This is what I came up with for Chaos Pen Challenge #4. I think officially I missed the element of “economic crisis” in the challenge set, unless you want to count the need to produce babies an economic challenge for a kingdom. I mean… I don’t know? It’s a long stretch, I know. Shoot me. Bleh. I still haven’t figured out in my head why that’s even a thing for these people. It just is. Why aren’t they having babies? Why is crossbreeding bad for the upper class? Why are half-breeds rare to begin with? I’m running around with species on my pages I know nothing about. @_@
It was hard for me to write this piece. It was difficult for me to be in Angelia’s head because I have felt the things she feels and for similar reasons (but not exact). And there is one in entire scene I “cheated” and pulled the fade to black. I hope it’s clear what happened without needing the explicit visual details. Essentially this is a story about domestic violence in a fantasy setting and because it’s a fantasy story and it’s my blog I will say she does get rescued. Yeah I know… SPOILERS. I didn’t say how. You have to read it find out.
The other thing is, thanks to using solely randomized challenges and prompts continuity and facts and whatnot can some times get wonky. This story already messed up some info that was revealed in the last story. So I’m just going to apologize ahead of time for that. But I suppose if this ever turned itself into a book… that’s what revision is for?
Anyhow, anyone that’s just joining me in this weird randomized serial adventure, you can find it all here. As always comments are welcome. Let me know what you think.
A click echoed not just through the lobby, but across all the dimensions, as the door on the second landing unlocked. The old woman smiled. Even her wrinkles seemed to smile as her warm bronze eyes twinkled. She patted the bright purple turban knotted around her head before leaning on her table. A black sheer cloth decorated with shimmering rainbow butterflies covered its surface. A crystal ball rested on the center of the table with a deck of tarot placed to the right. Tracing her fingers along the side of the crystal ball, Angelia wondered if he remembered her now. She saw him yesterday speaking to her daughter. Seeing her must have triggered distant memories for Lorot. Angelia never forgot and it broke her heart when the corruption took him. Although the sun rose, Angelia closed her booth for the day. She walked back to the living quarters of the carnival and retired to her trailer. Today her mind drifted to a century before the demons came. She was young in love, fated as queen, and married to another.
“Lorot,” Angelia said, “there you are.”
She stood tall and proud in her sweeping floor-length court room violet gown. Like all her gowns, it was open in the back to allow space for her ghostly white gossamer wings. Her long waist-length charcoal hair hung free around her shoulders in soft curls. As Lorot joined her side, a warm smile twinkled in her wide bronze eyes. Lorot bowed slightly to her, his lizard-like violet eyes sparkling in return from his yellow scaled reptilian face. His broad shoulders came above hers slightly and his horns with the bony plates nested between them gave him an even taller appearance. Keeping his enormous wings folded behind him, he carried his long stinger-tipped tail in his human-like hands. As always he dressed in white to match the color of her wings with the emblem of the yellow lizard emblazoned on the front of his tunic.
“Your wish, my queen?” Lorot asked.
“Walk with me to the gardens,” she said. “I wish to speak in private.”
He nodded and offered his arm to her. As they walked down the hall, his claw-like feet clicked on the tile. Angelia’s heart pounded as she thought about the things she planned to tell him. Life here stifled her. The burdens of queen crushed her. The duties of true sight exhausted her. She didn’t love Nyit but she married him by betrothal. Already she knew he would die an early death due to illness yet they expected her to imprint on him. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. Nyit met her each night since the wedding with passion. She couldn’t return it. Her blood ran blood and her mind wandered elsewhere as Raphael had his way with her. Each night after her husband left without a word. Like everyone else he kept her on a pedestal at a distance. Only Lorot, her personal knight, showed her kindness and warmth. It was him that listened privately to her fears and wiped her tears away. It was his touch that brought her comfort. Her deepest wish that it was him that she bonded to with her imprint. No one else understood her suppressed heart the way Lorot did.
“Is everything well?” Lorot said, taking care not to turn his head as he spoke softly.
“Everything remains the same,” she said, squeezing his arm as she nodded to those that passed by them.
Lorot frowned slightly when he heard her whisper that. They turned down the corridor leading to the gardens.
“I’m here for you,” he whispered. “Wish it and it’s done.”
He opened the door for her and helped her down the granite steps. The gardens bloomed with life and to Angelia’s dismay it also buzzed with many visitors in the fading light. Discouraged, she folded her hands in front of her.
