Notice: Contains adult language and thematic violence. Reader discretion advised.

Chapter I

The attacks always happened in the open air—the wind in her face, the skies clear and cool, and she a target, a beacon. A fool. She banked left hard, dodging a branch as she made for the cover under the canopy.

She flew as hard as her wings could carry her, not daring to risk the time it might cost her just to look over her shoulder, to see how close they were. The forest stretched before her—a maze of shadow and moonlight, flora and rot. She could not fly hard enough, her breath shards of ice in her lungs.

She didn’t need to look to know how close they were. She could practically taste the foul air around them, feel the ancient blackness curling around her as she sped through the night, cutting through the air and around trees like a human weapon—a blade, honed for killing. Four. There were four of them this time!

Maybe they were the murderers, but she was no blade. And she was certainly no human.

But tonight…maybe tonight she was a shooting star, outflying the darkness.

The darkness that had chased her for as long as she could remember.

She picked up speed, a streak of lightning through the damning darkness.

~

“Holy Eloah, Meren, you look like shit!”

“Thanks, Ash,” she said flatly, brushing past her friend. She plopped down on her dandelion fluff cushion, helping herself to a huge cup of water before taking a full breath.

Asher stood in the doorway with his arms crossed, furrowing his brow. No, not furrowing his brow. His brow was in a constant state of furrowed. Asher was always miffed with her for one reason or another. Like the brother she never had. Or wanted. She rolled her eyes, keeping her attention on her glorious cup of water, kissed with just the perfect amount of honeysuckle nectar, ignoring the ache in her back.

She’d had to fly fast this time. Too fast. Her wings seemed to scream in protest.

She picked broken leaves from her thatch of curly hair, a cerulean strand falling messily across her brow. She pushed it away absently, lost in the knowledge that one of these days, those bastards were going to catch up with her.

“What happened?” Asher scowled, his legs spread shoulder-width apart, his face set in menacing determination.

“You know what happened, Ash,” she said, not bothering to look at him. But that midnight hair of his, his skin so rich and dark, the thick arms peeking out from under his sleeveless oak-leaf tunic—he was hard to ignore for long. There weren’t any of the legendary Warrior færies left; all of them had been either murdered or tortured decades ago. But Asher—with the human-like weapons he had fashioned himself out of bone and stone, with his short temper and feral need to prove himself—he was as close as it came. One of those weapons, a bone blade so jagged she doubted it left much that was recognizable when he was done with it, hung ominously from his belt.

“You disobeyed my orders,” he said, glaring at her from across the oddly shaped room, carved from the center of the chalam tree.

“Your orders?” She balked, still not bothering to meet his pointed stare, instead picking at the vines growing around her cushion, silently reminding herself to prune soon lest her little nook in the tree become overrun with the nuisance growth. She was absolutely uninterested in another one of his fatherly, suffocating lectures. When he let the silence grow long between them, she finally sighed through her nose, taking another long drink before she said, “I don’t know how they always find me.”

“I do.”

“Here it comes,” she said, but he ignored her, pushing off of the doorjamb.

“You’re too brazen, Meren. You take too many risks.” He crossed the room one step at a time. Asher always opted to walk instead of fly when he was frustrated. It drove her to madness the way he refused to use his wings when he was in a foul mood. Which was often. She lifted her gaze to his, but showed no remorse, no apology. No way would she apologize to Asher.

“It’s not safe for you out there,” he warned.

Her temper flared like a willow branch straining against its trunk in a violent wind. “We can’t hole ourselves up in this coven forever, Asher. Jotham is wrong. We can’t keep pretending that nothing is going on. There are more of us, I know it.” She spoke curtly, her words swift and hot.

“We’re not pretending like nothing is going on,” Asher argued, his tone disapproving. He took another step. Another. Closing the gap between them. Towering over her like he was…

“Stop acting like my father,” she spat.

Oh, he didn’t like that comment one bit. Not one tiny bit. Asher knelt before her, gripping her chin a little too firmly, his face, his entire countenance shifting to something… Something she wasn’t sure she liked.

“I’m not your father,” he said, his tone a low warning. “But you’ll forgive me if you scare the shit out of me too often. I forbid you to go out again.”

“You know I won’t listen,” she said, jerking her chin from his grip. A cool sting lingered on her skin in the wake of his grip.

She could feel his gaze on her for an uncomfortable moment before he finally sighed, pushing on his knees as he stood again.

“You can’t keep hoping you’ll be fast enough to outfly them, Mer,” he said, moving to her hearth, ripping away a few vines that had grown over the opening before working to bring a flame to life. It had always marveled her, the way the færies lit fires in the heart of trees without thought. As if one mistake wouldn’t reduce their entire home to ashes. But that had never happened. In fact, there were only legends of such things, and certainly nothing from recent history. Meren had always chalked it up to the magic they used to light those flames, the same magic Asher now used, tossing a ball of færy light from his tan palm. The only magic left in the færies anymore. Light. Useful for little more than a few bobbling flames that lit their homes and warmed their hearths. No wonder most færies had gone into hiding. Their magic was nearly indistinguishable from a human these days—a far cry from the days of yore. The times her parents so often spoke or sang of. When færies were the wielders of the Light—the messengers of Eloah himself.

Those days were long gone, along with any semblance of peace. Just as the færy Light had diminished to little more than utility, so had the lore of the færies in the consciousness of most of the world. Useless. The lot of them.

Asher’s flame flared to life in a flash of blue, then settled into an easy, crackling golden fire in her hearth.

“I’ve outflown them every time so far,” she said, unable to resist arguing with him as she watched him pick up a loaf of bread that was probably too hard to eat.

His back was still to her as he said, “That is beside the point.”

There was truth in that. She knew it. But it didn’t matter to her. Not really. The Dark Færies were growing. Spreading. While the Light of Eloah was all but useless in the Light Færies anymore, the opposite could be said for the Darkness that was spreading across their lands. And the knowledge of that gnawed at her day and night like a wolf at a kill. It went against her nature entirely to just stand by and watch her world be devoured by the Darkness. So she argued with her friend despite the fact that she suspected he was right.

