Chapter Five: A Different Fate

AGONIZING hours passed as Ora waited for court. She could wander the servants’ wing but was allowed nowhere else. That did not stop her from trying, of course, but she soon discovered locked doors on both ends. Anytime she happened to pass Pons in her endless, restless pacing, she shot him a dirty glare. He would hurry off, looking ashamed and defeated each time. He did not seem to have any trouble slipping in and out of the long, dim corridor.

Aside from Pons, the occasional human would scurry by, careful to keep their distance in the wide corridor. They all wore simple blue uniforms and only spoke to each other in hushed voices about chores that needed to be done. When Ora tried to gain their attention, they pretended not to see her and shuffled away without a word.

Her heart ached for home and for her mother, whose worst fears had come true. It was not just Ora who did not return home; it was Hademar as well. She prayed to Farig that Lupin would know what to do. No one else in Fel would suspect the fae.

At last, the door on the south end of the wing opened. Ora had expected Wynn to fetch her, but to her great disappointment, it was Tyg. She looked no different than before, still dressed in a soft brown elk cloak and plain breeches.

Ora hated the dren and wished she still had a sword at her side. It did not matter if the Yewolyn was stronger and more powerful. All it would take was a single cut from the silver blade to drain the magic from Tyg’s blood.

“Come,” Tyg snapped as if scolding a dog.

Though she did as told, Ora did not bother hiding her anger. This turned out to be a mistake.

“Insolence does not become you, you little brat.” The Magus tapped the handle of her knife. “Lighten up, girl. Queen Innes will not accept disrespect, and she’s the one who will be deciding your fate.”

It took some effort to relax, but by the time they reached the Great Hall, Ora managed to soften her features enough for Tyg to be satisfied. Even if she had clung to her resentment, the grandeur of the large chamber would have stolen her breath away all the same.

Rows of benches stretched between ornate, marble columns. Chiseled into each column were four fae women, each holding up a brass lantern with cool, bluish lights glistening behind glass panes. Sculpted garments draped over their figures with impossible fluidity and spilled over their bare feet. How anyone could carve something so realistic and beautiful baffled Ora. When she felt certain that Tyg would not notice, she dared to brush her fingers over one of the skirts to see if it was really made of stone.

The throne drew her eyes next. It was made of polished alabaster that caught the glimmer of the mysterious blue flames. Finely carved flowers and birds swooped through the back and along the arms. A plush, royal blue cushion nestled in the seat, each corner pulled down under the weight of an impressive sapphire and tassel.

The opulence was foreign to Ora’s Norrish sensibilities. They did not value affluence or luxury in Nor. Even their king and queen sat on modest wood thrones, symbols of humility, hard work, and devotion to their people.

As the initial shock faded, she began to look more closely at the fae who crowded the hall. She could name many of them from her uncle’s stories—stalwart elves, rosy-cheeked thachwings, druids with pale green skin, and more dren. There were also many fae she did not recognize. A woman with a flat nose and long, black hair. A knobby, old man who appeared to be made of branches and bark rather than limbs and skin. A girl hunched on the end of a bench with a seal pelt tugged over her shoulders.

Tyg turned down a row of benches, and Ora caught sight of her captor. A sickening knot formed in her stomach as Tyg shoved her down next to him.

“Well, well, look at you,” he said. When she ignored him, he caught hold of her chin and forced their gazes to meet. A twinkle of laughter shone in his eyes. “You’re quite pretty without all that mud, aren’t you?”

“Callum,” Tyg hissed, and, to Ora’s surprise, he let go.

Suddenly, a hush settled over the hall. With a rustle of fine fabric and wings, every fae rose to their feet. Tyg shot Ora a look, and she jumped up at once. They all turned toward the grand, arched entrance as the queen stepped into the hall. Two thachwing women in ivory silk dresses attended her.

Queen Innes’s hair tumbled freely down her back, as wild and beautiful as sea foam, shifting from moon white to silver like the storms that often swept across the ocean toward Fel. Diamonds and rubies glistened in her golden crown, which looked abnormally large perched above her soft, round features. Her wings, pale silver, were so long they spilled across the ground and joined the train of her violet dress. Though stunning, Ora thought the queen had a strange, distant expression in her even paler eyes as she made her way slowly down the aisle of benches.

