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Authors: Mae Ronan

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Ephram sat silent for a long while, contemplating them, with his silver sceptre in hand. And as to this sceptre? Passed down from generation to generation, from ruler to ruler for thousands of years in the line of Drelho, it was possessive of superior, magnificent and even magical powers – but could be wielded only by the hand of the King or Queen. Its proper name was the Sonorin, which was loosely translated to the words “hand of the King,” from the ancient Lumarian tongue. The High King had his own; but at present there was no other living Lumarian who possessed one. When Ephram departed England, the Sonorin was stowed away, useless as it was in the grasp of Byron Evigan.

But it seemed that Ephram had unearthed it, expressly for this day’s exciting events. He held it now in his right hand, and tapped it steadily upon the floor as he looked towards his prisoners, with eyes somehow both piercing and vacant.

“Anna von Wessen,” he began firmly, “tell me that it was not you who did this terrible deed. Tell me, Anna, that it was not!”

Anna opened her mouth to speak; but could not bring herself to do so, for she felt the whole of Greyson’s body shaking, from the place between them where their fingers touched slightly. She closed her eyes to steel her thoughts, but tried to send just a single message to Greyson through their midst, to do the same. Yet he merely continued to tremble, and to stare with terror-filled eyes at Ephram’s face, which was, presently, admittedly very horrible.

While Ephram sat scrutinising the suspects, Valo stood beside him, with quite the loftiest and most disinterested countenance as it seemed he could muster. The sentries were utterly silent. The only sound to be heard was the distinct chattering of Greyson’s teeth.

Therefore it was to all the more effect, when Valo suddenly cleared his throat, and began to speak. Though he would not look at her, it seemed very much as if his words were directed solely to Anna. She did not pay much attention to the words as a whole, but she was annoyed just the same, by what choice snippets and phrases she could not help but hear. His magniloquent speech was long, unbearable, and rather loud; and it conveyed
primarily his wholehearted disgust, abject shock, and unequivocal condemnation of the two individuals who stood before him. He spoke quite until it seemed his very head would fall off, just from the sheer weight of all his audacious statements (as Anna hoped indeed that it would). But he was silenced suddenly by his father, who threw up a hand in the air, and gave a shout which rang to the vaulted ceiling.

Valo’s expression turned suddenly very sheepish, and he fell back into his proper place, just behind the throne.

Heretofore, Ephram had kept his eyes upon Anna. He discovered very quickly, however, that he would not be able to penetrate her thoughts; and so he turned his attention to Greyson, who quaked like a leaf, and who had never been much of a hand at concealing his own mind. This moment proved no different, and perhaps even worse, on account of his fear. Ephram’s gaze cut him like a knife. Anna thought she could detect the very second, the very instant, that Ephram’s thoughts merged wholly with Greyson’s own. In that brief moment, and without a single word spoken, the entire story was told.

“Well, Greyson Menuch!” cried Ephram, as he banged the Sonorin against the floor. “It seems you have a true friend in Anna von Wessen. It’s a shame, though, that you’re not a little stronger yourself. What a silly fool you are!”

He raised the Sonorin, and made to point it at Greyson; and the many occupants of the chamber gave a collective small shriek of horror. Ephram narrowed his eyes, and looked to Anna.

“Please, Ephram,” she said, as she took a bold step towards the throne. “He meant not what he did. It’s as you say, Ephram – he’s only a silly fool. He meant no harm. Please – please don’t hurt him!”

“I am sorry, Anna. But this time I will not hear you.”

Again he lifted the Sonorin. There was a moment of complete silence; and then Greyson fell to the floor, screaming, and writhing in pain. Over and over, he called Anna’s name; and really she could hardly endure it.

“Ephram!” she cried. “Please, Ephram!”

The torture stopped. Ephram lowered the Sonorin, and Greyson’s body was still; but he did not speak, and his eyes were closed. Anna fell down beside him, and pressed a hand to his chill cheek.

“Oh, Greyson . . .”

“Take him away,” said Ephram; and immediately there came forward a group of six from their place by the wall, who took Greyson up, and proceeded to carry him from the room.

“What will you do with him?” Anna demanded. “What will you do with him, Ephram?”

