Andal nodded solemnly, "My family were bannermen to your parents, they were leaders of a resistance for a time, against the Illios. We fought beside them for many years." He shook his head, looking down. "I knew them well, they fled Cairnewn once they were forced to give you up in surrender." Andal rose and crossed his arms, "I'm not sure how you lasted as long as you did, the hallowed king knows you are a threat to his claim. I think he meant to finally get rid of you with that trial we took you from. Regardless, we mean to return you to your rightful place as the ruler of the westerlands, you will be the Golden Queen of the West.." As he said it his eyes raised and a small smile crept on his face as he stared wistfully into an invisible distance. "As your ancestors were before you." Andal sighed and gave her a glance before heading for the door, "I give you free reign of our sanctuary, everyone here understands your importance so you may catch a few stares, but don't be alarmed. If you have any more questions, Cartell should be able to help you. We will be departing for a safer place in the west tomorrow. My lady." With a bow he exited the room.
She folded her hands on her lap, paying Andal rapt attention. Her father had been king, the leader of a resistance no less, fighting against the Illios. She had to be surrendered against her parents will! How could a mother and father bear it and why did they not come to save her sooner? Perhaps she could have known them.
Now she understood Andal’s hostility when he had spoken of her people in contempt. Was it true? Her king had meant to put her to death? And worse, she would have died labeled as a heretic. That knowledge rekindled a fire in her belly. What had he reason to wait, why hadn’t he killed me right away? She was so distraught tears misted in her eyes but she rubbed them away stubbornly.
Serena entertained the idea of becoming a queen. She had no experience being a noble or royalty. She did not know how to entertain nobles, hold court and maintain the law, she was not aware of the complexities that came with the title. What was she to do, become some sort of puppet queen? She hoped not! But she stayed silent of this, for that matter could be addressed later, perhaps after Andal had led them to this safer place he mentioned.
She wanted to ask about her parents since Andal had known them. She wanted to ask how well he had known them, what were they like, and what had happened to them after they fled Cairnewn. But Andal had left so abruptly she had to wait to ask him. So she decided to ask Cartell, who had remained momentarily. “Did you know my parents, Cartell?”
Cartell pushed from the wall, "Yes, a bit. I was their ward for a time. Our houses were very close. They rarely took care of me personally, but I did see them from time to time. " A smile came to his face as he remembered, "Their palace at Duskwell was a wonder. I spent many years roaming its halls. Truly, my lady, your heritage is great." He became a bit embarassed, "I hope.. we will return you to its halls. Your radiance will fill the land with life once again, I know it." He was a little more unsure of his words than Andal, but it was obvious he believed it.
And I could stand beside you. His mind intruded, but he frowned. He was a bastard, legitimized yes but still a bastard. Someone like him was not worthy of consorting with queens, much less the Gilded Queen. The people wouldn't stand for it either. He sighed and suddenly seemed uncomfortable. I guess I was fooling myself before. Breaking from his thoughts he looked back to her and forced a smile, "Would you like me to show you around? I know most our rooms."
She smiled gently as he smiled. Her parents were in a way dear to him and he to them. “It must have been nice, growing up in a palace… I only knew the convent. Everything was so… plain, barren except for the basest of comforts. The nuns did not believe in luxury or pretty clothes or toys for children. It was a very quiet life,” she raised her brow, “quite literally. Our food was quite bland too.” Her stomach growled despite herself. She had eaten nothing since breakfast that very morning and it was now late in the day. She became a bit bashful at his last words. Her radiance, indeed… what made her so special? Still, she knew he meant what he said, and she wondered if he, well… that remained to be seen. She could not afford to think such silly thoughts like love, not when their mission was so important.
“Will you be coming with us to the new place?” She asked suddenly, hopefully.
"Yes, I go wherever my lord brother commands. I am one of his personal guards." He had been there in the Tribunal next to his brother, fending off the Knights of the Sworn. He motioned to the door, "Shall we see the atrium, or the dining hall perhaps?"
Serena looked pleased, even relieved. Her smile touched her eyes, causing them to sparkle. “If you’ll forgive me, Cartell, I must say that we are about the same age. There were others in the convent my age but they did not associate themselves with me, perhaps because it had seemed that I was a favorite among the nuns… or simply favored… so I stayed much to myself most of the time. But you are so kind to me. It’s… nice.”
“Yes, please. If I am to stay by myself for much longer I may go stir crazy,” she chuckled. And she was happy to remain around him, for the others intimidated her as well, looking at her strangely. “Is it too much to ask if I might have something to eat?”
