Andrea Novis Episode 5
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
Andrea Novis crossed her father’s chilly study past tables covered in unpleasant items: a green statue of a monster devouring something, a dull silver ring caked with dried brown, a house in silver with blood red trim. She found her right hand on her heart and dropped it to her side.
As she reached the step to the raised area where he worked, he kept his attention on what he held, an engraved silver ball. (He always held something in his hand when he spoke to her.)
She waited in stillness as deep as she had practiced in the cell, breathing her meditation breath without sound.
At last he spoke first, a tiny victory for her. “Your hands are steady, my dear. A good trait.”
She finished her deep inbreath, imagining nubbled stone on her bare feet, a ceiling against her fingertips, the brush of a tiny spider whose web she had memorized, the texture of a heavy wooden door. “Thank you father,” she replied, and continued with a slow outbreath. He studied the silver ball; she stood in resting pose, weight evenly divided between both legs, hands slightly cupped at her side.
To the intricately engraved item in his hands, he said, “It would seem you are the subject of a prophecy, my dear.”
“Do you speak to me, father, or does the word ‘you’ refer to the object at which you gaze?” She studied his angular wrinkled face with its thin moustache like a charcoal line. Perhaps it was a charcoal line: he was old to have so black a moustache.
“I speak to you, my child,” he replied, his smooth surface unruffled. He held up the ball. “These letters speak of the seventh daughter of a king.” She saw his eyes shift from the ornament. Looking into space, he concluded, “Few kings in history have been as graced with daughters as I have been.”
“Few sisters in history have been so fortunate in their parents,” she replied. She saw her teacher’s reproving stare. This thrust and riposte with her father was unworthy of her, and as futile as a hand slapping at a wall.
Predictably, he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “This was purchased in a market stall by the scholar Cromley, and I have finally succeeded in translating it. You’ll remember Cromley, my dear.” As he held the ball to the light, she recalled Cromley: as mildewed as the books in his library, with breath like an ancient fish dinner.
He continued, “These letters say, in essence, The seventh daughter of a king shall restore the lost land of Elemar. Her trials shall have made her best equipped for the task but least capable of returning.” Again he looked down has he spoke. As attuned to his movements and gestures as a master duelist, she understood that he had changed or concealed something about the prophecy.
Her loathing of him flared for a moment like dragon fire: it was only for this that he had requested her return. His stony gaze fixed on her at exactly that instant and for only that instant, and then he looked back at the object he held.
Her face burned red as she brought her body back under the influence of her will.
Jerrold the Cold had a heart of stone but he was just and capable to his people. Under his steady hand, every household and farm in the kingdom had flourished, free from oppressive taxes and capricious lawlessness. The realm was as happy as any realm had ever been. The fact that he did not love his daughters entered only into her personal equations, and she must continue to disregard them. She had a “father” who did love her, and she was always welcome in his little cottage.
“I shall be happy to be remembered as she who restored the lost land of Elemar,” she said, disappointed that her voice trembled. She called again on the memory of herself in the dark cell. There she had triumphed. “Does this prophecy say anything else?” she asked in a voice now rock steady.
“I’m afraid it does not, my dear.” A subtle tightening of his upper lip: again he concealed something. “So I will ask you to take a small contingent with you, fond and no doubt capable as you are of traveling alone, and proceed to the edge of my kingdom where there is apparently an ancient land to be restored.”
He waited for her assent (that was his justice: he knew she would go but he would never order her), letting the silver ball catch the light at different angles.
“It will be my great pleasure to go, father,” she replied. “I’ll ask that silver artifact of you, as it might conceivably be helpful to me in my quest.” She did not hold out her hand for it, not yet.
She saw his slight start, the ghost of a movement to clutch the thing. But he showed no emotion as he held it out to her from above. She reached up and took it from him, not letting even the tips of her fingers touch his.
Then she curtsied, turned and walked steadily away. He hadn’t actually dismissed her and she wondered if he would call her back. But there was no sound, and she left the chilly study holding a gleaming mirrored ornament the size of her fist (it had seemed smaller in her father’s hand), engraved with hypnotic black lines which might have meant anything.
To be continued…