Mica jogged down the dark passage. Anger seethed in her like molten lava ready to explode at a moment’s notice. Killing the guards had helped, but now she would find Karayana and teach her a thing or two about how to use the energy. She insisted to her nagging, self-doubting side that the only reason she had been bested was because she had been totally unaware that Karayana had so much power. The next time they met would be different. First though, she must find the escapees, before anyone caught up with her. She knew only too well how the Master would punish her for this. It wasn’t the first mistake she’d made. Her mind conjured up the image of her last punishment, deep within a mountain, in the dark and cold and damp. No food for two months, only the dripping water to keep her alive. And the meditation. She had emerged from that punishment as a butterfly from a chrysalis, glorious in her newfound power, but sure that she didn’t want to repeat the exercise. The thought of the loneliness made her cringe and pull away, back to real time. She wondered briefly where Dorien was.
‘Probably whisked himself away at the first sign of trouble’ she snorted derisively.
And that, of course, meant that by now the master knew of her carelessness. Never mind. She worked better alone.
The decision to take the tunnel that came out in a small copse to the south of the castle was an easy one. Small footprints in the dust of the tunnel floor showed the impression of a court shoe, giving Karayana away.
She stopped for a minute to get her breath, straining her ears for a sound. A faint echo of something came from up ahead but there was no way of knowing if it was her prey or some rodent prowling for food. After a minute’s rest, she settled back into a steady jog again. Only another two miles to go.
Karayana staggered out into the open air at last, propelled along by Portheas’ strong grip on her arm. The leafy green light around her was blinding, but the heat of the spring sunshine after the cold dampness of the tunnels, was energising. She sank down onto soft, springy pine needles, and took in the scent of the newly awakened earth. Without thinking, she assumed a meditative pose and closed her eyes, breathing deeply.
“What are you doing?” Portheas sounded exasperated. “Get up, Karayana. We need to get to safety.”
Wearily, she drew herself back towards his urgency.
“I need to reclaim some energy. I am very weak,” she muttered, climbing unsteadily back to her feet. “Please allow me two minutes. It won’t be enough, but it will help.”
Portheas sighed, raising his eyes to the emerald canopy above. Taking up position facing the entrance to the cave, he scoured the ground beneath the pines that wafted a resinous scent on the light breeze. He needed a weapon. Then he spotted a solitary oak under which was a large branch, winter’s windfall. It would have to do. He picked it up, hefting it between each hand, testing its weight and grip, and stepped back towards the mouth of the tunnel. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a movement from Karayana. Slow, sweeping, beautiful movements, like a dancer, he thought, as he watched his betrothed, entranced.
Rays of light touched her face through the branches. There were dark smudges under her eyes, and streaks down her cheeks where tears had cut through dirt. Her hair was dusty and tangled, but she was beautiful. Portheas shook his head and looked away. He would think of her as he always had, a slightly pointed chin, a pouting spoilt little mouth. The almond shaped eyes, almost violet blue, he had to admit had always been a good feature. And the hair, black, but with hints of chestnut in the right light.
Her gentle voice brought him out of his musings with a jump.
“It’s a good job no one was following us,” she observed wryly.
Portheas gave her a glare, and marched off towards the edge of the copse.
“I presume you can walk alone now?” he asked over his shoulder.
“Yes, thank you. I feel much better, although I doubt I could pull the same trick again for a while.”
He gave a grunt and she ran to catch up with him.
“Do you know where we are?” he asked sullenly. She frowned at his tone, and looked around them.
“The palace is beyond that next rise, about a mile to the main gate.”
“Right. Let’s get away from here.” He set off at a brisk march, his long legs soon out-pacing hers.
“Wait. What is the plan? Is it safe to stroll back into the palace?”
Portheas slowed slightly, allowing her to catch up.
“I think not. Whoever kidnapped you is still close by. We need to keep out of sight, at least until we get more information. We don’t know how much danger we are placing your family in, if we go back. In fact, we know very little,” he said, grimacing as he looked down at her.
“So, why are we going this way?” she pressed.
