Queen Celene Herakles, Location Unknown
I wasn't fooled. Not by the feast laid out on the long table before me, nor the false smile on the face of the man stuffing his mouth with food as if he hadn't a care in the world. I knew the truth, and the warm clothing and slippers he'd provided a few hours before I'd been escorted to this dining room did not make me want to talk. Not to him. Not to anyone on this doomed space cruiser. They’d given me a ReGen wand and access to a bathing tube. I felt well… for now.
This was a test of patience, a test of wills. Who would endure? A test of faith. Trust. Patience, for it had been twenty-seven years since I’d been home, to Alera. I’d escaped their machinations all those years ago, but they’d finally found me.
I had no regrets. Back on Earth, I had no doubt that my beloved Adam was worried. But he knew me, knew our daughters. He had chosen to love me despite who I was and the future that we both knew would come for us.
I imagined him back on Earth, impatient. Trusting in his daughters. It wouldn’t be easy, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he came for all of us. He was a Marine who’d gone to college, then law school. He’d earned the respect of his peers and became a judge. He was rock solid. My anchor and my love. When he arrived, he would fight for our daughters with every ounce of his being – the soldier and the judge. These idiot kidnappers wouldn’t have figured him into their equation. And they hadn’t expected Trinity, Faith and Destiny. They doubted my strength, and they doubted my daughters as well. The attitude might be more typical of Earth, but for an Aleran male, it was quite surprising. Women ruled the world. Literally. And always had.
While these mercenaries—and their master—had captured the queen, they’d accomplished nothing. If my spire went dark, Trinity would ascend to the throne. My capture, the interrogations, this meal, were all for nothing. Twenty-seven years of waiting, twenty-seven years of planning, of organizing. Of preparing my daughters to take their rightful place, would not be ruined by one meat-head pawn and an enemy afraid to show his face.
While I was queen and held the highest power on Alera, three princesses shared it now. It would only be a matter of time before they realized that. And so, I continued to be patient. And endure. And have faith that my children would become the powerful rulers they were destined to be.
I lifted a piece of well-cooked meat to my lips. Not because I was hungry, but because I needed the strength to survive for my daughters. I didn’t want to die. Of course not. But now I could die without the worry for my people. They were in good hands with Trinity, and with Faith and Destiny by her side. I hoped to live so I could see them rule, to see them seated beside me on the throne.
This idiot had no idea who he was messing with. As Destiny often said, no one fucked with the Jones women. Including me. I taught my girls everything I knew. And so had their father.
I hid a smile at that thought and glanced at my captor. He was gorging himself and lifted a carafe of wine. He poured the dark liquid, filling my glass until it nearly ran over. He swallowed, then burped. “Drink. Eat. Then we will talk.”
Talk? As my daughters would say—that was soooo not going to happen.
I ignored the wine and reached for water instead. I needed to keep a clear head. The food was quite good, a wide variety of delicious meats, cheeses and fruits. Some, I hadn't eaten since I was a girl, their flavors exploding on my tongue like a thousand memories long forgotten.
"Where are your daughters, Celene? I assume all three are yours?" He spoke while still chewing, his teeth ripping apart the meat, small chunks flying out of his mouth to land on the table. Gross.
“I thought we were going to eat first, then talk,” I countered, then popped a berry into my mouth. I would not let him have the better of me, so I ignored him, closed my eyes and bit into the juicy flesh. I expected him to reach out, perhaps slap me for my backtalk, but the blow never came. Evidently, he wanted me whole, clean, content. For what, I didn’t know.
For now, I savored the sweet fruit. I used to pick berries with my grandmother in the mountains, laughing and playing in the tall grasses, chasing butterflies as she followed behind with a basket of woven silver. The citadel had given her the gift of nature, of being able to nurture plants and make them grow, to heal black, burned soil. To save a tree with a touch of her hand.
Chewing slowly, I wondered what gifts the citadel had given my daughters. The spires were alight. My captors had revealed this to me, shown me the vids. My girls had been chosen—just as I knew they would—and blessed by the ancient intelligence housed in the citadel's walls. But blessed with what? I was desperately curious. When I’d first heard of their success, I'd hoped that my Destiny would be given a gift that would help her track me to my prison. I still held that hope, that they would find me and I could give this asshole a middle finger salute. I might have taught my daughters some things, but they’d taught me as well.
With a deep sigh, I opened my eyes and looked at the screen that filled most of the wall opposite me. If this were a dinner party, the view of Alera from where we orbited in space would be fantastic. Beautiful. I knew the planet looked much like Earth, but with more green hues in the atmosphere, less water. More mountains. Like my home. Mytikas. A home I might never see again. Hope. Faith. Trust. I clenched my hands together in my lap. I had to stay strong, but there was no ReGen wand for one’s psyche.
