A King's Quest fanfic by Akril 4-5-07
Amaranth – A typically dark reddish-purple flower whose color never fades, typically associated with immortality in Western superstition.
The crow was at the window. Valanice knew it was there without even turning around. She knew that it was only a matter of time before it showed its face again. She and Rosella had returned from the realm of Etheria, and were just calming down from their shared experience. Rosella's finding a man that she tentatively confessed that she was in love with was something that brought joy as well as relief to Valanice, so she knew that the crow was due to visit soon…and now, here it was.
Its appearances weren't frequent, but they were still often enough to make her slightly agitated. At one time, she wasn't sure how long she had been noticing the bird, yet now she was positive that she had been seeing it ever since her wedding day. When she and Graham, her new husband, had exited the monastery, she had looked over her shoulder and had seen a crow perched atop the wooden cross that was mounted on the building's highest arch.
She knew what the creature was the moment she saw it, thanks to many years of thorough schooling in all natural sciences, but she was startled to see it just the same. Seeing a bird typically associated with evil and misfortune perched atop a symbol associated with good was unsettling enough, but until that day, Valanice had never seen a single crow in Kolyma.
At the time, she feared that the crow was an omen of her parents' deaths, and indeed, she had feared them dead for many years, though their absence was still a mystery to her. Even Philomel, the old sorcerer that had transported her and Graham to Graham's homeland, had no idea what had happened to them.
However, one day they came to visit Valanice. Her daughter Rosella was ten years old at the time. So was Alexander, the son that had been taken from her so long ago, the son that she refused to see as anything but alive and well.
One of the servants had rushed up to Graham, shouting something about a "giant white bird with four legs" approaching the castle. When several other servants began reporting the same thing, Graham and Valanice decided to see this "bird" for themselves. Though it had two colossal feathered wings and was flying through the air, it was not a bird, and as fantastic and bizarre as it was, both the king and the queen felt a shiver of recognition as they gazed at it.
It was a huge, white, winged stallion, with a leather bridle covering its face, bearing a single rider upon its unsaddled back. It landed just short of the moat, and the rider announced the imminent arrival of the king and queen of Kolyma: Cedric and Coignice, Valanice's parents.
Everyone was stunned at this sudden news, Valanice most of all. Within the hour, a procession of horse-drawn carriages appeared on the main road that led to Castle Daventry, and a short time after that, Valanice was embracing the two people that she felt she would never see again for more than a decade. Coignice's auburn hair was now a steely gray, and there were many more wrinkles in her round, gentle face, and though the coarse, bristly locks that framed Cedric's angular face were almost completely white, there was still a hint of the bright yellow that it had been in his youth – a color that had reappeared in his granddaughter's golden tresses.
Rosella stared dubiously at the aged couple that Valanice warmly introduced to her. After much persuasion from her mother, the young princess finally stepped out from behind Valanice's dress to greet her relatives. Rosella peered with silent curiosity at her grandfather's face for several seconds, then remarked:
"You have hair like a boar."
Ashamed of her daughter's manners, Valanice scolded Rosella harshly for several minutes. When she turned to apologize for the princess's behavior, Cedric merely chuckled, then said:
"She is like her mother."
Rosella seemed to warm up to Cedric and Coignice after their awkward first meeting. She was completely awestruck when she learned that Pegasus, the winged horse that had appeared earlier that day, was theirs. She began pleading with Cedric for permission to ride the creature. Before Cedric could respond to her request, Valanice firmly said that no daughter of hers was going to go for a ride on a flying horse. After a heated dispute between the three generations, Coignice suggested a compromise, which was to let Rosella feed and pet Pegasus, something which Valanice had to admit she could see no harm in.
Later that afternoon, Rosella fed Pegasus carrots and stroked his wings beneath the shade of a wide oak in the castle gardens while Valanice and her parents kept a close watch on her from a nearby bench.
They had much to say, and they didn't hesitate in relating everything they could to each other; Valanice telling her parents all that had happened since she had become queen of Daventry, while Cedric and Coignice told their daughter what had happened in Kolyma since the day the hideous witch Hagatha (who had finally been defeated several years prior, Cedric said) had imprisoned her in the crystal tower. Both sides were astonished and saddened at times, but when their conversation had reached a lull, Valanice had an entirely new image of what her parents were like, and vice versa.
There was an awkward silence for some time, broken only by the sound of Pegasus softly pawing the earth and the wind in the leaves of the oak. Valanice was the first to finally speak again:
"Mother, Father," she said, trying to hold back her tears, "I can't tell you how sorry I am for leaving you behind and leaving my homeland heirless…but I truly thought you had perished."
