Kena felt like one of the village folk. They always seemed so nervous when they visited her mother, knowing full well that their queen was not just a queen, but the High Queen. The most powerful pony in the entire continent, gifted with a magic they couldn’t even begin to understand. And they were standing in front of her asking her to please lower taxes because their business had been slow.
“Are you sure you want to do this alone? I can come with you, Kena,” Flin said for the thousandth time.
“I know. But I need to do this. It’s my mom. It’s my family,” she forced herself to smile, but she knew Flin could see right through her.
He would come with her, she knew that. He’d been by her side ever since she’d came rushing to him in the middle of the night, two days ago. He’d taken such good care of her, that first night but also the day after when she’d been unable to think straight. Flin had made her help him on the farm, picking fruit and feeding the animals. It always calmed her down and helped her think straight, doing such simple chores. Not for the first time, Kena wondered why she had been born a princess.
And she knew he’d been right, of course. Looking back on it, she knew she shouldn’t have just run. It was her mother. Even though they didn’t have the closest relationship, she should have just asked. There had to be an explanation, and she would feel silly for panicking like that. So she had to go alone, to calm her own fears. It was not something Flin could help her with. Besides, her mother might not want to explain with Flin around. She’d never been fond of their friendship, and if this was as secret as they had made it out to be he wouldn’t be allowed to know.
“Okay. Well, Kena… Good luck then. Just know I’m right out here waiting if you need me.”
“I know. I’ll be back soon. And Flin?”
“Thanks. For everything you did for me,” she whispered. The hallway was silent; all she heard was his irregular breathing.
“No problem, Kena.”
She smiled one final time before opening the door of the throne room. Never before had she dreaded going into this room this much. Not even the time she knew she’d had to sit through no less than fifteen speeches when her sister had come of age.
It was her mother’s weekly visiting morning. One morning each week her mother set aside time for visitors from the Crown only. She wasn’t just High Queen; she was queen of the Crown as well, even though she had other ponies do most of those duties for her. But she had to show her subjects that they could approach her, that she was their queen first and foremost. Not that many of them took that opportunity. More often than not, her mother used this morning to catch up with her correspondence.
And so it was now. High Queen Raena sat on the throne, writing what appeared to be a long letter with an elaborate quill. Kena flinched. It reminded her of the black feather and the dark chanting and for a moment she wanted to run back to Flin and never set a hoof in this castle ever again. But she forced the lump in her throat down and coughed.
“Kena! By the Goddess, child, I haven’t seen you in days!” her mother exclaimed as she put her letter and the quill down. Kena suddenly remembered she hadn’t talked to her mother the days before she’d run away either. Had nobody noticed she had been gone for a day?
“I… I’m sorry, mother. I’ve been… busy.”
“I hope not with that farm boy. How many times do I have to tell you it’s not befitting for a princess to hang around with a farmer so often?”
Kena sighed deeply. She hadn’t come here to have this discussion. Again.
“Look, mother, I… I have to ask you something.”
“Not regarding that boy, I hope?”
Kena shook her head. “No. No, mom, it’s not. It’s just… Two nights ago, I went looking for you late in the evening, because I had a question. For a holiday. But that’s for later,” Kena added when her mother was about to interrupt her.
“And, you see, I couldn’t find you in your study so I went looking for you and, well…” She glanced outside, to where the door was. It was invisible now. “I saw movement outside. I thought it may have been a burglar or I don’t know, so I went outside, and I found this door in the wall that I’d never seen before and then I heard this moaning and this chanting and it was awful and then I saw two ponies and a feather that was darker than a starless sky and a cat whose throat was being cut and I don’t know I thought it was you.”
Kena gasped for air. She hadn’t planned on delivering her story that way but the words just kept pouring out like a waterfall after a winter with a lot of snow. She kept staring at the ground, suddenly noticing how plushy the carpet really was, not daring to look up to her mother but waiting for her to start talking.
Which didn’t happen. The silence was deafening. Why didn’t she talk? Why didn’t she walk down the dais and hug her and tell her she’d got it all wrong?
“M…Mom?” Her voice came out as a whisper. Her mouth was so dry and she didn’t want to look up but she had to. Her mother was sitting on the throne still, staring at her with eyes that revealed nothing. She didn’t move a muscle. Kena wondered if she was still breathing.
“Mom? Please say something. It wasn’t you, right? I’d gotten it all wrong and panicked for nothing, right?”
Slowly Raena moved. Her hooves landed on the dais and the sound travelled through the entire room. Kena’s body was shaking, but her mind was so empty she didn’t even notice.
“You saw that, Kena?” Raena asked, her voice deeper than Kena had ever heard.
“I… I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have. I’ll just forget about it. I will…”
“No. Kena. You won’t forget about this. I know you too well to know you won’t. Who did you tell? That boy?”
“What? No! I didn’t tell, I swear I didn’t!” A lie. She’d just lied to her mother. And if there was one thing nobody could do, it was lie to the High Queen.
Because Raena could get into your head. Literally. And so she did. Kena felt her mother coming in like a storm crashing onto the beach. She’d only done this once before, when Kena had been young and had stolen three jars of cookies and refused to tell, even though she’d thrown them all up.
It was different this time. Her mother had been gentle then, but not now. She pulled on her thoughts, taking apart her memories of that night one by one. The movement, the door, the chanting, the feather. Raena’s face. Centrelle. Running.
But not Flin. She wouldn’t let her mother get to Flin. She felt her mother pulling on the memory, knew her mother saw her running through the woods, panicked and her hair a mess and her hooves dirty. The fields, his name, the farm. But she can’t know that he knows. She was the only one who could protect him now.
So the memory changed. She saw him crashing into him, she saw him holding her and she heard herself sob but she didn’t speak. She didn’t tell. Not about the ritual. It had been a bad dream, right? That’s all she told him. About a bad dream in which she cried rivers of blood and where the world had been torn in two, forever divided. That’s what she’d said. That’s why she’d come running. Because the dream had scared her and he was the only pony she felt safe enough with. That’s what she’d told him.
After an eternity of her mind being pulled apart, her mother retreated. Kena lost her balance and fell on the floor, crashing into one of the benches. All she saw was stars and her mother hovering over her. She had no idea what she’d done. Or if her mother bought it. Nobody lied to the High Queen.
The last thing Kena saw was a guard rushing in through the back door of the throne room. He nodded to her mother, who kept staring at her. Kena forced herself to get up on her hooves, but it was no use. They simply refused to carry her, and her mind was too much of a mess to force them.
“Take her away,” her mother hissed. The guard approached her, and that was when it all turned dark.