Chapter 1

Three months later

The two men waiting in the Galtean royal court were annoyed.

“This is no way to treat guests,” one of them, Valos, a representative from Thonter, a kingdom close to Galtea said, adjusting his robe. 

“It sure isn’t,” the other one, Eustace concurred, fanning himself. He was a representative from Septua, another kingdom situated near Galtea, and his red robe was drenched with sweat like always despite the spacious court having proper ventilation.

“We have been kept waiting for over an hour,” Valos complained.

“Serves us right accepting an unsigned invitation. Our kings know the current situation of Galtea, I can’t believe they still ordered us to come here,” Eustace said, eyeing the guards in the room balefully.

The two representatives had repeatedly questioned the guards but the tight-lipped men had only grunted in response, and that was only when they deigned to reply.

Moments later, the huge doors of the court opened and two guards stepped in, wielding sharp broadswords that glinted in the light. They were the personal guards who accompanied royals.

Behind them was an adolescent woman with long white hair, who wore a beautiful dress the color of her hair. The dress was so long its train trailed some meters behind her. Beside her was a bearded strongman who wore only a kilt, exposing his expansive torso and powerful calves. The permanently fixed scowl on his face and the gargantuan scars that were all over his exposed body served to instill fear in the two representatives.

Behind them, another pair of guards followed, the same as the first.

Eustace and Valos watched with their mouths agape as the young woman ascended the huge throne that King Barnard once sat upon, and the strongman stood behind her, his sharp eyes surveying the court.

“What is the meaning of this?” Eustace asked no one in particular, “What is going on here?”

The strongman looked like he was about to roar at Eustace, but the woman stopped him with a look.

Clearing her throat and offering a tinkling laughter, she descended from her throne and the dais it was placed upon and glided down to the ornately built tables where the two representatives sat.

She smoothed down her hair and spoke with crisp pronunciation, “What is going on here is that my coronation was yesterday. Gentlemen, you are looking at the reigning queen of Galtea.”

The two representatives looked at each other and then began to laugh.

This time, the woman didn’t spare them from the strongman’s wrath. He ambled purposefully to where the men sat and put his hands around their necks.

“Show Queen Tianne the respect she deserves!” he ordered, spitting into their faces.

The two men turned an unhealthy shade of red and began to cough.

“Please, spare me,” Eustace coughed out.

The strongman tightened his hold in response to Eustace’s pleas and lifted the two of them off their feet. The men were barely able to cough out an apology to the queen as their windpipes were being crushed. When the strongman made no move to release them, their eyes rolled back.

Queen Tianne laughed as she motioned for the strongman to release the representatives.

He dropped them and they landed ungraciously on their behinds. The representatives began to gasp for breath as they tried to regain their composure, backing away from the strongman in fear. 

“Now that Scrapolus has changed your minds, may we continue?” Queen Tianne asked with a smirk.

Valos massaged his thin throat and raised up a bony finger, “Your Majesty, pardon me for questioning, but my king expects it from me. When and how did you become the ruler of Galtea?”

Tianne examined her gloved hands for a moment before she replied, “As you well know, King Barnard was the last surviving member of the royal family with thaumaturgy, rest his soul. After he was killed by assassins on his way back from a royal visit to Zodya, it was only fitting that I become queen.”

“No offense meant, Your Majesty, but everyone knows King Barnard was not married and had no children,” Eustace pointed out, as cowering from Scrapolus the strongman’s unflinching glare.

Tianne put her hands together and gave a little pout, “Come now, Eustace. You of all people must know a man doesn’t have to be married to sire as many children as he wants.”

Eustace blushed furiously. He was known in Septua and beyond for siring scores of bastard children from almost the same number of women.

“My mother worked in the palace as a serving lady and had a tryst with King Barnard when he was about my age. When she became pregnant, she was banished from the palace because of her . . . situation.

“She returned to her parents’ house, and there I was born. Because she’d gotten pregnant outside wedlock and been banished from the palace, the midwives of the kingdom avoided her like the plague. Her parents didn’t know how to assist a woman in the birthing process and after I was born, my mother kicked the bucket.

