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The silver siren, p.17
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       The Silver Siren, p.17

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “Well stand up, dear. Let’s take a look at you.”

  “No,” I said firmly.

  She looked tired and impatient. “Your mother would have said the same thing. You, I hope, will be more loyal to our cause.” The things this woman said made me want to scratch her eyes out or push her out a window. She was horrid.

  She came forward and stared down her long straight nose at me and I watched as her nostrils flared in impatience. “You will have to do. Heaven knows I don’t have time or the resources to play these kinds of games much longer. I’m too old for such tricks.”

  I let her ramble on and on as the door opened again and two servants brought in a trunk. They began to lay out a wardrobe befitting a queen—silk dresses, petticoats, shoes, ribbons, stockings.

  They measured me and stuffed me into eight different dresses before they found one that complemented my skin tones and my unpleasant eye color.

  “No, go with the silver. She’s got the blood—we can’t hide it now,” the woman chuckled softly.

  Soon, a smaller servant girl began to sew me into the dress and kept accidentally poking me with the needle. As soon as she was finished, I stormed across the room and right up to the cruel matriarch.

  “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but I am not a doll.”

  “Of course not, my dear. You are my granddaughter, and I am trying to keep you alive. So hold your tongue and your patience, and maybe we will both live through the upcoming dinner,” she muttered something else under her breath. I thought I caught the barely audible words, “…and the war.”

  “Grandmother?”

  Her words momentarily stunned me. I’d never had a living grandmother before, so I was unprepared for what to say or how to address the situation.

  But the announcement hadn’t fazed her. “You may call me Lady Portia, or Grandmother. Either one is suitable.”

  I bit back my impatience at her lack of care and asked again, “Why am I here?”

  “Because if what I’m hearing about you is true, and the seal around you is breaking, then this is the best place for you, don’t you agree?

  “Seal? What seal? And I was safe where I was,” I countered back.

  “Even your own clan couldn’t save you from the Elite. Now this is the safest place for you. Out of the out of the reach of the Denai.”

  “But I’m not safe from you,” I glared at her.

  “True,” she cracked a crooked smile. “I’ve been told that the truth hurts. And I hope you’re not afraid of a little sting, because you are to learn that everything you know is a lie. It was not just Tieren that wanted you to come here. I’ve been pressuring him to bring you back here for years.”

  “Why would you do that?”

  Portia went to the mirror in my room and began to straighten her hair. “You don’t think our Thelonia left the luxury of the castle to go live in the mountains on her own accord did you? She left to find your father, to try and save our kingdom.”

  Her words hurt, and I could feel the poison of them seeping into my very thoughts. If I let them, they’d eventually destroy my childhood memories bit by bit. I didn’t have many that included both my mother and father. But I couldn’t let that get in the way. I needed to learn more. “Are you saying that she never loved my father?”

  Portia looked dismayed. “That was a poor choice of words, dear.” Her tone softened and she turned to grasp my hands. I wanted to rip them but I waited to hear what she had to say. “I’m sure eventually she fell in love with Boren.”

  “Bearen,” I corrected curtly. This time, I did yank my hands away.

  “Yes, that’s right. I remember now. But Thelonia was the one to come up with the idea of finding your father and your clan. She had every intention of bringing you back to Sinnendor when you were older. She hoped that whatever curse affected our royal family would lose its strength if you lived in Calandry.”

  “Curse? What curse? And why share this with me now?”

  “All of the males are mentally unstable and I fear that Sinnendor will soon fall,” she whispered, her eyes searching the hallways for listeners. “After your mother died, our only hope was to manipulate Tieren into bringing you here. It was her desire that you one day come back and rule as Queen of Sinnendor. Even if we had to start a war, and take the throne from her own brother, what better family than the original descendants of King Branncynall himself to retake Sinnendor’s throne.”

  “A pawn. I was a pawn before I was even born. A means to an end.” I felt disgusted at Portia and—for once—even a little resentment toward my own mother. But then I remembered her smile and how much she loved me. However selfish or noble her intentions were at the beginning, I couldn’t help but realize they weren’t the same at the end. My mother loved me.

