Authors: Ariel Paiement
In Darkness Lost
© Copyright 2015 by Ariel Paiement. All Rights Reserved.
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I glided across the black ice, a smile playing on my lips as I did so. My black hair rippled out like a shadow, surrounding me as I twirled. I loved skating in the winter with the wind tossing my hair as I flew across the ice. It felt as though I was actually soaring in the sky.
My mother and I liked to romp across the palace grounds in our free time. On one such occasion, we had found the small, tucked-away lagoon that had become our secret place to get away from the world.
Our duties as queen and princess often made it hard to get away, but we came to the lagoon whenever we could. My mother taught me to swim and skate here. She taught me everything I knew. Father never had time to spend teaching me archery or swordplay, but my mother knew as much as he did, and she was better than he was anyway.
We came to the lagoon early today to spend a little time together while all but the guards were asleep. I glided around a bend, and my mother disappeared out of my sight.
“Mother?” I called.
“Won’t you come and skate?”
“Perhaps in a bit, dear. I’m picking Argent berries for dinner tonight. You know how fond your father is of them. You have quite a taste for them yourself, you know.”
I smiled. “Alright. I can’t wait till dinner tonight!”
I heard her merry laugh. It made me happy to know that she was so happy with what she was doing. I’d never heard of any other queen taking time at menial tasks like picking berries, but my mother was not average.
A scream wrenched me out of my joyous oblivion.
My heart thudded to a stop.
I knew my mother’s voice better than anyone did. I wanted to rush to her side to help her, but I stopped myself. My parents had taught me to be rational no matter what. No matter how dangerous the situation, I had been trained not to act in fear.
Their teachings came back to me, making me pause. I didn’t know what the danger was, and I certainly didn’t want to be useless to her. If I could sneak up on her attacker, I might be able to help more. So I skated soundlessly to a bush next to the bend.
My mother was battling for her life. A man clothed in black battered her with black fire. She threw up a shimmering blue shield of magic.
I watched, frozen in fear and despair.
My mother’s force field was battered repeatedly. She backed up until she was on the brink of the lagoon’s high, slippery bank. I realized with a start that if she fell, she could break her neck. Behind her was a sheer drop.
I wanted to call to her but the cry strangled in my throat. I knew that if the man heard me, she’d die for sure.
She took another half-step back, and her foot slipped on the icy bank. She plunged down, her heart-rending scream piercing the still, cold air.
“Dairdra!” Her wail of despair rent the tension-filled morning.
My heart broke just listening to it. I couldn’t help her while the man was looking on or we’d both die. I was helpless to do anything but watch. Her body hit the ice just as the assassin above her sent a bolt of magic sizzling after her.
The thud nearly knocked me to the ground with agony. The sizzling sound the bolt of magic made froze me to my spot. The ominous crack was the final blow. The ice shattered underneath my mother. I sank down onto the ice, crying soundlessly. I still had enough sense to keep quiet, but even that was almost gone. I was fortunate the man was not looking towards the bushes or he would have spotted my movements as I sank to the ice in bitter, helpless fury.
Tears slid down my cheeks, freezing as they fell. The man smiled grimly, sending another bolt toward my mother to be sure of his work.
I wanted to yell, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t common sense that kept my scream of pain down now. It was my numb inability to think. But my mother would die soon without my help if she wasn’t already dead.
The man looked about, probably wondering why my mother had screamed what she had. Finally, not seeing anyone, he turned and strode away.
I waited ten minutes longer before creeping from my hiding place to look around. He was gone. I raced over the ice to where my mother lay in the circle of water the magic had burned out of the surrounding ice. I tried to be careful as I approached. If I went through the ice too, both of us would die, and my presence would mean nothing.
I sobbed, shivering uncontrollably, despite my warm, fur clothing. I tried to pull her out of the water. I wasn’t strong enough. Tugging and grasping at her clothes, I pulled her out as far as possible, freezing her clothing to the ice as well as I could with the little magic I knew.
Numb inside and sopping wet with freezing water outside, I went to my shoes and changed out of my skates. I sped across the snow like a bullet hoping I could beat time and save my mother. I reached the palace ten minutes later, gasping for breath in the frozen air.
The guards standing at attention looked at me in surprise. My mother and I had used a secret exit to leave without having to take a retinue of guards with us.
What an idiot!
I chided myself.
“Quickly! Stop gawking at me and get help to my mother now.” I ordered, my heart galloping with my fear.
They continued to stare.
“Princess Dairdra… You don’t… What?” One guard tried.
“Stop talking. Now!” My mother lay frozen to the ice, dying, and these guards insisted on gaping at me. “Get my father up and get a posse of guards together to follow me to my mother. She was attacked and we need to move quickly or she will die. Now
.” I kept my voice low and deadly this time.
“Of course, Highness! We will come with you and have someone rouse your father,” the captain said, turning to face a guard, “Go now, and be quick. Get the king and follow us!”
“Yes, sir!” the guard said, saluting smartly before rushing off to follow orders.
“Please take us to Queen Regina now, Princess.”
