Chapter 8

Laeune the moon,
daughter of night,
glorious barer,
of tranquil light,

she soothes us all,
that we might dream,
and takes harsh color,
from all we’ve seen,

Laeune the lover,
rhythm of womankind,
who’s gentle grace,
now guides my hand,

she brings us wisdom,
that we might yet see,
what lies before us,
there yet waiting to be.

– unattributed, circa 200 E.R.

The Moonlight

Vernum 1st, 647 E.R.

It was very late, and the corridors of the cloister were lit only by what moonlight could find a way through skylights, or the occasional window on the upper tier.  Katrisha knocked for the second time at Celia’s door, and waited uncomfortably.  She knew another Sister shared the room with Celia, and did not know quite what to say if the other girl answered instead.

A minute passed and Katrisha grew all the more awkward about the whole affair.  She hesitantly turned to leave, stopped herself, debated, sighed quietly, and turned back.  She was worried.  She had not seen Celia for three days, and their last meeting had been both brief, and odd.  Katrisha had wanted to thank Celia again for her help, but was still too embarrassed to do so publicly, and Celia for her part had seemed almost intent to extract herself from the conversation.

Katrisha raised her hand to the door, and paused, she wondered if it was worth pressing the matter so late in the evening, let alone with a stranger in the mix.  She resigned herself to leave, turned, and told herself it was nothing any way.  She stopped as she felt Celia’s familiar presence through the door.  She turned around again, but still there was a lingering moment before the door finally creaked open.

Katrisha formed a small ball of cool light in her hand that caught a glimmer of a tear on her friend’s cheek, before Celia could wipe it away.

“Are you alright?” Katrisha asked, her entire demeanor shifting towards concern.

“I’m alright,” Celia assured unconvincingly.  “It’s nothing.”

“I’ve not known you to be one to cry for no reason,” Katrisha said with a frown.  “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cry at all.”

“Maybe…” Celia started, and floundered.  “Maybe you don’t know me well enough.”  She seemed to think better of her words, but also to be at a lack of an alternative, and so just held her tongue on that frustratedly.

“I’m sorry if I’ve intruded,” Katrisha said distinctly taken aback.

“No…” Celia said obviously pained.  “I didn’t mean…oh fates no I didn’t mean.”

Katrisha frowned.  “It’s a beautiful night out.  I was going to go watch the stars, but I was worried about you, and as I recall I said I’d bring you some time.  I don’t suppose you would like to?”

“I…” Celia seemed quite off balance.  “I would like that.”

“This way then,” Katrisha said motioning with the hand holding the light which wifed out as she turned.  “I hope I didn’t disturb your roommate too much,” Katrisha said apologetically.

“Huh?  Oh…uh, no, she’s out tonight,” Celia stammered slightly.

“Oh, why?” Katrisha said with mild curiosity, and wondered if perhaps it was related to Celia’s malaise.

“Just…out,” Celia said bashfully.  Katrisha could almost hear the blush in her voice, and turned to consider her friend in the inky shadow between skylights.  It was a tone Maraline had adopted on occasion when talking about Lukus, often with rosy cheeks.  Celia smiled meekly.  If her cheeks were at all a different hue it was impossible to tell in the pale light.

There was a charming helplessness about Celia at times, that Katrisha could never quite place.  She was smart, quick, and bold enough to ask Katrisha to teach her magic, even when she had heard her repeatedly turn down others.  Katrisha thought the bouts of self doubt did not do her justice, and yet it was part of her charm.  It suited her in spite of itself, and left a warm endearing quality.  Truly warm was what she felt like, simple enduring warmth, like a stone warmed in the sun, but softer.

“She’s staying with…a friend,” Celia said at last, looking away mid sentence.

“Ok,” Katrisha said scrunching her brow thoughtfully, and turning to head up the nearby stairs.  “Is that why you are sad?” she asked hesitantly after a few steps.

“W…What?” Celia asked, a bit off put.  It seemed almost as though halfway through her reaction she had changed from not understanding, to defensive.  “No, not at all.  I’m quite happy for her…though I’m not fond of the boy in question.  He has gotten…better.”

“Oh,” Katrisha said uncertain that had really answered anything.  She turned back at the top of the stairs.  “I hope I didn’t offend.”

