Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Exerpt from my WIP
The Shadow Trilogy, Book II, To Douse A Flame - Chapter Seven
The letters were found in the satchel of a dead villager. No one knew exactly who the man was or how the letters had fallen into his hands. The Bailiff Heath had the corpse taken to the charnel house, but the letters represented a true quandary. They were profoundly incriminating, incendiary, and required immediate action if they were to be believed. The Bailiff would need the help of the King’s Guard to find the dungeon where Dardoqa had sequestered her prisoners. The letters seemed to have been written by young men and women. How, he could not fathom. That they were all lettered was also extremely puzzling. These were not simple peasant captives.
He arranged to meet with the king’s first steward rather than the Captain of the King’s Guard, who he did not trust. The bailiff thought this the best way to ensure that the letters be put directly into the king’s hands. Before leaving his room in the town hall, he read them with chagrin.
It was a bright morning. She asked me what I most wanted for myself. She said my troubles would soon be over, that I was strong and ready to face the world. She smiled darlingly. I did not doubt her word. Comforted, I never stopped to wonder if her beautiful promises were real. I wanted to believe Dardoqa. She told me to brush the strands of hair from my face, to hold my head up. The journs to come would see my life take a turn for the better because I deserved this. I was her special girl, and she loved me.
But all these were just words that she hung in the air like little traps for the broken-hearted. I soon felt the lash of her angry tongue, as her captive, and could not move away from her. I could not move at all. How quickly she had changed from the wise and loving mentor, to something I had never seen before, a malevolent power to entrap the defenseless.
She told me I was an angel. She was kind to me, and so beautiful, all the while concealing the weapons she favored. Dardoqa would feed me delicacies and give me everything I needed. Beautiful clothes, and a small room of my own. It was unbelievable that she would then throw me in this rotten cell. The witch has not returned since I was imprisoned here, and I have not eaten in two journs. The cold stone floor hurts my bones. I feel too sad to cry. Not only am I hungry, but frightened, for I am alone here. It’s dark all the time; the sunlight is not strong enough to reach the small hole in the rock that lets in the stinking air. I can hear small scurrying things climbing the walls. I hear the far off wails of other children in other cells, and the frequent cracks of the cane.
She told me I could live with her in the Palace, that I could have all the ice cream I wanted and sleep in a soft, clean bed. She has betrayed my trust and taken my home from me, for what motive I do not know.
I can still taste blood. My surroundings are unfamiliar, but it’s quiet and I am alone. The air is thick with an unpleasant odor. I am lying on a stone floor. My eyes are open, but I remember nothing, see nothing. My face is thick and painful, my nose, bloody …
… I must have blacked out, but I am awake again. Time has passed because my jaw has returned to its normal size. How long I’ve been here is impossible to say. The gloom around me is total. Getting stiffly to my feet, I reach out with both hands and find the wall. My fingers drag slowly across the rugged, sandy surface, reaching higher, until I find what I am looking for. The iron bars of a small window. I stretch outward, and my skin feels the change of temperature in the air outside.
I am blind.
The shock of this realization dislodges my first memory since regaining consciousness. It was of Dardoqa, and my sightless eyes now overflow with tears. Dardoqa, my defender, my friend. She took offense and retaliated for a perceived insult, not understanding my lack of ill intent, my innocent mistake. I will admit it was a stupid blunder, the kind I am prone to making. Still, I meant no harm. My condemnation was too swift, too hasty. Where is the justice in this?
I am blind!
The collar chafes me. It does not come off, so I sleep in a position that will allow me to forget, for however briefly, that my wretched condition is for life. The collar is agonizing. This was not meant to be, this cruel deception. They brought me before Dardoqa, the unjust one, the Dragon woman, she who has brought me so low. She paid them in silver; the greedy traitors took it, and I belong to her now, to this harsh life of servitude, as relentlessly back-breaking as it is dull, a dismal fate I must endure.
All are dead. She sent her army of soldier-slaves to annihilate us. No one was prepared to repel them. It was a massacre. My whole life has burnt to the ground. The blistering air fills my nostrils as I bend over to vomit, as if my body could wholly reject the future this calamity will bring. My family is gone. My home is gone. The world is gone. This is a living hell, but do not come for me. Do not imperil yourself!
