Writing

Dark Tower: Chapter Two

This blog might just be spammed with storytelling for November, let me warn you. Especially with the time change meaning that the light is totally gone by the time Mr. Owl gets off work, so we have very few days to take outfit pictures.

If you haven’t seen the first chapter and don’t know what this is all about, click, and read.

Otherwise, enjoy. 🙂

Chapter Two

Rosalyn woke the next morning with grit in her eyes and a heaviness weighing down her heart. Yet, her mind was clear. She had no doubts that her mother was already planning to marry her to whomever suited the Queen’s wishes; likely a man who was rich and easily swayed by Lilith’s wicked charm and fine way with words. And Rosalyn knew that if she were to marry a man of her mother’s choosing, she would have no sway in any decisions made, and the kingdom would crumble.

Ringing for her maid, Rosalyn rose from her bed and went to sit before her vanity, beginning the task of letting down her long, dark hair. It would do no good to appear before anyone but her most trusted chambermaid and friend in such disrepair; her nose was still red, her eyes were swollen, her locks were tangled in their leftover braids. She looked terrible, and to show this weakness to anyone in the castle before she knew their loyalties would be folly.

As her father had told her many times, a princess commanded attention first by looking like a princess. While her heart was what truly mattered, her father had also stressed that appearances could change minds for better or for worse. Appear disheveled, and the kingdom will assume your rule is in shambles and your mind is not far behind. Present yourself in regal attire, and the kingdom will be assured that all is in order.

It was a practice he had put into use himself many times. Rosalyn could not remember her father ever looking anything less than Kingly, whether he was sitting on his throne or mingling with his peoples, one never mistook him for less than who he was.

For a moment, Rosalyn closed her eyes and remembered her father as he had been: strong, tall, with a booming voice and sparkling eyes, his immaculate beard had been thick and smattered with white, his hair kept neatly shorn to his shoulders, his brow lined with years of memories and laughter. He had been a man that his people could not help but love, and even his enemies fought him with respect.

How could she ever fill in the emptiness he had left with his death? She was not ready for this.

There was a knock on the door before she could fall deeper into her thoughts, for which she was thankful. She did not want to have a relapse into her grief. As her maid entered the room with a tray of breakfast, Rosalyn swallowed her feelings and set her mind simply on getting ready for the day. It would be a hard one.

“Good morning, milady,” the maid greeted her, setting the tray down on the vanity before Rosalyn and taking the brush from her hands. But she paused, instead of taking up where Rosalyn had left off, and she clutched the brush tightly in her fingers. “I’m… deeply sorry for the loss of the King.” Her voice wavered, and she blinked away the moisture that rose to her eyes.

Rosalyn inclined her head, fighting her own emotions to keep a calm face. “Thank you, Elaina.” She struggled to keep her voice from breaking, and turned her attention to the food for which she had no appetite.  “It will be a long and tiresome day. Difficult times are ahead.” Picking up a spoon to force porridge into her stomach, she said, “For all of us.”

“Yes, milady.” Elaina began brushing Rosalyn’s hair, and imparted a few more words before she was silent. “The Queen has requested a private audience with you as soon as you are dressed.”

Rosalyn merely nodded, her mind already searching for ways she could deflect her mother’s complete control over the castle. Who controlled the castle, controlled the kingdom, and Rosalyn would not allow a tyrant  such as her mother to overtake the throne without a fight. A manipulative, subtle fight, invisible to outside eyes, but a fight nonetheless.

No doubt the Queen would attempt to replace  and discard Rosalyn’s most loyal servant. Elaina had grown up within these walls, and, in as close a relationship as the mixture of status would allow, was the nearest thing Rosalyn had to a best friend. Her position would be the first thing Rosalyn could save, and so doing perhaps win a small battle against the Queen. At all costs, she had to keep loyal servants caring for her chambers.

Elaina’s rhythmic brushing proved more soothing than Rosalyn had expected, and she found that as she had been thinking, she’d eaten most of the porridge in her bowl. For that, she was thankful. A good meal in her stomach would ensure that her mind would stay clear and focused throughout the day.

