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Rhianon-7. Queen ofВ Vinor
Rhianon recruits supernatural supporters to go to war against Loretta. To gain VinorвЂ™s support, she must marry the young king, but her heart belongs to a fallen angel. Madael has lost Rhianon, but feels he must ensure her protection. He sends an elf in love with her, turned into a winged horse.
Rhianon-7. Queen ofВ Vinor
Translator Natalia Lilienthal
В©В Natalie Yacobson,В 2022
В©В Natalia Lilienthal, translation,В 2022
ISBNВ 978-5-0059-0405-8 (С‚. 7)
Created with Ridero smart publishing system
Death and the Queen
Waking up, Rhianon was surprised that the town had not yet rung the alarm bell toВ warn people ofВ the disaster. The words ofВ the angel she met on the street last night were unequivocal. It would be time for the alarm bells toВ ring. However, the city outside the window was unusually quiet. Rhianon squinted at the bright daylight flooding her bedroom. She didnвЂ™t immediately notice the black birds flying outside the window. Crows again? Squinting sleepily, she peered out the window. From here she could see the peaked towers with their brass plating glistening inВ the sun, the spires ofВ the town hall, and the cathedrals. And everywhere she could see the black specks ofВ feathered creatures flying by. Whole flocks flew over the city.
В«They were flying away,В» the spirit whispered inВ her ear. He was awake, but at least he did not disturb her during the night. He must have been aВ bit gallant, after all, toВ let her sleep.
В«IВ see,В» she admitted that she didnвЂ™t feel like sheвЂ™d slept much, but she couldnвЂ™t stay inВ bed any longer. If the agitated court was already seething against her, then it was time toВ pack up and disappear. As the instigator ofВ an unwanted war, she could only find herself insulted inВ Vinor. That means there will be no visit from the angel ofВ death inВ three days. Or rather, there will be, but toВ her. If she is denied support here, she does not care that the disease will consume the city. Let herself be. Rhianon felt no pangs ofВ conscience as she prepared toВ go.
Someone had left her beautiful new clothes. Examining the neatly folded bundles, Rhianon guessed that they were not the work ofВ the kingвЂ™s tailors, but aВ work ofВ magical art. The spinsters had done their best. They may have been scheming, but they knew what they were doing. The night passed and they had already made for her aВ cloak framed with gold lace as thin as cobwebs, several luxurious outfits: green, blue and, toВ her displeasure, bright red. Though the latter was the prettiest, she wouldnвЂ™t dare wear it. And where is the camisole she had ordered. Right now it was far more important toВ her than dressy rags. Otherwise, how else could she leave the castle unnoticed unless she changed into aВ man? Under the three folds, Rhianon finally found the last one. The camisole, the shirt, the breeches, everything was inВ place. The black velvet blended gracefully with the intricate pattern ofВ delicate white lace on the cuffs and collar. How beautiful and discreet. She had expected aВ brightly colored tunic, like all the courtiersвЂ™ dandies. The black and white tones reminded her ofВ something.
Rhianon remembered, and almost let the garment out ofВ her hands. It was the uniform ofВ aВ student ofВ the School ofВ WitchcraftВ вЂ“ black velvet and white lace, with witchcraft symbols skillfully woven into the pattern. Rhianon already recognized them inВ the intricate ligature. No, she would never wear this. Otherwise, the effect might be unpredictable. She would be bewitched, driven mad, dragged into aВ cursed place.
В«DonвЂ™t be silly,В» the spirit reassured her. В«This will protect you.В»
Little did she believe it, and yet the black velvet felt so lovely toВ the touch.
What better toВ wear her atypical red dress or this costumeВ» Rhianon thought briefly. The camisole fit her like aВ glove.
В«You didnвЂ™t seem pregnant at all,В» the soft voice whispered.
Frankly, she didnвЂ™t know what was supposed toВ be happening toВ her. Her waist was still thin, even thinner than before. The tight clothing accentuated the boyish slimness. Rhianon glanced inВ the mirror; the simpler the outfit, the more dazzling her own beauty seemed.
