Chapter 22 - The Land of the Gods
May 14, 1645 (Three Days Later)
The Walled City of Arcadia, Capital of Ivaris
-King Seth Liam Ivaris XV-
“Her majesty’s health is on a constant decline, your highness. She can’t keep any food down anymore. The fever’s consumed her entirely. Her mind is blanketed by the fever and she won’t be able to recognize you anymore.” The physician told me. With each word, I felt myself sink deeper and deeper into some kind of void.
“No!” I shouted and punched the wall beside me. The doctor flinched and I grabbed him by the scruff of his clothes and hauled him closer. “You do everything you can to save my queen. If she dies... You, along with everyone you hold dear is going to die too.” I spat and then let go of him. He took deep calming breaths and gave some instructions to the maids before he exited Adrienne’s rooms to gather more medicine.
I walked to my queen’s bed and held her hand once more. She’s lost a lot of weight during the past three days. Her skin was paler and she had dark circles under her eyes. I lifted her hand to my lips and kissed it. “Adrienne...” I called out to her. She didn’t even flinch now.
She doesn’t move, doesn’t open her eyes...
The maids exited the room and allowed us some privacy. “I don’t care if we don’t have a child anymore... Just come back to me...” I whispered to her. She looked so frail as she lay there. I kept my eyes on her to check for any signs of movement. Then, I gently moved her and lay beside her on the bed. I stroked her pale cheeks and hummed a familiar melody.
“As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry...”
It was the song Winstrom sang for us at our wedding. She had looked so sad beside me but I’d rather have her look like that than look upon her cold corpse. The words of the song were true... She really is beautiful and I don’t want her to be taken away from me.
“Adrienne... Stay with me... We still have too many plans for Amaranth. I can’t do it without you. I know nothing about your kingdom.” I said and brushed a stray lock of hair away from ehr face.
I was startled out of my thoughts when the physician returned to the room. I immediately got off the bed and sat in one of the chairs. The physician and his assistants gently lifted Adrienne’s head and gave her cup of some liquid. Her whole body trembled and then it was instantly still...
“What is that?” I asked.
“Something to ease her pain, your highness. Stay with her now. She may quietly slip away any time during the night.” The physician said and then he bowed and exited the room. The shock of his words rendered me motionless. I dropped the goblet of wine I was holding. The wine stained the carpet Adrienne loved. I stood there with my jaw and fists clenched as I digested his words.
Then when everything sank in, a pained roar escaped me and echoed across the palace walls...
The land of the Gods
The grass felt ticklish under my feet and the sun felt warm on my skin. Flowers adorned almost every inch of the meadow and small animals darted about. I heard the sound of flowing water and it added to the calmness and beauty of the place.
I know I’ve been here before. I’ve dreamed of this meadow a thousand times before. My first dream about Aiken and Selene happened in this meadow. Ever since I was a child, I’ve dreamt of playing here. I dreamt of picking the flowers, running across the vast expanse of green grass, chased rabbits and other animals and explored every inch of this beautiful place.
“Greetings...” A familiar voice said. I turned around and it was as if I was looking into a mirror. A lady in a simple white dress stood before me. She had a golden circlet in her hair whose centrepiece was a crescent moon. Her skin looked glowing as if it reflected the sunlight and gave her an aura of gold.
“Selene?” I asked tentatively. “Yes...” she replied with a grin.
“Where am I? What am I doing here? Is this real?” I asked. She took my hand and led me towards the river where there were two large boulders. She sat on one and pointed the other one to me. “Please sit... And then I will tell you everything.” She said. I was so eager to finally get all my answers that I quickly sat down on the rock and dipped my toes into the river.
The cold water was very refreshing and I found myself relaxing and tilting my face towards the sun. “Beautiful isn’t it?” Selene asked waved a hand to indicate everything around me. I nodded.
