Season 1, Episode 2
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
The two years between Kaye’s illness and his thirteenth birthday passed with little event. Kaye recovered as completely as was possible, his upper body growing strong enough to propel him about the castle at a pace that left his attendants gasping. His devotion to his studies remained firm as well, and I grew to appreciate the way he gazed directly at me and his willingness to interrupt me with questions. He had a lot of questions, mostly about the underlying logic of things, and I spent much of my time explaining the historical context and philosophical underpinnings of commonly accepted ideas. I had hoped to influence him, and broaden his perspective beyond the Thrycaen court, but I found him beating me to it, asking the sort of pointed questions about me, the Order, and magic that lead to subtle, even dangerous questions about history, politics, and values.
Kaye’s quick mind and sharp wit was not lost on those around him, and a child of lesser station might well have been beaten for some of the things he said to the courtiers. I tried not to encourage him, but I was growing increasingly frustrated with the self-satisfied idiocy of the sycophants, toadies, and congenital idiots of the Thrycaen court, and I may have let my true thoughts slip on occasion. I was more worried about what he might say to the priests, but he was ahead of me there as well, maintaining a level of disinterest that may have irritated them, but left them without ammunition.
When Kaye had been younger, he had called me “Yelen”, dropping the honorific “a” and addressing me in a more familiar manner than was appropriate given our differences in station. Similarly, he insisted that I call him “Kaye”, a nickname otherwise used only by his mother and his playmates.
His thirteenth birthday, with its attendant celebration of his majority, was months in the planning, and I was reluctantly incorporated into the preparations by Queen Theobel, who was taking great pains to tailor the event to Kaye’s interests and needs. I appreciated her attention and care, but repeatedly had to remind her that fussing over him would make him less comfortable, not more. I did not appreciate having to work with the Queen’s ladies in waiting, as I found them to be a nasty backbiting clutch of harpies. One in particular, a Lady Dycius, the second wife of an aged lord, seemed to have it in for me. I understood all too well that it was their own powerlessness that made them so contemptibly petty, but it did not make dealing with them any easier. Only Theobel seemed to be cut of a different cloth, perhaps because, as Queen, she was above the fray.
The day before the ceremony, I was helping Kaye memorize his part in it when he threw his script to the ground and shouted, “I hate her!”
I was still too surprised to respond when he followed this up with, “I cannot bear it, being watched over like an idiot or a senile old man!” At my glance, he shrugged a shoulder toward Geoff, the only member of his “honor guard” in the room, who merely raised a jaded eyebrow in response. These words turned out to be merely the first breach in the dam, as Kaye proceeded to spit out a torrent of complaints and grievances he had with his mother. Theobel’s efforts to tailor the ceremony to Kaye had indeed come across as coddling, and he was aware of and offended by every detail that had been changed for his comfort.
This outburst had been coming for some time, as Kaye proceeded to decry every limit the Queen had placed upon him. He was not permitted to ride a horse, which I thought was a reasonable precaution, but she had also forbidden him to venture outside the castle walls, and had ordered his escort to help him up and down stairs, whether he wanted help or not.
I kept gazing steadily at him until he wound down. He then gazed up at me sheepishly. “Sorry, Yelen.”
“Your mother loves you, Kaye,” I replied. “She may be overprotective, but she does it out of concern for you, not to bother you.”
“I know. But I’m almost an adult!”
“You’ve almost reached legal age,” I corrected him. “Adulthood is the state of complete physical growth, which you’re some years from, and of mental maturity, which is a matter of both time and self-examination. Some people grow old without ever reaching adulthood.”
“You said I was mature,” he replied, in a petulant tone.
“I’ve said you were mature for your age. Don’t disprove my words by acting a brat.”
“Don’t be sad, Kaye. I still have a great many things left to learn, and not even the oldest Crone knows everything.”
