Season 2, Episode 12
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
I stood upon a high cliff face overlooking the relentless pounding of waves upon craggy and weather-beaten rocks. I leapt off, extending my arms as I reached the crest of my jump. As I arced down toward those sharp rocks, my arms stretched further and filled out. My skin ached as feathers popped out all over me, and I pulled up through the salt spray and into the open air.
Behind me, the cliff collapsed with a rocky rumble, the ground I’d been standing on plummeting toward the sea. They hit the water not with a splash, but with a great dusty “boom” that roused me from my sleep.
I was sore. Not just sore in the ways a woman might expect to be sore after a night of vigorous lovemaking, but sore all over. I stretched—a mistake—as a burning sensation streaked over me. What on the Goddess’s green earth was that?
I opened my eyes only to see Kaye’ face, his eyes closed, his hair an attractive mess, his soft lips parted slightly. From here, I could trace his brown-blonde eyebrows, see the hint of an aquiline curve in his nose, and follow the natural highlights through his chestnut hair.
I also observed the worry lines at the corners of his eyes and around his mouth. I hadn’t noticed them before. He was much too young to be so marked by care. As Kaye breathed in, I noticed one more thing: a red, irritated line of skin tracing up the side of his face from his jawbone to his ear. I reached out to touch it and it was hot.
Kaye awoke with a yelp. “Ow. What the…?” He then trailed off and smiled at me.
I felt my own lips curling up in response and rolled toward him, only to stop at the new pain in my belly, thighs, and between my legs.
“Yelen? Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m…I don’t know, Kaye. I’m sore all over.”
“Me too,” he replied. “It hurts everywhere you touched me.”
With a shock of recognition, I pulled back the sheets. There, all over my bare skin, were slightly raised sore lines everywhere I’d painted myself with the blue light. Some I recognized as fertility symbols, and the rest were things I’d never seen before.
Similar lines were traced all over Kaye, though with his complexion, they were an angry shade of pink, just like the line on his face.
“Yelen,” he whispered. “What is this?”
I looked at an unfamiliar but sexually suggestive set of intertwined lines on his upper thigh. I counted days in my head. I was in the most fertile part of my cycle.
“I think I’m pregnant,” was all I said.
“I can’t be sure yet,” I continued. “But do you see this mark on my belly? It signifies motherhood. This one is a warding against disease, and that one…” I pointed at his hip, where a circling shape like a stylized tadpole could be seen, “is used in some parts of the south-east to indicate male virility.”
“Then, the spirals on your breasts,” he said, reaching out a hand to indicate them, “are they for lactation?”
“I don’t know,” I confessed. “I don’t know what half of these shapes mean. That might be the reason, or it might just be because it felt good at the time.”
Kaye touched the side of my breast, very gently. For a moment the sensations it produced waged a tug-of-war, but discomfort won out.
“Not now, Kaye,” I said. “It’s too sore.
As he withdrew his hand, he winced and said, “I see what you mean.” I glanced down at his sudden tumescence, the corkscrew lines I’d drawn on it looking particularly sensitive. I immediately wanted to touch it and soothe his skin, but I knew that trying to do so would be counterproductive.
We looked at each other and I’m sure my expression echoed the frustrated bemusement of his. Then we were laughing, at ourselves, at each other, at the bizarreness of the whole situation. Laughing only made some of my sore spots and lines hurt more, but I couldn’t stop.
We were still chortling when the door suddenly slammed open and Lily, weeping loudly, barged in.
“Milord, I’m s…so sorry…” she bawled before clearing her eyes enough to see the both of us. At that, all of the color drained from her face.
“You…you’re alive…” she said.
The next thing I knew, Lily was flying around the side of the bed to nearly tackle me with a hug.
“I thought you must be dead, what with the tower coming down and all.”
“Ow!” I exclaimed involuntarily
“The tower?” Kaye asked.
“Oh no, were you hurt?” Lily responded, lifting her head to look at me.
“Just sore,” I replied as I carefully unwound Lily from my bare torso.
Lily gaped, as if just realizing I was naked, her cheeks red.
“Milady, where are your clothes?” she asked, turning around and, with her gaze fixed on the floor, beginning to search the room.
The bedsheets were piled at the foot of the bed. I moved forward in bed to reach them, and was pulling them back up when I heard an uneven pounding of booted feet in the hallway.
I instinctively clutched the sheets to myself as our second uninvited guest strode into the room. As a result, I was nominally covered but Kaye was laid completely bare when Geoff came into the room at as close to a run as his limp allowed.
“Kaye…” Geoff was saying in a tone even graver than usual, and it must have been at that point that he saw us, because he ran straight into Lily, who was still staring down. The grizzled soldier and the slight maid tumbled to the floor, and I took that opportunity to toss a wadded-up corner of the sheets to Kaye, so he could cover himself.
