Season 1, Episode 3
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
I was climbing up a ladder, and when I reached for the next rung, my arm wouldn’t move. I looked at it and saw that it was actually a tree, with its roots in my shoulder, branches at my elbow, and a small stonefruit, like an apricot, amidst the leaves where my hand should be. I thought, well, that explains why my shoulder hurts – it’s the tree’s roots, growing into me.
“Here, I’ll help you with that,” came a voice from over my shoulder. “You be my legs and I’ll be your right arm.”
In the illogic peculiar to dreams, Kaye reached past me and grabbed the rung for me. I could feel him against my back, as if he were bonded there, warm and close, like the feeling of skin on skin under bedsheets on a cold night. I tried to look back at him and saw his hand leave the rung to pluck the fruit from my tree-arm. It looked more like a plum now, red and smooth, and I caught a glimpse of Kaye’s smile just before he lifted it to his mouth and took a bite out of it. The juice ran down his chin as he chewed and swallowed.
I was still staring at his chin when he spoke again.
“You are ripe and sweet,” he said, and his smile returned.
I awoke from the dream with a start, my nerves jangling like bells on a string.
I was lying in my own bed, attended by a physician and a servant, and my arm still hurt. I stretched and it hurt more, but I was relieved to see that at least I hadn’t maimed myself. As the physician began rattling off a list of ill-conceived instructions for my recovery, my thoughts turned to my uncomfortably full bladder. I was about to ask him to leave so I could relieve myself when he said something that caught my attention.
“Your pardon is being signed by the King today. You are lucky to have such a friend in the Queen. I am told she was most elegant on your behalf.”
I gasped something unintelligible, which the doctor correctly interpreted as confusion.
“Your pardon – for your crime – that is, carnal indecency.”
Understanding dawned. I choked, too caught between gratitude and outrage to be coherent. Then I demanded to know how the prince was doing and exactly what had happened. He was recovering, I was told, and had been trampled by his horse after falling off of it during a boar hunt. That was impossible, as I knew that Kaye hadn’t ridden a horse since before his illness. So I asked again, and what I’d heard filled me with rage.
Karamon, the physician said, had been learning to ride in secret. A secret kept from the Queen, most of the courtiers, and me. As such things generally are, it was an open secret among the servants, but otherwise, only King Lycius and his hunting companions had known. When Kaye was comfortable in the saddle, they had taken him hunting, and he had successfully speared a boar against an old oak stump. Without control of his legs, it was miracle enough that he could stay in the saddle at all, and so the impact had spun him around, wrenching his arm out of its socket, twisting his feet out of the stirrups, and throwing him to the ground. The damage to his left leg and ribs had resulted when his horse, a stallion bred for war, shied backwards and trampled over him.
Kaye was of an age where his desire to prove himself in foolish ways was comprehensible, but Lycius and his companions should have known better. Taking Kaye hunting was inviting an accident – I was torn, unsure whether to be angry that they could be that careless, or furious at the possibility that Lycius might have been hoping for a fatal accident, freeing him of the shame and inconvenience of having a crippled heir. I lurched out of bed to go give the King a piece of my mind, and was saved from indiscretion by the wave of vertigo that tossed me back onto the mattress in my room. My arm gave a particularly painful twitch as I landed, and I screamed.
When my double-vision cleared, the physician handed me a polished cherrywood box with the royal crest burnt into the lid.
“A gift,” he said, “from the Queen.”
Inside the box were a pair of finely made chocolate silk gloves, embroidered with vines in pale green and light brown. A cluster of grapes decorated the back of each hand, each glinting red globe a small button made of precious garnet. I looked up at the physician in renewed confusion.
“Your gloves were ruined at the time of the, ah, incident. It seems the Queen, in her generosity, has deigned to provide you with a replacement pair.”
He returned to lecturing me about the risk of my womb displacing due to stress, so I drove him out of the room. No sooner had he gone then I got up, very slowly this time, and went to use the chamberpot. I wobbled back to bed and decided that I’d exerted myself enough for one day.
Two days passed before I could convince the doctors and servants that I’d had enough bed rest. I immediately went to see Kaye, who was still confined to his chambers. Geoff was standing guard outside and let me in without a word.
“Maiden Yelena,” he greeted me from his sickbed. “I understand that I owe you my life, again.”
I gave him a pointed look. “Not your life, just your arm – and since when am I ‘Maiden Yelena’ to you, Kaye?”
His expression abruptly turned sheepish. “Uh – sorry, Yelen. It just seemed, well, I was trying to be more – regal, I guess.”
“Well, practice your court manners on the courtiers, or the servants, if you must,” I snapped, then softened. “Sorry, Kaye. I’m glad you’re finally taking an interest in etiquette. I’m just not feeling well today.”
His frown deepened. “Because of me. You shouldn’t have… hurt yourself for me.”
That earned him another sharp look. “And what should I have done, then? Left you with only one good arm? You really would be bedridden, then. I nearly killed myself caring for you once before – you think I’m going to let my handiwork go to waste?”
“Enough, Yelen, please! I take it back!” Kaye started laughing, and got me going as well. When we recovered ourselves, he gave me a sly look and asked me to convince the doctors to let him out of bed. I reminded him that he had more than a sore arm to worry about, and that it might take weeks for his fractured leg to heal completely. He frowned at this – having no feeling in his legs, they did not bother him. That was part of the problem – he could easily reinjure his leg and not notice. I promised that I would ask the Queen to release him from the doctors’ care, and received in return his promise not to put weight on his leg until I said so.
Before I left, he complimented my new gloves, and I replied that the credit was entirely due to his mother’s good taste and generosity.
Queen Theobel did release Karamon into my care. She allowed that Kaye could be up and about, but not on his own, and knew that he would not accept a hovering “honor guard.” She feared he might overexert or re-injure himself, and was even more concerned for his health and safety than she had been before. Kaye was given his liberty, but only after he promised henceforth not to leave the castle without me. Theobel suggested lessons in herbology, birding, and tracking as alternatives to Kaye’s disastrous experiment with hunting. I confessed my ignorance of tracking, and that my knowledge of birding was limited to identification.
The Queen seemed to expect this, and recommended Geoff as my co-instructor. Geoff would teach tracking and falconry, and I would be responsible for the rest. She was also oddly concerned with our safety from wild animals, wanting to know what we would do “if an enraged boar, or some other dangerous creature” should surprise us.
I was able to convince her that I was capable of protecting the both of us from beast or bandit, but she still urged me to take Geoff with us whenever possible, and I readily agreed.
While the weather allowed, I conducted as many of our lessons as possible out of doors. Kaye’s recovery was swift, but not complete. He still maneuvered admirably on his crutches, but without the sometimes frightening grace and speed of before, and the brace on his left leg irritated his imperfectly healed knee. He learned well his lessons in herbology, and his interest in astrology was renewed. Geoff pronounced him a born falconer, whereas lessons in tracking were quietly discontinued after Kaye’s inability to get close to the ground and back up again under his own power proved to be too big an impediment.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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