It's Fiction Friday! That means you get a piece of my original fiction... for free.
This is the third chapter of "Rose & Blade," a novella related to my published novel "Children of Aerthwheel." For the previous chapters, see the link at the top of the page.
Rose and Blade
In the balcony outside the queen’s chamber, Deliera sat on a stone bench and gazed at the courtyard below. A team of gardeners tended to the vast bed of pale roses that filled the middle of the great lawn.
"The roses look like white sand from up here, don’t you think?” Queen Adelia asked. She stood in the doorway between the chamber and the balcony. When Deliera only nodded, Adelia said, “You are weak.”
"Yes, sister Queen," Deliera said. "Yet still I breathe
Adelia leaned on the stone wall of the balcony next to her sister and said, "Is there pain?"
"A bit," Deliera said, "but it passes easily. I think of something else and it goes away. A moment ago, I thought of the young roses that fill your courtyard. How they’ve grown so strong despite the poisoned dirt into which they burrow. And that pleasant thought drove the pain into hiding, at least for a time."
Adelia sighed, "I wish my healers could help you."
"They've done all they can," Deliera said with a deep sigh. "This is a sickness no conjurer can touch."
At each of the four corners of the palace walls stood a single priest, each wielding one of the sacred holder’s stones to produce a protective field about the entire structure. Most of the time this membrane of energy went unseen; but there were moments when, for one reason or another, the layer flickered or resonated. And when it did this, it was visible to all who happened to be paying attention. In these instances, it was obvious that the field was blue and dome-shaped. Each priest stood guard for eight hours at a time until another came to replace him.
They were a loyal lot, theses priests who served Adelia.
"Do you know what's happened?" Adelia asked.
"I sensed it," Deliera said. "I felt it yesterday. I haven't been able to sleep since."
"Two dozen of my soldiers are dead," Adelia said. "Did you know that?"
"Yes. Though not by Azariel's hands. Not exactly."
Adelia's eyes swam in tears that threatened to explore the curves of her face, "Have I created this for myself?"
Deliera smiled, "The wheel turns. We fight its weight or we follow the path it carves."
Adelia stared at the sky beyond the protective field above her palace. There were no clouds and only an ashen blue oblivion, a reminder of the ways her ancestors had broken the world so long ago.
“It turned against my men. It fought against my own wizards, the very priests who would protect it from Azariel's mutant forces. What does that mean? What have I done to anger it so?"
"Perhaps it prefers to be called a man," Deliera said with a hint of a smile. "It is, after all, a human being. And he has a name."
"But he is ours," Adelia said. "He is our gift from the old mages. How could he turn against us?"
"I believe you know the answer to this question," Deliera said.
"And what do you suggest, sister?"
Deliera sighed and said, "This gift, as you call him, merely serves fate as do we all. His path is drawn as plainly as yours. Perhaps it has diverged from your own, but the lines may yet intersect before all is finished. He is no gift. He is a human, a powerful human, and he has a purpose. You cannot deny his purpose by keeping him in that tomb."
"If he's gone, then my priests will lose their power," Adelia said.
"And that, sister, is why Azariel took him," Deliera said. She drew a deep breath and said, "Without the gift, you are weak. And the war will continue."
Tendrils of blue energy began to drift from Deliera's head towards the protective dome generated by the wizards. She said, “I can help, though. This is why you keep me in your chamber, is it not? So you may utilize the power I wield.”
Adelia grasped her sister's wrists and said, "Don't do this, Deliera. Come back."
Her sister drew the spirits and spoke what they felt. Their knowledge was hers, but for a time.
"He is torn between worlds," she said with the voices of spirits long dead. Her eyes shimmered silver as she spoke. "He does not belong here. His destiny is forged in fire and written in blood."
Adelia slapped her sister across the face. Deliera's eyes went pale green again and she gasped for air. Her body trembled.
"Forgive me," Adelia said. "You mustn't waste your energy. Not now, not at the twilight of your life."
"I want to help," Deliera said, "but I cannot reach into their realm as I once did."
Adelia moved forward and held her sister in an embrace. The truth was simple.
Deliera would soon be in one of the very spirits with whom she could communicate.
"You're not as strong as you used to be," Adelia said. "Just rest. Don’t let your illness overwhelm you, sister."
Deliera gazed over the wall of the balcony and said, "This sickness, it's not the curse you claim it to be. It's no virus or disease. I have the secrets of the gods trapped in my mind, you see? The spirits left these things in my head and I can't let them out on my own. So they're killing me. All the knowledge of the ancient gods is trapped in my head and now I’m bleeding out.”
A tear danced down the side of Deliera's face and she said, "I wish I could help. Let’s hope Azariel misunderstands the importance of the man he freed from the earth."