The Lost Queen follows Iona, a magical nymph, who is different from the other nymphs in the magical grove of Crystal Orchard. Conflict causes the Elders to exile Iona to the Valley of Grove. When she embarks on a search for the Lost Queen, she is forced to question everything that she was taught, as well as realize that the Lost Queen may be closer to her than she could ever imagine.
It was the end of the longest day of her life. Things that some nymphs had never experienced in a thousand years had all happened to Iona in one day. Her life had never been quite boring, but this day had been the king of them all.
It had all begun with those surreal night visions that Iona had awakened from early, that fateful morning. In the cryptic, prophetic dream, the Deities of the Great Merge Fecund Festival had turned into horrid dragons that were feeding on nymph cocoons. The faces of the young nymphs Shara, Byla and Liani had contorted from their usual youth and beauty into dried, prune-like carcasses. Satyr horns were growing from Iona’s abdomen. Her fingers kept turning into water lizards, and Elder Idella kept cutting them off, only to have them grow right back in place. A two-headed unicorn gave her six Black Zodae berries and whispered ominously, in simultaneous voices, “ You must eat them if you are to find the Lost Queen.”
Iona had woken from the dreams in a confounded sweat. She was so shaken by the warped visions that she got up from her sleeping pallet many ticks before the drying of the first morning dew. Unable to rest or eat, she dressed in her “wood wear” skins. She knew she would need to visit the Valley of the Grove later to think the strange dream through. She had slipped behind the nooks of the colony just before leaving Crystal Orchard for the Valley of the Grove to spend a quick tick in the counsel of Elder Nora.
Iona was one of the select few third-generation nymphs who knew about the secret tunnels that lay hidden behind the colony’s living quarters. Actually, she was the only third-generation nymph who knew about them. Some of the older nymphs had knowledge of the ancient hidden passageways of Crystal Orchard, but most of them rarely, if ever, used them, so their knowledge was theoretical at best.
Even many of the Elders themselves were unaware of the labyrinthine corridors that lead from their very dwellings to various places within the orchard and beyond. Iona, unlike the others, was not told about the passageways, but instead had discovered them by way of her own innate instinct for exploration . Elder Nora was the only one in the entire colony who knew that Iona not only knew about the secret passageways, but used them quite regularly. Especially for their very frequent and very secret meetings.
Elder Nora may not have been the Head of the Elder Council like Idella, but she was the eldest of all the council and one of the few who hadn’t turned on Iona. Iona wound her way along the secret tunnel to Elder Nora’s dwelling in a hurry and whistled the password at the entrance. With one hand Elder Nora opened the door to the narrow hole. She used her other hand to puff the smoking Juju leaf she had rolled up, now hanging loosely from the corner of her mouth. A cloud of thick blue smoke slapped Iona in the face like an acrid blanket as she choked and lowered herself onto the dwelling floor.
“’Bout time ya got here, little one. The slosh is gettin’ cold!” Elder Nora scolded, hovering over Iona puffing on her Juju leaf. “ C’mon get up now and tell me all about it so’s I can send ya on errands before da ol’ bitties get here!” When Iona told her mentor about her whirling visions, Elder Nora scratched her chin thoughtfully and said, “Ate six Black Zodae berries, huh? One will do the trick easy, but six? Hmmm. . . that’s enough to kill half the orchard!” Elder Nora resumed toking on her smoking Juju leaf, as Iona went on about her dream.
“Sounds t’me like ya got yerself a case o’ the Satyr scaries,” Elder Nora finally declared numbly.
Iona looked at Elder Nora, puzzled. “That’s it? Satyr scaries? That’s all you got for me? “ Iona snapped. “Come on, Elder Nora. You know there ain’t much that can scare me. But this is something deeper, more serious. I know it. I can feel it! And what. . . what does a ‘lost queen’ have to do with anything?” Iona shook her head ruefully and stared distantly into the floor.
