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The catastrophe of the e.., p.25
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.25

           LR Manley
 
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   Jared watched the scene as if in slow motion, powerless to do anything to stop it. As the two guards lunged futilely after James he brought the short sword down towards the Caracalic. Just when it seemed Mordalayn was doomed, he span impossibly fast, and grabbed James’s sword arm by the wrist and twisted down and backwards. The blade sank to the hilt in James’s chest and then Mordalayn released his grip and took James by the collar of his silk shirt, lifting him off the ground so that they were face to face. He stared into James’ss eyes as the man struggled weakly in his grip, his strength fading.  

  “Sometimes, you should be more scared of a man with his back to you,” he hissed and then removing one hand he grabbed James by his leg, lifted him over his head and hurled him over the wall, out and down into the forests, far below. 

  Mordalayn moved to the edge of the wall and watched James fall until he was out of sight. Then he slowly turned to the astonished onlookers. 

  “He is gone,” he said. “Let us try to rebuild our city,” and moved past them all and towards the great doors of the palace.

  Chapter 41

   

  James’s battered and broken body lay at the foot of a tree. The branches his fall had torn clear from it lay around him. He could feel no pain but knew he must be dead. Far above him he could see the castle of Alegria, the bridge where he had victoriously taken his men visible above him and the spire of the largest tower rising high above the wall. 

  He heard a rustling and tried to move his head but couldn’t. A creature made its way out of the undergrowth and stood in front of him. It was baby blue in colour and looked like a large rat with a small kangaroo’s face. It’s tail was fat and long, tapering away to a fine point behind it. It’s feet were too big for it and they had claws like a lizard. Its arms were stubby and appeared useless. It stared at James, it’s big, brown eyes looked peaceful and serene. James managed to find his voice. 

  “Are you the Gryphoid?” he asked. 

  “I am,” it replied shuffling forward. 

  “I always believed that you came when people died,” James replied. “I suppose that counts for something.” 

  The creature looked at him for a moment and then replied. “It does, but that’s where your good news ends I’m afraid.” 

  As James watched, helpless, the creature’s baby blue skin changed to a slate grey and its eyes went from two pools of gentle peace to twin slits of black evil. It smiled at him and the grin was one of pure spite and malice. 

  James gasped as the creature stood in front of him and at the same time noticed that the birds had stopped singing in the trees and the breeze that had been blowing had ceased. Time had stopped. 

  “Now,” the creature rasped, its voice like nails on a blackboard. “Where shall we begin?”

  Chapter 42

   

  Bue and Jared sat on the vast, ruined lawn in front of the palace steps. Mordalayn’s spell had scorched the grass to a black and brown wasteland, flashes of desert-dry earth showing through in sporadic patches. Everyone was exhausted and knew that while they had won this battle the fight was far from over.

   Kloee flitted around near Jared, concerned about the mess and upset to see the hurt and pain that had happened.

   Bue leaned with back against the scorched marble wall, in the remains of what had once been a luscious bed of flowers. All the flowers were gone now, their stalks twisted ash and their petals merely a memory. The damage was immense and all the Alegrians knew that it would take many months or even years for the place to be brought back to its former splendour. The surviving soldiers were scattered in and around the courtyard along with the rest of the palace population who had come out of hiding once the battle was over. There was no fight left in the captured prisoners any more. They had all surrendered meekly and were now in the palace dungeons. Mordalayn had instructed that ALL prisoners were to be treated with respect and without suffering harm unless they initiated it. After so much loss and erosion of their beloved ruler’s principles no one wanted to see any more of this wretched descent into brutality and anarchy. 

  Jared was tired. He was still shocked about Madame Veer. Wherever the trap had taken her she had gone out with vengeance in her eyes. Jared just hoped that she was somewhere far from any place she could hurt anyone else ever again. Her fury just before the trap disappeared was her true rage and the pleading and tears had melted in the face of her real anger.  