“Now... About those questions... We are in my mother’s meadow. In Ilyia.” She said and I frowned. Ilyia... I think I’ve heard that word before. My brows scrunched in concentration as I tried to remember where I’ve heard that before...
Then it hit me... Seth’s story... The myth of the Sun and the Moon...
Ilyia... The Land of the Gods...
Selene smiled sweetly at me. “You got it right.” She said
I frowned at her. “You can hear my thoughts?” I asked and she nodded. “How?” I asked.
‘We are one and the same.’ Selene spoke inside my head.
I stared at her with my jaw open as my mind worked to process the information. No. This can’t be real. None of this is real! I can’t be in Ilyia. It’s a bloody myth! A story to tell children about how things came to be! A reflection of a kingdom’s culture! It’s nothing more than that. Surely, I must be losing my mind.
I laughed ridiculously and didn’t stop until I felt that there were tears in my eyes from too much laughter. Selene looked at me as if she understood everything I’m going through.
“About your second and third question, I’d rather answer the third first. Yes, this is real. You are in Ilyia.” She said. I snorted.
“But I was in Ivaris... With Seth... I had the plague...” I whispered. Dread filled inside me at the memory of the King of Ivaris. Have I died? Is that the reason why I am in the land of the Gods now? Oh gods, no! I can’t die! I have too much things to do! I still have to restore Amaranth to its former glory, help the citizens of Ivaris, cast away all of Seth’s mistresses and many more!
Selene gave me another knowing glance and I saw that her lips were pursed in a thin line. It certainly looked to me as if she was trying to contain her laughter... But I don’t know. I could be wrong...
“You’re still alive, Adrienne... But barely... And about Seth, he is worried sick and his heart bleeds at the thought of losing you. I can feel Aiken’s despair everywhere. His pain is cutting into my own heart..” Selene answered with a note of sadness in her voice.
Something clenched inside my chest at the thought of the King worrying over me. Surely this is a lie. The great King of Ivaris worried for me? Another small laugh escaped me. Selene narrowed her eyes at me and when she spoke, her voice held a firmer tone. “He’s never left your side ever since you fell sick. He talks to you most of the time and pleads you not to leave him. He holds your hand throughout the day and snarls at the physician. He even sang for us.” Selene added with a chuckle.
At first I wanted to tell her that Seth would never do that but I remembered hearing a faint melody of the song sang at our wedding. But it was a different voice who sang it. Could Selene’s words be true?
Or maybe... I’m truly not here in Ilyia, wherever this is. Again, maybe this is all a dream and I am caught in it. Maybe I am close to dying and I’m just hearing the things I want to hear. This is my dream after all.
“Aiken sure has a great voice... I loved hearing him sing to me all those years ago...” Selene remarked as she stared off into the distance.
Then, I remembered all my dreams and all my unanswered questions.
“Exactly where is Ilyia? I haven’t seen it on any map.” I remarked. Selene took a deep breath before she answered me. “Ilyia wouldn’t be on any map because it is on a separate realm. We are not in the human world anymore. We are in a world which exists parallel to it. ” She answered.
My mind spun with this new information. Surely, I am going crazy. Gods! Realms! A bitter laughed escaped me again.
“No Adrienne... You’re not going crazy... Everything I’m saying is the truth...” she answered.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Selene, daughter of the moon and the sun. Princess and Keeper of Ilyia. Guardian of Marriage and Fertility.” She answered in a proud voice.
“Are we connected in some way? Why have I been dreaming about you and Aiken?” I asked her. “I already told you the answer... We are one and the same...” she said softly.
“Why? How?” I asked incredulously. “I think it’s better if I show you my life. Maybe this is the only way you’ll believe me. I hope you’ll keep an open mind about everything you’ll see for this is the truth. And all the events that happened to me are connected to you...” She said and then waved her hand in front of my face. The meadow, the river and everything around me vanished and was replaced by a blinding white light. When I next opened my eyes, I was in a vast golden throne room.
