Authors: Lola Kidd
Tavis nodded. “We know you’re not. We’re going to take you into the castle with us. She won’t follow you there. We’ll see if we can help you.”
The woman burst into tears. “Oh thank you! I don’t know where I am and I’m so scared.”
Tavis put his arm around the woman’s shoulder and walked with her. “It’s alright. You’re safe now.”
Troy followed his brother in the sand. He didn’t know who this Margaret was but that woman with the black hair was Lena’s sister. It seemed that Lena was going to have a lot of explaining to do when they got back.
“Say what you will about her fashion choices, but Catherine has a wonderful collection of dresses.” Lena spun in her borrowed dress.
Her best friend and handmaiden Ellia fingered the fabric of her own dress. “I think this may be silk. It’s so soft and smooth. I wonder if they even have silkworms here.”
Here. Lena wished she knew where “here” was, exactly. She had only recently accepted that they were no longer in England, or on Earth for that matter. She had called a meeting with her people for the next afternoon. They were currently being housed by one of the local dragon tribes and Lena was feeling very unsure about their position.
“They must have something similar if not the same thing,” Lena said. “This place seems very much like our own world.”
“Like our world but not our home.” Ellia looked outside. “This endless sun is going to get old very quickly. I can’t even begin to explain how they keep track of time. Is one day the entire time the sun is up? How do they know when to go to sleep?”
“Cate said her parents died about two thousand days ago. I assumed that was five years ago. If they count the full sun-up time as a day, it would actually be sixteen years since their parents died. That couldn’t possibly be right. Cate couldn’t be more than twenty years old.”
Ellia did the math silently. “You’re right. But what if it was sixteen years as we count time? Maybe these dragons are older than we think. There are some odd shifters on Earth too. The water shifters live much longer than the forest shifters.”
“That’s right! I always forget about the water creatures, but they do live abnormally long for how human they are.”
Ellia frowned. “Is a dragon a land creature or sea?”
“Oh, Christ! I haven’t the slightest idea. Let’s not confuse ourselves any more than we need to. It doesn’t matter how long they live. These dragons are nice and they’re lodging us until we can get home. That’s all that matters.”
“Do you think we’ll get home?”
Lena stood up straighter. “I hope so. I believe that once we have our full power, we’ll be able to figure something out.”
Ellia sighed. “It would help if we could talk with a ghost. They’re far better at navigating the portals than any fae in our tribe.”
There was a pounding knock at the door. Ellia took a step to answer it but it swung open before she got close. A half-naked and very angry Troy strode in. “Could you ladies please join me in my study?”
He didn’t wait for a reply but turned and marched down the hallway. Lena and Ellia exchanged glances. They hadn’t seen Troy angry before. Suspicious, incredulous, and annoyed, but never angry. He hadn’t even been that upset when Queen Hera from the Eternal Sun tribe had almost burned him and his sister to a crisp. Whatever had happened had to be major to unsettle the controlled prince.
The women followed Troy back to his study not saying a word. Lena was afraid she was going to have to move up her meeting with the remaining Lost Tribe. They would meet immediately following lights-out for the castle grounds. It would still be light out but the majority of the castle would be asleep.
The muscles in Troy’s back were knotted with tension and he hadn’t even bothered to put on a shirt. Lena took in his wide, naked shoulders and supposed he must have just shifted. He must have seen something that displeased him and she would bet all her worldly possessions that her sister was the cause of this anger. She hadn’t seen her older sister since Sophia had tried to kill her on the beach, but she was just a few miles away, behind a magical wall. While the rest of the Lost Tribe was without magic, Sophia was unaffected by their new surroundings.
Troy stopped outside a door and spun to glare at Lena. “You said you only had one sister.”
Lena was taken aback. “I only have one sister that I know of. It’s very possible that I have more siblings. My father is a prolific man with a sordid past. What does it matter to you?”
“Your family has once again managed to destroy part of my kingdom. I don’t know what kind of family feud you’re engaged in, but I would appreciate it if you would take it elsewhere.”
Lena looked to Ellia. Her handmaiden shrugged. “I don’t know what he’s talking about. He thinks there’s some kind of family feud going on.”
