|I watch the grey walls fly past as I flee from my past, present and future. My life as I know it slowly trickles away with every step. I push my burning legs faster in an attempt to lose the terror that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I know it is hopeless but I cannot face my terrible deeds without turning into a halfwit with guilt and despair.
I finally leave the labyrinth of underground tunnels that were my escape route. I can still see the smoking ruins of what used to be my home. I press on as my mind strays to thoughts it cannot think.
I run on for more days than I can count. I drop with exhaustion and malnutrition after four days without food or water. The last thought I think before I slip into unconsiousness is if I had given in to Nahrir and Gord, none of this would have happened.
I dream. My mind fills with memories of my forbidden past. I watch all of the faces dear to me slide into flames and burn.
My eyes half-open as a sharp noise breaks my now natural slumber. Unknown voices murmur at my bedside. My eyes slide open more as I recognise the room. The walls are curtained in rich, red velvet, a sign of wealth in any culture. There are superbly stocked bookcases lining the walls, and groups of armchairs settled in small alcoves. There are also a lot of couches similar to the one I am laying on, the same red colour as the walls, embroidered in gold. It is a library. I sit up, too fast, and my head span. One of the murmurers scolds me in a language I don't understand. The other, a young man, strong and handsome, remains in his chair, studying my face. My eyes slip from his, shyness overcoming me, not for the first time in my life. The man talks to the other murmurer, an older woman, in the same inconrehensible tounge. Then he kneels beside my lounge, and speaks in a language I understand.
"How do you feel?"
It takes me a while to respond, as his eyes were hypnotising
They were odd colours, his eyes. One was a beautiful, deep purple, and the other was sky blue, contrasting perfectly.
"My head is a bit dizzy," I say when I regain my voice. He puts a hand out behind him, and the woman places something I cannot see in his upturned palm. His eyes never once leave my face.
"Smell these," the man tells me, and holds out some smelling salts. I lean over and breathe in deep, grateful for the chance to avert my gaze. As I obeyed him, he spoke again; "My name is Likya. What is yours?"
I sit up straight again, trying not to look in Likya's eyes.
"Mallory," I say nervously. Likya puts a finger on my cheek, drawing my eyes back to him.
"There is nothing to be afraid of," he assures me. Likya turns to converse with the unknown woman again. They argue for a long while. I am almost asleep when Likya faces me once more.
"Come, Mallory," he says, holding out a hand. I look at my long, tanned legs, not sure if they could take my weight.
"If you fall, I will catch you," Likya says. I cannot help but trust him utterly.
I heave myself off the lounge, using Likya's offered hand as an aid. One of my legs buckle and I fall to the side, but Likya's strong hands stop my descent. He wraps one arm around my waist to steady me, and togrther we walk to the door on the far side of the room.
Likya whispers praise in my ear the entire time, and soon we are outside. I shiver in the biting wind as he leads me to a waiting carriage.
It is toasty warm inside and I start to nod off agaist the cushioned wall. In my dreams, Likya's face and deep voice make constant appearances.
I wake to bright sunlight pouring in through an open window. I notice the carriage has stopped. I look around, but Likya is nowhere to be seen.
Something catches my eye. It is a beautiful female youth, pale as a ghost and obviously spiritual. One of its pale hands beckons, and I cannot help but obey. I climb out of the unlocked carriage, locked in a trance conjured by the youth-spirit. Likya has not noticed my undead friend and I yet, so I have no choice but to follow the ghostly beauty, drawn by its spell. I wonder idily where Likya actually is. He is not in the clearing. Maybe he has dumped me in the middle of the forest because I am too troublesome. No matter. I can survive by myself. I am not one of those city girls who play with perfume and make up all day, and who probably couldn't tie their own shoe laces. Not that any of this will matter if I can't get away from the youth-spirit.
My thoughts scatter as the youth-spirit lays an icy hand on my arm. I realise that we have entered the forest, and the youth-spirit is pointing at the entrance of an underground cave. This is when I struggle against the incantation holding me in place. The hole the female is guesturing is probably its lair, where the spirit will almost certainly kill me.
Please, Likya, please, I beg silently. Don't let me get killed by this... this... thing! My struggles turn into wasted energy instantly as the wight drags me toward my death.
"Likya!" I finally manage to scream out loud. I hope it was loud enough. My outburst seems to infuriate my captor, and the pull toward the cave grows stronger. I begin to slump as my energy fades. I am almost collapsing with exhaustion, but I manage to hear Likya crash through the trees and the spirit hiss before I sink into unconsciousness once more.
