For the longest time, there was only darkness in my existence. I can’t distinguish between reality and illusion.
Strangers – human and beast – people I don’t know; have appeared like specters in my nightmares, unbelievably terrifying. Voices have taunted my mind, pretending to know me. They’ve filled my consciousness with fabrications, played tricks on my fragile psyche.
I thought I was losing my mind. The doctor tells me I had, in fact, lost control of my mind for many months. It was a reaction to trauma, he explained – for I’d been kidnapped by our enemies.
I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding my capture; nor can I recall the enforced imprisonment I was subjected to in their stronghold – a walled city known as Zaen. I’m thankful that I can’t remember the torture they inflicted, although the scars remain on my body. Numerous strange, pale markings cover my arms and upper chest, creating ornate patterns against my skin, virtually indistinguishable unless they are viewed in sunlight – when they shine silver. The doctor believes they are the mark of some extremely dark magic, deliberately burnt into my skin to drive me to insanity.
I’ve discovered abundant mutilations on other parts of my body – fine lines mark the skin above my left breast; thin jagged scars mar the skin on my wrists and across my forearms. The worst wound is a long cut across my abdomen, which remains more visible than the other scars – I had been viciously slashed with a knife before I could be rescued. Doctor Bran assures me it will fade with time, just like the nightmares I endured.
For months, the torment has continued; even after my rescue, those strange voices haunted my nightmares. It has taken great effort on Doctor Bran’s behalf to get the medication dosage finely tuned enough to cease these endless horrors.
Physically, I’m incredibly healthy – my body is strong and finely muscled; a curvaceous body which has defied the ravages of the illness.
The state of my mental health continues to be an issue and I’ve been informed by the good doctor that I will require medication for the rest of my life, to ensure the madness does not have the opportunity to descend again. He administers the medication at strictly regulated intervals. Despite my protests at being treated like a child – arguing that I could manage the medication myself – both Bran and my husband insist the medication is extremely potent and must be carefully monitored and administered to avoid a relapse.
The enemy continues to battle against our forces, though I’m repeatedly assured they will be defeated. I have little to do with these affairs, my only obligation being to regain good health. Due to the nature of my breakdown, people avoid alarming me with details regarding the war. Discussions are held away from my earshot, spoken about in hushed voices, to ensure I won’t be destabilized by hearing unpleasant news.
Sometimes, I do catch snippets of what’s said. The enemy group are renegades, who refuse to conform to our world’s rules. Werewolves, shape shifters, some radicalized Fae – even vampires have united to attack those who wish for a peaceful life in the Fae Realm.
I was kidnapped purely because I am Archangelo’s wife. Considered a primary target by the renegades, their leader captured me – a werewolf named Conal Tremaine. He had apparently hoped to force Archangelo into surrender, by abducting me.
The renegades’ plans were thwarted, however, when Archangelo rescued me during a ferocious battle between our forces and theirs. Archangelo brought me home to the Realm, to our heavily-fortified villa in the city of Tamekeel. We are under the direct protection of the Queen’s Guard and I’m constantly watched, to ensure the enemy won’t succeed in capturing me a second time.
Chapter One: Preparations
Nissa stood before me, holding up two gowns for inspection. She smiled, revealing the deep dimples in her cheeks and small, sharp teeth. Her eyes –vivid orange, the color of mandarin garnets – were startling against her silky black hair and long, thick eyelashes. “You have dinner with Queen Aethelwine this evening. Which gown would you prefer to wear?”
I glanced up from the sketchpad resting on my knee and sighed inwardly. Despite my gratitude for Aethelwine’s protection, I disliked the woman intensely and found her company deeply unsettling. She was incredibly arrogant and had a streak of cruelty which left me uneasy in her company. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to attending a formal banquet with the woman. “I don’t mind. You choose.”
The tall Elvin woman twirled the gowns to face her, examining the violet silk with the long sleeves, and then the maroon velvet with its tulle underskirt. “I like the maroon one,” she announced.