  “But it is a glorious end that comes with a throne,” Portia added, interrupting my thoughts.

  “I don’t want it. It has been and always will be just a chair. Whether it’s padded or covered in gold. Even if it comes with a country to rule. I’ve no interest in attaining any furniture.”

  Portia frowned at my cheekiness. “Now you sound like your mother.”

  I couldn’t help but smirk before asking, “Who else knew about this?”

  “Neither Tieren nor his sons know of our plan. Only your mother, Gideon, and I did.”

  “Is the king so easily influenced?” I asked, confused.

  She shook her head, signaling silence and opened my door and walked out. The thickening plot intrigued me now more than ever. I simply couldn’t justify leaving without getting answers about both Tieren and my mother. Clearly, Portia knew how to bait the hook and keep my interest piqued, but whether or not she could catch me in her nets was up me.

  I had to stay one step ahead of her.

  I lifted the hem of my dress and followed her down the stairs, across the hall, and into the largest dining room I’d ever seen. The long table could easily seat thirty guests. Only five tableware settings were placed near the head of the table, which was filled with gold platters of food—boar, duck, meat pies, fresh bread, soup, and a spread of delicate pastries and desserts.

  “Be silent unless spoken to. Watch and learn. Judge for yourself why we needed you here in Sinnendor. You will see why our future depends on you,” she whispered and sashayed to the table quickly.

  Tieren sat in the large oak chair at the head of the table. He focused more on his goblet of wine than the plate filled with wonderful cuisine in front of him. Prince Sevril sat stiff in his chair, his arms held out in front of him in fists. He had dark brown hair that fell to his shoulders, his eyes were ringed with shadows, and his clothes looked like he had been sleeping in them for days. I identified Tomac because of his bright red hair, a trait obviously passed down from his mother.

  Portia motioned for me to take the empty seat next to Prince Sevril, while she moved to sit next to Tomac. I watched carefully as Portia started to serve herself some soup and daintily sipped from her spoon.

  Tomac had already had a huge boar leg and was speaking with his mouth full, one leg thrown casually over the arm of his chair. “So, Sev, where have you been disappearing to the last few days? You look like horse manure and you are starting to smell a fresh steaming pile.”

  Sevril ignored his younger brother’s taunts and buttered a roll. Actually, I wondered if he even heard Tomac’s insults, because he barely blinked an eye as he ate. He just chewed with small distinct bites and swallowed.

  Tieren happened to look up from his goblet of wine and glance over at me, blinking a few times in confusion. His eyes brightened, and a smile lit up his face as if he’d just noticed my appearance.

  “Thelonia, you’re here! I was just telling Gideon how I couldn’t believe you won my best pony from me in that hand of cards. I bet you cheated. You cheated, didn’t you?” Tieren’s face was ruddy and his words were slurring.

  I looked between Portia and the king for guidance, but she encouraged me to continue the disc
ussion. I faltered a bit, gathering my courage to play the part. “No, you were just always bad at cards.”

  Tieren slammed his golden goblet down on the table and everyone turned to stare at him. The red liquid dripped down the side of the gold rim and pooled around the base of the goblet’s stem. Tieren’s eyes scrutinized the dribble before a huge smile arose on his face.

  “Right you are. Right you are.” He turned and looked at the tapestry hanging on the far wall and began to have a full on discussion with the stag sewn into the fabric.

  My hands shook as I reached toward my cup and tried to fill it with water from the pitcher. After I took a drink, I turned to Portia who nodded in affirmation.

  Feeling a little bit braver I decided to press on. “King Tieren,” I spoke his name and waited for him to come around to looking at me again. Finally, his eyes focused on me. “Why do all of the Elite have white hair?”

  Tieren’s eyes slid from my face down to the table and then back up. “It’s a mark of honor, of respect to be part of the Elite. They’re not as good as having a bonded SwordBrother, but they are good at protecting us from the Denai.”

