The Fire Lily

Chapter 1.

Prince Darius drew his wooden sword as quietly as he could, moving in perfect silence down the dark stone hallway. On all sides his enemies closed in; ready to suffocate him, drown him, run him through. Each time he evaded their nets it was as though their collective efforts instantly redoubled. For every soldier he defeated, three more took their fallen comrade’s place. For every counter spell he cast, another mage entered the fracas. He realized it was impossible to overstate the immediate and life-threatening danger he now faced.

There was no army behind him, no great heroes at his call. He was alone in this world. But Prince Darius’ mission could not be compromised. He knew what he had to do; he knew the stakes, and he understood the cost. Here finally was the door, his destiny or his doom awaiting inside.

He reached shakily for the great iron loop, he could hear at least half a dozen voices on the other side, though it was impossible to say who they were, or what level of preparedness they held. He filled his lungs with air, ready to burst through with a yell to shake to the core his final enemies.

“Not that way!” came a voice from the shadows. Prince Darius nearly screamed, giving away his position and his element of surprise. “Follow me!” The shadowed figure slipped back behind a great tapestry that hung inauspiciously from the high ceiling outside this chamber.

This must be a trap, thought Prince Darius. But if it were a trap, why hadn’t the veiled figure finished him off already? Clearly he was off his guard, it was the perfect time to strike. Prince Darius pulled back the tapestry with the broad side of his sword, revealing a small, tight passageway soaked in rank darkness.

“I can’t see anything”, whispered Prince Darius into the darkness.

“That’s fine, there’s nothing to see in here”, came the reply some meters ahead. “Just keep moving forward and your head down.”

“Who are you?” asked Prince Darius. 

“I’m Finamin Caudron, and if you’re trying to get through that door at this hour then our interests must be temporarily aligned. Here’s a corner, turn left.”

Darius crawled along for some time before he grunted quietly as his bowed head found Finamin’s backside. Evidently, Finamin stopped by a vent along the floor which they both now peered through. It was worse than Prince Darius had feared; there were the feet belonging to the half dozen voices he heard through the door, but there also were the feet belonging to the half dozen that stayed silent. If Prince Darius had walked through that door there would have been no chance in heaven or hell that his mission would have succeeded.

“I owe you my life, Finamin”, breathed Prince Darius.

“Don’t mention it, we’re not done yet”, came Finamin’s reply. 

“What’s our plan?” whispered Prince Darius. 

“Shift change. There’s a five-minute window where the only souls around will be the guards posted outside the door in the hallway you crept down. That’s when we enter. Shhhh! Here it comes!”

There came a thundering knock at the door, and all grew still from within.

“Who’s there?”

“It’s just us.”

“How many are you?”

“Six tonight.”

The door opened, light spilling from the large room down the dark hallway Prince Darius vacated only moments before.

“Six – well, something really must be happening then, yes?”

“Can’t be too careful these days, can we.”

“Indeed not.” The voice then turned to the rest in the room. “Let’s go, next shift is on their way.”

In a moment the shuffling feet and muted voices were gone back down the hallway the soldiers had come up.

Prince Darius furrowed his eyebrows as he crawled along again behind Finamin. “How are we going to get in if there’s six armed guards at the door?”

“There’s more than one doorway”, said Finamin. 

Prince Darius’s heart sank. This was a trap after all, but now he was lost and his sword would be useless in these tight confines. “No there isn’t, I know this whole castle.”

“Is that right?” said Finamin, pushing open a small cast iron door into what looked like a tiny foyer. 

Both emerged into the back of a giant, disused cooking hearth. Prince Darius stood to his full height and was still able to walk out without so much as tilting his head.

“How did you know about this door and passageway?” asked the Prince with no small amount of incredulity.

“My mommy is the head cook in this kitchen so I know everything there is to know about it. That door is how they clean the fireplace when it’s used but it’s never used anymore so I knew it would be safe for us to go through.”

“Wow! Well my daddy is the king and I’m Prince Darius so I should know about these passageways too.”

“My mommy says it doesn’t matter who you are because down here she’s the boss so we have to get our snacks and get out before she hangs us by our eyelids and makes soup from our toes.”

Chapter 2.

Darius and Finamin sat down at the heavy wooden table along the back wall of the kitchen. A scullery maid quickly removed small piles of dirty dishes while another wiped away grease and crumbs with the hem of her apron. The evening cook set down two mugs of ale before pulling her maid away by the elbow.

