Chapter 4

A silver drop of living light,
that shimmers and shines,
but of true nature lies,

what is this thing that devours,
yet such great worth harbors,
this price for powers gained,

liquid essence of aether,
or be it cold dew of nether,
strange tangible immaterial,

a slow poison to its maker,
and boon to the skilled shaper,
the blood of we mages born.

– Writings of Queen Regent Adria, circa 40 E.R.

Mage Blood

Estae 10th, 647 E.R.

Kiannae pondered the small sprout before her.  It had been a seed not two minutes before, and yet it stood a full two inches tall.  Landri watched expectantly as Kiannae simply stared at the plant.  Slowly she reached out her hand, and brushed a leaf with a fingertip.  She felt for the will of the plant, like she had long learned to seek the workings of a spell.  There was a way it wanted to grow, a pattern to it, it was deep, gentle, and hard to read, so much more complex than the weaving of magic she understood.

With her eyes closed Kiannae pushed, she let her gift flow through the will of the sprout, let it feed the living pattern, and after a moment opened her eyes again.  It had grown, and a new leaf had started to split from the stem.  “Very good,” Landri said, “not many can accomplish that so soon.”

“It…it’s like the plant itself is a spell,” Kiannae mused, “almost infinitely more complex than any magic I have ever imagined, but I could feel it.”

“The will of life, the force of order within every cell,” Landri replied.  “The purpose, and structure of living things resonates so strongly that it creates a parallel pattern.  The Sylvans call it Ki.”

Kiannae pursed her lips.  She had considered several times to press her curiosity on what her name might mean, but had avoided it time, and again because it reminded her of the prophecy.  Now she had the missing piece, or at least part of it.  She wasn’t quite sure what to make of the idea.  Honored daughter, and, what, soul? Seemed trite.

“The practices of mages are but a pale imitation of the splendor of Thaea.  Look again, with the trained eyes of a mage, follow the threads you find, and tell me what you see.”

Kiannae frowned, and tried.  She followed the threads of life that flowed along the fibers of the sprouts stalk, along the roots, out the leaves, along the edges.  Slowly, faintly she saw a glimmer, out past the roots, a web through the earth in every direction.

It was not merely like a spider’s web, but one awash in morning dew.  A delicate thing that wove around everything, but there were buds of light blooming.  Each seemed to represent something, the aura of a bug, a new born sprout, a colony of microorganisms.  The ants were things moving along a thread, a chemical certainty to their future, their decisions made, but that of the world around them still shifting.  As quickly as she saw it, and all this occurred to her, it was gone.

“Yes, I can see it in your eyes, you saw,” Landri said with amusement.  “The web of life is subtle, but however fragile it might seem, it is more enduring than anything woven by mages.  There is a will to the world, a will to all of life.  It is stronger than the will of the stones, for they are simple things, stubborn, but ready to be pushed aside.  Stronger than the will of man, for man is but a part, a single bud on the branch of the tree.”

“If life itself is magic, then why do only some have the gift?” Kiannae asked with obvious frustration.  She had asked similar of Laurel in the past, and never been satisfied with his answers.  The assertion that life was magic just made it more dubious.

“That, is an old question,” Landri said with a sigh.  “Some think that the fibers of the web of life bind around certain family lines, that these lines are the branches of the tree, and those without the gift, mere twigs, and leaves.”

“Is all of mankind a bud on the branch, or are mere families branches?” Kiannae grumbled.

“It’s an analogy dear girl,” Landri laughed, “but you know that, and are only being difficult because it is your way.”

“So that is what I am,” Kiannae said irritably, “difficult?”

“We cannot all be the gentle brook, or the spring rain,” Landri offered with a smile.  “The mighty river and the tempest are needed too.  Yet every storm must pass, and all rivers will follow their course in time.”

Kiannae flinched, and looked away.  Causing Landri a moment of confusion.

“Surely it is not now that I have offended you so?” she asked after studying Kiannae’s troubled expression.

“It’s nothing,” Kiannae sighed.

“There is no such thing as nothing,” Landri laughed kindly, “there is that which we do not want to share, and that which is not of great importance at the moment, but there is never nothing.”

“It’s just an old story,” Kiannae muttered.

“Do tell,” Landri pressed with a disarmingly earnest smile.

“I don’t remember it well, it was something my father told to me…and my sister when we were very little.”  Kiannae sighed, and rubbed her face.  “I only…what you said only troubled me because it reminded me of my her.  He would call us both at times by the titles in the story.”

Landri perked a brow curiously.  “And what titles were those?”

Kiannae frowned, “Must I dwell on this?”

“I suppose not, if it pains you so to think of your sister still,” Landri offered.

There was a long pause, and finally with a deep sigh Kiannae repeated the words as she had many times before.  “He called Katrisha daughter of the moonlight, and the winter frost…and me daughter of summer glades, and the passing storm.”

