Delilah lived in a beautiful castle, surrounded by trees and nature. The buildings of the city were further away, giving her privacy, something she appreciated. The castle had been redecorated recently, and she was still getting used to the way it looked. She paused on her way past the music room. No one had played music in there for a very long time. Paintings lined the walls, and the long corridor that stretched from her chambers, past the great hall and to the dining room was well lit by several windows.
The night before she had had a terrible dream. She was sure of it but now that she was awake and moving, she couldn’t remember it. She did not want to. She paused at a beautiful painting of children. They all stood around a dog, and one little girl was hiding something behind her back. Maybe she did remember that one. Probably she had told Mathias to keep it. He knew which ones she was particularly fond of.
The castle was quiet this morning, but her own chambers were far enough from the kitchens that it wasn’t unusual. Outside her windows, a well manicured garden greeted her. She missed the flowers of summer already. The cold had set in for good now, but at least its icy fingers didn’t reach her here. She continued walking. A sharp pain in her thigh made her pause. She looked down and lifted her beautiful green skirts.
She gasped. What had happened to her leg? It seemed fine a moment ago. A long gash ran from her upper thigh to her knee. It seemed like she could remember what had happened, but then it slipped away as quickly as her dream.
Mathias came running up to her. He was a handsome young man with red hair and a shaven face. “Your majesty, are you well?”
She felt confused. Embarrassed by how high she had hiked up her skirts, she let them drop. “I seem to have cut my leg, though I cannot remember how I did it.”
“Here, let me help you to the dining room. Then I will send someone in to look at your leg.” He was such a good steward and she liked the way his strong arm wrapped around her waist. It was much easier to walk with him helping. “You definitely need to eat. We need to keep your strength up.”
She nodded. “I am having so much trouble thinking clearly this morning.” He smiled at her and for a moment she thought it was a cruel smile, but no, that wasn’t right.
“I will get you a tonic that will clear your thoughts, but it is very important that you eat.”
The dining room was just off of the kitchen, and it was large for just one person, but it was her castle. Maybe she needed to hire more servants to fill it. A table was set in the corner with a white tablecloth, fine china and silverware. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was. Mathias helped her to the chair and she sat. “Thank you,” she told him.
He bowed. “I will return with that drought as I promised.”
“Don’t forget about my leg.”
He sounded almost insulted. “Of course not.” He bowed again and was gone. Delilah ate hot porridge, three poached eggs and an apple. It was all perfectly warmed, and the apple was as fresh as if it had been picked this morning. She felt that she hadn’t eaten in days. Maybe it was because of her leg. Her body was trying to heal. That was probably why she was so hungry.
Delilah felt better. The food had been delicious. She would have to tell the cook. Cooks could be such fickle servants.
Someone in front of her cleared her throat. Delilah looked up to see a woman seated across the table. She was dressed immaculately in red, making Delilah wonder where she had come from. She was beautiful with coppery skin and high cheekbones, but who was she. There was something familiar about her smile. It was almost vicious, like she was about to growl.
Something about this woman made her nervous. She wasn’t sure why. No one should make a queen nervous and yet…
Finally Delilah found her voice. “Welcome.” She couldn’t remember the woman’s name, but she should know her, shouldn’t she? “Would you also like something to eat?”
Mathias walked into the dining room and bowed to her and the other woman. Then he poured wine and handed a glass to the stranger. The way the woman’s eyes wandered over Mathias’s body, made Delilah feel uncomfortable, but Mathias didn’t seem to notice.
He handed a glass to Delilah.
She cocked an eyebrow. “Isn’t it a bit early for wine?”
“It’s the draught I told you would help with your memory.”
“Oh.” It smelled exactly like a deep red wine.
“Your guest is Lady Lilleth,” he whispered in her ear.
“Thank you for coming, Lady Lillith. It is so kind of you to pay me this visit.” She couldn’t help thinking of the fact that she couldn’t remember exactly why the woman was here and what she needed. Surely this wasn’t a social call. She would’ve remembered her friends.
Lillith looked unhappy. “Your majesty, I come to you because I need your help. Trouble is on the border to the east. I come from there, you know. My farm has been overrun with enemy soldiers. I fear what is happening to my home even now.” The woman paused, looking heartbroken. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. Had she been calm a moment ago?
“I am sure I can find a way of helping you. I will send some of my soldiers.”
“Your highness, I fear that may not be enough. I do not mean to impose on your generosity, however the border is being overrun. You must send more of your soldiers than just one contingent. I fear my home will be in ruins by the time I get back.” The woman began to sob.
“I am sure we can send all but my personal guard…” She trailed off. A massive pain throbbed in Delilah’s head. It came on suddenly and she rubbed at her temples. She remembered people screaming, a man burning to death. That was her dream. That was the terror that had woken her up this morning. Finally the pain subsided and she looked up to tell the woman she would do everything she could. She looked down at her empty plate. Was it the tonic that was hurting her head so?
She looked back up but Lillith was gone. Then from behind her, she heard her voice. “There is something I need you to retrieve for me. Send the soldiers and get me what I need.”
Delilah nodded. “Of course, Lady Lillith. Anything you need.”