  Mordalayn walked over to Jared. His clothes were tattered and his jerkin was spattered from the fighting. Despite his ragged demeanour he still looked fresh and Jared was amazed at the Caracalic’s stamina. 

  “Jared you need to rest now. There is no more we can do.”

   “But I…I, I saw Sophie. She was THERE.”

   Mordalayn shook his head and stared at Jared, his face showing no emotion. “Our Lady is still lost to us. Whatever brief break from her state you saw was not permanent.”

   “But…Mordalayn she SAW me, she was out of her coma. She must have been or she wouldn’t have been able to run away.” Jared was distraught. They had fought so hard to save everything and it seemed to have made no difference.

   Mordalayn placed his huge hand on Jared’s shoulder. “No Jared. This is not over. Whatever we have won here is just a small victory. We need to fight to keep what we have reclaimed. There may be other traitors who will rally their forces and try again. The Glavers will not come back now, but someone else may appear to lead them.” 

  Jared’s head drooped and he pulled away from Mordalayn’s touch. He was tired, physically worn out and now THIS.

   He moved to where Bue was resting, one hand protectively placed over his crossbow, his pack resting in the black ruins of a flower bed where he had placed his head.

   Jared sat down heavily next to him and Bue immediately stirred. He opened one eye and squinted at Jared. “Alright?” he asked then grinned. “You look like leftover stew. Get some sleep.”

   “If only…” Jared said and stretched out next to Bue.

   As Jared lay down, his mind full of the sound of clashing steel and Madame Veer’s hateful glare as she was taken from this world he was suddenly startled by Bue yelping.

   Sitting upright he shook his head to clear the descending syrup of sleep and shouted. “What? What’s up?”

   “Something’s moving under me!” Bue shouted and jumped to his feet, grabbing his crossbow and attempting to crank it.

   Jared stared at where Bue had been standing and saw nothing. Then the ruined earth rippled slightly as if there were worms moving underneath it. He stared again and heard other shrieks of surprise and shock from around the burned garden. The ripples became more fluid as he watched and with shock he saw a tiny green plant shoot emerge from the desiccated soil and wind its way upwards. Bue paused in the middle of fumbling for a quarrel. “What the….?” he gaped. 

  As Jared gazed fascinated the blackened ground began to slowly transform into a healthy, rich brown. All across the flower bed the earth changed and tiny plant shoots erupted from it. He and Bue gazed on as the shoots became longer and thicker and wound their way upwards. Then the tips began to form bulbs, one at a time like watching someone blowing molten glass. The stalks began to swell and then they suddenly blossomed into petals. The ones in front of him were white with splashes of pink and they were beautiful. The smell of the bouquet was intoxicating, like ten times more wonderful than the aroma of a flower shop back home. The other flowers burst into petals too, every conceivable colour available. Purple, yellow, pink, orange and red. He glanced quickly left and right and saw the most vivid display of colours he’d ever seen.

   He turned and saw the other and people who had been sat or stood around were now on their feet, gazing uncomprehending at the transformation occurring in front of their eyes. The grass was returning too. First of all in small patches but then, like seeing a Mexican wave at a soccer game, the ripples spread and the desolate, blighted earth was flu
shed with lush, green grass two inches tall. The wave of green spread to the arched gateway and across the other side of the vast courtyard Jared could see the same effects as here. 

  He turned back to his side and the flowers were now fully grown, waving gently. Beautiful. The scorch marks on the marble walls faded like a thumb print on a computer screen and they shone in brilliance again. Jared stared and nudged the open mouthed Bue.

   “What’s happening Sharpeye?” he asked.

   “No idea but at least it’s not trying to kill us,” Bue said, still looking shocked and glancing around rapidly. Kloee squeaked in fear and hovered behind Jared for protection.

   They looked up to the palace steps and they too were now clean and glowing bright. Above them an emerald light shone from the huge windows in the throne room. 

  “Our Lady returns!” Mordalayn shouted and after a second’s hesitation he leapt for the bottom of the steps and pounded up them to the main doorway.  