“Father, please... Please allow me to go back to mother’s meadow...” I pleaded. King Rashad sat at his throne, wearing his golden robes as he gently massaged his temples. His guard, all dressed in their golden armor, stood at the King’s side. A fire blazed from a golden brazier in the middle of the room. Yet it was not the source of the light... The light from the fire paled in comparison to my father’s blazing glory.
“Selene, please! It’s not safe there... You know that Azrael will do anything just to gain my throne. If he has you, he’ll know I’ll give anything!” the king pleaded with me. His light dimmed a little with his exasperation. I lifted my chin stubbornly.
“Father, I can handle myself. I promise that at any sign of trouble, I’ll transport myself back in an instant.” I begged. “No. That is final.” The king said and with a wave of his hand, he dismissed me. I felt his heat encompass me and then I was lifted off my feet and dropped into my room.
The door shut with a loud bang and I heard the locks click in place. I stomped my foot with all my fury.
The meadow is everything to me! It is the only memory of my mother that I have left! I want to go there always for it is where I always feel closest to her. No. I will not obey father. He cannot keep me away from what I have left of my mother.
I concentrated in gathering all of my power. I envisioned myself as turning into a ball of fire and then gathering more and more fuel for me to burn brighter. I willed myself to descend from the heavens and set foot on Ilyia. I pictured the meadow very clearly in my mind and I felt my magic wrap itself around me. Then I felt weightless and then came the familiar thrill of descent as I shot across the sky like a falling star. The last thing I heard was my father’s roar of outrage at my defiance.
I felt the ground beneath my feet again and saw the meadow around me. At last I was back! I ran around the meadow and splashed on the cold water of the river. I checked to see the garden I’ve planted with my bare hands and the flowers were thriving!
Suddenly, I felt a dark presence behind me... It was as if the clouds suddenly blocked out the sun. I turned around and started to will myself back to the heavens. I started envisioning my room but I was panicking as I felt the dark presence draw nearer.
Before I could shot back across the sky and to the heavens, I felt a heavy blow at the back of my head. My vision got blurred and then I felt myself drop on the warm grass.
I opened my eyes and I was in an unfamiliar dark room. I was lying down on a bed which had black covers. The pillows were covered with gold silk and so were the drapes that hung across the bed. The lamp beside me was also made of gold and so were the other furniture in the room. This room’s magnificence even rivalled that of my father’s Golden Castle.
A young woman entered the room bearing a tray of food. “Where am I?” I asked her. She cowered before my presence and I realized she was a human. My father has already outlawed the taking of humans from their world and using them as slaves. It was not done anymore. “You are King Azrael’s guest.” She replied.
King Azrael? King? I laughed at the notion. He will never be King as long as my father lives. And my father will live forever. “Where is Azrael?” I asked the maid. I wanted to talk to the treacherous god and set him right. “He is not here, milady. I do not know where he is.” The maid replied as she placed the tray at the table beside my bed. She bowed and then quickly left the room.
Thank God Azrael wasn’t here! If he was here, I’d have reason to be scared. But he wasn’t here. Maybe the person who kidnapped me still wasn’t able to send word to him that I’ve been kidnapped. Besides, it doesn’t feel as if I’m in Ilyia. I feel as though I’m in the human world.
This is the reason Azrael will never be king. He lacks the military skills, his men weren’t well trained, he had few supporters, he had lots of plans which he tried to carry out simultaneously. Father said Azrael was all talk and that he had air inside his skull instead of a brain.
If only he concentrated on kidnapping me first, then he’d be here. And he could be threatening my father to hand over the crown now. But no. He’s not here and maybe he’s somewhere trying to fight a losing battle.
With a shrug, I went back to the bed and saw the tray beside me. The notion of food made me nauseous so I didn’t touch it. I also wasn’t sure if it was drugged or poisoned. When I was sure no one else was looking, I closed my eyes and willed myself back to my father’s palace. I envisioned my room and concentrated hard. After a hundred tries, still, nothing happened except that I now have a headache. Maybe Azrael did something to his palace to remove any magic or block magic from both inside and outside.