“Where are the royal jewels, Celene?”
I shrugged, putting a few berries in my mouth. So much for later. “I'm sure my daughter has them by now.”
“No!” He slammed his hand down on the table, making the silverware jump and land with a rattle. “Where. Are. They?”
My mouth was full of food and I took my time finishing. Just because he was a barbarian, didn't mean I had to act like one as well. I was a queen. He? Well, as best I could tell, he was just a mercenary. And not a very bright one. He scowled at me, his eyes shadowed by a long, tangled mess created by eyebrows that desperately needed trimming. I guessed his age to be near sixty, the lines around his eyes and mouth were deep and not pleasant. He was lean, not fat, but the lack of weight deepened the lines in his face, aging him as if he’d lived a hard life, half-starved and tired. His skin was burned a deep red, as if he’d started off a nice brown but been baked by the sun so many times his body have given up healing. But that burnt-on color was broken in a long, white, hooked scar that started at the left corner of his mouth and ended just below his jawline, as if he’d been caught by a fisherman’s hook and torn his cheek to pieces breaking free. He wore a bland soldier’s uniform with no insignia or markings to indicate his rank. But he was clearly in charge aboard this ship. The other, younger soldiers cowered in fear whenever he was near, as if readying themselves to be beaten.
“Tell your master that I haven't seen the jewels in almost thirty years,” I told him.
“They could be anywhere.”
“You are not a good liar.”
“I am not lying.”
His smile was wide, calculating, his eyes narrow as he scowled. "Trinity is making quite a spectacle of herself." He waved his hand and one of the guards who'd helped him beat me just hours ago touched a control pad, changing the scene on the large screen to that of my daughter. “As you can see, she is not wearing the jewels. Nor is she taking the crown, insisting that so long as you live, you are the rightful queen.”
I watched as Trinity stood on the steps of my old family home, the palace in Mytikas. I recognized the stonework, the plantings, the grand entry. It had not changed. She had, though. Her usual jeans and t-shirt were replaced with a breathtaking gown, sparkling like white fire and diamonds on top, the long skirt a pool of dark red blood and power. She looked magnificent with her long blonde hair, makeup. Her chin was tilted up, shoulders back. She was Aleran through and through, nobility was in her DNA. She looked like a queen.
My chest squeezed tight as I watched the short recording play through again and again, obviously on some kind of loop. Pride and love filled me up until my eyes overflowed with the emotions clogging them. I could have held them back, but I didn't see any reason to. The asshole next to me wouldn't understand what the tears truly meant. He would assume I was upset. Sad.
The opposite was, in fact, the case. I had never been so fiercely proud, so confident in my daughters. They were warrior queens. Strong. Smart. Alera didn't need me. Not anymore. Not when they were so ready to lead. I drank more water, ate another berry, all as my captor watched me like a snake about to strike.
“The jewels will not help your master now. They are of no value, not with Trinity on the throne.”
He laughed, dashing my mood. “So naive. You think the fact that you bred daughters will stop my masters? They eliminated the entire royal bloodline, every single one of you capable of carrying the gifts.”
My head jerked up and my eyes were wide with shock before I could control my reaction to his words.
“Oh, yes, Celene. We know about the secret gifts bestowed upon you by the citadel itself.”
My heart pounded, but I maintained the queen’s reserve. “I don't know what you're talking about.” Deny, deny, deny. “What gifts? The light of the spire is a gift to the people. That is the only gift.”
Maybe he was bluffing. No one spoke of the psychic and telepathic gifts outside of the family. No one. It was forbidden, therefore, no one should know about them.
He leaned back in his chair, rubbing the matted remains of what once must have been a full head of hair. The greasy strands looked like they hadn't been washed in weeks. “I wonder what gift your daughter received,” he replied, ignoring my words. Standing, he lifted his chin to the guard. “Take her back to her cell.”
I stood; I wouldn’t be yanked from my chair. The guard grabbed my elbow and I let him lead me away. I was unhurt at the moment. My stomach was full. Trinity was in the palace. Destiny and Faith were, as yet, unknown on the planet. Everything appeared to be going according to the plan my daughters and I had agreed upon years ago. Patience. Faith. Trust.
I turned my head at my captor’s voice. The guard stopped, allowing me to stand still to listen.
“It doesn't matter what gift she has. The gifts didn't save your parents. They didn’t save your husband. You might have hidden for decades, but they didn't save you either. And they won't save your daughters.”