  Jared glanced around and saw that the whole area was now almost completely restored to its former glory.

   The whole thing reminded Jared of watching the dents in a sheet of metal being pushed out on time lapse photography.

   Mordalayn was at the top of the huge stairs now and he stopped in awed amazement as beams of emerald light sparkled from the front of the palace. The arched door was losing the nicks and scratches from the battle and was back to being solid, honey coloured oak again. The light radiated through the broken windows and one at a time the glass came back into place, snipping the light off as each pane was replaced one at a time. The stained glass patterns returned too, the exquisite artwork was rendered flawlessly. The myriad figures telling the history of the place, again acting out their eternal story through vivid pictures. 

  The light glowed brighter again. Jared, Bue and several others ran up the vast staircase to stand with the Caracalic who was as opened mouthed as they were. 

  “By the love of all that’s pure,” he half whispered as the building continued to restore itself, a pock mark from a Glaver board filled itself in and the wall was smooth again.

   Finally the restoration was complete and the light gradually dimmed. The only emerald light now was above them, pulsing from the throne room windows and from the huge crystal in the main tower. 

  The vast entrance hall, although untouched in the battle looked as if a team of cleaners had spent a week on it. Everything shone and sparkled and looked clean and new. Flowers grew again and the vivid colours were just as beautiful as those in the courtyard. A huge silver vase of orange flowers was at the base of the vast staircase and the deep purple carpet that led up the centre and then forked off to the smaller staircases left and right practically glowed. The rich tapestry looking warm and inviting.

   Mordalayn turned. “You five remain here, secure that door and check this area. No one is allowed in or out until I look upstairs.”

   Bue and four soldiers murmured their agreement.

   Mordalayn turned to Jared and to five other soldiers. “With me,” he said and then drawing his sword he quickly moved to the foot of the velvet stairs and began to cautiously go up them. At the junction he moved to the left and signalled the others to go right. They crept around and Mordalayn flinched as a parrot, layered in vivid colours flew squawking from the upper level. It settled on the big crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling between the two winding stairwells. The crystals rattled slightly and it began preening itself, cocking its head and casting a quizzical eye over them. 

  Moving to the top they met again and Mordalayn saw the door to the throne room was half open. He signalled to Jared and the soldiers to move behind him and they approached the white and gold-inlayed doors. Mordalayn held his sword ready and taking a final look around he pushed the door open and Jared gasped.

   Standing next to the crystal throne was Sophie. At least Jared thought it was Sophie but she looked different. Her body was shimmering like it was covered in sparkling dust and her elegant robes were vibrant green and silver. She appeared to be like some sort of spirit as her body was ever so slightly transparent. Her black hair was braided into a weaving pattern that tumbled down her back, tied with a purple ribbon where the braids met.

   Sophie appeared not to notice them and was looking around the room as if she was seeing it for the first time in a long while. As she looked at different things they would change or flowers would bloom from the formerly barren vases and pots. The throne room once again looked fit for the presence of a queen. She looked up and smiled, the dimples in her cheeks moving as she saw them staring at her. 

  “Mordalayn!” she exclaimed happily, “my sweet protector.” She moved forward, her feet not touching the ground as she appeared to glide down the small flight of mottled marble steps. She raised her arms as she approached the Caracalic.

   “Mordalayn!” she exclaimed again, “how I have missed you.” She smiled and her eyes shone with joy as she approached him. Jared stared on, unsure of what to say or do now. The soldiers next to them were also at a loss.

   As she stood in front of the towering figure, Mordalayn’s impassive face softened and he silently lowered his sword and then slowly dropped to one knee. The other soldiers followed suit but Jared was too dumbstruck to copy them. No one seemed to notice.

   Sophie looked at Mordalayn without saying anything, lowering her arms and standing expectantly as the Caracalic bowed his head.