“We need horses.”
“I disagree.” He stopped and turned to her, his eyes scanning the terrain behind them before looking at her again.
“What do you mean?” he asked shaking his head. “We need speed right now, to get us to…” he faltered, before raising his hands in the air, “… to get us to where ever it is we are going.”
“Or stealth. I suggest we find somewhere to wait until nightfall. Then we approach the palace and try and find me some better travelling garments,” she held up her skirts in one hand. “And if possible, find a way to let my family know we’re alright. My best friend is a soldier.”
“Really?” Portheas interrupted, raising his eyebrows, “You shock me, Karayana.”
He stared over her shoulder as he spoke. She glared at him furiously.
“He is the son of my father’s best friend, and he has always been a friend to me. He will help if he can.”
“If we can reach him in a barracks full of soldiers without being noticed.”
His sarcasm was beginning to hit a raw nerve.
“Fine. You go find yourself a horse; I’ll do things my way, and then we won’t need to argue.”
Karayana stomped away; veering left off the trail they were following towards a wooded hill, a place she had often played as a child. She felt confident, now she was back outdoors, and she knew plenty of places that she could hide out the day in the wood.
Portheas stood fuming, watching her stroll away. She stood out like a beacon in the bright yellow dress, and he found suddenly that he couldn’t fault her for wanting rid of it. A small feeling of pride crept upon him. This girl had fight in her, which he found he surprisingly admired, even if she acted out of naivety. And she was betrothed to him, if he decided the match was a good one. He smiled slightly as he watched her. She didn’t look back once, and he knew that to follow her would make her think that she had won. But she had knowledge of the area, where he had none, what could he do? He set off at a fast walk, trying to decide how best to approach her.
Karayana felt him getting closer before she heard him, but resisted the urge to look around. She smirked and lengthened her stride. They might be in grave danger, but right now she was having fun. As the ground began to rise, he fell into stride beside her. Neither spoke as they entered the wood. The trees were mainly deciduous, and only just breaking into leaf, giving the light a dappled appearance. Karayana knew that once they had topped the rise, the trees would become mainly pine and spruce. The palace of Den was situated among the foothills of The Tors, a mountainous ridge that stretched from coast to coast on Ebrocia’s eastern border. From the palace you could just make out the snow topped peaks on a clear day. This wood was actually one edge of the forest of Den, which ran across the border into Torlund, her mother’s home province. She planned to circle the palace under cover, and approach in the dark on the same route she had chosen a couple of days before. It was a road very rarely used except for hunting parties, and was only lightly watched.
The currents here were good and very strong, the energy soft and easily absorbed as she walked. With a smile she thought how easy it would be to forget their predicament, and pretend they were out for a leisurely walk in the trees. Then again, she couldn’t imagine herself ever wishing to go on a walk with Portheas. Now if Marti were here, it would be fun. She recalled fond memories of her friend strolling at her side. Some days they would talk endlessly, others there would be no need for speech. Sometimes they would clown around or pretend to be out hunting, sharpening their woodcraft skills. She was always an equal to Marti. There was no male/female thing. Walking next to Portheas, she could sense his unease at having to trust a woman. No matter what power he had seen her use; she was sure that if danger threatened, he would be all heroic and thrust her behind his back, while brandishing his stick at the enemy. The picture that arose in her head made her giggle. She quickly clamped a hand over her mouth, and glanced up at him.
He looked at her, all serious and noble, and Karayana couldn’t help but giggle again.
“What is it?” he asked, sounding annoyed.
“Nothing. Just a thought.”
Karayana stared ahead again.
“One that I would prefer to keep to myself.”
“Well, I’ve had a thought. When we attempt to get horses, you will also need to locate some weapons. A bow and arrow would help feed us, and a sword would defend us.”
“But I am not getting any horses. I feel safer on foot.”
“I think you are being naïve. I think our best bet would be to make contact with Father. He must be on his way here. He will want to ask for help in finding me, and your Father is the only one who could help him in Ebrocia. The sooner we get to him, the better. We need horses.”