“No,” Celia said, looking up at Katrisha, some confusion on her face.  “Why…no, I can guess why you would worry that.”  She seemed to be at a loss to put her jumbled thoughts together into words.  It was amusing, if worrisome.

Katrisha cocked her head curiously to the side at her friend for a moment, and waved for her to continue following as she turned down a short hall that lead outside.  They walked up to the railing overlooking the courtyard, and Katrisha watched as Celia gazed out, and then up into the starry sky above.

After a moment Katrisha kicked off her shoes, climbed onto a rail, and sought familiar footings, and handholds on the column.

“What are you doing?” Celia demanded in a harsh whisper.

“It’s better from the roof,” Katrisha said flatly, and with a hint of challenge in her voice.

“But,” Celia protested flusteredly as Katrisha deftly ascended the column, and pulled herself out of view.  Celia stepped to the side of the column Katrisha had climbed, and looked for the footholds she had used. They were obvious enough, if terrifyingly slim and precarious.

A moment passed before Katrisha hung her upper body back down, her silver hair dangling from the top of her head, shimmering mesmerizingly in the moonlight.  “Coming?” she asked simply, her head cocked again to the side.  She waited a moment, and then disappeared once more.

Celia bit her lip, and climbed up onto the rail, gingerly testing her traction on the ridges Katrisha had used to climb.  She placed her hand nervously on a swirl near the roof, and paused to take a deep breath.  She almost had the nerve, and then again had almost talked herself out the whole endeavor when she felt a hand on hers.

Celia looked up into the silver halo framing Katrisha’s face, and into the emerald eyes that seemed to glimmer down at her in the dark.  She steeled herself, took a step up, and let Katrisha pull her the rest of the way onto the roof.  She sat with her legs dangling down, and took several quick breaths, calming herself.

“See, nothing to worry about,” Katrisha said in a kind, but chiding tone.  Celia looked at her incredulously, but couldn’t help but return Katrisha’s crooked smile.

Katrisha moved deftly up the roof, found a spot, wiggled till the tiles were situated comfortably against her back, and crossed one leg over a propped up knee absently.

Celia moved more cautiously and lay a short distance to her side.  She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to relax, trying to enjoy just being in the moment without thinking or worrying.  She looked up at the sky, and it was beautiful.  She smiled to herself at the thought that Katrisha was right, there was something about lying down and looking up at it that was different somehow, better.

Celia looked over at Katrisha appreciatively, but was distracted by a strange glint between her fingers.  “What’s that?” she asked curiously.

“That,” Katrisha said measuredly past her concentration, “is a little trick I read about, and figured out how to do.  Takes a fussy lot of precision to get what I want out of it though.  The spell itself is fairly simple – though reach and clarity are a challenge.  I have to wonder if Kiannae would be better at it, she has something of a gift with manipulating light.  It isn’t quite like anything else though, it is a controlled amplification of light, making new light based on received light.  Not quite like common methods of invisibility, which are a redistribution of existing energy.  Still, reception is the key.”

“So, it’s not just a lense?” Celia asked.

“I tried that spell once.  Easy enough, but you can only see so much that way.  Surface area is the problem.  It’s very subtle but look out ahead of me.”

“Oh,” Celia remarked glimpsing the faint glimmer of magic a dozen feet above Katrisha, and a few feet across.  The filaments connecting it down to to the glimmer between her fingers, that did still looked a bit like a lense, stray rays of light amplified from various parts of the sky.

“Even knowing all the principles, I had to recreate the underlying behavior described in the technique.  Magic is so easily lost.  All the written principles in the world amount to very little, if one cannot master the basic conversion, and there is no writing that down.  It can only be experienced first hand.  Though, I suppose one could store conversions as enchantments, but those decay, and there are diminishing returns.  Copying copies.”

“But you did it?”

“What can I say, I’m exceptional, or perhaps just stubborn.  Laurel said he did not know the underlying conversion, and had never had the patience to try and find it.  Here, let me show you.” Katrisha rolled over, and placed two fingers in front of Celia’s right eye.  Startling her slightly. “Now close the other,” she commanded.  “Be warned, it can be disorienting at first.”  

Celia did as she was bid, and gasped as what she saw changed. It was almost as though she flew forward into the sky.  “Take my hand,” Katrisha said encouragingly after Celia’s initial shock had passed, “and move it very gently.  Tell me if you want to look closer.”

