
“A messenger from whom?”
“I do not know Milady, I was given this and told I should bring it to you straight away, and I have.” She extended the scroll and Phyla took it from her.
“Are you to await a reply?” she asked, to which the girl shook her head no. “Very well, then, you may go.”
Phyla closed the door and replaced the lock, going to her desk to fetch a dagger. The seal on the scroll was Kalar’s. With trembling fingers, she unrolled the parchment …
I cannot stress enough the need for you to trust absolutely no one, not even those who have proven loyal to our family in the past. Dark forces are at work to usurp the throne and have me slain, thus ending the draconian line forever.
It is my brother who has betrayed me thus, in his thirst for power he has lost his soul and will stop at nothing to secure the throne for himself. This is why I am sending you and the baby away … far from the reach of the evil that pervades our beloved Cainnait.
You will leave tonight when clock strikes the midnight hour and must be at the docks by then. Tell no one, you must take your dagger in order to slay the servant I have arranged to bring you there. I know you are horrified, but this is most needful. There can be no witnesses to your flight. When your ship reaches the far shores, there will be a caravan waiting for you so that they may depart. The captain has given me a blood oath to sink his ship and the crew with it, and to see you safely to a shire that lies beyond the Ketangular Mountains. I have secured employment for you with the Lord that rules there, and you can raise Kellina in safety.
In my desk you will find a box. I have left a gift for Kellina that she is to have when you feel she is ready: the golden pendant. This will prove her lineage to the draconian line and the throne, but do not tell her of the meaning of the pendant. This she must discover on her own in order to prove herself worthy of the throne … a throne for which she must fight, for my brother has allied himself with darkness for immortality and will not yield easily.
I cannot go with you … too many eyes watch my every move, but know that my heart goes with you. I will come to you when I can.
All my love,
Her heart filled with dread with each word, and her heart told her she would never again see her beloved husband in this lifetime. She allowed herself to weep then, silent and cold tears of anguish too deep to be uttered aloud. She looked around the room in the ever increasing darkness, knowing every corner of it intimately, sorry that she would never see it again. Sorry that Kellina would not grow up as a Princess, having the run of the marble hallways or the vision of the palace spires as she fell asleep each night. Phyla took her dagger, the long slender one with the pearled handle, and tucked it discreetly in her bosom. She dressed plainly, so as to not draw attention to herself. Then she waited.
Nearing the midnight hour, a knock on her door told her the servant was there to take her things to the dock. She motioned to the trunk and satchels she had packed, and secured the sleeping babe to her back in the sling the nurse had given her. Through the castle they went quietly, without so much as a footfall since they both wore hide shoes to soften their steps. She carried the satchels while the servant hoisted the trunk and carried it on his back. One last look at the room and Phyla closed the door, locking it and then sliding the key back underneath into the room.
The streets were narrow and dark, but they dared not use a torch lest they draw the attention of city guards. It was long past the curfew hour, and Phyla had used a secret passage to leave the palace, one which Kalar had shown her. To her knowledge, no one else was aware of the passageway. With every step she dreaded what she would have to do at the dock, but she knew it was necessary and spent the time steeling her resolve to carry out the act Kalar had decreed necessary. The ship lay anchored as he had indicated, rocking gently in the tide, waiting.
The captain, a muscular man of middle age, nodded as they approached, “Come aboard, Milady, your passage is paid and that of the child. I have given your husband a blood oath for your safety. You may stay in my cabin if you please, and I’ll stay outside on deck to keep watch.”
The servant, who had uttered no word, set the trunk down heavily in the cabin and turned to leave. Phyla started to follow him, but the captain lay a hand on her arm, “Let me, Milady. This is a man’s business, not for a lady nobly born.”
She gave him an ironic smile and whispered softly, “Nobly born I am not, and made so only through marriage. Yet, I see the wisdom in your plan.”
At her nod, he turned and followed the servant out onto the deck. Through a crack in the door, Phyla watched him follow the man partway down the plank before grabbing him from behind and sliding his dagger across the man’s throat. She could see nothing, but she heard the gurgle of blood mixing with breath, and a splash as the servant hit the water below the plank. Closing the door, she leaned her head heavily against the wooden planks as though to gather strength from the wood. She felt Kellina moving against her back and realized it was time to feed and change her, a small gift for which she was grateful as it would keep her mind from what was going on around her.
Two sets of eyes watched from the upper spires of the palace as Phyla made her way through the winding streets of the imperial city. The two men watched in silence until she and the servant could no longer be seen in the dark of night.
The taller of the two, Krelar, shook his gray head, “I am not certain it was wise to let her leave, my Lord Nelaam, particularly when we do not know the whereabouts of her husband.”
The other, slender and muscular, with dark hair and eyes, laughed softly, “You worry like an old woman, Krelar. All is going according to plan. Still, we should have a word with the servant when he returns. See that he finds his way back to my chamber for questioning. I want to know where she is going since my spies in this matter proved useless.”
“Your spies, my Lord, how so?”
“My brother dispatched them, curse him. No matter, it is a small annoyance at best. So I will rely on the servant he assigned the task … probably will have to use torture, damnable allegiance they all hold for him,” he smiled and his eyes held a thirsty glint, “that at least will provide some amusement.”
“Of course,” Krelar nodded, knowing all too well his Lord’s thirst for the pain and blood of others, “but what about … and the pendant is missing, we searched everywhere! How will your claim go unchallenged without it?”
Nelaam turned and smiled, holding aloft a golden pendant in the form of a dragon, “You mean this pendant, Krelar?”
“But … how did you find it?? ”
“A very skilled craftsman who demanded a too high price made it to my exact specifications. Of course, too bad I could not let him live, his gifts would have been invaluable over time.
“A forgery, my Lord?”
Nelaam brought out a dagger and had it against Krelar’s throat faster than Krelar could take a breath, “Dangerous words, Krelar, very dangerous. I would not utter them aloud ever again, if you value your head on your shoulders. You are valuable to me, but not indispensable. Do you understand my meaning?”
Krelar only nodded.
Nelaam pushed the point by adding enough pressure to bring forth a crimson droplet. Krelar made no move, no sound, as Nelaam put away the dagger and turned to sit on one of the richly embroidered couches in the chamber, his arms spread out leisurely across the back, “Besides, my friend, no one will ever know.”
Krelar nodded, stepping back a discreet few feet as he pulled his wiping cloth to blot the tiny wound, “But Sire … you can’t … I mean … the pendant … it holds no power for you to …”
“To what … ?” Green eyes gazed and narrowed as Nelaam watched Krelar rethink his line of questions. “What is it that has you so concerned?”
Krelar realized the ground on which he stood had become very unstable. He shook his head and bowed, “Nothing, my Lord, as you say, I worry like an old woman. Forgive me.”
Nelaam stood and put his ring studded hand on Krelar’s shoulder, gently guiding him to the door, “Nothing to forgive, my friend, nothing at all. Now … go get some sleep … but leave orders for that servant to be taken to the dungeons the instant he returns, and be sure I am informed.”
Krelar bowed low, “Yes, my Lord, good night. The gods watch your rest.”
Nelaam closed the door after Krelar and walked toward his bed, extinguishing candles that lit the room with a soft golden glow. Finally he stood in the darkness, gazing out over the city toward the sea, “The gods indeed, dear Krelar, but my gods, not yours. Run, Phyla, my lost love … so lovely and so lowly born … run … and live to rue the day you chose my brother over me as husband. Curse all of you. You will never see Cainnait again and live, and neither he nor your brat will ever sit on the throne … my throne … mine … forever mine.”