Back in the main hall, the other members of the party are surprised to see Thodek return so soon. In fact, Eomer has not yet finished giving an account of his meeting with the Queen when Thordek arrives.
Thu’fir has left the Citadel on an errand. Upon hearing that they should bury Noreeno’s jewelery, he remembered the ring they recovered from General Tarvis. He suspects this ring is exactly the sort of thing she was talking about, and he has hurried off to find a suitable place to bury it.
Before the others can Question Thordek about his short interview, a bell rings and a female voice announces, “Enoch and Skeeve.”
The iron door opens, and Enoch and Skeeve enter the darkness. They seek the red light, just as their companions did. At last they find themselves before the throne of Queen Allidia.
She greets them, “Welcome Skeeve, keeper of the orb. And Enoch: My castle is ever dark and I hate the light. It is a strange day indeed when I invite a servant of the sun into my home.”
They bow respectfully, but say nothing.
She continues, “I have no doubt you have both noticed that Mordan is seeking the orb. The fight you had with my traitorous general should be enough of a warning: Many will come forward to claim the orb. Some will serve Mordan. Some will serve themselves. The fact that both my own general and Magistrate Noreeno are allied with Mordan has shown me that the Children of the Citadel are not extinct, as we all thought they were. They have hidden among us, all these long years, waiting for the chance to free their master. Watch for them. You must not give the orb to anyone. Not to a trusted friend. Not to any who claim to serve me or act in my name. Not even for a moment. Guard it with your life. I warn you: Mordan will work to drive you mad through the orb. Soon he will appear in your dreams and fill you with fear. You will be safe from his influence within my city, but be prepared for his deceptions once you leave Fol Thron.”
Now she waits, allowing them to ask questions.
Skeeve speaks up, “Your majesty, how can we hope to defeat Mordan?”
The Queen answers, “There is no hope. We are now working to delay the inevitable. Perhaps a solution will present itself.”
Enoch poses a question, “Couldn’t we return to orb to where we found it, and then he would be imprisoned again?”
“A cunning thought. It is true that if his crypt is intact he could again be imprisoned. However, I can no longer see my lands to the north. Everything from Crossway to Fort Bolwood is dark to me. I do not know if it is even possible to retake the crypt. Also, Mordan is no fool. He may simply unmake his former prison. If he destroys it, then your hope is lost, for none that now live have the magic to construct another.
“So yes, if you can re-take Crossway. If he has not destroyed his prison. If you can reach the chamber and replace the orb. And then if you can defeat him in battle. Once all of this is done, he will once again be imprisoned.”
This sounds a little unlikely to Enoch and Skeeve. Enoch presents another carefully worded question, “I have read some of the folklore of your land, and read of some of the legends of the mountain. In particular… Um. It seems like they are, I mean…” He falters, wary of offending her.
“You speak of the legends of the Spirit of Fiore?”
“And you believe them to be true.”
He is quite nervous by this point, “Yes.”
“Of course they are true.”
Enoch is shocked, “You believe it’s true?”
She insists, “I know it’s true.”
He is encouraged by this, so he pushes on, “What if that curse is lifted? Would that weaken Mordan or…?”
She looks amused, “Lift the curse? You may try if you think you know how. But to answer your question: No, lifting the curse of Fiore would not daunt Mordan. These are two seperate challenges. But if you think you have the might to face both Mordan as well as search for the undoing of an ancient curse then by all means do so.”
Enoch is cowed by this, but something has caught Skeeve’s attention, “You say you believe in the curse of Fiore, yet your scholars teach that it is a false heresy. Why do you forbid that which you know to be true?”
At this, she steps back and sits on the great dark throne. She begins her tale, “You have read the history of these lands. You know that none have passed on their power to their own, as is the custom of Kings and Queens. The history of Mar Tesaro is a history of war, murder, betrayal, and revolution as one power supplants another. Power is never passed on; it has always been taken. Most rulers here have made the mistake of being too weak and allowing their enemies to multiply, or too cruel and forcing them to unite. Mordan: Too cruel. Ignol: too cruel. Rhone: not nearly cruel enough. And so it goes.
“The secret of ruling Khelberg is keeping the right balance of control. This is why I have ruled longer than any other. So to answer your question, if I were to allow that the teachings were true, it would cause my foes among my own people to multiply. To question my strength and my right to rule.
Skeeve and Enoch are not really pursuaded by this answer, although they don’t dare question it. She seems to sense it, so she adds, “Perhaps it would help to know that I have not had more than two visitors in over a century. Long ago, Pallan Lorman came to me as a friend, after the war against Mordan. He came and offered me a gift: A spell of magical regeneration. It would heal my wounds, no matter how terrible, as long as I could still draw breath. The spell would preserve me and keep me whole for many long years if I accepted it. He cautioned me that the spell held a danger: If the spell was ever removed, I would instantly die.”
Enoch and Skeeve look at each other. They are not sure what to make of the tale so far.
She continues, “I accepted this gift from my new friend, and I even thanked him for it, though it would be my undoing. His trechery was revealed when he met with me, in this very room, with two of his lieutenants. He began to cast a spell which would lift the healing, causing me to die. Another ran towards me with a sword, seeking to plunge it into my heart. The other cast a spell upon my eyes to blind me. I only had time to stop one of the three. What could I do? If Lorman succeeded, I would die. I slew him, and endured the other two. Lorman’s ‘gift’ saved my life, but I pay the price to this very day. The spell on my eyes caused them to be burned away. The healing gift restores them. The two spells ever work against each other, burning my eyes but never fully consuming them. The pain of this is beyond your imagining.
“I am resolved never again to be too weak in the face of my enemies.”
They aren’t sure if this really answers their question or not, but neither Skeeve nor Enoch is going to press the point with her now.
Now the Queen stands. She steps forward and presents Skeeve with a simple hooded cloak of thin, earth-colored thread, “I give you this gift. When worn, it will shield your mind from the influence of Mordan. It will not keep him at bay forever, but it may delay madness if you wear it in your travels.”