Author's Note: So this is my first Green Rider story, and this idea would not leave me alone. I've reread the entire series numerous times, and I'm dying to know when the next one will be out! Since I'm sure it'll be some time before we see it, I thought maybe this could keep me (and hopefully all of you) busy for a little while. This takes place right after Blackveil. Do me a favor and let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: None of the characters and places you recognize are mine. I am not making a profit; this is purely for fun. No copyright infringement intended.
Behind the mask of cool indifference that he knew clouded his features, Zachary was having a hard time concentrating. His thoughts bounced from subject to subject, unwilling to remain trained on the droning voice of his new General of the Armies, General Hamer. The General was reporting on his takeover of the Armies, just as the King had instructed him to do when he'd appointed him two weeks ago. The replacement of his entire retinue of advisors had been quite the ordeal, one that he doubted he could have handled as smoothly as he did without the invaluable guidance of his friend, Laren Mapstone. The Queen, of course, had been an active member of the deliberations, and the three of them had spent many evenings discussing the merits of each individual candidate.
Estora had shown herself to be a capable and dedicated Queen; she was well suited to the post, he would not deny that. Zachary knew Laren well enough to know that his long time friend approved of the woman, and seeing them interact during those long nights had sealed his belief in their growing esteem of one another.
Despite her suitability for the position; despite Captain Mapstone's approval of her; despite all of the things that worked in her favor, Zachary could not say that he was happy. Though Estora was a sweet and caring woman, beautiful of features and character, his heart remained with another; one who added to all of Estora's charms a certain fire, an indomitable spunk and zest for life that left him in awe. Estora was his Queen, but Karigan was the wild creature that beat within his breast. She was always with him: the sound of her voice whispering in his ears when he thought no one was around, the rose of the blush that dusted her cheeks so vibrant in his memory when he closed his eyes.
The shuffle of Connly's feet to his right grabbed his attention just as General Hamer concluded his report, but Zachary didn't have time to ponder whether or not his Green Rider had purposely tried to get his attention or if it had been mere coincidence.
"The transition has gone as smoothly as possible, Sire," General Hamer told him confidently.
"Then you have no formal complaints to lodge?" Zachary queried.
"Excellent. I expect great things from you, General."
"I shall do my best not to disappoint, Your Majesty."
"I believe you."
Zachary dismissed the gathered crowd then, thankful for the end of the morning audience. Beside him, Estora shifted almost imperceptibly in her seat at the same moment Rider Connly's stomach let out a ferocious grumble. The other man tried to hide his chagrin, but Zachary just smiled and called out the order for food.
"Have you heard from Captain Mapstone, Rider Connly?" The King asked as he stood, offering Estora his arm.
"Not yet, Sire. I believe she was traveling to Corsa, and do not expect to hear from her for a few days more."
"Please tell me when you do."
"Of course, Sire."
Laren had left just as soon as their work with replacing the advisors was finished. She had requested some well deserved leave time, and he had to admit that he had been surprised to hear that she was headed for Corsa. He had wanted to ask who she was planning to visit in the coastal city but had managed to restrain himself, although he had a decent hunch that it was none other than Karigan's father.
Karigan … Karigan, who was facing only the Gods knew what in that damned forest. He could not stand to think of her there, so far from home, from her friends … from him; so far from any protection he could conceivably offer.
Why must she always be out of his reach?
They were just feet from the door, Estora on his arm and Connly keeping pace beside them, when the doors to the throne room were unceremoniously thrown open. In a flurry of movement, Zachary came up short at the same moment his Weapons materialized around his little group, encasing them in a circle of unyielding black. Zachary could hear the harried words of his herald, Neff, as he tried to argue with someone.
"I will see the King now," a rough voice ground out, "And the Captain. I do not need to be announced."
"Lynx?" Connly threw out, over the formidable circle of Weapons, "Is that you?"
