Ask and ye shall receive….Finnead was the winner of Sneak Peek Roulette, so here you are, a whole juicy chapter. The countdown until Release Day continues!
Finnead padded down the dark streets of the city, making no more noise than a shadow passing over the paved path. Vell knew where he was going – he could keep nothing from his Queen. But unlike the Unseelie Queen, the Vyldretning let even her Three have their privacy most of the time. He could still feel her through their shared bond, but it was not the constant watchfulness and cold, efficient collection of his thoughts that he had experienced with Mab.
The sentry knew him by sight and let him pass with a grave nod, though Finnead thought he saw a flicker of disdain in the Unseelie Guard’s eyes. The man’s gaze settled for a moment on the sapphire in the pommel of the sword at Finnead’s hip, the sword that had once been the Brighbranr of the Unseelie Court and was now the Brighbranr of the Wild Court. None of the Guards or Knights showed outright malice, but none of them welcomed him on his visits to the Unseelie stronghold. None of them except for loyal Ramel, he amended silently to himself. He brushed a hand against the hilt of the Brighbranr as his feet led him surely down the dim passageways.
The Unseelie Court had found what had once been an armory carved into the hill on the western side of the White City. It had reminded them of Darkhill, he knew, because it reminded him of Darkhill as well, though he didn’t quite feel sadness at the memory of his former home. The golden age of the city must have been splendid indeed for the Sidhe to put such care and skill into such an expansive project. He admired the smooth curves of the passageways and the subtle details of the carved vines about the arched doorways as he walked. He encountered no one as his strides led him down a passageway that sloped downward at a noticeable angle, burrowing deeper into the hillside.
Finally, he turned the last corner. Two Guards stood at either side of a great wooden door. He felt the same familiar disgust welling up within him. What did Mab think, that her sister was capable of breaking her chains and slaughtering grown men with her bare hands? The memory of another prison cell in Darkhill nudged at him. He took a deep breath as he contemplated the barred door and let the memory wash over him. He’d learned long ago that it was easiest to let the darkest parts of his past break over him like a wave, swirling about him and then dissipating as he accepted its pain and absorbed it back into himself. Once, Mab had chained him in a cell in the depths of Darkhill. He had survived and escaped the Enemy, but she had not trusted him. The rebellion had eaten away at her faith in her subjects, and the death of her beloved sister had dealt the final blow to her magnanimity. She had locked him away still broken and bleeding. For the safety of all her Court, she had said, or so he had been told later, when he regained his senses. That had been the first time that Ramel had proven his unswerving loyalty and friendship.
He took another deep breath and addressed one of the Guards. “Are they here?”
The Guard gave a silent nod.
“Good. I will enter.” Finnead watched the Guards lift the bar from the door, opening one side enough for him to pass through. One of them lit a torch from the sconce in the wall and handed it to Finnead. When he stepped through the door, it slid shut immediately behind him, and he heard them settle the bar back into place. His breath plumed in the air before him. The passageway on the other side of the door was glacially cold. A rime of frost glimmered on the walls, and even with his natural grace he slipped a few times on the increasing layer of ice on the floor. Finally, he reached the small door at the end of the passageway. The door had no knob or handle, nor any visible hinges. It was a door merely because it fit in the space at the end of the passageway. He switched the torch to his other hand and sketched a rune on the icy surface with the tip of a finger. Numbness crept up his hand as he worked, though he tried to ignore it. The painful prickling extended nearly to his elbow before he finished drawing the symbol, and he grimly pressed his palm to the center of the rune, clenching his jaw as the cold bit deeper into his arm.
In the back of his mind, he felt Vell stir at his pain, stretching herself down their link for a moment. He knew that she sat before the fire in her chambers, reading another ancient text. Her insomnia rivaled his own, some days. She opened their bond enough that for a brief instant he felt the warmth of the hearth. He smiled a little at the jest. Liam cast a bit of attention toward him as well but drew away when he recognized the cold sensation of the rune casting. Gray must have been asleep or ignoring him.
Rather than glowing as most runes did when completed, this particular rune sizzled softly and sank into the door like a charred scar. He thought it appropriate that the rune sealing the door to this prison revealed itself in such an ugly way, an ugly rune to keep an ugly scene contained. He straightened his shoulders as the door silently swung inward.
The prison deep in the heart of the armory looked more like it was carved from ice than stone. Frost glimmered on every surface, even the small table and chairs placed near the roaring fire. Two figures sat by the fire. Neither of them turned as the door opened – there were only three of them now that entered this chamber. Mab had stopped coming after the first few days, her face hard and cold with the finality of her despair. The healers had still hopefully persisted, but even the most optimistic could not say that their ministrations had any effect, and they, too, stopped traveling to the icy chamber deep underground.
“Once more into the breach,” said Ramel in greeting, the firelight glinting off his coppery curls. The light of the fire did not penetrate the deepest shadows of the room. The silver bars of the cell, coated in ice, glinted in the darkness, looking like icicles grown from the ceiling at neat intervals.
“I wish it weren’t so cold,” the dark-haired woman sitting with Ramel said without rancor. She stood and slid closer to the fire, offering Finnead the seat closest to his former squire. He tossed his torch into the fire. They had stocked new, unlit torches beside the firewood, and a branch of candles flickered on the table.
“If she could understand us, she could make it so,” Ramel said, glancing at the darkened corner beyond the silver bars.