Lena nodded. “I just wanted to confirm that I was hearing him correctly. Prince Troy, I have no idea what you’re talking about. My people and I are not here engaged in any kind of feud. I don’t know what my sister has done, but I have no part in it. We aren’t looking to destroy anything and are very grateful for everything you have done for us.”
“Really?” Troy threw his hands up. “When I found you, your sister was trying to kill you and was fighting with you in public. Now, I meet another of your sisters and shockingly she too is in a battle with your sister Sophia. To me, this looks very much like a family feud. One that you have brought to my castle and my people.”
Lena put up her hand. “You aren’t making any sense at all. My only sister here is Sophia. I don’t know what you saw or who you spoke with, but they’re a liar.”
Troy threw open the door with a sneer. “So this girl doesn’t look familiar to you? She’s a liar, you say?”
Lena peered around the door frame. The study was filled with maps and books. In the center of the room, there was a desk and a couch. Tavis, Troy’s twin brother, was sitting on the desk. A slim blonde figure was doubled over on itself on the couch.
“Margaret,” Troy called.
The woman looked up with red-rimmed eyes and sniffed. “Is this her?”
Lena’s heart pounded in her chest. Even though they were bloodshot from crying, the woman had achingly familiar eyes. They were a clear blue and her face was slim with cheekbones much like Sophia’s. She was more beautiful than Lena, but she still didn’t hold a candle to Sophia or even their father, for that matter.
“Ellia.” Lena motioned for her friend to come forward.
She gasped, looking into the room and turned to Lena dumbstruck. “What in the world?”
The two women went to the couch to get a closer look.
“My name is Margaret.” The woman extended her hand. “You must be Lena and Ellia.”
Lena shook the woman’s hand. She was dressed very strangely. She wore a long, muted pink dress that sparkled in the light. Her blonde hair was cut above her shoulders and was curled. A silver band circled her head and there was a white feather tucked into the band just behind her ear.
“Who are you?” Lena asked, holding her breath.
“I’m your sister, if what Sophia says is true.” She sat back onto the couch. “I have no idea where I am, but Sophia brought me here.”
“Why would Sophia bring you here?” Ellia asked. “And how do we know you’re not lying? I’ve never seen or heard of a Margaret of the Northlands Fae.”
The woman shook her head. “That’s what you call yourselves, right? Northlands Fae? We call you the Lost Tribe now, and I’m not part of the Tribe.”
“You’re saying you’ve never heard of this woman before?” Troy was standing in the doorway with his arms crossed.
Lena shook her head. “Ellia’s right. There isn’t even a Margaret in our tribe. I’ve never seen her before, nor has my father ever spoken to me about a daughter named Margaret.”
Margaret laughed. “Well, of course not. I’m a few hundred years younger than you. If I am your sister, I mean. Sophia seemed very sure we were related, but as far as I know, I’m one hundred percent shifter.”
“You’re a shifter?” Ellia couldn’t hide her disgust, even though they were in a room with three shifters. “Impossible! Prescott doesn’t have any mongrel children.”
Margaret looked at Ellia hard. “I’m not saying he has any now. I’m only telling you what Sophia claims. She tried to kill me because I refused to help her. I don’t know if I believe her, but she’s pretty sure we’re related.”
“Why would Sophia hurt you?” Lena asked. There was pressure building behind her eyes. She was going to have a massive headache soon. None of this was making any sense to her. The Council must have made a mistake and sent this girl into exile with the Northlands Fae.
Margaret teared up. “She wanted me to help her open a portal back to Earth, but I couldn’t. I don’t even have magic! Whatever she was trying to do, it was pulling the life right out of me. I ran and managed to force myself through her wall into the forest. She followed me and that’s when Troy and Tavis saved me.”
“Good God! She’s trying to open a portal home!” Ellia’s eyes were round. “She must have all of her powers if she could do that.”
Margaret nodded. “She had almost all of her powers, but it’s not enough. She needs more to get over. It wasn’t just a fae’s magic that banished you all and it’ll take more than a fae to get you home. God forbid.”
“You say you’re younger than me?” Lena was processing the information slowly. It was getting harder to think. She rubbed her temple.