Elder Nora raised a concerned eyebrow, then asked, “Who told you bout the ‘Lost Queen’?”
Iona glanced up and replied, “I told you about the two-headed unicorn–”
Elder Nora sharply cut her off growling, “Now don’t imp around with me! I asked you who told you about the Lost Queen!”
Recognizing that Elder Nora’s concern was severe, Iona said, “No one. I promise! I just told you everything I know. I need to know what this dream is trying to tell me.”
Elder Nora studied Iona carefully. She decided the girl was just as serious about interpreting her dream. Elder Nora sat the Juju leaf in its smoking dish and doused it with the remaining bit of slosh that was cooling in the bottom of her mug. She put her fingers to her temples and began to massage them in tiny little circles. “Well, traditionally the Black Zodae berries are used to ward off the Satyrs when they are in season, as you already know. And yes, they are very poisonous to us nymphs. And you say Satyr horns were growing through your tummy?” Elder Nora paused in deep contemplation before giving her opinion. “I think that it is a warning for you to stay out of the Valley of the Grove until the first budding of the Black Zodae. It may be that some Satyrs are going to attack you if you do.”
Iona shuddered within herself. Crystal Orchard hadn’t been victimized by Satyrs in quite a long while. No one other than Iona had ever dared to venture beyond the orchard grounds into the Valley of the Grove. Everyone assumed that all the Satyrs, who once plagued the orchard, had not really disappeared, but rather made their home in the Valley, the very same Valley to which Iona had intended to visit. Being told she needed to stay away wasn’t what she wanted to hear at that moment. Elder Nora’s interpretation was more guesswork than anything, and it didn’t satisfy Iona’s desire to solve the riddle offered by her dream. Iona decided to prod Elder Nora for some answers that would be more than guesses. “Okay. What about the Lost Queen then?” she asked cautiously.
Elder Nora took in a deep breath and eyed Iona with a hint of annoyance. “Iona you are truly something else, aren’t you? Is there nothing that can be kept secret from you? My child, it is said that curiosity killed the cat, and I am beginning to worry about you. Haven’t you stumbled upon enough forbidden information as it is? You keep poking around like this and you are going to find more than you bargained for. You know I support you and love you as you are. I always have. But dearie, I think it best you quit while you are ahead. Why can’t you start to focus on the things that a nymph your age should, like getting ready for the Merge Fecund or something.’
Iona didn’t like a single thing she was hearing. Contrary to popular opinion, Iona did not go snooping around for trouble to get into. She was cursed with the natural ability to see what others didn’t and to know what others could not. She didn’t ask for these intuitions and visions, they just came to her. And if she didn’t follow up on them, they would not leave her alone and would hound her until she did. How could she possibly explain something that she knew no one could ever understand unless they themselves had experienced it? Iona revered Elder Nora and did not want to offend her. Suddenly she thought of a humble way to get around her objections. “Elder Nora, you know I don’t go looking for this stuff. It just comes to me! If I could stop my mind from showing me these visions, believe me, I would. But I can’t, Elder Nora; I can’t stop this! If only you could see the things I see, and feel the things I feel, you would know that this is something greater than me. It must be happening for a reason, and the True Gods have everything to do with it. If they’re revealing these things to me, it has to be for a reason. And I can’t rest until I know what it is! Just help me, Elder Nora. Don’t judge me, or fear for me. Just trust that I know what I am doing and this will all turn out for the better in the end. Please, Elder Nora?”
Elder Nora’s dwelling fell silent, as they let Iona’s words settle in. Iona broke the short silence. “I didn’t expect the Lost Queen in my dream to have any real significance. But you just let me know that it does. Please tell me what you know about it, Elder Nora. You must!”
