The snow had receded from the castle walls by nearly three feet, allowing a pathway for the queen to walk. Queen Kraylan’s feet were bare. She loved the tactile sensation of the grass upon her bare skin. It was soothing and familiar. The wet blades snuck between her toes with each step. Of course, her feet were also covered in a thick layer of mud from the moist dirt below the grass, but that was just a minor inconvenience.
The remaining snow at her right side was ‘old snow’. It was dingy and tarnished by the long winter, mixed with mud and debris. After coming to a point where a large branch protruded out from the snow and blocked her path, she stopped. She removed a hand from behind her back and waved toward the branch. It shuddered and lurched upward but came back down in the same place. Displaced snow fell on the grass at her feet. A chill began to race up her right leg. She noticed that snow had landed on her foot. She kicked it away with a quick flick of her ankle, and then set her attention back to the branch in her path.
The queen steadied herself, widening her stance and placed one foot behind her. She had her arms at her sides with her hands facing upward in a lifting position; however, she was nearly a foot above the actual branch itself. She closed her eyes and inhaled calmly. Her long red hair flowed down along her neck and nestled between her shoulder blades. Squatting down slightly, she began to lift the branch using her power of sorcery. Queen Kraylan Keegan was the most powerful sorceress in Mistasia. She felt the strain of the branch’s weight upon her arms and chest, but it was no match for her power. These occasions were the few opportunities Queen Kraylan had to utilize her craft.
The branch broke through the snow and left a ten-
“That was impressive,” Atom announced.
The queen spun on her heels. She held a scowl on her face. “What?” She barked.
“My Queen, I meant no disrespect.”
“You have disrespected me by interrupting my solitude,” Queen Kraylan growled.
Atom, commander of the Keegan Warriors, sighed softly. This was not ‘his’ queen. The true queen that the elves of Michi Mountains had risen to the throne so many years ago for her prowess in battle and determined leadership was not a vengeful and secretive elf. Even her beauty had begun to fade as she deepened into callousness: Her skin held a slight tinge of gray, lips were no longer so supple, and the whites of her eyes were reddened along their edges.
Atom himself was not the same either. He alone had to bear the torment of knowing why she was so different now. Atom had been at her side through it all. He was there that fateful night when Cragon Cadieux arrived in Keegan Castle. Atom knew what the queen held captive in the dungeons. He knew that the day Cragon died, Queen Kraylan lost her battle to the monstrous villainy hidden deep within every sorcerer in Mistasia. She had fought it for so long, but ultimately, her heart became too weak to sustain the battle. Atom was there when the true Queen Kraylan Keegan succumbed to ‘its’ call.
“I came to bring you news, My Queen; however, I will await you inside.” Atom bowed and began to walk away.
“Atom?” The ‘true’ queen’s voice returned, as it would on occasion. The softness
was calming for him. Atom smiled, his eyes closed tightly as he imaged her beauty.
He turned to face Kraylan Keegan -
She appeared different when he turned back toward her. It would not last for long. Atom knew this, but he cherished the moments when they came. The two stood within reach of one another, but it was as though a barrier was set between them. She was emotionally lost, probably forever, and yes, he loved this elf that stood before him now. He always had, but she had never returned the gesture even before Cragon, so he had learned to love her from afar.
“I’m sorry. I do not know what comes over me.” She avoided his eyes. “You come bearing news from Cadieux? Has Farran returned?”
The queen returned to the castle in haste. Atom and Farran Meydel awaited her within a hidden passage held beneath the eastern tower. This meeting was held in utmost secrecy. Farran had arrived at Maynard Pass at the foot of the Michi Mountains just after dawn this morn, yet he awaited the cover of night to descend into the castle grounds and contact Atom as instructed. Farran had yet to see his wife and children with whom he had no contact since being assigned as ambassador to Cadieux Castle.
Queen Kraylan arrived wearing a dark-
She walked in and removed her cloak, laying it upon a cushioned chair. Atom had walked just inside the opening and stopped. He turned to witness Farran, standing hunched over and motionless as though tied to the floor. He was obviously troubled by the queen’s actions upon his return. The elves of Keegan Castle rarely saw this dark, secretive side of the queen. Atom understood it must have been unnerving for the young warrior. Farran was allowed no weapons and had been taken to a place in the castle that none, save the two that brought him there, knew about. Am I ever to be seen by my wife and children again? Farran wondered.
“Come, Farran. You have nothing to fear. We just need to discuss your time in Cadieux. It is very important to the queen. She must be made aware of all that you learned.” Atom spoke in a consoling tone. He motioned for the young elf to enter.
As Farran entered the room, his gangly frame looked meager in comparison to his commander’s as Farran walked past Atom. He looked to the ceiling, which was higher than he expected. The room from beyond this point appeared small and dank, yet once inside, it was open and far brighter. It was lit by torches burning from the ceiling hanging upon iron chains that dangled from the blackness above them. The room itself was circular like the tower above, with three large stone pillars. Atom placed his hand upon Farran’s back and guided him toward the awaiting queen. From a table in the middle of the room amidst the pillars, she smiled as they approached. Atom pulled back a chair and nudged Farran into it. Atom then joined them, standing on Farran’s right.
“I awaited the weather to break before sending your replacement Warrior Meydel. I hope that made your return journey much more agreeable.” The queen attempted to comfort the worried soul who sat across the small table. Farran had never been so close to the queen.
“Yes, My Queen. Thank you. It was far better than my trip south.” Farran gathered the queen’s gaze momentarily in respect but found himself quickly pulled away by the oddities of the room. A Mammoth fur quilt hung along the wall just beyond her head. That must be worth a fortune! He thought. His eyes followed along the wall noticing two statues across from Atom.