We are on the road when I wake again. Likya notices and smiles warmly at me. I smile back.
"Where are we going?" I ask.
"The city," he says. I stare out the window so Likya dosen't see the amazement on my face. I've never been to the city before. I look back at Likya. He has a strange look on his face. Maybe he knows something I don't.
In my mind I relive all the stories I've been told about the city. I've only ever been told good things about the city, about the palace and the royal family.
The royal family consists of King Jihd and Queen Kaliene, Princess Tia and Prince Rofar. There is not much news of the king and queen where my past lies, and most of it is common knowledge.
"How much longer till we arrive?" I inquire.
"Not long," he replies. "You can probably see it now."
I peer out the window and, just like Likya said, can see the outline of the city.
Soon we pull up outside an elegant, two-storey, sandstone building. I fall in love with it instantly.
"Do you like it?" Likya asks. I nod my head vigourosly.
"Come on," he says, taking my hand. "I'll show you your room."
I follow him eagerly as he leads me up a flight of stairs and down a breezy corridor. Likya opens a pair of large double doors into the prettiest apartment I have ever seen.
"I knew you'd like it, Mallory," he says.
"Thank you, Likya, thank you," I say, throwing my arms around him. He laughs and wraps his arms tightly around me. We release one another, and I smile.
"I'll leave you alon for a while," Likya tells me. "The wardrobe over there is stocked with clothes for you. Dinner is at six."
"Should I dress up?" I ask.
He laughs. "Yes. We will have some special guests tonight."
Likya leaves the room. I walk to the large wardrobe and fling the doors open. It is filled with dresses and skirts more luxurious than I have ever seen. I stroke a blue silk dress as I marvel at Likya's wealth. And his generosity. I must remember to thank him again.
It is quarter to six. I am almost ready. I have chosen a light green, silk dress, with three-quarter sleeves and long skirt. The back dips half way down my back. There are white diamondettes sewed onto the bodice. I apply the last of my lip colour and walk down the stairs.
Likya is at the bottom, wearing a black tuxedo with a red shirt underneath. His head spins around as he hears me coming down the stairs. I smile at him.
"You look beautiful," he says when I reach his side.
"You're not that bad yourself," I tell him. We are distracted by the toll of the doorbell. Likya walks quickly to answer it, and I wait nervously at the base of the stairs. I hear Likya talk to the visitors, and the click of their shoes on the tiles as they walk toward me. My hands fiddle behind my back.
"And through here... this is Mallory," Likya says. I smile warmly. There are two ladies and a man. One of the ladies walks gracefully up to me, and as she draws closer, I recognise her. I curtsey deeply, whispering, "Your Majesty."
"Please," Queen Kaliene says. "Stand up, and call me Kaliene."
"Kaliene," I say, smiling a little. She grins too.
"She's not half-bad, Likya," Kaliene calls behind her. "Mallory, did you say? Pretty name."
We walk into the dining hall, Princess Tia and King Jihd introducing themselves. I curtsey deeply again, ignoring their protests. I slip into a seat beside Likya, Kaliene sitting beside me. The night passes quickly, filled with talk and laughter and a lot of wine. What seems like five minutes later, Likya and I are seeing our guests out the door. We walk back into a silk covered parlour, and I slump into a free chair, exhausted.
"I never thought entertaining people was so tiring," I say as Likya sits beside me.
He laughs. "You get used to it," he tells me. My eyes slip closed, and my head leans on Likya's shoulder. The last thing I remember is Likya moving my head to his lap and his hand stroking my hair.
I stare at unfarmiliar walls for a few minutes before yesterday trickles into my mind. I climb out of the large bed I don't remember getting into. I quickly change myself into comfortable clothes, not knowing what the day ahead held. I take the stairs two at a time, filled with a feeling I couldn't name. Likya was already eating breakfast in a small dining room that branched off the dining hall we had used last night.
"Morning," I say brightly, helping myself to the eggs and toast on the table.
"Morning, he replies. "We are going to the palace today."
"Why?" I ask, surprised.
"Jihd has summoned us."
"Oh. Am I allowed to know why?"
"I would tell you if I could, but I do not know myself."
I stare into my breakfast of eggs and toast, feeling suddenly awkward.
Both our heads whip up at the sound of carriage wheels on the cobblestones outside.
"Time to go," Likya says, pushing his chair away from the table.
I follow him out the door, my mind puzzling over why Jihd has summoned us.