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The silver siren, p.16
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       The Silver Siren, p.16

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  I’d missed. My mouth dropped open in utter shock. And to make matters worse, I had just thrown away my only weapon.

  The soldier beckoned to another of his comrades and pointed at me. “That one.” Both horses turned toward me and I could see their intent.

  Closing my eyes, I reached outward, trying to grab their life forces. I was shocked when I saw that they were surrounded by dark shadows. Their inner light wasn’t bright and white like the Denai but black and shaded like mine. How could we be the same? The discovery momentarily distracted me, and I didn’t act in time.

  The ground shook as the horses bore down and I turned to run.

  Hands gripped my shirt and I was pulled upward and over the rider’s lap. I gulped as the pommel thrust into my stomach. I could smell, sweat, leather, and something akin to cinnamon. I kicked, screamed, and scratched until the horse started to gallop and the pommel knocked the wind out of me. I gasped loudly. Weak, I looked over the rider’s leg and could see Fenri running after me.

  We were moving too fast. I screamed out one last time as the other mounted soldiers surrounded him, drawing their swords. Fenri slipped through the cracks of soldiers and was able to position himself next to Syrani, but the odds were impossible. I imagined I could see his cheek tick with anger at the thought of being cut off. He raised his sword and rushed forward. We crested the hill and galloped down.

  And I lost sight of Syrani and Fenri.

  My heart exploded with worry and fear. For them certainly, but even more for myself. What would these men do to me? What kind of danger was I truly in? Thinking fast, I played opossum. I went slack across the horse and could feel the rider adjust to try and keep me balanced. I used his instability to try and push backwards off the horse, but he caught me. He grabbed my hair and yanked me up into a sitting position in front of him. Pain raced down my scalp, leaving a burning ache.

  “You think you’re smart, trying to get away. No one gets away unless we want them to.” I dared a glance at his face and was stunned by his golden yellow-toned eyes. His deeply tanned skin only enhanced the ghastly color of his white-dyed hair. Something about the combination chilled me to the bone. I studied my captor’s black uniform, cloak, and gloves.

  The hair on my neck rose in fear as I pieced together who these men were. I only had to look a little closer at the clasp on his cloak to see the pendant. I already knew what the design would be. Hadn’t I always known? It was the same crest that decorated my own home. A silver wolf, the crest for Sinnendor. We didn’t have to cross into Sinnendor, after all. They came here first—and they hadn’t sent just any soldiers. We’d been attacked by Sinnendor’s strongest warriors.

  The Elite.

  Suddenly, the soldier pressed something over my eyes and shoved a gag into my mouth. A sickly sweet smell wormed its way through my head, and then everything went black.

  Chapter 21

  Darkness. The sound of dripping water somewhere nearby made my body crave the refreshing liquid. When had I last eaten? I couldn’t remember. I tried to count the minutes and the passing of time to keep myself from going insane. I was once again in a prison cell. Shackles bit painfully into my wrists.

  A door opened several yards away. I did everything I could to keep my nerves in check and not start sniveling like a coward. I stood up, wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt, and tried to appear strong, like my father would want me to. A flame flickered outside the door and keys rattled. The door opened a with a creak and then was abruptly pushed wide. A short balding man stood before me. He hardly looked like he could be a threat, but you never knew.

  Appearances could be deceiving.

  “Miss?” he called into my cell. “Ah…yer uh supposed to follow me…this way.” He beckoned up the stairs with his candle. “Gideon is waiting upstairs.”

  I looked at the stairs and back to him and walked out quickly, trying to not show my eagerness to escape the prison. The chains around my wrists jangled as I held my head high and walked slowly up the steps, being careful to keep an eye on the man behind me. I was hoping I could find chance to run away.

  A man—Gideon, I assumed—waited at the top of the stairs. His white hair stood out like a beacon in the shadows. As I approached him, his strong hand wrapped around my elbow, directing me until I silently followed his lead. We walked down a long stone hallway. The air became fresher, sweeter. Then we stepped through a door into a large, mostly empty courtyard in front of a towering castle. The bright moonlight illuminated guards half hidden in the shadows, wary of people like me.