“Farran!” Atom commanded, noticing the young Keegan warrior’s attention had waned.
“Yes, Commander Kaval?” Farran’s head snapped back, quickly startled by his commander’s tone. His brown eyes drifted between Atom and the table. Farran hadn’t become a warrior for battle like most others. He feared death and confrontation. He was recruited for his special talent – artwork.
“Did you spend time with Queen Merran?” Atom began.
“I was introduced to her when I first arrived, but I did not see her often.” Farran answered as he continued to fight the urge to look away from Atom.
Atom didn’t expect that his ambassador would have much interaction with the queen. It was becoming apparent that she allowed her commander, Grace Tallon, the responsibility of training the warriors. “That is what we expected,” Atom stated. He could sense Farran’s tension.
The Keegan Warriors were sent to Cadieux Castle with a very specific purpose. Each had been given predetermined instructions. Therefore, each would return with new information for Queen Kraylan and Atom to add to their studies without ever having to actually visit the castle themselves.
“Do you have your artistry?” Atom questioned.
Farran was a particularly skilled sketch artist. It had become well-
Farran removed a cylinder that was tied around his shoulder. From within, he removed sheets of heavy paper and unfurled them across the table top. Each was a detailed portrait of elves. Atom slid the top drawing toward the queen. She carefully grabbed the edges and turned it proper. She smiled and glanced at Atom.
“These are quite detailed, Warrior Meydel. You have a gift.” Queen Kraylan offered her thanks through compliment. Farran exhaled. His nerves were tempered by the queen’s praise.
“Yes, they are very thorough, Farran.” The artwork spanned the entire canvas. Each
work held a life-
“Thank you, Commander Kaval,” A smile finally broke Farran’s tension. The young warrior even found it easier to hold Atom’s gaze.
Atom began a new line of questioning as the queen continued perusing the remaining sketches.
“In what section of the castle were you housed?”
“I was in the southwest quadrant, Commander,” Atom replied while happily watching the queen enjoy his work.
“Tell me…were there any quadrants that were impermissible?”
“Impermissible, Commander?” Farran was confused by the word. His focus upon the queen was momentarily broken. Atom was somewhat offended at first by the expression on Farran’s young thin face.
“I just want to know if there were any quadrants in which you were forbidden to go. Ones that may have been restricted?” Atom’s line of questioning served a valued purpose to him and the queen; however, the Keegan Warriors did not know the end game.
“Oh, yes. There were two,” Farran eagerly replied and began to lean out over the table to fetch a drawing. “I believe they are both depicted…”
“Show me!” Queen Kraylan’s voice was boisterous.
Atom’s head quickly turned in her direction and then back at his warrior, who appeared frightened and anxious; now he was leaning away from the table and back into his chair. His eyes looked back toward the two stone statues to his left. Please don’t turn me into stone. He whimpered.
“Forgive me, Warrior Meydel. My excitement overwhelmed me. Please, continue; you were going to show us the drawings.”
Farran swallowed his fear and stood from his chair. Atom and the queen followed suit as they all moved to share the same side of the table and have a common vantage point of his artwork.
“Yes, here it is.” Farran held back the curling edges of paper to reveal a scene featuring three small children playing. “They are in the courtyard on the south end of the castle. This wall here…” Farran placed his bony finger upon the area that represented the wall in his artwork. “That wall is in the southeast quadrant, and this stone, from what was spoken by a Cadieux warrior that I shared a room with, is false.”
Atom and Queen Kraylan shared a smile. Farran watched in curiosity before finishing.
“It is said that there is a hidden passage to an underground dwelling.” Farran looked
up. Probably like this one. The queen showed him a scowl which made him stutter.
Atom placed his hand upon Farran’s shoulder. “Good work!”
“And of the other?” Queen Kraylan interjected. She had been waiting to find Cadieux Castle’s secrets behind traveling to Greenville for more than fifty years, and her patience was wearing thin.
Farran felt his innards squeeze. He had been an emotional wreck since arriving home at Keegan Castle. He desperately wished for this meeting to end so he could be reunited with his family.
“The second? I know I have it within my drawings.” Farran scrambled through, hoping he would locate it quickly.
The queen let out a deep sigh, and Atom stepped up between them as though shielding
Farran from her wrath like she was a fire-
“That is the northeast tower,” Farran simply said.
“Why was it restricted?” Atom questioned as he folded his arms and stood upright. He waited for Farran’s response, awaiting something grand.
“It leads to the dungeon where Cragon Cadieux was held captive in ice.”
Queen Kraylan leaned in closer, turning the paper toward her. Her hair fell down beside her face, blocking Farran and Atom’s view. She began to sob uncontrollably. Atom quickly escorted Farran Meydel out. When he returned, the heavy stone slid closed again. The queen had fallen back into the chair where Atom had been seated during the meeting. She continued to quietly cry with her hands covering her face. Atom reached across the table to grab the canvas when the queen snatched his wrist. Her grip was powerful. It sent a surging warmth up into his shoulder. The monster had flared. Her eyes were red with anger and cheeks wet with tears.
“I miss him so much, Atom.” Her voice was shaken and pained. She released his wrist and leapt from the chair, tossing it back. It landed on the ground with a thud against the stone. She marched toward the two statues shadowed in the corner. “I will make your daughter suffer!” She screamed. “She will feel the pain that I do a hundred times over!” Queen Kraylan spat.
Atom could only watch in shock. He couldn’t hope to stop her. She was too powerful. He merely hoped to ebb the flow of hatred from the villainous monster that fed her heart and enraged her soul.