Excerpt from The Keeping-Box

from Chapter 4, “The Queen”

“I never should have let you out of my sight, Uajr.  I’m so sorry.”

“The queen, very clever,” Uajr said consolingly.  “She fool all of us.”

Bianca looked in misery at her unresponsive cousin.  “How did she do it?”

James put his hand on her shoulder, and she was too weary to brush it off.  “As soon as she found out where Uajr was hiding – through some magic means, probably – the queen must have headed north with her fastest horses.  She would have found your cousin on his way back from the festival.”  He paused as if his voice had caught in his throat.

Uajr finished for him.  “She take his mind away.”

“His thoughts, his memories,” James said softly.  “She captured them and put them in the mind of one of her guards.  Then it was just a matter of disguising him to look like Sebastian.  He had his mind, but retained his own will and his loyalty to the queen.  He could act like him, talk like him, know exactly how to behave so that you would open the door and give Uajr to him…and then he brought him to the queen.”

Bianca covered her face with her hand.  It was worse than not being able to trust Sebastian. She couldn’t trust anyone, because anyone could be the queen’s agent.  Anyone.  “How could she capture his mind?  That’s absurd; it’s too much power for anyone to have.”

“She has a keeping-box.”

“She has a keeping-box.”  Bianca’s voice was hollow, tired of carrying all her emotions.  “Of course she does.”

James’s hand made a slight movement.  “When you were with the queen, did you happen to see a simple box, without decoration, made of cherry wood?”

“Yes.”  Bianca wondered how he knew what it looked like.  “She tried to use it on me, to take something away from me.  It didn’t work.”

Uajr looked at her with a shining relief that transformed his pinched and pained face.  “My magic, it continues to rest upon you.  Most happy news, this is.  We fear, when you choose to walk straight into the palace, the protection went away.  The guards could take you, could hurt you.  But some of it remain.  The important protection still there.  The queen herself, not can hurt you.”

“So she’s trying to capture my mind as well?”  Bianca was too exhausted and numb for this idea to shock her much.  It would explain why the guard was surprised to see her responsive and aware.

“More than that, probably,” James said, a hint of anger in his tone.  “She wants your essence…your heart.”

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