Ferinn and the Pretender

Ferinn scratched his auburn and silver beard as his herald, Joc, came into the empty Great Hall - as he did every morning - to tell him the daily news he had sourced from the messengers that travelled to and from Novame. Ferinn's wife stood beside the throne as she chose which flowers she would like to have in their private rooms. The maid's arms began to shake as she held up two large copper vases, one filled with red roses and the other silver lilies. Ferinn returned his attention to Joc who bowed so low that Ferinn could see down his blue tunic. He wondered how the herald could walk around smiling when the autumn cold must have been sticking to him like burs.     

'Your Highness, I am enviable of your castle's beauty in this morning's sun. I wish my skin were made of granite so that I may too -'

Ferinn raised his right hand and grabbed his goblet from the arm of his throne. He shifted in his seat as he gulped down the orange juice from the cup.

'- ah and my Queen, Mailyn, I have always preferred roses myself but lilies are just as sweet.' Joc winked at the maid as Mailyn nodded before pointing to the roses. 'Now then, sire, the news of your Kingdom, if I may?'

Ferinn nodded. Joc stood up straight and pulled out a scroll from his silver coat.

'First item: the guards have found the perpetrator so it seems your plan to up the security at the gates worked. He is being questioned as we speak. Secondly, the College is holding a dinner party in your name this evening after granting their Professor ... Scolere,  is it? ... permission to go on his scholarly expedition and -'

One of the servants entered through a side door and whispered to Mailyn. His wife brushed Ferinn's hand with her fingers and left through the door to their left.

'- daft farmer with his cattle again. Most importantly, I, after tracking down the most reliable gossipers and informants, have managed to find information  on the person stealing the city's supply of vinegar. Captain Reiner and his men are conducting the rest of the investigation.'

Ferinn sat up in his throne, the hard granite cold against the back of his neck. 'Enough.'

'But, my liege, there is more to discuss.'

'No, there is not ... not for now anyway. I must attend to my other duties.' 

Ferinn rubbed his forehead. Using the throne to push himself up he nodded to Joc and then left through the same door his wife had gone through earlier.  He wondered where Mailyn was now and decided that she was probably walking in the gardens again. She had taken to doing so on a daily basis since their daughter had left to marry the prince of their neighbouring country, Laudenhoe. Ferinn grabbed the banister and ascended the spiral staircase to the royal private rooms.  

The fire in his and Mailyn's room was still crackling low when he entered their bedroom but the wind seemed determined to put it to sleep with a high pitched song. Ferinn hurried to the open lattice window and pushed it shut. As the latch clicked, the powder-blue curtains came to rest against the pale flecked walls. He leaned forwards, his hands on the stone ledge, and closed his eyes. Footsteps crossed the room and then two thin arms pushed their way under his armpits and around his chest. Mailyn's lily-perfume curled around his neck like a scarf.

'What's wrong, Ferinn?' Her breath tickled his cheek.

Ferinn sighed. 'The tension between the High King and the King of South-Ward are getting worse. I am afraid that there will be a war ... and we will have to pick a side,' he turned around to face her and smiled as she pushed her face closer to his chest.

'There is no side to pick. If we get dragged into the war then we shall follow the High King. You swore allegiance to him.'

'I know, but South-Ward has a great army ... it all depends on who the other countries support. I won't fight for a side that will lose. There is too much that could be taken from me.'

'You worry far too much, Ferinn. Besides, have you forgotten who you married? A royal shield maiden, no less. I'll protect you.' Mailyn stood up straight and put her hands on her hips. Ferinn kissed her.

'No, I have not forgotten.' He thought back to do the day they met and the fights they had won together.

'Good. Now, I have brought you something that might help you.'

'And what would that be, my dear?'

Mailyn left his hold and walked back to their bedroom door. 'I managed to find someone with the power of The Circle, from outside of our city.'

Ferinn sat back against the window ledge as his wife lead a cloaked woman into the room. The woman stopped a few feet away from him and curtsied.

'What doesh the King and Queen require from me?' Her voice was dry and she had a sidewards-turned tooth that protruded over her bottom lip.

'Well, if you can help me, I need to talk to my father.' Ferinn stood up and straightened his tunic.

'But the previoush King ish dead?'

'I know.' Ferinn looked away.

'Thish ish most unorthodox, your Highness, we, in the Circle, never perform shuch an act lightly. It can be dangerous and must only be done in times of great deshperation.' The woman fidgeted  where she stood. 

'I would not ask if it was not important.'

'Ash you wish, Shire. Pleashe meet me in the royal garden fountain at ten thish evening.' The woman turned to leave.

'What is your name, woman?'

'The membersh of the Circle call me, Mire,' the woman curtsied before leaving the room.  


That night, Ferinn and Mailyn slipped on their thick, woollen cloaks and hurried out of their room.

'Are you sure this is a good idea?' Ferinn squeezed his wife's hand.

'I don't know, but this is what you said you wanted ... to speak with him again.' Mailyn let go of his hand and linked their arms instead.


