tagSci-Fi & FantasyVoices Behind Walls Ch. 06

Voices Behind Walls Ch. 06

byDreamerByTheDiamonds©

Lahri tried to get up to leave, but Queen Chiana's austere voice was enough to keep her in place. "You must stay here, Young Princess! You have been accused of a crime, or perhaps we have been accused of a crime." The queen's voice then turned tranquil, like the ocean on a quiet morning. She looked at Ovidu Barta, the slender diplomat seated on the men's side, with a passionless expression. "This is the woman that my son married. Do you believe that she is your country's queen?"

Ovidu Barta was an ordinary looking man with a big brown mole on his hollow cheek. He wasn't intimidating, but the reason behind his presence was enough to make Lahri tremble. Cultivated and humble, Mr. Barta bowed in his seat, his hands folded in his lap almost as a lady would do. "My king has demanded that I return with his wife and child. We were expecting the arrival of a possible heir."

King Aldabert's beautifully adorned head moved to one side as he looked up at the diplomat. His eyes were narrowing. "So, are you honestly accusing me of kidnapping your queen?"

A firm shake of the head, and the diplomat said, "Of course not, Your Majesty. Instead, we believe there was a mistake, an innocent arrangement of errors."

"Innocent arrangement of errors?" repeated the king as he straightened his head. He was holding his scepter, and his fingers tightened around the handle. "So, your king is not accusing us of a crime?"

"Certainly not, Your Majesty."

"If we have not committed a crime, then why should we be required to return this woman?"

The diplomat argued, "She is already married to my king."

"That statement will never signify," the king argued. "Many husbands have sold their wives to us."

Queen Chiana interrupted the conversation. She wasn't holding her scepter, but she did make a sweeping gesture that flapped her sleeve around. "Does this man have any evidence to suggest that this princess here is his queen?"

Lahri knew there was, but she wasn't going to show it to anyone. Her fingernails nearly pierced her own palms. Breathing through her nose was difficult.

Vansoth reached out to her as if he wanted her hand. He snorted out a loud bit of air and his eyes were sharp, but otherwise he seemed gentle. Lahri was instantly comforted. He wouldn't let anything happen to her. He'd hide the truth. She put her palm right onto his, feeling his rings and calluses.

And he smiled so lovingly at her.

Without looking away from his wife, Prince Vansoth said with a confident voice, "She told me the truth as I courted her. This is Queen Ileana Rozali Breibalt."

If jaws were connected by screws, then Lahri's screws would have popped out and her jaw would have clattered onto the floor. Her face nearly melted. That's how loose the muscles were. Her spine gave in. She fell over, but Vansoth literally pushed her back to a proper posture.

Lahri could taste the air, soil and dust, silk and straw, metal and musk.

King Aldabert responded with a tone that was far too indifferent. In fact, he sounded as if he hadn't felt any chip of surprise, as if he had expected such a controversial fact to be revealed. "Oh, that isn't something a woman normally claims. If she were found to be a liar, then there would be extreme consequences in store for her."

Lahri had let go of Vansoth's hand then. She was putting her tightening fingers to her bosom, mindlessly staring out at ... well ... she didn't know what she was looking at. Panic was distracting her eyes.

Queen Chiana offered her husband this sentence. "She must not have wanted people to believe she was Queen Ileana because Vansoth hadn't formally announced it until now."

"Then we have every reason to assume this woman is Queen Ileana," the king firmly said. "Not only that, but this diplomat also claims she is that queen. So, what should be done?"

Mr. Barta insisted his argument again, but he was still polite. "Please, Your Majesty. Please return our queen and her child to their home."

The king tapped is palm with the orb on his scepter, looking down at the earth and humming to himself for a moment. Then, he looked up at his wife, and he asked, "Should we confess?"

"Why are you asking me?" the queen said with a playful voice and a beautifully vicious smile. "You're the ruler here. I'm the consort."

"If my wife becomes irate, then I will suffer dearly," the king told her.

She shrugged. "But a wife should never abuse her husband in any way."

"And a husband should never abuse his wife." The king looked back to the diplomat. "Prince Vansoth told us the truth long ago, but his wife lived on assuming that her secret was well kept. We accepted that woman and her child with her true identity deep in our thoughts."