“I’m faster than you, Asher. And I’m faster than they are. They’re not going to catch me.”

He turned to face her, the knife in his hand like an extension of his arm. “And what happens when they do?”

It was the concern in his eyes—sincere and suffocating—that kept her from exploding into a fit of frustration. It was that genuine concern that usually kept her from killing him, despite him infuriating her on a daily basis.

She stood and padded across the shiny wooden floor, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be all right, Ash,” she said as warmly as she could.

To her surprise, he seized the moment to close the remaining distance between them, setting down the knife he was using to slice the stony loaf and putting his warm hands on either side of her face. “I worry about you, Mer.”

“I know,” she said, brushing him off. “It’s annoying.”

He breathed a laugh through his nose, the small gesture softening his whole demeanor. His shoulders relaxed, but his wings remained ramrod straight behind him. Not flapping lazily like a cat’s tail, but rigid—as rigid as his concern for her. “When are you going to let me take care of you?”

She nodded to the loaf of bread behind him. “What do you call that?”

“Sustenance,” he said. “You seem incapable of so much as boiling water.”

“I am not,” she protested.

He laughed and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a bone-crushing hug. His fiery wings at last flickered softly, as if he were calmed by her nearness. She wondered what it said about her that the thought made her uncomfortable.

She absently watched those wings over his shoulder before she pushed out of his arms, pressing a smacking kiss to his cheek and then treading to her bed, plopping down on the fluffy, feathered mattress.

He turned back to the bread and set about buttering a slice.

“I’ll be much more impressed when you learn to make me toadstool soup,” she quipped.

He kept his back to her. “That will never happen.”

“Why?”

He looked over his shoulder, a sly grin on his mouth. “Because it’s disgusting.”

“It is not!” she barked, incensed. It was, in fact, her favorite. And had been since she was a youngling.

“You have terrible taste, Mer,” he said, buttering more slices of bread. She stuck out her tongue at his back and those formidable amber wings of his, lined black and patterned with gold and crimson.

By no means a cook, Asher was, at least, constantly aware of her needs. She was starving. Which was why, she supposed, she let him come in here, let him act like this was his home, his things. Let him feed her like she was a helpless færyling.

Not that he needed permission to do that. He had been treating her as a helpless færyling from the moment he had found her all those years ago.

She rolled her eyes and flopped onto her belly, turning the giant page of a book she had found on one of her ventures—a mortal story. Of wars and kings, and prophets and dragons.

Bound by the sea

For all eternity

Leviathan awaits her destiny.

By fire and flame

She sets the world ablaze

For the coming of the new age.

“I still can’t believe you made me lug that stupid thing in here,” he said over his shoulder, as if he knew exactly what book she’d turn to first. She bit the inside of her lip to keep from chuckling. The book had become her favorite from the moment she had found it.

The book was not færy-sized. No, it was a human-sized book she had found and then sweet-talked Asher into helping her heave it up the side of the tree and into her little home. Which, consequently, was hardly large enough for the book. She had turned it into a platform, a dais of sorts, on which she sat as she read it. Asher had suggested she throw a cushion on top and call it a bed. She had merely rolled her eyes and set about reading it.

And it had fascinated her. Page by page, she hadn’t been able to put it down, stopping only to hover above and turn the page or adjust to uncover a paragraph she sat on. She had read it like that in a matter of days. Now she kept it open all the time—like a witch might reference a spellbook.

“Why do the humans call these stories færytales?” she asked absently as Asher drizzled honey from the comb onto a slice of the crusty bread. “They don’t even believe in færies anymore. They think we’re butterflies or moths or something.”

“Eloah knows,” he said. “Humans are strange.”

Strange, perhaps. But intriguing. And as Meren read more of her book, she couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to meet a human. To help them as the færies once had.

To be a true færy of the Light.

Asher turned to face her at last, bringing her a slice of honeyed bread and biting into one of his own. “Jotham wants us to meet tomorrow,” he said around the unnecessarily large bite in his mouth.

She ignored the sight of him chewing the food and took a bite of her own. The bread was tough. Asher hadn’t been wrong—she was terrible about keeping decent food in her cupboards. She swallowed the hardly-chewed piece before she said, “Why? So that he can tell us to keep hiding? Keep pretending like they won’t find us as long as we stick together?” She savagely ripped off another bite, frustration mounting as she chewed on the stony bread. The butter and honey did little to hide the fact that it was barely edible.

“It’s a good plan, Mer.”

“It’s a coward’s plan,” she quipped.

“I suppose you have a better one,” he said, but she didn’t answer. “That’s why you went out there tonight, isn’t it?” When she still didn’t answer, he sighed. “Meren, what is it that you think you’re going to find?”

“More of us, Ash. I know there are more of us.”

“There aren’t,” he said, standing. “They’re all dead. Just like you will be if you keep going out there.”

“So this is it?” she snapped, standing to her feet. “This is our life forever? Hiding here, hoping we won’t be found?”

“It’s better than dying!” he yelled.

“Hardly!”

“Meren—”

“Ash, I’m tired of this! I’m tired of hiding away like a coward. I’m going to do something. I have to do something!”

He crossed the space between them, gripping her shoulders in his calloused hands. “You are one færy, Meren. One. What exactly do you think you can do?”

“Whatever it takes,” she said, and pushed out of his grip.

###

© 2020 The Parallax by Morgan G Farris. All rights reserved. If you paste any part of this somewhere on the internet, please tag/credit me.

I thought I’d try something new. A way to share with you my WIPs without giving away spoilers or plot points. So I’m calling this “Non Sequiturs.” A place in which I share with you random bits from current projects for you to get a sample of raw, unedited manuscripts, whilst simultaneously peering behind the curtain of what it’s like to write a novel. So today, I bring you this Non Sequitur, lovingly entitled: You Would Have Made A Fine Grand Duke.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

“It’s a pity you were not born male,” Ezra said. “You would have made a fine Grand Duke.” And as first born, she would have been. Ezra had never understood the rather archaic system under which they lived and the insistence that only males could inherit titles. Esther most certainly should have been Grand Duchess of Kinnereth.