“As you can see, my hair is as white as that of my late father. When he died and was buried, well, the kingdom needed a ruler, so I stepped up and took the mandate that was rightfully mine,” Queen Tianne explained, absently playing with her hair.

“Again, I mean no disrespect, Your Majesty. If you’re truly the daughter of King Barnard, that means you inherited his thaumaturgy. Would you please honor us with a little demonstration?” Valos asked politely, his voice lowering with every word he said.

“What do you need a demonstration for? Dare you accuse Queen Tianne of expectorating falsities?” Scrapolus asked, his thick neck cording with rage.

The two men jumped at his hard tone and looked to be in danger of peeing themselves.

“Now, now, Scrapolus. Don’t be so harsh,” Queen Tianne chided softly. “They are just being good representatives.”

Facing the men, she added, “You want a demonstration, then a demonstration you shall get, gentlemen.”

The representatives nodded and smiled their thanks.

In the next moment, the representatives were off their behinds and in the air. Queen Tianne was lifting them up with her mind.

The men shouted as they flailed about, begging the queen to spare them.

“Please, Your Majesty. You’ve proven your mettle. Please, let us go,” Eustace blubbered, snot running from his bulbous nose.

Valos nodded frantically, “Forgive our doubt, Your Majesty. It won’t happen again.”

Queen Tianne smiled at Scrapolus, “They are very smart, aren’t they?”

Scrapolus grunted out a laugh.

With a flick of her finger, Queen Tianne set them down lightly on their chairs.

“Now that I have proven myself to you, can we please proceed to the main reason I sent a missive to your respective kingdoms?”

The representatives fell over themselves agreeing with her.

“Good,” Tianne nodded, examining a non-existent speck on her dress, “What have your kingdoms decided?”

Eustace and Valos shared a glance that was filled with trepidation. Valos swallowed audibly before he spoke, “Well, erm, Your Majesty, the thing is . . . I’ll let my good friend Eustace here go first.”

Eustace’s eyes seemed to bulge out of his head as he struggled to reply, “Thank you, Valos but I insist you go first.”

“Gentlemen,” Queen Tianne’s voice rose an octave, not hiding the fact that she was enjoying making men old enough to be her father squirm with fear.

“Your Majesty,” Valos said after a moment, “as a representative of the royal house of Thonter, I present to you the words of my king. I am only the messenger and have no influence over the king when he made the pronouncement.”

“Just get on with it,” Tianne snapped, losing her patience.

“Your Majesty,” Valos said, wiping sweat off his brow, “my king sees no need for us to go to war against Ka’apnar.”

Queen Tianne inhaled and faced Eustace, “What about you? What does the king of Septua say?”

Eustace stuttered a bit before he made a coherent sentence, “He says the same.”

Queen Tianne pounded her fist on the arm of her throne and let out an angry shriek.

The two representatives jumped.

“What do they mean by that? Why can’t we wage war against Ka’apnar, the kingdom that killed my father?” she bellowed.

“Well, lack of concrete evidence. My king wouldn’t want to wage war against an innocent kingdom,” Valos answered.

“Lack of concrete evidence? A fragment of the Ka’apnari flag was found at the scene of the crime,” Queen Tianne fired.

“It could have been planted there,” Valos replied quietly.

Queen Tianne sighed to control her rage and after a moment, she asked, “If you don’t want to help me get revenge for my father, why don’t you help me make sure Ka’apnar does not do to us what they did to Zodya?”

Eustace gave her a blank stare.

“You clod! Don’t you know they sent Skrulls to destroy the kingdom? Burnt everything down to ashes, they did. Not even a single soul survived,” Queen Tianne said with emotion. “If we keep quiet about this, they’ll soon get it into their greedy brains to send the skrulls after our kingdoms. Do you want your kingdoms to be turned into raging infernos?”

“Not at all, Your Majesty,” Eustace said, sweat dripping down his nose and unto his thick lips, “but again, we have no concrete evidence to prove Ka’apnar was behind the attack.”

Queen Tianne stood from her throne and threw her hands in the air, “What more evidence do you need? There’s only one kingdom with thaumaturges who can control Skrulls: Galtea. But it’s common knowledge that Ka’apnar is in possession of a Dimwer orb.”