“I’ve heard those before,” Landri said with a laugh, “the story isn’t all that old.  Unna fer Lun-ka, juer unsiler ybon,” she mused.  “Ah, but what…”

“It isn’t that old?” Kiannae interrupted both in surprise, and unease to hear the words again, to be reminded of all they meant.  She had always imagined the story one of long ago, and far away.  A wistful tale fit for small children.  She let this illusion shattering distract her from another surge of sorrow.

“No, I met the woman…” Landri trailed off and looked uneasy.

“What’s the matter?” Kiannae asked curious at the sudden silence, and expression from her instructor.  She was further distracted from her own discomfort for a moment by the fact that Landri was the one who looked like she had seen a ghost.

“Oh, sorry,” Landri said clearing her throat.  “Some think that her meeting with us druids sparked the Sylvan civil war.  Please, sit here, and meditate for a while.  See if you can glimpse the web of life again,” she said as she got up to leave.  “There is something I must attend to.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“What aren’t you telling me?” Landri snapped as she barged into Ezik’s house, and found him staring out a window.

Ezik gave her a curious look.  “A great many things,” he answered almost dismissively.  “Please, narrow it down.”

“Son of summer glades, and passing storms,” Landri said.  “Daughter of the moonlight, and the winter frost.  Or that her name practically means…”

“Interesting,” Ezik interrupted.  “Ah, what father does not so adore his daughters, as to elevate them so.  Not that I ever had any.”  He shrugged.  “Just the one son.  I did plead with my dear wife for another.  I always wanted a daughter.”

“You are evading,” Landri said tersely, and shook her finger at him.

“No,” Ezik said in a tone more disappointed than angry, but none the less with some force.  “You are chasing the least interesting detail, and possibly nothing.  Does she look like she has Osyrean blood?  No.  What of her aura?”

“It would barley be a trace, it wouldn’t show.  And her aura…so it is bright,” Landri seemed disinterested.  “I’ve never met a Sylvan whose aura was not brilliant.”

“Dear woman,” Ezik shook his head, “you have never been one to miss the forest for the trees.  It is so unnatural it should be burned into your mind.  Look again, close your eyes, and really look at the memory of her.”

“It’s…almost like…there is a tear in her,” Landri said.

“A tear?” Ezik laughed darkly, “it is as though the very center of her, half of her very being was ripped out, and the rest fell in to fill the hole it left.  She is like a scar on nature itself.  A mage, even a healer I could forgive for missing it, but a druid of your caliber…”

“Has anyone else?” Landri all but growled.

“No,” Ezik answered uncomfortably.  “Perhaps I am getting clear sighted in my old age, and expect too much of others.  I apologize.  Yet I maintain, I could care less for her linage – if her true aura is twice what we see…even dragonborn would pale to her.  Yet the tear…”

“Her twin?” Landri offered.

“I’ve met twins before, gifted ones, dragonborn even then…and yes one died in my short time knowing them.  That was a terrible thing to watch.  I saw a soul turn to fire, and protect his still living brother.  Yet there was nothing like that hole left behind…”

“Then what of it?” Landri pressed.

“Something to watch,” Ezik answered.  He was thoughtful for a moment.  “Have you ever dreamed of the storm?”

“Once,” Landri offered uneasily.

“Do you remember the face?” Ezik pressed.

“Silver hair,” she said, “the roar of an ocean, or a thousand oceans.  Something terrible, and shadows lurking all about, like paler patches of blinding light.  I did not look at her face.”

“I did,” Ezik said.  “I did.”

“Do you really propose that she is…” Landri began to ask incredulously.

“Perhaps,” Ezik was thoughtful.  “Or another.  Mothers often look like their daughters, and there is something of the creature in that dream that seems such to me.”

“We’ve only her word that her twin died,” Landri considered leadingly.

“Do not even breath such a possibility to her,” Ezik snapped…and then calmed himself.  “You’ve heard the story as clearly as I.  A girl thrown from a cliff in a fight with a dragon, the pain she felt, so well timed to have been her death.  She has had enough trauma.  To gain hope, and learn otherwise…it could destroy her.”

“You will look into it though?” Landri asked.

“Discreetly,” Ezik agreed.  “There are too many mysteries here to ignore.  Too many portents of something powerful moving in the world.  I will ask you however; leave it to me.  Please.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 21st, 647 E.R.

Kiannae had been sitting for some time beneath the branches of a large old birch.  She had heard the leaves rustle several minutes before, and ignored the young man moving stealthily amidst its branches.  There was a yelp at the snap of a limb, and Kiannae thrust out her hand casting a spell to stop Zale, and the branch he was still clinging to just a foot off the ground.  “Not what I would call a graceful leap,” she laughed, as he flopped awkwardly onto the forest floor, and she let the branch go.

“You knew I was there, didn’t you?” Zale said trying to recover some composure.

“You were trying so hard to be sneaky too,” Kiannae laughed.  “Not doing very well at it, but trying.  It’s not polite to sneak up on people you know – least of all a young woman alone in the forest,” she scolded.

“Just a joke,” Zale sighed.

“Why don’t I believe you?” Kiannae mused.

