The Guest: An Aftermath Story

Author Note: I currently have a story, tentatively titled Valmora, and this is a short story from the work that would follow Valmora, tentatively titled Aftermath. I will share more Valmora stories later so that you can become more familiar with the characters, but until then, enjoy “The Guest”…

~~~~

The carriage arrived early. Normally my days in the city market place were left untouched by my fiancee’s hectic schedule, but I suppose today would be the exception. Mirabelle smiled at me from inside the carriage, a quietly nervous smile that made my heart sink the slightest.

“Let’s go dear, we have to get you back to the palace. You have a – er – visitor.” I grab my bag of local trinkets from the guard, pull up my skirts and get in the carriage across from Mirabelle. She had been the former queen’s handmade long before she had been mine, but I feel she cared for me as much as she had cared for Queen Anna, Aussen’s mother.

Mirabelle’s kind face smiles at me, but her eyes continue to divert mine. Knowing we were on the road now, and that there was nowhere for her to run to, I decided to probe her with questions. Her diverted attention and silence made me uneasy, still. “Who is the guest, Mira?” That was it. Her eyes shoot back to mine, almost as if she forgot I was in the carriage with her.

“Nobody you know dear. Your husband, excuse me, fiancee, just begged that I get you. It is of the utmost importance apparently.” My mind couldn’t help but flash to the last thing that was of utmost importance: the book. Surely there wasn’t another curse. Surely after all of the stress we were put under less than two months ago, we would get a break.

“Mira, is it about the book?” I pull my shawl tighter around myself. It had been a while since we had pulled out the book. It was in a vault at the Tantuckt palace, but we knew its power was still alive and well. There was no doubt.

“Not the book of the kingdoms. In fact, I’m not sure there is any book deary. She’s mysterious, I haven’t talked to her, but Aussie seems nervous.” Her gentle face relaxed, she was telling the truth. I took a deep breath. A mysterious girl. We knew quite a few of those.  “Don’t you worry about it too much. You and Aussie make a good pair, this is probably nothing. A village freak accident perhaps.”

“Freak accident? Was she hurt?” Mira chuckles slightly.

“No, she looked scared, and frazzled, and overall unkempt. Oh, how I would have loved to sit down and clean her up, but I was instructed to come get you. Speaking of, how was the market today? Did you get anything nice?” She was always interested in my finds since her life revolved around the upkeep of the palace. Many times I had offered to bring her along with me, but she always declined, saying she would never allow herself to rest.

“Some silk for you of course. There was also some of the best bread I had ever had. I just had to buy some, I hope Darius won’t mind.” Darius, the royal chef, was often stingy about ingredients in the kitchen, but it was well known that he had a soft spot for me after I hid in the kitchen the first time I visited the palace.

“Ooh, deary, you know he’s a big softy. Now, what color is the silk, and how much did it cost? I’ll be more than happy to repay you.”

Out the small window I could see the castle coming into view. “There’s no need to repay me, I’m almost the Queen, remember? It’s a sunshiny yellow, I figured I had already picked up too much red.” I blush and she chuckles.

“You only bought that because they were Aussie’s favorite.” It was true, and I couldn’t deny it. After the red dress I wore that was pictured in the book, the color red had become my staple look throughout the kingdom as I was pictured by Aussen’s side.

The cart jerks to a stop and the footman opened the door to reveal Aussen on the front steps. “Carina, welcome home. Mira, thank you for grabbing her, this is urgent.” Aussen says as he helps me out of the carriage, placing his hand on my lower back once I’m down. Mira stays seated within the carriage, they will take her to whichever part of the palace she needs in order to fulfill her other duties.

“A girl showed up today, Cari. She’s nothing like I’ve ever seen.” He whispers in my ear as we walk quickly inside the palace. My demure market dress was unassuming of royalty, but it still had enough skirt to keep me from going any faster than a quick walk. He leads me into the parlor room, and locks the door behind us. The viceroy, state secretary, and the girl were all staring at us expectantly.

