The perfume of home (chap. 1, Queen of mud and time)
Bright orange and pink hues glazed the sky. Mineral sat in her favourite spot within the royal gardens. She was reminded of home by the vibrant flowerbeds, whose colours mirrored those of the sky: brown, burgundy, yellow, rose, and occasionally white. Any association with home was always accompanied by a nauseating feeling. She had more or less fled her own kingdom because of her unruly magical powers, and she’d lost her family because of the same powers.
Fall to rise again. Stronger. Maybe.
Since Mineral’s arrival in the Kingdom of the Eternal Flame, she had come to the royal gardens alone every evening, and early morning. Her life was in bits, and she still wasn’t sure how it had happened, but her mission was clear: She had to win her family back and to gain control of her powers to at long last sort out the strange issues her own kingdom suffered from.
In that order, or the other way around.
Mineral was an earth elemental, while most of the elementals in the Kingdom of the Eternal Flame were fire elementals. In her own kingdom Fenilya most citizens were earth elementals. But in all the realm there were many types of elementals, and many kingdoms too. Perhaps it was this close relationship to one of more elements – like wind, fire, earth, water, light, dark and whatnot – that had elicited the name ‘elementals’.
Most elementals had a human-like appearance, some were shifters with two bodies – like King Magmus, the king of the Kingdom of the Eternal Flame and his dragon form, others were much different – like some of the trolls for instance. Ancient dragons did perhaps not count as elementals, well, Mineral was far from certain about all creatures inhabiting this enchanted realm. However, she suspected her kingdom was one of few that regularly got visits from the Realm of Man – humans. It was the Wish Clause that drew them. The Wish Clause stated that a Fenilyan princess had the power to grant wishes. And there were rules too. For example, a wish was not allowed to harm anyone, and it could not cure a disease or force someone to fall in love. This was how Philip had come into her life. His grandmother had showed up one day and asked for her own family. Mineral, at the time a Fenilyan princess, had felt the honesty and truth of the wish and was compelled to realise it.
But Philip would be Mineral’s.
In any case, elementals had long lifespans, but she had outlived the vast majority. Not that any of her subjects remembered better than she did – they were all blighted by the same curse. Her life and theirs had been chopped into passages and fast-forwarded as if time elapsed at one speed, and they all aged at another. It was the same for everyone in her kingdom, Fenilya. And it was the very reason Philip fled from Fenilya with their four children.
The fiery kingdom of the Eternal Flame had much beauty, but to an earth elemental, its bright colours and the ever-present sun made her feel nauseous, dehydrated, and blinded. It was as if all the centuries Mineral had spent in her underground kingdom had made her sun-averse, which was one of the reasons she came out to enjoy the gardens every sunset.
She would sit here for hours, usually quite peacefully.
Since they’d returned from Njordea, however, her peace was frequently interrupted. Her newly acquired friend, the little mud pup – the Mudowar’s offspring – was with her and constantly begging for attention. It was hard not to laugh as he yapped happily and butted into her affectionately.
Njordea was another neighbouring realm, just like the Realm of Man. It was home to the Njordean brethren, and despite their monstrous appearance they were the very personification of peace. True nurturers of life and nature. But because of their imposing frames no one was in a hurry to contradict their wisdom. And so, when Turol, the Njordean who woke up and emerged from the volcano of the Eternal Flame had proclaimed Mineral’s new friend Ember, also the queen-in-waiting, as the Keeper of the Elemental Realm, no one questioned this. Moments later Ember had assumed her true form – her second skin – her phoenix skin.
The Elemental Realm hadn’t had a Keeper for a very long time – so long that not even the oldest lore kept records of what it meant to have a Keeper or what the Keeper did. So, it was hardly surprising that elementals travelled from all over the realm to meet Ember.
But Mineral secretly missed the peace that had been before. She smiled indulgently at the mud pup and rubbed his head. Whereas she had decided the mud pup was a ‘he’, she wasn’t too certain about the sex of his parent – the Mudowar.