“What’s not to believe?” Zale asked defensively.

“Just something in your voice,” Kiannae said disinterestedly.

There was a moment of hesitation, and Zale sighed.  “Alright, so I thought I’d watch you, and see if anything strange would happen.”

“And what kind of strange event did you expect to see?” Kiannae demanded crossly, as though accused of something.

“I don’t know,” Zale said irritably.  “It’s just…ever since you have arrived there have been reports of a shadowy figure prowling around at night.”

“And what does that have to do with me?” Kiannae asked her expression growing shrewd.

“I don’t know, but no one really seems to think it’s a coincidence,” Zale said with a shrug.  “It’s always near the house where you are sleeping.  At first some people thought it was you, but when you were found to still be in your bed…well the rumors have been growing.”

“And what do they say?” Kiannae sighed.

“That maybe something followed you back from the forest,” Zale said with a shrug.

“Such as?” Kiannae demanded, knowing full well what it might be.

“No one knows, it seems human-ish, or Sylvan from the description, but no one has gotten a clear look,” Zale said in a flustered fashion.

“And no one has bothered to ask if I know?” Kiannae sighed.

“Well, do you?” Zale asked curiously.

“No,” Kiannae half lied.

“Now why don’t I believe you?” Zale asked, his own expression shrewd.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 32nd, 647 E.R.

Kiannae woke in the night, not so much with a start, as to sudden full consciousness.  She could even remember the dream she had been having in crystal clarity, though that quickly faded.  The strange array of illogical plants that had populated that world quickly became unintelligible when examined.  The dream had not woken her, she concluded, and shook the imagery away.

She sat up slowly, looked to the doorway of the small room she had been given, and shivered at the dark silhouette that stood there.  What was most unnerving about the clearly human form – what struck her for the first time – was he had no presence.  A concept she winced to even try to understand.  Even the ungifted had a presence, even Navi’s ghost had a presence.  He hand an aura, it was visible, clear as day, and bright as any strong gifted, but it did not feel like a person was standing there.  There was no discrete otherness about him.

“Who are you?” Kiannae demanded in a harsh whisper.  Fighting off her fear, a fear she realized was centered more on the fact that as unnerving as the shadow was, she did not really fear it.

The boy stepped into the moonlight streaming through her window, and she examined his features carefully.  His skin seemed simply impossible.  It was smooth, almost translucent, its color was hard to make out, blue grey, but vaguely prismatic, and it simply didn’t look at all like skin.  His hair seemed unreal in its own unfathomable way.  It was long, and its strands seemed to flow together in the most literal of senses, becoming one thing, and yet it still shifted about almost like hair should.

“Who are you?” Kiannae demanded again, just a bit louder than before.

“Kiannae,” he said awkwardly, pointing to her.  His voice was strange, melodious, and clumsy all at once.  He then pointed to himself, raised his cupped hands to his lips, and watched Kiannae’s expression turn sour.

“I just don’t understand,” Kiannae sighed.  The boy stepped closer, and reached out a hand cautiously towards her.  Baser instincts made her want to pull back, but she held still as he gently brushed her cheek.  It was a marvelous, and all together unimagined sensation.  His touch was as smooth as ice, almost damp, but warm, and soft.  She reached out her own hand, up to the persistent mystery boy’s cheek, and touched it.  It was the same implausible sensation as her fingers trailed across his skin.  She pulled her fingers back slightly, rubbed them together, and though there had been a sense of dampness to him, her fingers felt dry, as did her cheek.

Kiannae blinked, and as her eyes closed she felt him disappear.  He was gone, and what remained was only mist, fading quickly, but all around.  For just a moment she half remembered a story from her youth.  She remembered a line about faces in the fog, and a forest that grew where a lake had been drained.  It was a ghost story, she remembered that, but ghosts were not tangible, could not be touched.  That was what she had been told, but now she was not sure if it was true.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Estae 36th, 647 E.R.

“Mages,” Landri said in a lecturing tone, “seek the power of the gods.  The Clarions, for their part, seek the immortality of the gods.  Lycians, respectably, seek only the peace of the gods.  We druids however seek instead to join with them.”

“How does that make you any different than the others?” Kiannae demanded again irritably.

“Mages, Clarions, and conjurers all care nothing for the wills of the world,” Landri added insistently. “Druids are channelers, we seek to become one with it.”

“So then, merely tools without purpose of your own?” Kiannae asked incredulously.

“The strokes gods paint in are broad.  So broad as to be almost meaningless to one mortals concerns,” Landri corrected.  “They understand our world, our little lives as poorly as we understand them in their vastness.  By aligning ourselves with their greater wills, we gain dominion to shape the smaller things in life, but always in accordance with a larger plan.  It is a partnership.  The gods do not sweat the small stuff, that is our job.”

“So you say that the druids serve the gods, plural, but largely you have spoken only of Thaea,” Kiannae said moving on.  “What of the others?”