“O…ok,” Celia said shakily opened her left eye for a moment to confirm she hadn’t moved, and thought better of it as the split image hurt her head.  She brought her fingers hesitantly to Katrisha’s hand, and took a deep breath.

It was frustrating at first, how the tiniest movements made the sky fly by in an instant.  In one pass she saw something, strange, and it took well over a minute for her to catch a glimpse again.  “There, closer!” she said excitedly as she managed to get Katrisha’s hand at just the right angle.  “It’s beautiful, what is it?” she asked as she examined the intricate multi colored tendrils.

“Tell me what you see,” Katrisha said carefully, with metered breaths, doing all she could to hold her hand steady, and the spell perfectly stable.

“It’s like a flower made of light,” Celia said excitedly.

“I think you’ve found a nebulae,” Katrisha said with a smile.

“But…” Celia said a bit flustered, “what does that mean?”

“It’s the remnants of a dead star,” Katrisha said struggling to hold her focus.

“Dead,” Celia said doubtfully. “Why is it so pretty then?  That doesn’t seem right.”

Katrisha lost her focus, and the intricate filaments of the nebulae vanished as magical ones dissipated in faint swirls.

“Dead is…probably not the right word,” Katrisha said as Celia turned to look at her wide eyed.  “It’s like the smoke and embers of a fire, that stretches as far as it takes light to travel in years.”

Celia baffled for a moment over all the unknown parts of that idea, finally sticking to the idea that light takes time to travel, but was quickly distracted from that train of thought by Katrisha’s face in the moonlight.  She was fiddling again with her spell, this time looking off towards the horizon.  Celia sighed, which distracted Katrisha, who glanced down at her friend’s wide grin, and smiled back absently before returning to scanning the sky.

“Thank you,” Celia said after a moment. “For showing me that…for…for everything.”

“You, are welcome,” Katrisha said again glancing at Celia’s fixed expression.  She laughed from the seemingly comical intensity of it.  It was certainly an improvement from having found her crying, but she was just as much at a loss to explain the change.  Celia could be flighty Katrisha thought, but she chided herself that she could as well.  It seemed different somehow, like a powerful unseen force was tugging at her friends emotions, whipping her back and forth like a banner in the wind.

“You never told me what was bothering you,” Katrisha said laying her hand on the roof between them, “and I think I owe you at least an ear to listen, after the other day…”

Katrisha could almost see the wheels turning behind Celia’s eyes as she seemed to work backwards and forwards over what she wanted to say.  “I…I wasn’t offended,” she came to at last.

“I’m sorry?” Katrisha pressed not having followed the train of thought.

“When you implied I might be sad that Lena was out…with a friend,” Celia said awkwardly.

“Oh,” Katrisha said, understanding the reference at least, but not the meaning.  “I haven’t thought a lot on such things, but…I know they are,” Katrisha said not sure where she was going with the line of reasoning.  “I’m also not blind,” she settled on, “I’ve seen some of the other girls and women who…are obviously more than friends.”

“They tell us it’s not…as common outside of the cloisters, and that some people out there are offended by the very idea,” she frowned, obviously concerned with her own line of conversation.

“I…” Katrisha trailed off.  “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, in fact I can’t say it is true with any certainty…but…heh,” she shook her head.  “You don’t really know either of them.  There are too men, very close to me in my life.  I know in my heart there is something there between them.”

“Oh,” Celia said, a bit surprised.  “I suppose there is that as well.  It’s…rarer, but there are fewer men amongst us after all.”

“It would seem statistically less prevalent by consequence, yes,” Katrisha mused, and looked horribly embarrassed.  “Still I don’t know it to be true.  Just glances I’ve caught, an odd familiarity they share, a touch of a hand noticed out of…” she hesitated as a hand rested on hers.  “Oh…” she said, swallowed, and the hand was quickly withdrawn.

Celia looked away mortified.

“Oh…” Katrisha repeated flummoxed.

“I’m sorry,” Celia said sitting up, wrapping her arms around herself, and turning away, as she choked back a sob.

“No…” Katrisha started, “no…oh goodness I’ve been daft, haven’t I?  I…I said I haven’t thought much about such things, and that goes…farther than just philosophically.  I’ve barely considered boys in quite some time, let alone…oh fates I’m just making this worse.” her voice had raised more nervously with every syllable.

