Feeding the Queen of the Underworld
Part Three

By: Copper Rose

Continued from: 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."

***

"What do you mean, it's up to me?" I shot a look at Arama and then spun to face the man. "And who are you? Why are you not on your own side of the fence?"

"The village is in chaos. I'm making rounds before the Magistrates come. Please don't tell them I crossed the fence. I was searching for my brother but I was too late. He was one of the fallen." Tears spilled from his eyes. "The bridge collapsed when everyone tried to get to their homes at once."

Arama stepped forward, squinted, pulled her hood back in order to study the man's face. "Wait! You are not who I thought you were. I remember you from market day. Step away from the girl."

"Oh, it is you." The man's blue eyes turned dark. "I beg your pardon. I will be on my way."

"I knew there was something about you. I knew you weren't supposed to be in the market that day. You crossed over then." Arama's voice was low and deep.

"Many of us cross over when we're not supposed to." The man smirked, then headed away from us, refusing to further respond to Arama's accusation.

"Wait," I cried. "Who are you?" My words stopped the man, interrupted his quick departure. He turned around and trotted back toward me. "I am Gordune Havernara."

My eyes flew open. "Uncle Gordune? But they said you were dead!"

Arama lunged and grabbed hold of my arm. "Come away from him. The man is a liar and a thief."

"You are half right old woman. I am a thief but I would never tell a lie."

"I know who you are and what intentions you pretend to have." Arama drew herself up to her full height, nearly five hunched feet. She swept her wrinkled hand in his direction. "Away with you. You are nothing to us. Jolie, come with me." Arama clutched my cloak and tugged at me, pulling me down the path.

"But you only have one brother," I cried as the truth descended upon me in a huge wave. "My father! Lawt!"

Gordune crossed himself, his gaze fixed on his feet.

"Not Papa too!" A sob heaved my chest as I tried to catch my breath.

"Come, Jolie. We will mourn properly. Remember what I taught you? You must not let your emotions overcome you. Then we must get on with your studies. We are at the critical stage. The timing of all of this is so unfortunate." Arama kept pulling me down the path.

"So, it is true. You are grooming Jolie to be the queen of one of the newly established domains." Gordune's voice cut across the gravel like a knife.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Arama hissed.

"What are you implying?" I dug in my heels and Arama stumbled, hitting her hip against the fence.

"You have been chosen. That is why Telaktasia took your mother. To keep her from interfering with the final phase of your so–called education." Gordune stood tall with his hands at his sides.

"The queen didn't take my mother because of some secret lie she kept?" I wondered out loud.

"You are lucky the queen has found enough to eat or she would be feeding on you right now," Arama cast the words at Gordune.

"He's lying?" I said.

"Everything Gordune is saying is a lie, except for the fact Lawt was his brother. He cares nothing for family. He never came back to see his brother. He cared only for Sophia. He only came to see if she was really gone," Arama said.

"Why would you care for my mother?" The question was written all over my face.

"Because Sophia was his first love. Until she married Lawt." Arama's voice was cold. "He is jealous of true love."

Gordune stepped forward. "Telaktasia had the Magistrates deport me because I refused to love only her. I chose Sophia instead."

Arama lifted her chin and fixed her gaze on Gordune's face. I could see she hated him.

Gordune shifted his stance. "I sent word to Lawt, to look after Sophia until I could return. But he was only a man, and no man, not even my brother, could resist a woman like Sophia. When I came back, they assigned me to the other side of the fence. If I crossed it, the network said they would kill me. None of my messages got through to Lawt. I figured out why my messages went unanswered. They were intercepted. Then rumor came back if I refused to keep my silence they would hurt Lawt. He was innocent. I had to allow him to believe I was dead all this time or they would eliminate him."

I studied the man's face closely and recognized the similarities. I pried Arama's fingers from my arm and ran to Gordune. "Oh Uncle, I am so sorry. My heart is breaking."

"Lies! All lies!" Arama screamed after me.

I flung myself at Gordune and he hugged me to his chest. I wept tears down the front of his tunic.

"Your mother, my brother, they were good people." His voice shook with grief.

"Jolie, don't believe him. The man is a liar and a thief. He's admitted he is a thief. Why do you think they kept him on the other side of the fence? You must have something he wants." Arama was stumbling up the path toward us.

I stared at Arama. She was one of the wisest women in the village. She had taken me under her wing so long ago. She was my mother's friend. My mentor. I pushed away from Gordune, holding him at arm's length, studying his face, his eyes. Then I saw, at the edge of his temple, nearly hidden by a wisp of his dark hair, a mark on his skin. I reached up and brushed away his hair. My eyes flew open as my brow furrowed and my hand reached toward my own temple, brushing my hair away, to reveal an identical mark at the edge of my hairline.

