This was more like Iracebeth. A Summons. Mirana didn't mind, at least it meant her sister was not lurking about in her room. She knocked on the door tentatively, and Stayne opened it.
"Hello Mirana," He said softly. She shuddered.
"Is it my sister? Send her in Stayne," Iracebeth ordered, and she slipped past Stayne and into the room. Her sister was sitting comfortably on a couch, watching two dogs try to tear out each others throats. Dog fighting was always something that Beth had enjoyed, or indeed anything with violence involved.
"Ah, Mimi." Her sister said, turning. Mirana stood to attention. "I have an urgent message for you to take to Joella. You know where she lives don't you? Good. Tell her that you and Stayne will be collecting the BlackIvy tomorrow night."
"BlackIvy?" Mirana interjected, horrified. BlackIvy was the strongest poison in Underland, and was rare enough to get your hands on. "Beth! What on earth are you doing with BlackIvy?"
"Don't ask questions," Beth snapped, "And if you breathe a word to anyone I'll have your head do you understand?" Mirana gulped and nodded. But still... BlackIvy? Her sisters gang were well known for torturing and killing, but they had never used such methods as BlackIvy before. Iracebeth sent her off with the message, and Mirana left in a hurry. She went to the stables, as BigEars lived quite far away, it would be easier to ride. And also, Mirana wanted to make a little sidestop on the way. She saddled her horse, Vaquara, and ride her up to the drawbridge. She received a quizzical look from the new guard at the gate, but she hoped that for his sake he would keep out of it. She rode like fury, until she came to BigEars' house.
BigEars' farther owned the village apothecary, and he was a very skilled man of medicine (Although Mirana always found him rather simple). The man had been making medicine for her father ever since he fell ill three years ago. She knew that BigEars had learned a lot about medicine too, and was fairly skilled at such things. But Mirana had no idea that she could make BlackIvy. Apparently, she could.
She delivered the message through the door, as she had no wish to enter and besides, BigEars wouldn't let her in. Mirana knew why; Joella had no need to wear the fake ears in her own home. She jumped back onto her horse and turned directions, heading towards Salazen Grum's meagre orphanage. Mirana didn't even know why Salazen Grum had an orphanage, as the children there were neglected, until her dear sister would take them to the palace and use them for target practice. She reared up outside and dismounted, letting herself in. The Orphanage was run by Hegwen, an old crone who was a notorious alcoholic. Mirana knocked loudly on her office door to wake her up, and when she spluttered awake she scowled openly at Mirana.
"Whadda you want?" She spat, slurring her words.
"I wondered, were the Guard-at-the-gate's children brought here?" She asked, as politely as she could manage.
"No new children 'ere for six months!" She declared, holding up five fingers. Then she belched loudly. Mirana guessed her audience was over, and once outside she thought about what to do next. The answer was clear, she mounted her horse and rode to the heart of the village. She left Vaquara tied to a post, before moving to the third house down in a row of seven. She picked up a light pebble from the floor and threw it against the topmost window. She waited a moment, then threw another one. Then a light went on, and a flash of bright orange appeared at the window.
"Really Princess, one could have been sleeping!" Tarrant Hightop announced, leaning out of the window.
"I need your help," She said. "Do you know what happened to the guard at the gate's children?" Tarrant paused, thinking deeply. "Children... children... Ah yes!" He said happily. "I thought you might like them well preserved! They're in the larder!" Mirana giggled, and entered the house. She found the three children asleep in the larder, with full bellies.
"They eat an awful lot," Tarrant observed from behind her. She sighed.
"Tarrant, you're a wonder! You really are!" She said, throwing her arms around his neck.
"Careful," He said "I'd hate to wake them," Mirana looked back at them.
"Poor things," She turned "Tarrant, I have to get them away from my sister," Tarrant nodded enthusiastically.
"I'll send them with Vaquara, to Marmoreal!" Tarrant grinned.
"I knew you'd say that!" And then to the sleeping children "I knew she'd say that!" She sent Tarrant off to pack each of them a bag for the trip, while she woke them gently. The eldest was a pale skinny girl, only seven or eight years old. The girl picked up the baby, and helped Mirana to wake the other boy, who was five by the looks of him. Tarrant helped her to put them on her steady horse, and tie their travel bags to the saddle.
"Vaquara knows the way, and she will take you there as fast as you can," Mirana said to the girl "Once you get there go straight to the castle, and tell that that the Princess sent you. You'll be safe there. I'm-," She paused "I'm awfully sorry about your parents," The boy sniffed and started to cr, and tears formed in the girls eyes, but she blinked them back.
"Thank you, Princess Mirana," She mumbled, before Mirana sent them on their way. She trusted Vaquara. Her horse could outrun any guards her sister sent after them. Tarrant and her watched them disappear into the distance.
"What will you do now?" Tarrant asked quietly. She considered this.
"I'll go back, and hope Iracebeth doesn't question how long I've been gone," She replied. "Did you see the execution?"
"I make a point of avoiding the colour red. It does so clash with my hair," She smiled lightly at his reply.
"My sister can never be queen," She said. She wasn't sure when it cam from, but as soon as the words came out of her mouth she wised she could take them back. Things like that were dangerous to say, even if they were true. "With all her hearts and minions and animals and violence and-"
"Blood," Tarrant finished. "She's a Bloody Red Queen," Mirana swallowed and nodded.
"The Red Queen,"
She bid Tarrant farewell and made her way back on foot to the castle. It was a long journey, but the thought of those children safe made it worth every aching step. But it was still a long journey nonetheless, and a scary one at that. The world was asleep, and it was dark, darker than she would care to admit.
"It seems you are in need of a ride," Stayne said, riding up alongside her. Mirana jumped and looked at him in horror. Had he been following her all this time? Did he know about the children? About Tarrant? About what she had said?
"Come on," He said "I'll take you home," And he helped her onto the front of his horse. Mirana hated being so close to him, and all alone in the dark night, but there was nothing she could do about it. When she spoke, her voice was small and frightened and not like her own.
"What are you doing here?" She asked. Stayne didn't answer straight away.
"Giving you a lift back to the castle," He said shortly. Mirana blinked. He was far too close.
"Have you been following me since I left the castle?" She bit her lip and waited for his response. He didn't reply, and they made the rest of the journey in silence. When the reached the castle, Mirana jumped off the horse almost immediately. She felt better about things at a distance from him. He too jumped down and gave his horse to a servant who sped away with it. Mirana wished she could run away too. Stayne bowed slightly to her.
"If you'll excuse me, Princess," He said "I have to return to the Red Queen," And he smiled at her horrified face, before turning and leaving her alone in the blackened courtyard in the dead of night.