There was one detail ofВ her outfit that was missing. She lacked aВ hat that would hide her hair and make her look like aВ boy. And she would have needed aВ sword-band, or at least aВ short sword. What would aВ court dandy be without aВ richly instructed weapon? She didnвЂ™t feel like aВ court dandy. Strict and beautiful at the same time, the clothes were suitable only for aВ privileged and, ofВ course, aВ chosen apprenticeВ вЂ“ aВ magician from the School ofВ Witchcraft. Rhianon didnвЂ™t regret at all that she hadnвЂ™t stayed there. She wondered if Madael would have found her there. He might have. After all, everything toВ do with witchcraft applied toВ him inВ one way or another. He would have noticed her there and lovedВ her.
She could have cut her hair, ofВ course, but Rhianon didnвЂ™t dare. It was too thick and beautiful. It would probably grow back inВ just one night, but she wasnвЂ™t going toВ riskВ it.
She took one last look around the luxurious bedroom and grabbed the doorknob.
В«Hey, where are you going, theyвЂ™ll recognize you!В» The spirit resented her, but Rhianon paid no attention. She only twisted her hair into aВ loose braid and threw it over her shoulder.
The castle really looked like aВ beehive. The maids scurried forward with trays, not even recognizing Rhianon. AВ page fell at her feet. Rhianon pushed the frightened heralds out ofВ her way and went toward the throne room. She wondered what was being said. She had expected toВ hear the Councilors protesting the war they had contemplated, arguing against the foreign princess and her designs, but toВ her surprise the castle was full ofВ entirely different rumors. Either the spinsters had miscalculated, or something far more frightening had happened. Rhianon could hear the anxious courtiers whispering inВ corridors and alcoves, but their suspicious conversations never mentioned war or the royal marriage with the witch-like tendencies ofВ the new claimant toВ the throne. Rhianon listened. They spoke ofВ death, but not aboutВ war.
She was uncomfortable standing near someone for aВ long time and eavesdropping on their conversation, but as it turned out she could distinguish the voices speaking even at aВ decent distance.
She could hear every conversation inВ town, let alone inВ the castle, if she wanted to. She just didnвЂ™t realize it right away. As soon as she singled some people out from the crowd, she could hear only their words, no matter how far away they were from her. It was even interesting. Thus she learned aВ great deal and involuntarily shuddered.
The courtiers were anxious and the servants were on the verge ofВ panic. The servants had toВ go out into town, for example, toВ the market stalls or toВ meet the carriages, and disease was already rampant inВ the city.
В«IВ presume it was the children who died first?В» Rhianon turned toВ the spirit. She didnвЂ™t think he would answer, wasnвЂ™t even sure if he was there now, but the voice came back.
В«And donвЂ™t think. Innocent people always die firstвЂ¦ though if you look at the moment from your spouseвЂ™s point ofВ view, that is, from heaven, you can see things differently and thus it turns out that there are no innocents. Everyone is guilty ofВ something. For example, the fact that he came into the world.В»
В«Leave your comments,В» she demanded.
В«Well, IвЂ™d better stop talking, then.В»
ThatвЂ™s what sheвЂ™d wanted him toВ do more than anything, but notВ now.
В«There are enough people here toВ keep you entertained,В» he finally said.
В«Wait! What is inВ the city?В»
В«Why donвЂ™t you listen and see for yourself,В» he advised.
Rhianon listened. All the sounds ofВ the city below came toВ her inВ one cacophony. But then, after aВ second, she began toВ distinguish between the various sources ofВ sound. Here aВ carriage carrying barrels ofВ wine rode along the sidewalk, there lace-makers and embroiderers pulled the thread, their fingers slipped quietly over the fabric, somewhere dogs barked as if they sensed the approach ofВ death, spiders weaved webs on the walls ofВ houses, priests read aВ prayer over the deceased, but not near the deathbed, but kept at aВ distance. They, too, are afraid ofВ getting sick. How many people have died inВ the city already? Rhianon listened toВ the conversations ofВ the people inВ the streets. According toВ them, quite aВ few were already out, and even more were sick. But if you count byВ the size ofВ Vinor, the number wasnвЂ™t too frighteningВ yet.
В«ItвЂ™s convenient toВ be here and hear them all,В» the spirit whispered again. В«You know how toВ do that, unlikeВ me.В»
В«And you, unlike me, can see through walls,В» she retorted, not even thinking much about whether he was joking or serious. No one inВ the crowded and homophobic hall noticed that she was talking toВ the emptiness over her shoulder.