Zachary's stomach seemed to drop all the way through the floor at the terse reply. He remembered Lynx: tall, animalistic in his brooding silence and rarely seen out of his beloved forest. More than that, he had been part of the expedition to Blackveil.
He had been with Karigan.
"Let him through," the King demanded, his voice frosty in his fear.
Like liquid shadows his Weapons disappeared just as quickly as they had come, leaving Zachary with an unobstructed view of Rider Lynx. The King took stock of his rider quickly: tense, old scratches marring his impassive face … and haunted, angry eyes that seemed to suck all the air out of the room. All at once he knew that he did not want to hear what Lynx had to tell him; he knew that his world – the whole world – was about to drop away from him. There were not many reasons for Lynx to be here alone, standing before him without Karigan; whatever the reason, Zachary felt in his bones that it was not a good one.
"You wish to speak with me, Rider Lynx?" He asked, trying to remain collected.
"Your Majesty, I have important news that must not wait."
The Rider seemed to glance quickly at Estora and then pause, as if in uncertainty. For a moment Zachary could not understand the man's hesitance, and then he remembered that he had not yet been married when the expedition left for Blackveil. He was probably waiting to see if the King would dismiss his betrothed, unaware that he stood before his new Queen, or perhaps he was suddenly caught with the realization that he had not bowed before the King; whatever reason lay behind his pause, Zachary did not care.
"Please continue, Rider."
Lynx shifted a hard gaze back to his monarch, unprepared for what was to come and determined that he would get the words out. He would give his report, as was his duty, and answer any questions, and then Lynx fully intended to lose himself in the forests once more. Solitude was what he wanted: an escape from the life of constant pain and sorrow the Green Riders seemed destined to follow. He did not want to watch anymore of his brothers and sisters to die.
Without so much as relaxing his stance, Lynx began the long narrative of their journey into Blackveil. He told of their encounters with the hummingbirds, their separation and eventual rescue of Karigan and Yates, their travel to Argenthyne. He spoke tonelessly, willing the emotion out of his voice and face, determined that he would not break down. He told of the Sleepers and their attack, of the Groundmites, and then his voice began to falter. The events of the last … how long had it been? Weeks? Months? All of it came back to him, the loss of the Eletian, Hana, the death of Grae and Solan … He did not want to remember.
"Lynx?" A soft voice prodded.
His eyes, which had wandered to the floor, snapped up and locked on to the somber and kind face of Lady Estora – Queen Estora now, by the looks of it. A long, breathless moment stretched out before him in which he saw once again the deaths of his companions, people he had come to respect and admire; all except for one: Ard. The man who had tried to assassinate Karigan. Telagioth had told them of his actions, how he had admitted to doing his bidding with the lady's blessing, and a black pit of rage opened within him. Here was his Queen, the woman his King had chosen to help him run and care for their country, and she had blessed the assassination attempt of a hero.
In an unadulterated moment of pain and rage and grief, Lynx let it all out with a lash of his tongue.
"You," He started savagely, unaware that he had begun to tremble, "You … you … she saved us! Again and again she sacrificed her life, everything she was, to keep King and country safe!"
"Lynx …" Connly began, fearing the blackness in the Rider's eyes, but the other man was lost to him.
"Karigan fought … she fought so hard, even when she was on the brink of death, she kept going … and you tried to have her assassinated!" Lynx did not move toward the stricken woman, did not care about his transgression – his voice was rising in pitch, his blood boiling in his veins with unchecked rage, and still he kept going. "You failed, my Queen," and he spit the word out of his mouth as if it were poison, "but you need not worry – Karigan will never come back, because she's dead!"
"Lynx!" Connly yelled, and the taller man jerked as if slapped.
Zachary was certain he was not breathing; he knew that any moment now he would blink and find himself collapsed on the throne room floor, propriety be damned. Then again, perhaps there would not even be a floor; after all, he did not believe in gravity. He did not believe in direction or space or time: how could any of those things exist, when Karigan did not? How could anything exist if Karigan G'ladheon did not?