  “But the Denai don’t come here,” I answered. I briefly wondered if Tieren knew about Kael and me. He couldn’t. Unless he knew more than he was letting on.

  “That’s because we don’t let them,” Tieren scoffed. I watched as he became more inebriated, and I stood up and walked over to fill his cup with more wine. The drunker he became, the freer his words flowed.

  “That’s a shame that there are no SwordBrothers here to replace the Elite. I heard that they are the fiercest warriors in the world.”

  Sevril tilted his head slightly and watched me out of the corner of his eye. It wasn’t much, but I could tell that he was suddenly interested in what I had to say. His bites became slower, as if he were afraid to miss something.

  King Tieren bobbed his head. “If I had a retinue of SwordBrothers, then I know I would have been able to protect you, Thelonia. You wouldn’t have died in that horrible land.”

  “Died…yep. Dead, dead, gone,” Tomac sang in a singsong voice, then giggled and snorted into his hand.

  Sevril leaned back in his chair, turning to watch me warily, under half-lidded eyes.

  It was very disturbing the way King Tieren switched between past and present, and how he kept mistaking me for his younger sister.

  I’d hoped I was just on the verge of discovering the identity of the Raven and the Septori, but the more I learned, the more I felt like I was in the middle of two separate paths that kept merging together only to spin off into dead ends.

  “If you had a SwordBrother, you would be unstoppable.” I countered, stroking the king’s ego.

  “If I had a whole army of SwordBrothers I would send them to assassinate Queen Lilyana and then every single one of those bloody Denai!” Tieren stood and knocked his wine across the table as he roared his enthusiasm for the extinction of the Denai.

  Sevril made a motion with his hand as if he was signaling someone. I followed his line of sight and saw movement over King Tieren’s shoulder. A very familiar face leaned in an open door to mouth a few words to Sevril. The man paled when he saw me, and the door snapped shut.

  It couldn’t be, but it was. I hadn’t seen him since he disappeared from Skyfell—Xiven. Mona’s phony brother. He’d posed as a friend of Joss’s family so Mona could get close and try and control them. He was here in Sinnendor. Fear ripped through my body, turning to excitement as I decided I needed to follow him. He knew more about me than he let on. If he was here in Sinnendor, did that mean the Raven was too?

  Tomac whistled, distracting me from my train of thought. I faced his direction just in time to see his half-eaten boar leg fly across the table and into my lap. Startled by the flying meat, I knocked my cup onto Prince Sevril.

  Sevril swore under his breath, slamming his own cup onto the floor. He stood on his chair and launched himself across the table at Tomac. The brothers started fighting on the floor, knocking into unused chairs and into a pedestal holding a flower-filled vase.

  Either Tieren was immune or he could no longer see or hear his sons as they yelled, punched, and beat each other senseless. Portia didn’t move or give anyone attention other than the perfectly delicious soup sitting before her. With unhurried sips, she enjoyed her meal and even helped herself to a small pastry. I mimicked her every movement, because it was obvious she was used to the insanity of the dinner table.

  It seemed like ages before the princes had calmed down enough from their fight to return to their table. King Tieren had now drunk himself into a stupor, and Sevril took a plate of food and left. Tomac, on the other hand, took to playing some sort of bowling game with whatever platters and goblets were left on the table.

  Portia was right. They were absolutely mad. I fidgeted with my cloth napkin and waited for an opportune time to slip out of the room to follow Xiven.

  Neither happened. As soon as dinner was over, I left and tried to make my way down the hall, but there was a soldier on my arm, pulling me in the direction of my room.

  He shoved me in, and the door locked behind me.

  I had been in the castle for hours and I still couldn’t feel power around me. I tried to still my mind and body and reach for it—nothing. It felt very much like being in Skyfell, except in Sinnendor my gifts weren’t muted. They were gone. And without access, without being able to hear Faraway, and knowing I was separated from the power that I had come to rely on, I felt claustrophobic. I walked across the room to stand beside one of the small elongated windows.

  Windows so slim escape was impossible.