I told her I was friendless, and the scion of my family. She was sympathetic, and her explanation was a much needed confirmation of my belief that none of it was my fault. The logic sound. I was a victim of intolerance, of bad blood. Dardoqa said that one did not choose which family to be born into, and that people who see things more clearly than others are often shunned.
Mine was a sharp mind, and capable of distinguishing between what is true and what is merely desired. She said I would do important things under her tutelage, and I believed her right up until the moment they came for me, shoving me roughly into the carriage that brought me to this cell. I have had many solitary hours to think about why. Dardoqa had seen beneath my hangdog exterior a great store of hubris. She played into that with virtuosity. I am undone because I demanded more of a world that has cursed me since birth.
Night fell. King Boreanil walked the castle grounds alone. He did this especially on restless nights, no matter how exhausted he felt. What troubled him this time would keep him awake till dawn. Sensing this, Dardoqa, his other shadow, came, the better to monitor the vicissitudes of his humor.
One in one hundred thousand human to shadow pairings were like theirs, of the opposite sex. This had no bearing on viability in normal cases, but this was not a joyful story. They had once loved each other with intense passion, until the days when all they could see was what they did not like, each other’s shortcomings.
Dardoqa trailed behind the king by several paces because he barely tolerated her presence. Strange to think they had been so entwined in all each other's thoughts and deeds. Boreanil had declared her his queen in defiance of his council and the laws of the land. At present, the tone of their present relationship rivaled the glaciers. Recently, rancor dominated their terse conversations. Dardoqa asked for divestment, but the king refused.
In her great unhappiness, she had developed certain perversions that the king was unaware of. She would return to the castle, her cravings sated, and would lie about for hours near the king’s chamber. Being occupied with his duties, he ignored her. He almost forgot her completely until strange reports about her arrived at court. He refused to believe them.
“Come, Dardoqa, sing me a song,” the king chuckled to himself. He didn’t mean this, and she knew that.
“If my lord wants a song, he must sing it himself.”
“And so I have done, my dear, these long years. It’s a never ending song I sing… and frightfully off-key.” His hollow laugh rang out.
“I would sing for you, Sire, were you not my enemy.”
The king laughed again and turned to face her. The silhouette was somewhat elongated in the light of the brazier that stood beside the garden path. Her hair was piled high on her head and her shapely shadow form was lithe. Her hands were long and elegantly complemented by the flowing sleeves of her shadow gown.
“Enemies! Is that what we are now?”
Dardoqa ignored his false joviality.
“We are as you wish us to be, Lord.”
He continued to watch her and was mesmerized by her voice and the ghostly loveliness of her silhouette.
“I remember when you danced for me, right here in this garden, my dark fiend of a woman.”
“It was long ago, Lord. I was happy then. We are no longer those creatures.”
There was silence between them. The king continued to walk around the cobbled path that had many twists and turns. Even though he knew it to be an excellent place to contemplate nature at night, its pleasantness now felt marred by foreboding.
“I have been hearing strange things of late, Dardoqa. Stories about men and women being snatched, and Bataloran shadows disappearing, leaving their poor masters to sicken. Some of them have even died.”
The shadow woman laughed and began to walk around and around the king, her steps grew wild and fast, faster with every revolution. The laughter rose in pitch and became a sustained wail, before it descended like a hideous musical scale to the lowest notes and piteous weeping. Dardoqa sobbed, her ghostly breath emptying out and replenishing to wail anew.
“I will haunt you always, Boreanil. You will never consummate your accursed ambitions. I swear you will not be rid of me.”
The king felt a panic rising in him and turned to walk away from her at a quicker pace than before. She called after him.
“I will answer your question by and by, Lord. You will come to know the darkness of my legacy.”
There was a sudden, sharp gale of wind that made the trees bend and the leaves swirl. Miniscule specks scattered with the wind and stung the king’s eyes. He closed them tightly, until the wind died away, but by then, Dardoqa had retired to her sanctuary.
TO DOUSE A FLAME
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