I nodded perfunctorily and took off at a fast run. I had to get back in time to save her if I could. The guards followed, but, fit though they were, they had trouble keeping up with my lithe movements in the snow. I slowed enough to let them keep pace.
When we reached my mother, she was blue with cold. I unfroze her as best I could to allow them to pry her off the ice and pull her from the water. It took all of them pulling together to get her out due to the amount of water her clothes had sucked up during her time in the lagoon’s frigid waters.
“She’s so cold.” I muttered, realizing too late that I should’ve brought one of the court mages along to help out with this part. Turning to the soldiers, I explained the situation. “I can’t make much of a heating or healing spell. Do any of you know one?”
They all shook their heads. With a sigh, I lowered my head. I hadn’t really expected the soldiers to know any. Guardsmen rarely learned magic. We had to wait until my father arrived before we could warm her sufficiently, but he might be too late.
I tried the only heating spell I knew, pushing every drop of magic I had into it. Color began flowing back into her cheeks, but she did not wake. She had an ugly gash on the back of her head from striking the ice. I continued doing what I could, but my reserves were rapidly draining. Besides, I had no affinity for fire or heat. I did so much better controlling water and ice. I couldn’t sustain it for much longer.
Fortunately, my father showed up before my magical reservoir drained completely.
“I have it now,” he said.
He gently, but insistently, pushed me out of the way in the direction of the sleigh. As soon as I was out of his way, he turned back to my mother, ignoring me completely.
His cool distance hit me like a fist in the stomach. There was no “well done” or “it’ll be okay, sweetheart.” Instead it was, “I’ve got this, now go away.”
He knelt over my mother, whispering words in the Ancient Speech. If I had known any of the speech, I might have done better warming her body.
Well, it’s too late now. Father has it all handled.
I thought angrily, bitter with the belated thought and myself.
Once my mother was situated in the sleigh next to me, Father pulled blankets over her. Then he too climbed in on her opposite side. He continued whispering the same words, gently stroking her hair.
Later in the medical facility, my father and I stood by my mother’s MICU, a Magical Intensive Care Unit for patients that were in critical condition.
“Will she live?” I asked dread coalescing in my stomach.
“I do not know, Dairdra. She is in bad shape. The doctors said that when they did a magic probe, her reservoirs were critically low and she was using everything she had to fight off whatever destructive spell the assassin used on her. She is in a coma right now and they don’t know if she’ll wake or not. It’s too early to tell right now,” King Rillannonn responded.
I nodded, sitting down in a chair beside my mother. I took her hand and gazed at her peaceful, pale face. My father placed a hand on my shoulder, giving it an awkward squeeze.
“It’ll be fine,” he whispered.
He stroked my hair gently for a moment.
I nodded. His words came too late. I couldn’t hate him for not saying them earlier, but they didn’t mean much to me now.
My father slipped out, not wanting to see the tears that were coming to my eyes. As soon as he was gone, I let them drip down my cheeks, not caring if the staff saw. I was fifteen, and I had a right to cry if something like this was turning my world upside down.
“Mother, I don’t know if you can hear me or not, but I want you to know I’ll do all I can to help you. You’ll be all right,” I murmured.
The tears began streaming down my face in a torrent and soon I shook with silent sobs. I laid my head on my mother’s still body and wept as though I’d never stop.
Did you understand what was happening, Mother? Why did you call my name? Did you think I could save you? Don’t you know I can’t do any of that?
My heart was breaking and no one was there to hear it as it shattered into dozens of shards.
As my tears began to subside, a nurse walked into the room and put a gentle hand on my shoulder. I looked up into her kind, green eyes. They filled with sympathy for my pain. I liked her instantly.
“Your Highness, my name is Morella. You can call me Mora. I am one of the three nurses assigned to monitor your mother. I need to check the equipment now, so I have to ask you to leave, please,” Mora said gently.
I wiped away my tears, embarrassed that anyone had seen me crying. I hadn’t cared before, but now I did. I was no longer sure I wanted even my father to see my weakness. I wanted comforting, but I had to be strong for Father’s sake.
He couldn’t deal with both matters of state, which would be harder without my mother to do her duties, and me falling apart. I’d probably need to take up some of my mother’s duties too, but the bulk would be my father’s burden. He’d have enough to take care of without me added to the bargain. And that didn’t account for the people themselves, who would need me more than ever now.
I nodded to the nurse, “Thank you for everything you’re doing for my mother.”
“No need to thank me, Princess. Believe me; you haven’t any reason at all to be thanking a lowly nurse like me. Thank the doctors if you must thank someone,” Mora answered softly as she turned to tend my mother.
I frowned as I left. Even in my grief, I couldn’t miss the strange undercurrent to her voice. Shaking my head, I dismissed it. I must have been hearing things, I decided.
I left the hospital and ran all the way to the palace. The need to leave all of my pain behind was unbearable, and running somehow made me feel as though I could leave it all behind if I just ran fast enough. I ran for all I was worth, trying unsuccessfully to leave my overwhelming burden behind me.