“Thaea is of greatest importance,” Landri said shrewdly.  “She is the mother, the living world.  The others, the older gods are more like grandparents, and ancestors.  Worthy of reverence, respect, and of use, but not our closest kin.  The shamans of old favored the elder gods for their power.”

“Teach me of these elder gods,” Kiannae asked in a polite, but insistent tone.

“What do you seek?” Landri was stern.  “Understanding, or power?”

“Yes,” Kiannae answered.

“Prove to me you can align yourself with the living world,” Landri said, “and then we will consider other possibilities.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 30th, 647 E.R.

Katrisha sat in a tower window, indifferent to Laurel and Mercu’s conversation by her chamber door.  She also ignored the cat who sat in her lap, rooting at her idle hand that was no longer petting him.  Her black hair rustled slightly in the breeze, white roots, plainly visible in the early afternoon sun.  Her skin was almost translucently pale.  She held a hand up in the sunlight absently, and turned it back and forth with vague interest.

“The King isn’t happy about my request,” Laurel sighed. “His persistent reaction to anything involving the Sisterhood makes me think you are right about why, but I still don’t fully understand it.  Unlike his father he’s always been cordial with them, that much is clear.  Maybe it’s just saving face, maybe its more.”

“They are sending Wren I assume?” Mercu asked casually, giving little sign he was paying attention to Laurel’s musings.

“I expect so yes,” Laurel said stroking his beard.  “She’s as ill of heart as whatever else is eating her body.  I expect they would send her brother to comfort her, as little time as they have had together, there has always seemed to be a strong bond there.  Enough even to make Kiannae jealous.”

“I hate seeing her like this.”  Mercu looked again to the oblivious girl sitting in the window.

“I hate talking about her like she isn’t here,” Laurel grimaced, “but it is almost like she isn’t.  A week now, and barely acknowledges me any more if I speak directly to her.”

“I know.  It will be alright,” Mercu said resting his hand on Laurel’s shoulder.  He let go of being told things he already knew, certain it was Laurel just trying to comfort himself by saying it aloud, as though it would not be true.  “The Sisters can fix this, they aren’t allowed to stay in kingdoms on their good looks…though I’m sure they don’t hurt.”

Laurel huffed softly.  “You would know better than I.”  Laurel sighed, and walked towards the window.  He gently set a hand on Katrisha’s shoulder, and after a moment she turned her head, and looked up at him.  There was something only half there in her green eyes, and it broke Laurel’s heart to see emptiness in her expression.  “Is there anything you need?” he asked intently.

Katrisha simply stared up at him for a moment, before finally shaking her head and looking back out the window.  Laurel sighed deeply.  “A servant should be up with food in a couple hours, eat something, please.  I’ll be in the tower study should you need anything.”

Mercu stepped beside Laurel, and whispered softly.  “I’ll stay with her, I doubt I will do her much good, but I don’t think she should be alone.”

“Thank you,” Laurel said softly and rubbed his eyes before he left the chamber, and Mar slipped out behind him.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

It was late in the evening, and the first few stars could be seen in the dimming sky when a knock came at Katrisha’s chamber door.  Mercu set aside the lute he had been strumming at idly, and opened the door for two white robed women, and young man to enter.  He recognized Renae and Wren, but Audry he was quite sure he had not met.

Wren’s posture shifted when he saw Katrisha, who still sat in the window staring into the evening sky.  Wren looked up to Renae, and barely waited for a nod before running across the room.

“Kat!” he said excitedly, but Katrisha turned her head slowly, and for a moment it almost seemed as though she did not recognize her brother.  Wren frowned deeply, until at last a slight strained smile crept into the corner of her lips.

“Oh Kat…” Wren said as he leaned into window seat, and threw his arms around his sister.  “They said you weren’t well.  I guess they weren’t exaggerating.”

Katrisha leaned her head against her brother’s, and simply closed her eyes.

“How long has she been like that?” Renae asked Mercu with deep concern as they approached the embracing pair.

“Three days now, but on and off for a while, since…” Mercu hesitated, “since not long after that damn fool business with the dragon.  At first I thought it was just the trauma, and worry.  She seemed mostly there even for the wedding in South Rook, but I knew something was wrong.”

“Dearest, do you mind,” Renae said softly touching Wren on the shoulder.

Wren turned his head to look up at Renae.  He reluctantly released Katrisha from his embrace, and stepped aside.  “Of course Mother,” he said meekly with a nod, and Audry took his hand comfortingly.

Renae leaned over Katrisha, and brushed some of the girl’s hair back, examining the white roots.  She looked deep into the girl’s eyes, and frowned at the only faint recognition she saw there.  “What have you done to yourself girl?” Renae muttered as she knelt beside the window.  She took Katrisha’s hand in both of hers, and closed her eyes, focusing deeply on something unseen.

Several minutes of silence were interrupted when Laurel entered the chamber, a large book cradled in his arms.  He considered the scene at the window, and thought to announce his presence, but decided to wait.  After a moment Renae stood, turned back into the room, and acknowledged Laurel with a nod.  She raised her hand, palm up with only her index finger extended.  “I take it you will recognize this.”