   “My Lady,” he said softly, in his deep voice. “My Lady…I am moved beyond words that you have returned to us.”

   Sophie smiled again approvingly. “Come my friend, stand and hug me. I have missed you too.”

   Mordalayn remained on his knee with his head bowed and he spoke again after a pause. “My Lady I…I have strayed from the path.” 

  Sophie looked puzzled but her smile remained as she stared lovingly at the kneeling warrior, her robes and a few stray locks of hair moving slightly as if in a breeze, although none was present.

   “My most loyal and trusted friend,” Sophie replied. “What could you have ever done that would earn my displeasure?”

   Mordalayn raised his head and Jared saw to his astonishment that he was crying, a single tear on the huge furry cheek.

   Mordalayn spoke again and his voice cracked with emotion. “My Lady I have let you down. I have killed men. I let my rage at your being taken from us hold sway on my emotions.”

   Jared looked on as Mordalayn gently turned the sword over so the hilt of the weapon was facing Sophie. “My queen,” he croaked, his face incalculably sad. “I am unworthy to protect you. I failed in my duty.”

   He laid the sword at her feet and bowed his head again. There was a long silence Jared stared on at this most intimate and precious of encounters. The other men made no sound, even their breathing seemed quiet. 

  Sophie reached out and gently cupped Mordalayn’s chin in her hand. Her jewelled fingers slowly raised his face to look at her.

   She smiled again as butterflies flitted around her and then moved away to the open window nearest the throne. Jared glanced quickly at them as they flew to the outside world and then looked back to Sophie. 

  Sophie spoke softly. “Mordalayn, my most precious. You are my most loyal friend in this or any other world. I can forgive your indiscretions. I know how much you love me and I would have no other for my personal guardian.” 

  Jared stared at Mordalayn whose face was a mask of sadness. His former steel tough demeanour was gone. The wall of his willpower had finally collapsed after so long.

   He made a muffled sob and said in a choked voice. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

  Sophie took his face in both of her hands and leaning forward she kissed his forehead gently.  

  “You have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of. Now please, stand and embrace me my most beloved friend.”

   Mordalayn struggled to his feet and Sophie flung her arms around him, burying
her face against his chest and hugging him tightly. 

  “Take your sword,” she said and Mordalayn retrieved his weapon from the floor and silently sheathed it. Turning to the others she smiled. “Please rise, loyal subjects of Alegria.”

   The soldiers rose as one and bowed their heads to their queen.

   The room was adorned with flowers and the musk of blossom. Sophie turned her head to Jared. 

  “You must be the one who saved me from entrapment,” she said holding out her hand. “Come,” and Jared moved to her. 

  “You have my eternal gratitude,” Sophie said to him. “Now, before my people meet their queen again I think you all need to tell me what has been happening since I left.”

  Chapter 43

   

  The people came from the city and from every village and hamlet in the kingdom. 

  The green beacon signalling the queen was in Alegria had been dulled for over a year now. As news spread of Queen Sophie’s return and the vanquishing of the tyrant James, they came in their hundreds to see their beloved ruler once again. 

  The emerald light in the castle glowed for miles, as far as the untouched lands in the north and the kingdoms of Estorlan and Flintor. Within half a day the palace plaza, signs of the destruction that had taken place upon it long gone, had filled with eager and excited citizens, buzzing with conversation. Gossip flying thick and fast as to how the queen had finally come back. Some said she had been kidnapped by King James and had escaped just this morning. Others said she had been held prisoner and had cunningly let King James think he had his victory before destroying his army and letting her champion Mordalayn best him in fair single combat. Others still said that the queen had abandoned her kingdom but returned because she could not bear to leave her beloved people behind to face the horrors of rule under Anghofio.  

  Whatever they said, it was nearly always inaccurate and only a handful of people knew what had really happened. 

  Above all, no one hated the queen any more. No one despised her for leaving and no one was resentful that she had been gone for such a long time. The fact she had returned was enough for them to love her once more. 

 
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