Lahri wanted to vomit. The only reason she didn't get up and leave was because she thought Queen Chiana might do something violent to her ... or even to Meia. The queen had always seemed to coddle the child, but people could be very unpredictable, especially when angered.

Mr. Barta's eyes grew twice in size, but he managed to say, "Your Majesty is quite knowledgeable."

Queen Chiana serenely explained to the diplomat, "We've had quite a bit of interesting research. In Duklok, for example, we learned that a certain Purveyor had to report that Raobet officials had been seeking her out to execute her. She had recently purchased a mother and newborn from a woman named Vera, and that poor Vera had been publicly hanged for treason ... but I don't think anyone in Duklok nor Breden would call her actions treasonous."

Lahri's stomach was bitter.

Vera was dead?

And that dwarf Purveyor was wanted in Raobet?

All because of her?!

King Aldabert snorted against his palm as if he wanted to laugh. His eyes were far too cheerful. The wrinkles on his face stretched and warped. "The Purveyor insisted that she had not illegally obtained any females. She also insisted that she had done the mother a grand favor. The poor little creature had the most sickening and unspeakable marks on her body. Someone had clearly mistreated her, to say the least. It was clear that the woman had fled wherever she came from of her own free will."

Queen Chiana's eyelids winced as if she wanted to smile, but she wasn't smiling anymore. "Nobody from Duklok nor Breden has committed any crime against Raobet, at least not in this particular incident." She then held her long sleeve to her lips and sighed as if she was losing her patience.

"So," the king said after licking his teeth, "our response to your king's request is ... hmmmm ... Vansoth!"

The prince nodded to his father. "Yes, Sir?"

"What is that phrase? I don't hear it often, but you've been around the more vulgar kinds of people. What is that funny little phrase? It made your mother laugh when you explained it to her."

A single stomp of one of his front legs, and then Vansoth said quite proudly, "Fuck off."

The king laughed. Then he coughed. Then he steadied himself with a few long breaths, and he said to the diplomat. "Yes, there it is! Fuck off! That's what I have to say to your king. Fuck off!" He flicked his scepter at the human man. "Now go. Take your retinue and go. I don't want you in my castle any longer. And leave Breden before the week is over."

Queen Chiana pointed her fingers towards Lahri. "You may leave now, Little Darling."

Lahri shot up and rushed off, slamming walls open, desperately thinking that she needed to keep her child away from this insane world. Where was she? Oh, with one of the aunts! Lahri needed to find her, hold her, and keep her close.

Some time later, she confined herself with Meia in a room made by sliding walls, the wooden ones instead of the paper ones. She didn't come out no matter how many different people asked for her, not even when Vansoth pleaded ... especially not when Vansoth pleaded.

She'd only open a wall for a short period or two to take or give trays of food or basic supplies, and she was always very quick about it.

And she cried a lot.

When she wasn't crying, she was silent.

Poor Meia was often disturbed by her mother's odd behavior, but she was otherwise fine. Lahri wasn't too distraught to try to play with her baby, making faces and singing falsely happy songs.

Often, Vansoth would try to lure her out with singing. Oh ... the beautiful songs he'd sing! Every note would twinge and burn in Lahri's nerves, and Meia's eyes would light up as she listened. But Lahri refused to respond to the songs, no matter how painfully Vansoth sang.

One morning, Lahri heard great pounding on the wall that separated her from the men, and then there was the wet and angry words from her husband. "Lahri! Lahri! Unlock and open the wall! Let me see the child! Please! Hate me as much as you wish, but don't keep me from my child!"

Grinding her teeth together, Lahri refused to do anything for him.

This went on for some days, but on one of these days the queen arrived behind one of the walls. Fortunately for Lahri, she had the good sense to lock the walls so nobody could burst in on her.

The queen rapped on the wall and let her voice be heard. "Princess Lahri? This is your husband's mother."

"Yes, Your Majesty," Lahri said with a tired voice, changing Meia's clothes. "I can hear you."

"I came to give you a warning, Darling. You have every right to hide yourself from your husband even if you aren't angry with him. The child is a different matter. He has adopted Meia, and so she is his. If you continue to alienate the child, then eventually he will have no choice but to initiate a divorce."

Lahri didn't see a problem with that. She thought a divorce would be perfectly fine. Why should she remain married to such a deceitful creature?!