“If it were not for you, Anna, I would kill him. But, as it is –”

He put a hand to his head, and closed his eyes. “As it is, Anna, I have to think. Please leave me.”

Anna knew well enough to comply; knew well enough that there was naught to be done. So she turned from the throne, and began on her own staggering way from the chamber, looking to the left and the right at the motionless Lumarian soldiers. It all seemed so surreal, it all seemed as a nightmare; but the flame of the torches spread its familiarly strange feeling of warmth over her icy skin, and her very eyes seemed to ache in her head.

She went out into the dark passageway, and mounted the wide staircase, which she traversed on exceptionally unsteady legs, till it brought her finally to the black and lonely chamber where sleep did not come.

XII:

Greyson in the Tower

 

S
he spent long days alone in her chamber, wanting not to see anyone – and knowing not, anyway, what she would say if she did see them. She tried once to learn where Greyson was being kept, but was scolded for her poking, and thereafter warned that another example of the same would bring Ephram a report of her. In the words of Valo himself (to whom Filipovic ran immediately, when he discovered that Anna had been searching the lower regions of the castle), it would be a report “the likes of which she surely didn’t need now, what with the questionable business she had already found herself mixed up in.”

Valo’s attitude changed very little, in fact, from the one which he had assumed at the side of his father’s throne. He was angry, exasperated, and just plain fed up with Anna – and he showed her so in as many ways as he could dream up. He thought Greyson more worthless than ever, and took to gibing Anna cruelly over her friendship with him. Really he was only jealous, and Anna knew it; but it was difficult to let her clearer head prevail, when Greyson was locked alone somewhere in the dark, and Valo was speaking in such a manner about him. Her only comfort, really, came from the doubt and discomfort which Vaya Eleria’s presence in the castle was causing Valo. Previously, he had had only Anna standing between himself and his father. Now there was another.

This enjoyable side effect was practically all Anna knew about Vaya Eleria’s present condition, much as she kept to herself after Greyson’s disappearance. This was not to say, that she
wished
to know anything more – for, quite truthfully, she would have liked nothing better than to learn that the Princess had somehow ended up once more in her coffin. Perhaps this was due to the seemingly powerful hatred which Anna had come (quite rightfully, she thought) to feel for her; or perhaps it was due more to her own unhappiness, and the desire that goes hand-in-hand with such an emotion, to see everyone else in the same state. Her sweep of the dungeons left her just as clueless concerning Greyson’s whereabouts as she had been before it, and she was plunged into a dark despondency which held for many days. Filipovic’s loose lips stamped an end to any such additional endeavours, too, and she was forced to give over.

She heard no more from Valo after his initial taunts and reprimands. She heard no more, in fact, from anyone. A deep stillness took hold of the castle, broken by no distant voices or footsteps, or seemingly any sound whatever. More days passed, until finally the silence began to unnerve her, and to make her wonder, what was happening in those floors below? Where was Ephram? Where was Vaya Eleria?

Where was Greyson?

It was a full week after his imprisonment, when finally Ephram came to Anna. He knocked very softly on her door, but did not wait for her to answer, before shifting into the room.

“Good morning, Anna,” he said.

“I don’t think so,” she answered tonelessly.

Ephram sighed, and came to sit in a chair beside her. He reached out to take her hand; but she pulled away.

“Oh, come now, Anna,” he said. “You needn’t be angry with
me.
No one forced him to do what he did.”

“I know that,” Anna returned shortly. “But you treat him too harshly.”

Ephram’s mouth came, then, as near to falling open in astonishment, as surely it ever had. “Too harshly!” he exclaimed. “Do you fully comprehend, Anna, what he has done? He has broken the eternal sleep of a Lumarian! Such a crime is punishable by death – and surely you must know that I would have carried out the sentence, without even a second thought, if it were not for you.”

“Do not say for me,” Anna replied. “It is not for me that you keep him chained away. It is not for me, that you punish his ignorance with more than he can endure. And you know, Ephram, that he cannot endure it. He is not strong.”

“I know he isn’t.”