“Well,” she said, “at least we can walk to the apple tree like we used to as children.”
“I do miss a good game of kick the apple,” Lorot said. “Don’t you?”
Angelia smiled. “Who doesn’t? Why must the elders all forget the fun? At least our daughter won’t.” Angelia trailed off and looked around. It didn’t appear as though anyone heard her. That was the first time she had foreseen anything of her own future.
Lorot tilted his head at her with a careful expression. “I don’t think it’s wise for a queen to play kick the apple.”
“And you’re no fun,” she said, grateful for his cover.
Angelia strolled through the rose lined paths, greeting the ladies. Lorot kept a respectful distance behind her and bowed when appropriate.
“Oh did you hear?” one of the ladies said loudly to a cluster of women around her. It was clear that her intent was for Angelia to hear. “Rumor has it that the elders have selected a second husband for her highness.”
“No.” Excited whispers spread among the women. “Just look at her. It’s been a whole year. No child and no imprint. He must be terrible. Something wrong with her.”
Holding her head high, Angelia stormed off as the women hushed themselves. She fought back the tears. Maybe there was something wrong with her, but her husband wasn’t great either. She wanted desperately to be seen and heard as an individual, not as something for breeding stock. As she reached the apple tree, she stopped to spread her gossamer wings. Turning ashen and withering, they barely glowed in the dimming light.
“Your heart is dying, isn’t it?” Lorot asked.
She no longer had the tears left to shed. Standing straighter, Angelia stared at the sunset. The words locked up inside her. Lorot joined her side, holding his tail, and stood silently with her. As it grew darker she turned to go, placing her hand on top of his. He leaned slightly into her to whisper in her ear.
“Your wish, my queen?”
She paused, unsure what to tell him. There was so much to say. There was so much she had kept from him.
“I need you,” she said, surprising herself as she looked up at him.
His expression remained neutral as he offered his arm to her. “Tonight,” he said as he walked her back inside.
That night after the evening feast, Angelia endured the grooming her servants put her through. Ordinarily she hoped for them to take a long time, but tonight she wanted this part and the next to pass quickly. Lorot promised to come tonight and the thought of it quickened her heart. The servants cooed over her wings and how they sparkled this evening. Tonight was the special night they promised her. Angelia sat at the vanity and ignored them. They have all forgotten how imprinting worked for their kind. It required pure intent and true passion. It wasn’t lust and it didn’t have to be love. It just needed to be real. Without it a Dimensional Seer was nothing and eventually faded away. She hoped what she felt for Lorot was real enough and that he returned it with equal measure. Unreciprocated, imprints failed and often meant death. Looking at her graying wings in the mirror, she saw her slow death. Buzzing with excitement for her, the servants lit candles, drew the drapes shut, dimmed the lights, and left her to await her husband. Angelia stayed at the vanity while she tried to control the gripping tightness in her chest. The door to her chambers opened and she froze with her gaze at her lap.
“Why aren’t you on the bed like you should be?”
He grabbed her by the hair with his stubby fingers, forcing her to look up into his beady sapphire eyes. His fine, curly, blood-red hair and clothes appeared tousled already. She guessed he had already visited a few of the ladies this evening and planned to visit a few more before it was over. Anger and wine splotched his ruddy face as he smoothed his mustache with his free, plump hand. She opened her mouth, thinking of something to say, but he backhanded her.
“Just get on the bed,” he said.
Tears she thought she didn’t have left slipped silently down her cheeks. The candles had long ago burnt out. It was just her in the darkness now. At dawn the servants would come and heal her wounds. No trace of this night would show. No one would ever know. She would die in this misery. Curling herself up, she wished for it all to end. She wanted to fade and cease to exist. Anything had to be better than this. Hearing her chamber door open, the sobs shook her. He never came back in the same night. She couldn’t bear anymore of his needs. She had done enough. Pride crumbled away as she whimpered for mercy. A soft sheet draped over her. No one hit her. There was only silence. Angelia opened her eyes to find Lorot kneeling beside the bed with a mournful expression.
“I’m sorry, my queen,” he said. “I misunderstood. I came too late.”
Lorot looked away. “I thought you desired a more fulfilling lover,” he said. “Clearly that was not the case.”
“Because now I’m ruined?”