Now finished with Rosalyn’s hair, Elaina moved about the room readying the garments which would suit Rosalyn as a mourning daughter; a deep purple velvet gown was laid out on the bed, tied with a black sash and trimmed with black lace. For her hands, to protect against the chill of the stone walls, fine black suede gloves that molded themselves to Rosalyn’s hands like a second skin. Sturdy but attractive leather-soled black slippers completed the attire.

Rosalyn wasted no time in getting dressed. She and Elaina moved as a complete team, needing no words as they readied her for the inevitable events of the day. The private audience impending shortly; a pronouncement of the Queen as the acting ruler of the kingdom until the Princess married or a new King was found; likely a required presence in her mother’s chambers as servants were dismissed or promoted according to their allegiances; perhaps a few well-hidden messages to what few she could save. If she could not keep loyal servants in the castle, at least she would know who they were should she need help outside the walls.

When Rosalyn was dressed and ready, Elaina took the tray and led the way into the cold halls. There was a feeling of anticipation in the air, as if the empire was waiting to see what steps would be taken next. Who would reign supreme? Where would the Queen lead them without a King by her side?

Rosalyn felt heavy as she walked the floors, dress sliding richly in a short train behind her, her heart wrenched with pain and fear and doubt. What would her mother have to say in the private meeting? What accusations might be thrown at her? What rules would be made or enforced? What rage would she have to endure? The Queen’s emotions in her own chambers were as tumultuous and unpredictable as her public persona was loyal and calm.

Dismissing Elaina at the Queen’s doors, Rosalyn knocked lightly and was bid to come in.

The Queen was draped regally on a chaise lounge, dressed more appropriately than she had been at the King’s funeral in an inky black gown. It enveloped the lounge in a flow of silk, pouring to the floor in dark shimmers. Over her eyes and barely covering the tip of her nose was an elegant veil of sheer black lace, so that the Queen’s expression was communicated mostly through the position of her lips. They were tilted into a smile.

“Good morning, daughter.” The Queen rose with a quiet rustle and stretched out her milky-white arms. “I see you have recovered from your unsightly outburst yesterday. How did you sleep?”

Rosalyn regarded her mother with much distrust, but stiffly allowed herself to be embraced and kissed upon the forehead. She could feel the smear of rouge her mother’s lips left behind, heavy and sticky on her skin.

“Mother,” she said, barely nodding her head in return. “What do you require of me?”

The Queen pulled back and gestured for Rosalyn to sit on a plush couch. “Why so formal? We are family, are we not? You are my daughter, are you not? Surely you must still be reeling from the King’s death as I am.” Here, the Queen paused and emitted a short, passable sigh to display her continued grief for her dead husband. “Pour out your heart to me, daughter. Comfort me.”

Rosalyn stood where she was even as her mother took a seat on the couch and patted the cushion beside her. “I am not able to discuss my father’s death with you now, and I am sure you will find many in your entourage who could comfort you in a higher manner than I.” She pushed down the anger that was slowly beginning to boil. Even dressed in appropriate mourning garb, her mother showed very little signs of being truly sorry that the beloved King was gone.

“Surely you need a motherly shoulder to cry upon? Surely you know your mother needs her daughter in these hard times?” the Queen pressed, this time reaching for Rosalyn’s hand and pulling her to sit. “I know we have not cultivated the loving relationship most mothers and daughters have,” she said, her voice low and soft, “but I wish to repair that mistake now.”

Rosalyn bit her tongue and simply waited, letting the silence pressure her mother into getting to the business at hand.

Finally, with great drama, Lilith sighed. “Bottling your feelings is unhealthy, and you must let them out. In private, of course.” The red-painted lips began to turn into a pout. She was not getting her way, and she would not break her act to force Rosalyn to speak.

“Thank you,” Rosalyn deterred. “But I have had enough time in private to deal with my grief in my own way.” She shifted away from her mother’s soothing hand and repeated, “What do you require of me?”

The Queen rose from her seat and shook her head condescendingly, speaking as to a child. “Oh, daughter. It pains me to see you so stubborn.” She smiled, but Rosalyn could perceive a hard glitter in the eyes behind the black lace. “You are so like your father. Rest his soul. So regal, so ready to command, yet… you are so young.” She tipped Rosalyn’s chin up and bent close. “You know nothing of the burden it will place on me to rule while you waste your time wishing for true love.”