The boys watched the door close, listened to the young women’s footsteps disappearing down the dark hallway.

“What do you think is under her apro…”

“What did Zotash think about the…wait what?”

“What? No, nothing,” said Darius, “what did you say?”

Finamin flatly stared at Darius from across the table. “What did Zotash think about the proposal to finance an armory with taxes levied from the merchants?”

“Oh, right. Roland was thankful for the tip, and Zotash didn’t hate the idea. But he prefers to tax the shipyards. So now we know we need someone inside the Merchant’s Guild to see if they’re paying him off?”

“Very good. Anything else worth mentioning?” Finamin sat back and closed his eyes. There was no other court business that interested him in the least.

“Landon again insisted he be elevated to Keeper of the Seal but father hasn’t decided who will replace Fletcher. And North suggests we delay supporting the suppression of the Ydersius uprising until Queen Aurora commits to compensation.”

Finamin shook his head, eyes remaining closed. “North’s boy Rorstar was just made Captain, but he’s an idiot and North knows he’ll get himself killed on his first assignment. Send our reserve fleet and call it a training exercise. The rebellion is mostly starving peasants, but we need Aurora’s outpost kept stable.

“And Landon buggered Pigon’s wife so he’s hoping the fallout will be limited to him not becoming Keeper of the Seals. Next time he brings it up, suggest he be made Groom of the Stool instead. He’ll understand and you’ll have a favor to call in.”

After a moment’s silence, Finamin peeked at Darius from the corner of his eye.

Darius’s mouth hung open slightly. “How do you know these things?”

“I don’t know. I thought it was obvious.”

“Well it’s not. Imagine if you were in court all day with me.”

“I’d probably go get myself killed alongside Rorstar.”

“Fair enough.”

The two took a long draft of their ale before relaxing a bit.

“She was pretty cute though – the maid?”

“She’s just trying to fuck a prince.”

“And as you so often remind me, it’s my duty to deliver the will of the people.”

Chapter 3.

The cook fire burned low in the corner hearth. Shadows that danced their welcome across walls and ceiling as Darius entered, begrudgingly acceded to the heavy winter darkness that crept forward from the margins of the still-warm kitchen where the two friends quietly talked.

Finamin’s kettle hung from the crane, gently rotating back and forth behind a grill table where he alternately flipped ovals of flat bread and gingerly licked his burning fingers before sitting back down.

 “How’s Elifine feeling?” Asked Darius.

“She’s nervous,” replied Finamin, “So am I, if I’m being honest. And I don’t believe the full weight of the matter has hit me yet. I love babies, of course, but I also love giving them back to their mothers and then going home. Elifine tells me that’s not an option for us anymore.”

 Darius smiled and nodded. “When?”

“Any day now.”

“Wow. And have you thought about names?”

“Arabella,” said Finamin, almost reverently.

“Beautiful. And if he’s a boy?”

“Elifine says they’ve already bonded.”

“Well, yes, but if…”

Finamin just shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “You can try asking again if you’d like.”

“Goodness no. There’s more fire in her than in the entire King’s Guard combined.”

It was Finamin’s turn to smile and nod. “Speaking of which,” began Finamin, “how are you feeling?”

“Nervous as well. And he’ll pass any day now, too.” Darius looked at the floor between his boots. “I’m not ready.”

“You’ll be a good king, Darius. You know that.” Finamin stood on the bench to put a hand on Darius’s shoulder.

“I can’t do it alone. I need you at my side. Please, you must.”

“Again and evermore, my orientation now turns inward. The sun does not set across your kingdom though the dawn breaks over House Caudron.”

Finamin hopped down from the bench and pulled the bread from the grill onto a couple plates. He handed one to Darius before taking a bite of his own piece. Darius bit into the bread and reflexively leaned back against the table.

“By the gods,” he said closing his eyes, savoring the flavor that washed over him, “what’s in this?”

“Elifine harvests anther of the Fire Lily,” said Finamin. “For breads, it’s powdered and mixed through the dough.”

“Fire Lily,” said Darius, amusedly, “Lilium Ignis, Lilium Regale, Lilium Ferali. You know that’s forbidden by law.”

“Well then the law should feel free to clear the stand behind our cottage near the river.”

“The law intends to do nothing of the sort. Especially if the offender agrees at least to be Cupbearer.”

“No!” instead Finamin, “We’ve been through this!”