“No,” Celia said her voice strained, “no it’s my fault, you aren’t one of us…and you came to us so troubled.  I couldn’t have expected you to notice…to…I’m so sorry.”

Celia started to move, but Katrisha caught her shoulder, then cheek gently and turned her back to face her.  “Please, I didn’t ask you to go, did I?” she said her face stricken with a flurry of emotions, but chief among them concern.  “I didn’t…I didn’t say I wasn’t willing to entertain the thought, only that…I hadn’t…yet…”  She was trying very hard to smile reassuringly, but she was far too much in need of reassurance herself to pull it off.

“I’m sor…I need to stop saying that…I really do,” she said almost angrily.  Guilt and other conflicts plain on her face.  “Fates…I…didn’t…” Celia stiffened, but seemed to regain some composure.  “Fates, I feel horrid.  I’ve…I’ve been on the other side of this.  I should have known better, maybe.  Maybe it’s just ‘cause you are older…but what am I saying, I was older than him, and I wasn’t ready…and he…found someone else.  He was also the only one…the only…oh never mind.  I’m s…no I’m not saying that anymore.  Oh Light I shouldn’t be laying all this on you.”

“It’s ok,” Katrisha said her own thoughts spinning a bit at the situation.  “As I said…I owe you at least an ear for all that troubles you.  Not just for how you helped me the other night, but because you have made me feel welcome here, like…I belong.  More so than anyone.  Well except maybe Renae, but that’s not the same.  She’s been like a loving aunt, you have been a true friend.”

“I haven’t spoiled that friendship have I?” Celia asked hesitantly, a tear rolling down her cheek.

“No,” Katrisha said brushing the tear away with her thumb, and letting her hand rest there.  “No you haven’t.  You have been nothing but kind…and considerate, perhaps too much so for your own good.  And I have repaid you to date with blindness it seems.  I think I’m the one in the wrong here, not you.  I’m willing to figure out what…might be, but I promise you, I can’t bear the thought of not being your friend.”

“Only willing?” Celia asked hesitantly, trying to reassure herself that she wasn’t pushing something unwanted on her friend, but worried as soon as it was said it might seem all the more pressing.

“Curious, confused…fates I don’t know,” she ran her fingers through her hair, “seems like a novel new way I could cause Laurel headaches, if nothing else.”  Katrisha laughed awkwardly, but thought better of her levity.  “I’ve clearly been oblivious to the very possibility, so willing, perhapsm hopeful.  I don’t know what more I can possibly offer.”

Celia leaned closer to Katrisha, hesitantly, testingly, and watched her eyes for discomfort at her forwardness, but all she could see was kindness, a quizzical curiosity, and concern.  There was no fear in those haunting green eyes, no sign of an inclination to pull away, and then there was a glimmer of determination as Katrisha pulled Celia closer, and kissed her fleetingly.

Katrisha struggled between emotion and observation.  Analysis of feelings that stirred, her heart’s unquestionable response.  Years of an untended illness had held her back in many ways, and it seemed in that sliver of a moment something in her nature yearned to make up for lost time.  Yet all of this paled in comparison to the certainty with which Celia launched into another, more lingering, wanting kiss.

Moments faded to minutes, or hours for all the difference Katrisha would have known.  Only the familiar moon that hung in the sky lied about a finite passage of time.  Gentle fingertips wandered aimlessly, trying to find their place in a dance meant for soft lips, and humorously inconvenient noses.

If lips spoke of certainty, hands spoke falteringly of all that was unknown, and unsure.  They wove a caring step of caution, overwhelmed by powerful instincts new, and undefined.  It was not unlike learning to touch magic, the moment you felt it the first time it was remarkable, but you could hardly figure out what to do.  Formless, clumsy, there was a response in kind, and then it collapsed, but you had discovered something gloriously new.

Breathless, Celia gave way, and lay her head on Katrisha’s shoulder.  It is rare to truly sense the emotion of another, even in the most intimate moments.  Yet in that instant Katirsha knew Celia’s whole world lay wrapped up in that embrace. That all Celia had dreamed of for weeks felt possible, and right at her aimless fingertips.  It could hardly have felt a greater honor, or imposition.  A responsibility placed upon her that she was unsure if she could own.  That in a moment of impulse she had accepted.