“Of course I am! I was born in 1906.”
Ellia grabbed Lena’s arm. “Impossible! This woman is a liar, Princess! I don’t know where she’s come from, but she isn’t part of our tribe, nor is she a sibling to you.”
Lena put her hand over Ellia’s hand. “Let’s not be hasty, Ellia. Where are you from, Margaret?”
“I’m from New York City. I don’t know how Sophia did it, but she pulled me through a portal when I was on my way to catch a cab home.”
Lena nodded and licked her lips. “What can you tell me about the Northlands Fae?”
She shook her head. “We don’t call you that anymore. You’re the Lost Tribe. I don’t know much. The Tribe was banished in the late seventh century for crimes against supernatural kind.”
“And what was the date when Sophia took you?”
“October 12, 1924.”
Lena nodded curtly. “Okay.”
“You can’t possibly believe a word she’s saying!” Ellia looked at Tavis. “You must know she’s a liar. This woman is insane. The date was July 1693 when we left. We’ve only been gone a few days. She’s crazy!”
“Hey! I may be a lot of things, but I’m not crazy, lady.” Margaret looked Ellia up and down. “You have a lot of nerve to talk about anyone else when you’re part of the Lost Tribe. You guys are scum, and you got exactly what was coming to you. I don’t want to be associated with you any more than you want me to be a part of your pure little tribe.”
“So is she a liar?” Troy asked. He leaned on the desk with Tavis. He had calmed down while Margaret was talking. His eyes weren’t bright with rage any longer.
Lena shook her head. “I don’t know. I know that I’ve never seen her in my life and my father never mentioned any shifter children to me. This girl could be lying, but I have no way of knowing. I am, however, inclined to believe that Sophia would do anything to get home. There is a good chance that this girl could be related to me. I would need to talk to my sister to be sure.”
Troy nodded. “I can accept that…for now. We’ll have dinner shortly. Margaret won’t be joining us, but I expect I’ll see you both in the hall.”
Lena nodded. “Thank you. We’ll see you very soon.”
She pulled Ellia to follow her out of the study and shot her a look to keep quiet. Ellia’s mouth was in an angry line until they had walked out of earshot of the room.
Ellia yanked her arm out of Lena’s grasp and stopped. “How can you believe that wench? How can you even entertain her lies?”
“She might not be lying.” Lena said calmly. “Sophia may have lied to her, but I believe that girl is relaying what she knows to be true.”
“You are far too trusting, Lena.”
“I don’t think so. I know what she said was shocking, but it could be true. We don’t know how time works here.”
Ellia shook her head. “No. I don’t believe her. I can’t.”
“We’ll discuss it later,” Lena said firmly. “We need to be calm while Queen Hera is around. We don’t want to give her any information she could use against us.”
Ellia nodded. “If you insist.”
Lena nodded. She was dreading this dinner party. She was already very skeptical of the Queen from Eternal Sun. Now that her head was pounding, she just wanted to go back to her room and sleep. She would need to discuss this latest twist with Sir Allen. Lena had no idea if Margaret was lying or not, but it was going to cause major problems for her either way.
“Seems like they’re telling the truth,” Tavis said as he and Troy walked to the dining hall.
They had left Margaret in her own room with a guard posted outside. Troy didn’t want the “shifter” sneaking around the castle to gather information for Sophia.
“We can’t trust them,” Troy said sadly. “I liked them too, Tavis, but we can’t let our guard down with them anymore. You saw that Sophia woman. She looked nothing like the wraith we saw on the beach.”
Tavis shrugged. “So what? Maybe she was mistaken and that wasn’t Sophia at all.”
“I doubt it. They may be more like us than we think. Maybe they’re all shifters too. Maybe fae means a shifter who is also a wraith. Who else uses magic?”
“They aren’t from here, Troy. We can’t judge them using any measures that we know. You need to keep an open mind, brother.”
“You can keep the open mind and I will keep us safe,” Troy said. They were close to the dining hall. “We discuss none of this at dinner or in front of Hera.”
