Ariannona has but one simple task to complete and the long journey she began 3000 years ago will be ended. Her reward? She was promised that she would see the king and queen again.
Elam's not sure what to think about the beautiful woman coming back to the house with his counterpart Casdon. She has a message for Casdon alone, and the message itself makes no sense to Casdon. One thing is clear though, she is Elam and Casdon's mate.
Ariannona expects to die once her message is delivered, and isn't happy to learn that the former king and queen tricked her to get her there.
A dragon hunter is still loose on nearby lands and none of the dragons are safe, especially Casdon. He's taking shots at anything he sees moving.
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“And you’ll do this for us? For me?” The king wasn’t so sure he wanted to trust her. Ariannona had been known to be somewhat flighty, and while she was a good person most of the time, he knew that she had bouts of behavior that got her into trouble. Anthony looked at Eve when she cleared her throat. She had to do this; life needed to be taken care of.
“What he’s trying so hard not to do is tell you that we think you a bit off your head. But we know that it is only a front, is it not?” Eve smiled at him as she continued. “Anthony, she needs to know that we’re not taken in by her ways. Try not to be so kingie and tell her we trust her.”
Before he could voice his concerns, Ariannona spoke again, eyeing him like she knew what he was thinking. “You’ve asked me here for a favor. But you’ve yet to tell me how I will be able to do this. My lady, I know not of some of the things you’re telling me.” Anthony thought that she’d done it on purpose, adding the title to his lady wife. She wanted them to think that she’d forgotten that they were king and queen. “I’m but a person. No real magic, nothing to show for what I’ve been able to conjure. You know as well as I that though I am a witch of good standing, I’m not all that powerful. What you’re asking me to do is well beyond my realm of knowledge, as I have said. Several times now.”
“Come to me, Ariannona.” Instead of doing what his lady wife commanded her to do, the witch took several steps back. “I wish to give you a gift, one that will help you with the task I have set before you.” Her head was shaking hard now, as if she knew what was coming would change her forever.
And it would. Their hope and that of their children depended on this woman to do just what they told her. Asked of her. When she took another step back, Anthony had to fight hard with his frustrations. She had to do this.
“I have no wish of your magic, my lady. It is all that I can do to keep my own powers safely behind my teeth. And you know as well as I that I have been in trouble enough with it.” Anthony nodded, knowing just how hard it was at times to keep your true self hidden. “And this thing you wish for me to do? I don’t understand. You wish for me to visit your children, to give them a message, when there are no children of you. Or so we have been led to believe. And if there are said children, why are you not giving them the message on your own? There are many things that are not answered, and many more questions coming to me that I fear the answer to.”
Anthony looked at his wife. Their children, six wonderful sons, had been born just that morning. They were hidden deep within the mountains to keep them safe. He and his lady wife knew that in a short time all that they were would be taken from them if things continued, including their lives. When Eve nodded at him, he got down off his chair and moved to stand with young Ariannona. There were spies everywhere, he knew this. It was going to be their downfall.
“They are born. Six of them. They are hidden well but will be harmed, more than likely killed, should we announce their arrival.” Ariannona nodded and he did as well. Tears, useless ones that he’d shed too often of late, filled his eyes and he continued. Emotions did not set well with a king, but a father could shed them freely. “Our lives will be taken, as will the castle, and without the help of a few magical beings as yourself, they will not have the tools that they’ll need to care for each other. Much is at stake, Ariannona. More than we have time to explain to you now.”
“And you think that I can take it to them. This message and favor you ask of me.” Anthony nodded and kept an eye on his wife as she moved to stand behind the young witch. “You think…you said that your life will be taken with the castle. How is that possible when it is as magical as you? When the walls are forged of the greatest stones? Your men, they would die for you. Some even have.”
“And they will, all of them. The castle will be great again one day, the magic restored with each new stone. But without your help, I’m afraid that all will be lost to all of us.” Ariannona nodded and looked around the great hall. He wondered what she was thinking, what she might see that they had missed. “We need to give you a part of ourselves so that you can give them our message.”
“And this part of you, it will give me what?” Anthony looked at his Eve, and she smiled sadly at him. “I don’t think you’re allowed to give me more magic. I have to earn that. And I am not able to do much because I’m not strong, like others. And to be honest with you, my king, I’m not so sure I’d like to be stronger than I am right now.”
“You will have the gift of immortality. And of some magic that we can give you. Mostly knowledge. And as you get older, more will come to you naturally.” Ariannona nodded and looked at Eve as she explained. “You must work hard while you wait for them. Stay out of trouble too. And when you do find them, I shall ask that you tell them how much we loved them.”
“It will be long in coming, this message that you ask me to give to them. And a favor of some worth that you think I should take to them that you would trust me with it. That’s why I need this gift; I will need the immortality in order to pass it to them.” Anthony nodded when Eve did. “I think you jest with me. I don’t think you tell me a falsehood, for I know you to be true. But this cannot be right. I think you have chosen the wrong person. Perhaps...perhaps you should ask Helena. She is a much stronger witch than I. Or Caroline. I know that both are used to magic and are very powerful.”