He gave her a sharp look. “You needed me to do my job to protect you,” he said. “Love shouldn’t blind me to that.”
“You love me?”
“Always, my queen,” he said, gently running the back of his finger down her cheek.
“Lorot,” she said, hesitating on what to say next.
She laced her trembling fingers with his and closed her eyes as she pressed her cheek to his hand. Her tears streamed as her breath shook. Lorot stroked her hair with his free hand as he waited for her to collect herself.
“I know I’m broken and no one would have me if not for being queen,” she said. “I don’t know if I can return passion. I do know I feel safe with you.”
Lorot paused, one hand resting in her hair while the other resting against her cheek. She closed her eyes. She was ready for this to end. If this failed it would kill her. If she did nothing it would kill her. Her only chance for some happiness was with Lorot if he agreed. Even then he was beneath her status and if the elders knew they could easily kill them both. She gambled on being queen and the life bond the imprint bestowed. Once imprinted, as long as he lived she would too. Life made no promises however and her kind needed her to bear children. Which meant she had to have someone else for a husband for that.
“Your wish, my queen?” Lorot whispered in her ear.
Angelia met his tender violet gaze. “Will you,” she whispered, “let me imprint on you?”
“I live for you,” he whispered as he leaned in to kiss her.
He kept the kiss chaste. Her wings fluttered slightly beneath the sheet in response. Light filtered through the fabric as he kissed her forehead and temple. She closed her eyes and sighed. His hand brushed her shoulder while his lips moved to her ear.
“I have so much more to give,” he said, “but I don’t want to frighten you.”
Unsure of herself, she remained still. “I just want to feel loved.”
“Then come,” he said, “let me tend to you.”
He kissed her ear lightly. “Sit up and I’ll draw you a bath,” he said.
She winced as pushed herself up with his help. It was awkward for her to keep the sheet on in the process. Her wings glowed with moonlight and revealed the bruises on her back and ribs. Lorot scowled and she quickly pulled the sheet back up.
“He did this to you?”
“Every night,” she said. “The servants heal me every morning.”
“Not well enough if your wings have withered the way they have,” he said. He kissed her forehead tenderly. “I know someone better and he is discreet.”
“He?” she said, her heart fluttered along with her light.
He placed his hands on her shoulders. “No harm will come to you. I promise I won’t leave your side,” he said. “Raphael can be trusted.”
Lorot withdrew a small topaz shard from his tunic and tapped it twice. It blinked three times and Lorot tapped it twice again. The shard blinked four times and went dark. He returned the topaz to his pocket and stroked her cheek reassuringly.
“Raphael is coming and understands that discretion is required,” Lorot said.
He walked over to her wardrobe and found her a silk robe to wear. When he brought it to her, his expression was one of concern.
“What is it?” she asked.
Lorot knelt at her feet. “Raphael will need to see your body to heal you properly,” he said. “We will do what we can to respect your dignity and comfort.”
“I trust you,” she said.
He nodded. “Tell us when it isn’t right.”
“I mean it,” he said. “Enough harm has been done. Tonight is the last time.”
Angelia fought back the tears, gripping the sheet around her.
“Can you stand?” he said. “I can help you with the robe.”
A light tap interrupted Angelia’s attempt to lean off the edge of the bed. Lorot motioned for her to be still before answering the door. He let in Raphael. Angelia remembered teaching him the healing arts a few years back. He was her best student at the time. His height matched Lorot’s but his frame was slender and feminine. Obsidian eyes reflected the night as his soft, fine neck-length ebony curls framed his deeply tanned face. He wore a white tunic emblazoned with the orange rose emblem of Healer’s House, Hasaron. Raphael’s gossamer wings shimmered with moonlight as he greeted Lorot with a passionate kiss. Angelia gasped.
Lorot pushed him away with a growl. “I didn’t summon you here for that.”
Raphael turned to Angelia and covered his mouth, tears welling up in his eyes. Ashamed, she huddled deeper in the sheet. Her light flickered.
“Your highness, no, no,” Raphael said, rushing to her side, “please forgive me.” He touched her wings lightly, his hands glowing. “If not for Lorot, you’d have faded completely by now. Nyit fed on your wings for some time it seems.”
“My imprint failed,” she said, “I have no color.”
“You’re not listening,” Raphael said, “it didn’t fail. It’s incomplete. The trouble is, Lorot loves deeply for two.”