Laurel stepped closer, and squinted in the dim light at the tiny silver drop balanced on Renae’s finger.  “So it’s as I suspected then,” Laurel said with a grimace.

“I wasn’t told, what you expected,” Renae said a bit coldly.

“No, and I apologize,” Laurel started a bit stiffly.  “I wanted a fresh perspective, not distorted by any preconceived notions.”

Renae nodded understandingly, and placed the tiny droplet in the palm of her hand for safer keeping.  “It’s mage blood poisoning, without question.  You however should know as well as I, it should have taken more than just a few minutes to extract that much.  It’s almost a wonder the poor girl is still conscious, her blood is…beyond saturated.”

“Yes,” Laurel said with a frown, “that’s what I thought, but to say the least I’ve never heard of a case like this.  I’ve been through every relevant book in my library,” he said tapping his fingers on the one he held. “The youngest case on record was late into his twenties, and had undergone a much slower, less severe decline.”

Renae looked back to Katrisha for a moment.  “I certainly have not heard of the like myself.  It might be her linage, there is no telling.  As I understand it the Sylvans do not practice as mages, and only mages have been observed to suffer from this.  It makes me worry more for Kiannae though.  I take it there is still no sign of her?”

“None,” Laurel said closing his eyes.  “She is lost to the Sylvan territories still, so far as we can determine.  I have no idea what they would do with her if that’s the case.  Nor do I know why she has run away, save the assumption she believed Kat dead.”

“I still cannot believe that was allowed to happen,” Renae said, anger slipping into her voice.

“No one allowed anything,” Mercu interjected cutting off pointless recrimination.  “The girls were set on that foolish course, and short of slapping them in enchanted irons I doubt we could have stopped them.”

“No,” Renae said considering Mercu thoroughly, “perhaps you are right.”  She took a long breath.  “Forgive me, I am distressed by it still, and these circumstances…”

“We all are,” Laurel said consolingly.  “I know you love Wren as your own, and have looked upon the twins with almost as much regard.”

“I…” Renae started, “yes…as my own.”

Laurel considered Renae’s response for a moment, “I’ve never pressed my suspicions…but I have looked into it in the past.  Was Adel…”

“Yes,” Renae said tersely, “and I will ask you not to finish that sentence just now.”  She turned to glance at Wren who had returned to his sister’s side.

“You have reasons?” Laurel pressed gently.

She nodded.

Laurel shook his head.  “Back to the business at hand then, I assume you can help Katrisha’s condition.”

“Yes,” Renae said hesitantly, “but more so than normal, this will only be a temporary fix.  It’s obvious with the rate of production, and concentration that this will require more than just a periodic cleansing.  It would be best if she lived with us for a while.  She will need to be trained to care for her own state, and will need time to recover.”

“I…” Laurel started, inclined to argue against the removal of his charge.  “I can accept your recommendation, reluctantly.  Beyond my own feelings on the matter, I do not relish convincing the King.  He is fond of the girl, but perhaps his current ire over…certain incidents may sway him.”

Renae seemed to ponder something deeply for a moment.  “I would offer to make the argument for you…but there are things I would rather not discuss with the King, which could make matters worse.”

Laurel considered pressing his curiosity, but thought better of it.  Renae turned to Wren and Audry.  “Please gather things for Katrisha, she will come with us tomorrow.  For now, I will resume her treatment.”

“A bit presumptuous,” Laurel remarked in surprise. “I have not yet even attempted to get the King’s approval.”

“It may be presumptuous, but it is also practical,” Renae all but snapped.  “If you can’t convince him, I will be forced to make a case I do not wish to, but I am quite certain I will win, even if I am not sure of the cost.  Besides, his authority in this matter is limited, so long as I have your approval.  You are her guardian, and her father by law, do you have any intention to change your mind?”

“Very well,” Laurel said taken aback by the severity of Renae’s tone.

Renae paused, obviously calming herself.  “Forgive me, please,” she stated in an even tone, “My frustrations are of my own making, not yours.”

Laurel considered the well aged woman before him thoroughly, he could not say that he knew her well, but in all past encounters he could not recall ever before seeing her so terse, and ill tempered.  “I will do what I can,” Laurel said, and left the healers to their work, leading Mercu out with him.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 31st, 647 E.R.

Midnight was upon Renae as she poured a few last drops of mage blood from her palm into a small vial.  Each of the three healers had worked in turn on Katrisha, Renae teaching Wren, and Audry in the process.  Wren had excelled – to no one’s surprise – above even Renae’s results, producing fully half of the ounce of precious and troublesome material that Renae now examined in the moonlight.

Renae wondered at the strange mercury like substance, and its brilliant shimmering aura visible only to those with the gift.  A strange accident of nature, a fluke of some mages gift, and practices, and worth a hundred times its weight in gold for its rarity, and odd properties, even if it acted almost as a poison to the body that made it.