There was a long pause. Then the queen said, "Perhaps you don't understand the situation. Your father, the one who adopted you, he will be required to return the land and gold and you will be sent to his estate, but he will keep his new title. As for Meia, she will remain here, with us, and you will likely never see her again. She will continue her life as the heir's daughter while you will go on without being a princess."

Lahri's throat turned as cold and slimy as a fish pulled out of an icy lake. She looked down at Meia's innocent little face and tried not to sob.

The queen continued. "You should be proud to be married to such a man. He planned your fate, and Raobet's fate, all from the beginning, with the counsel of his concerned parents, of course."

There was a youthful giggle. Was the queen truly amused? "Raobet, as a nation, hasn't been faring well as it once did. The king there has only exacerbated the problems. He's been quite tyrannical, and his people are not happy with him. Civil war is highly likely."

Another giggle. "Certainly, this country is at its weakest point. If we had a war with them, we would likely destroy them."

Lahri gasped and bent over, putting her palms to her belly.

"But it would be much nicer to have Raobet declare war against us, wouldn't it? Being the aggressor can be so damaging to one's reputation." the queen went on. "That king has a terrible temper, and he doesn't seem to use much logic. Now that we've ... ah ... insulted him by taking his wife and child, he'll certainly start a war, and we've prepared for that."

Why in the world was she laughing again?! She almost sounded like a child! "Hahahaha!! We could always use another breeding colony, and at the end of this we'll certainly have taken a large section of their lands for our own."

Lahri's head slowly rose. "Breeding ... colony? I don't understand."

"Oh, has nobody told you? We already have two colonies. We don't only benefit from their resources, but every few years cautious census takers visit the colonies to see if the humans there have an excess of little girl children. If that is so, then the girls are taken away and distributed among the lowest classes with highest priority given to those with no daughters."

"It's the most sensible thing. Centaurs rarely sire many daughters, which means every generation has a great lack of them. This will destroy us if we don't keep the population as balanced as possible. Keeping humans in breeding colonies is a fine option, and this is what will most likely happen to the people of Raobet. Be grateful that you aren't among them."

Lahri fell over, prostrating herself before nothing. Lightly, miserably, she puled out, "My people ... my people!!"

"They are your people no longer. Consider that. Well, I should go and see about the other women. I hope you've listened to me well."

As the queen left, Lahri felt her tears come.

***

Meia could roll over all on her own. She could sit up without any support. She could stand up and bounce a little. She could also crawl for short periods. Meia could recognize who was familiar to her and who was a stranger. She liked to play with toys and she loved having another person play with her. Sometimes, Lahri would hold a small mirror over Meia's face, and the little child would stare at her own reflection with true interest.

She seemed to understand her own name, and she could even respond to words with her own attempts. She was even teething, which caused great discomfort, but was still a grand milestone, and Lahri was slowly introducing her to tiny portions of solid food. Meia had grown so much, and Vansoth had been so pleased to watch her grow.

But in the past few days, Vansoth hadn't been able to enjoy the progress.

That hurt his hearts worse than any misunderstanding between him and his wife.

One afternoon, Vansoth stood behind a panel he knew that Lahri sat behind, as he had done many times before. He had shooed all the servants away and closed the walls around himself. One arm held a bolt of expensive silk. The fine, black fabric had blue and yellow embroidery forming whimsical images of spinning tops and yo-yos. His free arm went to the wooden panel, and he knocked there.

"Lahri? Lahri, can you hear me?" He knew she could. "I found some wonderful silk. You could have a new dress made from it, or perhaps one for Meia. There are charming little toys in the pattern." This was one of his more desperate attempts at getting her to open the wall and show her face, and to let him check in on the baby. "Please ... oh please ... Pudding?"

Cushioned little footsteps, like tapping one's fingers on a pillow.

The upper wall slid into its hollow pocket, rolling away with a light whisper.

Lahri!

Red curls untamed and messy, face white with hints of pink and even blue, a plain dress of brown and white with no layers in the sleeves. A fur-lined cloak was lightly pinned around her shoulders. She was almost like a misplaced or even abandoned doll.

Yet in her arms, a squirming little Meia turned her head to look up at him, and she smiled.

And her soft little arm stretched out ... her tiny hand shook ... Meia was reaching out to him!