“You really do take me for an idiot.” Tavis pulled himself up straighter and matched Troy’s solider-like march. “I’m your exact double. Anything you can do, I can do better.”
It used to amuse Troy when they pretended to be each other. At the present moment, it just made him even more annoyed. “You can pretend to be me all you like. At the end of the day, you can shrug off the mask and go back to being carefree Tavis.”
Tavis rolled his eyes. “Not this again, Troy. We’ll need to go for another flight again. You were so relaxed before we ran into Margaret.”
“Yes.” Troy sighed. “It was nice to have a little break. We’ll go again later. But remember...”
“I won’t mention the little fox.” Tavis winked at Troy before they walked into the dining hall. Glasses were raised in their direction and people shouted greetings from all around the room. Troy smiled at everyone and said his hellos. He and Tavis were the last to arrive at the head table. Ellia and Lena must have come down as soon as they left the study. Sir Allen was seated between the women. Rustion, Hera’s most honored guard, was seated between Catherine and the queen. Troy let Tavis take the empty seat next to Hera and sat at the end of the table next to Zane. That was going to annoy Hera but he needed a buffer tonight.
“Nice of you to finally join us,” Zane said quietly. “I sent two more guards to our guest.”
Troy nodded. “That’s fine. How’s dinner been?”
“Tense. Catherine is going to kill us for making her sit with Rustion. How long are they going to be staying?”
“They should leave tomorrow morning.”
Lena was deep in conversation with Allen about one of their tribe’s men who wanted to apprentice with one of the farmers. Lena didn’t think it was a good idea. She was trying to keep her voice down but Troy could hear her adamant refusal. Her face was pinched and drawn as she spoke. That was fine by Troy. He would have told her no if she had brought the apprenticeship up with him. He didn’t want any of her people learning about his farming practices or how his security worked. He had already let them know too much.
“I saw that you had a little race with your brother.” Hera was leaning over Tavis. “I haven’t seen you fly in so long, Troy.”
“He doesn’t like to have his head in the clouds,” Tavis said with no trace of humor.
Hera smiled winningly. “You and I should go out sometime. I was just telling Catherine that she needs to bring you to Eternal Sun the next time she visits us.”
“Wouldn’t that be fun?” Catherine’s eyes flashed. She was smiling smugly. “I promised the Queen that if I go back, you will surely be with me.”
His sister was so smart. If she was going to have to suffer the Eternal Sun court’s company, there was no way she was doing it alone.
“Well, we couldn’t all be gone at the same time,” Tavis pointed out. “If you were gone, Catherine, we would need Troy to be here to hold down the castle.”
“That’s why we have you,” Catherine said. “When Troy is gone, you’re the prince in charge.”
Tavis frowned. “You have me there. I guess I’ll have to send you two away so I can be king for a day.”
“Prince,” Hera corrected. “Blackfire has no king.”
She always had to bring that up at every occasion possible. Troy knew very well the situation he was in without her reminding him every second. It was one of the more irritating qualities of the beautiful queen.
“I’d like to see Eternal Sun some time, if you don’t mind,” Lena added.
Hera looked at Lena as if she was surprised the outsider was speaking to her. She recovered quickly. “Of course, the more the merrier. I would love to host another princess, or whatever you are. Any guest of Troy’s is welcome in my court.”
He couldn’t tell if Lena was just making conversation or not. He hadn’t forbade her to leave the castle but he had assumed she would stay at Blackfire the entire time she was in Manna. Why else would he offer refuge to her people? Did she think that Hera would be as kind as he was?
Troy could barely enjoy the great platters of food that were passed around the room. The food was delicious as always, but he couldn’t stop thinking of Lena leaving Blackfire. She couldn’t go. She wouldn’t be safe if she got into Hera’s clutches. The queen wouldn’t let her go until she knew all her secrets. And Lena had to be hiding something. She and Ellia seemed to be forthcoming, but it didn’t make any sense to him still. If they really weren’t from Manna, then how did they get here? Why couldn’t they just go home? He knew they had to have another reason for staying.
He would have to make clear to the princess and her guard that they were not to leave Blackfire village or go beyond the wall without a guard. Margaret already knew that she was to stay with her guards at all times and welcomed the extra protection. Lena, Ellia, and Allen were going to have to get used to it too.