Lorot knelt at her feet. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I should have told you, but you were dying and I’m selfish.”
Raphael smiled as he rubbed Angelia’s back with his glowing hands. Her bruises melted away. “Love is a foolish thing isn’t it?” he said, “There now, spread your wings and let me see.”
Angelia unfolded them and slowly spread them out. It surprised her that they were free of pain. Tears of relief choked her as she smiled at him.
“Good,” he said, he face troubled, “We still have more to do. I don’t know what all he’s done, but if you trust me I’ll live up to your teaching.”
“No one was a better student,” she said.
Lorot smiled wryly as Raphael bowed with a stunned expression.
“That’s a lot to live up to, your highness,” Raphael said.
It took the rest of the night to complete the healing. Raphael addressed every deep tissue scar, mended each fracture, and sealed any cuts. By dawn Angelia was whole once more and the tears that fell were not of pain but joy. Raphael led her tenderly to the vanity to have her look at herself in the mirror. Wearing the silk robe Lorot gave her, she appeared regal instead of weary.
“I want you to look upon yourself and know you are queen,” Raphael said. “Not just of the Dimensional Domains, but of yourself too. Your body, your rules. No one tells you otherwise. Understand?”
Angelia turned away from the mirror. Fear raced through her. They didn’t understand. This was never going to end. Nyit came every night for her. If she didn’t do what he wanted, he got angry and made it worse. Lorot growled as his tail swished. Raphael regarded him with a troubled expression, as he wrapped an arm around Angelia to comfort her.
“This ends now,” Lorot said.
The servants bustled into her chambers and gasped as they saw the member of the Healer’s House at Angelia’s side and her furious knight in the center of the room. Lorot whipped around to face them, his stinger aimed high above him as though to strike.
“How long were you planning to keep this secret?”
Lorot’s voice carried down the hall. Raphael cradled Angelia to his chest as if to shield her from his fury. He pressed his lips into her hair. She leaned into him and buried her face. Angelia knew Lorot her entire life and couldn’t remember seeing him this angry.
“How long were you going to aid in killing the queen?”
His voice summoned the guard to her chambers as well as her husband. Nyit’s round face twisted with rage as his sickly green gossamer wings fluttered. He pointed a stubby finger at Angelia.
“Whatever that witch has told you is all lies,” he said.
Lorot hissed as he grabbed Nyit by his hair. “I dare you to say that again.”
Raphael stepped forward. “Behold how Nyit’s wings have color while the queen’s have none,” he said. “We have witnessed how her wings have withered. This foul man has feasted upon her light since their wedding. If not for Lorot’s rounds and hearing her weeping last night she would have faded completely this very morning. It took me all night to heal her wounds and save her.”
The servants dropped to theirs knees and groveled. They begged for mercy. They claimed that Nyit threatened their lives and the lives of their families. Lorot scowled at them as his tail whipped across the floor behind him.
“I demand Nyit’s blood for his crimes against the queen.”
“Like hell,” Nyit said, stabbing at Lorot with a dagger.
Lorot dropped Nyit but not in time to prevent the dagger from sinking into his shoulder. Angelia screamed as all but one the servant ran from the chamber room. The guards blocked off the exit to keep Nyit from escaping. Nyit wrenched the dagger from Lorot’s shoulder as Lorot tried to sting him with his tail. Throwing his dagger, he aimed for Angelia. She covered her face, waiting for the end. Something hit her hard and she fell to the floor. Opening her eyes, she found that Raphael covered her and the dagger stuck out from the back of his shoulder.
“I’ll live. Are you hurt?” he said.
She shook her head. He pointed under the vanity. Understanding what he meant, she curled up into the space. He sat up in front of it to guard her, but left her room to see what was happening. Despite his deceptive plumpness, his strength and speed matched Lorot’s. Wielding another dagger, Nyit parried and stabbed while Lorot tried to gain an advantage with his fists and tail. Angelia felt sick to her stomach as more of Lorot’s blood flowed.
“Pull the dagger from me,” Raphael said.
“But,” Angelia said, “you’ll bleed out.”
“Just do it, love,” he said. “Trust me.”
The sound it made as she pulled it sickened her. Raphael sucked his breath and took it from her. He gave her a weak smile then he slid the dagger across the floor.
“Lorot,” he said and took Angelia’s hand.
