Season 2, Episode 1
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
I stood in the hallway, my breath coming quickly and my heart pounding. I stared at Kaye’s face, held him close, my hands caressing his broad shoulders and running down to his back. After the terrible secret I’d shared with him, he should have been staring at me in horror, but instead, I was watching as an idiot grin slowly spread over his face.
“Our child,” he’d said.
Yes, our child. As I held him close I imagined myself with a full belly, felt the weight of coming life growing inside me, the chill of Thrycaen winter upon my cheek, the warmth of Kaye’s bare hand in mine.
“Ahhhh,” I breathed out. Goddess take me, I wanted that. But I could not forget the other part of that picture, and I could not let Kaye forget it.
“Death,” I said. Kaye jumped, and that grin slipped. “Did you hear me? If we become a couple, one of us dies, Kaye.”
“I…I don’t want to lose you, Yelen,” he said. “I was just so afraid that you were keeping away from me because you didn’t want me. I can face death. We can figure it out, overcome it. I couldn’t face it if you didn’t care for me.”
“I do care for you,” I replied, looking into the shimmering hazel of his eyes. Without a thought, I bent in to kiss him. Our lips brushed, separated, brushed again, parted. Our tongues danced: step, turn, spin, press and part, then back together as if a single moment apart was unbearable. Time lost its meaning, was reduced to a small and distant irritation, like a dog barking a long ways off.
Eventually we parted, panting and sweating. Kaye looked up the hallway as I looked down it. No-one was standing staring at us, but an elephant-led parade could have trooped by and I doubt I would have noticed it. Unsated hunger pounded in my veins, making my fingers ache and my legs quiver, but when I looked Kaye in the eye again, I saw a fire banked by caution that must have mirrored my own feelings. I helped him recover his crutches and we parted.
“You should go change,” I said as he pulled his doublet down to hide the wet spot on his hose.
Kaye’s color rose again, but he nodded. “And you should adjust your snood.”
My hands went to my head. My kinky-curly hair was escaping from both sides of my head covering. The last thing I needed was to be put into the stocks for indecent exposure. I hastily stuffed my hair back in, and pulled the snood tight.
“You missed a lock,” he said, lifting a hand from his crutch to gather a few wild hairs just behind my right ear. The palm of his hand brushed against my earlobe as he tucked them into the snood, and I thought my knees were going to give way. I turned toward Kaye’s face, and for one lingering moment, I thought that I was going to kiss him again, or he was going to kiss me, but then, with a mutual sigh of resignation, we both stepped back.
“Mother Nala’s room is on the fourth floor of the south tower,” Kaye said as he turned to go. “You know—”
“Around the corner, right at the ballroom, and straight back to the stair,” I completed the sentence for him.
With a parting smile, Kaye swung down the hallway in the opposite direction. I watched him go, the way his strong arms worked the crutches stoking the fire in my heart, head, and belly.
A realization cut through my distraction: Nala was the name of the sister who had last served in Thrycae. I’d never met her, but I knew that her posting was a punishment for some infraction of the rules. Why would she, of all people, be here?
It turned out that Mother Nala was a full-figured woman, pale of skin and light of hair, with a pleasant expression undercut by her sharp, discerning gaze. Her dress, Mother’s green with a few touches of gold thread, matched the hooded mantle she wore over it. Here, in her room, the hood was thrown back, showing off the intricate braiding of her flaxen hair.
“Welcome, Yelena,” she said, casually omitting my title. “Have a seat.”
“Mother Nala.” I gave a slight bow, showing proper respect. “I am surprised to see you here.”
I sat down.
“How about you start by telling me what this is?” Nala produced an open envelope. It was my letter of resignation.
“How?” I gaped, openmouthed.
Nala shrugged. “Part of my instruction from the Council. ‘In order to save time and expense’ they said.”
“But I saw the courier ride off!”
“Not with your letter he didn’t.”
“Well, obviously, but…” I trailed off.
“Ahem.” Mother Nala cleared her throat. “So, what’s this nonsense about resigning your post?”
I stared at my feet. This was even harder to say than it was to write. “I’ve lost the Sight. I can’t be an objective observer of Kaye’s Wyrding anymore.”
Mother Nala’s lips twitched into a slight smile. “Kaye? I presume you mean Prince Karamon.” Without giving me a chance to reply, she continued. “Yelena, do you know why I was sent here?”