Karayana couldn’t believe how calm she felt. She wanted to tell him how pompous he sounded, but she decided on a different tack.
“I’ve already told you, I’ll do things my way, and you do things yours. I have no intention of meeting up with your Father. We don’t know how safe his company is. I have decided to go back to Ral. It isn’t far through the forest, and it is easy to lose any pursuit in here. I have a feeling that Ral will be able to help.”
“But I have to warn Father and let him know I’m alright.”
“And I need to do the same. If we can get a message to my parents, then we have killed two birds with one stone.”
“And can you honestly trust this Ral? How do you know he has nothing to do with your kidnapping?”
Karayana paused for a minute, trying to find the words.
“It’s hard to explain. When you meet him, you’ll understand. I would trust him with my life.”
“Which is exactly what you will be doing.”
Her exuberance fled with that thought. He was right. Suddenly the day seemed more threatening than it had. She felt ashamed as she considered how childish she had been again, while Portheas had taken their plight seriously. They walked on in silence now, each deep in their own thoughts.
The sound of voices brought them both back to real time in an instant.
Portheas tensed, alert, his sword hand resting where the pommel should be.
“Which direction do you think?” he whispered.
“It sounds like that way,” she said pointing, “The exact route I was planning on taking us.”
“Lets circle round and see if we can see anyone.”
He set off, leaving Karayana no time to argue. Staying in the deepest shade, they eventually spotted movement near the base of the plateau. Two soldiers were making their way up the path.
“Where does that go?”
“Onto a high plateau. I was going to use that road to approach the palace at nightfall.”
“Do you think we should speak to them? Have you any authority?”
Karayana reddened. “Not with them. No. Anyway it may not be wise to trust any soldiers. Those two guards with our captors wore palace livery.”
“Except your friend. The soldier. We can trust him.”
She chose to ignore the dig.
“With our lives.”
“It amazes me how many people you entrust your life to,” he commented mildly, and then before she could reply he said, “Come on. Let’s see what they’re up to.”
As they approached the path, the sounds of more men and horses came from above.
“Not very quiet, are they?”
“No,” she admitted. Then she remembered something and smiled.
“I know where we can get the perfect view. Come on.”
She crept quietly under the cliff until she reached the base of a large tree. Hitching up her skirts, she began to climb.
“Damn this dress,” she said in frustration as it snagged on the rough bark. She lifted the over skirt and began to tear off petticoats from underneath.
“What in the name of all the gods are you doing?” Portheas whispered angrily from behind her. “Put down your skirts, woman.”
She stared at him in anger and disbelief.
“I can’t very well climb a tree in all this… this flounciness,” she snarled gesturing at her skirts.
“Perhaps it would be best if you didn’t climb trees at all,” Portheas muttered incredulously, as he pushed his way past her to the thick trunk.
Karayana stood speechless, hatred oozing out of her.
“Why am I climbing this tree?” Portheas ventured to ask as he reached for the lowest branch.
“Because you can see what is happening on the plateau from it.”
Karayana’s words came out very short and clipped, and it actually made her feel slightly better as she watched Portheas show a moment of worry before he turned his back on her and set off up the trunk. She sat down at the base of the tree and stewed in her anger.
A couple of minutes passed, and then a small branch landed at her feet, just missing her knee. She stood up, indignant. Did he not know how to climb a tree? She glared up into the thick branches, but this was an evergreen and she couldn’t see too far up. Then there was a rustling and the higher branches looked to be moving. Sighing, she drummed her foot on the floor. Was that a grunt she could hear? Portheas had obviously spent too much time in court. How did he not know about climbing trees? This mere slip of a girl could have done a much quieter job, she thought sarcastically, only not in a dress.