With a flick of his tail, Lorot sent the dagger into the air and caught it in his hand. Driving it into Nyit’s heart, he twisted it. The servant that didn’t run away wailed as his body slumped against Lorot. As Lorot let him drop to the floor, she crawled to him. She was the chambermaid that was due to give birth any day. Her green wings quickly faded as she screamed.
“Raphael, can you save her?” Angelia said.
“I might be able to save the child,” he said, stumbling to his feet. “Summon the midwife.”
Angelia stood before the elders in the courtroom. Her heart broke as they decreed that she would remarry at once. She must bear a child for the sake of their kind. It was a miracle that her chambermaid gave birth but the child was a half-breed. A child like Korg D’dhal was exceptionally rare. Lorot vowed to care for him since his mother passed in childbirth. However, they needed pure-blooded children if they had any hope of survival. She understood but it meant she couldn’t have Lorot for a husband. It meant she had no choice in the matter at all. The beautiful words that Raphael said to her that morning meant nothing for her. She was queen but she was not free.
“It’s bad enough that you force her to marry,” Lorot said.
“Know your place, Knight,” an elder said.
“I do know my place,” Lorot said. His tail swiped the floor. “I am the queen’s knight. I am her protector. It is my place to speak of her best interests. You chose a husband for her and what happened?”
“You think you can choose better?”
“No. She can choose best for herself,” he said, turning to speak to the courtroom audience. “She has the gift of true sight. Trust her and her wisdom. She guides us all every day. Let her guide her own future as well.”
The courtroom murmured with agreement. The elders conferred with one another. Angelia appreciated Lorot’s aid but it didn’t solve her issue. The elders expected her to choose a fellow Seer, not a Dragonkin. At least she reached the age they no longer expected her to imprint and now with the recent tragedy rumors had it that she no longer could. Everyone expected her wings to remain white forever now.
“Very well,” the speaker of the elders said, “we shall allow Queen Angelia of Azmias to choose her husband from any of the eligible Seers she desires.”
Lorot knelt in response to their ruling. Angelia bowed her head. She wondered if their ruling disappointed him as much as it did her.
“She has one day to decide.”
Angelia snapped her head up in shock. “That isn’t much time.”
“Surely you have someone in mind?” the elder said. “If not, may the Astral Covenant guide us all.”
Angelia bowed her head again, noting how Lorot’s tail twitched slightly. As the courtroom emptied, Angelia escaped towards the gardens. Lorot followed at a distance behind her, respecting her need for privacy but wanting to keep watch. She ignored everyone that tried to speak to her. With the new ruling, every male Seer available for marriage sought her favor. It sickened her. Not one of them truly saw, heard, or understood her. To them she was just breeding stock and a source of power. To her they were no better than Nyit. As she entered the garden, her anger melted to sorrow. She wanted Lorot. She felt safest with him. The only other person that came close to that was Raphael who also loved Lorot. Touching an orange rose, she wished there was love there for her too. Raphael saw her broken body. He saw how damaged she was. His healing touch made her physically whole, but her spirit still felt what Nyit had done. That awful man tainted her. Both Lorot and Raphael knew that. Neither of them wanted her. They had each other. Two perfect, beautiful people didn’t need someone like her. Tears slipped down her cheeks as she found her way to the apple tree. It was selfish of her to want to live and love, but she clung to it.
“Let me try speaking to her privately,” Raphael said.
Angelia glanced back to see Lorot patting Raphael on the shoulder before walking down the garden path. Raphael looked up at her with a tender smile. He held a single orange rose in his hand. Climbing the small slope, he joined her side beneath the tree. She turned to gaze at the horizon as they stood in silence for a time.
“Your heart aches,” he said, sitting on the stone bench behind them.
“I’m unclean,” she said. “No one wants me for me. They only want the crown.”
“I know I’m not the one you yearn for,” Raphael said, “but you must know I won’t keep Lorot from you.”
Angelia turned to Raphael, folding her hands at her waist.
“You are his first true love,” he said, standing up to give her the rose, “and mine.”
“What?” she said, staring at the rose.
“The reason I am your best student,” he said with a shy smile, “is because I hung onto every word you said. I never missed a single breath or movement. I lived for every class. I was crushed when they chose Nyit Sirasat. Oh listen to me prattle on. What I mean to say is I wish for you to be happy by whatever means. And you’re not tainted or unclean. I know Lorot feels the same.”
