Traitors And Warriors: Part Six
My head ached. My skull felt ready to shatter. I felt a sweet taste in my mouth: it was a familiar taste, and I wondered what it was. Dazed, I opened my eyes.
“Ah, you’re awake at last. You were out cold for quite a while... I was beginning to worry. You see, I don’t want you to miss a moment of this.”
Why did that voice sound exactly like my own? My eyes struggled to focus. I saw someone standing before me: a tall air faerie with a wry smile and shining blue eyes.
It was me.
The faerie snapped her fingers in front of my face, saying, “Wake up. Don’t you want to hear what I’ve done?”
I was properly awake now. Yes, the faerie in front of me was... well, it was me. Or someone who looked identical to me. Looking down, I saw that I was wearing one of Satkena’s dresses and that my arms were freckled. I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror on the wall. I had become Satkena. And together, we were in one of her rooms.
I was sitting upright in a chair. I was tied tightly to it, held up in a sitting position by the tight cords. My hands were securely bound together behind my back. I struggled weakly.
“Don’t try to move, Preluna,” the air faerie said softly. “I put a magic spell on those cords. You’ll never be free unless I help you. Now,” she said, pulling up a chair and sitting before me, “pay attention. You’ll want to hear this - oh wait, we’re changing.”
I saw her sleek blonde hair melt away into fiery red curls. Her long silver gown turned orange and brown. Her eyes darkened. At the same time, I felt myself change. My jaw became more square and my red curls unwound. I felt my spine stretch as I transformed from a fire faerie to a taller air faerie.
“I used the body exchange potion to make me look like you,” Satkena said, now fully restored to her normal self.
“Why?” I asked, sounding hoarse.
“Why do you think?” Satkena demanded. “To take my revenge, that’s why. You stole my dream away from me. I wanted to be general. Fyora wanted it too - until you came along. Perfect Preluna,” she said in a singsong voice, “trained by the high and mighty Alluvia, came along and destroyed everything I had worked for.”
“It was Fyora’s decision,” I said. “I had no part in it.”
“You could have refused.”
“Would you have refused?” I asked. “If being general meant more than anything to me, would you haven given it up for me?”
She was silent.
“I thought so,” I said bitterly.
She laughed. “It doesn’t matter anymore. You won’t be general for much longer, Preluna. I’ve made sure of that.”
I glared at her. “What exactly have you done?”
“Well,” Satkena said in a leisurely voice, “it happened rather like this. I followed you down the corridor until we were completely alone, and then I bashed you over the head with the end of a spear.”
“How considerate of you,” I growled, discreetly moving my hands behind my back as I tried to loosen my bonds.
“I drank an invisibility potion so you wouldn’t see me, of course,” Satkena said. “That soon wore off, and as soon as I had dragged you back here, I tied you up in that chair and tipped another potion down your throat. It was the body-exchange potion, as you’ve probably guessed. I had quite a lot of trouble getting it down you. But it must have worked, and I drank the rest and held your hands - because you have to touch in order for it to work - and then I turned into Preluna the air faerie and you became me.”
All the while, my hands were straining behind my back. Satkena had knotted my hands very tightly and I had no way of cutting the cords. I usually kept a hidden dagger in my boot or sleeve for extra self-defence when I was guarding Fyora, but of course Satkena - since she had once been a friend of mine - had known this and taken away any weapons when she tied me up. I could only free my hands by trying to ease them through the cords, which were now painfully cutting into my wrists.
“I went to Fyora’s meeting in your place,” Satkena continued. “I stood beside her, like a perfect general, and everyone was looking at me with love and admiration. I knew,” she said hotly, “that my revenge on you would be all the better, since everyone adored you. They would feel doubly betrayed when their precious Preluna turned evil.”
“Evil?” I said in disbelief.
“Yes, evil. There’s no going back for you now, Preluna - not after what I did.”
“Satkena,” I said, frustrated and trying to hold back my anger, “what exactly did you do at the meeting?”
She smiled. “Do you remember a dark faerie named Sharrabah?”
“Yes,” I said uncertainly. “What has she got to do with anything?”
“You left the Faerie School because of her,” Satkena said; she was certainly taking her time with this story. “You beat her up in the library, and her friends too, and they fled to Jhudora whilst you were packed off to live with Alluvia. And Sharrabah never forgot it. She’s not particularly talented, but she knew that she would have a chance to get even with you one day. I knew she would be a willing accomplice when the time came for me to take my revenge.”
I winced as I tried to slide the cords painfully over my hands. I could not get the tight knots beyond my wrists, perhaps because of Satkena's dark magic.
“I bribed Sharrabah and her friends,” Satkena said, clearly oblivious to my determined efforts to escape. “At a set time, they burst into the marble hall, fully armed. Everyone panicked. There was chaos as they flew about, threatening to kill anyone who moved. Then they settled at the back of the hall by the doors, blocking everyone’s escape, as Sharrabah flew to the stage where I stood with a very bewildered Fyora. I turned to the mass and shouted, ‘Do as you’re told or your queen dies!”, and then I held a dagger to Fyora’s throat and said, ‘Fyora, you are being overthrown. I suggest you stay quiet and try not to ruin my plans.’ She hissed, ‘Preluna, what are you doing? Why are you doing this?’ And I said, ‘Your reign is over. A new age is beginning. I am in alliance with Sharrabah and all other dark faeries. We will rule Faerieland and Neopia as one. Your time is at an end, Fyora.’”