В«You had better be queen here, no one would dare argue that your inheritance should be returned. ItвЂ™s always more pleasant toВ stand up for something that wonвЂ™t go far from the family later than it is toВ stand up for an outsiderвЂ™s property.В»
В«What are you talking about?В» She involuntarily perked up, even stopped eavesdropping on the othersвЂ™ conversations. The spirit alerted her. She had already guessed what he was going toВ say next and still she clenched her fists angrily.
В«You see, if Loretta is toВ be considered aВ mere legacy ofВ the local queen, not aВ nation ofВ its own, then no one would be strong enough toВ refuse its conquest. InВ the meantime, youвЂ™re just aВ guest, and helping you, much less your country, is aВ moot point. Who wants toВ go toВ war over someone elseвЂ™s land?В»
What aВ flattering voice and what aВ mean one. If it belonged toВ aВ man ofВ flesh and blood, Rhianon would fight.
В«Loretta will never be aВ province,В» she hissed. В«My country will remain mine.В»
В«Yes, as it is yours now,В» he tauntedВ her.
The sting was very tangible.
В«YouвЂ™d better accept it, my dear, because youвЂ™ve already sacrificed your maidenhood, and youвЂ™ve had nothing toВ gain byВ it. No oneвЂ™s made you aВ queen ofВ evil spirits. Although, if IвЂ™m not mistaken, your lover promised it, and yet youвЂ™re still picking up the crumbs ofВ what he should have given you inВ full. The situation is different here; not all men lie, and not every man is inВ such aВ free political position that he can lie toВ you. Ferdinand is bound because his subjects are flesh and blood. Even if he does not want toВ keep his oath, aВ whole staff ofВ advisers will persuade him, and duty toВ the people will compel him. Every ruler wants toВ annex aВ piece ofВ another country toВ his own. And here is such aВ tidbit as aВ whole kingdomвЂ¦ IВ wonder how the king ofВ any other country wouldnвЂ™t want toВ get you as his heiress. And if he was already married himself, there would always be single relatives. InВ this case it would be Leon, whom you have fortunately already got rid of. With your dowry no one would just let youВ go.В»
В«Loretta is not just my dowry, itвЂ™s my kingdom and only IВ can ruleВ it.В»
В«You will only rule your dreams if you donвЂ™t compromise.В»
Now she was really angry. As painful as it was, he had hit the mark. It was impossible not toВ admit it, only she didnвЂ™t want to. Facing the truth was always too painful. Rhianon wanted toВ turn away from him and end the conversation, only she didnвЂ™t know whether he was behind her, at her shoulder, or right inВ front ofВ her face. The voice sounded very close, and still it was impossible toВ ascertain exactly where the disembodied being was. She turned on her heels anyway, and suddenly noticed that one man had separated himself from the crowd and was standing watching her. AВ minute passed, and he still did not join any ofВ the gossiping groups ofВ courtiers. Apparently he was struck byВ the fact that aВ girl inВ aВ manвЂ™s suit was standing and talking toВ an empty space. He looked at her as if she were the only one inВ the room. Rhianon straightened up proudly and looked back. She must not show that he had caught her off guard. No display ofВ consternation or embarrassment. That was what she had been taught at court when her father and the teachers he had hired were still alive. AВ princess must never lose her temper under any circumstances.
She tried toВ assess her opponent. It was no astrologer. Judging byВ the rich attire and gown he could be identified as aВ royal advisor. He was about toВ advise Ferdinand toВ send her out ofВ the country.
Rhianon tensed inwardly.
В«Yes, what are you worried about, there will soon be nothing left ofВ the country if the disease spreads,В» the spirit interjected again. He must have intended toВ ruin her, since he was always inВ the most inopportune situations, deliberately provoking her. Rhianon did not want toВ fail again. She pulled herself together and tried toВ address him only mentally, without opening her mouth.
В«You were the one who urged me toВ stay inВ this country and toВ stay with Ferdinand. You were the one who told me toВ hold on toВ this country and Ferdinand.В» She wondered.
В«The dance ofВ death has begunвЂ¦ but that doesnвЂ™t mean it canвЂ™t end at any moment. You have toВ learn toВ see the bright side ofВ life. YouвЂ™re inВ the mood for mourning, but there are still wedding bells ringing all around you.В»
She thought his joke was ridiculous, which she told him just as mentally.