Angelia looked up from the rose to see Lorot approach quietly. When he reached the tree, he knelt.
“Please,” Raphael said, “allow us to marry you and be your knights as well.”
“Your wish, my queen?” Lorot said.
She took the rose from Raphael’s hand. Smelling it, her sight carried her to a time far ahead. She saw their daughter with Korg facing great sorrows and danger. Their daughter was fierce and strong. She burned with Lorot’s passions but served with the healing graces of Hasaron. Her defiant light brought new life to Azmias. It was exactly the sort of child the Domains desperately needed. These were the two she needed to be with.
“I wish to be safe and happy,” Angelia said. “I wish to be with both of you.”
The servants made her a new wedding gown for the ceremony. Although she was grateful they burned the one she wore for Nyit, she resented the black filigree they stitched into the hems. Tradition demanded it but it implied taint. She held her head high as she walked down the aisle with Lorot at her side. He stubbornly insisted that his white tunic receive matching black filigree on his hems. Raphael waited for them at the end of the aisle, dressed in white with matching black filigree hems. He smiled tenderly at them both. The two of them refused to let the Domains label her as tainted. As she and Lorot reached Raphael, Lorot passed her hand to Raphael’s and he stepped back to kneel. She faced Raphael as he clasped both her hands in his. As the celebrant droned on with the traditional wedding speech, he wrapped their hands with one silver cord and one gold cord.
“These two hearts I now bind within the Astral Covenant,” the celebrant said, “may their lights bloom as one.”
“May their lights bloom as one,” the audience intoned and bowed their heads.
This signaled the ceremonial kiss. With their hands still bound together, Raphael leaned into her and kissed her lips. Her lips parted slightly as she caught her breath from the unexpected flutter she felt in her chest. He didn’t take advantage of the moment. As he ended their chaste kiss, he brushed his lips on her forehead. Murmuring filled the room around them. Angelia opened her eyes, confused by their astonished expressions. Lorot smiled with pride and nodded to her. She gave Raphael a questioning glance. He spread his gossamer wings wide behind him, revealing how they brightly white they glowed. An elegant black filigree design traced the edges of his wings. She spread her wings out to reveal the same. Happiness filled her. She found her colors. The celebrant aided them in slipping their hands from the tied cords. Raphael brushed her cheek with a finger and leaned in as though to kiss her ear.
“I live for you,” he whispered. “Your wish, my queen.”
Angelia smiled at him and looked at Lorot.
“Lorot,” Raphael said, “I trust no one more than you to keep us safe. Please, remain at our side.”
Lorot nodded and stood. “As you wish,” he said. “I live for you, my queen.”
The crowd murmured again as Raphael gestured with a bow for Angelia to lead the way down the aisle. Side by side, Lorot and Raphael followed behind her. Anxiety set in for Angelia as they gathered for the feast. It was difficult for her not to recall what happened on her first wedding night. The music was too loud. There were too many people pressing up to speak with her. Finally Lorot placed his hand on her shoulder, spread his wings slightly in a defensive stance, and curled his tail around in front of her to shield her while she sat. Raphael joined them, standing on her other side. He held her hand in his as they watched the dancers. No one troubled her further at that point. Fatigue crept on her as the evening celebration wore on. When the bridal bells rang in the chambermaids, her stomach clenched and she gripped Raphael’s hand. She gave Lorot an anxious glance. Without moving his head, he gave her shoulder a light squeeze while Raphael patted her hand.
“We’ll be in shortly,” Raphael whispered in her ear. “We’ll take care of it.”
Angelia resisted the chambermaids eager insistence to follow them to her chambers. Raphael kissed her hand.
“I won’t keep you waiting. I promise,” Raphael said. “Lorot, guard the queen?”
Lorot bowed and offered his arm to Angelia. She took his arm and followed the chambermaids.
“I’ll be just outside the door,” Lorot said, glaring at the chambermaids, “awaiting your call if you need me, my queen.”
“Thank you, Lorot,” Angelia said as the door closed.
The servants groomed and dressed her for the night. The ritual churned distress in her heart, making it hard to breathe. She didn’t understand why the elders allowed these same women to remain in her chambers. She didn’t want them here. She didn’t want them touching her. She didn’t want any of this. Tears fell silently as she sat at the vanity while they brushed her hair. The door to her chambers swung open as Raphael entered with Lorot close behind.
