Chapter Forty-Nine

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Fernwyn Varyn paced the small cavern with her hands folded behind her back. The only sounds heard in that enclosed space were her boots clicking on stone and the thudding of her heart. In the darkness of their 'chamber'--the dragon king had not called it a prison cell, not out loud, though the door was made of iron bars and locked--these sounds were amplified until Varyn half believed they would drive her mad.

The princess sat cross-legged on the floor, her face to the wall. She hadn't moved or made a sound for hours. In the faint light of a single torch burning outside their cell, her face was calm and composed, if not entirely vacant. The dragons had offered them meat and water, but she hadn't consumed drop nor morsel.

If Varyn was worried for her own sanity, she was even more concerned for Ygrael's. The bargain she'd proposed to strike with the dragons as evidence enough of an unsound mind, and her behavior before and since that conversation only seemed to confirm that impression. Though, in truth, was that any surprise, considering what was now known of the girl? She had lied, manipulated and murdered, all the while playing the entire kingdom for fools. If she wasn't insane, she wasn't normal either. And the bargain, the trade, seemed to fit her pattern of conduct, if nothing else.

Still, Varyn reasoned, their situation was desperate. She was a soldier, a leader of troops--not a leader of kingdoms, or even a diplomat. She needed orders to follow,it was in her blood--and she had sworn to serve the Darkhelms unto death. No matter what disgrace Ygrael had brought down upon herself, she was still, technically, the princess of Svard. If it was a choice between following her or the traitorous scum Orven Ardov, Varyn thought she could make that decision easily enough--though it was difficult to look at the girl and not think of all the noble lives lost in pointless war.

Varyn grit her teeth and spun on her heel. She was trying to remain objective, to think clearly and strategically about the situation at hand--but her mind kept circling back, over and over, to the same question. What had happened to the High Prince's search party? And, of course, on the heels of that though--where on land's lay was Alzra?

She recalled Orven's bruised face on the morning the group had supposedly left before sunrise. Varyn had wondered, even then, why Alzra hadn't taken the time to bid her farewell, or at least leave her a message. She'd put it down to their eagerness to find the book, though in her heart that hadn't rung true. Now, in light of all that had occurred in the past few days, Varyn was deeply afraid. Afraid of what Orven might have done to the prince and his companions. Alzra wasn't a woman easily subdued. If by some cruel twist of fate, she'd been taken with the Reader to Alavard...

Varyn swallowed her rising panic, but it did little to subdue her feelings. She knew full well what Thesul liked to do to anyone with ties to the Sisters, no matter how tenuous. She'd only ever seen Alzra truly afraid three times since they'd met a decade ago, and one of those times had been when she'd told her, in trembling, night-cloaked whispers, of her childhood escape from Sister Shel--but not before spending a week as a witchbound prisoner in Thesul's palace.

If the search party had indeed fallen into Thesul's hands, his primary concern would doubtless be the Reader. Varyn didn't want to imagine what he would do with the more expendable members of the group.

Varyn's pacing came to an abrupt halt. She could hardly breath. Her chest had tightened, her throat constricted. She felt as if a scream was building somewhere deep inside of her--a scream so wild that if allowed to escape, it would tear her apart. 

Alzra could be on the brink of death, and here she was, trapped in this stinking hole, waiting for dragons to decide their fate!

Desperate to vent the tension building inside of her before she imploded, Varyn stormed up to the iron bars of the cell and slammed her fist against the metal with an resounding bang. The blow bruised her knuckles, but even that was a welcome alternative to the white hot panic coursing through her body like a river of molten rock. 

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