“But as Cupbearer you’ll enjoy no formal responsibilities, the court will assume I’ve promoted a loyal friend for his financial benefit, (which will be tremendous by the way), and you’ll witness firsthand what you’d hear from me ad nauseum anyhow.”

Before Finamin could again push back, the quiet house erupted in chaos. A pulse of color and energy burst through the cottage, stone-stunning Finamin and Darius before being immediately snapped back by Elifine’s impossibly loud voice. 

“FINAMINNNNNNNN,” screamed Elifine, “HERE SHE COMES!!”

“Oh god,” cried Finamin. “I’m not ready!”

Just then came a pounding at the larger door. The Captain of the Guard pushed through without waiting for a response. “Highness, it’s your father! He has but moments!”

Darius turned to Finamin.

“Go,” urged Finamin, “Arabella will be here when you get back. The same cannot be said for your father should you delay.”

Darius turned to leave but stopped in the doorway as Finamin hurriedly gathered linens and the kettle of warm water.

“Please,” said Darius with a panicked sincerity unheard by Finamin in their long friendship, “for the Kingdom.”

Finamin acquiesced. “For the Kingdom,” he sighed.

“You’ll be a good father, Finamin. You know that.” Darius turned and faded quickly into the night.

Finamin stood atop a stool behind the King. He dutifully held a corked and sealed bottle of wine that he himself picked from one of the myriad merchant ships to pass through the Ironbound Archipelago. 

Finamin never identified himself as Royal Cupbearer when he made his purchases. Nor did he do business with the same merchant twice. His trips to different shipyards were random and unannounced, even to the King.

If someone were to plan for the King’s wine as his downfall, they’d need to poison every bottle at every vineyard across the whole of Azlant. And even then, the wine passed Finamin’s lips first. No, poisoning the King’s wine would be too much a hassle. They’d have to find another way, Zotash mused.

Chapter 4

“Uncle Darius! Auntie Sadieh! Please come in, may I take your coats?”

Queen Sadieh pushed through the larger door in front of her husband, scooped up Arabella without breaking stride, and crushed her in a snugglebear hug.

“Oh my dearest darling,” she said through the blanket of kisses she laid across poor Arabella’s face, “you can do nothing of the sort. It’s we who are here to serve you tonight.”

Arabella struggled to free herself from the queen’s grasp, which only intensified her attack. Queen Sadieh opened another battlefront, this time with tickles. Arabella shrieked with laughter, merely encouraging the queen to continue.

King Darius stepped across the threshold stomping snow off his boots. He put down a small, plain bag he carried towards the back of a heavy wooden table that sat near the roaring hearth.

“Lady Elifine,” Darius began, bending down to give her a hug, “thank you for welcoming us in your home.”

“You call me Lady again, King Darius, and I’m calling you Majesty for the rest of the evening.” said Elifine as she returned his warm embrace.

Sadieh set down Arabella and turned to her husband. “That’s you on notice, Darius, and we haven’t yet been here thirty seconds.”

Sadieh held Elifine’s hands and kissed her on the cheeks. “Elifine! You have no idea how good it is to see you outside the halls of court. Please, tell me how you’ve been. And no talk of work. I can’t stand another minute of it.”

The ladies walked out of the kitchen into the sitting room to chat and sip tea, Arabella in tow. Sadieh pulled Arabella next to her, and moved Arabella’s hand onto her barely-showing pregnant belly. 

“What can I do, Finamin?” asked Darius.

Finamin directed Darius to the fire where boiled the evening’s fare.

“There’s sprigs of snow leaf hanging above the spits that need to be added right now. Pull everything off the stem and toss it right in.”

Darius did as he was told while Finamin set the table with plates, bowls, cups, knives and spoons, and cloth napkins.

“What’s this?” asked Finamin as he peered into the unassuming brown bag.

“Oh, just a little something for Arabella. Sadieh tells me one can’t make her court debut without a crown.”

“Crown? Wait, court?” asked Finamin, “she’s turning ten.”

“Oh I know, but what could I do? Sadieh tells me Arabella is now old enough to be Maid of Honor.”

“I don’t know what that is. Do I want to know what that is?”

“How should I know? I think it’s a Varisian tradition, Sadieh says it’ll guarantee Arabella gets the quality boys at balls and soirées. You know she’s being literal when she says she’ll make Arabella a princess.”

“She’s ten!”

“Fine, you tell her no.” said Darius with a smile creeping in at the corners of his mouth.

