Andrea Novis Episode 1
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
The small boy walked through a twilight which was dangerously thick with magic.
Once he crossed the silver line which marked the border of the pleasure land, his holiday would be over. The school group was already boarding the coach which would carry them home. He was the last one out and he dawdled.
Nobody had missed him yet, no voices called to him. Maybe he could just trip over a rock and fall into a magic sleep and wake up to find that they had gone and he could stay.
But he would miss Tricky if that happened. Tricky, with mournful beagle eyes, would cry and nuzzle the blankets where the boy wasn’t sleeping. So he kept walking toward the silver line but he dragged his feet over the grass and looked sideways and up at the stars.
Then something that sang caught at his feet and he did fall.
Well, and that was just fine with him. He fell slowly, as if through syrup, and had time to rejoice – except that Tricky would cry. His hands gathered a thousand strings as he fell toward to that perfect night blanket.
When he landed at last, he had gathered those thousand threads into a small silver ball, just right for a dog to chase. He was ready for enchanted sleep. Cozy, velvety black blankets snugged him round. But Tricky would worry.
“Fetch, Tricky. Good boy…” he murmured. Did he really want to throw the ball through all that snuggly cozy?
He couldn’t sleep until he figured it out.
The Princess Andrea Novis had spent exactly nine months, by her reckoning, in absolute darkness.
Twice a day meals were brought and waste removed. After every second meal she added one to her count of days. This had long ago become part of her daily discipline.
Nine months was the time it would have taken her to deliver King Markul a baby if she had given in to him. It was possible he would release her from this dungeon cell today. She allowed the thought to blossom into a faint flame of hope, but kept watch that it didn’t burn her careful discipline to black terror.
She had spent most of her days and nights naked because the stuffy dark was more comfortable that way – and to preserve her clothes so that when the day came, she could walk out with dignity. Now she washed herself carefully from the pitcher of water they filled at each meal. Many days she had given herself a cat bath, licking every part she could reach but today she splashed small cool palmfuls of the precious water on her face, beneath her arms, between her legs, cleaning herself with her left hand and then wiping it on the carefully chosen spot of wall. She twirled to let the stuffy air dry her, feeling the stones her feet had memorized. When she stopped, dizzy, her feet told her exactly which way she was facing.
Her hands found the foolish silks she had worn on this mad embassy nine months ago (why had her father sent her?). They were still folded neatly in the corner where she had put them. At the soft touch (which she had allowed herself only fifteen times since the jailor had slammed the door) she felt her calm stillness crack, felt terror of the utter dark, and longed with physical pain to be free.
Fingers on the sensuous silk (how it would gleam purple and gold if there were any light!), she let the close air of the cell into her lungs, an in-breath which took nearly a minute. Then she let the air out just as slowly, feeling the way her feet shifted against uneven roughness.
She laid her other hand on the wall which she knew by heart. She had touched, cherished, memorized and meditated upon on every square centimeter of wall, floor and ceiling (which she could reach when she stood with lifted arms). She knew the cobweb which began just above and to the left of where her hand was now, the small crack in the shape of a distorted star, the lump on the ceiling like the continent of Pindricon.
When her heart beat steadily again, when the dark was just the absence of light, she allowed her fingers to stroke the silk of her dress again. It was a beautiful, foolish dress, the dress of a king’s daughter. And now she would wear it again, as was her right.
With fingers still strong and steady from daily stretches and exercises, she unfolded everything. She found the pocket in an inner hem and removed the small cloth sachet, worked it with her hand to release a faint fragrance of clove, allspice and rosemary. Seeing the herbal scent as muted sunlight in a dim forest grove, she rubbed the sachet over her body and put it back in its place.
She aligned the leggings, chemise and petticoats, slipped into them and fastened them properly. Never such a fool as to wear a corset, Andrea Novis put on the beautiful silk dress and laced it up by touch.
Lastly, the riding boots (she prayed that King Markul had taken care of her horse while he had kept her prisoner). They also needed to be carefully laced by hand. When she had given her full, devoted attention to this task, she stood, dressed in her proper garments for the first time in months.
Her legs were steady; her strict daily regimen had included leg stretches and strenuous kicks and jumps. But the boot heels made her calves ache; she missed the familiar cracks and lumps of the floor which told her exactly where she was. The strange, imaginary glow in which she saw the interior of her black cell seemed to dim and part of it to go out.
For her exercise today she would accustom herself to walking in clothes again, being careful not to sweat until she stank. Arms extended to compensate for the missing touch of the floor against her feet, she walked three steps and reached the wall. She turned and walked four steps, reached the other wall. Four steps, turn, four steps, turn. She allowed herself to reclaim her proper persona as Princess Andrea Novis, seventh daughter of King Jerrold the Cold.
With a rumble and snap, the great door at the end of the hall of black cells ground open and footsteps approached!
Oh, she needed her discipline now. The flame of hope must burn no brighter than a candle in a wall sconce. She was ready to walk out with dignity but she repeated to herself that she was in peaceful solitude in comfortable dark. She knew where the weaving spider lived; she had followed its creations with great interest, she would soon be privileged to witness (by touch and by tiny sounds) the hatching of the young spiders.
She also knew the other prisoners, some of whom had been in the dark for years, some in great pain, some fully mad. In the long stretches between the second meal of one day and the first meal of the next, while the jailors slept, the prisoners could shout to each other, voices dim through the solid doors. If the footsteps came no closer, she would still have all these things.
But the footsteps did come closer. No faintest glimmer of light came through the solidly set cell door with its double-trap through which food and water were given to her and waste removed. The others shouted in sad voices like ghosts, and the jailor with his old-woman shriek told them to be silent or they’d suffer more than they thought possible.
Andrea Novis stood facing the door, seeing it in that odd glow of inner vision. She kept before her eyes the image of a small candle in a wall sconce, its soft yellow flame burning without smoke or grease. As the footsteps continued to approach her cell, she focused on that candle, not grasping at it but not turning her back to it.
She was halfway through a long slow in-breath when a sharp click came from in front of her.
With sudden red fire, the dancing outline of a door singed itself upon her eyes. She squeezed them tight shut in pain.
The light, after nine months of dark, made her as helpless as a moth.
To be continued…