Season 2, Episode 5
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
When Kaye described Geoff as “gay,” he used a word from the old tongue. Even so, Geoff made a small noise of discomfort at this lack of concealing euphemism. There are words for homosexuals in the Thrycaen dialect, but they’re even nastier than their ways of describing single women. Certainly Geoff had never so much as given me the eye, but I had attributed that to his stoic politeness, not a disinterest in womankind. If anything, I would have guessed that he was nursing a secret passion for Queen Theobel.
“Geoff—” I began, caught between sympathy at his situation and lingering jealousy at the idea that he’d kissed my Prince.
“Yelen, please,” interrupted Kaye. “I asked him, and I told him it was for you. It was only so I’d know what to do.”
This blighted country, I thought. Everything gets so twisted here. Even me. I really had no basis or right to be angry, especially not here in the very room where I’d so recently exchanged sexual favors with Kaye, so I did the hard thing. I looked over toward where I knew Geoff sat in the dark, and I said, “I’ll be fine. It’s just a shock.”
“I know what he thinks of you,” Geoff rumbled back, “and I support you. More than you know. I just…want you understand…” he trailed off with a long, slow sigh.
The silence lingered until Geoff spoke again. “Kaye, you listen up as well. There’s only one other person in the kingdom that knows the whole of this story.”
Geoff continued in a whisper, “I was in love once. I knew it was dangerous, but he was beautiful, and while he was naive, he had so much potential. I was older, more knowledgeable…” Geoff paused again, and I felt like I could hear him thinking but not as much older as you are. I felt myself color at the unspoken imprecation.
“He, well, he was your uncle, Kaye. Just a couple of years older then your mother, and I was a young guardsman trusted by Lord Pantelos with his own family. They both took a shine to me, and I knew that Vivus was like me before he himself did. It still surprised me when he confessed his love for me, and I kept him at arm’s length as long as I could.
“When your mother was arranged to marry Lycius, I was the first one she picked for her retinue. It tore my heart to go, but I knew my duty, and the capitol is a hard place for any young county girl. Vivus didn’t take it well. He told me not to come back. I let him blame me. I didn’t want him angry at his own sister.
“We’d been here two seasons when she got the letter from Lady Pantelos. Vivus had gone missing not long after we left. They never found his body…” Geoff drew a sudden, ragged breath that turned into a sob. “He, he was last seen near Tallhome. That’s round about where we first made love.”
Geoff paused, and blew his nose loudly. “Vivus wasn’t careful. I tried to tell him. Out in the country, people like me get killed, and no-one asks any questions. He was a Lord’s son. I think he thought that’d keep him safe. They…they never even found his body.” Geoff blew his nose again.
I heard Kaye’s voice, soft and sympathetic. “Geoff, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
Geoff barked back, his voice rough with anger. “Are you sorry enough? It’s not you they’ll execute. If you’re caught together, it’s her head on the block, Prince. And you,” Geoff turned his attention toward me, “don’t think your Maiden’s robes will spare you. Half the court would as soon see you drawn and quartered for witchcraft as it is.”
“I know,” I said bitterly, all too aware of just how careless I’d been, letting myself get caught up in the moment and the feedback between Kaye’s feelings and my own. Even now, in the distinctly unsexy context of senseless murder and human stupidity, I could feel it, something almost like the ozone-rich pause between blasts of summer lightning.
I’d been oblivious of the Queen’s maneuverings; blind even to the fact that Geoff was spying on me. If either had wished me harm, I’d be dead. Was I that dependent on the Sight? No, it was more than that. I really was fixated on Kaye. My thoughts, my focus kept turning back to him. I knew where he was, in the dark. I wanted to touch him.
Our hands met. Mine was gloved again, but the mere contact was still powerful. I gave his hand a squeeze, and he returned it. I felt myself smiling.
“Are you even listening?” Whoops, that was Geoff again.
“Yes…” I said, trying to recall what he’d been going on about. “I know that I could be sentenced to death, and that we need to avoid any public displays…”
“Any contact, even if you think you’re alone, here in the palace.”
“Right.” I had to agree, even as I tightened my grip on Kaye’s hand. “The servants are…very observant.”
Geoff huffed. “The seven spies of Paan couldn’t do better.”
“Wait,” Kaye spoke up, “if we can’t be together here, then where?”
“Better not at all—”
“No!” Now Kaye was gripping my hand tightly, almost painfully so. “I won’t accept that.”
“Thought as much.” Geoff sighed again. “Behave for a couple of days and I’ll see if I can figure something out.”
Kaye’s grip relaxed a little.
“Next, we get you out of here.” Geoff was back to his usual brusque self. “One at a time. I’ll go first, make sure it’s clear. If I’m not back by the count of five-score, Kaye, you go, and take the first left. That will lead you to the back stair. Then, Yelen, count to twelve-score before you leave, and go right. Got it?”
Kaye and I mumbled our assent. A moment later, the door swung rapidly open and shut again as Geoff left. As before, the sudden light was blinding.
“Ow,” Kaye complained, “he could at least have warned us.”
“Poor baby,” I said, closing the distance between us. I kissed him the way the thunder kisses the sky, and if the crash and boom was all in my head, and the roll and sway was only us and not the air itself quaking, I couldn’t say.