"Don't worry, Valanice," said Cedric kindly. "You knew where your heart belonged, and love fettered by royal traditions can never be true. Despite being born a commoner and trained as a knight, your husband has certainly done a fine job of reigning over this kingdom. There are many wise and noble knights in my court, and I am hopeful that one of them will be a ruler just as good as Graham. I have begun the process of singling one out for the honor, and I hope to make my decision as to who will rule in my place upon my return to Kolyma."
Valanice nodded. It was a bittersweet reunion: though she was overcome with joy at seeing her parents alive after years of fearing them dead by Hagatha's hands, she knew that this meeting was destined to be their last. Valanice had started a family of her own in a land that she had quickly grown to love, and the man that she had married was everything that she had been hoping for. Kolyma needed Cedric and Coignice, and Daventry needed Graham and Valanice. In all probability, their paths would never cross again, so Valanice knew she would have to spend as much time with her mother and father as possible before they said their final farewell.
Kolyma seemed more and more like a finished chapter in Valanice's life. Though she had many joyful memories of that land, like those of her parents, friends and the beautiful trees, flowers and mountains, she had many painful ones as well. Her homeland being terrorized by that green-skinned witch, being taken from it, thinking that her parents were killed…and that poor, ragged, thin, dark-haired girl that always tagged along with her…
Valanice was jarred from her thoughts by a movement from beneath the oak tree. She leapt to her feet.
"Rosella, don't even think about mounting that animal!" she cried. Rosella, who had been standing at Pegasus's side with one hand on his back, looked over her shoulder at her mother.
"I wasn't mounting him!" she protested.
"Don't lie to me, Rosella!" Valanice snapped.
The last sentence came not from Valanice, Coignice or Cedric, but from the white horse that Rosella was facing. She gaped, first at the horse, then at her grandparents. Cedric snickered a little and looked embarrassed.
"I'm sorry," he said sheepishly. "Didn't we tell you he could talk?"
Even Valanice couldn't help smiling at this, though there were tears in her eyes now. When the small group left the gardens sometime later, she hardly noticed the black, feathery form flitting about in the branches of the oak.
After a year or two living in Daventry, Valanice felt that the crow she had seen in Kolyma was just a straggler that had been blown there by a storm. Kolyma and Daventry weren't that far apart, and Daventry certainly had a lot of crows. Valanice eventually convinced herself that the way a single crow would sometimes appear on a windowsill or in a nearby tree was merely the way some crows behaved.
But as the years went by, Valanice began watching the crows that flocked in the fields and the crows that "visited" her more closely, and slowly began to realize that the crows she was seeing were all the same one. This crow was always alone, and it never seemed to associate with others of its kind. It was also remarkably tame, and aside from the ragged flap of its wings, it was completely silent – it never cawed or even moaned in the pitiful way that crows occasionally did. As the years went by, the crow even seemed to age; its feathers became shabbier, and the plumage around its beak began to turn gray. It looked quite feeble and ancient the last time Valanice had glimpsed it.
Though she had chased the creature away the first few times it had appeared, thinking it to be a harbinger of ill fate, she had stopped doing so when an odd truth suddenly dawned on her one day: the crow had never visited immediately before a tragedy occurred…it visited only after a tragedy occurred. It came after Alexander had been stolen away, it came after Rosella had come down with that terrible fever when she was very young, it came when Rosella left the castle to be sacrificed to the dragon…
Yet the crow also came on happy occasions as well. It was there on the day Rosella and Alexander had been born, it was there when Castle Daventry had been returned to its original location after its brief imprisonment in Mordack's fortress, and it was there the day Valanice, her husband and daughter had returned from the Land of the Green Isles.
The crow didn't seem to be a prelude to misfortune at all. The way it showed up in the midst of hard times as well as joyful times seemed a bit conflicting, but…what if in times of sorrow, the crow visited Valanice to sympathize and to express its own sadness, while in times of joy, it visited to share in the happiness and silently observe the gaiety from a distance? It was a preposterous idea, but it seemed strangely fitting. Valanice couldn't think of any other reasons why the crow kept appearing in her life.
Valanice's mind left the crow, returning to the day before her parents departed Daventry. As Cedric and Coignice's servants were loading the carriages, the elderly rulers requested to speak with their daughter in private. Valanice led them to the room she and Graham shared, bolting the door behind them. Something about the way her parents had phrased their request made Valanice almost fearful of what they were about to tell her.
"What is it?" she asked softly.
Coignice breathed deeply and began speaking in a voice barely louder than a whisper:
"It's something we have been meaning to tell you about ever since we arrived in your kingdom…it deals with someone from your past. It's not a pleasant story, but we felt it was best that you knew it."