  I screamed in frustration and threw whatever objects I could find that were light enough for me dislodge and break. The vase, the matching ceramic bowl, a gold brush. I knocked over a plush oak chair. I sat down on the cold hard stone floor and pulled up my knees to my chest, staring at the mess I’d created. Only a portion of me was happy with what I had done. The other part felt indifferent as I started to slip into the apathetic zone.

  Wasn’t this what I’d wanted? To be powerless? Human again?

  No! I didn’t.

  A large piece of the vase had survived my temper tantrum, and I glared at it angrily. I reached toward it and tried to focus everything I had into moving it. Nothing happened. I crawled forward and lay on the ground in front of it, trying to focus on the spot right in front of the piece, searching for a thread of energy to manipulate.

  Nothing.

  I picked up what was left of the vase and smashed it into the ground.

  Chapter 23

  The next morning, I stuffed clothes and a pillow under the blanket on my bed to resemble my sleeping form. Then, I hid behind the door and waited.

  As the servants came in to dress me, I slipped around and tried to run down the stairs but was caught by a cast iron tight grip.

  “Aargh! You!” I cried out in frustration. Gideon stood there with two other Elite. He physically lifted me into the air over his shoulder and walked calmly into the room. I screamed at him, clawed at his shirt, and heard a long rip as tossed me onto the bed, startling the confused maids. The sleeve of his shirt came with me as I slid off the bed and landed on the floor.

  “You can’t leave,” Gideon roared. “You’re needed here.”

  “What happened?” The worried voice of Portia floated into the room as she stared at the mess I had created the night before. A second later she appeared around Gideon’s shoulder and looked at me worriedly. “Thalia, what did you do?” she asked.

  “Why am I here?” I launched off the floor to stand in challenge. “It’s oppressing, like being suffocated.”

  Portia walked slowly to me, as if approaching a startled horse. Her palms were held up as she circled me warily. Part of me wanted to laugh at how ridiculous she looked. I ran around her outstretched arms and tried to duck under Gideon’s arm, but he snagged me and lifted me into the air.

  Portia quickly ushered the servants
out of the room. The two Elite stepped out, and she closed the door. Gideon placed me back down on the ground and stepped back.

  I backed up as far as I could until my back touched the opposite wall. Scared and nervous, I reached for power again around me but I found none.

  Gideon watched my straining with interest. “It won’t do you any good. The reason like you feel you’re being suffocated is because there are too many of us in one place. The power is here, but it is beyond our reach because we cancel each other out. The farther you go from us, from Sinnendor itself, the easier it will be on you.

  “How can that be, the adepts said there was power in everything. It existed in everything.” I answered.

  “There are so many of our kind here, you would be hard pressed to find a single thread of magic in Sinnendor, though it exists in Calandry because of the Denai. Think of it like an unbalanced level or a magnetic pull that pushes all power away from us. It’s here, but just beyond our reach and that drives us…just a little mad. But for you it may be different, if we can fully break the seal around you.”

  Gideon looked to Portia who nodded slowly, encouraging him to go on. The large Elite warrior paused as he tried to gather his thoughts. “First, you must understand, we are on the brink of war.”

  “Everyone is always on the brink of war,” I answered back. “There’s really no surprise there.”

  He looked irritated but only gave me a disapproving look before he went on. “Let me clarify. Wars, plural. We can’t keep it contained.”

  That I didn’t know. So I decided to wait and hear answers.

  “Do you know the history of the Denai race? How they were banished from their ancestral home and came down to live among the humans of Calandry?”

  “Yes.”

  “What you don’t know is that they weren’t the only race banished. The Denai’s constant feuding with their more powerful brethren led them both to what we call the Fall.

  “Because their brethren’s powers were so great, their powers were sealed within them and they were forced to live as humans. The Denai were the favored race, the blessed. Allowed to keep their gifts. It is no great wonder to see that the battle followed them here into these lands. One of the Fallen became King of Sinnendor and, even on this earth, he wanted to destroy the Denai. He didn’t realize how that would affect them in the end—how it was almost his undoing.”

 
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