Though disguised by a false tone of self-pity, the sentence was tinged with annoyance… and something else. Was her mother on the verge of asking for help? It could not be. Manipulative as she was, Lilith would never request assistance with forthrightness. It was more like her to achieve her goals with furtive plans and secret maneuvering. Waiting for the answer to her question, Rosalyn sat still and quiet as her mother began to pace about the room.

Several moments passed wherein only the crackling of the fire in the chimney and tapping of rain on the windows could be heard. The Queen wrung her hands before her as if in great turmoil as she finally turned to Rosalyn, removing the veil from her eyes and imploring her daughter with an overly pleading gaze.

“I have decided to take a husband to fill the King’s place.”  Her sentence hung heavy and surprising in the air as Rosalyn considered what to do next. She should not have been shocked that her mother would choose such a cunning venue, yet she could not fathom how a Queen could rebound so quickly as to consider remarriage the day after her husband’s death.

And the implications of her mother’s statement were much, much more sinister than most might imagine.

Though the man that the Queen married would have certain privileges when it came to ruling, there were laws in place that prevented anyone but the descendants of the King to take the throne. Had Rosalyn been a boy, she would have immediately ascended to rulership as the only blood-heir of the King but, as she was female, law prevented her from taking the throne until she had married.

It was an antiquated rule based on the ancient belief that a woman was not fit to rule unless she had a man by her side, and the law’s only exception was in the case that the woman reached thirty-five years of age before she married. If there was no heir, or were there heirs that, in the case of a boy, were not of age or, in the case of Rosalyn, unmarried, the Queen was permitted to act as monarch until her children were fit to rule or until an adequate blood-relative was found. Thus, Lilith had power over the throne for as long as Rosalyn remained single.

And if her mother married a Prince from the wrong kingdom, things would become even more complicated. Once Rosalyn became ruler and her mother was outed from the throne, there was chance that Lilith would begin a war to win back the kingdom. Rosalyn would not be able to imprison the Queen and her husband under grounds of treason for fear that his people would fight to rescue him, nor would she be comfortable letting her mother roam free for the damage she could do unchecked. The Kingdom of Valeria had many allies, but even more enemies,  whom would gladly go to war for the chance to add such a rich land to their empire.

Rising from the couch, she stood before her mother and regarded the complete act presented to her. To the untrained eye, here was a Queen thieved of her strength by death, distraught over the lack of a ruler, frantic to hold up beneath the pressures of a kingdom bereft of its King. Yet, she could not hide the hard calculation in her eyes from one who knew her better than anyone else. Blatantly and subtly all at once, Lilith had presented her daughter with a challenge: marry first, gain the Kingdom and control over the Queen’s actions. Marry second, and invite war. Remain unmarried, and there would be over ten years wherein the people would be ruled by a tyrant.

Rosalyn bowed slowly. “As it seems you do not require my immediate action or assistance, I shall leave you. Allow me to issue early congratulations to your new marriage, mother. I wish you and your future husband all happiness. ” She turned and walked towards the door, not giving the Queen a chance to speak further. At the handle, she stopped, and faced her mother again.

“As for this kingdom, I pray to the gods that it will be saved before you lead it into ruin.” Clenching her fist, she gritted out, “I will not let you destroy everything my father worked so hard to protect without a fight. Be on guard, mother. Your actions will not be without a heavy price.” She exited the room before her mother could respond, and begged the higher powers to present her with a saving option in time to keep the empire from crumbling. For she knew that her last words were not only said for her mother: she said them for herself.

The choices she made from this moment on would come with a heavy and terrifying price.

xxx

There was a peculiar tingle in Tristan’s chest when he woke the next morning to find himself securely chained to a wall. A damp, moldy wall drawing to corners that were crawling with shadows and all manner of critters that did not wish to be touched by the light. He pulled himself up, and had to reluctantly support himself on the slimy stone to keep from falling back onto the floor. His legs were curiously weakened, and his head swam fiendishly.

Whether the wavering form at the door was a trick of his headache-impaired vision or a reality, he did not know. But the creature guarding him looked too fearsome to challenge, and Tristan stood where he was in silence, wondering if the night before had been a dream.