Valanice nodded. Coignice continued:
"When your father, myself, Philomel and the others confronted Hagatha for the final time, it was obvious that she knew that her end was nigh. When Philomel stepped forward to deal with her, however, she fixed her gaze on him and shrieked, ‘You may have triumphed over me, but I have triumphed over your child!'
"Philomel hesitated at this, which very nearly was his downfall, but he was able to avoid the sphere of flames the witch cast at him and calmly inform her that he had no child. He swiftly dispatched her before she could speak again."
"What exactly did he do to her?" Valanice said.
"None of us dared ask," Cedric admitted. "The deeper magic of wizards is one that few people inquire into, and those who do sometimes learn much more about that sort of magic than they bargained for. Philomel only assured us that Hagatha would no longer be a threat to Kolyma.
"Something about the witch's last words puzzled us, though. We spoke to Philomel's wife about it later, after the celebrations had died down."
"Vesta?" Valanice inquired.
"Yes, her," Cedric replied. "When we asked Vesta about Philomel's having a child, she looked startled for a moment, but then she confessed that many years before, she had borne him a child – a little girl."
"Then did Hagatha steal her?" Valanice asked.
"Wait until I've finished my story, daughter," Cedric said gently. "Vesta's having a daughter was a surprise to both of us – apparently she had carried and given birth to the child in complete secrecy. She even left the castle for an inn in the town when the time drew near.
"It was there that she decided that she couldn't raise the child as her own. Because wizards are constantly engrossed in their craft, marriage is incredibly rare among them, if not almost completely nonexistent. Philomel seldom saw Vesta as a wife; she was more of a faithful assistant to him than a spouse. He did love her, but not in the way that she loved him. He would often call upon her to assist him in his work and advise him on certain matters, and there was rarely a day that she didn't help him in some way. She had grown acclimated to this way of life, but she knew that she simply couldn't raise her baby in it."
Valanice shifted uneasily. Cedric continued:
"However, Vesta could also see the child's potential for magic: no matter who brought her up, she would eventually become aware of her power and of her unique parentage as well. She could see much hardship in the child's future, but there was much greatness as well. As soon as the girl was weaned, Vesta left her in a basket on the doorstep of a childless couple that she knew would give the child the love and attention that she and Philomel could never give her."
Valanice was silent. Coignice drew closer to her.
"She also mentioned leaving two flowers in the child's basket that she hoped the couple would interpret as the name she had chosen for the infant," she said quietly. "Which they apparently did. The flowers were…"
"Amaranths," Valanice said without emotion.
Coignice nodded gently.
"Though over the years she glimpsed her child many times in the town and the surrounding lands, Vesta never saw Amaranth again after you were taken from us," she said. "She realized that she must have been killed by Hagatha…which would explain what that monster said to Philomel…"
Valanice said nothing. She gazed out a nearby window at the cloudless sky, her mother's words no longer audible to her. Vesta never knew what happened to Amaranth, but Valanice did. The memory of hearing those unshod footfalls on the tower steps and seeing that haggard, black-haired, dark-eyed girl come stomping up to Hagatha, demanding that the witch release Valanice, were painfully strong in the young queen's mind.
She tried to shut out that vision of the old crone's hand striking that angular, pale face and the echo of that fragile form tumbling down those stairs – those awful, awful stairs! And to think that Amaranth's actions had indirectly led to Valanice's freedom, inspiring Hagatha to give suitors the slimmest of chances to free Valanice by keeping that ramshackle bridge to the portal intact – the bridge Amaranth had created after Hagatha had cut through the land with that chasm in an attempt to stop Amaranth from following her.
Coignice gently grasped her daughter's hands in hers. Valanice slowly turned to face her.
"There is one last thing I want to tell you, Daughter," the elder queen said. "It is something Philomel once told me, something which I have slowly come to accept over the years."
"What?" Valanice asked, her heart still aching from the painful memory.
"In this world, nothing happens without its reason. Every event, no matter how terrible it may be, has its purpose, and eventually, that purpose is revealed."
Valanice fought to keep from shouting. What was her mother implying? That Amaranth died for a reason? That Alexander was kidnapped for a reason?
"What are you suggesting?" she asked in a trembling voice.
"I am suggesting nothing, daughter," Coignice said, with deep sadness clouding her eyes as she acknowledged her daughter's grief. "I am only passing on a piece of wisdom that I have been taught in the hopes that it might bring meaning to your life, just as it did mine. At first, I didn't think much of Philomel's philosophy, but over time, I began to see a pattern that matched what he had told me perfectly."
"What do you mean?"