She was dirty, leaves strewn all about her worn cloak and hair. Her dark hair covered her tanned skin and her dark eyes peered from behind thick strands inquisitively. Viceroy Kinnon looked sharply to her as if she might need to be sliced in half at a moment’s notice. Upon taking in our entrance, Secretary Maddox did the same.

“Back away from her immediately.” I instruct them and they each take one step back from the defenseless girl. “Who are you? Where are you from?”

“My name is Mukhina. I’m from a kingdom you have probably never heard of, Maagiline, and it is dying. I am the sole survivor of my family and I have come here to find you. And the book.” My head snaps to Aussen and he solemnly nods.

“What do you know of the book?” I ask suspiciously, wanting to see if she truly knew the depths of the situation.

“It was created by one of my people for your people, to save your people, but it can also save my people. I need to see it. His handiwork can save an entire race, my Queen. Please-”

“How are you any different from us? Why are you a different race?” She looked just the same as myself or my husband, granted her accent was different, but still, to my knowledge she was a human.

“I am not like you in the sense that I practice a different religion, and I practice something your nine kingdoms forbid.” I raise my eyebrow, and she reluctantly continues. “I am an apprentice of a Volurian. I am a sorceress in training, and now my home is at stake. I am powerful enough to fix it, but only with one page from that book. Thousands could die if I don’t defeat this tyrannical beast that has destroyed my country. Please. I know I’m different, but help me, my Queen.”

Her hair attempts to hide a single tear that falls, but I can see it plainly. This girl must being telling the truth, and if she was that means her ancestors were the ones banished from the nine kingdoms long before the curse was ever enacted. Long before there were even nine kingdoms. Magic was always hated among our people, and that hatred hadn’t changed, we had just assumed that their “kind” had stopped practising magic all together.

I saw no fault in giving her the book as long as Aussen and I were in the room with her, but obviously the Viceroy and Secretary thought otherwise. I turn back to Aussen and he opens the door to motion for me to come in the hall with him. “No. I’m not leaving her alone in here with two mean who are clearly scared of her. We can talk here, openly, with her. Viceroy, if you would leave. Secretary, if you would wait outside the door. It is better for her to understand that we are not here to harm her like our ancestors did.”

Aussen looks as apprehensive as Kinnon and Maddox, but nods anyways. “Do as you’re told.” They leave the room quickly and Aussen leaves the door unlocked behind them.

“Now, Mukhina, we are not here to hurt you. Will you repeat your situation to us?” I pull two chair over as I speak and Aussen and I sit across from her.

“An evil, vile man killed the man that created that book and therefore took control of the country and the most powerful magical weapon known to man and beast. That vile dictator’s name is Alatu, and he killed my grandfather, Conrad, the man who wrote the book . He killed my father, and my mother, and my baby sister as well, but he did not kill me. I escaped to find the one thing that will give me the ability to defeat Alatu. Somewhere in that book my grandfather wrote me something. He gave me a weapon to use in case anything ever happened. He always said that despite past transgressions, the people of Valmora were our friends, and would not hurt us in times of need. I only hope he was right and that you will help me.” Mukhina finishes, and tries to discreetly wipe her eyes, but Aussen hands her his handkerchief anyways.

“Valmora? You have come to the wrong place. This is Tantuckt, the fifth of the nine kingdoms. I’m sorry, Mukhina. I thought we could help you, but it appears we cannot.” I feel my heart ache for her, but she just laughs.

“Long ago, before the book, you were called Valmora, one nation with nine states. The curse caused you to separate, but my grandfather then a young sorcerer of eighteen used his relatively new powers to create something that would one day change the fate of nations. He did not like seeing his birthplace ripped to shreds, even if they had exiled his family and neighbors to the hinterlands for being Volurian. I have come to the right place. I would not have traveled for three weeks to come to the wrong place.” She says with a smirk and crosses her arms over her chest, seemingly more comfortable with us now.

