Aira, brownie servant girl, rallies against the evil kraken's attempts to break her spirit
|Aira crouched in the corner near the door of her cell. She planned to dart behind the door when it was opened and hide. With any luck she might be able to slip out unnoticed. Krysila slipped into the cell with the speed of a squid lunging at its prey. Aira had no time to move to enact her plan. The shock left her no less dauntless. The kraken had used magic to take on the form of the brownie lady Betaine Clarick. Aira loathed her as a detestable mockery. The memory how how Krysila had used this form to trick the brownies into falling into her clutches made Aira feel sick.
Aira met her gaze steadfastly. ‘What are you here for? I’ll never side with you.’
‘You don’t need to. I already have King Mazgrim’s support.’
‘Your dupe?’ Aira asked crisply. ‘He’s not of royal blood, only married into the brownie royal family. Boroden is the true king of Velmoran and I’ll serve no other. None of the other brownies will either, for our kind swore an oath to listen only to the true descendants of Peladach and Lady Frenudin.’
Krysila considered Aira’s words. Though Aira had not realised it, she had saved Boroden’s life. Krysila now felt reluctant to kill him as she would have preferred to. Mazgrim had also begged her to stay her hand saying that the brownie clan would be outraged by his son’s death.
‘But Boroden is unfit to rule. His health shall soon be broken. You brownies must obey Mazgrim as regent in Boroden’s stead. Besides, I’m sure father and son will soon come to agree.’ Krysila gave a sickening smile. Coming around behind Aira, Krysila grabbed her arms, though she remained stiff and resisting. Aira saw that Vortimus and several of Leanan’s knights waited to accompany them.
‘Where are you taking me?’ Aira demanded, struggling against Krysila’s superior strength as she herded her forward.
‘I said I’d break your mind and I mean to begin.’ Krysila’s chilling response made Aira shiver.
Krysila threw her into an utterly black cell in the loneliest corner. Behind her she heard the door locked. ‘Don’t let her out until tomorrow at the soonest,’ Krysila commanded.
Aira’s surprise turned to relief that this was all they could throw at her. She stepped forward and shrieked in horror. She was about to fall. The dreadful moment when she hovered on the precipice with nothing to stop her plunging down span through her mind.
The plunge over the brink came both lightning fast and sickeningly slow. She saw dark, unfriendly thorns and rocks rushing closer but ever a long way off. The fall went on forever. Her body thrummed with pain and her head span feverishly. Almost about to hit the rock, something kicked inside her, and she stepped back.
She found herself again in the cell. Before her the darkness rippled. Circles of lurid colours rolled across it relentlessly, closing in and pressing her back against the door. She squealed, thrusting out her hands and trying to stop herself getting crushed, but she found only nothingness.
Something groped at her hand in the darkness. Fingers. Clammy, dead fingers. It was her mother, her face white with agony. Helplessness filled Aira. She wanted to save Freya, to take away her pain, but she could do nothing. She could not bear knowing that Freya’s untimely death in childbirth had cursed her to be a banshee.
Serena opened the door to find Aira crouched on the floor sobbing. She shook so much that eating and drinking was difficult. She gulped mouthfuls of foyson, the essence of food that faeries survive upon, without tasting a morsel. Sleep claimed her, heavy and dreamless. All too soon Serena roughly jolted her awake.
‘I want to see Krysila,’ Aira said. Though she imagined it would be fruitless, Aira wanted to demand to be imprisoned alongside Boroden and her kin, even if it cost her her life.
‘Krysila has returned to Velmoran, leaving Lady Leanan in charge,’ Serena said.
‘Then I will speak to her.’
‘She lies sick. It will have to wait until tomorrow,’ Serena said, ushering her back to her cell.
Aira thought she could pull together the courage to face the ordeal in the cell, no matter how many times. Yet as they reached the door, terror petrified her. Serena threw her vindictively inside.
This time she saw her captured friends tortured whilst she hovered over them, unable to help. She screamed until her throat felt raw and beat the door for mercy, tears blinding her.
There remained a steady core to her untouched by the nightmares Krysila conjured before her. The illusions made her recall that Krysila had said that, whilst she would break the others physically, she would shatter Aira’s mind. She wanted her mad and once that had been accomplished the torture might stop. If it ended she might at least be free of the cell and have a chance to help her clan. Leanan had a softer heart than her mother.
With this hopeful plan, Aira endured the horrors. She had appeared too sane, too defiant, the last time she had been let out. This time must be different.
When the door opened she was met not by Serena but by Leanan Sídhe.
Leanan laid a hand lightly on Aira’s arm saying, ‘join with us sister.’
The effect of Leanan’s appearance came like a cold trickle of revelation to Aira. Yes, there was a tug of kinship there, but not the noble, loving sisterhood that she had with the kindly Light Elves Amulas and Glimfyndor. Rather, Leanan’s bond was a heavy blanket of evil and sickness that she wanted to throw off but could not. Though her body shook and her brain burned, there was a sweetness in it. Vivid visions clouded Aira’s mind and she knew she had fallen under the influence of Leanan, the Dark Muse who imparted imagination to all she touched. Aira wanted to lose herself in her dreams. They were perhaps the only way she would ever see her clan again. Certainly, her imaginings were happier than ever their future could be.
Concern etched Leanan’s face as Aira threw herself at her waist, sobbing. When Leanan drew her back to wipe away her tears, Aira pawed the air feebly. A fixed look held her eyes, but she smiled. Klaufi had once called her a little doll and she could easily be childlike. She began to rave for her doll and to describe the pretty clothes she would make for it, heedless of all else.
Leanan furrowed her brow in genuine distress. ‘Oh, you poor thing. Your mind was once so much brighter and better than mine.’
‘You choose it to be that way,’ Aira could not resist saying.
‘I suppose I always knew something must destroy you. Brownies are mortal after all. I forget that. My family and I sold ourselves to the devil in return for eternal life, making the bargain that we will torture souls after judgment.’
‘But it’s not heaven. You’ll not know true happiness,’ Aira said.
‘Perhaps, but one may get used to hellfire after a while and torturing others is not without pleasure for me. I find ample occupation in wringing the hearts of my knights. Why not join me? The way to heaven is narrow and fraught with stones, this other is easy.’
‘You brownies delight in choosing a difficult path.’
‘If that is so then you will enjoy spending more time in the cell.’ Serena moved to place Aira back for further torture.
Aira fixed Leanan with a pleading look. ‘Please don’t put me back. Let me stay with you?’
Never doubting that her mother’s torture had succeeded in breaking Aira’s mind, Leanan led Aira away. Leanan ordered for a room to be furnished simply yet prettily, as she thought should please Aira, with furniture in brownie size. Leanan told her handmaidens that she wanted to keep Aira as her pet brownie and they made a fuss of her. Aira smiled as they agreed that her services as a seamstress and lady’s maid would be welcome. Already she was planning on escaping and finding her clan.