Vansoth tossed the silk into the woman's quarters, thoughtlessly letting it bounce on the straw mats. His large hands went right under the child's armpits, and he took her from Lahri. He held Meia's waist firm with one arm and used the other to support her bottom.

Both of his chests were fluttering with pure relief.

"Hello there, Little Bear!" Vansoth loved the shiny happiness in the baby's green eyes. "Do you remember me?" He was pleased to see that she was wearing fur in her tiny outfit, including a little cloak with a hood, which was tilted back. It was growing colder and colder with each day.

Meia put her hand right on his chin and tapped at him. Vansoth decided to kiss her little fingers and put her hood back over her head. "Oh, I think you do remember me. Did you hear my songs? Hm? Why don't I sing for you again?"

Before he could put out a single note, Lahri picked up the bolt of silk and said to him with a breathy voice, "We have all the fabric we could need. Would you please give this to one of your sisters?"

Stroking the baby's red hair, Vansoth looked at Lahri's face and actually beamed at her. "Oh take the stupid thing! I don't want to have an argument over that." He looked back to Meia's face and started a gentle but playful little song, lightly moving the baby up and down with the music.

After putting the silk away, Lahri pulled her sleeves over the lower wall and folded her arms against that wall's edge. Her eyes were almost glassy.

At the end of the song, Vansoth held Meia only a bit tighter so he could quickly but cautiously trot around the room a few times, giving the child a pleasurable little ride as she laughed. When he made the fifth round, he stopped and asked Lahri for a toy. Lahri retreated for a moment and then returned with a soft doll made of cloth and straw.

Vansoth took the limp thing and held it within Meia's grasp. Meia took the doll and fiddled with it for a good three minutes. Then she dropped it. Vansoth was quick. He caught it long before it had a chance to touch the dirt floor. Then he gave the doll back to Lahri.

"This is a sugary little bear," Vansoth said. He kissed her nose. That innocent little gesture put a thrilling sensation in his brain. It was better than anything else. Vansoth held and snuggled with the soft little creature. Then he carefully lowered her into Lahri's arms. "Oh Wife, I'm surprised you haven't fallen ill from excess sugar."

Lahri's face was so ... eerie. "She is a dear little child."

Vansoth didn't like how odd his wife was being. Wasn't she happy now? Hadn't she realized that everything was fine? Why else would she show herself to him?

His brow furrowed as he decided they needed to talk.

"Lahri?" He bowed to her a little. "Perhaps you could send Meia to one of the other women? I think we should have a conversation, and it might become too upsetting for the child to witness."

She looked up at him with the most ... hurtful ... wet eyes ... the sad expression had him gulping down a gravelly mass of pain.

She said, "I suppose it would be best to hide the littlest ones from the more difficult aspects of life." Then she gathered up Meia's things and politely excused herself. Meia uttered out the most adorable nonsense as she was carried out of view.

***

Behind one of the walls Lahri was planning to move aside, she heard the queen talking.

"When your father passes on, Lahri will be the new mistress of this family, and I won't be able to protect you if you anger her. Therefore, you'd best keep your virtues."

"Yes, Ma'am," said one woman.

"Yes, Ma'am," repeated another.

"Very well," the queen said with a tiring voice. "Continue with your calligraphy. A potential husband would prize a woman with fine handwriting."

Lahri knocked on the wall. "Pardon me?"

"Oh, Lahri! Please enter!" That was Queen Chiana again. "I'm so relieved to know you've opened yourself to us."

Lahri slid the wall away and mentally noted the three women. Those two daughters were still too afraid to look up at her while the queen was cheerful and friendly. She held her hands out towards Meia. "Oh, there's my Cubbie-Bear! Has she been eating well?"

With a little sigh, Lahri bowed, kissed Meia's cheek, and handed her over to the queen. "She's fine, Your Majesty."

"Has she seen her father?" The queen tapped Meia's nose with an end of her fur stole. She was a good few steps away from a brazier full of hot charcoal and covered with a lid for safety.

"Yes, Your Majesty. She was excited to be near him, and he seemed to feel the same."

Petting Meia's cheek and chin with a fingertip, Queen Chiana smiled down at the child's face. "Would you like to see one of your aunts? They've missed you dearly."

"Would it be acceptable if they were to keep her for some time?"

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