Is the Mudowar a ‘he’ or a ‘she’? There were no obvious clues and the mud pup hadn’t been birthed in any traditional manner.
Every elemental kingdom had a magical power source. This was one of the first things Elder Flicker explained when Mineral first arrived. In this fiery kingdom, the magical source was the lava under the large volcano, which, together with its surrounding valleys, pretty much made up the entire kingdom.
During her first few days in Fenilya, Mineral was perplexed by the fact that she was unaware of Fenilya’s source of magical power. There were clues in the old lore of Fenilya, but they were obscured by ancient language and the passage of time, and she had never seen anything substantial to prove the existence of the source of their magic.
That was until her fear had called it forth.
It was an enormous mud serpent with muddy, leathery skin and scales; dark, hollow depths for eyes; a large, slobbery mouth filled with sharp teeth; venomous spikes along the ridge of its spine; and fin-like constructions along its body; mud and grime were constantly seeping from it. As insubstantial as it was substantial, it was a behemoth of a creature conjured to be feared just as the lore had described.
At the depth of the Yol vault, underneath Wurmgaard, rests the Mudowar in its sacred chamber…
She couldn’t recall all the details.
But it was said that the Mudowar, a mud serpent, was terrifying and ruthless. At first, it had frightened her too, but then, she heard its voice within her mind, a deep voice that soothed and held her like no one else had ever been able to. It was gravelly and smooth all at once, and it resonated inside her, reaching the deep corners of her consciousness.
It was both medicine for her body and a balm for her soul.
When she set out to save the Elemental Realm and their neighbouring realm of Njordea, working side by side with Ember, newly promoted to Keeper of the Realm, and King Magmus, the Mudowar hadn’t been able to join her, much to her distress. Moreover, it seemed that it was unable to leave the Elemental Realm. Perhaps the sources of magic, like the Mudowar, were fundamental cornerstones of the Elemental Realm. And if they managed to leave the realm it would crumble.
Mineral shuddered. What a terrible thought.
So, to overcome this problem, the Mudowar created a smaller version of itself, much like a mud pup. It definitely acted like one, bouncing back and forth, eager to meet everyone. When they returned to the realm, Mineral had decided to keep this new friend, Mudwig.
A slobbery yap sounded from the other side of the flowerbed, and soon, the pup darted up from the ground to her. He could do this with ease; a mud serpent thing, she suspected. He plunged into the ground and emerged a good time later. He licked her hand with his muddy tongue and yapped excitedly before taking off again.
The joy she felt in his presence was something she had never felt before.
She should have, but she hadn’t.
Marrying Philip should have been a very happy moment, but instead it was one of her most painful memories. He was part man and part earth elemental because Mineral had sent an earth elemental after his grandmother as part of realising her wish.
But because of the time glitches in Fenilya Mineral couldn’t remember much of her time together with Philip, and neither could he. What she did remember was that he was the one – the one that turned everything she knew upside down. The fact that the circumstances in Fenilya had compelled him to flee with their four children and that he then, on top of that, told her to go away and deal with her problems, still hurt her deeply.
Mineral wished he had had the strength to stand at her side the way she had watched King Magmus unfailingly support Ember while she attained her phoenix powers.
But no path or fate was like another.
She wished she had happy, joyful memories with the little family she had longed for all those desperate, lonely centuries. But no, her fickle, unruly powers had ruined everything for her.
Sometimes, she’d see fragmented pictures of her belly swollen with a child, but nothing felt certain. Her wardrobe held the many maternity robes, which was the most substantial proof she had. That and her children’s empty rooms.
Mentally, she shook her head.
What kind of mother could hardly remember her children? What all did this make her? She could have chosen to simply give up, and she had often been tempted to do so. In her darkest moments – after the final blow of her family’s escape – when rage and despair tormented her, Elder Zeith repeatedly sought to help her. He told her that he would support her when she was ready to seek help herself.