Once the queen reached her throne, she turned to address the court. Her voice was pure music, sweet even to Ora, who could not understand her words. The fae took their seats once again.

Ora’s eyes shifted about the room, and she quickly sat down a moment behind the crowd. Her anxiety grew as the fae conversed in their own language, sometimes laughing, sometimes debating heatedly for long stretches of time. Various officials rose to their feet and orated at length. Others stood supplicating before the queen. When Innes spoke, she did not raise her voice, and everyone grew dead silent to hear her words. Ora began to wonder if they would forget about her. But then, a different sort of hush came over the crowded hall. Heads began to turn toward them.

“Up,” said Tyg, grabbing hold of Ora’s elbow. All three of them rose to their feet and approached the throne.

As Callum spoke in the fae tongue, the queen studied Ora wordlessly. She tried to avoid meeting Innes’s gaze, but she felt drawn to it, like a moth to lamplight. When she at last looked up, the queen’s eyes held her in place. Then, she heard a voice whisper in her mind. Instinctively, she knew it belonged to Innes.

You are quite unusual. Ora is not your true name, is it?

She could not stop herself from thinking of the truth. It rose unbidden, much to her horror. It’s short for Eudora.

A pretty name, said the queen.

Her secret revealed, Ora felt like crying. She would never escape. She would never save Hademar. She would be trapped in the fae realm forever. Hopelessness blossomed within her, and it took all her willpower to maintain her composure with Tyg and Callum standing on either side of her.

But the voice went on. Let’s keep that secret between us, Eudora. You have a different fate than any of us suspect.

Questions welled up in Ora’s mind, but the queen’s gaze left hers at last. The hall came back into focus, and she drew in a deep breath of air.

Tyg bowed to the queen and spoke in the common tongue. “Apologies, Your Majesty. I haven’t had time to teach her proper etiquette.”

The fae queen lit up with a smile. “No need to apologize, Magus Marigen. It takes time for humans to learn our ways.” She looked between the two Yewolyns thoughtfully. “Seeing as you brought her to our realm, Valor Marigen, I am placing her in your home.”

These words made Ora’s knees weaken. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Callum bow his head. As he began to speak, she dug her nails into her palms. “Your Majesty, while we greatly appreciate your generosity, we—”

“We would be honored,” said Tyg quickly, cutting her husband short. His brow rose in surprise.

Dread spilled into Ora’s blood. She opened her mouth to protest but remembered the knife of the iron-willed dren who stood next to her.

“Good. You have more than earned this blessing,” Innes said before settling her gaze on Ora once more. “Ora, your name is bound to Mysanhal, and so you are bound to her ruler’s will. You will serve the Marigens as long as you walk our realm.”

“I—” Ora began but snapped her mouth shut as Tyg’s hand clamped down on her shoulder.

“We thank you, Your Majesty, for your generosity,” Tyg replied.

Innes nodded before dismissing them with the wave of her hand. The Marigens bowed low to the queen, and Ora sensibly did the same. However miserable she felt, she would not let them see. She followed the two dren back to their place in the hall and sat in perfect silence for the remainder of the evening.

When the queen dismissed the court and left the hall, Ora let out a long, slow breath. This only made Tyg glare. Despite the hard pit in her stomach, she remained resolute beneath the Magus’s gaze.

“Ah, aren’t you fearless?” Callum said in Ora’s own tongue. “How very lucky I was to catch your name. I think any other human would crumble in our household.”

“Should I be afraid?” Ora said, even as her pulse quickened. She saw Tyg tense, like a cord ready to snap, but Callum only laughed.

“Shall I see to it that the girl gets settled in?” Tyg asked, her tone sweetening.

Callum raised a brow and said something in fae. When Tyg responded, he shrugged and looked down at the girl. “Go with Tyg, Ora. She will make sure you’re comfortable for the evening. Tomorrow, we’ll put you to work.”

Callum excused himself. Once he was out of earshot, Tyg whispered to Ora, “Do not forget that I keep my blade sharp.”

“How could I?” she said.

The Magus lifted her hand as if she might strike the girl, but as Ora recoiled, she composed herself. “Watch your tongue. I will not warn you again,” she said. “Now, come with me.”