I sighed and then slumped in my bed. Why have I defied my father? He has proven himself right again. He is going to scream the entire palace down once I go back to him. He’ll always hover over me and he’ll never let me out of his sight again. I’ll never be able to come back to the meadow now...
I placed my hands inside my head and hoped that my father had a plan. I am his only daughter after all. I am his heir. I am the key to Ilyia. No matter how stubborn and childish I am, I know that he loves me. He may always scream the house down when I did something bad but he always hugged me and apologized.
I lifted my chin and held it high. I am a Princess. I am the Princess of Ilyia and my father will send his Golden Army and they will rescue me. I giggled at the thought and lay down on the bed.
Will Father send his new general? The giant who I saw when I was still a little girl? I remembered the man as if I’ve seen him only yesterday. He had the most beautiful golden eyes I’ve ever seen. He was so tall and then his body was huge. He looked frightening but when he smiled at me, his face transformed entirely.
Again, another giggle escaped me. I will wait here and somebody will surely arrive. How does one play damsel in distress again?
It took me three days of playing damsel in distress before my knight of shining armor finally came to get me. I almost lost hope and thought that I really was in danger this time. I didn’t feel that during the past three days for I was sure this was another one of Argyll’s failed attempt to kidnap me. And yes, I know everything about being kidnapped. I’ve been kidnapped quite enough number of times for the thrill to wear off.
The arrival of my rescuer started with the sound of rocks hitting the window.
I opened the window and a rock the size of my fist sailed right through it and hit me squarely in the head. I was instantly knocked backwards and I felt blood trickle down the side of my face. I think I literally saw stars that moment before darkness claimed me.
The next moment I opened my eyes, I was gazing into a pair of boots and my head felt like it was going to explode. I also felt as if I wanted to retch and heave all the contents of my stomach.
The next thing I felt was a man was pressing a linen cloth on the side of my head while he muttered curses. The man would’ve put my father to shame with regards to curses. I know my father had a huge vocabulary and I heard every one of them. My father cursed a lot and it was often because of my deeds... But this man... He had such a larger book of curses that I literally wanted to wash his mouth with soap.
“Princess! I am sorry. I did not mean to!” a familiar voice said. I groaned in reply.
Suddenly, I was being lifted into a pair of strong arms. “We have to get away from here before I could heal you. Sorry but you’ll have to suffer a bit more...” He whispered and then gathered me closer and placed me on his shoulders like a sack of potatoes!
This is no way how to treat a lady! I wanted to shout the words to him but only groans came out of my lips. I wanted to push him off me but his grip was like steel. “I am Aiken, princess. Your father sent me.” He said and I realized now why the voice sounded familiar. It was him! The giant warrior I met when I was still a little girl!
“Hold on princess...” he whispered to me. ‘To what?!?’ I wanted to shout at him but again, I couldn’t form the coherent words. He kept one hand on my back while the other one gripped a rope. He climbed down with ease even though he was carrying our combined weights. I saw the muscles on his back flex as he climbed down with only the use of one arm and both his legs.
He placed me down on the ground where I sprawled face down on the dirt. Blasted useless rescuer! Then I heard him draw his weapon and heard the loud battle shouts from the men who chased us. I heard the clash of steel against steel and the grunts and cries from the men who fell down.
I hope my rescuer wasn’t one of them. If he was, then he’s bloody useless!
A few moments later, I felt his arms lift me up from the ground once more. He looked with horror upon my dirt-filled and bloody face. I heard him curse again as he wiped a clean linen at my face.
The moment I can talk again, his ears will burst with all my complaints!
He carried me like a sack of potatoes once more and then I felt him lift me up on his horse. He followed and then he arranged me more carefully this time so that I was sitting on his lap with both his arms by my side so I won’t fall.