“I, for one, am not sorry she was born female,” said John, and to this, Ezra couldn’t help but chuckle.

Esther, however, ignored the comment completely. “The point is, there are plenty of eligible and agreeable matches for you, Ezra. You needn’t bother finding companionship with someone so—wrong for you.”

“I appreciate the life advice, but I will thank you to keep your nose out of my business.”

Esther stood, slapping her hands on her thighs as she did. “This is your life you’re talking about! Our lives! All of us—even John Junior! Are you going to throw all of this away simply because you are too stubborn to listen to reason?” Esther stopped, catching her belly and wincing. John was instantly at her side, a hand at the small of her back. Ezra stood, too, worried that his sister was working herself into a frenzy.

“You should rest, love,” John said. “You don’t need to get so upset.”

“I wouldn’t be upset if my brother would think with the head on his shoulders and not the one in his trousers!”

“And with that rather colorful description, I think we’re done with this conversation,” John said, attempting to usher Esther back into her chair. But she did not flinch.

“I need to walk,” she said, pushing out of her husband’s arms and bustling across the room without a backward glance. John did not follow her, instead watching her as she waddled rather like a duck from the room.

“Shouldn’t you follow your wife?” Ezra asked, plopping back down on the settee, rubbing between his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.

“Right now? I’d sooner follow a mother bear into a den of cubs.”

All content is the sole copyright of Morgan G Farris. Any unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws. If you post this anywhere on the internet, please tag my social accounts. Share the love, folks.

Chapter V

“Where is she?” the king asked Michael. After sharing the news with his friends and taking a few moments to let them reel, he had asked Michael to call a council meeting so he could meet with the people who helped run this kingdom. To tell them that damning truth, too.

“She said she would be here,” Michael responded, standing shoulder to shoulder with Ferryl. The king’s council room buzzed with advisors—lords and dukes from around the kingdom who had been granted lands, powers, and a place on the council in exchange for loyalty to the throne. In exchange for running the day-to-day affairs of Navah. Some Ferryl knew well—had known since boyhood. Some he hardly knew at all. But now he was not the prince who attended the king’s council meetings. Now he was the king who would run the meeting. The king who would rule the kingdom.

Ferryl swallowed and made his way to his seat at the end of the long, heavily-carved table. The blanket of clouds muted the glaring winter light to silver as it spilled across the polished wood. Ferryl took the queen’s chair—usually pushed back against the wall behind them—and pulled it up to the table beside him. Two monarchs at the end of the table now, not one.

He would not rule this kingdom without his wife. His equal.

A few of the lords at the table watched wide-eyed, appalled as Adelaide took a seat beside Ferryl. One in particular seemed keenly shocked, watching Adelaide’s every move as if she would sprout horns and a forked tail. Lord Adam took a seat near the opposite end, his face nearly obscured by a shadow, but a threatening smirk showed enough that Ferryl wanted to spit. King Aaron and Queen Avigail took seats at the council table, too, but their eyes were neither leery nor appraising. Avigail gave a small nod to her daughter, a glimmer of kindness in her gold eyes.

“Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” said Ferryl, adjusting his jerkin. For some reason, it seemed uncomfortably tight at the moment.

“Did we have a choice?” asked the particularly appalled nobleman.

“Sir Westerly, is it?” asked Ferryl, cocking his head to one side. “I had forgotten you were on the council.”

Lie. He hadn’t forgotten at all. How could Ferryl forget the man who had thrown his atrocious daughter at him last summer? Lady Anna Maria Nanette Denae Westerly of Teman. Her father had been given a lordship after Ferryl had refused to marry her. A lordship, and a place on the council as a consolation prize.

“It’s Lord Westerly now, Your Majesty,” said the yellow-toothed man, an oily smile on his dry lips.

“Ah yes, Lord Westerly. I had forgotten. And how is your daughter?” asked Ferryl.

Lord Westerly eyed Adelaide for a split second—the girl who had usurped what Lord Westerly surely considered his daughter’s rightful place on the throne. “She is well, Majesty. Married and expecting her first child.”

Expecting her first child which led to her hasty marriage, if rumor serves me correctly, Ferryl said for only Adelaide’s benefit.

His wife laughed in her mind, squeezing her husband’s hand under the table. Be nice, Ferryl.

When am I not? he quipped.

“How delightful,” said Ferryl, even as he held the private conversation with his wife, and Lord Westerly dipped his head with a mocking grin.

“We shall get started, then, I think,” the king went on, bobbing his knee under the table.

“Are we not to wait for the queen, then?” asked Lord Adam, sitting with his arms crossed at the end of the table.

“The Queen Mother,” Ferryl corrected, willing himself not to roll his eyes at his wife’s cousin, “will be along shortly.”

The king did not miss the multiple pairs of eyes that glanced Adelaide’s way, not daring to linger on her for too long.

“I know that many of you were under the impression that my trip to Ramleh was to assess the damage from the rebels, and while that is true,” said Ferryl, “it is not the complete story. In case the presence of the king and queen is not evident, we also went to Haravelle to forge an alliance with our sister kingdom. I am glad to report to you today that Haravelle has provided a hundred thousand men to join with ours in our efforts against Midvar.”

“So we are to war, then?” Lord Westerly asked, crossing his slender arms.

“We are preparing for potential war, yes,” said Ferryl, swallowing.

“All due respect, Your Majesty, but that is not how this looks,” said Westerly. A few of the other lords around the table nodded in silent agreement.

“Pray, how does it look?” Ferryl asked through his teeth.

“Like you are launching an attack on the kingdom whose bride you set aside,” said Westerly. Another, older lord—Mistar, if Ferryl remembered correctly—eyed Westerly with a warning stare. But the haughty lord ignored the old man and went on. “May I ask what you plan to do with her?”

