Vankara (Book 1), page 2
“But how did it happen, Gabriel? How was I able to change myself to look like her?”
Gabriel shrugged helplessly. “I’m not sure how or why we have the ability to do it. It’s just something we’re born with. I don’t know if the transformation is triggered by their life force leaving their body when they die or something else. All I know is that you will be happier here than any place else I could have found for you.”
“How did you know I was a shifter? Have you always known?”
Gabriel nodded with an almost guilty expression on his face. “I was told where to find you and asked to watch over you.”
“He doesn’t want to be known to you just yet,” Gabriel said, cupping the side of my new face with one of his hands. “I’m so sorry, April. I wish I could have gotten you out of the Pew’s home sooner, but the opportunity never presented itself. When Sarah became ill and I saw what good people the Harkers were, I knew this was where you were meant to be.”
“Won’t they know I’m not Sarah? Isn’t it wrong not to tell them their daughter is dead?”
“I don’t see any harm in letting them believe you are their daughter. The truth would only cause them pain and confusion. You should never tell them what took place last night.”
“What if they expect me to remember things only Sarah knows? What should I do?”
“Let me take care of that. I’ll just tell them you may have some memory loss due to the fever. They won’t think to question my explanation. Plus, you will start to remember things only Sarah knew. I’m not sure how but the people we become pass along some of their memories to us.”
“What about the Pews? Won’t they be looking for me?”
“They already are.” Gabriel’s hands fidgeted slightly. “I told them I brought you home late last night and took you straight to bed. The maid found your bed slept in but the window was open. Right now, they think someone broke into your room while you were sleeping and kidnapped you.”
“What’s going to happen?”
“Eventually they’ll have to give up looking for you. It may take some time, but it’s not something you need to worry about.” Gabriel took hold of my hand, a silent plea in his eyes. “I did the right thing, didn’t I? You will be happier here, won’t you?”
I wrapped my arms tightly around Gabriel’s neck. “This is exactly where I want to be.”
“Good,” he sighed, his body sagged in relief as he returned my hug.
I leaned back from him. “What did you do with Sarah?”
“I buried her. She’s at peace now. And I think she would be happy to know you have taken her place. She was so worried about leaving her parents alone. Now you can love them in her steed.”
We heard the front door open and immediately drew away from one another.
“I’m back!” Mrs. Harker called out. “Sorry it took so long. I had to go all the way to the store to get some milk.”
I heard her pour the milk into a cup and watched her bring it in to me. I studied her face for some sign she knew I wasn’t her real daughter but never saw a doubt of recognition.
“Thank you, Mama,” I said taking the cup from her hands and drinking the cold soothing liquid.
“I think we may have a miracle on our hands,” Gabriel announced as he stood from his seat. “Sarah seems to be completely well.”
Mrs. Harker lifted a shaking hand to her mouth as tears of uncertain joy welled in her eyes.
“Are you sure?” She whispered, as if she were afraid Death might take notice of us again if she spoke too loudly.
“It’s the only case I’ve heard of,” he told her. “And I would be careful who you tell the truth about this to. Since Sarah is the only one I know of who has ever beaten the plague, she may garner unwanted attention. If I were you, I would tell everyone she simply had a bad cold and we all assumed it was the plague. You could say it was just an unlucky coincidence she caught it at the same time as the others.”
“All right, if you think that’s best,” Mrs. Harker stared at me like she was afraid I might disappear if she let her eyes wander away.
“But the fever seems to have caused a lapse in her memory,” Gabriel cautioned Mrs. Harker. “Don’t be alarmed if she can’t remember certain things.”
Mrs. Harker shook her head. “We have the chance to make new memories. That’s worth more to me than her not being able to remember a few details from the past.”
“Well,” Gabriel reached for his top hat and medicine bag on the nightstand, “since you have no further need of my services, I should go attend to my other patients. I’ll leave the two of you alone.”
I watched Gabriel walk to the door of the room and turn around as Mrs. Harker came to me and pulled me into her arms, crying happy tears formed from relief.
My best friend gave me a sad little smile and winked before turning around and walking out of my life, leaving me in the loving arms of a woman I could proudly call my mother.
For the next eleven years, I lived as Sarah Harker. Not a day passed by that I didn’t thank the real Sarah for giving me the opportunity to live out her life. I tried my best to be a perfect child for Imogen and Liam Harker, never wanting them to discover the imposter hidden within their midst.
For years I wondered if I would ever see Gabriel again. I suppose I should have known a relationship like ours wasn’t by happenstance and was destined to bind us to one another forever. I just never imagined how my connection with Gabriel would change not only my future but also the future of Vankara.
After leaving me within the warm, loving protection of the Harkers, I heard through the grapevine Gabriel took a position as an advisor to King Leopold, fleeing the Pew household at the height of its uproar over my disappearance. Surprisingly, the Pews put out a sizable reward for my safe return but, of course, no one was ever able to claim it. April Pew didn’t exist anymore, if she had ever truly existed.
