The Silent City: Part Six
The door squeaked open, flooding the dingy chamber with flickering light. Etana threw up a paw to shield her eyes.
“Is it breakfast time already?” Mirabel enquired from the shadows, stepping eagerly into the light.
A pirate Poogle in glimmering armour, helmet in one paw, reached for Etana, dragging her from the dungeon chamber by one arm. Outside two other Rosesand knights, a red Cybunny with a dark scowl and a wide blue Skeith with an armful of rope, were waiting. The Skeith roughly grabbed Etana’s paws, tying them together behind her back. Outside the dungeons Melesse was waiting, dressed for travelling. She smiled when she saw Etana.
“Good morning, dear. I’m sorry it’s so early, but if we don’t leave now, we won’t get there in time. I want you to be there; I want you to watch your realm crumble.”
Etana struggled, and Melesse flicked a paw. The Poogle hoisted Etana into the air and the Skeith hurriedly tied her ankles together.
“Now, that’s not very kind, Etana. We’re going on a nice journey. You even get to ride with me. Won’t that be nice?”
Through Melesse’s innocent, pleasant disguise, however, Etana could see with blinding clarity the hard, cold expression of the ruthless queen; a queen who imprisoned her own daughter rather than allow someone else to rule over her fading realm.
The Poogle knight flung Etana, bound and gagged, into the back of Melesse’s extravagant sedan chair as if she weighed nothing at all. She gave her wings a feeble flap, but as the box jerked and began to lurch down the street, the other knights marching loudly behind, Etana conceded defeat – for now.
* * *
“The Queen! The Queen!” Ashie demanded, flying through the palace door.
“She’s gone!” squeaked the trainee Town Guard, “They left a couple of hours ago!”
With a roar that made the trainee yelp and duck behind a tapestry, Ashie darted from the building and back through the streets, out into the open land once more.
* * *
Through the huge window Etana watched the landscape pass; watched the world get lighter. By Etana’s calculations it was about midday when the huge stone podium known as Meetingplace rose up out of the trees, huge stone columns supporting the domed roof just above the treetops. There was something else... a sort of... they dipped down into the valley and Meetingplace disappeared.
It came into view again shortly afterwards. Etana frowned, gazing about, searching for the strange stone shapes she’d seen when she’d spied Meetingplace earlier. There! A statue; a colossal stone statue. No, Etana realised, squinting a little – three. Three colossal stone statues, spaced out around Meetingplace like huge, immobile guards, faces turned down to gaze at the comings and goings.
Etana’s heart seemed to stop beating altogether. The weathered faces gazed expectantly at her, as though waiting patiently for everything to fall into place... she wriggled to get a better view of the bobbing world. They were surrounded by trees, although Meetingplace and its three guardians were in a huge, circular, grassy clearing. The darkness beyond the trees was impenetrable; she couldn’t see anything but the first couple of rows, the trees locked tightly together.
Etana slumped back. Giants. They’ve all gone to the land of the giants, the yellow Kougra girl had said; everywhere seems empty but nowhere is safe. Meetingplace looked empty; deserted. She knows where to look, even when we’ve been careful... the mirror tells her things that mirrors should keep to themselves.
The world stopped moving, then rolled little as the sedan chair was lowered, finally becoming perfectly motionless. Pushing herself up a little Etana looked through the window; they were now inside Meetingplace, a little way from the dais on which the queens would soon meet. Melesse climbed out of the chair, grabbed Etana by the shoulders, pulled her captive forward and propped her up so that Etana could clearly see through the window.
“I want you to watch your realm crumble,” she reminded Etana, then with one last playful grin she turned to her knights and began issuing orders.
* * *
As Meetingplace finally came into view Alice sighed with relief. Deena glanced sideways at her.
“It looks just as Meetingplace has always looked,” the queen remarked.
“Appearances can be deceptive,” Smith and Pedin murmured at the same time.
They strode under the watchful gaze of the huge stone statues and up the steps into Meetingplace.
“Oh,” Alice uttered, eyebrows shooting upward.
Queen Melesse was already there, seated neatly on the dais. Two knights stood behind her. She stood up at the sight of Alice and began towards the Thornstonian party.