Renae looked down at the sleeping girl in her bed and sighed.  She considered Wren who had curled up next to her, and drifted off.  She gently shifted the blankets around Katrisha to tuck her in more comfortably, and pulled the other side over Wren.

She slowly stood from the chair she had brought to the bedside, and stretched stiffly.  Automatically she sought out the more offended joints that complained from long hours hunched over.  She soothed the inflammation with practiced, near indifference, yet somewhere at the back of her mind remembered to curse the rigors of age.

Renae looked again to Katrisha, and Wren, and let a half troubled smile cross her face.  She took comfort that they could, and already had helped her greatly, but the effects on her mind, and her soul she could not be sure of.  The business with Kiannae did not help matters, and hurt Renae deeply.  She worried for how the girl could possibly be fairing.  Was she even still alive?  To be lost in the wilds, and stricken with such an illness, it was hard to imagine.

Renae pushed such troubling thoughts aside, and turned to leave.  She had been informed that the quarters she usually took up on her visits would be prepared, but she was less than sure where Audry had been taken after drifting off an hour before.  She tightly corked the vial in her hands and walked to the chamber door tiredly.  As she opened the door she found someone beyond, standing in the moonlight.  She expected Laurel, or Mercu, but who she found standing before her startled her from growing weariness.

“Your Majesty,” she said almost on instinct.

“It…” the King started uncharacteristically uncomfortably.  “It has been a long time, Renae.”

“Surely four months since my last visit does not make a very long time,” Renae said, confusion tinging her voice.

“I…” he said seeming to try on the pronoun awkwardly. “I have spoken to you many times as your King…” he said hesitantly, and at last turned to look Renae in the eye.  “But it has been a very long while since I have spoken to you as a man.”

“I do not know that you have ever spoken to me as a man, John,” Renae said bluntly, but quickly thought better of it, as the King grimaced.  “No, no please do not take offense at that.  I mean only…” she took a deep breath, and let it go.  “We were both barely more than children then.  I was no more a woman, than you a man.”

The King’s expression softened slightly.  “Perhaps there is truth in your words, but please, do not to belittle that time.”

“I do not belittle it, merely accept that I was once but a foolish girl, and you a dashing defiant young prince.  I will not pretend I do not hold fond, and dear memories from that time, but a lifetime stands between then and now.  I am an old woman, too knowledgeable of the world for her own good, just as then I was too naive.”

The King’s expression softened further.  “Would it amuse you to hear me say, I think you were the dashing one?  Climbing trees, and mocking the King’s guard with seeming impunity.”

“How the Matron ever put up with me…” Renae trailed off for a moment, but her amusement was clear.  “Still, little I haven’t had to deal with in my own time in the position.”

“Surely none of them have quite had your wit,” the King laughed.

“Oh a few, very few.  Though I dare say I’ve yet to need deal with any trying to run off with a young prince,” she said, her voice darkening a bit near the end.

“I should hope not.”  The King laughed, but darkened again.  “I feel at a disadvantage,” he started again uncomfortably, “that you, as any citizen of the kingdom know of…well the Queen, of course.  I married, quite obvious really that I moved on.”  He rubbed his forehead.  “I do love her dearly.  She is a fine, proper, and strong woman.  Possessed of sufficient wit and charm to have made my life as King content.  Yet…it’s never been my place to enquire of you.  Please do not think me an arrogant fool who imagines for even a moment you did not move on, it is just…friendly curiosity, and perhaps imprudent – I apologize.”

Renae sank into thought.  “I have had my share of love affairs, but only one has lasted.  Though we have drifted apart many times, and strong passion has long since given way to practical companionship, and warm affection.  In the end she stuck with me when I needed her most, and though we have had our times apart…she has always remained my friend.”

“Oh..” the King said, seemingly uncomfortable.

“You should not be surprised,” Renae said gently chiding the King.  “I will not pretend the Sisterhood has not earned our reputation.  We are – well, those of us who are – what we are.”

“No, it…” the King’s expression grew thoughtful.  “I have heard rumors, that I have never pressed.  Heard that you had a daughter.  In fact some say she was Adel of the North.”

Renae looked away then, she could not hold the King’s gaze.  “At last we come to it,” she said weakly, her voice strained.  “You have not heard wrong, my King.  It has been a long life, and I have been with a few other men…but none of them were the father.”

The King took a deep breath to steady himself.  “And I was never told…  You,” he began, his voice growing dire, “never told me?”

“Your father, and grandfather knew,” Renae growled.  “I don’t know how they knew, but but they knew.  I fear our daughter…” she said her voice growing softer, wounded. “She became a pawn in the conflict between your father and the Sisterhood.  We kept the secret of her lineage, and the King would continue to keep his son in check – would continue to protect us.”

“That hardly explains her end,” the King demanded, stuck somewhere between shock, rage, and disbelief.