In the winter of my thirteenth year, a second plague emerged. Being just a child during the first plague, I hadn’t realized the devastating effect the deaths of so many had caused on the economics of the world I lived in. Not only had Vankara lost almost a quarter of its population, but the four other island nations (Kamora, Chromis, Tuvalu, and Valetta) had also lost as many citizens or more.
As the second plague began to infect people, my parents kept a careful eye on me, fearful they would have to endure watching their daughter become ill and knock on the door of death once more, perhaps not finding the same miracle twice in a lifetime. Fortunately, my family was spared from the sickness. Unfortunately, a lot of people in Iron City were not so lucky. Almost half the population was brought down by the plague, twice as many as during the first wave of the illness. Even the King of Vankara was not spared this time. He died within a week of its reappearance and at the age of nineteen Emma Vankar, King Leopold’s one and only child, was crowned Queen.
As soon as the day of the Queen’s coronation was announced, my father insisted we all go as a family and show our allegiance to our new sovereign.
“She’s so young,” my father said to us. “I doubt any of those old wig headed fools in parliament will give her the slightest bit of respect. But maybe if they know the people are behind her, they’ll think twice about trying to ignore what she has to say on our behalf.”
Liam Harker was a great patriot. He was quite consistent in his inclusion of the royal family in his daily prayers. When I asked him why he would pray for people he had never personally met, he said, “The royal family are the descendents of a long line of great Vankaran leaders, cherub. They’ve always tried their best to make sure we all live safe from the fae and have what we need to make a good life for ourselves. If the royal family prospers, we all prosper.”
The story of how Vankara was created always fueled my imagination with wonder. Mostly because I couldn’t imagine the courage it took for the founders of our country to leave their homelands and start com
Well over two-hundred years ago, a group of rag tag refugees from the nation of Valetta came to the island, which would eventually be known as Vankara, in an attempt to escape persecution by the anti-sorcery trials which were occurring all around the world during that time period. The fae were the indigenous inhabitants of the island. They shunned anything tainted by technology believing acceptance of such things would damage their connection with the natural world.
At first the fae tolerated the encroachment of their lands by the foreign interlopers and tried to accept their presence. But, when the mages from Kamora, Chromis and Tuvalu sought sanctuary in the new settlement of Vankara, the fae began to feel their hospitality was being taken advantage of. They were quickly being outnumbered and knew they would inevitably loose their lands to those who had not been invited. Instead of standing idly by and watching the possession of their lands continue to dwindle, the fae decided to fight for what was originally theirs. A five year long war raged between vankaran and fae until it was finally decided neither side would survive if the war was allowed to continue.
The vankaran king and fae king finally met and drew up a peace treaty which satisfied both their people’s needs. The fae gave up three fourths of the island to the vankarans and agreed to the building of the Iron Wall. Since iron is poisonous to the fae, the wall was designed to separate the two populations forever and give vankarans a false sense of security by its presence. How odd it is that people rarely think to consider their true enemies might be standing right next to them instead of barricaded behind a symbol of protection.
On the day of the Queen’s coronation, my father woke me before the sun had a chance of even considering the start of a new day.
“Sarah,” he said shaking my shoulder gently. “Get up, cherub, we need to leave soon.”
I sat up in my bed rubbing the sleep from my eyes, trying to focus on the lean angular face of my father lit only by the shimmering light of the candle he held in his hand.
“What time is it?” I asked drowsily, still trying to whisk away the faint images of a dream in which I was being crowned Queen of Vankara from my mind.
“It’s time for us to go to the palace. If we want a good spot, we need to get there early. So no dawdling today, cherub. We need to get a move on.”
My father stepped out of the room allowing me privacy to drag my half-conscience form out of bed. I quickly changed out of my white muslin nightgown into a simple maroon cotton dress with a pale yellow silk ribbon tied around the waist. My mother had sewn the dress for me so that I could have something special to mark the day of the Queen’s coronation, a momentous occasion in vankaran history.
We made our way down the dark streets of Iron City to the palace. Snow had fallen during the night, softening our footfalls against the cobblestone streets and lending the city a serene blanket of purity and renewal. The closer we got to the palace the greater the number of people we saw walking along the snow strewn thoroughfares in the pre-dawn light.
There was a palpable sense of excitement in the crisp, clean winter air that morning. Everyone could feel it. Strangers smiled and nodded to one another, even sometimes stopping to talk about the coronation as if they had known each other for years instead of seconds. Children scurried around their parents legs expending their pent up energy the only way they knew how. Food vendors seemed to be doing great business selling roasted nuts, muffins and meat pies. It was as if we all knew we were about to witness a great moment of history being made in our own time.
After having endured the loss of loved ones from a second plague, the citizens of Vankara saw the Queen’s coronation as a chance of revival for the country. I suppose knowing that not even the royal family was immune to the effects of the plague made Emma Vankar seem more touchable, more human. She had all of our sympathy but she also had all of our hope in the palm of her hands that day.
