Anala woke in a large bed she didn’t recognise. The room was dark. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust.
Where was she? There was a fuzzy blankness in her head where memories should have been. The last thing she remembered was…Aro’s lips on hers, in the library.
What did that lead to? But when she checked, she saw she was alone in the bed. She breathed a sigh of relief – or disappointment.
She worked her way to the edge of the bed and swung her legs over and sat up. A wave of dizziness nauseated her and she fell forward to the floor to retch on the rich carpet.
When the sickness had subsided she got shakily to her feet with a strange sense of deja vu, as if she’d done that recently. She just couldn’t remember.
Stumbling, she made her way to what she hoped was the bathroom. Even in the dark she could see it was, and she fell to sit on the latrine.
What had possessed her to go to bed after drinking so much? Wherever this bed was. Wherever she was.
She needed cold water on her face. Maybe it would wash away the cobwebs in her head. She leaned over the sink and turned a gold knob with difficulty. Cold water gushed forward, but before she could fall forward to splash it on her face she got a sight of herself in the old mirror–and stopped short.
She didn’t recognise the apparition in front of her. She looked…worse than death. Sallow skin on sunken cheeks made a face, once fleshed out, skeletal. Stringy hair fell in tangles around her sickly features. Eyes had sunk deep in her head, with shadows so dark they were black. A once white nightgown, now stained with things she didn’t want to think about, covered what used to be her filled-out form – but now her shoulders hunched, bony extensions of flesh shadowing a bony torso. Lips cracked and pale, and dried spittle on her chin. Since when had her spit been green?
She smiled experimentally and her lips curled away to bare yellowy-green teeth in a snarl. Dear Goddess. How long ‘ave I slept? And why…why so uncared for?
She straightened her shoulders and ran a few fingers through her horrible hair. It made a little difference and she felt better for it.
The water was still running and so she cupped some in her hands to splash her face. As the water hit her skin and lips, she smelled and tasted sulphur.
She coughed and spluttered as the memories flooded her brain.
Voco. Volcanic island with sulphuric water. She was on Voco and…and she….
Oh, Goddess. It was like waking up from a very bad nightmare to find it was true.
Anala deHope Exsil Vis.
She almost threw up again.
Not that her mother was so terrible – no more terrible than any other woman who couldn’t leave a horrible marriage. But…Lord Exsil Vis. Yer father.
It’d be a miracle I’d be as nice as I am, she thought, and winced, for she knew exactly how deep her mean streak went.
What had happened between that dinner and right now? Her tongue probed her cottony mouth and she considered her appearance.
Drugged. For how long, she didn’t know – but mayhap a sevenday, or more. It seemed someone had forgotten to renew her dose. Or else her body had finally fought back.
She counted her blessings, fully aware of how soon they might run out. She had to leave–now! No time for the bath she so much desired. Quickly she rinsed her mouth with the putrid water and wetted her hair, which she tied back in a tight bun. She could try to tame it if she lived to escape this place.
Then, a whirlwind, now that she had urgency and purpose to drive her, she dressed in riding clothes and packed her bag, somehow avoiding the pile of her sick on the floor during the many passes between wardrobe and bed.
In the trunk at the foot of the bed, she found her sword, still in its scabbard and with no apparent damage to it. Another blessing, though she supposed she had the Lady Hope to thank for that. The woman was not without influence.
She strapped her sword on and buckled her boots, which also still had her boot knife in them. Another miracle. When would her luck run out? Her pack she swung to her back and secured the straps over her shoulders. It seemed heavier than before, which she chalked that up to her current weakness. It didn’t matter and in any event there was nothing she could do about that. She was ready.
Now the only problem was, which way to go? Door or window?
She strode to the window and opened the drapes. It was dark out, but if she looked hard enough she thought she could see the lights of Merry’s ship in harbour. She prayed it was not her imagination tricking her, for to reach the shore, only to be trapped…..
I’d swim until they caught me or I’d drown. She peered down to gauge her chances of scaling the wall below her window. Not good. The drop was too far, the wall too smooth, and she could see nothing promising at the bottom – just darkness. She doubted the bedsheets would reach far enough to get her to a safe dropping distance.
The door, then. Tiptoeing, she walked across the room to it and pressed her ear against the wood, listening for the noises of bored guards. She heard nothing but the wood might be very thick.
She loosened her sword in its scabbard, ready to draw and fight, and very quietly, very slowly, opened the door, checking to the right and left.
Only one guard, to the left, sound asleep in his chair. Pathetic.
She had no wish to kill him. That would only alert the palace to her disappearance sooner. She stepped over and gave him a sleeper hold. His head drooped even further and his breathing became deeper and slower.
She did not envy him the headache he’d have upon waking nor the punishment he would receive for sleeping on the job. Then again, she could feel no sympathy for one loyal to Lord Exsil Vis.
She took off down the hall then, hoping she could remember her way out of the palace. After a few wrong turns she got her bearings back, and soon she was creeping through the shadows in the more populated areas of the castle.
Through some stroke of luck she made it to the stables, where a young groom got another sleeper hold from her. She found her horse easily, it being the shabbiest creature there.
She pulled the docile mare about halfway out of the stall when she stopped. What am I doin’? She needed to escape, not go for a gentle city ride. She pushed the mare back into its stall and took a horse from a few stalls down.
This one was a huge, black stallion, who looked as if he normally had a terrible temper. Anala approached him cautiously and held out her hand. He sniffed it, then nickered softly and nuzzled her.
She’d always had a way with horses.
She moved to open the stall door and noted the small plaque on it: His Lordship’s stallion, Endymion. She snorted. Well, I’d be ‘is eldest – only fittin I should be getting ‘is horse.
Within minutes he was saddled and they were outside in the cool night air. She mounted with a bit of difficultly, legs unused to the movement, but soon she was atop Endymion and they were off through the streets of Clifton, going as fast as stealth allowed.