I listened in horror. All thoughts of releasing my hands and escaping flew from my mind. I felt hot all over as the full force of Satkena’s words hit me.
“Of course, what I said was all rubbish,” Satkena said with a twisted smile. “I knew that there were battle faerie guards outside the hall. They rushed in of course, just as I expected, and Sharrabah and her dark faeries fled. I fought my way through the guards and made my own escape. And then I came here, back to my rooms,” she concluded. “The guards will be searching your own rooms at the moment, and when they have nowhere else to look they will come here. And then I can say that you came here and threatened to kill me unless I helped you, but that I hit you over the head and tied you up, just as I have now. You will be arrested and executed for treason. And I,” Satkena said slowly, relishing her words, “will be appointed general in your place.”
I gave a short, bitter laugh. “You would never have been made general had you not done this. All your life, you will know that you were second-best. You would only be chosen because you had to set me up as a traitor. You had to go to all this effort to achieve what I was effortlessly given.”
“Shut up!” Satkena hissed sharply. “Do you really think being general means anything to me, compared with the sweet satisfaction I will feel when you are beheaded for treachery? Do you really think - ”
She was cut off by a furious pounding on the door. I heard a muffled shout: “Lady Satkena, are you in there?”
“Yes,” Satkena called, getting calmly to her feet and moving to the door. “And I’ve captured the fugitive for you.”
The guards had arrived to take me away. My fate had been sealed.
* * * * *
I was hardly able to walk as I was escorted out of the Faerie Palace, my hands still firmly tied behind my back. I saw faeries peeping out behind half-closed doors, and I could almost feel their shock and anguish.
Fyora was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully Satkena had remained in her room, probably to tell a pack of lies about how I had burst in and threatened her, and how she had managed so courageously to hit me over the head with something and then tie me up to be captured. I could hardly believe what she had done to me. Satkena, once so generous and affectionate, had turned into a monster consumed by jealousy and ruthless ambition. She had set me up and betrayed me. I was angry of course, but I also felt a cold creeping feeling of desolation. I had lost a friend, or at least what I had once considered to be a friend. And I would probably lose my life too.
As I left the Faerie Palace, with no fewer than ten faerie guards surrounding me, I knew exactly where we were going - the Prison Tower. With five battle faeries in front and five behind, I was made to climb the winding spiral staircase of the tower, up and up. The stairs ended in a cramped little room, and beyond that was a stark cell. My hands were untied and then I was pushed inside. The faerie guards quickly locked the barred door.
“Is there anything you need?” one of them asked in a stern voice, as she peered at me through the bars.
“I need to see Fyora,” I said suddenly.
“What, after you threatened Her Majesty with a dagger?” the guard retorted, laughing sharply as if I had made a macabre joke. “Request not granted. You will see Queen Fyora at your trial.”
“When is that?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” another of the battle faeries said. “And talking is forbidden, by the way.”
I threw myself down on the rough mattress against the far wall of my cell, listening to the footsteps of eight of the guards fade away down the stairs. Two of the guards remained, tightly clutching spears even though I was quite clearly incapable of escaping. Besides, I knew better than to waste time scrabbling about for a way out of the cell. I just stared up at the ceiling, desperately wondering what would happen to me. The two guards said nothing, and I turned away from them. I lay down on the mattress, facing the wall; and for the first time in my life, tears ran silently down my cheeks. They were warm and bitter against my skin.
I had never felt more powerless in my entire life.
* * * * *
I did not have to wait long to find out what would become of me, since my trial took place the following day. My hands were tied together with silk rope - black silk, to show that I had committed the very worst sort of crime. I was led from my cell, down the stairs of the Prison Tower, and out into the open. Faeries in the streets stopped and stared as they saw me being marched back towards the Faerie Palace. Very few faeries, even dark faeries, were seen with black silk around their wrists.
I entered the Faerie Palace with no fewer than twenty guards around me. Even with her hands tied, Preluna the air faerie was evidently a dangerous prospect. I smiled grimly at the thought; other faeries feared me.
I was led to a room I had never seen before. It was a spacious hall with plain furniture. At one end was a raised platform with a desk on it: at this desk sat Fyora, with an empty chair to her left. There were two long desks along the adjacent walls with six faeries sitting behind each one. I recognised most of them: they were other faeries of high rank, renowned in Faerieland, many of whom lived in the palace. Alluvia had probably known them too when she lived in the palace. All of them were Fyora’s closest friends and a few were her relatives, distant cousins like Alluvia. I guessed at once that they were the jury; and to my horror I saw Satkena’s face among them. I did not doubt that she had bribed several other faeries to declare me guilty of treason. The odds were not in my favour.