Here Ephram paused, and looked very thoughtfully at Anna. “Surely he isn’t,” he repeated. “Then why, Anna, does someone like you – someone so powerful and intrepid as you – deign to call such a lowly rat as him, your very greatest friend?”

“He is not a rat,” Anna snapped. “He is kind, and good, and much wiser than you think. What need have I of his strength? I have more than enough of my own.”

“I do not dispute it.”

“You hold him captive,” said Anna, “for me. Will you not free him, Ephram, for me?”

“I desire nothing more, Anna, than to kill him for his impudence. I am still not even sure whether I will or no. Do you understand this?”

“Well enough.”

“Then why on earth would I
release
him?”

“Will you tell me at least where he is?”

“Perhaps.”

“May I ask you a question?”

“Haven’t you already?”

“Something else.”

“I have a feeling that I will not like it, whatever it is – but I have never denied you the right before. I will not start now.”

Anna made no word or sign, to show that she appreciated, or even acknowledged this fact; but merely went on to say, “You summarise Greyson’s crime as having broken the sleep of a Lumarian. But, Ephram – would you hate him as you do now, if he had woken any other in that crypt? Would you punish him as you do now, if it had been any other but Princess Vaya?”

Ephram’s eyes widened so, and his hands began so to shake, that he looked as if he were suffering an apoplectic fit. Surely, if he had been able, he would have done just that.

“How – how dare you?” he whispered.

“What will you do?” Anna asked. “Will you lock me away, too?”

“Perhaps I will. Honestly I should!”

They fell silent, then, for a long stretch. Gradually Ephram’s anger and incredulity wore away, till once again he was calm.

“Anna, my dear,” he said finally, “listen to me now, and listen carefully. You must learn to control your tongue! You cannot go on in this way, saying just whatever you please, whenever you please. You must have some discretion, my girl! Such a great lack of it does not become you.”

“I am sure that it doesn’t.”

“And you don’t care?”

“Does Vaya Eleria? Certainly she is no more
discreet
than I am.”

Ephram put a hand to his head, and moaned pitiably, quite as if he were in pain. “Oh, oh!” he cried. “Oh – it is more than I can bear! To have raised such an insensitive, ungrateful child!” He pounded the table, covered his face, and then added, “But oh! I have done it twice!”

He sat there groaning for quite some time, though nothing at all to the sympathy of Anna. She waited a little, but then asked, quite as if nothing at all had happened, “Will you tell me where he is?”

“He is in the South-West tower.”

“May I see him?”

“I will not stop you,” said Ephram stiffly. “But I should think that, out of love and respect for me, you –”

Yet the remainder of this hope, serious and sincere as it seemed, was not heard; for Anna was already gone from the room.

 

~

 

She passed the next week in identical isolation. She saw Ephram no more, but visited Greyson each day, much to that poor captive fellow’s joy and comfort. The very moment she woke, she would leave her room, and betake herself to that frigid tower, where there was no light save that which shot, like the thinnest of lances, through the windowless opening on the South side. While Anna stood outside the door to Greyson’s cell, she paused to look at it, reaching its cold and cheerless arm down the narrow hall. Yet it hardly reached the cell; and she and guard Golkin, who was stationed always beside the doorway (probably someone came to relieve him sometimes; but Anna had never seen anyone else), were nearly covered in darkness.

“How is he today?” Anna asked of the guard, on her sixth visit to the tower.

“As well as can be expected,” answered Golkin. “I’ve not heard him moaning, at least.”

With this, Golkin turned aside, and reached to swing open the great stone trap.

While we stand outside this very door, waiting to be afforded a glimpse of Greyson, surely there is no better moment to ask the question: never mind the guarded door, could a Lumarian not simply
shift
his way from the room? What use is a guard, after all, if the prisoner shifts a hundred miles away? What would keep him from attempting it?

What kept Greyson from it, was a little silver locket, hung on a peg which was fastened above the door to his gaol.

In ancient times, you see, there was but a single way to keep a Lumarian enclosed for any prolonged period of time within a single space. The method was very complex, and needed be followed down to the last detail – otherwise you should presently find your Lumarian prisoner, no matter how young or weak he happened to be, standing directly on top of you, and preparing to consume your flesh.