  I could see the main gate, a secured pulley system, and the guard tower. Keeping my head lowered, I scanned quickly but didn’t see a way out. My heart dropped a little, but I knew better than to give up so easily.

  We came to wide stone steps and I slowed my gait. He lugged me onward. More guards greeted us but they didn’t even blink when we passed them. Either we were invisible, or they just couldn’t bear to look at the intimidating Gideon.

  Once we entered the main hall, the extravagant beauty of the halls took me aback. From the Citadel, I’d only been able to see Queen Lilyana’s palace from afar. Tapestries of unfamiliar wars hung upon the walls, and tables were laden with gold candelabras and bowls of food. A set of double doors towered at the end, and I could only assume they led to the throne room.

  We turned down a side hall, and I could smell the familiar scent of bread baking. My mouth watered at the smell and I became distracted. When I looked up, I was in an unfamiliar room with a giant wooden tub. I stared, confused, and hands reached up to touch my back and remove my garment.

  I jumped backward and screamed. A small woman walked in front of me and held her hands up and to show that she meant me no harm.

  Gideon gestured to the warm water. “You should wash before you meet King Tieren. You don’t want to take the chance of offending him.”

  I held up my manacled hands to him and he laughed.

  “No those stay on. The maid will help you.”

  I waited for him to leave, but he appeared as if he was going to stay.

  Well, that wouldn’t do.

  “I’m not changing in front of you!” I challenged.

  “You have no choice. I’m not leaving a prisoner in an unsecured room.”

  “Then you leave me no choice,” I shouted in return. Turning my back on him I stepped toward the tub and before the maid could undress me, I leapt into it fully dressed, making sure to send a huge wave of soapy water sloshing over the tub and onto Gideon’s feet. His horrified expression as the water soaked his boots was enough of a reward for me. The poor maid squealed and jumped out of the way as she raced for towels to dredge up the water across the floor. I did a poor show of pretending to wash, dunking my head a few times before standing up, jumping out, and purposely re-trailing suds and water across the wooden floor.

  “Okay, I’m clean. Let’s go.” It took every inch of control I had to keep from grinning.

  “You good for nothing wildling. No wonder your clan lives in the mountains. You have no manners,” he seemed more put out than enraged.

  “I have enough manners to not keep a king waiting, so as soon as you’re ready to escort me…or perhaps I should just go find him myself.”

  I made a move toward the door, but he quickly stepped out, slammed it, and said, “Not before you take a proper bath and get dressed. I will wait here. No further.”

  I started to laugh and the poor maid stood in the corner shivering, whether from fear or cold I didn’t know. Quickly, she helped me bathe and get dressed in a simple green gown. After she braided my hair, he held a mirror up to my face and I inspected the results. I had a slight bruise on my face from the altercation in my village.

  “We should get this looked at,” she whispered nervously.

  “Don’t waste your time. I don’t know yet if I will even survive the night.” The words came out sharper than I had anticipated, but they were sharp because they were the truth.

 
No matter how the meeting with the King played out, it would end very badly for one of us. But if the Elite were on guard, then there would be a good chance I wouldn’t make it out alive.