“I tried to be a good mother, I did.  Maybe I was…fates if I know why, but she was never happy, never content at Highvale.  There was something different about her gift, she wasn’t weak, but she was never more than an adequate healer.  She left only days after she turned eighteen…I only know pieces from there.  Pieces I learned when I returned from my travels…”

The King turned and leaned on the window frame, trying to calm himself to little avail.  “The same pieces everyone knows I expect.  She traipsed about, being both healer and…” he clearly struggled with the thought, and set it aside, “till the man Ashton stood by her when Clarion zealots attacked her.  She fell in love with, and married that simple farmer,” he laughed darkly.  “Oh and how he wasn’t a simple farmer after all…and then she died defending her daughter from a wild drake.  I just…” the King choked, “I never knew it was the story of my daughter.  My own flesh and blood.”  He wept, and looked as though he could barely stand.

“I’m sorry,” Renae said sincerely.  “I’m sorry that this is the way you learn.  All these decades later, but we are both growing old, and at last it seemed it could no longer be avoided.  I wanted you to know, that…I don’t just love Wren – love the twins – as my own, they are my own…our own,” she corrected herself.

The King pounded on the frame of the window furiously.  “And why was our grand daughter left on that farm then?  Left to wind up dead of nothing more than childbirth?” he demanded frothingly.  He drew back his now throbbing hand, and rubbed it.

Renae leaned against the cold stone wall by the chamber door.  “The Ashton man…James…he was so bitter, so angry after his wife’s death.  He wanted no part of me, of the Sisterhood.  Maybe he was just afraid I would take away his daughter, the only thing he had left of his wife.  I tried eight times those first few years to visit, and he turned me away on each occasion.  The last time I made him promise me something, and in turn I would not return until her eighteenth birthday had passed.  I left a letter with him, and made him swear on Adel’s grave to give it to her on that day.”

“And he broke his word?” the King all but growled, barely restraining his volume.

“I…I am not sure,” Renae said doubtfully.  “I think perhaps that he died while she was still seventeen, and then…then you know the rest.  I was giving it time…I was about to make my excuses to travel…and Wren arrived.”  She watched the King still nursing the hand he had slammed against the stone, and started to move closer.

“So it is…” the King mused darkly.  “So it is that in mere moments I gain and lose a daughter, a granddaughter, and you wish to take away my great-granddaughter as well, while the other remains missing…”

“Let me see that hand,” Renae commanded kindly.  The King eyed her indecisively for a moment, and then relented, offering his aching hand, but looked away.  “She is ill,” Renae said after a moment of working on the abused joins, “and I will not tell you that she need come with us to live, but…I am certain it is for the best.”

Renae paused wearily, as she began to knit a slight fracture.  “You are quite strong still, you know,” she started in a kind tone.  “Even if age has made your bones brittle.  You fractured this one with the force of that blow.”  She ran her finger along the edge of his palm as she finished her work, but thought better of the familiarity, and stepped back.

The king pulled his hand close to his chest, and rubbed it still, though perhaps it was more a nervous wringing then.

“I leave it to you.  She will need to learn to cure this sickness herself.  It is a part of her, it will not go away.  She will need the care, and tutelage from multiple healers.  Do you wish for up to a year to house Sisters here at court, to seek a similar complement of Clarion priests, or to send her with us?”

“I will not involve the Clarions,” the King growled. “I struggle every day to tolerate their madness, but I will not have them trying to influence my court any more than they already do.”

“Then what is it to be?” Renae pressed gently.

“Take her,” the King grumbled, his fist clenched, but he quickly stopped short striking the stone again.  “I will have your word she will return in no more than a year.  I will know my great granddaughter, as my blood, while there is still life in these old bones.”

“You have my word, my King,” Renae said cordially and turned to leave.

“I did love you once,” the King said distantly, stopping her from leaving.  ”It was love all those years ago, not simply childish fancy.”

“And now?” Renae questioned, unsure how to respond, and not even turning back.

“Now I remember that love,” the King said distantly.

“As do I,” Renae said sadly, and descended the tower stairs.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 33rd, 647 E.R.

Katrisha looked absently around the simple sparse room she had been lead to by her brother.  The space was like a closet compared to her full floor of the tower, but was typical of the cloister’s bed chambers, including the empty bunk bed, as such rooms were normally shared.

“Come, sit,” Wren said gesturing to the lower bunk.

Katrisha walked to the bed, sat, and slowly turned to lay down.  It wasn’t completely unpadded, but was quite firm compared to the deep piled down she was use to.  All this however went without comment, or visible complaint.

Audry set the bundle of Katrisha’s things on a chest beneath the window, and put a consoling hand on Wren’s shoulder.  Wren looked at Audry, and smiled weakly.  “Come on,” he said as he knelt down beside the bed, took Katrisha’s hand, and closed his eyes.  “Let’s see if we can get some more of this poison out of you.”

Audry sat behind Wren, and lay her head to the back of his shoulder as he worked.  She watched with her mind’s eye, every detail of the process even though she had already been taught.  Seeing if she could glean anything useful from Wren’s more successful attempts.  Eventually she gave it up as pure talent, and gift, and instead let herself focus on Wren’s presence.