Celia laughed suddenly, and and broke the fragile impression.  “From the moment I met you,” she murmured wistfully.  “I have been trying to figure out what your presence felt like.”  She sighed and curled all the more insistently against Katrisha.  “I always wanted to liken it to sunlight, but it’s not the warm prickles of a summer sun.  I’ve finally realized what it is.  You are moonlight, a cool wash of moonlight on my skin.  Yet right now, so close to you, I think even that is wrong.  You are the ocean, warm, dark, and deep.  I feel like I’m in over my head.  I should be terrified, but I’m not.  Which is just funny, really.  I’ve never seen the ocean, never swam in water deeper than my waist.  Never even left the cloister.  Yet I am as certain of these things, as I am that this is where I want to be.  If I drowned in you, I would die happy.”

Katrisha slowly came back to the living world.  Dragged unwillingly by the intensity of Celia’s musings.  She, was afraid, but she was not sure it was a bad kind of fear.  She kissed the top of Celia’s head.  She considered the assertion, and found that a passing embrace had never let her appreciate how much different a presence could feel that close.  Not warm like a stone in the sun, but like a raindrop refracting the sunlight.  It was beautiful, serene, complex, and seemingly fragile.  Fear, lay it breaking something so beautiful with a clumsy misstep.

She wondered what the difference between love and friendship was, and tried to remember what Mercu had to say on the matter.  ‘It is the difference between the river and the stream, the sky and the breeze.  Where one begins the other does not end, and more over the line does not exist any more than we foolishly protest that it must.’

“A half pence for your thoughts?” Celia asked after comfortable silence had faded to a sliver of doubt.

“Really, just thinking about things I don’t know.  Which seems to be a lot more than I usually like to admit,” Katrisha said softly.

“Oh fates, we are in trouble if you don’t know, aren’t we?” Celia laughed.

“Troubles an old friend.  I’ll introduce you, it’ll be fun,” Katrisha mused lightly.

Celia buried her face in Katrisha’s neck to stifle her laughter.  Katrisha held her friend close and sighed contentedly, she felt very good there in her arms.  Relief had finally caught up in the emotional jumble she felt.  All the fears that had lead her to Celia’s door that night were washed away.  A part of her had worried that Celia was mad at her for something she wasn’t aware of.  Perhaps she had, been a bit, Katrisha considered.  For not seeing how she felt.  She could own that guilt, as reasonable as her ignorance seemed.  More though it felt like she had been discouraged.

Doubt nagged still at the edge of her thoughts, was this what she wanted?  It certainly felt good, it certainly made Celia happy, and she admitted to herself she would be disappointed if it – whatever it was – stopped so suddenly.  There was potential, for what she still didn’t fully grasp, but potential was always exciting.

Potential was energy in waiting, ready, and anxious to become action.  You could feel it an object about to fall.  In an electric buildup reaching to discharge.  In a fresh flame sputtering to life.  Katrisha could feel that in herself, and it was a little unnerving.

Musings of uncertainty were cut short with a gasp as lips met a vulnerable neck, and the tingle down Katrisha’s spine quickly made doubts dull, familiar things, as all that was new and unknown proved vastly more interesting.  She hummed softly as Celia explored.  Her head rolled back, and eyes closed instinctively, which lead the trail of kisses downward across her throat.

“That feels lovely,” Katrisha murmured.

“I’m glad,” Celia responded nervously.  Katrisha felt Celia’s trembling hand rest on her heart, and gave a contented sigh.  It was sweet, simple, reassuring, and filled her with an absolute sense of peace.

Tentative fingers drifted from Katrisha’s heart, as lips still worked at her neck with seeking kisses, trying to find any sensitive spot.  She felt the a gentle flow of energy into her as Celia’s hand lovingly meandered.  Gentle living energy which made skin, muscles, every cell beneath the touch hum with life.  She felt more aware, more sensitive in all the right ways to the feathery touch, and somewhere past the growing pleasantness, and distraction, it clicked in her mind, a simple logical possibility already being put into practice.

Katrisha suddenly understood something she had never even considered, that the gift could be used affectionately.  That the same principles that allowed for such practices to temporarily enhance strength, allow the body to push farther, faster, and harder in battle could also be used to make it more sensitive, more aware.