“Maid of Honor, you say?” said Finamin, “Sounds lovely.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

Finamin and Darius pulled out the cuts of venison that were cooking in the stew and put them on each plate. They then added roasted carrots and potatoes from the grill, freshly baked bread from the oven, and poured the contents of the cauldron into bowls.

Dinner was served.

Darius sat bolt upright. He could feel Sadieh’s burning fever from across their bed, could hear her incoherent moaning and mumbling in between her sicking up.

“HEALER!” Shouted Darius. “GUARDS! HEALER!!”

The royal chamber door burst open. Torchlight flooded the room, and Darius looked on in horror at the deathly black veins running up her chest and back, wrapping around her neck, and spidering out around her eyes, nose, and mouth. 

Sadieh’s wild eyes chased phantasms around the room, not seeing the flood of attendants who poured in to help.

The black veins reacted violently as candlelight came nearer to her. Sadieh’s breathing was constricted then stopped suddenly. Her open mouth uttered no scream, permitted no breath.

She flung herself backwards into the headboard, arched her back in agony, then collapsed. Dead.

Chapter 5

“I can’t feel them, Finamin.” King Darius, gaunt and wretched, stood amongst the tombs of his forefathers housed within the Royal Mausoleum. His fingers traced the still-sharp inscriptions of titles and accomplishments carved into vaults guarding ancient, royal dust.

“Father always said to visit him here in times of need. But I feel neither warmth nor guidance, comfort or wisdom from my father, or my grandfather, or his father…In truth I never have.”

Finamin remained silent.

“But now,” Darius continued, finally turning to face the polished ravenwood casket atop the marble tomb, “I feel nothing at all. The light of my life is extinguished yet still I draw breath, oh cruelty of this cold universe.”

Finamin was devastated for his dearest friend, but any words he found rung with a hollow mockery of Darius’s pain.

“When was the last time you ate anything?”

“At your house. That night.”

“Darius, we are a week hence.”

“What use have I for taste and flavor? The healer keeps me alive, though I’ve repeatedly asked him to stop.”

“What can I do, Darius?”

“I’m going away, Finamin. The Court still believes Sadieh’s death was a failed attempt on my life, despite the Mage and the Alchemist finding no spell or weapon within our chamber. Or anywhere else on the grounds for that matter.

“And now the investigation is turned over to Zotash. Keep a close eye on him. You’ve never trusted him I know, but in the absence of real leadership the Court will listen to him above all others.”

Darius and Finamin turned to leave the mausoleum.

“When do you depart?”

Outside the doors stood the entire Kings Guard, mounted and in their traveling armor.

Finamin jumped when he saw them. “Goodness, I didn’t hear them approach!”

“We ride for the summer cottage, swiftly and quietly. We should be there by morning.”

“Try to eat something.”

“Healer is coming with.”

“Goodbye, Darius.”

“Goodbye, Finamin.”

Finamin made the long trek back to the castle alone. He walked past the memories and adventures of his childhood with Darius, safely ensconced evermore as flower gardens and reflecting pools, fields of sculptures depicting famous battles, and forests ripe with game. 

It was nightfall by the time Finamin passed though the outer wall gates. His path to the great hall where a feast of mourning would soon be served was quiet, as the whole kingdom would be observing the queen’s untimely passing for the rest of the month.

Finamin decided to use servant hallways and stairwells to move through the palace to avoid meeting courtiers for as long as possible. As he walked along a dark corridor beneath the throne room, Finamin heard the unmistakable baritone rumblings of Viceregent Zotash speaking softly to someone within one of the storerooms. 

Finamin paused outside the chamber to listen through the door left slightly open.

“So you see my dear, the Mage and the Alchemist failed to identify the weapon because there was no weapon. There was no assassination attempt. However, the Royal Botanist recognized the unmistakable signs of accidental poisoning from the mispreparation of the Lilium Ferali – the Fire Lily – which I believe your mother harvests from an illegal stand growing on your property. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

“But sir,” began Arabella, “my mother uses only fresh stamen in her spices. We are six months out of bloom, so it couldn’t possibly have been from our flowers. And even if it were as you say, why would this poison affect only the queen when we all ate from the same stock?”

Beneath Finamin’s rage towards Zotash for his appalling gall in cornering his daughter and accusing her mother of poisoning the queen, Finamin swelled with pride to hear Arabella calmly dismantle the outrageous indictment.

“Unfortunately that’s not how the court will understand this,” continued Zotash, “Rather, your mother will be trialed and executed for negligence resulting in regicide. 