The method was this. First, one needed take an object, any object which the Lumarian may have handled for some extended period of time, and fasten it to the door
of the prison room. (Do not ask how said prisoner might have been tricked to enter the room in the first place.) Next, a line needed be drawn on the floor before the door, and then a particular shape directly upon its surface. This shape was a cross; and both it and the line could be painted only in blood. This, now, is where the method became somewhat complicated. It could not be just
any
sort of blood, but only the blood of an Auren. This put all ordinary humans mostly in the way of being unable to perform the ritual at all, unless they should have somehow been acquainted with an Auren, who was obliging enough to shed his blood for the sake of an innocent family.

But now the Aurens are vanished. The last Auren, if you would like to know, died nearly two thousand years ago. So how, we wonder, has the world managed to contain its Lumarian persecutors, these last two millennia? The simple fact is that there has been no way. If a Lumarian wished to enter, a household either wolfen or human – well, he would enter. There was not much debate about it.

It was only in the year 1682, if you will believe it, that an alternative method was devised. And who devised it, you ask? Why, it was no other than Vaya Eleria.

There was once a Lumarian named Tokin Black. He was rather a disreputable fellow, so far as the Lumaria go – but somewhere amidst all his wrongdoing and philandering (excessive even in the terms of his sinful people), he was stricken with a burning and insatiable desire for the King’s daughter. He went to great lengths – wide and narrow, long and short, forwards and backwards, up and down, any which way you please – to obtain her attention, but of course to no effect. Finally, Clyde Whist (who you will remember as being the first in the dining hall to recognise Vaya, and who was her very greatest friend in the old days) intervened, and betook himself one evening to Tokin Black’s chamber, in order to have a serious discussion with him. He returned to Vaya very battered, having been assaulted at Tokin’s door, by several of that despicable fellow’s largest cronies. He was missing his right hand, his left thumb, three teeth, and one ear, all of which grew back in due time, in the common manner of Lumarian regeneration; but he complained every day of the loss of his writing hand, till finally Vaya called to him a scribe. Thereafter he was as content as any fellow could be, who is missing several of his parts.

After Clyde’s failed intercession, Vaya was somewhat concerned that she would lose her patience, and take Tokin’s head – a thing which would not have sat at all well with the Night Council. Tokin Black, you see, was no other than the son of Josev of Wisthane. He was invited to Drelho for the summer of 1682, at Josev’s earnest behest, and to Ephram’s considerable reluctance.  But, alas – it was not well to openly offend a Lumarian so influential, with no cause other than a supreme dislike for that Lumarian’s insolent, dissolute son.

So Vaya considered, and decided by her own counsel that she must come up with a plan. The product of this consideration was an immeasurably valuable innovation: a brand-new, foolproof method by which to imprison a Lumarian. There is no way to know just how she did it, or what precise thoughts led to its final culmination. Certainly, if we knew, we would tell you. There was no end to the questions she received, some sets bordering nigh on impolite interrogation, after she introduced the method to her father, and never did a single one of those questioners know any more about it than we do.

Anyway. After several nights of painfully intricate thought, and frustratingly voluminous doses of trial and error (wherein she was assisted by the one and only individual whom she could trust with such a delicate matter, Clyde Whist himself), she was convinced that she had got the thing exactly right. So she parted with Clyde in the dead of night, and went alone to practise her invention upon Tokin Black himself. If she succeeded, it was her intention to trap him there every night, so that he could pay no more late visits to her chamber door, and continue to tempt her to criminal action.

She hammered a nail into Tokin’s door, and hung upon it a chain, fixed at the end with a simple amulet. After many different examples of desecrating a Turin, she arrived at the formula which dangled now against the door. She fashioned it into a sort of locket, blighted the wolfen image on its front, and carved in its place the Lumarian crest – an image not only of nobility and regality, but also of great power. Inside the locket she placed a strand of Tokin’s hair, found upon her own cloak by dint of one of his numerous unseemly advances. She believed that the thing would require a bloodstone; and because the Turin already was equipped with one, she needed work no more. The locket was fully fashioned; and today it is called an Aera.

BOOK: Anna von Wessen
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