In a way Katrisha was terrified.  The simple act of kisses on her neck had already started to addle most higher thoughts and concerns.  That wasn’t making love, it was barely undignified in public.  She knew precious little about what lay beyond that point, but if it was beyond, then it had to be more…and if fueled by the power of living gift. She bit her lip trying to imagine.  It was a heady overwhelming prospect, but any fear or doubt the idea raised in the back of her mind was quickly dwindling under what Celia was drawing out of her.

Willingness, and piqued curiosity were lost concepts.  Want, was then in search of a roost, a place in her to call its own.  It had always been there, like a shadow.  Though placing the moments the specter belonged to proved difficult, and the present seemed of more import.

Katrisha could feel herself sinking to the roof, melting under Celia’s attentions.  A part of her wanted to simply let go, to be Celia’s to do with as she pleased.  It was a powerful part, but surprisingly, unexpectedly it lost a contest of will Katrisha hadn’t even imagined was under way.  Almost before she knew what she was doing she was the one looming over Celia, kissing and caressing her, enjoying Celia’s gasps of pleasure and surprise more than she could have anticipated.

They were satisfying sounds, and the sensations, and the smell of Celia’s skin was delightful.  She realized it was almost as intoxicating from the other side, and there was a touch of frustration in that.  She had wanted back some semblance of control, and though it seemed her mind was clearer, she felt no more in control.  It was her own desire determining what happened, not Celia’s.  It was her desire.  She had barely imagined such a thing existed.  A slumbering creature truly woken for the first time, and wrapped around her heart possessively.

There was so much to learn, to understand.  Katrisha was lost in the act of exploring, feeling caressing.  She was delighted with each new discovery, and tried with great success to replicate the technique Celia had used on her.  As the minutes rolled on, and as lost as she was in her task she became more unsure of what came next.  

She could guess.  Obvious places unventured, but that seemed rushed, and clearly crossed a line to yet more undiscovered country.  It was a leap she wasn’t ready to make, and she settled back beside Celia, and nestled her head against her shoulder.  Taking time to let her heart come back down to reality, all the while daydreaming fretfully of new realities.

Katrisha watched Celia’s chest rise and fall beneath her robe, and let her fingers wander over her form in the moonlight.  She loved the moonlight, but she wondered if she loved Celia.  Treasured her friendship, without question.  Adored her company, and was ecstatic from new and unfamiliar feelings, and sensations, certainly.  She was closer to Celia than she had been to anyone in her life – save her own twin – and surely that meant something.  Yes, she convinced herself, yes she could love Celia, but was she in love?  What even she wondered was the difference?  Was it passion?  That seemed far too easily available, and far too simple.  Nothing was ever so simple.

She had placed her life between a dragon, and her mentor.  Between a dire cat, and a soldier who was only a passing acquaintance.  She felt like for Celia, she would stand against the whole world.  Even her own uncertainty, doubt, and sometimes bumbling social graces.  All at once, the feeling did not seem new, or changed, just understood.

“Yes,” Katrisha said softly.  “Yes, I want to know where this goes.  But…I need to know what you expect, what you need from me, because this is all much too new.  I’m afraid…I don’t want to lose…” she couldn’t even make up her mind what she meant to say there.  Anything, she finally decided, she didn’t want to lose anything.  She already felt like she had lost too much.  She couldn’t lose Celia.

“I need,” Celia started tentatively.  “I want,” she corrected, “to share with you all that I am.  That last little bit we all keep hidden away.  I expect nothing, but I hope that you will allow me to continue to hold you, and touch you, and…kiss you,”  she laughed nervously.

“I think I would like that,” Katrisha murmured softly.  “I think I would like that very much.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Vernum 2nd, 648 E.R.

Katrisha woke to a feeling at once familiar, and strange.  She had curled up next to her sister countless times in the years they had shared their tower chamber.  The feeling of Celia’s sleeping form in her arms was different in so many ways, and yet the memory haunted her, and brought her a pang of grief, and confusion.  She clung more tightly to Celia, who stirred, and nuzzled against her chest, a relatively new sensation that washed away Katrisha’s troubles for at least a moment.

After several wandering sleepy kisses Celia looked up drowsily into Katrisha’s eyes.  “Hello,” Celia said softly, a touch of uncertainty creeping into her voice.

“Hi,” Katrisha said with the same nervous air.  She clung to the night they had spent kissing beneath the stars, and falling asleep in each other’s arms after wandering back to her bed at some forsaken hour before dawn.  