As they approached the guards at the large blue doors that led to the garden Ferinn stopped, straightened his back and addressed them, 'Stay here no matter what you hear or see ... unless I call for you. Do you both understand.'

The guards helmets clinked against their metal cuirasses as they nodded. They opened the doors for their King and Queen and stood to attention.


Ferinn looked around the garden. The tall evergreen hedges were begin to grow stray branches but their gardener wasn't due back from his sick leave for another two days. They walked into the centre of the hedge-ring towards the granite fountain that was topped by a sculpture of a hart stag. Stood at its base was Mire in a black cloak. She was wearing her hood down now revealing shoulder-length blonde hair that ended in dry brown strands.

'Ah, your Majestiesh, I wash hoping you hadn't changed your mind.' She smiled with ochre-painted lips, 'shall we begin?'


Ferinn nodded as Mailyn removed her arm from around his and took three steps backwards. Mire held out her hands which were covered in pale scars forming an intricate pattern around her wrists before ending in the middle of her palms. Ferinn places his gloved hands within hers. She stared at him with dark eyes then grabbed his bare forearms tight.


'Now, when I open the portal I will need to take shome of your life essence to guide your father's shpirit to ush. Do I have your permisshion to do thish?'


Ferinn cleared his dry throat. 'Yes.'


'Good. It may hurt a bit.' Mire closed her eyes, steadied her breathing and muttered something in the language of The Circle, which although he had heard it often enough he still did not understand.

Beside them by the fountain a red orb hovered then grew until it became a glowing oval with a small, dark centre. It was then that Ferinn's hands began to glow red. The light crawled up his arms prickling his skin as though he were being burnt. His pulse became erratic and he felt sick. The usual colour of The Circle's magic were light colours, such as blue and green. The glow was heading towards his chest.

'Why is your magic red?' Ferinn tried to pull out of her grasp.

'Becaushe, Shire, you have ashked me to do shomething my magic ish not meant to perform.' Mire smiled again. 'Beshides. we can't stop now ... look, he ish coming.'


Ferinn shook his head then gasped as the magic reached his heart. He had not expected it to be so cold after the heat it had inflicted before. From within the portal, the black spot became larger and took the shape of a man. Ferinn watched it and waited for his father's features to show themselves but the figure remained faceless.


'This isn't right ... guards, guards. Mailyn get the guards.' Ferinn turned to look at his wife and saw her laying motionless on the ground. 'What did you do?'


'Don't worry she ish only ashleep. I can't let ush be interrupted ... not now, when we are sho closhe.'


'That's not my father is it?' Ferinn looked at the shadow figure that was now banging against the barrier between them and the dead-world.


'No, of courshe not. Your wife really should have done her background check a little better.'


'How dare you talk about her like that? She is your Queen.'


Mire laughed, 'Oh no, Shire, she is not my Queen ... nor are you my King. He ish.' She nodded towards the oval. 'And with your life force, he will become alive and sholid once more rather than the shadow matter he conshists of now.'


Ferinn tried again to get himself free from Mire's grip but her magic gave her a strength that exceeded his. In a last  attempt to escape he kicked Mire across her left knee cap with all his might. There was a muffled crack and she fell to her knees dragging Ferinn down with her. He pulled his wrists away from her and managed to free his right hand. The oval flickered and the figure hit the magic barrier with more force and speed. Ferinn reached for the dagger sheathed in his belt and pushed the tip against Mire's throat.


'You have a choice; release me and defend yourself - I know you cannot keep the portal open and use your magic to fight - or refuse and I will kill you before you are able to steal all  my essence.'


'Pleashe, you will be dead soon. The more esshence I take, the weaker you get.' Mire grinned but tears had begun to build up in her eyes.


'Then I shall have to kill you right now. Make your choice.' Ferinn pushed the blade harder into her neck, drawing blood. 

They stared at each other for a few minutes before Mire clenched her teeth, made a noise between a growl and a groan then muttered a final incantation. The shadow figure released a high-pitched scream and the portal disappeared.


'Now, you will stay in our dungeons until The Circle can be informed of your actions. They can decide your punishment.'


'You say that like I don't have a choice.' 


Red smoke appeared from Mire's hands, wrapped around her entire body in quick procession before evaporating into nothing. As the smoke disappeared, so did Mire. Ferinn stared at the place where she had been sat until one of the guards arrived and helped him to stand.


'Are you okay, sire?' The guard checked him over. 'Your Majesty? What happened?'


'Send word to The Circle council, they must know about this Mire and her treachery.' 

'Yes, your Highness.' The guard ran back to the castle clearing Ferinn's view of his wife who was being checked by the other guard. 


Ferinn stumbled over to her, still weak from the drain on his essence, and hugged her as she was getting up off of the ground.


'I'm so sorry, Ferinn ... she seemed so genuine.' Mailyn trembled in his arms.


'I'm just glad you are okay,' he said as he kissed her forehead. She raised her head to look at him and for a moment he thought he saw a red circle surround her azure irises.