All though the meal, Hera wouldn’t leave Troy alone. It was wearing on his every nerve. He was grateful when the meal ended and he could retire to his room by himself. He gave a quick thank you speech to the table and left the dining hall alone. The hall was still full and the end of day celebration was going strong when he left. The people of the village loved any excuse to party and a visit from the queen was a perfect reason to get completely drunk and dance the night away.
The music from the courtyard drifted up to his room as he lay on his bed. He wasn’t sleepy yet but he was tired. He kept his window open and only drew his blinds. He didn’t need the heavy curtains to block out the sunlight and he liked seeing the purple moonlight dancing around the room. It was a beautiful night for a party. The people didn’t know that Hera had only come to snuff out the wall. The rumor of the magic wall would be around the village by morning and he would answer questions at breakfast. Not that he had any answers.
Hera wouldn’t be away for long if that wall was standing. She would be even more furious if she saw that the woman behind the wall was as beautiful, if not more so, than she was. She was a very vain queen. Troy shuddered to think what she would do if she ever had a pretty little daughter of her own.
“Troy?” His door opened without warning. Troy scrambled to pull the covers over himself since he was only wearing his night pants. Hera came into his room still wearing her dinner gown.
“Hera! I’m not dressed properly. You shouldn’t be in my room at this hour.”
Or at all
, he added angrily in his head. She had taken many liberties whenever she was in Blackfire but Hera had never come to his private chambers before.
“I know. I just wanted to get a chance to speak with you privately before I left in the morning, and you left dinner so quickly.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “I hope I haven’t surprised you too much.”
Many a man would fall for her pouting apology but Troy was not one of them. “We can speak in my study, Hera. Please wait for me there while I get decent.”
She nodded and demurely left the room. It was an act. She was going to be very angry that Troy had kicked her out of his room. He put on a clean pair of pants and a light shirt. Hera had lit a fire in his study while she waited. She was curled up on the couch Margaret had been on earlier. Troy sat across from her at his desk.
“What would you like to talk about?”
Hera smiled at him sweetly. “Why do you still resist my marriage pleas?”
Troy was stunned. She had never been so forward with her questions. She wasn’t going to make this easy for him to dance around and avoid tonight. “I don’t know what you mean.”
He kicked himself for his stupid answer but he could think of nothing else to say. He didn’t know what her angle was. She had never proposed marriage to him directly. It had always come from her advisors and messengers. He knew she was getting restless but this line of questioning was out of the clear blue sky. She hadn’t even been due for a visit to Blackfire for months.
“You know exactly what I mean, Troy. Neither of us is getting any younger. You’ve been of age for a very long time now and your castle has been without a rightful ruler.”
“I am the ruler of Blackfire.”
“But not by law you aren’t. Blackfire has no king. Without marriage, your castle will continue to flounder.”
Troy gritted his teeth. His castle was doing just fine. In fact, they were doing better than Eternal Sun. “I’ll worry about my own castle, but thank you for your concern, Hera.”
“Who else will you marry if not me?” An edge of anger had crept into her voice. “Without me, you’re going to have marry one of your own people. There will be no one for you at Eternal Sun besides me.”
She said it like it was an insult. Troy and his family had no problem marrying one of the villagers. It just happened that he had yet to find one who was right to be his bride. He could wait. Maybe in another fifty or sixty years, one would be born who was right for him.
“You know my advisors tell me that I should march on Blackfire,” Hera said causally. “I tell keep telling them no. You’re my ally. You would never do anything to harm me or my castle, and I won’t betray you. You are my ally, aren’t you, Troy?”
“Of course. Blackfire and Eternal Sun have been allies for generations. I have no plans to change that.”
“Why not strengthen our ties, then?” Hera sat up on the couch. “I can only wait so long, Troy. You know I care about you, but I have to do what’s right for me and my people. I hope you make the right decision soon.”
Hera rose and left tossing a forlorn look over her shoulder. It was a magnificent performance, but Troy knew what she had really been saying without uttering the word.
War. If he didn’t agree to marry her, and soon, she would march against his castle.