Chapter Eight

Nylewa wanted blood. Anger boiled from her in wisps' the colors of shadows, blending with her hair. Whatever they touched died and went to hell, one of her domains. The plants and waters that formed the courtyard between the temples withered, turned unnatural colors, and the few Gods mingling raced for their temples and the shelter they provided.

One Goddess waited for her on the path that led to Hawka's temple. She was small with golden hair flowing freely to her knees, blue eyes, and a pair of green-blue wings spouted from her back. "Nylewa," she said in an airy voice. The Goddess of the Dead and Vengeance looked down on Kylawa, unable to speak lest she take out her anger on the Goddess of Healing and Justice. "I will come with you. Hawka has gone too far this time." Nylewa inclined her head in thanks, reigning in more of her anger so as not to harm her sister.

The greenwood doors flew open and nearly broke off their hinges as Kylawa opened them. The booming noise of the doors hitting the wall echoed in the beast-lords hall. Hawka looked up from his throne and met the eyes of the angry Goddesses.

"Hawka," Nylewa growled, her voice thundering and shaking the foundations. "What did you do?"

He straightened up, meeting their gaze defiantly. "I did what you wouldn't do."

"We swore when Mother made us that we would not interfere with their free will." Kylawa moved with Nylewa as she stalked toward the beast-lord. "You know what this means?"

Nylewa showed her teeth, eyes swirling to match her hair, a mixture of blue, black and purple. "You will not be part of the Solstice, your people's prayers will be unanswered and you will be the weakest of us."

Hawka glared, his mismatched eyes glowing. "At least I did something."

Nylewa raised a hand and her wisps of night bound him, encircling his wrists, ankles and mouth. Kylawa spread her wings and flew to the bound God. Resting her hands on his shoulders, she flew them both from the hall to the prison Mother had created centuries ago to house her children who broke her rules.

Nylewa wanted blood, but vengeance had been exacted and she was able to pull night to her as a cloak, its usual place. Breathing deep, she turned and walked to her temple, the gardens restored by the power of her kinfolk.

Tonight was the spring solstice, one of the few nights where people gathered and their prayers and celebrations strengthened the Gods. All who were not imprisoned would gain strength, and as Nylwela passed the Scales, she prayed to Mother that what they were doing would be enough to right them.

Alera tapped her fingers against the saddle, keeping one eye on the Rogues shadowing them. Every time one started forward she glared. The king may have left with his forces before them, but they were not so far ahead they would not turn to help the prince. That and she had known exactly why she had had to lose.

The forest thinned to reveal the Blue Valley, named after the Sapphire River that ran through it. The deep blue of the waters drew her attention and she had to resist the urge to leap from the horse into the depths. The horse sensed her need and neighed. She patted its neck awkwardly and shifted her weight from the water. She wasn't used to riding horses.

Alister pulled his horse up next to hers, the great black beast eyed her uneasily. "I will take him" he said, taking her steeds reins from one of his men. "I'm sorry it had to be like this," he added in Ghaul.

"Me too," she replied, and then gaped as what used to the royal castle came into view. Someone had added spires, a new wing, and gotten rid of most of the protective elements, wall surrounding it having been partially demolished. "What in Nylewa's Hell happened to my castle?"

Alister winced as if in severe pain. "When my mother died, Conrį½¶ remarried and she demanded a palace and all the shit that comes with one."

Alera showed her teeth, growling in anger. "Can I kill her?"

The troops around them laughed and begged her to do it. "Father would probably kill you, but the rest of us would be in your debt. The queen is a major bitch." No one reacted to the princes language, so neither did she.

"She watches us train, Princess, you would be doing us a favor," the head of the Princes' guard said. "It is not right."

Alera considered it as they spoke to her. "Did the Pretender have the Clan Lords permission to remarry?"


"Then none of us have the right to kill her. However," she added as they raged, "I swear on Hawka and Kylewa that I will make her life a living hell while I am here." That got some cheers and smiles.

When they came to the village surrounding the walls and city, the soldiers around the royal heirs pulled in to create a living wall. Villagers stopped and stared at Alera as she passed them, no cloth hiding her facial scars, and the gown she had borrowed dipped enough to show the scars across her chest.

"Is that the Princess?"

"I thought she was dead?"

"Look at her eye! Only the royal family had violet eyes."

"What have you done you half-breed bastard?"

"Ghaul bastard!"

"May Nylewa curse you and your's!"

Alister didn't flinch or react to the insults flung at him as they rode to the gates and Alera nodded and smiled at the villagers, reassuring and winning them over. The guards at the gate bowed to the prince and cleared the way for them.

Alister helped Alera dismount before unbinding her hands as grooms took their rides. "Your father and the queen are waiting in the library," a slave whispered to him before running off. Alera narrowed her eyes as the slave scurried away and turned her glare on the prince. "I'm not the one who condones slavery. In fact, they all ignore me unless ordered to speak or assist me," Alister said, unfazed by the look in the her eye.

