Natalie Yacobson "Rhianon-7. Queen of Vinor"

Rhianon recruits supernatural supporters to go to war against Loretta. To gain Vinor’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.

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Rhianon-7. Queen ofВ Vinor
Natalie Yacobson

Rhianon recruits supernatural supporters to go to war against Loretta. To gain Vinor’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

Natalie Yacobson

Translator Natalia Lilienthal

© Natalie Yacobson, 2022

© Natalia Lilienthal, translation, 2022

ISBNВ 978-5-0059-0405-8 (С‚. 7)

ISBNВ 978-5-0056-8618-3

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 to warn people of the disaster. The words of the angel she met on the street last night were unequivocal. It would be time for the alarm bells to ring. However, the city outside the window was unusually quiet. Rhianon squinted at the bright daylight flooding her bedroom. She didn’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 in the sun, the spires of the town hall, and the cathedrals. And everywhere she could see the black specks of 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.

«I see,» she admitted that she didn’t feel like she’d slept much, but she couldn’t stay in bed any longer. If the agitated court was already seething against her, then it was time to pack up and disappear. As the instigator of an unwanted war, she could only find herself insulted in Vinor. That means there will be no visit from the angel of death in three days. Or rather, there will be, but to 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 of conscience as she prepared to go.

Someone had left her beautiful new clothes. Examining the neatly folded bundles, Rhianon guessed that they were not the work of the king’s tailors, but a work of 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 a cloak framed with gold lace as thin as cobwebs, several luxurious outfits: green, blue and, to her displeasure, bright red. Though the latter was the prettiest, she wouldn’t dare wear it. And where is the camisole she had ordered. Right now it was far more important to her than dressy rags. Otherwise, how else could she leave the castle unnoticed unless she changed into a man? Under the three folds, Rhianon finally found the last one. The camisole, the shirt, the breeches, everything was in place. The black velvet blended gracefully with the intricate pattern of delicate white lace on the cuffs and collar. How beautiful and discreet. She had expected a brightly colored tunic, like all the courtiers’ dandies. The black and white tones reminded her of something.

Rhianon remembered, and almost let the garment out of her hands. It was the uniform of a student of the School of Witchcraft – black velvet and white lace, with witchcraft symbols skillfully woven into the pattern. Rhianon already recognized them in the intricate ligature. No, she would never wear this. Otherwise, the effect might be unpredictable. She would be bewitched, driven mad, dragged into a cursed place.

«Don’t be silly,» the spirit reassured her. «This will protect you.»

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.

«You didn’t seem pregnant at all,» the soft voice whispered.

Frankly, she didn’t know what was supposed to be happening to her. Her waist was still thin, even thinner than before. The tight clothing accentuated the boyish slimness. Rhianon glanced in the mirror; the simpler the outfit, the more dazzling her own beauty seemed.

There was one detail of her outfit that was missing. She lacked a hat that would hide her hair and make her look like a boy. And she would have needed a sword-band, or at least a short sword. What would a court dandy be without a richly instructed weapon? She didn’t feel like a court dandy. Strict and beautiful at the same time, the clothes were suitable only for a privileged and, of course, a chosen apprentice – a magician from the School of Witchcraft. Rhianon didn’t regret at all that she hadn’t stayed there. She wondered if Madael would have found her there. He might have. After all, everything to do with witchcraft applied to him in one way or another. He would have noticed her there and loved her.

She could have cut her hair, of course, but Rhianon didn’t dare. It was too thick and beautiful. It would probably grow back in just one night, but she wasn’t going to risk it.

She took one last look around the luxurious bedroom and grabbed the doorknob.

«Hey, where are you going, they’ll recognize you!» The spirit resented her, but Rhianon paid no attention. She only twisted her hair into a 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 in town, let alone in the castle, if she wanted to. She just didn’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 a 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.

«I presume it was the children who died first?» Rhianon turned to the spirit. She didn’t think he would answer, wasn’t even sure if he was there now, but the voice came back.