Gordune closed his eyes. His whole face twitched as though it was trying to reconstruct itself. "I always wondered if I might have a child."

"It is possible you are my father?"

"It is possible."

"Hogwash! There is no such possibility. Bedding a woman before marriage is a sin. It is not an option. Again, he lies!" Arama stood so close I could smell the scent of the herbs she carried in the pockets of her cloak.

"It is possible your mother kept a secret, from you. From Lawt. It went on for so long, she probably began to believe it was no longer a lie herself. But Telaktasia would know. It takes a liar to know a liar no matter how much you want to believe it's true." Gordune said to me tenderly.

"And you are lying now, you traitor." Arama's voice took a tone I had never heard before.

"Me? A traitor? I could also say it takes a traitor to know a traitor." Gordune now held me at arm's length. "Do you know that this old woman is Telaktasia's mother?"

"What?" There was no way I could hide my surprise at such a ridiculous assumption. "Arama has been my mentor since before I can remember."

"You are worse than a liar," Arama's voice was low, her chin tucked, her gaze never left Gordune's face. "You are a fool."

"Better a fool than a liar, old woman. Do you remember this, Arama?" Gordune held up a tiny vial.

Arama's breath caught in her throat. Her hands flew to the pockets of her cloak, as though searching for something that should have been there. "Where did you get that?"

"In the market. It is just one of two I was able to, how shall I say—obtain inconspicuously. Do you remember who was with you that day?"

"Sophia!"

"I'd heard the rumors, that Telaktasia was in search of the perfect lie to sustain her evil reign. I suspected she would choose Sophia."

"You stole from me!"

"To give Sophia a choice, since there was nothing I could do to stop Telaktasia. No one stops Telaktasia when she is denied. But oh, my heart—Sophia was just as beautiful as I remember. It was easy to pass along something so small to someone who would recognize what is was when she saw it. Especially since you were able to insinuate yourself into Sophia and Jolie's lives for so long."

"What is it?" I asked.

"Truth serum. Arama uses it on everyone she meets so they will tell her the truth and she can pass it on to her daughter, Telkatasia. That is how Telaktasia can tell if someone is lying. She already knows the truth—via her mother."

"Arama, is this true?"

"Jolie, this man is a master of lies. Stemmed from the devil himself! I am no more Telaktasia's mother than I am the mother of those pigs in that pen over there."

"Then it won't bother you when you learn that Sophia more than likely partook of the serum from the vial I slipped into her pocket that day at the market. She knew what the possibilities were, if ever the day came that she was chosen by the Queen." Gordune taunted.

"Why would it bother me?" Then Arama's eyes flew wide as if an enormous realization flooded her being. "There is no way to tell if she drank the serum."

"Yes there is. If the serum, which entered Sophia's system, comes in contact with Telaktasia, there will be an explosion on the mesa unlike anything we have ever witnessed. It will expose every lie Telaktasia has ever consume...

Before Gordune could finish his sentence, the mesa exploded in mammoth plumes of red fire, slick hot lava and black ash, shaking the hills like an old rag doll. The earth beneath their feet rocked, knocking Arama and Jolie to the ground. Blood poured from a huge gash in Jolie's knee.

"No, not my daughter!" Arama cried as ash sprinkled down in her hair, on her cloak, on her hands. Her tears ran in streams down her dirty face. Her fingers stretched toward the mesa, that was no longer there.

Gordune lifted me carefully to my feet. "Come my child, will need to tend to your wound."

"Another scar," I said studying the wicked gash.

"Yes." Gordune looked me in the eye. "Your mother may not have wanted it to be true, about you, because she did love my brother. But it was still a lie she had to live with. She couldn't prove it as long as we were kept apart. She never knew for sure and neither did you, nor I until…" He touched the mark on his temple, the mark shaped like a star that matched the one on my temple. "She lied to herself more than anyone. Her sin included me. We both broke the law and have been severely punished for it. The important thing is, your mother loved you the best she knew how."

"She saved the village…and the surrounding domains. We are free now."

"Yes."

"And Lawt loved her?"

"If my brother loved your mother half as much as I did, then she was a very lucky woman. Now, we must tend to your injury and then find your brothers and sisters. We have a burial to attend to." I could see the pain etched in the creases of his face.

"Yes, Father, we have much to do." I slipped my arm through the crook of his elbow. "No more lies."

He agreed. "No more lies."

I looked back only once at Arama, as she cried rivers into the ashes.

-

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