Chapter 174 – Prisoner Mára

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The way Mára maneuvered me into a duel had been dirty, but if it had been illegal, the crown prince surely wouldn’t have permitted it from the start. So was she restrained now because she didn’t stop at first blood? As the challenger, it was her prerogative to decide what constituted satisfaction. She should have declared that the duel was to the death before it began. But, was failing to do so a crime?

I was wondering how to ask for an explanation as the leafy ‘curtains’ continued to part, revealing Manlon on her right and his disciples on her left.

“Little Manlon, you are still keeping Lady Mára bound?”

The fairling prince replied, “I wish to keep her inside the formation in order to purge any remaining demonic mana, Esteemed Father. My apologies if you find her appearance unseemly. She cannot form a raiment while the formation is active.”

But why don’t you find her something to wear? was my unspoken retort. Then the significance of what he had said set in.

‘Any remaining demonic mana.’

I shivered as I remembered purifying a fairy and witnessing a black cloud of a demonic nature escaping from her. His words were the final piece. Not only did the interactions with Oranos and the memories really happen, the events after the visitation ended, which I had half-convinced myself were a dream, also really happened.

“You’ve made a study of the creature that you trapped,” Oberon noted.

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Manlon gestured, and his older disciple Pasrue picked up a birdcage-like container sitting next to her. The King beckoned, so she carried it into the ‘pavilion’, holding it up so the contents could be seen readily.

As he studied it, a shifting mass of black– it looked like a thick cloud of bad car exhaust– roiled around within the bars. A grotesque face would form from time to time in the surface of the smoke, then vanish again. From its motion, it was clear that some enchantment on the cage kept it from escaping.

Prince Manlon followed her out of the side chamber. As he took a seat on a rock near Princess Tenre, he stated, “Ordinarily a gidim will make itself invisible to normal eyesight. As a side-effect of the modifications that someone made to it, it seems to have lost that ability.”

Tenre asked, “Son, do you have any explanation yet for how it hid within Mára so well that no fairy eyes noticed it?”

With a troubled scowl, Manlon answered, “The proximate cause is that it is extraordinarily powerful for a demonic spirit, but it has somehow failed to level up into an incarnate demon. But that begs the question of how such a thing can even exist, so I have no proper explanation, Mom.”

She gave a slight chuckle, with a slightly indulgent smile for her little brother. Manlon seemed to notice something, then amended, “Salnedo (Esteemed Sister).”

Probably, while deep in thought, he had accidentally reverted back to his childhood habit of calling his older sister Sere (Mom). Or perhaps he still called her that in private?

Tenre was likely the one who had raised him, rather than the mortal woman who actually gave birth to him. As someone also raised by substitutes instead of my birth mother (at least in the Tiana memories surviving inside me), I felt a spiritual kinship with him.

Well, I suppose as Tiana, I had an actual kinship with him, but whatever.

After Oberon had observed the gidim for a while, he gestured to Pasrue to take it away. She bowed and returned to her place beside Talene.

The princess nearest to me, the one who had been with Gelon and Tenre to watch my fight, wondered, “If nobody could see the demon inside Mára, how did Tiana-innan know to use [Purification] on her?”

As I suddenly found myself the focus of everyone’s attention, I shrank a little.

Was I going to have to admit the same insane thing to everyone that I had told my grandfather? But before I could answer, a familiar voice answer for me.

“Big Sis, smart smart, that’s why!”

Kiki appeared above the King’s right shoulder, hovering in mid-air, with her little chin triumphantly high and her little fists propped on her hips.

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I saw a number of annoyed expressions, but Oberon smiled as he turned toward the little pixie. “You were here, Little Auntie?”

She dropped onto his shoulder. “Big Bro tell Kiki bring Big Sis!”

Well, she was speaking Fairy, so she actually called us Belne and Salne.

“So you are the explanation for how Little Tiana made it to our valley on her own,” he deduced, turning his focus to Serera.

The fairy captain nodded, “It’s in my written report, Your Majesty.”

“Being ‘smart smart’ doesn’t explain how my sister could see what nobody else could see,” the fairy next to me objected.

Sister? I jumped a bit when I heard that word. She smirked mischeivously as she noticed my surprise.

Leaning toward me, she settled her hand on my arm and said, quietly, “We meet for the first time, Innanmi. I’m Amana.”

She seemed to be a true fairy, not a half. I found myself wondering if Mother had a fairy husband she was cheating on with Owen. Not exactly the place to ask, of course…

“My question stands,” she noted, raising an eyebrow and folding her arms as she settled back, but the smile on her face didn’t look unfriendly.

“Boss told her!” Kiki declared. “Boss talks to Big Sis and me! We’re smart smart!”

“Auntie…” Oberon stated carefully, looking a little annoyed. “You’re telling secrets again.”

Kiki clapped her hand to her mouth, looking worried. The King grew a wry smile.

He grew serious once more and stated, “We shall leave this subject for a later time and fewer ears. For now, let us focus on the matter of Lady Mára.”

That got the attention of the others off me, although I was still focused on what Kiki had just said. Did it mean that she knew Oranos spoke to me? I couldn’t imagine anyone else corresponding to the ‘Boss’ she mentioned.

It would also be yet another confirmation that the divine visit really happened.