Alera continued to glare as they walked up the steps and entered the palace. Immediately her ire at the prince disappeared and was replaced with pure horror. The walls were polished stone with huge tapestries depicting fictional battles and hunts hung seemingly at random. The floor was polished, imported marble with the Pretenders crest inlaid in semi-precious gems. A double staircase made of stone and marble led to the upper floors while halls led to what she guessed to be the kitchen, ballrooms and dining halls. And all of this was made worse as the Pretender and his second wife came down the stairs. "What have you done?"

"I decorated, made this into a palace fit for a queen," Nyla said, her voice high pitched.

Alera took a step forward. Alister grabbed her shoulder and forced her to curtsy.

"My queen, you will have to forgive our guest, she has been through much and forgotten her place," he said with a gracious bow. "My king, forgive our guest. She will not forget her place again."

The Pretender had the nerve to give her an imperious look that said she was beneath the dirt on his boots. "Guest? She is no guest son, you will do well to remember that. Princess," he sneered the word, "you are confined your room and will be accompanied by guards day and night."

Alera rolled her shoulder to dislodge the prince before she stood. Looking the bastard in the eye, she bowed her head graciously and smiled. "Yes my lord." His narrowed gaze let her know he didn't believe her and she smiled wider, showing her teeth which had elongated with her anger.

"Son, follow me. Wife, you will show our captive to her room," he commanded, turning on his heel. Alister squeezed Alera's arm in apology for his actions as he left her and Alera whispered a promise to make their lives hell. He grinned before taking his leave.

Alera looked up at the imposter queen. She was of Highland descent, thin, tall, with the dark skin and hair but her eyes belayed Lowland ancestors with their blue color. They stood in silence, sizing the other up, before Alera gave a polite curtsy. "I hate what you've done with the palace. I've never seen such a hideous combination." She shook her head and walked up to the gaping woman. "Aren't you supposed to show me to my prison?"

The queen glared at her. "Bitch. No one talks to me in that manner. Do you understand me?" Her voice was shrill and she raised her hand as if to hit her.

Alera lifted an eyebrow and gave her an imperious look. Since she was taller than the imposter, it wasn't hard to do. "And I do not recognize you or your husband as my king and queen. Do you understand me?" Alera let the beast sink into her voice, turning it into a growl that rumbled through the hall.

Nyla flung her hair as she turned, striking Alera with her dark locks. The princess rolled her eyes at the childish gesture before following the queen and her guards to the second floor. "This is your room." The queen's guards opened the plain door to reveal a small, guest room without a view. "And my husband, your king," she emphasized the words, "wants to speak with you tomorrow after first-meal."

Alera smiled at the queen as if she had done her a great favor. "Thank you your majesty. Your graciousness knows no bounds and I will be sure to not disappoint your husband the king." The queen let out a frustrated scream before shoving Alera forward and slamming the door in her face. Alera laughed so hard she was bent double and tears leaked from her eyes.

Ten minutes later Alera had explored her room thoroughly. Two hard chairs were placed near the door beside a hand-woven basket with thread, needles and cloth for embroidery. As she only knew how to patch leathers and homespun cloth, this did nothing to alleviate her boredom. A bed with a straw mattress, worn blankets and unraveling rope, creaked and sat inconspicuously in the far left corner while the window had been bricked over. There was still a seat with worn covers, but again little point in sitting there. As there was no private bath, Alera would have to either bathe with others or have one brought up and she doubted the chamber pot under the bed would be dumped regularly, she would be forced to seek "public" facilities.

Blowing a breath out in a frustrated noise, she collapsed on the bed, covered her face with a pillow and screamed into it. Ryin would not arrive as the new Bard for at least three days and her cousin might not be assigned to her as her lady. She could always go on a murderous rampage, but without the full support of the Clan Lords, it would do her little good to kill the new royal family.

It would alleviate her boredom though. For several minutes she seriously considered this course of action. Her musings and internal arguments were interrupted by a knock. "Yes?" she asked loud enough for the guards to hear through the thin door.

It opened and Alister stepped in, followed by Karya who was holding a mess of clothing in her arms. "Alera, this is Karya and she will be your lady. You are required to attend the solstice celebration tonight though you are confined to the palace. Any questions?"

Alera considered several responses before settling on, "What does one do around here when not allowed to train, leave their room, or do anything vaguely considered entertaining?"

Alister rolled his eyes at her phrasing. "The library is down the hall and you are granted access to the guest bath that Karya will show you when needed. Good evening." He left, closing the door with more force than needed.

Alera grabbed Karya into a hug, further wrinkling the clothing in her hands. "Thank the Gods for small favors."

"Can't. Breathe."

"Sorry." Alera sprung back from her cousin, who was not beast-kin, and took a better look at the clothes she held. "Please tell me those did not come from the Queen Bitch."

"No, it came from an unused wardrobe. It's out of date but I think it looks better than the revealing outfits the queen brought into fashion." Karya shivered in revulsion as did Alera as she pictured the dress the queen had been wearing.

Alera grinned absently at her cousins words as she gave the dress a good once over. It was indeed out of style with its tanned leather bodice and ties, green top and skirts, and short sleeves that were used to show the wearer was unarmed. Something about the gown looked familiar to Alera. She reached out to touch the soft wool of the well worn skirt and then brought it up to her nose. She gasped, dropped the dress and fainted.