So, she was here now, trying to figure out how her powers worked – the first step towards winning back her family and the trust of her people.
My queen, you are deep in thought again.
The Mudowar’s voice caressed her spirit, and Mineral raised her head to the sky, knowing what face she would find gazing back at her. At first, the hollow depths of its stare had unsettled and frightened her. But now, the depths drew her in, enticed her, and allowed her spirit to rest. She could feel her weariness as a physical condition, and as soon as the Mudowar held her spirit, she felt free again. The strained constraints of her shell no longer suffocated her being.
Yes, it seems I have many thoughts to sift through, she told the Mudowar in her mind.
Understandable, you must take your time, the Mudowar approved. As long as you carry on, finding new viewpoints. Do not allow guilt and shame to set your thoughts on repeat. It will do you little good, it told her firmly, and its eyes held her spirit.
Mineral drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly releasing tension and pent-up emotion.
This feeling would last as long as the Mudowar graced her with its presence and as long as she kept staring into the mud serpent’s eyes. Its earthy, musky breath fanned her face, and she relished it.
The perfume of home.
Still, the thought of going home had her stomach knotting. There were too many things she wished she could undo, but dark hallways filled with whispers haunted her mockingly. She had felt unsafe ever since she was compelled to assume the position of Fenilya’s ruler as a child. Darkness seemed to linger, and no one could be trusted. She had learnt the hard way not to believe a word anyone told her. She’d become a master of disguises by training her features, and mostly, she hid behind a mask of temperament and unpredictability born out of her despair and insecurity.
It hurts that my family blame me, but I understand that they do. I blame myself, even if I don’t know what I should have done differently… What if they never forgive me?
You’ve failed them no more than I. I have told you the workings of time in Fenilya are abnormal – wrong even. Learn to understand and use your magic – our magic – and you will feel it too, the Mudowar told her.
They had been down this path many times, and practically, she knew what to do. It did little to ease the pain inside, though.
We shall succeed. Do not worry so much, little one. You know how sorry I am that I was not there before. I should have been there for you, the Mudowar continued, sadness lacing its deep voice.
You’re here now. That’s what counts. I must trust the fates on this, Mineral answered, but her stomach hurt at her own words.
It was not as easy to believe as to say it out loud.
Why had fate dealt her a hand so painful? And torn away the family she’d dreamt of, leaving it as nothing more than a dream in her muddled memories… As if it had never happened at all. Every time her thoughts led her to the maybe-it-never-happened-at-all state, she again conjured images her many maternity robes and the gaping empty rooms of her children. These things truly existed. She hadn’t made them up.
You do not see it yet, but you shall, the Mudowar told her warmly.
The regents of the past, the ones you knew, did they know you as I do? Mineral dared ask, wanting to lose her mind in something other than her own hurtful past.
Yes and no. Some could feel me in their hearts. None before could hear me speak. I never felt inclined to, I suppose, the Mudowar told her thoughtfully.
Why me? Mineral asked in her soft voice.
I do not know, only that we’re linked – you and me. My consciousness flows into yours, and yours into mine. You are a great gift to me, the Mudowar told her lovingly.
Mineral revelled in and cherished the alien feeling, burying it deep inside, wanting to make sure it would always be there. However, the Mudowar reminded her of something behind the barriers of her memories. The feeling was not new but long forgotten. When she had felt it previously remained a frustrating void in her mind.
This is silly, but I’ve been meaning to ask you. Are you a ‘he’ or a ‘she’? Mineral asked, and squirmed in her seat.
The Mudowar let out a deep laughter in her mind, and for a moment Mineral sat still in complete shock and appreciation. It was a fantastic sound.
I’m neither. I know elementals have use of categorising themselves like this, but there’s just one of me. Some sources of magic are indeed considered a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, but not me.
Oh, I see, Mineral replied. The Mudowar would have to be an ‘it’ then. As strange as that was.