  Surprisingly, I was extremely calm.

  ~~~

  “Ah, Thalia! We finally meet.” The words came from King Tieren himself. The oddly high timbre of his voice made him seem much younger than he probably was.

  I stared at the King of Sinnendor with open distrust. He was of medium build and average height, with a closely cropped sandy brown beard peppered with gray. His mouth was thin, and his teeth were even. He was, for all intents and purposes, very average looking. If he weren’t sitting on the throne, I would never have guessed him to be the King of Sinnendor.

  “I would have thought you wouldn’t want to see me, especially after I was treated to a stay in the dungeon.”

  “Ah you have to forgive my men. They got a little carried away. You are here as a guest, child. I mean you no harm,” he smiled making his beard twitch.

  “Do you mean to tell me that—after generations of my family’s exile—you would invite me back? I find that hard to believe.”

  “No, what’s hard to believe is that your father would refuse my invitation. After all, I have always asked nicely.” The king stood up and strode to a side table to pour himself a goblet of wine. He was humming under his breath. At first I didn’t recognize it, but then its melody reached my ears and I cringed. Tieren was humming a children’s song about a plague. The dissonant notes made my skin crawl, but he didn’t seem to notice its affect on me.

  I used the momentary distraction to gauge my surroundings. The room was dark and stuffy, as if he were afraid to open the windows and let in the air. Incense burners hung from the marble columns clouding the air with the smell of sandalwood. The wooden throne itself was polished and inlaid with silver. The king’s standard—a silver wolf upon a black background—hung from posts above the throne. My skin prickled with irritation, noting again that it was the same standard as our own clan’s. The king even wore a silver wolf ring with emerald eyes. Every time he took a sip, the jeweled eyes seemed to taunt me, to tease me about what could have been.

  Frustrated, I turned my head to look at his bodyguards. Two more of the Elite stood in the darkened shadows watching us carefully. Like Gideon, they too sported the white hair.

  The king noticed my curious staring. “Ah, I see you’ve noticed my guards. Only the purest of blood serve me.” He raised his goblet of wine as if to salute them before taking the tiniest sip. “They guard that which is precious to me.”

  “Which is?” I asked politely.

  “Me,” he laughed. He cocked his head to the side as if listening to something and then began to whisper angrily to no one in particular. King Tieren turned his back on me and continued to whisper and sing.

  I lost my patience. “Why am I here? Why did you attack my clan and kidnap me? And then you have the nerve to pretend I’m an honored guest.”

  Tieren turned back around, his eyes focused on me. “Ah, now that is where you are wrong. I don’t want to kill you or your family. In fact, I keep trying to bring us closer together.” He put his goblet down and seated himself upon his throne, looking down on me through lowered lashes. I wondered briefly if he was slightly inebriated. “Every year on the same day, I send a messenger to your village for your father. And every year I receive the same answer in the form of another dead messenger. I sent more messengers, more frequently with the same result. So you see, you left me no choice. I had to resort to a more permanent summons.”

  “So it is my father you want to come, not me.”

  “No, this has nothing to do with your father. It has always been about you. Perhaps if I had chosen a different date to summon you, I might have received a more positive reply,” he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

  “I don’t understand how one day would make any difference in his answer.”

  “Nothing and everything. What do you know of your mother’s family, where she came from?” he leaned forward, waiting.

  His words, though harmless, began to tear a whole in my confidence. I refused to answer, instead turning my back to him.

  “Ah, see? You don’t know. Or your mother never told your father. Shall I tell you about Thelonia, your mother?”

  “What does she have to do with this?”

  King Tieren leaned forward in his chair, bracing his elbows on his knees. He spoke slowly…deliberately. “Thalia, your mother—Thelonia—was my sister.”

  Chapter 22

  I blinked at King Tieren, unable to whole process the mind-blowing news he���d just shared with me. It couldn’t be possible. I tried to picture my mother but could only grasp flickering memories. The sound of her laugh, the color of her hair.

  The rest eluded me. She couldn’t be the king’s sister. I felt myself digging my nails into the palm of my hands to keep back the anger that billowed inside me. I felt betrayed. I knew he had to be lying, but I couldn’t understand why.

  “You lie.” I tried to sound brave but the words came out a whisper.

  “I never lie.” King Tieren stood up and beckoned for me to follow him. My feet felt leaden, but I slowly followed after him as he descended the dais and exited a small door hidden behind the giant throne. We came to a stone hallway filled with hand-painted portraits that were, unlike the tapestries, well taken care of.

  “Perhaps I should explain a little more. That was a lot for you to take in, and you just got here. Ah, here we are.” He stopped in front of a portrait of a younger version of himself, standing next to a very tall thin woman with wavy brown hair. A small tiara sat upon her pale brow. The younger Tieren was seated as the stoic woman stood behind him.

  She wasn’t my mother. I knew that. The corner of my mouth begin to curl up in triumph.

  “This is Queen Andia, my first wife and mother to Prince Sevril.” He stood before the picture with his hands clasped behind his back reciting information like it was out of a textbook. “She was born to be queen. Her parents and mine arranged the marriage when we were young. We weren’t in love, but we didn’t need to be to rule a country. Sadly, she died twenty-four years ago during childbirth.”

  I tried to not roll my eyes. He seemed to enjoy keeping me in suspense.

  He walked to the next portrait and a different woman stood next to him. Her fiery red hair, high cheekbones, and pert nose made her very fetching. In this portrait, the woman sat in a smaller chair next to King Tieren. “This is Queen Beryl, my second wife. We were married only three years, and she bore my second son, Tomac. She died from the crying plague.”

  “I’m sorry.” The words felt hollow coming from me, but I could tell from the picture that they loved each other.

  He bowed his head in silence before walking to the last portrait on the wall. He stopped. Unlike before, he actually walked forward and touched the painting by pressing his forehead against it. I couldn’t hear him but could tell from his shaking shoulders that he was silently crying. I was so fascinated by King Tieren’s reaction to this particular portrait that I actually forgot to look.

  Quickly, I glanced over his brown head to see—my mother.

  I recognized her. There was no denying the pale as starlight hair, her bright blue eyes, and her beauty, even at a young age. She couldn’t have been more than ten in the picture. I choked back a sob as well, shocked at the sight of my mother. There was no refuting it. Just as there was no denying the royal crown that sat upon her brow and the exuberant joy that radiated from her face as she sat next to a very young Tieren. Both Thelonia and Tieren were seated on smaller stools at the feet of their parents, the King and Queen of Sinnendor.

  My knees felt weak and I had to grab hold of the wall to steady myself.

  It was too much. I felt dizzy, sick, and weak. King Tieren opened his mouth to say something to me, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. He motioned for a guard who came rushing toward me. I panicked and reached for a thread
of power to push the guard away, but nothing came. Strong hands seized me.