“Deena,” Pedin hissed. “Is Etana here?”
Deena gazed around, searching for the three pets she’d left behind in Rosesand. Her insides seemed to freeze.
“Pedin, they’re not here. None of them.”
Pedin nodded as if he’d been expecting this answer.
* * *
Finally Etana, who’d turned her belt around so that the hidden potions were easily reached by her trapped paws, found the distinctively shaped neck of her fire potion. She eased it free blindly, struggling to remove the cork, then tilted it just enough to release one drop onto the ropes around her wrists. She missed. She held perfectly still, frozen by the sudden fiery pain on her paw. When the pain subsided she tried again, this time feeling the heat of the bottled flames against her wrists – and then the ropes let go, dropping harmlessly to the floor.
She moved gingerly, bringing her throbbing arms forward gently, without spilling a drop of the potion. She leaned forward to burn away the rope around her ankles, and then tore away her gag, breathing deeply and raggedly for a moment until finally she’d calmed herself. She replaced the cork stopper in the neck of the bottle and wriggled out of her belt, fixing it back again a moment later, this time over the uselessly sleek fabric of her stained and torn gown. She used her dagger to cut away the bottom ten inches of fabric; she didn’t intend to trip over this hem ever again.
She didn’t think in between. When the long strip of silky fabric was discarded she crawled to her feet. Outside, the three queens were greeting each other, the rest of the podium speckled with observers and guards. Etana thought she saw a flicker of Thornstonian colours outside Meetingplace, ducking between the trees.
She burst through the door unthinkingly.
“You’re not safe!” she cried instinctively. “Queen Melesse isn’t here to agree to the treaty; she’s here to capture the queens!”
Meetingplace exploded into chaos and confusion. Etana saw Smith leap onto the dais and grab Alice by the arm. The third queen, a diminutive Royal Korbat, looked lost and horrified. Alice trustingly clamped her spare paw around the Korbat’s wrist and allowed Smith to drag the two of them towards a gap between the columns – but suddenly pets were pouring into the grassy clearing, swords in paws, faces strangely blank. They weren’t wearing the normal glimmering armour of the Rosesand knights but something about them made Etana shiver. Some of the newcomers had bows and arrows.
Smith recoiled suddenly and seemed to stumble. Etana launched into the confused crowd with a shriek, so sure Smith was about to fall – but the rebellious Zafara turned and dragged the two queens back to the dais, handing the little Korbat a sword before taking her own place in front of the queens, a dagger in each paw.
Etana shoved her way through the crowd, fighting furiously to reach Alice. She saw as if from a very long distance as the traditional Thornstone colours burst through the trees, like a great wave slamming into the ocean of Rosesand’s missing population.
“Watch out!” someone yelled, and Etana ducked just in time for a bottle to whiz over her head and shatter against the bare arm of one of Queen Melesse’s blank-faced fighters. Flames exploded from the bottle, but the blue Gnorbu fighter remained expressionless and calm.
Etana spun quickly to face the direction of the warning, and her heart lifted to see a yellow Ogrin and brown Xweetok squeezing through the crowd. There was no time for proper greetings; fighters were bearing down on them from all angles. Etana replaced the little dagger in her belt, instead taking advantage of the enemy’s lack of armour and spraying each attacker in the face with her favourite slumberberry potion.
The next time Etana’s gaze brushed over the dais, she felt her heart drop. Smith was gone, the two queens alone with Melesse – and from nowhere the two glimmering knights that had stood guard behind Melesse had become twelve. She wasted a full second gazing wistfully at Pedin and Deena, fighting side by side – then she spun wildly from the battle, gaze locked on Alice, rushing between the fighters. Someone grabbed at her, paw locking around the chain of Thyora’s Tear. Etana gasped as it tightened around throat, then suddenly the chain let go, surrendering itself to the enemy grasp. Her heart broke; Thyora’s Tear had become part of her, something she couldn’t imagine life without, and now it was gone, lost under a thousand feet – but she couldn’t stop now, she couldn’t, there were more important things in need of rescue. She plunged onward, trying to forget the new vulnerability she faced without Thyora’s Tear...
To be continued...