Season 2, Episode 8
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
Sunlight and birdsong. A breath of warm air. The beating of a hawk’s wings. Soft sheets. The egg. Where was the egg? There must be an egg; surely it wasn’t too late!
As I rose slowly from a cold and clutching sleep, my thoughts began to slowly order themselves. I was lying in my bed, in my chambers. I felt weak and groggy, but there was light in my face, and yes, there was a lovebird nest in my windowsill.
“Orestes?” I called. Had I seen Kaye’s hawk, or had that been a dream?
“I doubt it,” came a voice from the other side of the room, rough, low, and familiar.
“Geoff!” I turned my head to see him slouched in a chair by the door to my bedchamber. His expression was, if possible, more grim than usual and he wore a longsword at his hip. He stood stiffly and walked to my bedside. He was limping, favoring his right leg.
“You look good,” he said, “for someone who should be dead.”
“Geoff? Where’s Kaye? How is he?”
“He’s well enough. The hawk is dead, though.”
“Orestes? How? Why?”
“When we were all out in the snow bleeding, he had some sort of fit. He slipped his hood, snapped his tether, and beat himself to death against the bars of his mews. Dead gods, if the apprentice had just let him out…”
Geoff trailed off, and we were both silent for a moment. It felt like death itself was stalking me, taking Orestes because I’d saved Kaye.
“That’s not your worry,” Geoff resumed with stinging bluntness. “You should be watching out for the hangman.”
“What?” my voice rose in irritation. The immediate exhaustion I felt reminded me of my weakened condition.
“King comes stumbling in out of the snow, his eyes a milky ruin, screaming something about you and assassination. Then Kaye comes back pulling both of us on a litter made out of his own damn clothes.
“We’re all bloody, but you, you look like you bathed in it. Guards are sent to the gazebo, and they come back with stories about a gutted horse and the corpse of a man who looks like he spat all his guts out his mouth.
“Maiden, you’re lucky they didn’t cut off your head on the spot.” Geoff almost spat the last word before clenching his jaw shut. His expression was as hard to read as ever, but there was strong feeling in it: anger, frustration, maybe fear.
Without warning, the bedchamber door swung open. Geoff jumped, his hand going to the hilt of his sword. I saw him flinch, clearly still in pain from his broken leg. Lily swept in past him, holding a tray with a large steaming bowl on it.
“Glad to see you up, milady. Here’s some beef liver broth, for your blood.”
“How did you know?” I asked, looking into the bowl with appreciation.
“Kaye told us how you healed him. Did you really pull your heart out of your chest and set it next to his?” Lily had an excited glimmer in her eyes as she said this.
“No,” I replied with a sigh, “but I did give him my lifeblood.”
“And you reached down that bastard’s throat and pulled his gizzard out! Can you teach me how to do that?”
With a resigned, “Hmph!” Lily placed the tray on an end table and brought a spoonful of broth to my lips. The odor was strong and the flavor made my gorge rise, but I took several small sips and did my best not to grimace.
Lily saw through me. “It’s my ma’s recipe. I know it don’t taste too good,” she said, “but it’s potent. Now that you’re up, you can have fried liver, and we should be able to get spinach in before long.”
“Lily,” I replied, “spinach is a spring crop. We won’t have any spinach for months.”
“It is spring, Milady.” Lily turned to Geoff. “You hadn’t told her how long it had been?” Turning back to me, she continued, “It’s been more’n a season, milady. We was really starting to worry that you weren’t coming back to us.”
Spring? Sweet Goddess, how had I been gone so long?
“Kaye,” I said. “I have to see Kaye.”
Geoff and Lily looked at each other, then back at me with disconcerting sympathy.
“You can’t—” said Geoff.
“Not yet,” Lily interrupted.
“It’s too dangerous,” he continued. “We must maintain the illusion that you are unconscious and unresponsive.”
“No,” I said, straining to lift my head up “I need to see Kaye.”
“He’s seen you,” Lily piped up, earning her confused and angry stares from Geoff and myself. “I, ah, let him in occasionally, at night. It was so romantic and sad, seeing him sit there, just holding your…” she sighed, “bare hand in his.”
“Lily…” Geoff growled.
