8 – Double
“Welcome back,” the queen said with a hopeful expression on her face. “What have you accomplished during your time away?”
“Much,” DA answered. I briefly joined Prince Gemini and his zombie friend Phan during the beginning of their escape from the castle of the shadow-shapes.”
“What?” Queen Hearthina stated, surprised by DA’s response.
“I repeat, I briefly joined Prince Gemini and his zombie friend Phan during the beginning of their escape from the castle of the shadow-shapes.”
“I heard you the first time. I just don’t understand what you could gain for my kingdom by doing this. Or did circumstances occur which left you with no choice but to cooperate with them?”
“I chose to help them out of my own free will,” DA explained.
“Will you elaborate on that?” Hearthina was still confused.
“Perhaps later.” DA turned and exited Queen Hearthina’s throne room before the fairy queen could object. It did not matter to her if the queen became upset with her. DA gave the queen no more respect than she deserved. Hearthina knew that very well. Yet as long as DA’s service continued to benefit her kingdom this was not an issue with her.
DA slipped like a ghost through the halls, careful to avoid any castle servants or guards. The residents and visitors of the fairy castle were not opposed to her in any way. The single reason for her secretive walk through the halls was merely because she did not wish for anyone to know of her intentions. This was not like the peaceful times of the past. She had a job to do and she would to anything to complete it. She stepped out of the castle as if she was going to a leisurely stroll before darting off behind the gardens to the castle stables. DA never asked any of the stable hands for assistance in caring for her unicorn. Today was no different. She quickly found her unicorn in her stall -right next to the door, exactly as they both preferred.
“Come on, Crystal!” DA said as she bridled her unicorn. “We had better be heading back to the Shadow Realm.” Riding bareback (saddling took too long of a time) she galloped out of the stable headed towards the gates. Instead of galloping out of the gates as usual, DA found herself pulling Crystal to a halt before she had the chance to exit. There was no way she could leave with Tchalick blocking the gate.
Tchalick was Queen Hearthina’s fairy assistant, her right hand advisor. He had an odd habit of being unsure and quick to change his mind. He also possessed a somewhat annoying obsession of keeping himself clean, tidy, and in order. Tchalick was suspicious of DA. DA did not trust Tchalick.
“Are you going anywhere?” Tchalick asked although it was most likely he knew the answer to the question himself. He brushed a crumpled leaf out of his hair and combed through it with his fingers, reminding DA of a parrot preening its feathers.
“I am leaving,” DA answered and rode Crystal forward.
“Wait! Stop!” Tchalick jumped to the side although he already knew that DA wouldn’t harm him.
“Have a nice day, Tchalick.” DA trotted out of the gate and broke into a gallop.
“You are acting suspicious,” Tchalick warned. “I cannot see why my queen is in need of your service.” Shaking his head Tchalick turned back to the castle.
Later that night, Queen Hearthina invited Tchalick up to her room for some tea.
“Tchalick, I appreciate your concerns very much.” Queen Hearthina set her tea spoon down on the saucer underneath her teacup. She paused for a brief moment to take another sip of her tea. “I, too, have suspicions of her.”
“My duty is to serve you and your kingdom, my queen.”
“Thank you. Your unquestioned loyalty to me is the reason I have called you here to share my tea with you. I believe there is a reason for DA’s disappearances. I am not going to assume she is a traitor or is keeping something from us. DA is not from my kingdom and still has connections to her previous home. Other mysterious happenings are occurring besides DA.” Hearthina took another sip of tea.
“Mysterious happenings? What are you planning to do about this? Is it serious?” Tchalick could not wait for Queen Hearthina to finish her tea.
“Communications between us and the neighboring kingdoms are practically dead. We have no hint as to what is going on with out neighbors. I believe something is happening between our neighbors. Something DA is aware of but will not speak to anyone about.”
“Are you saying that she has somehow became involved in this and can no longer be trusted?” Tchalick hoped that if this was true DA would leave the castle. “I hope that we find the end to this mystery.”
“Something is wrong, Tchalick, and I need you to help figure out what it is. Border patrols are giving me reports about strange noises and mysterious kidnappings. Spontaneous fires are also breaking out in some villages close to the borders. Please, I want to know what is happening! I have a feeling this may be a danger to our kingdom -my castle!”
Tchalick was as frightened as a mouse cornered by a cat. “Which borders, your majesty?”
Queen Hearthina took out a map of the fairy kingdom from a drawer in the table. “Pour me another cup of tea, please,” she instructed. Tchalick took the pot and poured the queen another cup. Queen Hearthina held up the map for Tchalick to see. Tchalick took the map and began studying it.
