Chills raced along Farwen’s spine as the door groaned to a close behind her, shutting out the chaos developing outside. She released her breath and sagged against the cold metal handle. I'm still in one piece.
“Did you get it?” Asked a voice from the darkness. Farwen strained her eyes to make out the graceful, yet rigid, silhouette of the queen sitting on the bed.
“Yes,” she answered, hurrying across the stone floor and pressing the vial of pale liquid into the queen’s cold hands. “Blessed by the oracle of Eleithyia. She did it in front of me.”
“Did anyone see you?” the queen’s eyes were wild.
Farwen shook her head. “Everyone was too distracted by the mob to notice me. I’m frightened, Iptys,” she whispered, the voices outside growing louder. “The revolt we feared is happening. Most of your guards have joined them.”
“Was General Delig leading them?”
Farwen nodded, saddening as she saw the hope drain from the queen’s face.
“He’s tried to wrest control from me since the beginning, even before the rumors,” Iptys murmured. “I should have realized that sooner… taken steps to stop him when I still had the people’s respect.”
“At least he will never be king,” Farwen encouraged. “Take comfort in that, my Queen. Because you refused him, he will never have absolute control. Someone will always question his authority.”
Iptys squeezed her hand. “Perhaps, but I think we shall see his power become fierce before that time comes, especially with the army’s support.”
“But your suitors… surely they will not allow Delig to just assume the throne? Will they come?” Farwen was becoming desperate. How is she so calm?
Iptys smirked. “It’s been weeks since I received a gift or letter from a suitor. Whispers and cold looks are the only greetings now. I have a feeling Delig has been silencing them already with promises or threats or both.” She retrieved a small scroll from the nightstand and handed it to Farwen. “When the time comes, this will put all of this to rights. You must deliver it into Lord Ragond’s hands.”
Farwen took it as though it were a fragile egg and carefully hid it in a secret fold in her boot, then grabbed a small sack at her feet filled with food and supplies and slung it over her shoulder, clenching the strap tightly to keep her hands from shaking.
The mention of Lord Ragond chipped the edge from her panic. With renewed vigor she took the queen's arm. “He has no choice but to protect you, but we must hurry. The mob will be here soon…” She pulled, but Iptys didn’t budge. She turned back to her in confusion.
“I’m not going with you,” Iptys said, her eyes filled with sadness.
“I don’t understand… the vial—”
“Is for you,” she interrupted.
“But…” Farwen stammered, staring at the liquid she had risked her life to obtain. Had Iptys lost her mind?
“I cannot abandon Ninenarn,” Iptys replied as though reading her thoughts, “and Lord Ragond has a family. What right do I have to interfere in his life more than I must? My sacrifice just might give you enough time to get safely away.” Hope sparked in her eyes as she cupped Farwen’s face in her hands. “You and I both know that I would never get far from here, and all would be lost when they captured you in my company.”
“But you are a descendant of the goddess Leto! You share blood with the god Apollo and goddess Artemis! Your subjects’ disrespect of late has made you forget this!” Farwen argued, her heart beating wildly in her chest. “Your countrymen will aid you!”
“Why should they aid me more than my guards who are sworn to protect me, and yet are rising against me?” Iptys turned away and reached for a small bundle laying on the bed. She lifted it up and cradled it against her, smiling lovingly down at it. “The gods are quiet. I have prayed for their guidance but my pleas fall upon deaf ears. I can only hope that my humility now will somehow appease them enough to allow a favorable wind to breathe on my son.”
The small head of the child nuzzled it’s face into its mother’s breast as it slept. He looked so peaceful. The queen fixed her gaze on Farwen with such ferocity that her knees weakened. “Drink it now!” she ordered sternly, pressing the vial into her hands.
Farwen dare not disobey. Her fingers trembled as she popped the small cork and downed the fluid. The sour smell coupled with the sweet taste made her want to gag, but she swallowed it faithfully. It wormed through her body, and her stomach began to cramp as her breasts throbbed and tightened. The magic of the goddess Eleithyia was working.
The tears she’d held back fell from Farwen’s eyes as the weight of her mission and all that was at stake suddenly settled upon her spirit. “You are an excellent queen, Iptys. I will do whatever you ask. I will protect him as though he were my own and raise him so even the gods cannot deny his divinity.”
Tears fell down Iptys’ cheeks. “Love him,” she pleaded, choking back a sob.
Farwen gulped back her own emotions and nodded fiercely, wondering if she could ever fulfill such a simple request the way Iptys would want her to.
Iptys took a deep breath and smiled warmly at her, drawing courage from somewhere deep within. She looked back at the child in her arms. “Please do not fail, Farwen. If ever his existence becomes more than a rumor, his life will be at stake. There are more than mortal forces at work here.”
Farwen wanted to inquire further, but they were both startled by the commotion in the hallway. Loud voices and sounds of boots were getting closer. They had mere seconds before the mob was at the door.
“Take him and go!” Iptys said, unable to contain her sobs any longer. She placed the swaddled child into Farwen’s arms and pulled her over to the secret passage.
The panic Farwen had fought back suddenly sprang to life as a loud banging on the door flooded the room. “Queen Iptys!” a voice shouted from outside. It was Delig.
“Go!” Iptys cried, pushing Farwen into the tunnel.
The wardrobe closed behind Farwen and all went dark. The queen’s mournful sobs echoed down the pitch black corridor, alerting her to the path ahead and sending shivers through her spine. She clutched the infant closer to her as she made her way from the entrance. She considered staying to listen to what fate would befall her queen, but she knew if she did then she risked being caught. Delig knew of all the castle’s secrets and would surely check this passage looking for her.
Reluctantly, Farwen fled down the dark tunnel, feeling the walls and keeping one hand out for the turn she knew was up ahead. Just as she reached it the wardrobe opened behind her, and light flooded the small space. She darted around the corner and risked a peek back around. The distant form of Delig peered into the passage with a torch. He stayed still a moment, listening for footfalls, and then closed the wardrobe. Farwen could only pray that the queen’s fate was an honorable and merciful one.