В«ItвЂ™s not aВ joke, dear,В» he sulked. В«IвЂ™m always serious, unlike you.В»
В«IВ can tell,В» she hummed slightly, keeping her gaze on the man watching her. He tilted his head slightly inВ deference, catching her gaze as if she were already queen. Rhianon didnвЂ™t like that. It was as if he could see right through her and noticed something about her that wasnвЂ™t worth spoiling his relationship with her for now. Or he had already calculated the future and concluded that the new queen must be served. SheвЂ™s not queen yetвЂ¦ unless the soothsayers had predicted otherwise.
Rhianon sighed inВ relief as the heralds blew their horns announcing the arrival ofВ the king. Now she would be gone inВ the commotion and most likely she would never come back.
В«Wait, how could itВ be?В»
She could almost feel someone clawing at her shoulder, but his fingers were intangible, so they only glided over the fabric, barely touching it. And still her collar was crumpled. Rhianon reached out grudgingly toВ straighten it. If only she could have calculated that inВ the next few moments the royal procession would have stopped beside her. Naturally Ferdinand had no trouble recognizing her inВ any outfit. And ofВ course he invited her back toВ take aВ seat on the throne dais next toВ him. He probably didnвЂ™t even notice how strangely she was dressed. Were it not for the turmoil that reigned around her, Rhianon would have felt rather ridiculous inВ her boyish attire. But now it was as if everything was inВ its place. The frightened people were whispering about something unbelievable. Their settled world was already upside down. Some said death was coming toВ the palace, others claimed toВ have seen it inВ the dark alleys ofВ Vinor, still others prayed. Some didnвЂ™t want toВ believe it, some ofВ the court poets were already sketching for poems, some ladies were fainting and being served snuff salt. Rhianon herself would have been dizzy if she had been laced up inВ aВ tight corset like the other ladies. The rumors flying around the hall were disturbing. She frowned, remembering the angelвЂ™s promise toВ wait three days until the city was almost deserted. From all the talk around her, the stranger who called himself death was scheduled toВ come today. The royal guards saw him outside the castle. All he did was touch people and they fell dead. Those he left alive carried his message. He would come toВ the court. There was nothing more the frightened people could report. Rhianon examined her own hand questioningly, the angel had also touched it, and more than once, but it was still alive. He could empty the city inВ one day. Why would he need three? Rhianon pondered tensely, and the people parted inВ advance, preparing aВ wide passageway for the guest who was not yet there. No one wanted toВ get inВ his way, much less feel his destructive touch. The time seemed toВ be approaching, and he was still not there.
Rhianon had no need toВ ask anyone about the news; she could hear everything. All she had toВ do was point out the right people inВ the room, and even when she turned away from them, she could easily pick up their dialogues. The distance ofВ aВ hundred paces meant nothing toВ her. Sounds reached her ears easily, and it was easy toВ distinguish something inВ the cacophony.
That was how she knew what time the stranger named death had scheduled his visit. The hands ofВ the large clock over the casement door were just now approaching that hour. The doors themselves were open. Guards with halberds stood inВ front ofВ them, but even they tried toВ keep somehow unaccustomed toВ the side ofВ the aisle. They used toВ stand closer together. Now it was as if the miasma ofВ contagion had spread everywhere. Rhianon wondered if the ladies were fanning themselves inВ vain, trying toВ ward off the contagion. If it is there, it is already everywhere. Every well inВ the city that we have toВ draw drinking water from is contaminated. Even if the disease canвЂ™t get into the royal palace itself, it will be brought inВ with the food and drink. They say disease is the destiny ofВ the poor, but if the city below dies out, there is no refuge from death inВ the castle on high ground either. It will come inВ time.
If the words ofВ the angel are toВ be believed, then he chose toВ come now, not later. Rhianon waited with everyone else. Could it be that her demand had proved so important toВ him? She herself had not expected him toВ listen toВ her when she suggested it. So he had decided toВ change his plans after all. She wondered if it was for her or for something else.