While Tchalick studied the map Queen Hearthina opened the drawer again. This time she took out a pen and ink bottle. Tchalick watched intently as she dipped the pen in the ink and handed her back the map. Hearthina drew a series of crosses along the borders. “These crosses represent places where kidnappings of fairies took place,” she explained. “They are taking place along the borders nearest to the lands of the shadow-shapes.” Tchalick’s eyes widened. “Spontaneous fires are happening along that same area although they are not as common as the kidnappings. The shadow-shapes are mysterious and do not show themselves often. What we have heard about them is that they are sinister and threatening. There is a chance that they may be plotting to attack my kingdom. Nobody can be sure of their capabilities or true intentions. I used to think differently about them until they killed my daughter a few years ago. I still do not understand to this day why they did such a horrible deed.”
“Tchalick remembered the tragedy which had taken place after the princess was killed. What is to our south?” Are they allies or friends?”
“The Shadow Realm lies to the south. I am not sure if they are friends or allies, but I do not trust them one bit. They are evil, a realm inhabited by horrifying creatures and dark, dangerous magic. I do not plan to communicate with them or to become caught up in whatever treacherous plans they are concocting. That realm contains magic too powerful for a mortal being to possess. Associating with them in any way is an invitation for destruction. And -there is another reason. It is quite possible that the Shadow Realm is DA’s home.”
“What? Your majesty, is it wise to keep her here in the castle knowing this? Who knows what she could be passing on and to whom?”
“I appreciate your concern,” Hearthina answered. “But as much as I am suspicious of DA, my kingdom needs her. She possessed as great deal of knowledge of the lands beyond our own. Her decision making skills have proved successful many times. We cannot afford to lose her. Plus, she works without a single complaint. If she did have any intention of betraying us, she would have completed that task already.”
“I suppose that is true. Forgive me, my queen.”
“I have NO plans whatsoever to sit back and watch what happens. Tchalick, I want you to find out any information you can. Talk to DA. Try to get some information out of her. It won’t be easy but it must be done. You are dismissed. Thank you for your time.”
“Thank you for the tea,” Tchalick answered. “I will obey every word of your orders.”
“That is all I needed to hear,” DA thought from the hallway outside of the queen’s room. Quickly she slid across the hallway and ducked into a nearby room. There she waited until Tchalick exited Queen Hearthina’s room and was passed the room in which DA was hiding. Quietly DA stepped out of the room and into the hallway. She would never dream of giving Tchalick any sort of useful information, yet she had to give herself a trustworthy image. When this was done and if she played her part well she could end up with what she wanted and more. Once DA was in a hallway closer to the front of the castle and further away from Hearthina’s room she could walk the halls in a normal fashion. She smiled and wandered back to her room to rest until Tchalick came to visit. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Tchalick knocked on her door. DA set her book down on her table and opened the door.
“Hello, Miss DA,” Tchalick greeted. “I apologize if I have disturbed you.”
“Not at all,” DA answered. “Come inside.” Tchalick entered and DA closed the door behind him.
“I would like to ask you a few questions. Queen Hearthina is worried that something is wrong. Kidnappings and fires near the borders are occurring and we need your help to cease this as soon as possible.”
“I have heard. What sort of information do you need? Please, sit down.”
Tchalick sat down on a couch. “What do you know of the shadow-shapes?”
“The shadow-shapes? The shadow-shapes live in a land of burning fire. They are mysterious and often keep to themselves. They may be a threat, but nothing can be confirmed quite yet. I see no reason for them to attack us.” DA seated herself on the sofa to the right of Tchalick.
“Thank you very much, DA.” Tchalick was pleased with her response. He decided it was time to take the situation up a notch. “What do you know of the Shadow Realm?”
“The Shadow Realm?” DA was not surprised by Tchalick’s question. It was actually quite the opposite. “The attacks are clearly coming from the shadow-shapes,” DA pointed out. “But I suppose it is only natural to consider the position of the Shadow Realm as well. The Shadow Realm is a realm rich in both material wealth such as gold, silver, jewels, and gems and wealth in the form of magic and sorcery. The realm is very powerful and is famous for its unique immortality spell, the envy of many kingdoms.”
“Do you believe they are our allies or our enemies?”
“Communication between us and the Shadow Realm is dead.”
“Do you believe they may be assisting the shadow-shapes in any way?” Tchalick wanted desperately to take back what he had said. Unfortunately for him it was too late. He had let slip the fact that he was interested more in the Shadow Realm than the shadow-shapes. If he did not change the subject soon DA would start to realize his suspicions. He had to do this before giving DA a chance to answer. “Do you think the shadow-shapes are plotting to destroy us?” He hoped the question would draw DA’s attention away from the previous subject.
“The shadow-shapes may not be completely innocent. Other than that, I have no more information to give you. I am terribly sorry.” DA had given Tchalick enough for one night. The information would pass by Hearthina’s standards but it would not give away anything of great value nor cause her any inconvenience.
“Thank you,” Tchalick said. “And good night.”
“Good night to you, too,” DA answered and escorted Tchalick out the door. After Tchalick was gone DA gathered up her belongings, which she had packed in her saddlebags earlier in the day. It was nightfall and she needed to make her escape. Giving Tchalick that bit of information was vital to her plan. If she had left before speaking to him suspicions would be increased. However, after Tchalick received this information, Queen Hearthina would probably be content. Everyone would be too occupied to fret over her disappearance.
