I could only watch as the empty cloak maneuvered the girl next to me. Somehow her palms were forced upwards, her fingers uncurled against her will. He went at her with a knife then shouted something to the roars of the crowd. "Two long lives!" I think it was. Next to me, an elvish man looked on with his face frozen in a plea.
"What is he doing?" He asked me.
I couldn't answer, but I knew. The shock of the sudden upwelling of lost memories had worn off, I knew everything. Marak had abandoned me when I crossed the sands; I was unbound from all previous marriages. He was now in the process of making Lieda the new King's Wife. I think my face expressed my meaning, and Harad's look turned from revulsion and curiosity to desperation.
"You liar!" He exploded and turned toward the goblin King. Indiscernible words, elvish spells burst out of his mouth. Sparks flew, but Harad was not strong in defense magic. With a wave of a hand, Harad was frozen.
Ignoring us now, the King turned back to Lieda. He was cutting her hair, her fingernails, and mixing them into a dish. Then he set it aflame. Clouds of silver mist swirled over the table in an immaterial column. Wisps were attracted to me and I blew them away. The goblin horde cheered again. So much shared elf blood, they heir would be strongly magical. When the smoke drifted away to explore the corners of the room, Marak rubbed the remaining ashes on the blade of the sword, it emitted a ringing hum.
When he raised the sword I had a faint hope that it would cleave her skull in two. Naively I assumed that it couldn't recognize another woman as King's Wife, the position still belonged to me as much as I dreaded it. Beside me Harad was quivering, I pitied him. He was watching the woman he loved being taken by a monster. But he could still treasure her memory, mine would be eternally tarnished. My love was the monster.
Lieda survived the strike, and Marak twisted her to face us. Upon her forehead the golden King's Wife symbol was glittering in triumph-she would remain underground forever. Her face was pale, and her newly healed hands clutched the lapis lazuli, the last gift that Harad could give her. Grey eyes hazy with unshed tears, she all but begged us to save her, but she couldn't speak. When neither of us moved towards her, although Harad's whole body was fighting against his restraining spell, she fell in a dead faint.
Almost tenderly, Marak lifted her from the floor and spread her on the tabletop. "Listen very carefully." He commanded in a low voice. "Persuasion spells don't work on elves unfortunately, but I have another way to convince you to do things."
I wondered what he was trying to get us to do. He had Lieda now as a bride; my coming to the kingdom again had only served the purpose of giving her the snake that symbolized the position of King's Wife. I had enabled my own downfall. With no further use for me, he could release me or give me to another goblin. I hoped that he'd let me go, be married to another goblin, to be trapped underground would be something that I could not bear. He had promised Harad that he would be returned to the forest, and goblins don't lie.
"I am going to give Anna the potion that allows her to speak, and Harad I will reverse your immobilization charm." He watched our reactions closely, I signaled for him to continue assuming that I'd pass out from anxiety before he finished talking. "Be very aware that that snake around Lieda's neck will attack anything that is threatening her. That individual will be bitten before her or she can act. The first bite immobilizes, the second bite kills. The snake will only bite once, then will come to me so I can cast judgment on the assailant.
"Listen to me when I tell you that any scheme of yours to disobey my orders will be considered a direct attack on Lieda's marriage. Because she is in danger you will be putting yourself at my mercy. I am not a merciful person." I nodded. Harad blinked tears away. "Very well," Marak again offered me the goblet and this time I drank. I chose to remain silent. When Harad was freed, his only motion was to drop to his knees and sob.
"Stand up." Marak ordered him and Harad complied with the ominous hissing of the snake as an incentive. "Now hand her the bread." He obeyed lifelessly. "Anna, eat." My mouth was sandy, it was difficult to swallow. I chewed for an eternity trying to moisten it, eventually I choked it down. A roar of the crowd celebrated our failure, without another word Marak whisked us out.
In the back room he had given Lieda the voice restorative, she was crying, curled in a ball in the corner. Harad was trying to comfort her, patting her on the back, speaking in swift elvish. Marak pulled him away. "She will remain here tonight, you two I will escort personally to the water mirror." Without sparing his weeping bride another minute, he swept us up unending stairs. We passed through the room where I used to sleep, and into his personal office. One wall had water flowing up it, I stirred it with a hand, feeling the coolness ripple around my fingers.
"Imagine a scene. A vivid scene." My first thought was the home from where I'd been taken, my father stitching boots, my sister growing flowers. Half of the mirror reflected it. The other half reflected Harad's scene, a chilling vision of Lieda's body curled up downstairs. Marak chuckled menacingly. "Picture the same scene, a scene from the elf camp perhaps."
There was nothing I wanted to remember, but the water had a reflection of a circle of trees, of bright streaking sunlight. The truce circle where I'd met Harad. I added my own details, a few budding leaves, the flowers I'd danced over. I changed the sky from glaring white to a comforting view of the stars. "Now walk through the water."