His first act as an “adult” was to order away his honor guard, to the Queen’s distress. I would have been relieved, but ill omens began dogging him closer than before: an inexplicable cold draft appeared in his rooms; a horse that he’d taken an interest in went lame; a portrait being taken of him was ruined when the artist tripped and managed to put his arm through the canvas. Most ominously, but invisibly to everyone but myself, the presence around him continued to grow in intensity, leaving me on edge with dreadful anticipation for weeks at a time.
The following years were difficult for me, as I waited for the blade to fall. Nothing particularly untoward happened until Kaye’s sixteenth year. He’d gotten most of his growth by then and would, over his mother’s objections, go on long walks through the palace grounds and into the royal preserve. Usually he went alone, but I was invited along on occasion to see some gnarled old tree or identify an unusual bird or plant he’d seen the last time he went into the forest. Pleased by his continuing intellectual curiosity, I usually found something to teach or make an object lesson of, even when he couldn’t find whatever it was he’d dragged me into the forest after.
On these walks, he seemed to enjoy demonstrating that he could do anything I could despite his crutches and braces. His desire to show off for me was clear, and his physical prowess impressive. His arms were strong enough that he could climb and swing like a monkey, and I was grateful that his mother couldn’t see him scrabbling up slopes that were almost cliff faces, or making his way out onto the limbs of trees. I made no effort to discourage him, as he looked so alive, so vital and happy, as if his body was no burden to him.
A few weeks after Kaye’s sixteenth birthday, my premonitions came true. I was dreaming of falling leaves and spilt blood when I woke with a start, a lump in my throat. A moment later, there was a sharp rapping on my door. I heard Geoff’s raspy voice, saying something about Kaye having suffered a fall. I was out of bed and throwing on a dressing gown over my nightclothes before he finished the sentence. I nearly ran straight into Geoff as I dashed out the door half-dressed. He chased me down the hall as I cursed under my breath. I was furious with Kaye for being careless, and with myself for encouraging him.
Kaye was in the foyer of the palace’s great hall, on a hunter’s travois, and he was a dirty, bloody mess, his clothes torn and his breath shallow and pained. Though scratched and cut all over, Kaye was in no danger of bleeding to death. It was Kaye’s internal injuries that worried me. Something had crushed or trampled him, leaving two of his ribs fractured, his right shoulder dislocated so violently that several muscle fibers had been torn, and his left leg broken in several places, with a shattered kneecap. The only good fortune was that he hadn’t suffered any head trauma.
I had the doctors clear away the onlookers, then removed my elbow-length gloves and rolled up my sleeves. First, the shoulder. I felt the area again, gently and thoroughly to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Kaye turned toward me, smirked weakly, and whispered my name, followed by something I couldn’t hear. I bent closer and felt his breath on my ear as he managed to say, “I’ve missed your touch.”
I almost smiled, then I wanted to slap him. This was no time for games. “This is going to hurt,” I replied simply, and then reset his shoulder. He cried out, and for a moment I thought he’d lost consciousness, but then I noticed his gaze on me, his eyes bright with pain and silent tears.
His ribs would heal by themselves, given a chance, and I wanted to do what I could for his arm, but his leg was the worst off. He was wearing riding trousers, which surprised me, and I had to cut them off with surgeons’ shears before removing his hose. His leg was swelling, which I ignored, focusing instead on doing only what needed to be done, singing the bones back into alignment by infusing tendrils of magic into his leg and then reforging the fragments of his shattered kneecap. I told someone who was looking over my shoulder to wash and then plaster the leg, and moved back to his arm. I would have done more if there were any chance of his walking unaided, but his paralysis already precluded that.
I did everything I could for his right arm, because he needed that, needed it desperately because of his useless legs. My fingers grew sore from kneading life into torn muscle with the power, each arcane suture more of a strain than the last, and my vision grew blurry as I worked. Finally, my right arm, which I’d been drawing sympathetic reinforcement from, rebelled, every muscle cramping at once, and, after a few moments of intense physical pain, the magical backlash hit me, and I blacked out.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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