Season 4, Episode 6
Written by Tof Eklund
Read by Tawn Krakowski
Heat like the inside of an oven burst forth around us, and that spite-filled voice came from behind me again.
“She’s dead. She’s already dead. Go ahead and pray now.”
“You,” I said, recognizing that voice from a dream. “I know you.”
“Let that be your last thought!” The voice rose to a shriek and I saw flecks of burning ash falling before my eyes. In a flash, I perceived the wyrding in a way I never had before, saw in this warped space with its floating walls and shifting mists the binding of fate upon the material world.
I felt my own wyrd upon me like strong ropes, heavy chains, like the roots of the earth, dragging me into the darkness behind me. I swung about, trying to catch a glimpse of it, but it remained unseen even as it intensified. This thing reaching out to claim me wasn’t the blank emptiness in the mirror, it was something worse, full of hate and slow suffering.
I thought I heard Kaye and Lily crying out for me, but I could no longer see my surroundings, only blowing ash and distant, guttering fire. The sound and smell of boiling blood grew close behind me. My skin burned. The baby shifted.
Suddenly I was enveloped in bright, dancing flames. White hot, they cut through the miasma, then subsided, and I could see Kaye and Lily again. The marks on my skin were glowing, brighter than before and now pale yellow in hue. I looked at Lily, and at Kaye. As one we moved, Kaye bracing himself, arms around Lily’s shoulders and my own, as we lifted him and ran.
“Arrogant mite,” the terrible voice whispered. “It serves you, but it serves me better!”
The stench grew overwhelming again, and my vision began to dim. I kept moving.
“This way!” Lily shouted, and I followed her lead.
“There is no escape,” the voice continued, “not here, not from me.”
The sigils on my body flicked, then lit up again, but not quite as brightly as before. I heard a series of pops and sizzles. My skin was burning.
As we continued, the motion of my body began to feel strange and distant to me. I lost track of time. My vision hazy, the ground blurred beneath my feet and I wasn’t sure if we were flanked by castle walls, arching trees, or towering storms of sand and ash. The only constant was Kaye’s arm around my shoulders. I stepped in something that gave way like tearing paper or splashing mud, and I tumbled in space. Kaye was torn away from me. I hit hard, and in the dark, I saw pinpricks of light, possibly the final fade-out of the ancient magic that had held the avenger at bay.
But they didn’t fade out. Slowly they came into focus. Stars. I was lying on dirt, and there, above me, were the familiar constellations. I was lost, too exhausted to move, and the chill in the air was sinking into my skin, but I was not yet dead. That was something. The night was quiet. I heard no malevolent voices, no cracking fires, no marching soldiers, only the chirps of a few crickets that had not yet succumbed to the cold. My hands went to my belly—amazingly enough, the baby seemed to be fine.
“Kaye?” I called.
“I’m here, Yelen,” he replied from somewhere to the left of me. “You sound terrible. Let me come to you.”
“Lily?” Kaye was right, I did sound terrible. Nothing. I called again. “Lily?”
“I’m here. What was that?”
“It was, well, I think it was the wyrding. I think it was the place where fate enters our world.”
I heard a shifting, scuffling noise and Kaye appeared beside me, breaking through a grassy patch, pulling himself hand over hand. He reached out with one dirty hand and I clasped it in my own.
“I thought it was my punishment,” Lily said.
“Punishment?” I replied. “What for?”
“Fer everything,” she said, and I heard her shudder. “I’m wrong, Yelena. I can’t love a man.”
“That is not wrong,” I replied.
“I’m not chaste neither,” she continued. “I want women.”
“Lily, many Sisters of the Order prefer the company of women.”
“No,” Lily said, “you don’t understand.”
“I do. You’re talking about sexual love.”
“But I’ve done you wrong in my thoughts, I have. And…and when you and Kaye were in the storeroom…” she trailed off.
“You were masturbating,” I said, putting the pieces together.
“Eh? What’s that?”
“You were touching yourself,” I tried to explain. “Uh, giving yourself a hand?”
“Disgracing myself,” she said, “and abusing your trust.”
“Lily,” I replied, “the magic that took us into the wyrding, is something ancient. No witch in centuries has cast a spell like that. The first time it happened, it happened to me, I didn’t choose it. Last night, I think it was your climax that roused the magic. You saved us.”
“I don’t know about that,” she said, but her voice was steadier than before.
Kay squeezed my hand. I looked at him, and he whispered, “Should I say something?”
“Lily,” he said.
I heard her sharp inhalation. “Forgot you were there, I did,” she said. “I’m sure you don’t want to hear any more from me.”
“No, listen,” he said. “You feel alone, but you’re not. Everyone touches themselves, even the priests. They just lie about it. And there are men who love men, and women who love women everywhere.”
“Givin’ someone a hand’s different,” she said.
“Maybe sometimes,” Kaye replied, “and maybe others it’s not. Did you have a regular?”
“Yes, but she got herself a boy, which proves she’s not wrong—” Lily interrupted herself, cutting the word short. “Well, not like me.”