«And don’t think. Innocent people always die first… though if you look at the moment from your spouse’s point of view, that is, from heaven, you can see things differently and thus it turns out that there are no innocents. Everyone is guilty of something. For example, the fact that he came into the world.»

В«Leave your comments,В» she demanded.

«Well, I’d better stop talking, then.»

That’s what she’d wanted him to do more than anything, but not now.

В«There are enough people here toВ keep you entertained,В» he finally said.

В«Wait! What is inВ the city?В»

«Why don’t you listen and see for yourself,» he advised.

Rhianon listened. All the sounds of the city below came to her in one cacophony. But then, after a second, she began to distinguish between the various sources of sound. Here a carriage carrying barrels of 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 of death, spiders weaved webs on the walls of houses, priests read a prayer over the deceased, but not near the deathbed, but kept at a distance. They, too, are afraid of getting sick. How many people have died in the city already? Rhianon listened to the conversations of the people in the streets. According to them, quite a few were already out, and even more were sick. But if you count by the size of Vinor, the number wasn’t too frightening yet.

«It’s convenient to be here and hear them all,» the spirit whispered again. «You know how to do that, unlike me.»

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.

«You had better be queen here, no one would dare argue that your inheritance should be returned. It’s always more pleasant to stand up for something that won’t go far from the family later than it is to stand up for an outsider’s property.»

«What are you talking about?» She involuntarily perked up, even stopped eavesdropping on the others’ conversations. The spirit alerted her. She had already guessed what he was going to say next and still she clenched her fists angrily.

«You see, if Loretta is to be considered a mere legacy of the local queen, not a nation of its own, then no one would be strong enough to refuse its conquest. In the meantime, you’re just a guest, and helping you, much less your country, is a moot point. Who wants to go to war over someone else’s land?»

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.

«You’d better accept it, my dear, because you’ve already sacrificed your maidenhood, and you’ve had nothing to gain by it. No one’s made you a queen of evil spirits. Although, if I’m not mistaken, your lover promised it, and yet you’re still picking up the crumbs of what he should have given you in full. The situation is different here; not all men lie, and not every man is in such a free political position that he can lie to you. Ferdinand is bound because his subjects are flesh and blood. Even if he does not want to keep his oath, a whole staff of advisers will persuade him, and duty to the people will compel him. Every ruler wants to annex a piece of another country to his own. And here is such a tidbit as a whole kingdom… I wonder how the king of any other country wouldn’t want to get you as his heiress. And if he was already married himself, there would always be single relatives. In this case it would be Leon, whom you have fortunately already got rid of. With your dowry no one would just let you go.»

«Loretta is not just my dowry, it’s my kingdom and only I can rule it.»

«You will only rule your dreams if you don’t compromise.»

Now she was really angry. As painful as it was, he had hit the mark. It was impossible not to admit it, only she didn’t want to. Facing the truth was always too painful. Rhianon wanted to turn away from him and end the conversation, only she didn’t know whether he was behind her, at her shoulder, or right in front of her face. The voice sounded very close, and still it was impossible to 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. A minute passed, and he still did not join any of the gossiping groups of courtiers. Apparently he was struck by the fact that a girl in a man’s suit was standing and talking to an empty space. He looked at her as if she were the only one in the room. Rhianon straightened up proudly and looked back. She must not show that he had caught her off guard. No display of consternation or embarrassment. That was what she had been taught at court when her father and the teachers he had hired were still alive. A 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.

«The dance of death has begun… but that doesn’t mean it can’t end at any moment. You have to learn to see the bright side of life. You’re in the mood for mourning, but there are still wedding bells ringing all around you.»

She thought his joke was ridiculous, which she told him just as mentally.

«It’s not a joke, dear,» he sulked. «I’m always serious, unlike you.»