“However, there is another way out of this unthinkably bad situation. If the court were to hear that you improperly prepared the spices, your mother would be spared her life and you would be absolved of any punishment due to your tender age.”

Finamin exploded in rage. He burst through the door drawing a ceremonial blade used to unseal wine bottles and attacked the much, much larger Zotash. Finamin slashed and stabbed at the startled Zotash’s back and belly, causing him to double over. For a moment, Zotash’s exposed neck was within reach of Finamin’s blade. But Finamin instead grabbed Arabella and ran out of the storeroom.

Through the dark passageways and up to the drawing room they ran where Elifine and the other Ladies in Waiting were gathered to grieve for their fallen queen before adjourning to the dining hall and the evening’s fare.

“Elifine!” Shouted Finamin as he ran in, “Elifine! It was Zotash, he’s trying to pin the Queen’s death on us through Arabella. The castle guard, they’re on our heels, we must get Arabella to safety!”

Before Finamin’s yell died in the air, a dozen armored guards calmly filed into the room, weapons already drawn. Behind them strode Zotash, his hand pressing a blood-soaked rag into a deep gash in his side.

“Finamin Caudron, by order of the king, you and your family are found guilty of conspiracy and assassination. I accept the attempt on my life as your confession to these crimes. Your punishment is death, the sentence will be carried out forthwith.”

Zotash nodded to a guard who had quietly moved behind Finamin. The guard struck, his blade easily piercing Finamin’s body. Finamin looked down in surprise at the bloodied sword emerging from his chest before collapsing lifelessly to the ground.

“No!” screamed Elifine and Arabella in unison.

“Elifine Caudron, by order of the king…”

“That’s not how this is going to go, Zotash” said an expressionless Elifine as she slipped a small ring from a pouch around her waist.

“Guards!” Barked Zotash, “That ring! Stop her!”

The palace guard turned to rush the three strides to Elifine but were instantly transformed into glowing ashes, falling like red snow to the ground where they stood. The ashes then began to swirl around the room with Elifine and Arabella at the center. Faster grew the whirlwind, pulling loose fabrics and papers into the melee as the horrified Ladies in Waiting scrambled to safety.

A calm voice rang out loudly above the roar of the storm. “I am Elifine Lissala, penultimate matron of the line of Xin, steward of the Ring of Sins, and we are leaving now, Zotash.”

The whirlwind drew tighter around Elifine and Arabella as the world outside slowed to a crawl. Beneath their feet a light shone through the floor, growing quickly into a vision, resolving into a window beyond which was a limitless room of calm. Books – impossibly tall shelves of books lining walls without ceilings and curved staircases disappearing upwards – awaited the two on the other side.

Zotash, however, was not affected by the time dilation. Arabella watched with dread as he drew what looked like a glass dagger from beneath his sleeve. 

“Witch! You are not the only runelord to stalk these halls!” Zotash screamed as he hurled the dagger directly at Arabella. In one fluid motion her mother stepped in front of the blade as it plunged its way through the storm and deep into Elifine’s heart.

The window below them wavered a moment, reappearing clearer than before though the scene changed. There was calm, perhaps, but it was surrounded by a maelstrom of chaos and violence, of destruction and malevolence that made the whirlwind Elifine summoned seem gentle. Elifine fell to the floor which popped like a soap bubble, throwing her lifeless body, and Arabella clinging onto her, into a foreign world.

Chapter 6

Arabella Caudron sat quietly next to her mother. Apart from her mother. Next to the body of her mother. Next to her mother’s body. It was difficult for Arabella to concentrate on anything; perhaps she should feel sad, or lonely, or scared or maybe angry for what happened to her parents. Maybe she should have said something else to Zotash so her father didn’t get so upset or maybe she shouldn’t have been standing in such a place that her mother needed to step in front of her.

Arabella stood up. Where was she? She’d never seen any place like this and she’d been all the way down to the shipyards with her father. No, this wasn’t anything like the shipyards. For one thing, there were no ships anywhere she looked. Wait – was that true? Wasn’t that a ship right over there? A trading vessel with vast white sails that rippled proudly in the breeze was refreshing this deep in the parched and barren desert without shade or shelter of any kind of building that floated in the air like that would have been surprising but these were absolutely enormous!