“Then I shall wear the maroon one.” I turned my attention to the sketchpad, but my gaze kept drifting towards the glorious view outside. With a population of four thousand, Tamekeel was a beautiful city of black granite buildings. Culverts of water rushed along the edges of many of the streets, plummeting down the cliffs the city was perched upon. Picturesque gardens encircled ornately carved buildings, which boasted towering spires and complex lacework patterns carved on every surface. The buildings gleamed in the late afternoon sun, throwing prisms of brilliant light throughout the streets.
It would be pleasant to stroll through the city, enjoying the beauty of my surroundings and sketching various landmarks, but Archangelo refused to consider it. He insisted it was far too dangerous to wander through the streets. He’d been outrageously protective since the abduction; it had terrified him when I’d been stolen away, and although I could understand his need to shelter me, I found his protectiveness stifling.
A ghost of a smile curved my lips. I hadn’t recognized Archangelo when I’d first woken after the breakdown. Nor had I recognized Doctor Bran – and he’d apparently been my physician for years. Every memory had been expunged during the illness. Everything I know now is what I’ve been told since I started to recover. I didn’t remember my parents, nor how I’d come to be in the Fae Realm – a human child in a foreign world. Archangelo says I was found on the edges of the Sorgone River – a human baby, taken in and raised by a childless Elven couple. I’d grown up in Tamekeel and lived in the city all my life.
I wanted to meet with the couple who had been responsible for my welfare as a child, but Archangelo refused my request, insisting I must stay inside the villa. The only time I have permission to explore is if Archangelo accompanies me and as he’s away so often, the opportunity never presents itself.
Queen Aethelwine traditionally rules from Sarbon, the royal city of the Fae, but relocated to Tamekeel as a security precaution. High in the Blackdawn mountains, Tamekeel is easier to defend than Sarbon. Aethelwine’s guards patrol the streets constantly, protecting us from attack.
I don’t even recall my binding vows to Archangelo. We met when the Drâghici united with the Fae, to fight the renegades. Archangelo traveled to Tamekeel with his two uncles and an aunt, to ratify the agreement with the Fae. His relatives are extremely ancient vampires, who only want peace in the supernatural world, and are intent on doing all in their power to protect the creatures under their rule.
Archangelo is an enigma within the supernatural world, being part vampire and part angel – the only one of his kind in existence. It is said that the Angel Nememiah has bestowed him with special powers. Because of his exceptional abilities, he’s been charged with leading the war against the renegades.
Within weeks of meeting, I’m told, Archangelo and I had fallen in love and partaken in the Fae binding vows, becoming man and wife. It was a simple ceremony, with only a few witnesses and of course, Queen Aethelwine, whose presence was considered a great honor and a blessing to our union. I had hoped there might be some tangible evidence of the wedding, eager to trigger some memories of my own. Unfortunately, there is nothing, only the rings on my finger and the recollections of those present. Archangelo assures me I was a stunning bride, and regularly regales me with stories of our first romantic days together as man and wife.
I’m constantly frustrated because I don’t remember a single fragment of it.
My gaze drifted across the river, towards the endless plains far below the city itself. I longed to go out for a walk, to visit the streets of Tamekeel and see if the sights and sounds would trigger memories of my past.
Everything I know of myself, and those around me, has been discovered in the past four weeks after I awoke from the long illness.
“I’ll run a bath for you,” Nissa announced, hanging the violet gown back in the robe and carefully laying the maroon one across the bed.
I barely glanced away from the window. “Thank you, Nissa.”
She turned and walked gracefully towards the bathing room, her movements lithe and languorous. As with all Fae, Nissa was the epitome of grace, every motion one of understated elegance. The opposite of me. As a human, I can never hope to attain the same natural grace; in fact, Nissa had teasingly compared me more than once to a whirling dervish, barely in control of my limbs.