He closed his eyes and saw the woman in his mind; blazing hair, emerald eyes, swift of movement and quick of wit. Had she been real? Was he perhaps captive in the dragon’s dungeon, chained there by who knew what manner of fiend, guarded by an apparition that remained when he opened his eyes to view it again?

Or had there been some twist late in the evening that he could not recall? The hours that he could remember were pleasant ones; hours of discovery, of beholding new and fantastic lands, of conversing with beautiful women, of eating luscious food. Memories of a soft, warm bed, a promise of more wonders to come when he woke.

This place was not wonderous. It was hades.

Tristan shuffled his feet and tested the length of the chain. Its clattering would have woken the dead, and surely the form at the door would have heard… but it stood still. Impassive. Perhaps, he surmised, it was a dream after all. Perhaps these were his nightmares. Chained to a wall in a dripping dungeon after experiencing what had been quite close to his vision of heaven was definitely the stuff of nightmares.

The tingling in his chest did not dissipate with the headache and weakness of his legs. Tristan pressed a hand to his heart and found that it still beat with steadfastness, and was reassured. If this was a nightmare, he would wake soon. If it was real, perhaps the sensation was merely a leftover effect of whatever spell the woman had cast upon him to bring him here.

“Awake, I see?” She was in the chamber and examining him up and down. This time, her sudden movement was not fascinating. It gave him a headache.

“Care to explain why I seem to be chained in a dungeon?” He was irked, but when she met his eyes and tilted her head, he felt the irritation drain away. “It’s… not quite what I had expected when I awoke.”

She patted his cheek, and with a snap of her fingers, the chain fell away. “For safety.”

He snorted. “I doubt that I could do anything to harm you. Much as I am loathe to admit it, you are much superior to my talents for war.” She was leading him out of the cell, past the darkly wavering form which glared at him with red eyes as he passed– real, after all– and towards a set of barely-lit stairs.

“No,” she corrected him. “I do not fear for my own safety, but for yours.” Taking him up the stairs, she brought him to a window, and gestured out. “Look.”

The land he beheld through the warped glass was much different from the scene he remembered traversing. All manner of fearsome beasts prowled about, snarling in a cacophony that struck wariness into his heart. Even in the dim light of the dawn, he could see that there was no path to avoid them. They snapped at each other angrily; some fought and killed one another, some skulked alone; some bared their teeth but did not attack. And, as the hazy sun rose, the beasts slunk back to the dark holes from which they had emerged.

“They guard this place at night,” she told him. “Only those with magic dare to traverse the paths in the moonlight.” Looking at him, she stroked his arm thoughtfully. “Though,” she said, “there is some measure of the power in you, yes? Not strong, but I can sense it.”

He hesitated, knowing that as a witch, she might take offense to his descent. “A touch, yes.” He said no more, and she smiled.

“I will read it in you soon enough. Come, let us find a meal to break our fast.”

They left the window, and Tristan cast one last glance outside; the sun, making its way into the morning sky, was gray and sickly, yet its appearance had shooed away the beasts. What holes had they come from? He wondered. There was a long valley in the distance, and after that, trees. He could not remember approaching this place. He did not even know what its outer walls looked like, only that, from his view out the window, this room was very high up. He had not been in a dungeon after all.

The woman took his hand softly as they traversed the stairs to a place higher than that room, and he relished in the satin feel of her palm against his. Truly, whatever spell she had placed on him, he did not mind. He knew it was a spell– it was his gift from his mother to know when he was under the power of someone else’s magic– but the loveliness of the woman made him forget why that mattered when she glanced his way and gave him a smile.
“Tristan,” she said, and he felt his heart leap at the sound of his name on her lips. “I must ask you a small favor.”

He nodded as they came to a dining room, with the table set for two. “Anything you desire.” As he said it, his mind shot off a warning, and his heart ignored the voice.

She drew him nearer, and he could smell a sweet aroma coming from her hair. “I desire just a token today,” she said. Her eyes sparkled brilliantly, and she leaned towards him. “A kiss.”