"In Kolyma, whenever something unpleasant happened to you, Cedric or myself, something so wonderful that it eclipsed the sadness of the previous event would occur. When Hagatha took you from us, you were rescued by a man who was the very man you had been longing for. When she imprisoned us, we were eventually freed and given a chance to restore our kingdom to its former glory, a task which we eventually accomplished.
"I soon realized that these horrible misfortunes weren't merely the result of Fate turning her back on us: they all seemed to happen for a reason. It was then that I truly understood Philomel's words, and I no longer saw tragedy in the same way again."
Coignice gripped Valanice's hand tightly and looked into her face with eyes as azure as the sea that hugged Kolyma's shorelines. In a quiet, firm voice, she said:
"Even the most terrible of events have their purpose, Daughter. Remember that."
And the next day, both Cedric and Coignice had left the castle in the company of their servants. The great white, winged horse sailed placidly through the air ahead of them as they made their way back to Daventry's harbor, the ocean, and the land that was their home.
"Even the most terrible of events have their purpose." A superstitious old sorcerer like Philomel would believe in something like that. Men like him were cut off from the world around them, living in one of their own construction, coming up with their own quaint little theories on life, love and death…how could they philosophize so confidently on things which they had never truly experienced?
For sometime afterwards, Valanice was shocked that her mother would let that empty phrase influence the way she perceived the world. There was no hidden reason behind great misfortunes. They happened all the time, to rich and poor alike, no matter how deserving or undeserving they were, and they weren't always followed by happy events immediately afterwards. What about that time Graham became gravely ill, so ill that he was close to death? It was a stroke of incredible luck that Rosella was able to save him, and the memory of that terrible night certainly wasn't eclipsed by the happiness that followed…
But as time had ground on, Valanice found herself thinking back to this and other tragedies…Alexander's kidnapping, Rosella being chosen as a sacrifice for the dragon, their being kidnapped by that wizard, becoming separated from Rosella in that strange realm of Eldritch…
If it weren't for Graham's sudden sickness when he was tossing his hat to his children, Valanice realized, Rosella would probably never have saved the fairy Genesta or liberated Edgar. Consequently, there would be no one to lure Rosella and Valanice into Eldritch and thwart Malicia's plans.
Not only that, but if Graham had passed on his hat and retired from an adventurous life, he probably wouldn't have been on that walk in the forest the day the wizard Mordack magically whisked Castle Daventry away – Graham would have been in the castle with the rest of the family, and there would be no one to free them…and no one to free Cassima, the girl who was now Alexander's bride.
As for Alexander's kidnapping, he did eventually return home…he even bested a menacing wizard and destroyed the dragon that was terrorizing Daventry along the way, not to mention rescuing Rosella. Even though it had taken many years, somehow the heartbreak caused by his disappearance was lessened by his triumphant return. Things had turned out for the best in that case as well.
It was a similar story when the men from Alexander's ship had returned to Daventry without the prince: Alexander was not only alive and well, but he had found that girl he had been pining over for so long and liberated her kingdom from the clutches of a power-mad vizier.
The more Valanice thought about it, the truer her mother's words seemed. Even if it took weeks, months or years, a tragedy was bound to be followed by a time of happiness. Whether this was some fundamental law of the world or a manifestation of a higher power, Valanice didn't know, but somehow, she felt that she was better off not knowing and just be glad that things were this way.
But if her mother's words were true, What about the last misfortune Valanice had endured on the day when the river of her life began to change its course, the day when Hagatha had dragged her to that tower?
The day Amaranth had died.
But now, as Valanice forced herself to remember that day, she realized that she had never seen Amaranth die. Though Hagatha had told Philomel that "triumphed over her", she had never confessed killing her. Not only that, but Hagatha wasn't the sort that destroyed her victims. The way she had dealt with Valanice's parents was evidence of that.
Had the fall really killed her? Hagatha had never told Valanice what happened to Amaranth, and Valanice had never dared ask the witch what happened.
Was indirectly helping Valanice the only "greatness" that Vesta had seen in Amaranth? Was Valanice's rescue the only happiness that followed the tragedy of Amaranth's disappearance? If it was, then why did that memory still hang so heavily upon Valanice's heart? Was there still a greater joy that had yet to occur?
The queen slowly turned to face the window. The crow was still there, staring at her with dark, shining eyes. Valanice stared back for a moment, then took a step towards the bird. It remained motionless, not even nervously flicking its wings as she did.