Nissa performs duties as both bodyguard and lady’s maid. She is proud and beautiful, with a heart-shaped face accentuated by high cheekbones and perfect skin the color of the finest ivory. Jet black hair is braided and hangs to her waist, and a multitude of gold earrings hang from her earlobes. Still young, she will be celebrating her one hundred and twentieth birthday next month and I intend to ask Archangelo’s permission to arrange a small gift for her, the next time he comes home to the villa.
When not caring for me, Nissa is a member of the Queen’s Guard, who had been assigned specifically to my protection. Calm and self-assured, she carries an ever-present silver dagger at her waist. I’ve been informed that she is an outstanding warrior, who will defend me to the death. Since she’d been assigned four weeks ago, I’d grown to like and respect her and considered her my closest, and only, friend.
Gazing out of the window again, I considered what I would do without Nissa in my life. She was my constant companion and I knew her better than anyone else in the Realm.
My attention was drawn to the elaborate binding rings on my right hand, glittering in the late afternoon sunlight. I knew Nissa better than I knew my own husband – and that knowledge frightened me.
For the most part, Archangelo was charming, generous to a fault, and very attentive when he was here. But I didn’t know him. There was no doubt he had shown a great deal of patience in helping me learn about our relationship; waxing lyrical about our first meeting, our life together – weaving it together into a very romantic tale; our own happily ever after. There was little doubt he adored me, but I was desperate for a memory – any memory – to reveal itself, something which would trigger recollections of the love I held for him.
There were times when I felt some regard for him, and times when I experience some mild affection, but I couldn’t seem to rediscover the love which had presumably filled my heart when I agreed to bind with him. He spent as much time with me as he could, but the war drew him away from Tamekeel frequently. My heart fluttered uncomfortably when I considered how relieved I felt in his absence. Despite his obvious adoration, I found him overbearing and… I was a little scared of him.
Inhaling sharply, I admitted the truth to myself. I was frightened of Archangelo. Occasionally I caught a flash of anger in his green eyes. Analyzing this train of thought, it seemed he always became incensed when I spoke of the past, questioned events trying to remember them.
Staring at my hand, I recalled the first time I’d suffered a frisson of fear in his presence. The rings which bound me to Archangelo were elaborate; large and intricate gold bands with ostentatious emerald and diamond settings. Although I had no memory of my previous life, I was certain these rings were not tokens I’d have chosen. I’d questioned Archangelo on this matter one evening as we lay in bed, assuming he’d selected them.
I was bewildered when he’d informed me they were my choice. It seemed uncharacteristic, from what little I knew about myself, to choose those rings, although I had no idea why I felt that way. Archangelo had been adamant, his eyes icy cold when I’d innocently suggested they didn’t seem to be of a style I would have chosen. While there had been nothing in his behavior that was untoward, I’d gotten the impression he was lying.
And that frightened me. Why would the man I loved – the man who shared my bed – lie to me about something like that?
Movement outside captured my attention and I stepped onto the balcony, watching a platoon of Royal Guards marching down the street. They had a group of eight people in their midst, and I wondered if they were captured renegades. On closer scrutiny, they didn’t look like anything other than normal people. Humans. Three men and five women, stumbling along the street, being corralled between members of the Royal Guard. When they got closer, I could see their features more clearly and I realized they were terrified. One young woman clung to a man’s hand, her eyes roaming anxiously across the street scene as she hurried to keep up with the others.
“Come, Angel.” Nissa appeared, urging me to return inside.
“Who are they?” I questioned faintly. “Are they renegades, do you think?”
Nissa shook her head firmly. “I don’t know, Angel. I think it’s better for both of us if you don’t ask questions like that.” She caught hold of my arm and drew me inside. “You need to hurry, Archangelo will be here within the hour and he will expect you to be ready to attend the Queen’s banquet.”
She led me towards the bathing room, but my gaze remained firmly focused on the window. “They were human,” I remarked softly. “Human like me.”
Nissa stopped in her tracks and turned to face me, her startling orange eyes grim. “Angel, don’t mention them again. Please. Forget that you saw them and don’t mention this to Archangelo.”