It wasn’t until almost mid-morning we knew the Queen had completed the rites of her coronation in the grand Halls of Parliament. The bells of the Iron City Cathedral rang loud and clear announcing to the citizens of Vankara we had a newly crowned leader. Cheers of joy erupted from the sea of people stretching from the front steps of the palace all the way back as far as my eyes could see down the streets of the city.
The sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky over our heads as if it were bestowing its own celestial blessing on our new Queen. My parents pushed through the crowd of people around us until we reached one of the iron columns lining the outer walls of the west wing of the palace. My father picked me up and stood me on the tall square base of the column so I could see over the heads of the adults around me. All eyes were focused on the palace balcony awaiting the arrival of our new Queen.
The outer layer of the Vankaran palace was constructed out of slabs of iron and panes of glazed glass. In the predawn light, the glass glistened like water trapped in pools of iron. Four towers loomed at the apex of the castle housing platforms for the royal airships to dock. On such a momentous occasion all four nations were present. It was the only time in my short life I had seen representatives from the other three nations visit Vankara.
Half an hour after the cathedral bells rang, we saw the two iron and cut glass double doors on the palace balcony swing inward. It wasn’t until that moment I was thankful my father had gotten us out of the house so early that morning. We weren’t at the front of the throng of people standing before the palace yet we were close enough for me to see the Queen clearly.
She was dressed in a gold silk gown which was mostly hidden by the velvet maroon and ermine collared Mantle of Vankara draped across her shoulders. The Queen’s crown, made of gold and encrusted with a multitude of faceted diamonds, sat like a sparkling beacon of power atop her head.
To me, Emma Vankara was the complete embodiment of the word femininity. Her facial features were as delicate as the edges of a flower petal. She was petite in stature but had an innate presence about her which drew your complete focus. Since her mother had been one of the nine daughters of the King of Kamora, the Queen had inherited the pale white skin and long thick black hair of her mother’s people. Her eyes were partially slanted giving her beauty a small hint of the exotic.
I watched as a long stream of people came out of the balcony’s double doors behind the Queen and almost lost my footing on the column base I stood on when Gabriel stepped out onto the balcony. I’m not sure why I was surprised to see him again. I had known he took a position as advisor to King Leopold after relinquishing his apprenticeship with Dr. Pew. It had been six years since I last saw Gabriel and he looked exactly the same to me. His thick black hair was still a mess. It appeared advising the royal family on state matters didn’t require a combed head of hair.
Queen Emma Vankar looked out at her people as if to make sure all eyes were trained on her. Before we knew it, she curtseyed deeply to us, head bowed in complete supplication. Several gasps could be heard coming from the crowd and a few of the Queen’s entourage gave stern looks of disapproval. It was, indeed, an unexpected move for a newly crowned monarch to make.
Suddenly, a wave of cheering over took the crowd and quickly grew in intensity. The Queen had shown humility to her people and her people showered her with adoration for it. By the simple act of bowing, Queen Emma had gained the undying respect and allegiance of everyone in the crowd that day. It turned out to be a very shrewd move.
After the Queen rose from her curtsey, her back straight and proud, she turned to a woman behind her and seemed to ask her a question. The woman was tall and slender with pitch black hair pulled back into an elegant chignon. Her smooth, caramel colored skin set off the gold embroidered dark brown robe she wore. I watched as the woman walked up to the Queen and laid her hand against the Queen’s throat but not in a threatening manner. The woman said a few words then turned away to retake her position among the other advisors.
“Who’s that woman?” my mother asked to no one in particul
“That there is the Royal Mage,” a slender grey haired man with crooked teeth answered. “Isabelle Granger be her name.”
Even though Vankara had been founded by a group of refugee mages, it was the first time I had ever seen one in person. Once someone was discovered to be a mage, they were immediately extended an invitation to attend the Royal College of Magical Sciences where they could live in peace and hone their magical talents. As far as I knew, no one ever refused an offer to study at the Royal College. The royal family personally funded the college providing the students who studied there with whatever they needed.
After the Royal Mage resumed her original position, Queen Emma turned to us and began to speak.
“Fellow citizens of Vankara,” her voice was so loud, I was sure even the people ten streets away could hear her words clearly.
“Mage musta put a spell on her voice,” the old man who had answered my mother’s question commented with a nod of confidence in his statement.
“Thank you all for coming here today,” Queen Emma continued. “I am truly humbled by your show of support and love. I can only hope that in the years to come I can prove your faith in me to be justified.”
Queen Emma was silent for a moment and looked out into the crowd as if she were trying to memorize all of the faces looking up at her expectantly.
“I know times seem dark,” she admitted, her words heavy. “We have all lost those we loved most.” Queen Emma’s voice became choked with emotion and she had to stop to recompose herself.
I heard people break out in quiet sobs finding a personal connection with Queen Emma in her sorrow.
“But we are a strong people,” she said with intense determination. “We will persevere. We will show even death that we are not a people to be taken lightly! We will rebuild what has been taken from us no matter what the cost!”
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