Chapter Twenty-One

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It was morning, but Ilda's cell remained mostly in shadow. Her hands shook violently as she made her preparations. Ilda forced them to complete the task in spite of their trembling. She hadn't much time.

If Fior could be brave and true, then so could she. Ilda only hoped it was not too late for her. She had spoken to the enemy--yes, spoken freely and wrongly. She'd been weak. But surely nothing she could say would halt the glorious victory of Ther's rightful king? Things had been set in motion, events that could not be stopped. The Fog would cleanse the land. The world would be at peace once more--and, perhaps, if it really wasn't too late, she could be with Fior again.

She just had to be brave.

The bars of the window were very high, and Ilda was slight. She had shoved her cot up against the wall and climbed on top of it to reach, and even then she had to stretch her thin arms to the point of strain.

When she was finally done, the sun had almost fully risen. They would come soon, to bring food and check on her, and all would be lost.

Quickly now, be brave--be brave...

She pushed the bed away from the wall, just far enough so that it would be difficult to reach again, then climbed back onto it. She leaned out, teetering on her tiptoes, and looped the noose made of her shawl around her neck. Ilda checked the knot again--it was perfect. She was a fisherman's daughter, after all. She knew her knots.

Ilda closed her eyes. She took one long, deep breath.

Then, she let herself fall.

_____

Orven moved slowly and deliberately, arms stiff at his sides, careful not to make any unnecessary movements and accidentally provoke the madwoman. The point of Varyn's blade pressed against his spine--not hard enough to break the skin, but he knew one false move would lose him a kidney, or worse.

"Keep moving," she snapped.

Ygrael trailed in their wake. She'd been uncharacteristically silent these past few minutes--though perhaps that was simply because of her bruised throat. Orven cursed himself for not acting quicker. He'd been so close.

But, of course, there was Varyn. He should have known.

General Istenra will be hearing about this little slip up. I will personally see to it that she is disciplined for her carelessness. I told her specifically to make certain that Varyn died first...

"Really, Captain, this brutish behavior is entirely unnecessary," he said over his shoulder. "You have no doubt noticed that I am unarmed?"

"You're a deceitful snake, boy," Varyn shot back. "And I know better than to trust a snake not to bite."

Orven sighed and shook his head. "I don't see what exactly you plan to do. You must realize, Varyn, that this kingdom is already under Alavardian control. Your guards have been disposed of. You've lost."

The blade jabbed him again, perhaps a little harder than before. "Faster," Varyn growled.

"We must send warning to the allies," Ygrael rasped--her first words since they'd left her chamber.  "The high-queen, she will aid us. My father--" Here, her voice cracked. It took her a moment to recover it again. "--My father fought alongside her in the war. She--she will send help."

Ovren almost laughed aloud, but managed to keep himself under control. No sense in alerting them to the high-queen's recent demise. Besides, he didn't wish to risk enraging the captain any further. There was no knowing what she might do.

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