There was definitely grunting now, and then she saw Portheas’ boot. He seemed to be hurrying down. He would miss that next branch if he weren’t careful. She watched as he searched for a good foothold. But riding boots don’t grip well and Karayana’s hand shot to her mouth as she watched the toe slip off its branch. Portheas dropped, but managed to just catch the branch below with his hands. But now there were no lower branches on his side of the tree to put his feet on. Karayana was about to shout up to him, when she realized that the rustling hadn’t stopped with Portheas. Looking up she saw that there was someone else coming down the tree. This person was an expert tree climber, negotiating branches nimbly and quickly. It wasn’t until he’d jumped down, sword in hand, that she recognized the man. He stood in front of her, rooted to the spot, a look of astonishment on his face. Relief flooded through her and she had to swallow, a hard lump in her throat, before she could say his name.
“Marti.” She ran to him and hugged as hard as she could, smelling the forest in his hair.
“Karayana! I … What? How are you here?” he managed at last.
“I could ask you the same question.”
“Well actually, I was looking for you. Why did you leave without me?” Marti looked deep into her eyes, opening himself up to her, and she immediately felt his hurt. She reached and touched his arm.
“I didn’t leave, I was abducted,” she said quietly, and at the same moment Portheas landed on the ground behind Marti. Before she could react Marti spun round, sword in hand, and placed its tip at Portheas’ unguarded throat. Portheas threw his hands up, startled, and then quickly regained his composure. He looked over at Karayana.
“Your friend, I presume. Perhaps it would be wise to introduce us?”
“Marti, it’s okay. He is not my abductor. He was abducted too. We escaped together.” She paused. “Marti meet Portheas.”
Marti glanced quickly around at her, surprise and then something else showing in his eyes. Something uncharacteristically unreadable. Then he quickly veiled the look and returned his gaze to Portheas.
“I apologize for my caution,” he said reservedly. “We live in strange times it seems.”
He sheathed his sword and turned back to Karayana.
“Perhaps we should move from here to somewhere safer. There are a number of soldiers up there and I think they are searching for me as well as you. The caverns?”
“Good idea,” she said grinning.
He couldn’t help but grin back. She followed one step behind him, her heart lighter now than it had been in a long time.
“Where are we going?” Portheas asked quietly.
“Oh, you’ll see,” she answered cryptically. He wasn’t forgiven yet.
Liasna arrived out of breath at Morden’s study, only to find it empty. She collapsed into a chair, trying to breathe normally before pulling herself up and continuing down the corridor. One guard stood in the entrance hall. He tried not to look surprised as Liasna ran towards him.
“Where is my husband?” she demanded, as he quickly stood to attention.
“He is on his way to the plateau, my Lady.”
“Oh.” Liasna didn’t know what to do next.
“My Lady, Captain Blakely is in the audience hall.”
“Thank you.” Relief flooded through her as she broke into a run again. Rounding a corner sharply, she collided with Blakely, his arms full of papers.
“Oh thank the gods, Blakely, I need help. Galron and I found a magic door in the passage leading to Karayana’s rooms. We opened it. It led to some dungeons, and we think Karayana has been there. There was someone else there, a woman – and she murdered two guards.”
Liasna would have kept babbling if Blakely hadn’t turned away from her and marched back to the audience hall where a company of guards had just been given leave to get some rest. He bawled at the top of a very loud voice and half a dozen men immediately followed them. It wasn’t long before Liasna was showing them the open doorway leading into musky darkness.
“Please wait here, Ma’am.” Blakely said, barring the doorway as she tried to follow him through. “You are needed here. Morden needs to know what is going on.”
Liasna held her tongue. She was desperate to get back to Galron, but she also didn’t want to hold the soldiers up.
“Please hurry. Poor Galron has been down there all this time on his own.”
“We’ll find him. Now go. I will post guards here and keep them alerted as to what is happening.”