From the corner of his eye, Ferryl spotted Michael standing along the wall near the door, his shoulders suddenly tense, his hand gripping the pommel of his sword.

“I have offered her a home here in Navah,”said Ferryl, lifting his chin. Some of the advisors nodded, some looked around in wide-eyed shock.

“That seems a bit risky at such a time as this, Your Majesty,” said one of the lords.

“She is a friend to this kingdom. And to me. I will not put her aside,” said Ferryl.

He realized his mistake the moment Lord Westerly spoke again. “But you have, haven’t you?” The lord nodded toward Adelaide without even looking at her, and Ferryl could have crawled across the table and throttled the bastard for it. “It seems you have put aside your duty for the sake of bedding your mistress.”

Ferryl sucked in a breath, ready to retort, but was cut off by his wife.

They do not know, Ferryl. You cannot blame them for what they do not know.

Ferryl breathed in and out once. Twice. Assuring himself that he was calm again, he finally said, “That is another matter we need to discuss today.”

“Clearly,” said Lord Westerly under his breath—just loud enough that it could not be missed.

Ferryl ignored him, though his heart began to pound. Adelaide squeezed his hand under the table. There is no easy way to tell them, my love, she said. It just has to be said.

So Ferryl said it.

“While we were in Haravelle, it came to our attention that Adelaide, the lost princess, was alive.”

Around the long table, almost every pair of eyes widened in shock. Whispers bounced back and forth across the polished wood. Ferryl swallowed past a thick throat. Then he swallowed again.

“And so I married her.”

“Married her?” blurted Lord Westerly.

“Remember your place, Lord Westerly,” said Lord Mistar from the other end of the table. Ferryl nodded in silent thanks to the old lord.

“We have been betrothed since her birth nearly twenty years ago. By fulfilling the marriage contract—”

“Forgive me, Majesty, but this all seems a bit convenient, don’t you think?” asked Lord Adam.

“Convenient?” asked King Aaron, his brow raised warningly at his nephew. Lord Adam crossed his arms and sat farther back into his chair.

“Of course anyone can see the resemblance between you, but I find it a bit odd that your daughter has been under our nose for fifteen years and none of us were the wiser,” scoffed Westerly, his attention on the king of Haravelle.

“She was cursed,” said Ferryl, his heart a war drum pounding in his chest.

“Cursed?” balked one of the lords at the other end of the table.

“So now not only is the princess miraculously alive, but magic is the reason?” laughed Lord Westerly.

Just then, the meeting room doors opened. All eyes turned to see who was intruding on the uncomfortable meeting as Michael announced, “The Queen Mother.”

The queen entered the room like a ghost, wearing a drab-gray gown that fell loosely from her thinning frame. She hadn’t bothered with kohl on her eyes or jewels on her neck, either. This woman…she was not the queen of Navah. She was a skeleton in wool with a simple graying plait down her back, walking with her shoulders back and her gaunt chin high.

As everyone stood, she floated across the room, her eyes hauntingly distant, and took a seat next to Ferryl. It was only once the advisors had all bowed and taken their seats again that she inclined her head to Aaron and Avigail, nodding silently to them before saying, “Your Majesties, it is an honor that you have come at such a time, and my kingdom thanks you for your show of loyalty and friendship.”

It was King Aaron who responded. “The honor is ours,” he said, his words sincere. Even Avigail’s eyes shone with a mixture of pity and worry. Ferryl’s in-laws knew the taste of unexpected loss and heartache quite well.

Then Queen Meria turned her attention to Adelaide—the girl who to her was still Elizabeth, the nuisance stable girl. But now there was none of the signature hatred in Meria’s eyes. No disdain. Just something else Ferryl couldn’t quite place. As if she were putting the pieces of the puzzle together even without realizing it. Finally, she turned her attention to Ferryl, her face a blank slate all the while.

“Welcome, Mother,” Ferryl said. “The council is glad of your presence.” He wasn’t sure if he sounded perturbed or sincere. And he was equally unsure which of the two he meant.

“We are so sorry for your loss,” said Queen Avigail. “King Aiken was a good man and a good king.”

Silence. Uncomfortable, haunting silence. Then, “He was indeed both,” said Meria, to Ferryl’s shock.

Well.

What in Sheol was he to make of that?

Her response—uncharacteristically sincere and honest—threw him off course so violently that it took Ferryl a moment to recover his train of thought. He stumbled headlong into his mental list of discussion points, as if pushed off of one of the cliffs of Navah straight into the breakers of the Great Sea below.

“As I was saying—” said Ferryl.

“Yes, in case you missed it, Your Majesty, your son was just regaling us with the tale of his surprise marriage to the miraculous princess of Haravelle,” said Lord Westerly.

Ferryl ground his teeth, but Meria’s eyes slowly landed on Adelaide, appraising her for an uncomfortable moment.

“I know how this looks,” said Adelaide, looking the Queen Mother in the eye.

“Is it true?” Meria asked. Everyone around them seemed to be holding their breath. Then again, so was Ferryl.

“Yes,” Adelaide breathed as she nodded softly.

Queen Meria said nothing even as her black gaze held Adelaide’s.

“I am sorry, but we are going to need more than just your word, dear Elizabeth,” said Lord Westerly.

“Her name is not Elizabeth,” chided Ferryl. “Her name is Adelaide, Queen of Navah, and you will address her as such.”

“You do recognize the danger you put our kingdom in by making such a claim?” asked Westerly. “No one would have balked,” he went on. “No one would have even batted an eye at you taking her as your mistress. But for some reason—perhaps some insatiable need to think yourself noble—you’ve married her instead. Which would have been ridiculous enough without adding the pathetic farce that she is the dead princess come to life again!”

Ferryl looked to Lord Mistar and then to King Aaron, neither of whom seemed to have anything to say.

“It is true. She is Adelaide of Haravelle. I swear it on my life,” said Ferryl, drumming his fingers wildly on his knee. To his right, Queen Meria said nothing.