Dimwer orbs were sacred objects of thaumaturgy, crafted to completely extricate power from a thaumaturge. In the days of old, when thaumaturges had been plentiful, they were used to punish those who sorely abused their thaumaturgy.

“I’m pretty sure they used a Dimwer orb on my father before they killed him and summoned the skrulls to destroy Zodya,” Queen Tianne concluded.

“But Your Majesty, you are aware there is another Dimwer orb that is missing. It could be the person in possession of that orb who did this,” Valos suggested.

“Why do you go to such great lengths to defend Ka’apnar? Are you sure you are not a Ka’apnari spy?” Queen Tianne questioned Valos angrily.

“Not at all,” Valos replied hurriedly, “it’s just that my king feels Ka’apnar is too strong a kingdom to wage war against. Even if the three kingdoms join forces to fight, the number of casualties we will incur will be grave.”

“My king thinks so too,” Eustace agreed.

Queen Tianne looked like she was about to scorch the men, so they huddled close, afraid.

Finally, she said, “I believe in giving people second chances and that is why I won’t asphyxiate you two on the spot.”

The men simultaneously heaved sighs of relief.

“But,” Queen Tianne continued, “a time shall come when I shall ask your kingdoms once again to join forces with Galtea. If I am rebuffed again, your kingdoms shall fall.”

Before they could process her threat, she turned to Scrapolus who had been mute for a while and ordered, “Throw these simpletons out!”

Scrapolus gave the representatives a smirk as he stalked towards them, “It’ll be my pleasure.”

*   *   *

Thirteen years later

“Help me carry our wares!” Zipha shouted over the cacophony that was an unmistakable part of the Galtean street markets.

Kiara, her thirteen-year-old daughter, nodded obediently and held out her slim hands to take a rickety crate containing the vegetarian snacks they sold in their stall.

“Mother, look!” Kiara exclaimed, pointing at a butcher who was decapitating a goat.

Zipha grimaced and looked away. Even after thirteen years of living in Galtea, she could not get used to the fact that they killed and ate animals, something that had been a taboo in Zodya.

When she noticed Kiara was still staring at the dying animal which was bleeding out on the ground, Zipha reached down and turned the little girl’s jaw.

“Look forward!” Zipha ordered.

“I wonder how meat tastes,” Kiara mused.

Zipha frowned down at her daughter, marveling at how curious the girl was. Zipha had been that way when she was younger and look where it had landed her.

Not that she regretted having Kiara, she amended. Kiara was a daily reminder of one the best times of her life, the brief time she spent with King Barnard.

Kiara was as beautiful as her mother, with her rich-tanned clear skin and raven-black hair but her eyes were as silver as King Barnard’s had been.

Zipha and Kiara walked quietly to their wooden stall, greeting the other traders jovially. 

As Zipha unlocked her stall, she watched absently as Kiara put the wares on their showcases, reminiscing about the day Zodya was razed to the ground.

The skrulls had burnt every living thing in Zodya, save for the two females. Immediately after the onerous task of childbirth, Zipha tried her best to clean herself and her newborn ,girl, whom she’d named Kiara, which meant ‘Fire-bringer’ in Zodyan.

After that, she’d packed her meagre belongings, which consisted of a few old dresses and dried-up fruits, carried her suckling baby, and waded through the ashes that had once been Zodya.

When she had reached what remained of her family home, she’d burst into tears, imagining how her parents had burnt to death.

After a great deal of weeping, she’d cleaned her tears and started her exodus, never once looking back to her homeland.

When she got to Galtea, she’d marveled at it. Although she’d heard many stories of its grandeur from the few well-traveled Zodyans back in the days, her imagination hadn’t been able to conjure up a fitting image.

There were grand towering buildings with round arches and large stained windows on one side of the kingdom, and dilapidated shacks on the other side.

Zipha had rented a room in one of the shacks, noting with wonder that her life in a shack in Galtea was actually better than her previous life in Zodya, as commodities were cheaper and her goods sold well in Galtea.

It was there she lived with her daughter, keeping to herself her secret that they were the last surviving Zodyans.

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