Cartell blushed and lowered his face, trying to continue appearing a man, and not a boy longing for something more. "I-I am glad. There also are not many young people in our kinship here.. it has been quite lonely. I hope I may continue to be your.. friend - but my duty comes first. Thankfully.. I believe the two may coincide much." Hiding his face he headed for the door, "We can go to the dining hall then, there is fresh food waiting there most times." He exited the room and headed down the hall. They passed out of the hallway into the main courtyard, it was a large stone room with a tiny stream running through it bridged by assortments of wooden planks. Above the room a shaft of orange light shone down from a bramble of vines shrouding a small opening to the evening sky. He crossed the room to a wide hallway that opened up into a broad room filled with tables, with one raised table and platform at the end. Through a door in the back, several figures were going about their tasks. The tables had a small collection of baskets filled with bread and fruits.
Cartell waved his hand outward, "Take your pick, I'm not hungry, but I'll sit with you.. uh, if you like." He could never eat after he had killed, it took many hours before his appetite would return. He supposed he just wasn't used to it yet, Andal had said it took time.
She stifled a laugh at his reaction. She had not meant to accentuate that he was young just that it was nice to speak to someone that wasn’t more than middle aged. “I’d like that… to be your friend, I mean.” So why was he blushing so profusely. Had she offended him in some way? The thought made her awkward, for she hadn’t intended for it to be that way. She supposed she was not the only one that felt awkward in his presence… maybe he was in hers. The corners of her lips twitched a little in good humor.
Serena slowed when they came into the courtyard in order to look upwards. “How do you make light underground? Is it magick?”
As they entered the dining hall she made her way to the tables, expressing her thanks, and took what she knew she could eat thus not be wasteful. Out of habit, she was about to pray her thanks, but halted herself. She did not want to be an outcast among these peoples who had a different belief than she, and even more, to know that she had been played false all her years put her faith in jeopardy. Instead she picked up a piece of fruit and began to eat, trying to be quick about it for she wanted to explore more of the sanctuary before Cartell had to leave her.
He sat next to her, folding his hands and fiddling. "The light? We call it Fool's Light, it's a simple incantation.. it doesn't last very long but our caretakers keep them going. It helps some people deal with living underground for a long time, I suppose. I like it just fine down here.. but I did spend many years at Dire Hall." He gave a small chuckle, "I wish you could see that place, I think many would prefer it here, though it has its own beauty.."
“No spiritual leader in my city… I mean where I used to live, no one practiced magic. It was considered unholy.” Of course the Unnamed would think just the opposite, and inside she was torn as old beliefs clashed with new beliefs, or, those that Andal and Cartell spoke of. “I think I would miss the sunlight after too long,” she admitted. “Perhaps maybe someday I could see Dire Hall…” She thought this over as she munched on bread. “Or, where I would have grown up if things had been different. Are… my parents dead?” Of that she had not yet been clear and her stomach plunged, causing her pain, to think that she would never look upon her faces.”
"My family has been steeped in the magicks and occult for as long as I can remember." He found it hard to imagine life without all they knew. At her question his eyes dropped, "I do not know, as my brother said they fled this land when they were forced to give you up.. no one knows what they're doing or where they went, it's possible they may live."
Perhaps Andal knew of her parent’s fate. She would ask him when it seemed opportune. She really hope that they were still alive, so that they may be once reunited.
“Then if you know about magick and the occult, do you know why this mark was carved on my back? Was it simply a plot of the king or are there others after me?” Serena’s face turned anxious. She had gained back her freedom, but what about her safety?
Cartell smiled and rose, "Fear not, we were the ones who marked you. It was necessary for us to find you. We took many before you, some of them joined us, some of them left. With the mark, we can track you. With the others it wore off, but I heard Andal say it has stayed on you. I'm not sure what it means, you might ask him."
"Though, if you're finished my lady, there's something I would give you." He nodded towards the hallway.
She rose and followed him, wondering what he had in store for her. She asked the questions as they walked, just between them. “I wish I had not been marked,” she looked momentarily vexed. “I was afraid for my life and my fate, for rumors were that the girls who bore marked had been sacrificed, and I feared that I was next. But, then again, my people were no better judges. The things they said…” She had trailed off in a whisper. “Can the mark be removed?”
Cartell lead her back through the courtyard and into a different hallway. "As I said with the others it faded away, but with you it has not.. I believe that has great significance, but of what I'm not sure." He led her into an even larger room than the dining hall, it was an enormous cavern landscaped to appear as a small forest. Several other members of the kinship that were tending the grounds glanced at them as they entered. He led her down behind a tree and made sure no one was looking. "I don't think my lord brother would want you to have this, but.." He reached to his belt and unhooked a small dagger in its sheathe. The sheathe was leather trimmed with silver. Cartell turned it over in his hand and drew the blade slowly, it was a shimmering, polished steel with a grip of bronze wrapped with silk, the pommel was fashioned into the emblem of Holland. He pushed it towards her, "Consider it a gift of trust, I don't wish you to be frightened in our halls. But.. do keep it hidden, at least for a while." He smiled sheepishly and glanced around the tree.