He disappeared into the dark tunnel, leaving Liasna feeling helpless and alone. She turned back towards her own rooms, needing to sit a while and think things through. She had a feeling that the few secrets she had kept from Morden during their marriage were going to have to come out in the open, or at least the ones that explained how she knew about magic doors. He was going to be angry. When they had first met she had made him believe that the teachings of her people meant nothing to her, that the daily regime that she had happily complied with from the age of three was no longer important in her life. But that was a lie, and although she had made some sacrifices to her beliefs, she still practised daily energy exercises and meditation. Her biggest sacrifice had been to not pass on her knowledge to her children. She hadn’t known when she’d married Morden how much that would hurt. She opened the door to her rooms, resigned to the fact that not only was she going to anger her husband greatly, but far worse, she was going to hurt him. Morden didn’t believe in the hidden life force that existed in all living things. A force strong enough, if it was properly built up inside a person, to move great weights, to heal disease and injury, and to bring the one thing that every person secretly needed and strived for, inner peace and happiness. Being a very practical man, his beliefs sat like a giant rock within him. He believed in the life he could see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and touch with his hands, and he thought the Torlunders to be slightly mad when they tried to tell him that he was only experiencing half of life. She could still see his face when her father had tried to explain to him that the best way for a strapping twenty-year-old man to beat his enemies was to sit in meditation for hours and do a few simple slow exercises every day. He had been very polite about it to her father, but in private he assured Liasna that it was a load of old poppycock and then proved to her that he was extremely strong through his own methods, by picking her, and the chair she was seated on, up and then walking around the room with them. Liasna smiled at the memory. She loved him for his belief in himself. Now she was going to have to rock that belief, and she didn’t know if she could face it.
There was a polite knock on the door.
“Who is it?”
“I have a message from Blakely, Ma’am.”
Liasna rushed to open the door.
“What is it?” she demanded of the young soldier. Liasna’s heart pounded so much she could hardly hear him speak.
“There is no sign of Galron in the dungeons. We have men searching the passages for him and the girl you mentioned. Captain Blakely is sure that he will turn up.”
“No. Not Galron too.” Liasna collapsed into the nearest chair.
“Ma’am the Captain says he has probably tried to find another way out.” The soldier stood in the doorway looking uncomfortable.
“I am sure we will sort out this mess Ma’am. Shall I send for your maid to help you?”
“Yes please,” she managed to whisper, and the soldier made a hasty retreat. The tears came then, and she knew that she wouldn’t be able to think properly until they had gone.
Liasna had just finished washing her face in cold water when she heard the door to her rooms quietly open and close. The maid, she thought. I will ask for some tea to be brought. She patted her face dry and looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were still puffy. She felt hollow inside, but she had to pull herself together. Taking a deep breath, she walked back into the day room. Where was the maid? She scanned the room and then let her eyes rest on the figure sitting at her desk. For a minute, she stared in confusion at the cloaked and hooded shape. And then the man drew back his hood.
“Liasna. It has been twenty-one years since I saw you last, and yet you have hardly aged. You look remarkable.”
She froze. The voice, the face, and suddenly the terror came flooding back to her. The mountain gardens, a full moon such a beautiful night.
“Do you not recognize me?” The man leaned towards her, and Liasna took a step backwards.
His face so close to hers, pressing her body against the tree with his own. Pulling her by her hair, covering her mouth, her nose with his hand. She couldn’t breathe. Her limbs gave way in terror.
“Ah, yes, I see you do.” The man looked sadly at her. “Will you not speak to me?”
She heard herself whimper, and she stumbled, tripping on her skirts. Just like that night. It was happening again in her head. She could hear the knife ripping through her skirts. Feel the cold night air on her legs, her stomach. And then the struggle as she tried to free herself the realization of what was happening to her, the taste of blood in her mouth as he backhanded her. Her ears rang, and then there was pain, searing, tearing and nothing she could do.
“No.” she whispered.
It had all been over in minutes, and then he had gone, never to be seen again. The boy she had grown up with, a friend, now a man, had raped her and then left her cold and naked on the grass under the tree, the moonlight playing on the gentle movement of the leaves. All had been quiet, but inside, her soul screamed.
Liasna was sitting on the floor now, her back against the wall. Dorien got to his feet and walked towards her. A cold sweat ran icy fingers down her spine, and she watched him like a cornered deer, unable to move or speak. He reached down and took her lifeless hand.
“Come. Sit on a chair. Ladies do not sit in a heap on the floor.”
He half dragged, half helped her to her feet, and put her in a chair. Then he sat back down and watched her.