“I am sorry, but I find this absurd,” said Westerly. “You leave our kingdom for months without a word of your whereabouts. And in your absence, your father is murdered—an act of war. An act of treason at the very least. You return to us a month after his death to let us know that you’ve miraculously found the lost princess of Haravelle and ask what? That we should support this tomfoolery? That we should believe you?”

“Lord Westerly,” chided Lord Mistar from the other end of the table.

“Does not our presence here confirm his claims?” asked King Aaron. “Do you think we would go along with a brazen lie about our beloved daughter?”

Lord Westerly puffed a scornful laugh. “Forgive me, Majesty, but even kings can be bought.”

“For what purpose?” asked Queen Avigail. “For what purpose would Ferryl buy us off?”

“To marry his whore, of course,” said Westerly.

Michael advanced across the room in all of three steps, unsheathing his sword a few inches from the scabbard, a look of murderous contempt in his silver eyes. King Aaron also looked ready to plunge his sword right through Westerly’s throat. Lord Adam, conveniently, sat silently at the other end of the room, that smirk no longer just a threat to his narrow mouth, as smug as if he couldn’t have planned this any better. But to Ferryl’s eternal shock, it was Queen Meria who spoke up.

“Can you prove it?” she asked, her words shattering the tension. “Can you prove who you say you are?”

Ferryl practically growled at his mother. “She owes no proof. To any of you.”

Ferryl, Adelaide said to only him. We can prove it to them.

He looked over to find the amulet of Haravelle in her palm, her emerald eyes alight with determination. She turned to her father, his eyes meeting hers as if he knew what she was asking. He reached within his own jacket, pulling out his half of the stone.

“This is the amulet of Haravelle,” said King Aaron, standing. Adelaide stood as well. “It has belonged to the royal family in my kingdom for generations. It was divided into two stones many centuries ago, a relic that cannot be worn by any but the reigning monarch and his heir. I gave this stone to my daughter when she was a child.”

“Forgive me, Your Majesty,” said one of the lords at the table. “But anyone could forge such a thing.”

“Perhaps,” said King Aaron. “But none can forge the magic of Providence.”

More silence succeeded his statement. More wide-eyed shock as King Aaron lifted his half of the amulet, as Adelaide lifted hers as well and joined the two, just as they had in Haravelle. The miraculous display that had restored a lifetime of memories to a lost princess.

But today—

There was not even a flicker of light. Not a hint of magic in the joining of the two stones.

Nothing.

Nothing but a king claiming to have found a miracle and a council who would not have the proof.

“You will destroy the entire kingdom with your lies, Ferryl,” said Westerly as he stood. He pushed his chair away from the table. “And I will be damned if I stand by and watch.”

###

© 2019 The Parallax by Morgan G Farris. All rights reserved. If you paste any part of this somewhere on the internet, please tag/credit me.

Chapter IV

The carriage bumped and jolted down the gravel drive, but Adelaide’s hand rested firmly in her husband’s. The dreary clouds hung low, a blanket of gray over the city of Benalle, casting silvery light through the window and onto Ferryl’s unruly locks. The castle loomed before them, great white stone halls flanked by towering turrets that looked as if they staked the castle to the edge of the cliffs. The black-and-white flag of Navah flew proudly at each corner of the castle, greeting Ferryl’s return. Hailing the return of the king.

And the queen they did not know they were getting.

Adelaide swallowed once. Twice.

They will love you, Lizybet, Ferryl said to her mind, squeezing her hand for emphasis.

It’s not them I’m worried about, Adelaide admitted to him. And Ferryl met her eyes, pulling her hand to his mouth.

But he gave her no words of reassurance, for what could he say? His mother had despised Adelaide—Elizabeth—as long as they had known each other. How much more so now that she had gone and married Ferryl? Never mind that they had been betrothed since they were children—Meria herself had signed the betrothal contract to the Haravellian princess when Ferryl was only a boy. Would the queen of Navah believe them? Would any of the courtiers or people of the kingdom believe that she really was the princess of Haravelle?

“Yes,” said Ferryl out loud. “I will make sure of it.”

“It looks an awful lot like a prince who ran off to marry the woman he wanted instead of living up to his duties,” she said.

Ferryl took her face in his hands and kissed her once. Twice. “Yes, I did. How convenient that she should be my betrothed to boot.”

Adelaide huffed a laugh before Ferryl kissed her once more. But even in his confidence, she could see the worry that plagued him and slumped his shoulders slightly. It limned his brow, narrowed his eyes, and played in his nervous fingers as they tapped along her hand.

For Ferryl would not return to his kingdom as the hero prince with a legion of allied soldiers in tow.

He would return to his kingdom as their leader, with war on his doorstep and a murder lingering in every whisper, every stare. He would return to his kingdom with a queen they did not know they were getting.

A dead princess, come to life again.

For an absurd moment, Adelaide imagined they were in a circus caravan, pulling into the next town they would entertain.

Ladies and gentlemen! Step right up to see greatest show in Navah! Elephants! Lions! Beasts of all sizes! A terrified prince, poised to take the throne of the greatest kingdom in the realm. And if that’s not enough, you won’t want to miss the mysterious Dead Princess of Haravelle!

It was Ferryl’s turn to breathe a laugh. “Don’t forget the cretin cousin, the brooding half-wit passed over for the throne!”

“You shouldn’t joke like that,” Adelaide warned, though a laugh bubbled in her own throat. “Lord Adam won’t tolerate it forever.”

“I still don’t see why he had to come along.”

“And miss all the drama? Not a chance in Sheol,” she said. “I’m sure he is convinced no one will believe my heritage.”

“And like a spider, he can lurk in the darkness, waiting to claim his rightful throne once more,” Ferryl said, a scowl on his face like he had just swallowed sour milk.

“Ignore him, Ferryl. He is no real threat.”

“Let’s hope you’re right,” Ferryl said cryptically.

The carriage came to a halt, and Ferryl turned his attention out the window once more. Benalle Palace did not gleam in the endless sunlight of the Navarian coast. No, the blanket of clouds made the glorious castle appear gray. Sad. As if the weather itself understood the darkness, the curse that loomed over the people of Navah.