As they exited the palace, Ora blinked at the bright sunlight that greeted them. The warm summer air surprised her, and she wondered just how far away from the Hy Borea she had been taken. The hazy, evening sky softened the tall mountain peaks that rose over the royal city. As she descended into the crowded streets with Tyg, the swell of activity made Ora’s heart drum. Compared to the small, cozy village of Fel, Tirnan was an overwhelming, noisy sprawl of foreign life.

Fae of all types walked the narrow paths between stone buildings. Their language grated unpleasantly in her ears. Most were hauntingly beautiful, made strange only by their sharp features, wings, or the crackle of magic that surrounded some of them.

Despite a gnawing sense of unease, Ora could not deny the splendor of the city. The architecture itself was unlike anything she had ever seen. The white stone walls shone like jewels in the dying light, a far cry from the drab cedar cabins in Fel. Archways and doorways and window frames all had delicate, impossibly detailed carvings.

Like in Queen Innes’s court, enchanted brass lamps hung outside storefronts and from posts on street corners. Ora caught sight of a small fae girl, no bigger than her hand, crouched atop one of the lamps. When she noticed Ora staring, her lips curled into a vicious snarl that revealed pointed, cat-like teeth.

“A sprite,” Tyg said. “Do not stare.”

They crossed bridges over crashing waterfalls and jostled their way through crowded plazas. Water flowed from fountains, which came in countless shapes and sizes. The fae stopped to drink from smaller metal spouts that drained into grates nestled in the cobblestone.

They eventually came to a west-facing townhouse near one of the open plazas. Ora hesitated as the door swung open but stepped inside before Tyg lost her patience.

Golden sunlight filled the parlor. A chaise sat near the fireplace, and there were several shelves full of scrolls and books. The home appeared dusty and unkempt. A heavy wooden table in one corner had maps and papers strewn over it. Dishes sat atop the mantle and in other odd places. A brown apple core perched on the arm of a plush, red chair.

Tyg shut the door behind her and stepped toward Ora. “Come with me,” she said and led her down a dark hallway. At the end of the passage, she opened a door to a small spare room. Like the rest of the house, a layer of dust coated the furnishings, which amounted to nothing more than a bed, washstand, and wardrobe. “You will sleep here.”

Again, Ora hesitated to cross the threshold. Would the door close forever behind her once she did? She would not be much use locked in a spare room.

As if reading her mind, Tyg said, “You may walk freely in our home. Any door that shouldn’t be opened will be properly enchanted. I can assure you of that.”

Though still a cage, it was better than being trapped in a single room. She nodded in answer, still uncertain of Tyg’s intentions.

“Eat what you’d like from the larder,” said Tyg. Then, without a word more, she turned and set about enchanting the doors and windows.

Tired and hungry, Ora sat on the bed and listened to Tyg walk about the house. At some point, she heard the front door open and then click shut. She tried not to rush as she stepped into the hallway and made her way to the parlor.

“Hello?” she called. “Tyg? Valor Marigen?”

The house responded with silence. She was alone. Despite knowing the door to be enchanted, she tried the handle anyway. Heat bit at her hand, and she leapt back with a cry of pain. She looked down at her scorched palm. Her skin felt tight as she flexed her fingers, but it did not blister.

“I’ll find a way out,” she said to the door, but doubt crept into her thoughts. Humans could not use magic. How would she be able to get past the enchantments without a spell?

Ora began to tug ribbons out of her hair. She moved cautiously toward the table covered in maps, notes, and what appeared to be letters. Her hands shook a little as she began to look at the maps. Reading did not come easily in her own language, and the fae script eluded her entirely. Still, she studied the mountain ranges, lakes, and geography that lay before her. Nothing looked familiar.

She turned away from the letters and began to scan the spines of books. She reached out to touch one and gasped. A little spark had pricked her finger. Were the books enchanted as well? She touched another. The same tickle of energy spread through her hand, but it did not hurt or burn the way the door handle had.

Cautious but intrigued, she slid the book from the shelf and opened it. She could not explain it, but she felt there must be power in the fae writing. She could feel it when she touched the pages and ran her fingers over the words. It made her heart patter and the hair on her arms rise. She smoothed her hand across page after page and wondered if she might find something useful, something to help her understand the magic that kept her trapped within those walls.

Though she knew the house to be empty, she glanced around before closing the book and carrying it with her to the spare room. There, she tucked it beneath the mattress. Defying Tyg gave her a small thrill. She stepped back from the bed with a smile. Whatever it took, she would escape.

Sarah Day ©2021