DA entered the stables with her loaded saddlebags. The stable master and stable hands were all asleep either in their quarters or upstairs in the loft. Quietly she collected her tack from the tack room and carried everything over to Crystal’s stall. “I’m back, Crystal,” DA whispered as she buckled the bridle over Crystal’s head. Crystal was not startled. Late night rides were not unusual. DA buckled the saddle as fast as she could and tied her saddlebags on behind. She led Crystal out of the stable and jumped into the saddle, Neither glanced back as they disappeared into the night. They had to gallop fast, but they would not cross the shallow-waters until daybreak. A trip across the shallow-waters during nightfall was a journey not even a fool would dare to attempt.
Crystal galloped as fast as she could until she stopped at the edge of the shallow-waters. DA dismounted and led her underneath a tree near a pile of large, flat rocks. There she unsaddled Crystal and let her rest beneath the tree or wherever she pleased. As Crystal sniffed around the shore DA rummaged around in her saddlebags and started to sort out the food she had packed. It wasn’t much of a selection. She had packed mostly breads and biscuits. When she reached her destination she would have a larger array of food to choose from.
The shallow-waters were a shallow sea serving as a border between Queen Hearthina’s kingdom, the Dawn Kingdom, and the Shadow Realm. The sea was narrow and could be crossed by unicorn in about a day. Waves were small and did minimal damage to shores on both sides. The sides to the left and right of the shallow-waters on both sides were backed by piles of enormous, jagged rocks. If you wanted to cross the border between the Dawn Kingdom and the Shadow Realm the only crossing was across the shallow-waters. The water was almost crystal clear, making the sand below extremely visible. During the day the shallow-waters were beautiful and enchanting. At night, the shallow-waters’ waves crashed upon the shores and the shores changed from a beauty to a haunting and eerie setting. Ghosts and spirits wailed and moaned. Creatures lurked in the waters, ready at any moment to rear up out of the waves and drag anyone crossing the shallow-waters under. It was almost impossible to cross the shallow-waters at night and survive.
DA had only finished munching on her piece of bread and started to settle down between the rocks for night when the sky dimmed to dark, shadowy shades of purple, black, and gray. Moonlight illuminated the shallow-waters and the waves began to rise. Crystal, who was previously drinking from the waters, whinnied and bolted back to her owner. They ducked behind a rock to shield themselves from whatever dangers were waiting in the waters. The moaning and wailing songs rose from the waters. Crystal pawed at the ground, pleading with DA to leave this place. DA could not blame her. Unicorns knew to stay away from the shallow-waters at night and most tried to run away. However, having a unicorn in your company meant protection from the monsters in the waters. They were equally afraid of unicorns as the unicorns were of them. As long as DA and Crystal were together they were safe from harm. They would survive through the night, as they were surviving through the hard times.
“Your majesty!” Tchalick tore through the castle halls searching desperately for Queen Hearthina. “Where are you, your majesty?! The kingdom is under attack!” After searching the throne room and surrounding halls he raced up to Queen Hearthina’s tower and rooms. Normally he wouldn’t dare to intrude on the queen during her sleep, but tonight was an emergency.
Queen Hearthina’s door was open and she was awake inside her room pacing. When she saw Tchalick running to her room she was overjoyed. “Tchalick!” she exclaimed. “Thank goodness you are here! I knew something horrible was going to happen and it has! The castle is burning! We have to escape!”
“Can we not extinguish the fire? If we leave now we will lose everything in the castle!” Tchalick could not stand the very thought of the Dawn Kingdom castle burned to a heap of ash.
“The castle is not made of stone.” Hearthina reminded Tchalick. “It is not capable of holding off the fire for long. However, I suppose all we can do is to try.”
“I shall alert the servants,” Tchalick said and exited the room with Queen Hearthina. Tchalick raced back down the stairs with the queen walking gracefully behind.
“Everyone!” Tchalick called out as he reached the main halls of the castle. “The castle is burning! Extinguish it immediately!”
“We’re not fools,” answered a castle servant who was busy carrying two buckets of water. “Grab a bucket yourself instead of galloping around the castle like a spooked unicorn.” The servant shoved one of her buckets at Tchalick. Tchalick, who himself agreed with her response, accepted the bucket and tossed it on a nearly flame. Amidst all of the frantic panic Tchalick thought back to the conversation he had earlier between DA and himself. “Where are you, DA?” he whispered. “This would never have happened if you were available.”
DA sat crouched behind the pile of rocks with Crystal watching the burning castle in the distance. “This would never have happened if it wasn’t for me,” she said with a small smile. Behind DA, the mermaids and sirens sang. The crashing waves were illuminated by the glowing moonlight. A chilling wind arose, stinging the skin like ice crystals.