“I don’t think understanding is her problem,” Molly said, still without any trace of spite. They had fallen into the habit of speaking bluntly.
“I agree,” said Finnead as he walked closer. He didn’t sit down, instead regarding Molly intently. “Something is different about you,” he said slowly.
The fendhionne swallowed and glanced at Ramel. He couldn’t recall ever seeing her show nerves. Finnead looked at Ramel, too, and discovered that the other man wore an expression of mingled pride, satisfaction and embarrassment. The emotions passed over Ramel’s face with the speed of a hawk’s shadow sweeping over the ground, but Finnead caught them. He had long training in recognizing the emotions of even the most smooth faced of his brethren.
To his credit, Ramel composed himself and said in a measured voice, “We did it.”
Finnead gazed at him expectantly, waiting for him to continue.
Ramel looked at Molly, his expression once again inscrutable. Two spots of color appeared on the fendhionne’s pale cheeks.
“I restored her memories.” Ramel said the words slowly, savoring them, his eyes still resting on the dark-haired, pale woman whose body swayed toward him at the sound of his voice.
Finnead felt as though the ground shifted beneath him. He gripped the edge of the table for support, his hand sliding on the damp wood. He cursed himself for the hope that surged in his chest and filled his eyes. Damn it all, he was a fool thrice over. He shut his eyes briefly to regain his balance. When he opened them, Molly had taken a step closer to him, her cat-like eyes intent on his face.
“Are you all right?” she asked with genuine concern.
“Are you?” he returned, straightening.
“If you mean to ask me whether I’m crazy from what Ramel did, I don’t think I am,” she replied with a little smile. “Or if I am, I don’t realize it. Is that the same thing?”
Incredibly, Finnead heard himself chuckle. Ramel crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. Molly’s smile widened as she looked fondly at Ramel, the heat from her earlier gaze only an echo in the depths of her eyes. She pulled her cloak tighter about her shoulders. She felt the cold more acutely than either of the Knights. Finnead supposed that was her mortal half.
“How?” He directed the single word at Ramel. His hands suddenly felt empty and useless. He gripped the hilt of the Brighbranr and it pulsed comfortingly under his touch.
“I combined three of the restorations that we had tried in the past,” said Ramel, his eyes alight. He leaned forward in enthusiasm, but before he began his explanation, rattling chains sounded from the dark cell. Finnead swept up the branch of candles from the table, not flinching as the hot wax spilled onto his wrist. With three long strides, he crossed the chamber, the halo of light around the candles flickering. It seemed as though the light struggled to beat back the shadows beyond the silver bars. They had learned that the light of one candle was not enough to strain through the darkness.
The chains rattled again, an almost bell-like sound. Finnead tasted the bitter tang of old anger at the back of his throat. The chains were silver, and delicate as far as chains went, but worked with the Queen’s own power. It still angered him that Mab chained her own sister like a convict…but then again, she had chained him as well. And, he reminded himself staunchly that in the most literal sense of the word, the princess was a killer. Though she’d been under Malravenar’s power, she had still killed dozens of Sidhe fighters.
The flickering candlelight spread over the floor and finally reached the figure in the center of the cell. It looked like the princess had leapt from her narrow bed to the center of the small space, landing in a predatory crouch. She growled as the light wavered over her, turning her face away from the candles and hissing.
“Andraste.” Finnead said her name in a low voice. He wasn’t sure why he tried to speak to her anymore. She showed no recognition, no spark of rational thought. It was as though they had chained a wildcat in the silvery cell. The only sign that she recognized her imprisonment at all was the bitter cold that rolled through the room and the passageway beyond. At first, Finnead had thought it had been Mab, and the Queen may have indeed reawakened part of Andraste’s power with the touch of her own. But it had not been cold at first, not until Queen Mab had left and failed to return. Finnead tried to tell himself that the ice encasing every object in the room proved that Andraste still thought and felt. He tried to tell himself that it was her rage and bitterness at her abandonment that led her to freeze her prison.
But the cloaked figure squatting in the center of the cell bore little resemblance to the lithe, graceful princess who had once been the future of the Unseelie Court. She growled again, louder, one clawed hand darting out to paw at a shadow created by the dancing candle flame. The silver chains pooled about her as she pressed her hands flat on the floor and shifted her weight in one direction, then another. She made nonsense sounds in a low voice, stopping to growl at another shadow that slipped across the floor.
“I do not know if it will work on her,” said Ramel quietly from beside Finnead, his voice grave.
Andraste whined softly to herself.
“I know,” Finnead replied in a tight voice.
“We thought it might be best not to discuss this with anyone else,” Molly said, the candlelight bringing out the gold flecks in her eyes. “It might raise hopes that we can’t afford to disappoint.” She looked away. “Not even Tess. I want to tell her, I know she’ll be happy, but I’m…afraid.” Ramel touched her shoulder comfortingly.
Finnead nodded woodenly. “I understand.”
Something like relief passed briefly over Molly’s face. “Thank you.”
He shook his head and turned away from the glittering cage. “No need to thank me. You two are the only ones who still come.”
“We’ll keep trying,” promised Ramel.
The frost glittered on the walls of the cell as the Unseelie princess began to laugh, her voice echoing around them in a cacophony of madness.
Content copyright October 2016 by Jocelyn A. Fox. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited without express permission of the author.