Her heart began toВ beat aВ nervous beat. She wished the tension inВ the hall would subside. But no, there was only increased murmuring among the assembled crowd. Even the kingвЂ™s presence did not seem toВ bother anyone. And Ferdinand himself was clearly not himself today. Was he worried, too? Rhianon looked up and noticed the beads ofВ sweat on his forehead. He hadnвЂ™t taken his eyes off the open doors. Apparently todayвЂ™s news was the first shattering ofВ his life. There had never been aВ war, much less an epidemic, inВ his reign. And now aВ stranger called death, either aВ ghost or aВ powerful sorcerer, has decided toВ show up at the palace. What will he demand?
В«Surely your soothsayers must have foretold that IВ am the cause ofВ this epidemic?В»
Ferdinand looked at her inВ confusion. Rhianon couldnвЂ™t quite put his finger on why he was so surprised. She asked the question without opening her mouth. She was too accustomed toВ making small talk with aВ spirit toВ think that it would be strange toВ do the same with aВ human. She was already feverishly considering how toВ justify herself, when suddenly the impossible happened. She heard footsteps behind the swinging door, but there was still no one inВ the doorway. Rhianon glanced around the room and was surprised toВ find that none ofВ the motley crowd was wearing the garb ofВ aВ astrologer.
В«He told not toВ allow any ofВ them inВ tonight,В» said Ferdinand toВ her unspoken question.
В«InВ that case IВ am grateful toВ him,В» she answered inВ aВ low whisper. В«IВ do not like sorcerers, trying toВ use the dark power.В»
В«And who loves them?В» Ferdinand said.
В«Then why do you tolerate them at court?В» She asked. В«Are you afraid ofВ them?В»
He shook his head negatively.
В«IВ am afraid that one day IВ may need their help.В»
В«But they are powerless today.В»
Rhianon was convinced she was right when she saw him enter the hall. He looked even more terrifying inВ the bright light than he had at night inВ the dark alley. He had seemed merely sinister toВ her then; now she might have choked with fear. Other ladies had already fainted at the sight ofВ him, and inВ far greater numbers than before. Seeing him was far more frightening than hearing ofВ him. Here and there frightened shrieks were heard, and men grasped useless weapons. Mortal hands rested on the hilted hilt and hilted sword, and he walked through the hall, immortal, but bearing death. Invulnerable toВ mere weapons or disease, but covered with sores himself. Even his handsome features looked frightening against such aВ backdrop. Rhianon would not have been surprised if people were not just dying at his touch, but decomposing alive. She followed his every movement with her eyes. He walked so smoothly, as if he were floating above the marble floor. AВ gray coat was developing around his body, but the angelвЂ™s grace made the rough canvas look better than the most expensive garment. He would wear the badge ofВ shame with majesty, too. He was so graceful, so beautiful and so powerful.
В«And IВ am the bringer ofВ death,В» he added with one lip as he approached the throne. He glanced at Rhianon, and his face suddenly turned into aВ smile that was predatory, full ofВ meaning and seductive at the same time. Had he dreamed ofВ seducing her or toВ kill her? She looked at him closely, and no one else around her noticed. The frightened people inВ the hall seemed toВ have vanished. Rhianon sat upright on her throne. The golden armrests slid beneath her fingers. If it hadnвЂ™t been for aВ spirit behind her, clutching at her shoulders, she would have run towardВ him.
В«Stop, youвЂ™ll ruin yourself!В» He whispered fervently, nestling into her very ear. His hot breath burned her lobe. Do spirits have breath? Or does he feed on her energy and soon burst into flames himself? What difference did it make toВ her? SheвЂ™d rather he left her alone. All Rhianon saw before her was the angel ofВ death. Even if he wore aВ gray turban and didnвЂ™t even want toВ show his wings toВ others, or maybe he just couldnвЂ™t, even if his tender moon-shimmering skin was pierced with deep sores, even if he carried death and destruction. She no longer cares. After all, he looked so much like her Madael. She looked at him and wanted toВ see another. Obviously, the angel noticed this, and the smile slowly came off his lips. It was as if she saw aВ shooting star, and the angelвЂ™s features became calm. There was no more ofВ the loverвЂ™s teasing smile, only aВ stern look from under his pitted eyelids, and worms crawling across her tightly closed lips. Words were expected ofВ him, but he said nothing. He only looked at Rhianon, so intently and attentively that the eyes ofВ everyone gathered also turned involuntarily toВ her.
Ferdinand was the first toВ pull together. No one had any doubts about who the terrible guest was. But the king had the courage toВ affirm the obvious.
В«Then you are death.В»
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