Ferryl took a deep breath. “This is it,” he said.

“Are you ready, King Ferryl?” she asked, the first time she had said his title out loud.

His attention returned to his wife. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, my love. But as long as I have you, I know I can face all of this.”

“You’re stuck with me now, sir,” she said.

Ferryl only waggled his brows as the page boy opened the carriage door. “Your Majesty,” he said, his prepubescent voice squeaking. He took a deep bow before pulling the door open all the way, calling out, “His Majesty, the king of Navah!” when Ferryl stepped foot on the gravel.

Ferryl looked around at the small crowd that had gathered at the castle entrance, all of them courtiers come to greet their king. Then he turned and extended his hand to his wife. “Come, Queen Adelaide. Your court awaits.”

He could hear the whispers as they passed. They crawled along his skin, and he ground his teeth to keep his retorts to himself.

It looks like the king has made her his official mistress.

She was always his whore, wasn’t she?

Quite the jewels for a paramour.

Adelaide walked beside him, arm in arm, her shoulders back, her chin high. She looked every bit a queen in that emerald-and-gold gown. He had given her the jewels before they departed Chesedelle, but it was her mother who had given her the circlet that currently sat atop her head. An intricate weaving of gold and silver made to look like the needles of a conifer, it shone from the top of her black tresses, even in the muted light. Princess Adelaide of Haravelle, Queen of Navah. Today—today these courtiers would gain a new queen. A queen in mind and bearing, not just in name. So Ferryl ignored their insults and walked proudly beside his wife.

It was Delaney he spotted first, and a flash of guilt soon followed. She stood at the top of the stairs, her belly protruding rather prominently from her skirts, but she, too, held her shoulders back, her chin resolute. And Michael stood steadily beside her, their faces expressionless as the king and queen approached.

Ferryl decided to swallow his pride. “Your Grace,” he said, bowing his head to the former duchess.

“Your Majesty,” she responded, dipping into a low curtsey. Michael bowed, too. So did all of the gathered courtiers.

Delaney’s attention went to Adelaide. “Elizabeth,” she said, bowing her head. “You look beautiful.”

And Adelaide only smiled, bowing in return. Ferryl caught his wife’s eye and winked for her benefit.

The king and queen of Haravelle soon followed behind them, along with Leala and Lord Adam. Talia and the rest of the servants lingered behind at the caravan, though Talia beamed as if Adelaide were her own daughter.

“Michael,” Ferryl said, acknowledging his friend.

“Your Majesty,” Michael said with a dip of his chin. “We are glad of your return.”

Ferryl looked around at the courtiers that peppered the top of the steps —and noticed which ones did not. “Where is my mother?”

Michael did not answer immediately. No one did. When Ferryl met Michael’s eyes again, the guard only said, “There is much we need to discuss.”

King Ferryl sat with Elizabeth by his side, holding her hand as if she were an anchor and he a ship adrift on a raging sea. He listened intently as Michael recalled the events of the last few months: the death of the king, a court riddled with rumor and gossip, a queen who hid in her chambers away from it all. An invisible burden rested on the king’s shoulders—something Michael couldn’t quite place. He privately wondered what had happened on the road home to Navah.

“And my mother has not emerged? Not once?” Ferryl asked, appalled by what Michael conveyed. The muted light lit the king’s receiving room in a wash of silver sun—a real winter, unlike any Michael could remember in Navah. The chill seemed to have settled into his bones and blood.

“She is…not herself, Your Majesty,” said Michael.

“What does that mean?” asked Elizabeth, her face drawn in concern.

“Something is different,” Michael admitted. “She is much altered.”

“In what way?” Ferryl prodded, leaning forward, his arms resting on his knees.

“I think you’ll understand when you see her,” was all Michael could think to say.

Elizabeth looked to Ferryl for a moment, their eyes locked on one another as if in a silent conversation. It had always been that way with them—an understanding between them which the rest of the world was not privy to. They were in love, yes. But it was so much more than that. A bond, deep and true. Impenetrable.

Elizabeth patted Ferryl’s hand, and that’s when Michael spotted a ring…on her left hand.

Oh Providence.

“I will deal with my mother later,” Ferryl said, worry tainting his words. Not even home an hour, and Michael had already dropped the weight of the world on the shoulders of his king. Not to mention he had yet to tell him about what had happened with Delaney…

“Michael,” Ferryl said, turning his attention back to the guard. Michael wondered if the king would still consider him a friend when he learned the truth. “We need to discuss castle security.”

Ah. There it was. Something had happened on the road home. Michael sat upright.

But the rest of the story seemed lost on Ferryl, who fidgeted with his fingers and instead suddenly turned his attention to Delaney.

“Delaney, I am glad you are here. I need to apologize to you,” said Ferryl. Delaney only furrowed her brows. “I was unfair to you before I left for Haravelle. I said some things… things I should not have said, and—”

“Your High—Your Majesty, I mean—you do not owe me an apology,” Delaney interrupted.

“My name is Ferryl,” said the king warmly. “My friends call me Ferryl. And I do owe you an apology. My behavior was atrocious, not to mention unfair.” He looked to Elizabeth by his side. She merely squeezed his hand, a small smile on her mouth. It seemed to be enough to give Ferryl the gumption to continue. “I was wrong to accuse you as I did, when I was guilty of the same.” Infidelity—that’s what he meant. He had called her a whore for conceiving another man’s child while still betrothed to Ferryl. And here was Ferryl, admitting to her that he was just as guilty for loving another all the while. Michael wondered if his king would have the same grace when he learned the rest of the story—when he learned of his betraying friend who had stolen a duchess the moment he turned his back.

Absently, Ferryl rubbed a thumb along Elizabeth’s hand as he continued his speech. “Delaney, I am truly sorry for hurting you.”

Michael knew Ferryl. The prince was like a brother to him. And he could see in Ferryl’s eyes that he meant it. Every word. That he was truly, genuinely sorry for how he had treated Delaney and for the things he had said. Michael stole a glance at the woman he loved, only to find her lip quivering as she fiddled with her fingers in her lap. Michael took the risk and rested his hand on her back.

