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“I remember the process you’re talking about, Arnie.” With her eyes closed, Queen Lilian gazed at the pointed end of a memory that still cut into her heart. “We haven’t used it since Mother died.” She opened her eyes and willed her face to smile.
King Arnie asked, “Could we use it for Randall?”
“Of course. We’ll prepare a work area tonight, and they can bring his body in the morning.”
“Thank you, Lilian.” The King looked at his feet. “I tried to keep him safe, and I failed.”
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The Crone’s windowless cell in Fen’s lockup allowed her to take one step in any direction before bumping into a wall or a gate of narrowly spaced bars. Anger and contempt seething in her gut, she didn’t hear the stealthy scratch of clawed feet creeping down the rough hewn stairway leading from the jail above to the shadow-filled dungeon she occupied.
She jumped, bumping her head on the low ceiling, at the honeyed whisper in the dark.
“Good evening, Madam Duggla. I come with a message from the General.”
Gasping, the Crone spread her bulk against the back wall as far from the bars as it was possible to be.
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With Clifton winging his way west and the few land and air forces remaining in central Fen now following Sheela to the front lines, Queen Lilian looked inward. “None of the patrols reported any movement along those borders. Why didn’t I know this was going to happen?”
Shaking his head, Vernon reasoned, “They must have gone well north of The Arids before turning east, figuring no one would look for them coming from that way.”
Lilian’s brow wrinkled. “I should have thought of that.”
“My love,” Vernon persisted, taking her hand, unless you had sent patrols across the border, you couldn’t have discovered they were there. No one knew. None of the spies sent to the Arids managed to infiltrate the General’s War Council. Even Lady Lucy hadn’t gained enough of his trust to learn their strategy.”
The entrance Guard called, “Drago Galadeen and Madam Delilah.”
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Princess Cassandra began every morning in Cassandra’s Clearing, its sweetly optimistic raspberry scent wafting through the crannies in her mind, inspiring pleasant thoughts and images wherever anxious imaginings tried to take hold.
Sitting with closed eyes and a calm heart, she could think of Elliot as she’d last seen him instead of worrying about what might happen to him because of this war. She could anticipate his return and becoming parents together, without impatience. She could spend hours daydreaming about what their child would be like when it finally arrived.
She attributed her serenity to the joyful aroma of raspberries, and believed others would find the same restorative powers here that she had. So even though Queen Lilian had designated Cassandra’s Clearing as a private space for the Princess, Cassandra welcomed anyone who needed a peaceful place to rejuvenate a worldweary spirit.
That’s why she felt no alarm when an unfamiliar voice glopped into her meditation.
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King Arnie sent one third of the Knights he’d brought to Fen to go with Prince Elliot to the Freelands. He ordered another third to keep Princess Cassandra safe in Fen. With his small remaining contingent, his Greatness swept unnoticed through Bog. He didn’t stop till they reached the jail.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked the prisoner who’d freed the Crone.
“Of course I do, your Greatness,” the jittery fellow twittered, bowing his head. “I was born and raised in the Cranberry Bog, same as you.”
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