I was so dizzy that I just leaned into him and closed my eyes...
I felt a strange heat envelope my body. Most of it was concentrated on my head. I opened my eyes and a blue light filled my vision. The light dimmed and I saw my rescuer’s palm hovering over my head. Suddenly, the throbbing headache was gone and so were all the aches in my body.
“I’m so sorry about that princess.” The warrior said with an apologetic smile. I huffed and stood up on my shaky legs. He offered his hand to assist me but I swatted it away. “I’ve never seen anyone act like that! First you hit my head with a rock! Then you carry me over your shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Then you dump me face down on the ground!” I shouted.
He flinched and then rubbed his necklace absentmindedly. “I am sorry...” he repeated. He moved his hands away from the necklace and I saw the small jade stone. Recognition hit me and I knew it was the stone I gave him years ago!
He kept the little trinket and he even made it into a necklace! He saw the direction of my gaze and his entire face reddened. “Err... It has kept me safe, princess. I thank you.” He said to me. I huffed once more and made the pretence of arranging my skirt.
“Maybe I should have kept it for myself to keep me safe from the likes of you!” I retorted but this time with less anger in my voice.
The warrior in front of me grinned and it threw my mind into greater disarray. “Come, princess. I have some food here...” he said as he unpacked some bread and cheese. I swooped down instantly and attacked the bread like I haven’t eaten in a hundred years. He gave me his share too and laughed as I stuffed my mouth.
“You have to keep up your strength. Your father has listed the thousand ways he would punish you before he sent me on this mission.” He said. I instantly choked on what I was eating. I pounded my chest repeatedly and the warrior gave me a flask of water. I gulped it down eagerly.
He leaned back on a tree with his arms crossed behind his head as he watched me eat. When I was done, he helped me up his horse again. Then he closed his eyes in concentration and I saw his signature aura of blue magic envelope us. “We’re going back to Ilyia.” He said and then there was a loud boom and the feeling that I was being pushed.
I opened my eyes and I was back in my mother’s meadow. “You can leave me here, warrior. I’ll, return to my father when I’m ready.” I said and then quickly walked away. A hand gripped my wrist and jerked me back. “Sorry, princess. But the job was to deliver you back to your father. And I don’t do jobs halfway.” He said with a grin. It took years off his face and made his eyes seem hypnotic.
I huffed and tried to tug my hand away. “Release me, warrior!” I commanded. “Call me Aiken, princess.” He said and then tugged on my hand once more, lifted it to his lips and kissed it. I felt the electricity spark between us at the sudden contact.
“Let go of me!” I screamed. He just stood there and no matter what tug I did, he didn’t even budge an inch.
“Now... Should I call the King to shoot us back towards the heavens or will you do the honors, Princess?” he asked with heavy sarcasm. I lifted my chin high and said. “I will do it.”
I took his hand and felt how rough and callused his hand was. I also felt how small my hand was compared to his. I looked at him and a strange expression of tenderness crossed over his features. I closed my eyes and concentrated. I envisioned myself and this warrior beside me shooting up into the heavens and heading towards the palace.
“Brace yourself, warrior. This is going to be a rough ride.” I warned him and then let go of my powers. I used more than what was necessary to ensure that it was going to be an unforgettable flight.
Then, the feeling of weightlessness started and with a sudden forceful lurch, I again felt myself flying upwards to the heavens and into my father’s Golden Palace...
Note: 1) Remember Aiken and Selene’s first meeting? They first met during the day that Aiken was appointed Rashad’s general and sent off to fight Azrael. Selene was only a child then and this story picks up around 10 years later, just as Aiken returned from the war. He was immediately sent off to retrieve the spoiled princess. :)
2) Adrienne isn’t dreaming. She really is in Ilyia. Her body is in Ravenswood with Seth while a part of her essence or her consciousness is with Selene in Ilyia.