Ferryl placed a hand over Delaney’s, waiting until she met his eyes again. “I am so sorry, Delaney. You became a true friend to me in those weeks when I thought Elizabeth to be dead. I am truly sorry that I threw all of that in your face.”

“You became my friend, too,” Delaney finally managed. And despite himself, Michael ran his hand down her back once. Only once. He dared not touch her more, though the urge to comfort her, to take her in his arms and hold her tightly nearly consumed him.

“Then it is settled,” said Elizabeth, a kind smile in her eyes. “We will be friends.”

Delaney’s gaze danced between the king and queen for a moment. “You do not know how thankful I am for it.”

“I meant what I said in my letter, Delaney,” Ferryl added. “You have a home here. For as long as you like, Benalle Palace is yours to call home.”

Delaney looked to Michael, tears brimming in her eyes. Michael gave her a soft smile, clasping her hand in his for good measure, taking no small amount of pleasure from the way she held on tightly. He ran a thumb along her palm as Ferryl went on, tracing idle patterns on the soft skin—a clover, an evergreen, an eight-pointed star.

“There is something I must tell you both,” Ferryl continued. He looked to Elizabeth beside him, and she nodded once before he spoke again. “I need your support. More than ever, I need you both.”

“Increasing castle security…” Michael said, curious why Ferryl had dropped the subject a moment ago. Delaney noticed the ring on Elizabeth’s hand, and she squeezed Michael’s hand once as if to tell him something.

Ferryl held his chin high when he finally said, “While we were still in Haravelle, we married.”

“I noticed,” Michael said, a small laugh escaping despite himself.

“That is not all,” Ferryl said, and at the worry, at the fear Michael saw… Why in the world would marrying Elizabeth merit increasing castle security?

“She is not… Her name is not Elizabeth,” the king stammered.

Michael furrowed his brows as he observed his king and the queen beside him.

Ferryl breathed once, clearing his throat. “Her name is Adelaide. The lost princess of Haravelle.”

The room went deadly silent, not a sound to be heard. Not even a breath. Michael took a moment to absorb the words, the sheer concept…

Adelaide of Haravelle. The lost princess. Supposedly dead. Alive again.

Married to the king of Navah.

“Say something,” Ferryl finally interjected through the silence. “Tell me you believe me.”

“How?” Delaney asked. “How did this happen?”

“I was cursed,” Adelaide said. “The same way Ferryl was last summer. I was cursed to forget who I am, from where I came. Only I was cursed as a little girl. And I did not remember. Not until we went to Haravelle.”

“And now you remember?” Michael asked.

“Magic. Magic gave me back my past. Just as it gave Ferryl back to me.”

The room went silent again.

“I know this is…a lot to take in,” Ferryl tried.

“If this is true,” Delaney said, speaking up. “If this is really true, it changes everything.”

“I know,” Elizabeth—Adelaide said, her voice small.

“And castle security…“ Michael tried.

“We wanted to keep it a secret. As long as possible,” Ferryl said, his grip on Elizabeth—Adelaide’s hand a vice. “But they know. Midvar knows. And on the way home we were attacked.”

Michael could barely take it in. The idea. The sheer concept. Princess Adelaide of Haravelle, Queen of Navah.

The world would be forever changed by such a revelation.

“We must protect her,” Ferryl said, and it was desperation that colored his every word. Michael wondered how he would feel, what he would do if it were Delaney in those shoes. If it were Delaney that needed to be protected from the world… Then again, in some ways, she did.

“My uncle,” Delaney said, but it was clear she could not bring herself to say more. It was a damning, palpable worry that settled on the four of them.

“I know,” said Ferryl solemnly.

“On my life,” Michael said, straightening his back. “I will protect you, Ferryl. I will protect you both. My king,” he said, taking Ferryl’s hand and bowing low to press a loyal kiss to his knuckles. “And my queen,” he went on, pressing the same kiss to her hand. “I will protect you both with my life.” At his side, Delaney shifted slightly.

“You believe us?” Ferryl said. It wasn’t his king asking the question, it was his friend looking for solidarity.

Before Michael could answer, Delaney said, “Yes, we do.” And when all eyes met hers, she said, “Only a fool would make up such a story at such a time. And I have never known you to be a fool.”

###

© 2019 The Parallax by Morgan G Farris. All rights reserved. If you paste any part of this somewhere on the internet, please tag/credit me.

Chapter III

General Titus Melamed made his way down the busy streets of the little village near his home. Cobblestones and dirt combined to make a mess of the roads during the wet, cold winter that had settled in northern Midvar. He passed by the apothecary he had visited frequently in the last few weeks, procuring tonics for his wife’s aches and pains. All part of a normal pregnancy, she had promised.

He prayed to the gods every day that it was true.

But today was not for a trek to the apothecary. Today, he had a very different but no less important mission.

The mist stung his eyes as he rode his steed through the mud and muck, the passersby hunched over, blocking their faces from the biting wind and cold, icy rain. They seemed rather in a hurry today, bustling to and from shop to shop as if they couldn’t move fast enough. Considering the biting rain, Titus understood the sentiment. He pulled his cloak tighter over his chest and rode on.

He reached his destination soon: the bank, a formidable building of tall stone pillars and veined green marble, a stark contrast to the simplicity of the rest of the village. Just how King Derrick liked it. Money. The pillar of a thriving society. Every financial institution from here to Goleath Palace was a testament to that end: money and power and little else mattered in this kingdom.

Which was precisely why Titus hated every single bank in Midvar.

But his visit was a necessity today, so he lobbed himself off of his mount, tied it to a post, and went inside the colossal building.

This was no simple visit to withdraw a few bekas or invest a few talents. No, this was a visit that required speaking with his banker face-to-face, in his office, doors closed. Which is where he found himself rather quickly—being the king’s dog had a few perks, after all.