Liasna pulled up her feet and hugged her knees.
“Why are you here?” she whispered.
Dorien gave a small laugh.
“The reasons are many, and you were not meant to be one of them. When I was sent on this mission, I did not know you were here, Morden’s wife. I certainly did not expect to run into my Father.”
Liasna looked up sharply.
“I had to speak to you alone. I am leaving here and probably won’t return, I am needed elsewhere.”
He stood up and walked to the window, not noticing Liasna flinching back into the chair.
“I never thought I would be given the opportunity to apologize to you for what I did. That one act has shaped my life. I have lived under a blanket of shame. I loved you Liasna, with more passion than my young emotions could take.”
Liasna was only half listening. She was measuring the distance to the door from her chair. Could she make it before he stopped her?
“When you spurned me, I couldn’t contain the feelings any longer. They erupted and, well, you know what happened next.”
The ensuing silence made Liasna more uncomfortable than his little speech. Loathing spread through her body, mingling with the fear. She didn’t dare look at him, but at the same time she would have gladly taken a knife and stabbed him. Did he think he had excused his actions with a few words?
“I cannot imagine what pain I inflicted on you. I am truly glad that you are happy. Unfortunately you and I must stay enemies. We are on opposing sides of a game, that I am sure you know nothing about. Your daughter is a very important player. She is one of very few who can sway the game.”
Liasna turned to ice. She stared at him.
“You have my daughter.”
It wasn’t a question, but a statement.
The tension was broken by a small knock on the door.
Her heart lurched.
She looked at him as she opened her mouth to shout, expecting to find him frightened at being discovered. But he was drawing his hood back up, shadowing his face.
“I will give you a gift that I should not give, to show you how sorry I am. Karayana has escaped us, and is with a friend. Now I must leave.”
He vanished, leaving Liasna staring at the wall behind where he had stood. Her mind balked at what had just happened. Then the fear and loathing she had felt changed to a new, much deeper, fear. This man could access her whenever he wished. She slumped back in her chair, tears springing to her eyes.
The knock at the door was harder this time.
“Come in.” She managed to speak through the sobs that were beginning to wrack her body.
The maid entered, closing the door behind her. She turned to face Liasna, and stopped, rooted.
“My Lady,” she whispered.
“Maria, please see if you can find my husband. And have a guard placed outside my door. Immediately.”
Maria curtsied and hurried out, leaving Liasna alone with her nightmares.
Morden had only just dismounted, tired and dispirited from his search, when a guard from the palace raced towards him, halting at the last moment to salute.
“Sir, I have a message from your wife. She asks if you can go to her immediately. Her maid said she looks unwell.”
Morden growled and stalked off across the courtyard.
“What have I done to so upset the Gods today?”
In the main hall, he found Maria waiting.
“Where is she?”
“In her rooms, Sir. She is not herself.”
He set off up the stairs with the maid trailing. When he reached Liasna’s rooms, he was surprised to see a guard standing there.
“Why are you here, man?”
“Sir. Your wife asked to have her door guarded.”
Morden frowned. He entered Liasna’s room with a feeling of foreboding. His wife was sitting in a large chair by a lit fire, a blanket draped around her. She looked up as he came in. He couldn’t recall ever seeing her so pale. Her eyes were puffed up from crying, and she was huddled up in the chair as if there was a north wind blowing around the room.
He knelt at her side and took both her hands in his own.
“Liasna?” he whispered.
She just stared at him. She looked lost and frightened, like a little girl.
Eventually, she seemed to focus on him properly.
“Morden.” She smiled weakly at him, and then looked into the fire.
“I have so much to tell you, so many things that I have hidden from you. Where shall I begin?”
Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke.
“Are you unwell?” Morden asked, concern in his voice.
“I am scared, Morden. I am very, very sad because I know that what I am going to tell you will hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you, I love you so much.”
She looked at him again.
“But something happened today that means that I cannot hide things from you any more. Our fate, and that of our daughters, is involved. You need as much information as I can give you.”
Morden seated himself in the chair opposite her.
“In that case, begin at the beginning.”
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