In the centre of the room was another small platform, with a railing around the three sides which faced the desks. I was made to stand there with the accusing gaze of everyone in the room upon me. Countless battle faerie guards stood in the corners of the rooms, each one armed with a shield and a spear.
A faerie sat down on the vacant seat beside Fyora. She was Numenna, an earth faerie in a long black robe. She acted as judge to all the trials in Faerieland and her stern gaze implied that she was not sympathetic towards me.
“The trial has begun,” she announced, her voice cold and emotionless. “Faeries, you are summoned here today to decide the fate of Lady Preluna, air faerie and former student of Lady Alluvia, battle faerie, loyal servant of this realm and honoured cousin of her Royal Majesty, Queen Fyora. The defendant stands accused of several crimes, most notably that of threatening Her Royal Majesty’s life, collaborating with a renowned criminal by the name of Sharrabah, and plotting to seize the throne. We will now question the accused,” she said, fixing her steely green eyes on me. “Lady Preluna, will you answer the following questions with complete honesty?”
“I will,” I said firmly, trying not to seem intimidated.
“Good. We will begin,” Numenna said, moving out from behind her desk and stepping down to the floor from the dais. “Lady Preluna, when did you first meet Sharrabah?”
“I cannot remember exactly when. We were at school together.”
“And were you a friend of hers?”
“Not at all.”
“My sources have informed me that you were a troublemaker at school,” Numenna said. “What have you to say to this?”
“I was hardly a troublemaker. I admit that I sometimes skipped classes. I didn’t really have much respect for anyone. But I didn’t hurt anybody.”
“You were apparently a loner. Solitary tendencies, as we all know,” Numenna said, now seeming to address the jury, “can often be very dangerous. Lonely children often take strange ideas into their heads... Preluna, I understand that you spent much of your childhood reading books? Many of them about martial arts and self-defence?”
“Yes, that is true.”
“Why, may I ask?”
“I mostly read out of boredom,” I said. “Self-defence always interested me. I liked the sort of things I could learn on my own.”
“Indeed. And you used your self-acquired knowledge to assault dark faeries in a library, did you not?”
I could see what she was hinting at. The jury could see it too. A solitary, friendless faerie, left to her own devices, had taken to reading books of a violent nature and therefore had been raised with unorthodox and disturbing thoughts. Mustering my strength, I said, “Yes, it is true that I attacked a group of dark faeries, although I was trying to defend another student who was being harassed. I would never have gone near them had they been alone. And no,” I added as Numenna opened her mouth to ask another question, “I do not believe in using violence unless there is no other way.”
“But trying to protect a young student, who was not an intimate friend of yours, seems a little out of character for you, doesn’t it?”
“Not really,” I said. “It didn’t really matter who Sharrabah was trying to harm. I would have stepped in to help anyone.”
“No faerie has a right to hurt another without provocation.”
“Interesting words,” Numenna remarked, “from one who is accused of treason.”
“I am accused of treason; I am not yet found guilty of it.”
A silence hung in the room. Numenna shuffled some papers about on her desk and then turned to face me for another round of questioning. She looked determined to weaken me and involuntarily I clenched my fists, ready to prove my innocence at any cost.
“You spent eight years with Lady Alluvia, did you not?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And what did this renowned warrior teach you?”
“Everything,” I said. “I had ordinary lessons, the sort I had at the Faerie School. But Alluvia also taught me how to fight.”
“It is a useful skill. And it was an interest we both shared.”
“Why did Lady Alluvia send you back to the palace after eight years?”
“She felt that I had learnt everything I needed to know.”
“So you came back here, to enter Queen Fyora’s service?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Lady Alluvia sent Preluna to enter Queen Fyora’s service,” Numenna said loudly to the jury, “only for her beloved student to try and overthrow the queen herself.”
“You said that you would ask me questions,” I said, my voice colder than ice, “not accuse me.”
“I apologise,” Numenna said with marked lack of sincerity. “I feel that I have asked enough questions at this stage. Satkena, will you please come forward and relate the incidents of last night.”
Satkena stood up and made her way out into the centre of the room, where she stood near Numenna with a pale, almost shocked expression. I could not deny that she was a good actress; she looked thoroughly shaken. The jury sat with bated breath, ready to hear her awful story. I lowered my eyes in despair as they all heard Satkena’s twisted version of events, of how I had threatened her and so on, and how she had managed to keep me imprisoned until the guards came. I could almost hear the gasp of admiration as the jury heard of Satkena’s courage and resourcefulness in catching such a dangerous criminal. Numenna concluded by outlining what had happened at the meeting. I felt myself burn with rage when she repeated the words I had apparently said to Fyora: 'You are being overthrown. I am in alliance with Sharrabah and all other dark faeries. Your time is at an end, Fyora.' I heard a shocked gasp from everyone in the room - even though they had already heard these events, or witnessed them at the meeting - and felt my anger rise.
And the worst of it was that everyone believed it - every single word. I felt my blood run cold. But the worst was not over yet.
To be continued...