There was no regret in her for that, she was certain.  What ever was yet to be, the simple innocent awkwardness of the moment was exhilarating.  She was happy, she told herself, even as fear nagged at the edges of her mind.  Happy had been in painfully short supply for far too long.

Celia’s eyes suddenly went wide.  “What time is it?” she snapped, staring out the window at the bright daylight.

“I’m not sure,” Katrisha said, held up her hand, and a small triangular shape formed, wobbled, and pointed at in the direction of the sun.  “About mid morning,” Katrisha said absently.

“Crap,” Celia said wincing, “I’m late for garden duty.”

“Oh,” Katrisha said still half awake.

“Could you let me out,” Celia implored awkwardly, not really wanting to leave, but needing to, and lay trapped against the wall by Katrisha.

“Oh, yes,” Katrisha said and got up out of bed.  She scratched her head.  “Sorry.”

“No, please don’t apologize,” Celia said lifted up, hugged Katrisha, and kissed her firmly.  “It was wonderful, you are wonderful, and I hate to go…but I must.”

“It’s ok,” Katrisha said stealing a second kiss.  “Go, I have my own lateness to answer for, I’m sure.”

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Theron watched as a wrinkle on his hand slowly faded.  “Very good,” he said encouragingly.  “Age is not an easy adversary to push back,” he added.  “It’s natural, it’s one inclination of the body, but for the most part our forms want to be young, they just forget how.”

“How old are you?” Katrisha asked curiously.

“I’ll be eighty five next spring,” Theron said in a matter of fact tone.

“You don’t look it,” Katrisha said in mild disbelief, the man before her looked no older than Mercu, but was over thirty years his elder.  “You are even older than the King,” she added, though pondered that Laurel had never mentioned his age, even been evasive on the matter.  She knew that gifted people lived longer lives, had understood they aged slower, but had easily mistaken the common condition of age in the members of the court to be indicative of what she should expect.  That had been silly, but mostly just unexamined.

“I remember the King as a boy,” Theron laughed.  “Is it really so surprising how old I am?  You know Rennae is over seventy, don’t you?”

“I…didn’t actually,” Katrisha said with some embarrassment.

“Oh, yes,” Theron said thoughtfully.  “I suppose you might not have had reason to know that.”  He eyed her shrewdly for a moment.  “Something is different about you today,” he said seeming almost as though he was changing the subject.

“I…don’t know what you are talking about,” Katrisha winced.

“You lie badly when you are flustered,” Theron said with a laugh.  “You seem much happier, and yet…” Theron scratched his head, “troubled.  Yes, I see it now, you are in love…or at least right on the cusp of it.”

“I…I…how did you know?” Katrisha sputtered.

“How long did I just say I’ve been alive for?” Theron chuckled.  “And what are the core matters of spiritual studies?  You should remember that affairs of the heart are on that list.”

“Oh…” Katrisha sighed, and looked down.

“I won’t press the topic,” Theron said sympathetically, “but I am here if you need advice.”

“Thank you,” Katrisha said uncertainly.  “It’s just…I don’t want to talk about it, and yet…the whole thing is scary.”

“Such is the way of young love,” Theron said pointedly.  “It is full of excitement, and fear is after all very exciting.”

“Not terribly helpful,” Katrisha muttered.

“No,” Theron laughed kindly, “but honest.  I have known it from every angle in my many years.”

“The one thing…the thing that really bothers me,” Katrisha said as she fished for the right words.  “I never even considered loving…” she hesitated again, considering the wisdom of the admission.  It did seem a accepted state of affairs in that place, but still, she bit her lip.  “…another girl,” she finally steamed herself to say.  “And I do, I think.  At very least enough that I’m afraid I might change my mind, and hurt her, and that terrifies me.”

“I must admit, ‘never having considered’ it, is a new one by me.”  Theron mused.  “It is so easy to forget the world out there, and how it works.  Even then not so very new I suppose.  Everyone matures at their own rate, our gifts skew that problem more, not less.  The number of youth I have counseled who have found themselves hopelessly in love, or hopelessly loved…”

Theron shook his head, distracted by his own train of thought.  “When we really love someone, we concern ourselves for their wellbeing.  We are flawed creatures, prone to fickle whims, all of us, and so it is not unreasonable to fear our own impact on one dear to us.  The thing to cling to, is that you care, or you would not have this fear.  Always put that concern first, and you will do the best you can by her.”