"Mornhavon returned," Lynx was saying hoarsely, the animosity once again bottled, "He possessed Yates. The last I saw of Karigan, she was shattering a mask at their feet. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the Wanda Plains, Yates dying beside me. Ealdean and Telagioth I found easily; we waited. For days we waited, but no one else came."
No one else came. The words seemed to bounce around in Estora's head, growing in volume until she felt certain someone was screaming in her ear. Ard had indeed tried to kill Karigan – her friend. He had tried and been thwarted, only to be succeeded by Mornhavon.
"You are certain Karigan is dead?" Connly hated the way the word slid off his tongue.
"No; nor am I certain she's alive. As I said, the last time I saw her she was fighting Mornhavon. She had a broken wrist, a severely injured leg and was fighting the effects of some kind of poison. If she did survive Mornhavon's attack, and yet was transported somewhere other than the Wanda Plains – like the rest of us – then think of her situation. Poisoned, injured, possibly bleeding … and alone. What hope does she have?"
Zachary was still standing, the weight of Estora's arm that was linked in his a physical reminder that he was still a functioning human being; he could still feel, still think … could Karigan?
Somewhere in the corner of his mind, a little voice reminded him of Lynx's accusation of Estora, at the unacceptable way he had addressed his monarch and demanded that the action should not go unnoticed and unpunished. That voice was drowned out, however, by a more sinister one that repeated Lynx's words in an unbroken litany: what hope does she have?
Estora was speaking and for all that she stood next to him, he did not hear her words. Instead, his eyes drifted to the shadows around the throne room; the tiniest hint of movement caught his eye, and he watched silently as his Weapons materialized out of the blackness. He found Fastion, whose usual stony expression was marred only by the thin, tight line of his lips. Had he heard? Did he know that Karigan was likely lost to them forever?
"…My cousin, Lord Spane," Estora's words floated to him. "He is being held until proper punishment can be agree upon. I assure you, Rider Lynx, I wish Karigan no harm, and hope with all of my heart that your prediction of her end is false."
"I apologize for my outburst, Your Highness," Lynx replied, but his voice sounded automatic and hollow in Zachary's ears. "I do not know what came over me."
"Your Majesties, with your permission I'd like to dismiss Rider Lynx." This time Connly was addressing them, although he was looking at Zachary. "He has had a rough journey and would appreciate a rest, I'm sure."
"Of course, Connly," Zachary replied without much thought. Then, "Please stay for a few days, Rider Lynx, in case I have any more questions."
Zachary observed the man's bow and subsequent retreat, his mind suspiciously blank. The strain of the last few weeks seemed entirely forgotten, what mild weakness still remained from his illness unimportant; a lot of things seemed unimportant at the moment.
"She's made it out of rough situations before," Estora said quietly, more to herself than to her companions.
"The Captain swears she's made of more spunk than anyone she's ever met," Connly agreed just as softly.
The Weapons had come forward again and formed a loose circle around them. Zachary glanced at some of their faces: Fastion and Willis and Donal … all of them sported the same tense lines about their mouths and eyes, as if for once almost unable to keep their masks in place. These people counted Karigan as friend, he knew, even respected and trusted her in a way that he wasn't sure anyone but they understood.
"She is not dead."
He didn't realize the words had actually left his mouth until Connly glanced questioningly at him.
"I will not believe Karigan G'ladheon is dead without proof."
"She is alone, Zachary …" Estora started.
For the first time in their marriage – in their acquaintance – Zachary lost his temper with her.
"She is alive until proven otherwise!"
Estora did not seem shocked at the heat behind his words; she merely nodded as if she had expected nothing else.
Inwardly, Zachary wanted nothing more than to fly into a mindless rage and throw things around his study – and maybe cry; outwardly, his cheek twitched as he clamped his jaws shut against the urge.
He had sent the woman he loved into the most dangerous place in all of Sacordia; he had quite possibly sent her to her death.
Why hadn't he begged her to stay?