“Aaah,” Kaye gasped for air. “How long has it been? Were you counting?”
“Not quite long enough,” I said, as I bent in to kiss him again. I then let him go reluctantly and began counting.
When it was my time to leave, I opened the door slowly, and made a final search for my missing stocking. I found two, but neither was mine. I also found a torn pair of men’s hose, a stained petticoat, and the remains of a glove with the fingers cut off.
Reassured and a little grossed out by this evidence of human carnality, I held my head high as I walked out of the storeroom and made my way back towards the part of the palace I was more familiar with. My confidence slipped a bit when I noticed the not-quite-dry stain on the side of my dress, but I did what I could to cover it with my arm and soldiered on.
The next morning, a familiar-sounding knock at my door awoke me from sleep. A little light spilled over my windowsill and across the floor of my bedchamber. It was the first glimmering of dawn. But who was that at my door?
Kaye? It had better not be, as appealing as that image was. Lily? No, I’d memorized her knock, after the night when Lady Dycius…oh, no. That was where I knew that knock from. What was she doing here?
I thought about ignoring it, but if she’d heard something about my indiscretion yesterday, I might at least have warning that she was launching a new campaign against me. Reluctantly, I threw a dressing gown over my nightclothes, pulled on my old, brown gloves, and decided to let my hair be a visible mess—maybe she’d find it intimidating. Perhaps if I hinted that witches’ hair sometimes ate people?
I opened the door, and there she was, in a very fine nightgown, spring green silk with embroidered flowers. It was very nearly Mothers’ green in color. I wondered if she knew. Lady Dycius was also green, in the metaphorical sense. She looked like she was about to be ill, so I was scarcely surprised when she shot past me, heading for the chamber pot, only to stop short and throw up into my washbasin.
I closed and bolted the door, wondering if the Goddess was testing me. By the time I turned back around, she was wiping her mouth on my hand towel.
“Good morning, Lady,” I said, keeping most of the disdain out of my voice. “What brings you to my chambers?”
Dycius caught my tone and drew herself up to her full height, doing her best to compose her face into a mask of haughty superiority. I braced myself for the threats and abuse. Then, to my surprise, she threw herself at my feet and began bawling like a newborn babe.
I thought I heard her threaten to murder me, but, as she repeated herself, I realized she was saying, “He’ll kill me.”
I waited for Lady Dycius to compose herself and dry her face on my nightgown, then ushered her to a seat and put on a pot of tea.
“My husband,” she said, her head in her hands, “he’ll kill me.”
“Surely he can’t get away with that,” I said, but I wasn’t sure. Women could be stoned in the villages, and sentenced to death in the capitol, so who knows.
She looked up at me and blinked, confused. “He’ll divorce me.”
“Ah,” I said dryly.
“I’d rather he killed me.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d ever faced death.”
Lady Dycius scowled at me, then tears welled in here eyes again. “You don’t understand,” she whined.
“No,” I said. “I don’t.”
I thought I was in for more spoiled bawling, but instead she compressed her lips into a line. “I was fourteen when I was married to him, and he was thirty-one. He took me whenever he pleased for years, but I never experienced pleasure until I took my first lover. Do you know when the last time I slept with my husband was?”
I shook my head.
“When I was nineteen. I later found out that he’d been cheating on me since I was sixteen. He likes them young and feisty, and discards them when he gets bored.”
“Or when they get pregnant?”
“And yet you’re still with him.”
Lady Dycius’ face blanched and she gripped the armrests of her chair, white-knuckled. She screamed, “I have to!” and then began sobbing again. Just then the kettle whistled, and I took this as an omen.
By the time I pushed a cup of very mild inji root tea at her, she was ready to continue. She told me at length about the ancient lineage of her family and the hard times they’d fallen on since some scandal having to do with heresy in her great-grandfather’s generation: he was a Nihimmortalist, a member of a sect that believes that all things, even the gods, die, and he was tortured to death with hot iron pokers for it.
Lord Dycius took an interest in her, and married her with only a token dowry. He was a widower, and there was some tragic secret in his family, but I missed whatever it was. The long and short of it was that her father owed Lord Dycius money, and that the shame of being divorced for infidelity would complete the ruin of her family’s name and drive them all into penury.
The man who had gotten her pregnant was a minor lord of about her age, and he truly cared about her but he was trapped in a loveless arranged marriage and could do nothing so long as Lord Dycius lived. She said she’d been careful to avoid pregnancy up until now, but she was completely unwilling to talk about the details, so I could only hope she had known what she was doing.
I wasn’t sure how much she was exaggerating, or even making up, but I knew that Lord Dycius was a monster of the sort that any just ruler would have had put to death, or at least castrated, imprisoned, and tattooed with cautionary symbols. Lady Dycius’ pregnancy now was real enough, and her unnamed lover sure wasn’t going to help her.
I was already guilty of several crimes punishable by death in Thrycae. Lady Dycius was far less deserving, or at least much less sympathetic, than Brinna, but she was a victim of the same system. Knowing that it might be a mistake, I prepared the same herbal concoction I’d made for Brinna, and went through the same instructions. I made her repeat the directions back to me three times, then sent her on her way with what she insisted on calling “a cure for my belly.”
I felt a dire sense of foreboding as I watched her go. One more source of certain doom to add to the list.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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