“They have their tasks to do. And neither of you are to interfere with the other’s set upon path. You may talk, converse, but never engage in any of their magic that might have to do with the castle or the people there.” Anthony thought that was a good way to put things and admired his wife. But if only Ariannona could kill the witch, things would be so much the better even now. Well, that wasn’t to be either. Things needed to progress. As they were set to do.
The door to the chamber they were in was banged upon. When Ariannona turned to look, he and his lovely bride of centuries past touched the younger woman at the same time. The ploy worked. She was distracted and they moved. Time was running short and they needed her to help them.
Her scream tore through him. He knew that it wasn’t pain…well, perhaps a little of it was, but mostly it was the magic that filled her up that had her screaming. Magic that she would need to keep alive, and a message, the favor that they asked of her to give to his son. A son he’d never meet.
Pain entered his heart. So much was going to be lost to them. He wasn’t a man who dwelled much on what he could not control, but this, this was something that would pain him until his last breath. His children would never know him. He’d never see them grow into men. Anthony would not even lay to rest near his own beloved.
As they laid Ariannona gently to the floor, her body quiet now that they were no longer filling her needs, they watched her carefully as her body took on a different look. He’d known it
would happen, that she’d change, but he’d not known that it would do this to her. The magic would take as much as it gave to her.
Where her hair had been short, chopped no doubt by her own hand, it grew out long, well past her hips, he’d bet. And instead of the dark color that it had been, it was now white. Not a gray that it might have been with age, but as white as the snow that covered the ground even now. When she opened her eyes without moving, he could see the change in her eyes too. Gone were the brown they were before. They were the most startling color of silver that Anthony had ever seen. Magic danced in them even as she lay so still, almost in death. But he could see the snap of her anger even without her words.
“You did that a-purpose.” He nodded. Still she hadn’t moved, but they watched her. “I feel...I think to say I feel good, but it’s so much more than that, isn’t it?”
“You are of a good health and have much more magic, not in all things but a good deal more than you had before. Or would have ever had should you have lived out your normal life.” She asked him how long that might have been. “You would have been gone from this world today, as soon as you had stepped from the castle if you had told us no. It was the reason for the urgency.”
Ariannona sat up slowly. He did not reach to help her, his own magic still there to share with her, but she seemed to understand and did not scold him when he did not. She was standing tall. He nodded to her when she ran her hands down her tattered clothing and it changed as she did. She would learn what she could do quickly now, her body humming of the power within her.
The clothing was gone, in its place a dress of white…as white as her hair had become. The only show of color on any of her was her lips, and they were as blood red as she was white. He laughed when Ariannona snapped her fingers and a single flower, a beautiful blue rose, appeared. After sniffing the fragrant flower, she put it on her shoulder, over her heart, and looked at them.
“You have given me a great deal, more than you wished, haven’t you?” Eve, his queen and hers, nodded. “And this favor. What is it that you wish for me to tell your sons?”
Anthony nodded. It was done. And in a few thousand years, more than he could think on, this woman would be as important to his sons and their counterparts as she was to them at this moment. As Eve told her what she was to tell them, Anthony moved to his chair. His sons…as before, all he thought of was the loss.
He’d never see them grown, not even see them born. He and his wife, they would not see them darken the skies with their wings, not see them find their way in life. Not be there to guide them should they need it. Anthony would miss holding them in his arms, seeing them take their first steps, their first flight. They were going to miss it all if things, as they stood now, were not to change. He looked at Eve when she sat beside him. The woman, Ariannona the witch, was now gone.
“She will be a fine addition to them.” He nodded, his heart too tender to speak of it. “Perhaps all of this perpetration, it is for naught. Perhaps the other will not bring us to ruin.”
“You know as well as I that it is set in motion. That when the new storm blows, things will be out of our hands. People, our people, will rise against us. We will be no more. I know not when, but we do know that it will happen. I only wish that you could live, to be there with our children.” She told him what she’d been saying for centuries, that she could not live without him. “I love you, my wife. With all that I am.”
“And I love you, he who holds all that I am.” She laid her head on his shoulder, and he held her. “My heart breaks for them all. I know that...while we have done all that we can to help them, I still think we have missed more than we can know.”
“We will put others in place. People, dragons that will know what we have tried to do and the why of it.” He felt her nod and wrapped his arm around her tighter. “I shall miss them, all the people here, the ones to come and the people we are begging for help.”
“Jacob and Sally, they will be good to them. Care for them while we cannot. We have chosen well in them. You think?” He nodded. Just as she was to tell him more, things she had said to him over the last weeks, a storm blew into their windows and over their bodies. He was sure that Eve could smell the black magic as well as he could. “It has begun.”
There was no hope for it now. Things, as they had seen, were now coming. Their deaths, while not how they would die but that they would, had been shown to them. He held her while the storm, a great monster of a thing, blew around the castle walls and into their broken hearts.