“She didn’t work alone. That’s the only explanation”
Syrene Pectar tensed at the soldier’s words.
The Efousiam queen dragged her eyes from her hand held mirror. “Why do you think that, Tom?” she sighed.
The dark haired soldier caught Syrene’s eye and hastily looked away. “Half-ones have many foreign abilities, but flight is not one of them.”
Syrene inwardly scolded herself. They can tell I’m a half-one. I knew having shorter hair wouldn’t hide my ears, but do I keep my hair long? No, of course I don’t. What a foolish risk.
“By the kingdoms, lock up this troublesome orphan and find her accomplice.” Queen Emerald turned back to her mirror, but before she could resume fussing with her springy blonde curls, Tom Stimp hesitantly corrected her.
“That does not follow custom, Your Highness,” he stammered, holding up a scroll. “I retrieved this from the court scribe earlier. It recounts the Trial by Battle, the punishment used on the Defenders’ leader, Lord Havom.”
“Pah! Children’s tales and nonsense! Next I suppose you’ll tell me some fake story creature was her accomplice!”
His silence agreed with her.
“If I may speak, power-wielding creatures are forbidden in Efousiam,” Syrene said from where she stood with her hands bound behind her. “Without flight, I can’t be the thief.”
Tom ground his teeth. “You could have used rope or other means to reach the treasury.”
Syrene shrugged. “You found no such things.”
Queen Emerald tilted her chin as if convinced. “She is still a child, only fifteen years old. She’s not old enough to legally own a weapon yet. Miss Pectar, do you know how to handle a sword?”
“I do not,” she replied truthfully.
Emerald nodded as if that settled it. “Tom, I forbid you to use the Trial by Battle method. One jewel is missing, and this girl is innocent.”
“No!” The word erupted from him, startling both Syrene and the queen. “She’s guilty! There’s no other reason for her being here!”
“She is an Efousite,” Queen Emerald said.
“Not by birth!” His chest heaved with emotion. The soldier glared at the half-one with every breath he breathed.
“You knew my parents?” Syrene asked immediately, trying to dash her rising hope to pieces. “Please. Tell me about them.” She stared at him, and to her surprise, he flinched at the sight of her ice blue eyes.
Queen Emerald perked up, interest mingling with her admiration of the mirror. “Did you know the girl’s parents, soldier?”
“Only by reputation. They were horrible traitors to the Land of Irtaa Kertgo.”
“Liar,” Syrene hissed under her breath. They can’t be.
Tom bowed. “I apologize for my rash outburst. Forgive me, Your Majesty.”
“You are a laugh, Tom. You are also dismissed. You may keep her in the prison one day. After that, release her.”
Quemy is sure indecisive. I’m innocent, but I can stay in a holding cell overnight, Syrene thought.
He mumbled under her breath, “She may be tricking you.”
Queen Emerald glanced at Syrene, ignoring the soldier. “Is your hair naturally that color?”
“It has always been blue with two silver streaks, Your Highness,” Syrene replied. “I myself have been searching for the cause of it. Perhaps it was a trait passed on from my family.” She regarded Tom, challenging him to speak again about her parents.
He crossed his arms and didn’t respond.
“I can ask my darling husband,” Queen Emerald suggested. “He’s traveled through the whole land. He may have an answer for you, Miss Pectar.”
“Thank you.” Syrene followed a river of thoughts. The king. Perhaps I could finally meet him. Even after living here for twelve years, I don’t have a clue of his name or appearance. She bowed to the queen and walked ahead of Tom toward the holding cells. I’d glad they didn’t see my dragon.
She frowned as she realized the full truth of her situation. The queen is releasing me tomorrow. How will I get my name known now? A thrill froze her breath. I’ll escape. Then they’ll know I am the one who stole the jewel. A smile darted onto her face as she formed a plan, waiting for the right moment to throw itself at her feet.
Tom escorted Syrene down to the dungeons where he removed the binding holding her wrists together and prodded her into a windowless cell. The cell reeked of decaying darkness, and one glance inside told her why.
A lantern sat smugly on the stone ground, as if taunting her. Entranced, she stepped toward it. The moment her hand touched the lantern, a light pulsed within it. The flame morphed into a hazy village, Syrene viewing from the streets beside a cluster of houses. She stumbled back and slammed into the door, panicked to escape as a piercing scream rose before her.
“Oy! Quit banging around in there!” a guard bellowed through the door.
The half-one instinctively crawled toward the lantern as the houses around her caught fire. With a whisk of her cape, the fire died and the village faded into nothing.
Syrene caught her breath, the vision echoing like a war drum in her mind. What was that? She lifted the lantern and examined it, then shook her head. What am I doing? I’m supposed to be finding a way to escape. After a brief struggle to push the village and the scream into the back of her mind, Syrene set her focus on her plan.
Her first priority was to get past the door. Then the guards. Then the sea serpent filled moat. She smiled as she traced over the list. Quite a feat, quite a feat. Everyone would hear about her, the half-one, the Girl Who Escaped The Northern Kingdom on a simple winter morning.
Studying the cell door, Syrene reached through the bars and found the lock out of her reach. Of course the guards aren’t that dim-witted. Her gaze fell back on the contents of her prison. Alright. Use my resources. What can I do with a lantern, a blanket, and a chair?
Syrene whirled to the noise, her eyes darting for a speaker in the darkness. “Who’s there?”
“I’m over here.” The voice had a soft female tone to it, and Syrene ran her hand along the rock wall until she found a crack the voice rang through. “I know how to get you out of here.”
“I don’t need your help.” Syrene turned back to the door, but again the voice spoke.
“Please, Defender Syrene, you cannot escape any other way. Believe me.”
“I’m not a Defender. What does that even mean?” Syrene asked, still facing away from the crack in the wall. “Are you a prisoner?”
“I’m a servant,” the voice bristled. “An honorable maid who would never be thrown into such a foul place.”
“How do I know you won’t turn me in? Where’s the honor in helping a prisoner escape?”
“I’m not helping a prisoner escape. I’m freeing a future friend.” A hidden passage swung open from the rock wall, revealing the voice behind it. The maid had traditional white garments and long curly red hair. She raised her eyebrows in question. “Are you coming?”
Syrene grit her teeth, grinding down her pride, then drew up her hood and followed the Efousiam servant into the tunnel. She winced at every echo that bounced through the musty air of the ancient passage.
“Hurry!” the maiden urged.
Syrene stumbled through a gangle of spiderwebs and swatted them off, dust painting her shoes. “Where are we going?”
“There.” A gleam of light poked through the smothering darkness ahead of them. A tapestry hung over the shine, dampening it.
Syrene flung the weaving to the side and stepped into an empty hall. She tilted her head slightly, listening. Soft stomps alerted her of boots on carpet, and she whipped around to find ten strongly armed guards storming down the hall toward her.