Elder Nora had no answer, so she conceded. She got up from her seat and checked her dwelling, checked around the windows and entrances, to be sure no one was hanging around who might eavesdrop on their conversation. After assuring herself that the coast was clear, Elder Nora leaned close to Iona and said in a barely audible whisper, “It is forbidden to speak of the tale of the Lost Queen. If anyone ever found out I told you about this, I could be made to suffer the unthinkable. But I do agree that the True Gods are definitely working with you. They must be. Because it is impossible for you to know and have learned all that you have otherwise. So for the sake of the True Gods, I will help you, Iona.”
Elder Nora reared back a little and looked Iona in her eyes, then shook her head and smiled. “Well, this is yet another of the ‘Un-speakables’ upon which you’ve serendipitously stumbled, my dear Iona. Let’s see now. We’ve got the secret of the ‘Salutation Fruit,’ which if I recall correctly, is the very thing that got you permanently barred from participating in the Merge Fecund Salutation festivities.” Elder Nora raised her eyebrow in a comical gesture of feigned sternness. Iona dropped her head slightly, in a blushing little grin, as Elder Nora continued. “Ah, then there’s the ancient, forgotten nymph language known as ‘Mind Speak.’ Who would’ve thought you would figure that one out on your own, eh? And let’s not forget, of course, about the ancient Passageways and Words. And now this! Well, my young nymph, it must be written of you then!” Elder Nora eyed Iona with great wonder and respect, as she proceeded to pour a little more of the mystery into Iona’s eager ears.
“It is rumored from ancient times that the nymphs of Crystal Orchard were once governed by a great, beautiful and glorious Queen, to whom we now refer as ‘The Lost Queen.’ It is said that when she reigned there was peace throughout all the lands, even far beyond Crystal Orchard and the Land of Enchanted Timbers. There was no Merge Fecund Salutation during the Queen’s time. They say the queen had magical powers which dwarf those we nymphs have today. She had the power to control the mating of all living creatures and we didn’t need The Deities. We reproduced amongst ourselves in due season and the balance of nature was maintained. “
“It has also been said that Satyrs and Nymphs were at peace in the Queen’s time. That the whispering vines really whispered and unicorns would fertilize the groves and orchards in the different valleys, so we nymphs wouldn’t have to use our magic to feed ourselves. We could roam freely in the wild on the unicorns’ backs, for they would keep us out of harm’s way and safely return us home with the Queen at journey’s end. We communed with other nymph colonies, not isolated to as we are in these times..
The dwellings of the Elders and the nooks in the colony were not our homes. The Weeping Hallow trees were with us wherever we went and nurtured our homestead needs. Legend has it they could walk and talk with us…” Elder Nora’s words trailed off.
Iona was speechless. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was as though someone had been inside her mind and had just recounted years of her own crazy daydreams and loony imaginings, word for word, as if they had been recorded somehow. Who could’ve told her these things? She had told no one, not even Byla or Ilya, about the myriad of strange thoughts and visions to which she had always been privy.
Although Elder Nora could divine what her pupil was thinking, she said nothing else. She began rolling another Juju leaf.
“What happened to her? How did we end up like we are now?” Iona wondered aloud.
Elder Nora used her twinkle-fink magic to light her smoke and took a long, deep puff. She responded with a cloud of blue smoke, “Well, my dear, I told you about the ‘Queen’ part of the tale. The answer to your question is where the ‘Lost’ part of the story comes in.”
It all sounded so natural, so believable, and made so much sense to Iona that she wondered why she had never heard anything about the Lost Queen before now. It explained a lot about why everything seemed so abstract, aloof, and mysterious in Crystal Orchard. Crystal Orchard was but a small territory that resided within the greater province of the Land of Enchanted Timbers. Iona had always wondered why its inhabitants would never venture out to the other areas within the rest of the province. From the sound of it, Iona would have fit in a lot better around the old Crystal Orchard when the Queen reigned, than she did in this Crystal Orchard she had grown up in, and from which she would shortly be banished.
Iona gleamed with excitement and intrigue as she faced Elder Nora. Taking in her portly, eccentric character, Iona wondered how much more wisdom old Elder Nora was hiding up there in that hefty noggin of hers. The question that echoed most loudly in Iona’s mind found its way out of her mouth. “Why have I never heard anything about the Queen before, Elder Nora? Who else besides you knows about the story?”