The question made no sense, so I simply replied, “No.”
“Last midwinter’s night, all of Maragoya rose in the middle of the night, and there was such a scene you’d think the High King had come back to life and was invading. Do you know why?”
“Of course not! How could I?”
“You should,” Nala replied with infuriating calm. “It was such a great flaring of the Power that it overwhelmed the Sight of every witch in the peninsula. And,” she said, pausing for emphasis, “it came from here.”
Midwinter night. Midwinter…it had been around that time that I’d shared a dream with Kaye, where I was enthroned like the Goddess herself, and Kaye came to learn the ways of sex from me. Well, we’d shared the dream until Brinna came knocking on my door and woke me up.
“I see you have some idea of what I’m talking about.” Nala smiled, and I shot her an angry glance. She shrugged it off and continued. “Since then, it’s subsided somewhat—it’s now more like the eternal fire in an Daevan temple. You can ignore it, and sometimes even forget it’s there, but it’s always there. Tell me, Yelena, what did the Sight reveal to you when you first arrived in Thrycae?”
“It was omnipresent,” I replied. “A heavy miasma suffusing the palace, with an anticipatory feel to it, like the hush right before a storm.”
“Good.” Nala nodded an approval that I found patronizing. “Well, I sensed something like that as I descended from the Fircrown Mountains.”
“The Fircrowns? But you would just have been entering Thrycae at that point.”
“Exactly. By the time the palace appeared on the horizon, it was more like a great rush of wind and a painful glare. And now,” she waved her arms about her before bringing one hand to rest on her forehead, “my third eye is blind, and I have a terrible headache.”
“You’re saying that the Wyrding is so strong that it overwhelms the Sight.” That sent a chill down my spine.
“Mother Nala, that’s impossible. It would mean—”
Nala cut me off. “It means that whatever’s happening here is the biggest Wyrding in memory. Bigger than even the birth of the High King.”
“But…it’s been months! Why did the Council wait so long to act?”
“They haven’t been waiting. They’ve been divining, and for months they got nowhere with it. Finally, Crone Agata had a…vision, and that’s when they called for me.”
That last bit was too much for me, and I jumped out of my seat. “Crazy Agata? She’s only on the Council because she’s the oldest living witch! Everyone knows she’s senile! And you! The last time you were in Thrycae, it was because you’d been sent here as a punishment!”
Nala’s brow furrowed, but she showed no other sign of irritation. She exhaled a long, slow breath, and waited for me to quiet myself. “Ah, to be a Maiden again,” she sighed, “so certain and full of passion. Sit down, Yelena.”
I sat, my head spinning at being treated like a child.
“You would do well to respect Crone Agata,” Nala lectured. “She is, well, I will not pretend to understand her, but she knows things. It was on her word that I was sent to Thrycae all those years ago, shortly after I first put on the green. You may not believe it, but I feel a certain nostalgia for this place, and I am a little sad to be ending my trip here so soon. Nonetheless, it is time for me to return to Maragoya.”
So she wasn’t here to replace me. My heart lifted at the thought of getting to stay, even as my intercepted letter of resignation sat on the end table. Nala stood and so did I. She walked me to the door.
“I need a little time to meditate,” she said. “Tomorrow morning I leave with the dawn. I have two things to give you before I go. First, a word of advice: be a bit more considerate of Queen Theobel’s feelings. Secondly, there is this.” She pulled out a parchment scroll sealed with the Council’s mark. “This is for you, from Crone Agata. She said that you should open it when you need to read it.”
With that cryptic and contradictory instruction, Nala handed me the scroll and closed the door. I headed back to my rooms fuming. Goddess save me from smug Mothers and crazy Crones.
No sooner had I barred the door than I peeled off the wax seal and read the scroll. In an uneven spidery script, it read: You probably should have waited, dearie, but it’s hard to be patient, isn’t it? And patience is so often necessary and so seldom profitable, we might as well have our fun while we may.
There was a break in the page, and then the script continued: Welcome to the green, Mother Yelena. I’d have sent you a proper garment if I could but, well, the Goddess provides for every tree in the forest, bedecks them in her splendor, doesn’t she? That reminds me: your request is granted, the Council frees you from all of your vows and obligations. Love always, Agata.
I threw down the scroll and screamed in frustration. Goddess forsake it all, what was going on here? What had that batty old Crone done?
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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