It didn’t take long for Lily and Geoff to disentangle themselves, and each was grimacing as they rose and stood well apart.
“Why…?” Geoff began.
“How?” Lily asked.
They stopped and glared at each other.
“What is going on?” Kaye interrupted.
“The west tower—” Geoff began.
“Has collapsed!” Lily jumped in “I reckon you brought it down—”
“Not all of it.” Geoff interrupted in a stiff tone. “Just the Maiden’s rooms and—”
“It made a great crash!”
“It took two good men with it,” Geoff bit off the words. “Dead gods, Yelena. You’re responsible for—”
“Don’ you blame her!” Lily shouted at him. “Why would an ‘all-dead’ like you care anyway!”
Geoff blanched. “How dare you, you—”
“No more, Geoff,” Kaye jumped in, speaking with authority. “We don’t know what is going on, and this is no time to quarrel.”
Lily’s eyes glinted, and anticipating a cutting remark, I intervened. “Same for you, Lily.”
“Now,” said Kaye, “what happened?”
It took a little while to get a clear account out of the two of them, but it seemed that the boom noise that had awakened me had been real. One corner of the west tower had collapsed, taking my rooms and a few others with it. So far, only the two guards outside my door were confirmed dead. When their bodies had been found but mine hadn’t, the entire palace had concluded that I’d brought the stones down to free myself.
Geoff and Lily both thought this. It took a full explanation of the previous night to convince them otherwise. Kaye and I omitted the more salacious details, but there was no possibility of denying that we’d slept together. Geoff’s expression remained grim, but I saw the deeply unhappy downward turn of his lips ease a little. It can’t have been easy for him, thinking I’d murdered two of his peers. For her part, Lily just stared at me with a disconcertingly awestruck expression.
As for the crumbling tower, I feared I was connected to it. Those who had seen the stones fall said it was as if they’d simply come apart in odd clumps and slid down the outer wall. That sounded all too much like the way that chunks of stone had hung suspended in midair in my dream-turned-real.
That worried Geoff further. He asked me a string of questions about the integrity of the rest of the palace, and grew frustrated when I could only respond that I just didn’t know.
Finally he gave a curt nod, said, “Right. I’ll be back. Don’t either of you go anywhere,” and stomped off.
“Off to whisper in Queenie’s ear, old mouser,” Lily called after him.
Geoff stopped in the doorway and shot her a look. Then, with a dry chuckle and a shrug, he left.
“Old mouser?” Kaye asked.
“Well,” replied Lily, “everyone knows that he’s always sneaking about running her errands and keeping an ear out for her.”
“Well, leastways, I know.”
“Is there anything that happens around here that you don’t know?” I asked her.
Lily straightened her stance with pride. “No, Milady, not if I can help it. Ma always said, ‘know more than you let on, and know when to let on that you know more than you do’.”
“Wise woman. I’d like to meet her.”
A great clamor rose from the yard below, and Lily scampered off to the window.
“It’s Lord Uombard, Milady. He’s leaving and taking all his people with ‘im!”
Lord Uombard’s retinue was large, befitting his rank and wealth. If they were all leaving, this was no day’s outing.
“How’d they get going so quick? They must’ve left a lot of stuff behind.” Lily turned around and dropped me a curtsey. “Excuse me, Milady…” she paused, seeing Kaye looking over my shoulder. “And Milord. I must get going before the rest of ’em get all the good spoils.”
“Spoils?” I asked.
“The Uombardies don’t look to be coming back. I’m going to get a few things before what they left behind gets completely picked over.”
“Very well, see if you can find me something to wear.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Lily said, then grinned at me and practically skipped out of the room.
Kaye laughed. “You don’t think she’s serious, do you?”
“Have you ever been a servant?” I countered.
“Well, no…do you think she’s really going to raid Lady Uombardies’ jewelry casket?”
“I expect they took that with them, Kaye.”
“I have an image of servants running through the halls with silk ballgowns and diamond tiaras.”
I chuckled. “The kitchen staff cooking with silver spoons.”
“The stablehands using golden necklaces for bridles.”
We succumbed to a second fit of laughter, our snorts and chortles punctuated by complaints about the way laughing made the lines on our skin ache, and that, for some reason, was funny enough to get us laughing again.
A few hours later, it wasn’t so funny. Panic over the witch cursing the palace spread like wildfire, and all of the major houses, as well as most of the minor nobility, had either left the palace or were packing up to go. A seemingly endless stream poured out of the courtyard, and by dusk the palace sat empty, its usually unnoticed thrum of activity and life starkly absent.
Neither Geoff nor Lily had returned, and Kaye hadn’t wanted to leave me alone, so we spent the day in his room, and, when it grew dark, we climbed back into bed and curled up next to each other, still too sore to touch. Unsure of what the next day would bring, I took simple comfort from Kaye’s presence.
© 2012 Copyright Tof Eklund
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