Tristan felt the warning in his head grow stronger, and the tingling in his heart became overpowering. He wanted that kiss. No, he needed that kiss. To feel her arms around his neck, to have those full red lips pressed against his, to know what that sweet mouth would taste like. Everything in him shouted for him to say yes but his mind. His mind screamed “No!”

And it escaped him.

She looked taken aback that he would say such a thing and refuse her, and she stepped away involuntarily. Already, she had put her hand on his cheek, a breath away from taking what she desired, and in the empty space she put between them he could feel an unnatural heat. Those eyes, which had been so brilliantly emerald, were now a vivid and angry green. The ends of her hair glittered with the power of her magic and rage.

“I save your life, and you refuse something so innocent as a kiss?” she snapped at him.

Tristan held out his hands, stammering his regret. “Please forgive me, I did not know what I was saying.” In the back of his mind, a small whisper said, I did. It was his mother’s voice.

“Ungrateful dog!” she spat, ignoring his words. “I’ll throw you to the beasts in the night!”

He stepped forward, tried to reach out to her. But her skin sent a sharp current through him, as though she was charged with lightning. “I’m sorry; take it now, I’ll give it gladly. I would have, I didn’t… I didn’t mean it.”

She calmed only slightly. “It’s worthless now,” she sulked. “A kiss without desire is of no use.” Stalking away from him, towards the door, she pointed at the table without looking. “Eat. It’s going to be a long day, and we’ve a difficult task to complete.”

“But…” he started, and she cut him off with the slamming of the door behind her.

Tristan slowly walked to the table and sat. The food no longer appealed to him; not with the memory of that near-kiss still in his mind. It taunted him, toyed with his heart, tingled in his chest. He still wanted a kiss, but now only to appease her rather than satisfy any ideas of romance he might have had.
He picked up a fork and stabbed an unidentifiable chunk of meat. What had she meant, a kiss without desire is of no use? Use for what? If only he could read her thoughts as she read his, and know what her motive was. She had told him she desired a companion; was it that simple? Was she truly so alone that she recruited a strange man trapped by a dragon to fill up the space?

Or did she know more about him than she let on?

Stretching out in his mind, he closed his eyes and thought, Mother?

Immediately, there was a response. I am here, Tristan. But I cannot see you; why have you left my vision? Are you in danger? Her tone was worried, fearful.

I don’t know, mother, but I am safe. He looked around, back out the window. I have passed the Forest of Lithel and I am in the witching lands.

In his mind, his mother sighed. Be cautious, my son. You know what the witches think of my kind.

She does not know, he reassured calmly.

But she may find out, his mother cautioned. I can see pieces of her in your thoughts; she may not be accepting of who you are. Others are not.

I know. He tilted his head. He could hear footsteps on the stairs, and he quickly bid his mother farewell and closed his thoughts. It occurred to him, as he began to eat his food and waited for the witch to walk back into the room, that he did not even know her name. As she burst in, still bubbling with irritation, he watched her and wondered openly. Perhaps she would read his mind and tell him.

But she snatched a biscuit from the table and jerked her head at him. “My name is none of your business,” she said shortly. “If you are still hungry, bring it with you. We’ve a task to accomplish” She walked back out the door without waiting for him to follow.

Not that he had a choice. The spell tugged him to go after her, squeezing his heart and filling it with undeservedly tender feelings for his captor. Tristan grabbed a few dry food items and shoved them into a napkin before hurrying out to find the woman extracting his loyalty with her magic ways. A thought entered his head, something he had not realized before.

This spell she had put over him was incomplete. He could feel it now. The tingling and lightheadedness were aftereffects of a spell worn off; if she was away from him for long without completing the process, he would no longer be under her power. That was the reason for her rage and her demands earlier. All true spells and all valuable potions came into being or were broken by one thing: true love’s kiss.

Perhaps it would not quite be true love, but that was of no consequence. Witches had their ways of cheating tricks and bending the laws of magic.

Tristan smiled as he followed her down the long flights of never-ending stairs and into the stables where dark horses awaited them. He knew her game now, and he was going to play along… with only a few deviations. It was dangerous to flirt with a spell, and dangerous to refuse a witch her wishes. But before he would give her the kiss she desired, she would have to tell him the thing she wanted to conceal.

Her name.

xxx

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