“So what?” she countered. “So what’s it all for if they can’t see each other? If the King dies, it will all be over for them, so what’s the point?”
If the King dies? I wanted to ask what Lily meant, but I felt terribly sleepy and a yawn was all that came out.
“I need to talk to the Queen,” I heard Geoff say in a tone that was nearly huffy, but I didn’t see his expression because my eyes were already closed.
“Maiden Yelena…” A woman’s voice was calling my name. I knew that voice; was it one of the Mothers who were training us? Had I overslept?
I blinked a couple of times and brought my eyes to focus on the face of a woman standing over my bed. She wore a simple brown robe, but she didn’t look like any Maiden I knew. The hood of the robe was thrown back, and her hair was covered with a snood of fine white silk.
It was Queen Theobel. I’d been dreaming of my days in training with the other novice Sisters, back in Maragoya. As I became more fully awake, that simple dream broke up into the fragments of memory it was built on, and dissolved like sugar in the rain.
“Maiden Yelena, this is the last time I shall see you or speak to you.”
That sent a chill down my spine. Suddenly I felt very much awake.
Theobel continued, “Years ago, when I was young and but recently married, a Sister of the Order came here.”
“Mother Nala” I said, my voice a half-whisper.
The Queen nodded. “She completed my education in ways that my family never intended. From her I learned statecraft, and economics, and herbology, and the art of persuasion.
“Eventually, she revealed to me that she’d been sent to Thrycae to teach me, because the future of Thrycae depended on the influence I had on my husband. I was a young bride, and scared, but she told me I held the future in my hands.
“Lycius has made things better in Thrycae. You may not see that, because our country is so very far from being like Maragoya. I’ve helped guide him to those decisions. I never had any passionate feelings about my husband, but I came to love him for what he accomplished. He was a good king. You need to know that.
“His strength was his desire to be a strong man, leave an enduring legacy. That’s why he just couldn’t accept Kaye’s infirmity…he was convinced the other houses would never bow before a…” Theobel hesitated, “a cripple.
“I tried to remove Kaye from the public eye, hoping that, with time, he would cease to be a topic of conversation and I could put him away somewhere safe and remote, clearing the path for Nestor to be the next King. I even tried to arrange a marriage that would have disqualified Kaye from inheriting the throne, but he was too besotted with you to so much as look at another.”
I flushed a little at this last comment, but if Theobel noticed, she didn’t let it slow her down.
“Mother Nala told me three secrets when I was young, things she saw in my wyrd that she thought I ought to know. First, that I should lose my son to a dark stranger. Second, that I would hold the life of two that I loved in my hands, and be forced to choose between them. The third is a thing I shall never repeat.
“Maiden, I hate you for forcing my hand, and I hate you for taking my son, but my husband was going to kill the both of you.”
Theobel stopped, her eyes full of tears. With iron self-control, she blinked them back and then stared at me.
“I’ve poisoned the king, my husband. I am poisoning him. Mother Nala brought me the narcissus root, and I’ve been seeing that he gets a little of it every day. If I stopped now, he’d recover. But if he recovers, he’ll order your execution, and he’ll find a way to kill Kaye, to murder his own son.
“As long as Lycius lives, he is still King, and while he lies ill, I rule in his stead. When he dies, the crown will pass to another, probably house Uombard.
“Lord Uombard is already spreading the rumor that you have bewitched all of us—the King, Kaye, and myself. If he gets impatient for his crown, I don’t know how much of the royal guard would stand with us.
“So you see, Maiden, we are perched on a precipice, and it is crumbling beneath us. If I am very careful and we are lucky, Lycius may live a year, two at the outside. Or he could die within the week.
“I shall not take the risk of being seen with you again, and if it is discovered that you are alert, I will have to have you tried for witchcraft. To do otherwise would only validate Uombard’s claims and bring about a bloody coup.
“Do you understand me?”
“Do you require anything?”
“Yes,” I said, with absolute conviction. “Kaye.”
“Queen Theobel, I must speak to him. Please.”
As she turned her back to me, I again caught a glimpse of unshed tears glittering in her eyes.
“No,” she said as she stepped through the door to what had been my bedchamber and was now my prison, and slammed it behind her.
I wanted to grab her by her shoulders and shake her, but I was too weak to rise.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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