Arabella quickly sat back down. What on earth just happened? It was as though everywhere she looked she saw a completely different world; coexisting, overlapping but independent of one another. And beneath them all was the one she seemed to be sitting in. Arabella concentrated, looking past the mirages of worlds foreign and familiar to the landscape she felt was the most real.

She sat in a peaceful meadow dotted with fragrant wildflowers. Crystal clear pools connected one to another by silvery streams that threaded their way through rock and tree outcroppings, adding a serene color and texture to the idyllic scenery. Far away on the horizon loomed a great gray mountain whose head and shoulders pushed into billowing clouds. The mountain turned to consider Arabella sitting in the meadow.

Arabella blinked her eyes, cursing herself for becoming distracted by one of the phantom realms. Beyond the great grey mountain, in fact everywhere she looked, was not a blue sky but an inky black cosmos; and above, where the yellow sun should be, she saw the savagery she glimpsed while looking through the floor of the drawing room. Planets crashed into one another in eerie silence. Impossibly large streaks of lightning shattered worlds that careened towards the center of the deathly maelstrom.

Arabella pulled her eyes away from the hypnotic cosmic brutality, back to her peaceful meadow, and again looked to the great gray mountain that was absolutely staring right back at her. The mountain then began to lumber towards her, devastating the very landscape of this world with every step. In a moment it was upon her, though now Arabella could see it resembled the monstrous oliphaunts from stories her father would tell her, albeit much, much larger.

The monster turned its head to the side, pushing its trunk and four colossal tusks high into the air, then knelt down in an absurd attempt to be at eye level with Arabella.

“Daughter of Golarion, mmm” rumbled the giant. “You are not yet meant to be here.”

“Where am I?” asked Arabella with a dreamlike sense of calm.

“mmm Jandelay,” came the reply.

“And who are you? asked Arabella.

“I am mmm, Jandelay.”

Arabella thought for a moment. “Are you a god?”

“mmm I am a prisoner,” boomed the Oliphaunt.

“My parents are dead.” said Arabella solemnly. 

“mmm I know,” replied Jandelay, “I saw.”

“How could you see it? It happened somewhere else.”

“I watch all worlds,” grumbled Jandelay, “mmm ready to pull them into the maelstrom when their time has come.”

“I think you are a god,” answered Arabella. “That’s the sort of thing that gods do.”

“mmm I don’t think so. I cannot create mmm, I can only destroy.”

“Why do you do it?” Arabella turned her gaze again to the maelstrom. She watched a planet pass by so closely that she saw the still-illuminated lights from a vast city as the world sickeningly shredded itself entering the storm.

“All worlds end mmm,” growled Jandelay, “and from their ashes, mmm the clay of new life is formed.”

“Will my world end?” asked Arabella without looking back.

“mmm all worlds, daughter of Golarion.”

“Then what is the point? Can I stay here with you?”

“Your mother mmm brought you here with her ring, yes?” asked the Oliphaunt.

“I don’t know,” replied Arabella, now looking back to Jandelay, “We were standing inside something and looking at about a million books then she was hurt and we saw this place and then we were here.” Sadness began to creep around the edges of Arabella’s awareness.

“Pick up her ring mmm, her spell is not yet concluded.” said Jandelay.

Arabella knelt down next to her mother’s body. The ring was still on her mother’s index finger, her hand resting around the hilt of the crystalline dagger jarringly emerging from her chest.

Arabella instinctively pulled the dagger from her mother’s body and in doing so brushed against the ring. Just as before a whirlwind appeared around them, and from below a window into the drawing room came into view. Arabella pulled the ring from her mother’s finger and held it tightly in one hand. With her other hand, she thrust the dagger downwards into the window, and she and her mother were thrown back into their own world.

The royal shipyard was different from how Arabella remembered it, with many new docks and buildings having been built in the few weeks since she was last here. She also recognized none of the merchants or sailors hanging around the taverns, probably a good thing since she intended to keep a low profile.

King Zotash came into the room where 12 years before he killed a Cupbearer and Lady In Waiting, paving his way at last to the throne and the full might of the kingdom. He was surprised then to find Elifine Lisalla’s still warm body and fresh wound in her chest. Zotash frantically searched for his dagger and her ring, but was unable to find either.

Arabella snuck aboard a freighter sitting low in the water and ready to weigh anchor. It didn’t much matter what port she was destined, as long as she brought Arabella far from here. Before leaving the castle, Arabella found enough food to last a few days and a bag to carry it in. Aside from that, her mother’s ring, and Zotash’s dagger, Arabella was as free as the wind.

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