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The Soul of a Queen

Chapter Text

They walked together through the halls and shivered as the cold inside hit them, drawing a little closer together. It was absolutely quiet once the gates closed; not even the howling wind outside could be heard. Only their footsteps, thudding softly on the carpet, and the quiet hitch of their breaths gave truth to the idea that anything could live in this castle where only death had reigned for many years.

They didn’t speak as they walked the short distance from the gate to the main entrance to the throne room, but Jowd stood still for what felt like a long time before the closed doors. It wasn’t as if they didn’t all know what he was feeling or thinking, but stillness ill-suited Cabanela and finally he snaked a hand forward to the handle and threw one door open with an echoing thunk against the wall behind it. Jowd started, and glared at him, but Cabanela shrugged unrepentantly and shoved him forward, which did precisely nothing as Jowd had frozen again, staring up at the throne.

He was a stone, cold and hard. Yet his chest expanded and contracted too deeply as he stood, breathing too heavily for the faint exertion the stairs had brought him, and staring at his wife. She lay, slumped and pale, eyes open, in the throne of Doma, from which her mother had once dispensed justice and mercy with the same evenhanded honor.  It seemed the whispers in Nikeah were true then, and everything led here. Her breathing was shallow; she looked emaciated, only one step from the corpse they’d all thought she was at first. How long had she been here?

Kamila darted past him, to her mother’s side. “Mama. Wake up!” she cried, shaking Alma hard. Alma’s head lolled to the side and her eyelids fluttered closed, then open again, but otherwise, showed no signs of life, much less of hearing her name called. Kamila clung to her, trying to warm her, to rouse her, but nothing worked. The time passed and Kamila subsided with nothing changed.

Cabanela strolled past Jowd too, bold and insouciant as ever. He put a hand on Alma’s shoulder. “Let’s get you ooout of that chair, huh, baby? Maybe get her into a bed?” he said over his shoulder to Jowd, but his voice died as Jowd swept past him and just barely managed to stop himself from twitching Cabanela’s hand aside.

Old betrayals died hard, and Cabanela knew that Jowd knew what had brought him here, but he tried not to shrink back at the glare Jowd fixed him with as his king said only, “Yes. She has rooms on this floor.”  Jowd swept Alma’s body, too light and so cold, into his arms.

Cabanela danced forward, shaking off his unease. “Let me help.”

Jowd flinched away from him, his hands clutching Alma too hard into his chest before he relaxed them. “I’ve got her.”

Cabanela’s hands dropped and his face went a little stiffer, but he swept into an elaborate bow, motioning Jowd out of the throne room. He and Kamila trailed behind Jowd as he strode toward her old rooms; almost despite himself, Cabanela met Kamila’s worried glance with one of his own. Jowd’s mental state had been mercurial from the time they’d met again in Tzen. What would this do to him? She’d been so near and so far, all along.

Phantom stirred restlessly. “What now?”

Cabanela shrugged. “We decide wheeether it’s safe to get her out of here as she is, baby.”

“I don’t think…it is.” Phantom’s reply was slow and thoughtful. “There’s something watching us and I don’t think it will let us leave so easily.”

“I’d like to see it stop us,” Cabanela said easily, and snapped, his fingers throwing sparks. “We’ve come a long way since we saw that mask last, baby.”

It’s not… that mask that rules here,” Phantom said. “There’s someone else? It feels….familiar, somehow. It all does.”

Cabanela got the sense of Phantom frowning, but was distracted by Kamila stretching her shorter legs to match her father’s longer stride as she caught up to him.

“Papa.” There was no answer.

Papa.” Jowd cut his eyes to her and kept walking. She put a hand on his arm. “Mama will be OK. …Won’t she?”

“Of course she will,” Jowd said, tone sardonic. “A little more rest with her eyes closed and she’ll be fine.”

“I’m not a child,” she said sulkily. “You can tell me the truth.”

“I know,” Jowd said. His shoulders twitched in an aborted shrug, and he looked away. “I know.”

Kamila’s lips twisted in frustration and she dropped back again. Cabanela slung an arm over her shoulders. “Don’t leeet it get to you, baby.”

“He doesn’t trust me, or you,” Kamila said, too frustrated to lower her voice. “Or even himself!” Ahead of her, Jowd flinched, his shoulders tensing again. Kamila didn’t notice, her eyes downcast as she kept walking. “I thought when we were all together again it would be better.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I miss my family.”

That stung, but Cabanela shrugged it off as best he could, relying as always on momentum to keep this ball rolling. “But we’ve found her now, baby, and things are gonna be better any minute now as she wakes up.”

Kamila didn’t look convinced, and Cabanela cast about for something else to distract her. His eyes were caught by the castle guest rooms, untouched, it seemed, by time or the predations of whatever foul thing had taken roost here. He cleared his throat. “It’s laaate,” he said. “Why don’t we let your parents have some time alone and I’ll make us some dinner before we get out of here?”

Kamila’s stomach rumbled on cue. “That does sound good. I’m so hungry…” she looked confused and her eyes flickered. “But there’s nothing left here, is there…?”

Cabanela shrugged and gave her a big smile. “We’ll make do, baby, like always.”

He peeked into the small kitchen, and found a frying pan. Kamila brightened when she saw it. “Oooh. Could we make doughnuts? Mom loves doughnuts. We could share them when she wakes up!”

Cabanela grinned and dove back into the cabinets, emerging triumphantly with ingredients. “Now we’re talkin’!”

Phantom spoke up, “I thought all the supplies were gone long since, taken by the humans in Nikeah?”

Cabanela’s eyes flickered as he tried to process this, and both he and Kamila stood very still for a long second. Then, as if Phantom hadn’t spoken, he continued setting out his cooking area, getting everything neat and tidy for cooking and the meal after.

“Let’s geeet started, shall we?” he held out a hand to Kamila, and twirled her when she took it. She giggled, then began pulling out ingredients from nowhere as well.

Cabanela lit the fire with a snap and noted Kamila’s intent face with satisfaction as she carefully poured oil into a pan to heat. At last, something was going right.