“Ah! General Titus!” said Gidon, his banker for so many years. The man was tall—typical of most with Midvarish blood in their veins. But he was also gangly and spindly, his mantis-like limbs only accentuated by the tiny pinstripe of his trousers. He preferred clothing of the more flamboyant variety—vibrant colors, ruffled cuffs, gold-tipped walking canes. He looked more suited for a traveling carnival than a bank.

“How nice to see you, my friend. Come in, come in!” Gidon ushered him inside his ostentatious office, offering him a plush leather seat and a hot cup of tea, his mustache curling with his toothy smile. Titus took the seat but refused the tea.

“It’s rather busy today, wouldn’t you say?”

“I would,” said Titus. “Any reason?”

“Everyone is preparing to leave our little village, I suppose.”

“Leave? Why?”

“You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?” Titus asked, annoyed at the small satisfaction Gidon took from his ignorance. The man always loved intrigues. Much like a woman. For some reason, it annoyed the Sheol out of Titus. But from the look on Gidon’s face, this was no trivial intrigue or gossip.

“The Navarian soldiers. They’re advancing farther into the kingdom every day. It seems Commander Derwin is not nearly as peace-loving as their former commander.”

Navah’s former commander. Titus wondered what blissfully ignorant Gidon would think if he knew that Titus was their former commander. The traitor in disguise.

“Does that really come as a surprise to you? Our diplomat killed their king. I hardly see why that’s a reason to leave. It’s not as if they’re going to attack civilians.”

“That’s just it. That’s exactly what they’re doing,” Gidon said.

Civilians? Titus knew the hot-headed Prince Derwin quite well. And while he was eager and perhaps a bit ill-tempered, the young commander was by no means a monster. Titus had trained him, for the gods’ sake! Why in Sheol would he order the attack of civilians? And what could they possibly be doing that would give people cause to abandon their homes? Their lives?

Gods, wasn’t that what Titus himself was here to do? But for such very different reasons.

“I didn’t mean to set off the meeting on such a dark note, my friend,” said Gidon with a flippant flick of his hand. “What can I help you with?”

Titus cleared his head and looked back at the banker across the desk. “I need to consolidate my assets.”

“So you’re leaving, too, then,” Gidon said, but it wasn’t a question.

Titus only shrugged. The less the man knew, the better. Of course he wasn’t leaving to run from Navarian monsters. He was leaving to run from the true monster of this war: his own king. And he intended to leave nothing behind. Today’s visit to the bank was the first step in the process of starting a new life with Penelope. Somewhere far, far away from Midvar. And Navah.

A new continent sounded like the right idea. And thank the gods, Penelope agreed.

“Isn’t consolidation of assets a bit drastic?” Gidon asked, in his typical intrusive style. “Perhaps just take out a few hundred talents to tide you over for a few months until all of this settles down.”

“I’m taking everything, Gidon. And I need it ready to leave in one week.”

“One week? So soon?” Gidon asked, a flash of abject horror on his face.

“I am counting on you to keep this as discreet as possible. No one can know.”

Gidon sighed, pulling out paperwork and a pen. “I can’t say I blame you. I’d probably want to leave if I had a wife as beautiful as yours.”

What in Sheol did that mean? “I’m sorry?”

“What with the soldiers,” Gidon said casually as he scribbled on the parchment before him. “I wouldn’t want my wife—if I had one—anywhere near them, either. Not with what they’re doing to the women.”

“Gidon, what are they doing to the women?” Titus asked, his heart hammering in his throat.

Gidon looked up, his face grave. “You really don’t know?”

Damn this man and his intrigues. “Just say it.”

“The Navarian soldiers, they’re taking all the women in Midvar. Well, at least all the women of childbearing age.”

“For what? What in Sheol would they need women of childbearing age for?”

“Slaves, Titus. They’re abducting women for their pleasure.”

~

Oh gods. Oh damn. Oh shit. This was much worse than he thought. What in Sheol had gotten into Derwin that he would allow his soldiers to behave so abominably? That was not the kind of training he had received. And no matter the sins he had committed over the years, Titus would have sooner been condemned straight to Sheol than approve of such brazen evil. Such atrocities. And against women, no less. They were innocent, damn it. What right had Derwin to give such an order? Sexual slavery? Gods above, the depravity in this world was reaching a new low.

He tried to clear his mind as he paced about his sitting room. The last thing he wanted was to give Penelope any more reason to worry. Not in her condition. His head shot up when she walked inside, her head tilting to one side at the sight of him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He strode to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “Do you think you can be ready to leave sooner than we had planned?”

She nodded quietly, her eyes colored with concern. “What’s happened, Titus?”

“Nothing yet. But we need to leave. And we need to do it quickly.”

“Why? What’s going on? I thought the plan was to leave in a week.”

He let go of her so that he might resume his pacing. “It’s going to need to be sooner than that.”

“Titus, what’s going on?”

“Gidon told me that he thinks he can have everything ready in as soon as three days. Let’s pray it doesn’t even take that long. I’ll have the servants pack our trunks. We’ll have to just take whatever we can fit, whatever we have time to—”

“Titus,” Penelope said, stopping him with a hand on his arm. He whirled to face her, and at the worry he saw on her beautiful face, he rushed to take her in his arms.

“Don’t fret, Lopee. It’s going to be all right, but we need to be ready to leave as soon as possible. Are you prepared? Prepared to leave everything behind, start over? I know it’s away from everyone we know. From your family, but—”

“Titus,” she said, placing her hands on his face and looking him deeply in the eyes. “I don’t care where we live. I don’t care if we leave everything behind and start over. All I care about is our family,” she said, taking a moment to place one of his hands on her rounded belly. “Because where you go, I go. Where you live, I live. We’re a family. And we’re going to stay that way.”

He kissed her brow. Then he kissed her lips. And then he pulled her into his arms and held her as tightly as he could. And he prayed to every god he could name that she was right.

###

© 2019 The Parallax by Morgan G Farris. All rights reserved. If you paste any part of this somewhere on the internet, please tag/credit me.