«I can tell,» she hummed slightly, keeping her gaze on the man watching her. He tilted his head slightly in deference, catching her gaze as if she were already queen. Rhianon didn’t like that. It was as if he could see right through her and noticed something about her that wasn’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. She’s not queen yet… 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 to straighten it. If only she could have calculated that in the next few moments the royal procession would have stopped beside her. Naturally Ferdinand had no trouble recognizing her in any outfit. And of course he invited her back to take a seat on the throne dais next to him. He probably didn’t even notice how strangely she was dressed. Were it not for the turmoil that reigned around her, Rhianon would have felt rather ridiculous in her boyish attire. But now it was as if everything was in its place. The frightened people were whispering about something unbelievable. Their settled world was already upside down. Some said death was coming to the palace, others claimed to have seen it in the dark alleys of Vinor, still others prayed. Some didn’t want to believe it, some of 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 in a tight corset like the other ladies. The rumors flying around the hall were disturbing. She frowned, remembering the angel’s promise to wait three days until the city was almost deserted. From all the talk around her, the stranger who called himself death was scheduled to 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 to 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 in one day. Why would he need three? Rhianon pondered tensely, and the people parted in advance, preparing a wide passageway for the guest who was not yet there. No one wanted to get in his way, much less feel his destructive touch. The time seemed to 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 of the large clock over the casement door were just now approaching that hour. The doors themselves were open. Guards with halberds stood in front of them, but even they tried to keep somehow unaccustomed to the side of the aisle. They used to stand closer together. Now it was as if the miasma of contagion had spread everywhere. Rhianon wondered if the ladies were fanning themselves in vain, trying to ward off the contagion. If it is there, it is already everywhere. Every well in the city that we have to draw drinking water from is contaminated. Even if the disease can’t get into the royal palace itself, it will be brought in with the food and drink. They say disease is the destiny of the poor, but if the city below dies out, there is no refuge from death in the castle on high ground either. It will come in 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 to beat a nervous beat. She wished the tension in the hall would subside. But no, there was only increased murmuring among the assembled crowd. Even the king’s presence did not seem to bother anyone. And Ferdinand himself was clearly not himself today. Was he worried, too? Rhianon looked up and noticed the beads of sweat on his forehead. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the open doors. Apparently today’s news was the first shattering of his life. There had never been a war, much less an epidemic, in his reign. And now a stranger called death, either a ghost or a powerful sorcerer, has decided to 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 in confusion. Rhianon couldn’t quite put his finger on why he was so surprised. She asked the question without opening her mouth. She was too accustomed to making small talk with a spirit to think that it would be strange to do the same with a human. She was already feverishly considering how to justify herself, when suddenly the impossible happened. She heard footsteps behind the swinging door, but there was still no one in the doorway. Rhianon glanced around the room and was surprised to find that none of the motley crowd was wearing the garb of a 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 in the bright light than he had at night in the dark alley. He had seemed merely sinister to her then; now she might have choked with fear. Other ladies had already fainted at the sight of him, and in far greater numbers than before. Seeing him was far more frightening than hearing of 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 to mere weapons or disease, but covered with sores himself. Even his handsome features looked frightening against such a 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. A gray coat was developing around his body, but the angel’s grace made the rough canvas look better than the most expensive garment. He would wear the badge of shame with majesty, too. He was so graceful, so beautiful and so powerful.

«And I am the bringer of death,» he added with one lip as he approached the throne. He glanced at Rhianon, and his face suddenly turned into a smile that was predatory, full of meaning and seductive at the same time. Had he dreamed of seducing her or to kill her? She looked at him closely, and no one else around her noticed. The frightened people in the hall seemed to have vanished. Rhianon sat upright on her throne. The golden armrests slid beneath her fingers. If it hadn’t been for a spirit behind her, clutching at her shoulders, she would have run toward him.

«Stop, you’ll ruin yourself!» 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 to her? She’d rather he left her alone. All Rhianon saw before her was the angel of death. Even if he wore a gray turban and didn’t even want to show his wings to others, or maybe he just couldn’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 to see another. Obviously, the angel noticed this, and the smile slowly came off his lips. It was as if she saw a shooting star, and the angel’s features became calm. There was no more of the lover’s teasing smile, only a stern look from under his pitted eyelids, and worms crawling across her tightly closed lips. Words were expected of him, but he said nothing. He only looked at Rhianon, so intently and attentively that the eyes of everyone gathered also turned involuntarily to 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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