The first thing she felt upon waking, besides the dull throbbing behind her eyes, was surprise. Fennix didn’t think she would be waking up again. At least, not in any way that mattered. What did those that were already caught by Emmaline’s web think and feel? She had assumed she would know by now, but while she had no real idea, she doubted they were tired and achy on a stiff mattress.
The cell she was in was made of stone, with a single door made of wood and iron. Light came in from the only window, nothing more than an arrow slit above her. The stiff mattress, stuffed poorly with hay, was on the stone floor and barely warmer for it. She had not been given a blanket, and she guessed part of the reason for the all-over aches was shivering in her sleep. Wherever she was, it certainly wasn’t Wyerilte.
Using careful movements, every one hurting anyway, Fennix slowly stood up from the mattress. She had to stretch to peer out the bottom of the arrow slit, but saw enough. Solisilte spread out far below her, stony and gray in the morning sun. Only one of the towers in the castle could provide such a view. From where they were in Wyerilte to the heart of Solisilte should have taken a week, at least. Had she been asleep for so long? Or had the queen learned something new?
Unbidden and unwelcome, the memory of Imrie dying came to her. Still somehow beautiful, her curls around her face, her clothes hanging in the air around her. The look on her face, shock and fear, her eyes so wide they were near perfect circles, as she disappeared over the edge of the canyon. Fennix didn’t want to think of that, didn’t want to see it. She wanted to see Imrie in any other way, but that was the vision that stayed. It overwhelmed her, let her think of nothing else. It clutched at her heart and her stomach and squeezed. It took the strength she had from her legs, and she buckled back down to the mattress. Great braying sobs wracked her whole body, and echoed back at her from the walls, as though mocking her. Grief, greedy and strong, swallowed her whole. She had no idea how long it held her, only that as its icy fingers finally began peeling away from her spine the sunny spot on the floor had moved from one side of the cell to the other.
Feeling cold now both inside and out, she heard Imrie’s voice. Not her real voice, just a faded memory of it. If there’s a way to get out, you have to find it. Fennix stood, the aches worse and her legs like jelly. Pressing her hand against the stone wall for support, she made her way around the room to the wooden door. Iron bars ran the length of it, and framed a small hole cut into it, just big enough for her to press her face to it and look out. It was dark on the other side, lit only by a couple of torches affixed to the walls. When her eyes adjusted she could see it was just a stone hallway, ending in a wall in one direction, and disappearing down stone steps in the other. When she shook the door, hoping for some corner to give or budge, she got nothing. The door was heavy, and locked securely into the stone surrounding it. Out of reflex she reached for her flowers and leaves. Nothing glowed beneath her skin. She had put it all in the hands of Roa. Surely, then, all of it was lost.
Footsteps began from far down the stairs. Climbing. The echo off the walls made it hard to tell what kind of feet they might belong to at first. Eventually, though, just as she could see new torchlight coming up the bend, they began to sound clearer. Heavy boots, belonging to a man. Neiro. Back in the cradling arms of the queen’s control. Fennix took a few steps back into the cell and squared her arms up the way Imrie had taught her. She wouldn’t be able to fight him. But she would die trying. Yes, that was an excellent way to go. The two of them tumbling head and heel down a long flight of stone-
A face appeared in the small window in the door, and Fennix faltered.
“Fennix,” Rokco said, smiling.
Her arms fell to her sides in desperate relief. “Rokco?”
He stepped back, and Fennix heard a key working a lock. He had escaped, somehow, and had come to rescue her. They could go back to Wyerilte, they could run and start again. No matter how long it took, she would go to all ends to get what she needed for the spell, and they would do it again.
The door swung open and Fennix, ready to run for him, to embrace him, instead froze. Rokco stood at the door, dressed in a Queen’s guard uniform. His hair had been shaved off, and that loose, ragdoll way he had of standing was gone. He stood straight, his back stiff and rigid. The smile he gave her was not one of his open grins. It was a tight, small thing. His eyes seemed bland. Dull. He made no move towards her, and for a second the two of them only stood on either side of the open door, looking at one another.
Grief welled up inside her and Fennix used every ounce of strength she had to push it down.
“Oh,” was all she managed to say, and even that came out with a hitch in her throat.
If Rokco noticed, he didn’t say anything about it. Only continued to look at her with that ugly smile.
“Her highness will be pleased you’re awake,” he said. Talking to her like she was a stranger. “You will come with me. I will bring you to her.”
Fennix wished so hard for her flowers she thought her bones might snap. At the same time, she wondered if she could have even done anything with them. This was far beyond the control that traveled down the magic lines. This was a direct connection, just as it had been with Neiro. Breaking it with him had taken all of her strength. If she were even to try it now she was liable to split herself apart. Still, she took only a small step towards him, holding her hands in fists at her sides.
“Do you remember me?” she asked. Her voice reminded her of being a child, scared and alone.
“Of course I do.”
There was no change in him, not his demeanor or his voice or that dull, awful smile. Just a wooden toy puppet with invisible strings.
“We should go now. I’m to bring you to her.”
She took small step back from him. A breeze pushed in through the arrow slit behind her, and she fought the urge to shiver.
“What if I don’t? What if I want to stay here?”
“The Queen wants you to come to her.”
“Will you hurt me, Rokco? If I don’t come?”
Rokco opened his mouth, but closed it again without saying anything. He shook his head, just ever so slightly, as though a marshbite had buzzed by his ear. It all lasted barely more than a couple of seconds. If she had looked away she would have missed it. In short time he was back to how he had been, looking at her with a too-easy face.
“The Queen doesn’t like it when people get hurt. But you’re supposed to come with me to see her.”
He hadn’t said it, but it was there all the same. Emmaline would make him hurt her, if he had to. Rokco, who wouldn’t hurt anyone who hadn’t already hit him, would hurt her. Briefly her mind made an attempt to explore how, but she wouldn’t let it. She wished she had a shawl or a cloak to draw around her bare arms. Instead she drew herself up and crossed her arms in front of her.
“Let’s go, then,” she said, trying very much to not sound like a scared child and believing she had succeeded.