Valanice extended a hand. The crow hesitated, then flew to it, its scaly feet gently gripping her delicate, tapered fingers. Valanice examined the creature. It was much more shaggy and disheveled up close than it appeared from a distance. Its feet quivered slightly as they held onto her hand and its large black eyes stared deeply into her own, and at such a close distance, the pale fringe around its eyes and beak was quite obvious. Everything about the bird projected an aura of agedness and weakness. At the same time, though, there was what seemed like some species of emotion. Not wild fear or boiling rage, the only emotions that wild beasts seemed capable of expressing. This was a gentle, quiet, almost human emotion….But what was it? Longing? Desperation? Hope?
Valanice raised her other hand. The crow bowed its head and flexed its wings agitatedly but did not fly off. Valanice reached towards it with her fingers and cautiously began stroking the animal's back. Though the crow seemed pleased by this action, it would not stop staring into Valanice's eyes.
As Valanice ran her nails through the crow's limp black feathers, she recalled how crows were often the familiars of witches, along with black cats and toads. She also remembered her parents' retelling of how Philomel had changed himself into a bird to conceal himself from Hagatha, and how that scheme had almost been his downfall. Valanice then remembered how her mother and father had been changed into animals by Hagatha, and imprisoned in the same realm their daughter was in, so close to her, yet unable to see her, or even tell her who they were.
Valanice stopped stroking the crow, took one last look into the sad little creature's eyes, slowly bent over it and kissed it gently on the top of its head.
The crow suddenly let out a loud, plaintive cry and leapt from Valanice's hand. Valanice took several nervous steps back as a white, flickering glow enveloped the bird as it fluttered haphazardly in midair. Valanice put up an arm to shield her eyes against the blinding light, which thankfully only persisted for a few seconds.
When Valanice lowered her arm, the crow was gone. In its place was a thin, pale-skinned woman. Her thick, tangled black tresses were now intermingling with silvery strands of white. Her dirty, angular face had become speckled with pockmarks, and age spots dotted her arms and hands. Her eyes, however, hadn't changed at all. They were still as dark and brilliant as two black pearls.
The haggard woman stared blankly ahead for a moment, standing in a slightly bent, tense position like a nervous animal. Her eyes then darted about the room, taking in its various details. Then her gaze fell upon Valanice, who had been just as still, silent, and nervous as she.
The woman's lips slowly parted. She took several shaky breaths through her mouth, then spoke in a weak, trembling voice:
Though it had changed greatly, Valanice recognized the voice just as she had recognized its owner. With tears welling in her eyes, she slowly approached the thin figure.
The wild, frightened look in the woman's eyes seemed to lessen at the mention of her name, and her fragile body suddenly appeared lithe and strong. She took a tentative step towards Valanice, who gently extended a hand. Amaranth reached out with her own hands, stared spellbound at them for a moment, as if in amazement at seeing them again, then grasped Valanice's hand with a grip that was gentle and trembling at first, but quickly became firm and steady.
Though the spell that Hagatha bound Amaranth with had changed her shape, it couldn't change her heart. Valanice had been her friend, and even as an animal, Amaranth loved her and followed her wherever she went. She was somehow able to understand when something unfortunate or joyous had just happened to Valanice, and she would draw closer to her during those times, just as she had done in Valanice's life in Kolyma.
Amaranth's face suddenly crumpled into a saddened grimace.
"I…failed, didn't I?" she croaked, her sharp shoulders sagging.
Valanice gently shook her head.
"It doesn't matter now," she said. "After all, I wouldn't call what you accomplished a failure."
"What do you mean?"
Valanice sighed, recalling all that had happened over the past two decades, all the events, good and bad, mundane and miraculous, that had taken place since Amaranth's attempt to rescue her.
"I'll explain later," Valanice replied.
Suddenly, she noticed Amaranth's clothing – or what there was left of it. Though the dress she wore was greatly stained, tattered, torn, discolored and worn through in many places, it still bore a resemblance to the one she had worn the last time Valanice had seen her all those years ago. In fact, Valanice was sure it was the same dress. Embarrassed, the queen averted her eyes. Then, after an awkward pause, she composed herself, looked again into Amaranth's dark eyes and smiled warmly.
"Come with me, Amaranth," she said. "After I find you some new clothes, I'd like you to come see the life that you helped introduce me to."
And in a voice that was audible only within her mind, she added:
It seems as if your father was right after all.
After "The Forgotten Captives" was released, somebody who read the story said that she wondered whether Coignice and Cedric would ever see Valanice again. At the same time, I started thinking about Amaranth, one of my best early KQ fan characters (from "Valanice"), and how I could possibly give such an interesting character "a second chance". So I wrote this story and – that's right – killed two birds with one stone! Of course, this all speculation, and perhaps not everything should have a happy ending, but this is a story based on the King's Quest series.