Feeding the Queen of the Underworld
Part Two

By: Copper Rose

Continued from: Telaktasia's gaze swept past me and I breathed a sigh of relief. Until I noticed a shift in the gleam in her eyes and the flock of lies descended upon my mother.

Telaktasia threw back her head and laughed as the leaders of the flock tore at my mother, talons ripping her cloak, beaks pecking bits of Mother's flesh, flinging the pieces toward their queen. Black bits small and toxic as dried choke cherries. As her skin peeled apart and open, the lies festering inside her swarmed out, funneled, twisted, rose above the white fence as an enormous black cloud that shut out the sun, shut out the light.

I leapt from behind the white fence, stretching to reach my mother's dangling, dripping foot. It slipped easily from my grasp as the flock whisked her away. "What lie is so big the Queen chooses you?" I cried.

A hand came to rest on my shoulder. "I am sorry for your loss," Arama, the oldest woman of the village, said quietly.

"My mother," I sobbed.

"Your mother is not your life. Your mother's fate need not be your fate."

"But to be chosen as the one to sate the queen's insatiable hunger…"

"Shh. That is part of the lie. She is not the Queen of all of us in this village, though she would love for you to believe it is true, Jolie."

My gaze followed the speck in the sky, my mother, growing smaller as the flock drew closer to the top of the mesa where Telaktasia stood, arms outstretched, taunting heaven. Her royal gown glowed red against the dark sky, orange at the edges, lightning bolts crackling from her fingers, drawing the lies from my mother, like shavings of steel to a magnet. Ping! Ping! Ping!

The flock swooped, herding any stray lies the way vaqueros herded cattle, from those like me who did their best to hide their own white lies, the flock rounding them up, pushing them closer and closer to Telaktasia. The queen's shimmering dress turned from red, to orange, to yellow, to gold. The sky beyond the mesa burned and smoked. The village appeared empty now save for a few fenced in sheep, a goat, a bedraggled dog. Ping! Ping! Ping!

The villagers who dove into shelters at first alarm; slamming shutters against trackers in the flock searching for a few more lies to feed the queen, wings beating against the shutters, trackers hoping for a crack to slip through; began peeking from their hiding places once they realized the queen had made her choice and any lie they might have told was not worth pursuing.

Tears slid down my cheeks. My shoulders hanging so low it was if I carried buckets full of dirt. "My mother was my life. She was so strong."

"Your mother had no strength left to fight, to carry on," Arama said.

My mother's cries faded. Only a speck against Telaktasia's fire and smoke on the mesa. A tiny trail of blood. My eyebrows clenched, my mind questioned the old woman's words. "What do you mean?"

"Your mother's secrets. She spent all her energy trying to keep them buried. Each time the bones of her secrets came too near the surface, poking their bony fingers through the ground, she would stop everything, put important things on hold each time and try to bury the bones deeper." Arama pulled at the scarf around her neck, letting it fall loose. "Is there a question you asked that your mother never answered?"

"I asked her once if Lawt was my father."

"And she said?"

"It was none of my business."

"She gave you your answer, it just wasn't the answer you wanted."

I stared at the mesa. Queen Telaktasia feeding, stuffing bits of my mother into her mouth, flinging spare bits to satisfy her flock. "What will happen to us now that the Queen grows stronger and the length of her reign has increased? The Magistrates always enforce her rules."

"You will find your father."

"Excuse me?"

Arama snatched my arm, gripped it with fingers stronger than they looked. She twisted my arm until the soft underside was exposed and pointed to a white line near my elbow. "This scar, where did you get it?"

"I fell down the stairs while carrying buckets of water."

She moved her finger. "And this one?"

"I fell from the prickly pear tree."

"And this one?"

"Caught it on the broken part of the fence…"

Then she placed her hand on my heart. "And this one?"

Tears spilled from my blue eyes, eyes unlike many of the villagers. "Not believing Lawt was my father."

"He is a good man."

"He has been good to me all these years, kind enough, but never as kind as he was to the other members of our family."

"Jolie, your life is not measured in Telaktasia's years. It is measured by your scars. And seasons. When you speak of your life you mark the time by speaking of your scars. Your seasons."

"Like when Sharomeo broke my heart."

"Yes, the winter of your soul. How many years did it last?"

"Three."

"Yes, and during that time nothing else mattered. Then?"

"I moved on."

Arama parted my tunic and pointed to a scar on my thigh, my deepest physical cut. From running one night through the locust trees, when I was accused of stealing from the queen. Which was not true. The cut became infected.

"How long for this to heal?" Arama touched the scar.

"Two years."

Arama's finger climbed back up to my arm, fingers gliding over the soft skin. "You have room for more scars. Your heart will witness more seasons. Your mother exhausted all her energy, all that time spent burying secrets. But you can choose something different no matter what Telaktasia says."

"But I will be punished. My work will become harder. The Magistrates will see to it. The burden…"

"Is not yours to carry."

"I don't understand."

"Tell me, and think before you answer, what can you expect from a Queen who feeds on lies?"

The rise of my brows and the closing of my eyes indicated I understood.

"Lies are only true if you believe them," she said.

I opened my eyes. Arama swept her arm to include the whole village, shifted her feet on the rocky path, stumbled a little. "I believe this is the beginning of the season of change."

A strong man, old enough to be my father, handsome, with a hint of blue in his eyes, rushed up from the other side of the fence, glanced at the mesa and back to us, reached out a hand. "Everything okay here? Are you alright?"

Arama pulled her fingers from my arm and nodded in my direction. "That, my kind sir, is up to her."

The End

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