Elder Nora had seen that one coming. She hesitated. Iona had caused Elder Nora to jeopardize her position on the Council many times, by cajoling her into breaking the Oath of Secrecy. But Iona had never once broken that confidence, and no one was ever the wiser about all that Iona had been learning with Elder Nora’s help. But now the older woman felt they were treading into dangerous waters, and she needed a little reassurance. “Iona, you have done well with keeping silent up until now. You have earned my trust. But some things are best left unsaid. I have already told you more than enough of what you need to know. Work with what you have. Okay, my dear?”
It was worth a shot, Iona thought with a resigned sigh. She couldn’t deny that Elder Nora had already told her more than she had ever imagined she would. Elder Nora lurched up from her seat in a hurry and prepared to leave her dwelling for the Council meeting.
Iona took the hint and got up to leave. As Iona went for the door to the secret passageway, Elder Nora reminded her about the warning.
“Iona, I know you aren’t headed to the Valley of the Grove, are you? I think you should just stay out of there for now!”
With one foot in the passageway and one in the dwelling, Iona looked back at Elder Nora with a quirky smirk and answered her. “Well, based on what you just told me about the Lost Queen, since Satyrs and Nymphs did get along at one time, I don’t think there’ll be much to worry about any attack.” With that, she sprinted off down the passageway. Behind her, she could hear the fading echo of Elder Nora yelling the words “Don’t go into the Valley today Iona!”
Elder Nora knew she was shouting in vain. She had seen that look in Iona’s eyes too many times before. What Elder Nora didn’t know was that the discussion she and Iona had been having had taken up far more time than she’d realized. She was late for the Council meeting.
Elder Idella had sent Shara to fetch Elder Nora and be sure that she was all right, as it was very uncommon for Elder Nora to be late for anything. Shara walked up to Elder Nora’s front door just in time to hear the echoing warning Iona. Elder Nora answered the door and headed to Council with Shara, unaware of what she had haphazardly set in motion due to Shara’s eavesdropping.
After leaving Elder Nora at the Council Quarters, Shara went and gathered her little buddies Tyla, Liani, Nessa, and Kyla. It only took her the walk from Elder Nora’s dwelling to the Council Quarters for her to devise her scheme against Iona. She was ecstatic about finally discovering Iona’s mysterious whereabouts during many unexplained absences on many mornings and afternoons. And she now was armed with the revelatory knowledge of how Iona was getting out of the colony unnoticed, and where she had been sneaking off to.
On numerous occasions, Shara had noticed that Iona would not answer her door, nor be anywhere on the colony grounds when Shara sought her. She had long held suspicions about what Iona might be doing, but she could never confirm them. When she would question Ilya and Byla about it, they would always say that Iona must have been sleeping and not heard the door. Shara had known better, and one day, she decided to break into Iona’s nook. When she didn’t find Iona inside, Shara burned all of Iona’s clothes as a way of sending a message: Shara was on to her.
Just as Elder Nora compromised the Oath of Secrecy to Iona, Elder Idella had done so with Shara. Idella was grooming Shara to one day succeed her on the Council. She had even told her about the secret passageways. Now, Elder Idella didn’t know nearly as much about the passageways as Iona did, thanks to Iona’s extensive explorations, but what she did know she passed on to Shara, how the tunnels led to just outside of the Crystal Orchard perimeter into the Valley of the Grove. And when she overheard Elder Nora yelling after Iona, she knew exactly where to be to catch Iona coming out of the passageway, and follow her into the Valley of the Grove.
Iona had been right about one thing; she needn’t fear of being mauled by a Satyr in the Valley. But had she heeded Elder Nora’s warning, the disastrous incident that, sadly, resulted in Iona’s exile, might have been avoided altogether. But then again, you can’t cheat destiny.
Everything happens for a reason.