“You are relieved of your duties,” Raphael said. “As of tonight you are no longer needed.”
As protests rose, Lorot hissed at them. They fled the chambers in fear of his wrath. Raphael calmly wrapped her silk robe around her shoulders.
“You didn’t eat much during the feast,” Raphael said, “would you like anything now?”
Angelia pulled the robe tightly around her and shook her head. “No.”
Raphael nodded and turned to Lorot. “Thank you,” he said, “you may retire to your chambers for the night.”
Lorot bowed and left. Raphael closed and locked the door. Angelia’s eyes widened with surprise. He motioned for silence with a sly wink. She stood up and gave him a puzzled look. He just grinned at her and held his hand out to the door that led to the chamber that used to belong to the head chambermaid.
“I took liberties with the living chambers,” he said, “given the folly with Nyit, it didn’t take much to convince the elders. I hope you don’t mind.”
The door opened and Lorot stepped inside. She smiled as she met his gaze. Raphael kissed her lightly on the temple.
“My gift to you,” he said and walked over to the door opposite of Lorot’s, “and my chamber is over here. Now if you have need of us you just call.”
Raphael smiled a little and opened his door.
“Wait, don’t leave yet,” Lorot said and turned to Angelia. “My queen?”
“Please,” she said giving them both a look, “in here use my name. Both of you. I need to be seen and heard. For me not as queen.”
“Is that what this is about?” Raphael said, closing the door. “Or is there something more?”
“I’m not ready,” she said. “I’m mean I don’t want to be alone. I’m happy to be with both of you. But I can’t. I mean.”
She broke off and stared at the floor.
Lorot cupped her face with his hand, to meet her gaze. “Angelia,” he said, “there is no rush.”
“But they want a child from me,” she said.
“They just have to wait,” Raphael said, cupping the other side of her face.
Lorot wrapped an arm around them both and pulled them close to him. “I think we need time to relax and get comfortable,” he said. “I know I don’t like taking orders.”
Raphael pulled his head away from Lorot’s shoulder with a pained look. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I couldn’t think of another way to ensure your place here.”
He smiled and kissed Raphael lightly on the bridge on his nose. “It was brilliant,” he said. “I just didn’t like it.”
Angelia grinned through the wave of sleep seeping through her as Raphael pouted. The warmth from both of them comforted her. She felt Raphael’s healing touch on her cheek as she rubbed her eyes while Lorot kissed her hair.
“I’ll get the bed ready,” Raphael said.
“Don’t leave me alone,” Angelia murmured when Lorot lifted her up.
“Never again,” he said softly in her ear.
“One of us will always be at your side, Angelia,” Raphael said.
Lorot gently placed her in center of the bed and then curled up next to her. Raphael draped the blankets over them before curling up next to her on the other side.
“Is this okay?” Raphael asked.
“It’s heaven,” she said, before falling asleep in the safety of their arms.
The old woman blinked back the tears as she made the rose hip tea she knew he loved. She expected his arrival any moment now. Hoping to hold him again, she wrung her hands as the tea steeped.
“Angelia,” Lorot said. His voice was hoarse and mournful.
Angelia flung her trailer door open in time to see his glamor enchantment flickering.
“Quickly now,” she said.
He collapsed onto her floor as she shut the door. The glamor dissipated to reveal his sickly pallor. She reached for him.
“Get away,” he said, agony twisting his face. “It’s inside me, Angelia. Covenant help me, I killed him.”
Lorot writhed as he sobbed. Retching clear slime, he curled into a fetal position. Angelia tried to reached for him again, but he slapped her away with a weak hand.
“No,” he said, “it will take you too. It’s looking for Donna.”
Vomiting violently, a pool of clear slime spilled onto the floor as a large white slug sloshed into it. It squeaked as it lifted its head. When its black eyes focused on Angelia, it charged her with surprising speed. Screaming, she smashed it with her cast iron skillet. The smell of rotting death filled her trailer as green fluid oozed out from under her skillet. She emptied her stomach into her sink.
“Is it dead?” Lorot asked, his voice weak and raw.
“I think so,” she said, trembling. “At least it isn’t moving or making noise.”
“That’s what killed Raphael,” Lorot said. “It’s my fault.”
“A Memoria Slug?”
Lorot nodded, his eyelids fluttering. “One got Korg,” he said, “Five years ago.”
“We need to get to Nusquamton,” she said.