“There are also people who can desire both men and women. She might have loved you, but felt the same guilt you feel.”
“I didn’t love her,” Lily said. “I liked Fi a lot, but she’s not the one I was in love with.”
I held my breath, fearing she was going to name me. I cared about Lily, but not in that way.
“Brinna,” Lily sighed. “Poor stupid Brinna. She’s not like me, not at all, I’m sure.”
“Brinna,” I said, remembering the girl I’d help escape Lord Dycius’ clutches.
“Yes,” Lily said, “that Brinna.”
Silence fell over our group.
“We need to figure out where we are,” I said. “We must still be close by the palace.”
“I’m not too sure a’ that,” Lily replied. “This place looks familiar. A-hup!”
I heard Lily leap to her feet. She was definitely in better shape than I. A moment later, I heard her give a whoop of triumph.
“Wahoo! The farm! We’re safe!”
“What?” I said.
“We’re not far from my folks’ farm,” Lily explained.
“But isn’t your village out by the Fircrowns?” I asked.
“That’s three days’ ride from the capital,” Kaye said.
“Longer riding in the back of an oxcart full’a turnips,” Lily said. “I’ll go get Ma.”
Lily padded off quickly, and Kaye gave my hand a reassuring squeeze, then gasped and loosened his grip.
“Yelen,” he said, “you’ve been burnt.”
“Not badly,” I replied. “It hardly hurts, just a little pressure.” I paused, as my own words sunk in. Lack of sensation meant a more severe burn, not less. “Blight it all.”
“Kaye, how did it feel when you touched it?”
“It was just a narrow line on the back of your hand. One of the glyphs.”
“Was it wet, bloody?”
“Just a little. It was more dry, stiff.”
Goddess, take me now, I thought. Judging by how my skin felt all over, most of the magical sigils on my body had burned. Not everywhere that had glowed with that pale blue light was badly burnt: my most sensitive parts had been spared, as had my fingers and palms. Only the patterns on the backs of my hands had been seared.
I laughed. The scrapes on my belly and breasts hurt, my sore ankles complained, and over my burns, it felt like fingers were pressing into me all over.
“Yelen, what is it?” I heard the concern in Kaye’s voice.
“I was just thinking about Lily’s ma,” I said. “Imagine—her daughter shows up in the middle of the night, stark naked, and tells her that there are two more naked people out in her yard—a prince and a roast witch.”
“Cripple prince,” Kaye put in.
“I did not say that.”
“I know, love,” he said, then chuckled.
It wasn’t long before Lily returned, wearing a heavy winter cloak over a plain homespun gown. I’d scarcely noticed the cold until I saw her. With her were two more people in layered clothing, a diminutive hunched woman who seemed too old to be Lily’s ma, and a much younger man who walked with a shuffling gait and kept his arms wrapped around his chest. The old woman pulled a litter piled with blankets.
“Well, then,” the old woman said, “here’s your important friends. Lil, help me get the young man onto your father’s back.”
The man knelt with his back towards Kaye, as Lily and her ma lifted him.
“Put’cher arms over his shoulders and hold on,” she told Kaye.
“Why didn’t he lift me himself?” Kaye asked.
“That’s because his arms don’t work any better than your legs do, Princeling. Now do as you’re told.”
Lily brought over a blanket and her ma draped it over Kaye, tucking it in around him in a series of quick motions.
“Back to the house with you, and see he sits by the fire,” the old woman said to her husband. “We’ll be along shortly.”
As he rose up and trudged off with Kaye on his back, Lily and her ma turned their attentions to me.
“It’s worse than you said, lumpkin,” the old woman spoke to her daughter. “Looks like she lost a fight with a hot poker, she does.”
“You don’t know her, ma,” Lily replied. “I think she could survive anything.”
“Excuse me,” I said “I am here.”
“Sorry, dear,” said the old woman. “I didn’t figure you were up for conversation. Tell me, the burns, do they hurt?”
“Not nearly enough,” I replied.
Lily’s ma smiled.
“Ooh, I like her, I do,” she said to Lily, then turned back to me. “You may feel well enough now, but you’ll feel much worse a’fore long. You’ll let us set you on the stretcher, and you’ll let us carry you.”
“I know what a burn that doesn’t hurt means,” I said.
“Oh, I can see that,” she said, as she brought the litter to my side. “I also see that you’re the type to push on ‘til you do yourself an injury. Try that now and you’re liable to lose the baby.”
I was silent as she and Lily carefully lifted me onto the litter, gently laid a blanket over me, and then picked me up between them. I was surprised that the old woman could hold up her end, but not only did she do so, she resumed her conversation with her daughter.
“Now,” I heard her say, “tell me, Lil, how it is that you and your important friends came to be starkers in the lane, and reeking of Scourging Day incense, at that.”
“Wait!” I said. “What is Scourging Day?”
The old woman sighed, then spoke again. “You wouldn’t ‘a seen that in the capital. Scourging day is for peasants. Folks cut or flog themselves, and pray that the High King will avenge the wrongs done to them.”
© 2014 Copyright Tof Eklund
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