“That…actually helps, I guess,” Katrisha said looking away.

“I have other duties that must be tended,” Theron said standing up to leave.  “Unless you are in need of more council presently?”

“No,” Katrisha said.  “No, and thank you.”

Katrisha sat in the sun for a while, and for once it didn’t bother her.  She let herself imagine the warmth was Celia’s touch.  She did love her, she tried to convince herself.  The idea was still new, and odd, and tangled up with all it meant.  She already had, she told herself.  What she felt had not changed over night, even if it had gained so many new dimensions.

The sound of footsteps in the grass caught Katrisha’s attention just as she felt the approach of a familiar aura.    He always felt warmer than the sun, and yet it never bothered her.  She opened her eyes, and smiled at Wren who was walking towards her in a seemingly casual manner.

“Hello,” Katrisha said with a half smile, “what brings you to the courtyard?”

“Oh, not much,” Wren lied.  “You seem…well, different somehow, though.”

“Oh, not you too with that,” Katrisha laughed awkwardly.

“I overheard, from the balcony,” Wren admitted with mixed humor.  “I…couldn’t resist.  To be fair I was listening in to start with, because I had already heard.”

“Already?” Katrisha winced.

“Sort of,” Wren said kindly.  “Celia was late today, there were questions.  She dodged a lot of them, and I put the pieces together from what she didn’t say.  I might not have been the only one to figure it out though.”

Katrisha sighed deeply.  “I….I don’t know what to say,” she said looking up to Wren for approval.  “I also…don’t know what to do.”

“I…wouldn’t feel right offering you advice,” Wren said looking away.

“But…” Katrisha started, “you, must know something of how this all works.”

“I know how things are for Audry, and me.  I suspect there are…differences…”  He laughed, but it seemed an odd sort of humor.  “Some things,” he started gain, “are better figured out on your own.  There is a certain…joy in muddling around at first I think.  Besides, I haven’t really figured out which one of you to scold not to hurt the other – yet.”

“She really means alot to you, doesn’t she?” Katrisha asked pointedly.

“She’s…a very close friend,” Wren said evasively.  “You, her, Audry, and Renae.  You four are the world to me.”

“I will try to do right by her,” Katrisha pledged nervously.  “I just…haven’t figured this whole thing out yet.”

“Give it time,” Wren said patting his sister on the shoulder, “and…though I don’t recommend looking it up right away, there is a book.  I know you like books for your answers.  You probably can get a copy of it from the library if you ask…  Audry was able to.  We’ve been reading it together.  It’s…enlightening.”

“What book?” Katrisha said scratching her head.

“It’s known best as the Red Book,” Wren said shrewdly.  “Written by a mage of all things…though she was really so much more.  Her name was Sylvia, Sylvia Grey for all her family tried to forget her.  I’ve sometimes wondered if she’s a distant relation to Laurel. I wouldn’t ask him though, he might be embarrassed if you did.”

“Is it that…bad?” Katrisha asked uneasily.

“I wouldn’t say there is a single bad thing about it,” Wren said sternly.  “Others, out there…” her gestured absently, “might disagree.  She was disowned by her whole family, then rose to more prominence than any of them ever had, or would.  Funny that, they disowned her, but she is the one the world remembers, while they passed into obscurity.”

“But Laurel is a court mage,” Katrisha protested.

“Of a minor kingdom,” Wren corrected, “and surely you remember Mercu’s tale of how Laurel found himself in that position?  I do.  I was there for one telling.”

“Right, Prince Darion,” Katrisha laughed, “saved him from bandits.”

“Before that he was just a mage traveling with caravans,” Wren added.

“His family was wealthy enough to have cut him off as a threat, at one point,” Katrisha said trying to remember various stories Mercu had told.

“Rich families do not necessarily have that much importance,” Wren sighed.  “Certainly not compared to a woman who openly defined the Clarions on their very border, whispered in the ears of princes, princesses, queens, and kings, and has an entire sect of Sisters devoted to her writings.  The entire order in some senses founded in her image.”

“And you are sure I shouldn’t read up on her sooner, rather than wait?” Katrisha laughed.

“She is in most post imperial history books, that haven’t purposefully written her out,” Wren said with a shrug.  “You’ll likely find more that have than haven’t though.”

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