Manlon, who appeared to be serving as some sort of scientific advisor to the King, was presenting what he knew about the nature of Mára’s demonic possession, but much of it was mage technical matters that were too far above my level of education. But while my ears wer buzzing, I remembered there was another potential witness to my talk with Oranos. He was rarely talkative, so I had yet to actually speak to him since waking up.

I asked, Hey, old man?

Yes, My Lady, Durandal answered immediately.

Did you see what happened to me right after I stabbed Mára?

I saw a divine visitation come over you, My Lady. I was only partly caught in it myself. I could only hear your replies. I could not hear the divine one’s words, nor did I see whatever the divine one showed you.

I tuned back in to what was happened before me because my grandfather raised his voice slightly to address Mára, who was still seated and bound inside Manlon’s magic circle.

“Mára of the Old Grove, raise your head.”

When she looked up, I was a little surprised to see how defiant she appeared. Her lips were pressed tightly together.

“Are you aware of your actions yesterday?”

Her lips remained pressed together and she turned a glare toward Manlon. He appeared to notice something, then smiled and snapped his fingers.

A faint hint of mana disappeared from in front of her mouth. Now able to speak, she lifted her chin and declared, “I defended the honor of my granddaughter and my clan, Your Majesty!”

That shocked me. They were talking about demonic possession and such, and I thought for sure she would deny remembering anything, or insist her actions were the actions of the demon. She sounded perfectly upright instead.

When I glanced toward the King, I could see he had the same thoughts. But Manlon wasn’t surprised at all.

He noted, “A skillful enough demonic possession leaves the host convinced of the righteousness of her actions. Even after it is gone, she will continue to convince herself that her decisions were correct. The only difference is that now she might be persuaded otherwise and the demon can no longer confuse her further.”

“I have no awareness of any demon, mortal!” she retorted with a vicious stare for him. “You are the one trying to confuse me with your nonsense! My husband will be quite angry about my treatment here, I’ll have you know!”

Manlon grew slightly perplexed as he listened to her ire. “You should probably temper your speech a bit, My Lady. I am, more or less, a prince, you know.”

“Mára,” Tenre stated in a cold voice, “Your husband and his clan may live beyond Relador’s borders, but they are not exempt from the laws of Faerie. Your behavior yesterday is still under review. At the very least, spare your husband from any further headaches.”

She pressed her lips together and looked toward the King, ignoring Tenre’s advice.

“Your Majesty, is it your policy now to imprison those who duel against your offspring? The girl claims to be a knight; it’s no crime to demand satisfaction of her when she offends!”

“You failed to obey the direct orders of both myself and the Lady of the Valley to cease and desist,” Gelon replied after the King did not reply. “Not only are we both royals, Elder Sister was officiating your match at the time. In your insubordination, you continued your attack at a time when your opponent was unarmed. I was about to order the barrier dropped so your opponent’s second could enter the battle when my niece somehow managed to extricate herself. At the time I reached that point, you had already won the duel and were instead engaging in an assault on a royal personage.”

“The Old Grove, and the majority of the Lords do not recognize her as such!” she declared defiantly.

“The King,” Oberon stated firmly, “does not see that as relevant. Royal or not, you were assaulting her. If your husband or any other Lord believe they can stop me from taking vengeance for one of my family, they must fight me themselves. I nearly killed that old goat the last time he challenged me, but he’s welcome to try again.”

Her eyes grew wider, and her face remained indignant, but she didn’t reply.

The King turned toward Serera. “Where is the knight you were planning to have appear alongside Tiana?”

“Lady Feraen has disappeared, Your Majesty,” she replied. “She slipped away from the bailiffs after they took her out of the stadium. We have not seen her since.”

He grew a troubled frown. “I understand she’s also been unreasonably hostile to Tiana. I had hoped to have Little Manlon examine her.”

“To what purpose?” Mára demanded. “My son’s daughter shall not be treated so rudely! She is a noble daughter of Old Grove!”

“I’m troubled by the unprecedented event of a demon possessing a fairy,” Oberon declared. “I’m worried others may be possessed. If it cannot be easily seen, then we cannot say how many are afflicted by such creatures.”

“No fairy can possibly be possessed by demons!” Mára retorted.

“Little Pasrue, hold that cage up again,” Manlon directed.

As his disciple complied, he pointed at it and asked, “If no demon can possess a fairy, where did that creature come from?”

She gave him a scowl that was both angry and puzzled. “Where did what creature come from?”

Everyone present stared at her in confusion as the gidim continued to billow and boil inside its cage, blatantly visible and obvious.

She didn’t see it?

As the shocked silence stretched, Mára looked around and grew baffled. “Are you people all trying to convince me you can see something in that cage? It’s clearly empty!”

“Little Manlon…” the King began, then stopped, as if he weren’t sure how to proceed.

“This is preposterous! My husband shall…” Mára began to declare, but Manlon snapped his fingers and her mouth clamped shut as if restrained by an invisible muzzle.

“Esteemed Father, I shall make a thorough examination of Lady Mára,” Manlon promised, with a bow. “It must be either a spell or an after-effect of possession. Since there is no precedent, the sequelae of a fairy demonic possession are of course, unknown.”

Poor Mára looked like she was about to burst from indignation.

- my thoughts:

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Next chapter is the final chapter of this volume. Amongst other things, we'll learn a little about the mysterious Kiki.

Check out my other novels: Sword Of The King and Tales of the ESDF

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