“What was the title of the book your grandfather, Conrad, wrote?” Aussen asks, eyes narrowing.

“It was untitled. Just a maroon journal, seemingly with empty pages, that is until the right person found it. I believe that would be you, Cymer of Sincoria? Forgive me, my Queen, for speaking out of turn. Please, understand I am telling you the truth, and as we speak Alatu is executing more people for siding with my family… The royal family of Volruia.” She says, staring my fiancee down with a force I hadn’t seen before.

“Yes, of course. We will give you the book.” Aussen snaps his head towards me. “Tomorrow.”

“Why not tonight?” She asks, not angrily, just curiously. In fact, there is even an air of relief in her voice, as if she thought we weren’t going to tell her the answer she wanted to hear.

“Well, we must get you cleaned up, fed, bathed, properly clothed. You know, the works. You’re going into battle are you not? Against someone strong enough to defeat your grandfather?”

“Well yes, but-”

“Listen, Mukhina. We owe your grandfather everything. Without him the curse would still exist, I would still be making no money doing something I hated, and all of my closest friends would not be able to have their happy endings. I wouldn’t be able to get married in two months if it weren’t for him, Mukhina. So, let us help you. How do you defeat a magician?” I say, resting my elbows on my knees and holding my head on my bent wrists. Her eyes widen. Aussen places a hand on my back, pressing in lightly.

“My fiancee is not asking to go into war with you. Tantuckt can’t risk it’s military force to something with far greater power than we have. Yes, your grandfather was a patron saint of these nations, but surely he would not beg us to send in armies. He trusted you, yes? This means you have power, great power. If we give you the book surely that will be enough.” Aussen negotiates, and she smiles.

“I’m not asking for an army. Just the book, and just the neo-founders. Aussen, Cymer, Malaki, Tiana, Henley, Kalligi, Westbrook, Markos, Arbor, Halien, Naron, Pasaxi, Astella, and Fidelon. Together, the magic my grandfather gave you all, and my magic, will be more than enough to defeat Alatu. I have a chance on my own, but we would be unstoppable with the founders.” Aussen looks uneasily from me to the door.

“Maddox! Go grab Mira for me, she has a new lady in court to support.” Maddox mutters a reply and Aussen turns his head back to Mukhina, his dark waves falling in front of his face. “Mukhina, we are all heads of state now. You can’t expect us to leave our countries to defeat a threat that isn’t even ours! We will help you in any way we can, but we cannot leave our posts.”

Mukhina bites her lip. “I was afraid that would be the case. Supposedly, the book has a solution… some sort of blood potion that I can dip my hands in.” Aussen looked horrified at that thought and Mukhina chuckled.

“I wouldn’t kill any of you, it would just be a drop. As I use my hands to cast my spells the blood potion would amplify my power. It wouldn’t be as strong as having you all there, but it would be stronger than Alatu’s power certainly.” That sounded reasonable. I nod to her and Aussen’s hand on my back begins to rub circles, our secret code for when he agrees with something.

Just then Mira comes through the door, and Aussen smiles to her and waves her forward. “Mukhina we can discuss those plans tomorrow. This is Mira. She, or one of her ladies, will help you for the rest of your stay.”

“C’mon deary, I’ve drawn you a bath, let’s get you ready for supper.” She says with a smile and Mukhina gives us one last look before following Mira out of the room.

Once they were out of earshot, Aussen turned to me. “I know your patriotic sense of duty, love. We can’t fight her battle for her, but I’m not opposed to doing the blood potion. We will write the founders tonight and call for a meeting.” Aussen says, his kingly plan of action coming out in full bloom.

“That’s exactly what I was going to say.” Aussen smiles and kisses my cheek.

“Good, well, let’s go start with those letters my love.”

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