Two Sisters, Chapter 15 ~ Seven Queens for Seven Murdered Daughters
Somewhere in a sheltered corner of her mind, Elly was crying like a lovesick girl for the hurt she felt over Sien. Somewhere inside she was stuck in the hallway of Ridgewalter High School, mooning over her golden boy, wondering if he would ever notice her. Something about that girl, that innocent child, would never die.
River wrapped up the fragile, emotional young human girl in an embrace that said, “It will be all right,” and put her to sleep. She wrapped up all the love and humanity she had and she called the bundle of sorrow “Elly” and she put it away. Far, far away. She put it away where it would be safe.
Day turned to night and night turned to morning, and she hardly knew how it passed. Time never passed for her like it did for Elly. It was always night, always darkness, always like the depth of a river bottom far away from the sparkle of sunshine that played along the water’s surface. Even that far away glimmer seemed gone . . . but it was not gone, it was simply put away, kept safe. I am not lost, I am not the Lost One, she told herself. I am the Queen of Seven. I am not lost.
She came to the Temple of the Seven in the daylight, but she was cloaked in her darkness, her ghostliness. She moved unseen through the unsuspecting Airidani guards into the throne room, where the Elders sat upon their seven thrones. She stood in the shadows and watched as the Senators of Auriel approached with their supplications, every one presented anew as if the Elders had not already read, and debated, and made their decisions.
She stood in the shadows, and smiled. As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives, and every wife had seven sacks. Every sack had seven cats, and every cat had seven kits. Kits, cats, sacks, wives. How many were going to St. Ives? It was a rhyme from Elly’s childhood, a rhyme Elly had long forgotten, but River remembered every word. She remembered everything. Every moment from the time she had awoken in her mother’s womb till she died and every moment after that. Every thought that Elly had ever forgotten. In a way, she was more Elly than Elly herself.
She watched the Elders all through the day. She knew all their names. There was Ilea, Rai, and Junnai, the three female Elders. They never slept, though Rai would sit and stare at the moon, unblinking and motionless, for an hour each night. Then there were the four men, Runel, Lien, Larji, and Jornan. They never slept; they never looked at the sky. Runel was blind, but they were all blind, after a fashion. They could see nothing but their old ways, their old traditions, their old power. Perhaps it was fitting that they could not see her, and for all their midnight plotting, did not know what was about to befall them.
It came towards the end of the day, when the steward stepped forward to bring the session to a close. He called out, as he had called out many days before, “If there be no more business to attend, the Elders shall retire.”
River stepped forward, to the spot where the Senators stood when they read their requests. It was the center of the room, a place visible to all seven thrones in front of it and the audience behind it. It was raised a little, a small podium on which to be seen, and heard. She stood on this podium and let herself be seen, and a little gasp rippled throughout the room. A veiled woman had appeared out of nowhere, draped in the protective shroud of secrecy that left little visible but a pillar of darkness.
“I have business,” she announced, her Airidani perfect, effortless, for River never forgot a thing.
She was aware of several guards rushing toward her, and she made their armor and clothing fall empty to the floor. It took no effort at all, barely any thought, for she had had plenty of practice in the night. “Step near me and your fate will be the same,” she said, levelly, and no one moved. The sight of the collapsed clothing transfixed them.
“What is the meaning of this?” asked Runel, and those sitting next to him leaned in to whisper in his ear.
“My name is Eliasha,” answered River. “I have come before you to announce that I am the Queen you have long awaited.”
“We shall be the judges of that,” said Ilea, seemingly unfazed. Her dead white grip on the arms of her throne was the only thing that gave her unease away. “Show us your face, child.”
“You are mistaken,” River replied, making no move to lift her veil. “It is you who are about to be judged. No, you have already been judged, it is your sentence that you are about to receive.”
These words prompted more guards to move forward, but they too fell into nothingness, their armor clattering as it reached the floor.
“Who are you to come before us this way?” demanded Jornan, making as if to stand. He coughed and fell back into his seat, for he was frail, and old, and she could feel the fear behind his bold words.
River felt no fear. She did not think she knew what fear was, truly, though Elly had felt it often enough. It had come to her secondhand, and still she could recognize its smell.
“I have told you, I am your Queen of Seven,” she said.
“A lie,” shouted Runel, standing. “The Queen of Seven can only be recognized by the Elders of Auriel after fulfilling the seven rules. Imposters throughout the ages have failed, and yet you declare yourself without submitting to a single test!”
“The Fifth Rule,” said River, in Elly’s sweetest voice, “is the only rule you need concern yourself with. You have proven to be heartless rulers, now be in death as you were in life.”
As she spoke, she drew aside her veil and let the preposterous beekeeper’s hat fall to the ground. It was the eyes of the river that the Elders of Auriel looked into as they died; a blackness so ancient it surpassed all of their long years put together. Their bodies remained, but fell writhing to the ground as their blood stopped flowing, having no pump to keep it moving. She wanted it that way. To disappear entirely was too neat, too clean, too painless for the likes of them.
The room was filled with hundreds of people; senators and citizens of Junnen alike. They all saw as their seemingly immortal rulers fell to the ground, shuddering and spitting up blood. An eerie silence pervaded the hall, as none dared move or speak. The red headed girl who stood on the podium was like nothing they had ever seen. Young, small, and fragile looking, like pale bone china, but with eyes as black and empty as the void that lay beyond the Silver Road. And like the void, one slip and you would disappear, forever.
River stepped down from the podium and walked up to the row of thrones. The throne in the middle had been sat by Runel, the eldest, but it belonged to the Queen. Runel lay now at its base, and she did not move him aside. She used his corpse as her footstool, and gazed from the eyes of the ghost at the Sons and Daughters of Auriel.
“Seven Queens for seven murdered daughters. That is what your legend says, does it not?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she continued; “How many queens must rule to atone for the children you have murdered? How many thousands of years will it take to wash away the blood of all the men and women you have killed? How many lifetimes before this earth can forget all the dead you have sent to its depths?”
“I am your Queen of Seven and I have killed seven heartless monsters who have killed seventy upon seventy hundred upon seven hundred thousand innocent undesirables and Lsians—those who are your neighbors and your kin. This world is about to change. I am going to change it. You can stand by my side and watch me, or die at my feet. The choice is yours.”
There was silence, and no one moved, though they looked at each other sidelong, waiting for someone else to decide what would be done. After a moment, Tem Auriel pushed his way to the front. He was pale faced and shaking. “Eliasha, Queen of Seven,” he said, and fell to one knee.
Slowly, like a wave rushing backwards, the rest of the room followed suit. Some said, “Eliasha, Queen of Seven,” and others muttered, “Long live the Queen,” but all were terrified. All were trembling.
And somewhere, in a far away part of the Queen of Seven, Elly was sleeping. Elly was safe.
end of Volume 4: Two Sisters
next: Volume 5, Chapter 1 »