  ~~~

  I was expecting the dungeon again, but instead they placed me in an extravagant suite. I lay upon the oversized bed and stared at the stone walls. Someone had lit a candle in my room, and it had been burning so long it began to flicker, dying out.

  When the candle finally gave up and my room became dark, still I lay there, silent, waiting…thinking.

  All King Tieren had done was destroy everything I thought I finally knew about my family and life. It was like being thrown from a horse and having the wind knocked from me. I stared in the direction of the candle and tried to get it to light, which wasn’t my specialty. Still, I felt like I should have felt something—some stirring of power. Instead, I felt empty, as if a part of me were missing. My head still felt a bit fuzzy and I wondered if there were a bit of drugs still running through my system, blocking me from using my gifts. If that was so, then I was going to have to continue to be a polite guest until use of my gifts came back. Maybe by then I could blast my way out of the castle.

  Maybe I could even bring down the castle with me in retaliation. I smiled at the thought and continued to wait. I’d keep testing the limits and reaching for power every few minutes.

  After a quick knock on my door, an older woman opened the door and entered. Her graying blonde hair was pulled into a crown upon her head. Her skin was fair, and fine wrinkles sprayed across her proud face. Her black dress, though made of the finest velvet, had little adornment other than the cut and the style of the dress. But all suggested someone of importance.

  She stopped within a few feet of me and studied me carefully. I glared at her, refusing to look away. Her mouth pinched in a worrisome frown and then she released a loud, dejected sigh. “Well, you definitely have your father’s coloring, but you can’t hide those eyes. Even if the shade is off.”

  The remark stung but I didn’t let it show on my face.

 
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