He was warm, always so warm like fire light.  Like a hearth on a cold winter’s night, even in the heat of summer the thought of stepping away from him seemed cold.

Everyone turned together as a knock at the open door caught their attention.  “I’m sorry if I’m intruding,” Celia said examining the scene.  “I had heard you two were back…with a guest?”

“Come in,” Wren said coming out of his trance like state.  “This is my sister, Katrisha.  She’s fallen ill, and has come to stay with us for a while.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Celia said as she stepped into the room, and looked down at Katrisha’s somewhat distant gaze.

“This is Celia, one of my dearest friends,” Wren said checking the pool of mage blood in the palm of his hand.  He showed it to Audry who fished for an empty vial amidst the collection of things she had set on the chest under the window.

“What’s that?” Celia asked curiously.

“My blood,” Katrisha laughed darkly.  Celia shook her head in surprise at the response, and almost took a step back.  “Sorry, it’s not…quite that morbid,” Katrisha said with a weak smile, “but I suppose it’s accurate enough, from what Renae says.”

“You are doing better to be making light of things,” Wren said as he poured the silvery substance into the vial Audry had handed him.

“Maybe,” Katrisha sighed tiredly, “and I am sorry, it’s nice to meet you as well.  Wren has mentioned you on his visits.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Celia said with a smile.

“Did he ever mention me?” Audry said with the tiniest hint of jealousy in her voice that was lost on Katrisha.

“Hmm?” Katrisha said slowly drifting off to sleep, “it’s been a year or so, he mentioned you both though.  His two best friends, that he didn’t know what he would do without.  I’m glad he’s had you…” she added, as sleep took her.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Rhaeus 40th, 647 E.R.

Katrisha sat in the sunlight with her eyes closed.  It was not her favorite place in the world, but where she had been told to sit.  “My name is Theron,” a stern but kind male voice stated somewhere behind her.  “I have been told you are Katrisha, and that I should insure you are completely with me before I begin.”

“I am here,” Katrisha said opening an eye hesitantly in the bright sunlight, as Theron stepped in front of her.  “…for the most part.”

“Good,” Theron said.  “I am the head of spiritual study here at the cloister, and yes, before you ask,” he said firmly, “men do occasionally hold such positions within the Order, when we are deemed the best suited at the time of choosing.”

“I was aware, I suppose, that there were men with the ‘Sisterhood,’” Katrisha said trying not to laugh at the miss match of terms.  “My brother has lived here most of his life.”

“So it is,” Theron said calmly, “though as I can tell from the tone of your voice, you realize that the term ‘Sisterhood’ is as such questionable.  Properly we are the Lycian Order of the Light, or a number of other long winded mouthfuls, depending on who you ask.  Many organizations refer to themselves as ‘Orders,’ and ‘Sisterhood’ stuck long ago for any number of reasons.”

“I see…” Katrisha said uncertain what she should say.

“I offer this only for perspective,” Theron said with a shrug.  “I do not often interact with outsiders, and when I do, the questions seem inevitable.”

“What…exactly is the head of spiritual study?” Katrisha asked curiously, and glad for the chance to move off of what seemed to be a sore subject for the man before her.

“Spiritual studies deal with the union of the mind, the spirit, and the body,” Theron said in a practiced lecturing tone. “We are students of philosophy, and the practical science of the material mind, nervous system, and how it interacts with the soul.  We also council on issues of the heart, maladies of the mind, and emotional distress.”

“Ok…” Katrisha said a bit distantly.

“Your condition is physical, but it’s causes, and consequences are less mundane,” Theron said in a kinder tone. “There was debate as to who would be best to teach you first.  I won the argument it seems, to my own increased workload.  The core of what you must learn is to tell the poison that your magic creates, from your own self.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier to give up magic?” Katrisha laughed darkly.

“A jest that I have no doubt you would find impossible to follow through on,” Theron said sternly.  “For one who has known the magic their whole life, such would be like giving up part of yourself, like pretending you’ve lost your right hand.  Even if you could do it, it would be another grave wound atop so many you have already suffered, and there is no guarantee even then it would work.  That your spirit would not keep collecting wild magic within you.”

“What do you know of my ‘wounds’?” Katrisha said looking away angrily.

“A great deal,” Theron said sadly.  “I lost a sister once, and far more certainly.  She was crushed by a toppled cart in a caravan before my very eyes.  I loved her so much that I almost gave my very life in vain to save her…my mother had to pull me from her, that she did not lose a second child that day.”

“I…” Katrisha said embarrassed.  “I’m sorry…my sister, Kiannae.  She isn’t dead, if I’m here alive, then so is she.  No forest is going to stop her, she’s strong…but…”  Katrisha trailed off, and began to cry.

“I know only what I have been told, and what I am told, has been suggested to you already,” Theron said gently resting a hand on Katrisha’s shoulder.  “All that you can do, is try to find peace – find a path back to health, that you are well when she does return to you.”

Katrisha glared at Theron the last of her obstinate manner wavering.  “Where do we begin?” she asked exhaustedly.

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