Andrea Novis Episode 6
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
“You let him lock you in the dungeon?”
Andrea Novis had come to ask her sister to journey with her. But Sandia Belin, in her green and brown leather, had heard her full tale with disbelief as they ate together in Sandia’s chambers, and clearly couldn’t bring herself to care a fig for the prophecy or the quest.
“I’d have cut away his manhood,” Sandia Belin ranted, “such as it might have been, and kicked my way out of that place. One word to me now, Novice, and I’ll take twenty and put his castle to the sack.”
Andrea Novis (how well Sandia Belin knew that she hated being called “Novice”) looked into her sister’s furious brown eyes. “Father would never allow that.” And not once in these nine months did you think of me, for all your protestations of anger!
“That Pissgut,” Sandia snapped. It was the second time in three days Andrea Novis had heard someone called Pissgut. But Sandia’s face was troubled, as if she asked herself why she had not taken a contingent to come rescue her sister months ago.
“Why did you not fight your way free?” she demanded angrily. “You’ve had the training we all have had.”
The question was hardly fair. She had been imprisoned in her sleep. But had she not been given subtle warnings earlier on that horrible day? “The warrior’s way is not mine,” she said now.
“I should say not! Little cooing pigeon. So you let a man lock you in a cell for the better part of a year because you would not fight! Would not the peaceful way have been to go to his bed? He would doubtless have made you very happy.”
Her discipline, which had sustained her through an experience which would have shattered many, gave way before this familiar needle. “Oh yes, that would have been so very dignified. And then I should have struck his head off while he fumbled impotently—”
“Ah, your dignity. How dignified were you when you came up from that cell, cringing at the light, wearing filthy rags, weak as a noodle and half mad?”
“I came up dressed in clean clothes, strong in body from regular exercise, with my mind intact, looking everyone in the eye! Look at me now!”
Andrea Novis found she was standing as she glared. She flushed with shame and turned her focus to her breathing.
Sandia instantly pounced: “There you go, hissing like a water spout. Well, I am a water demon, come to rip your pretty head from your lovely torso! Fight me!” Sword flashing in the torchlight, she leaped over the table at her sister.
Andrea Novis looked her straight in the eye and breathed calmly, but she saw her teacher’s frown: she was provoking Sandia Belin, who stopped with her sword inches from her sister’s throat. “If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead and all your peace and serenity with you, damn you, Novice.” She looked like she would slit her sister’s throat if only it would bring sense to her.
Why, Andrea Novis wondered, oh why in the world couldn’t she be fair to Sandia Belin?
When they were girls with five unimaginably older sisters who took turns caring for them, they had clung to each other. They’d had races through the castle, skinned knees from climbing the apple trees and the old oaks, and black eyes from roaring fistfights. In autumn they had dressed up straw men in purple robes for the Blackberry Feast, polishing the brass buckles on their ceremonial hats. They had roasted apples and chunks of winter squash brushed with butter, cinnamon and nutmeg in preparation for the Winter Sleep, knowing that everyone would awaken hungry. And in spring they had pegged giant leaves into conical hats with twigs and sailed flower boats on the ornamental moat while singing boisterously. Older, they had gone on long rides through the countryside, bringing little gifts for the families who welcomed them for the night.
But then Sandia Belin discovered fellows and started a series of passionate, short-lived affairs. Andrea Novis had three short romances and retired from love full of unhappy yearning. She sensed that their father watched his daughters coldly, remotely calculating, waiting for something, and that he seemed disappointed in them.
But he had no reason to be: every one of the sisters excelled. Cardena Blanca, who would someday be queen, had taken over oiling the social wheels when their mother, now deceased, had been crippled before Andrea Novis was born. Sharmelena Stellaria studied the world from the astronomical tower, and predicted the day each year when the mists would rise from the goddess pools and trigger the Winter Sleep. Sandia Belin was being groomed to take over leadership of the small but important military arm of King Jerrold’s long peace. Bestina Silver was a fine doctor, Shelvina Plantor was the head of the college and even Mystia Semlin, though but a simple homebody, had married Kathleen of her own free well and was a warm pool of hugs and scoldings and motherly love.
For what did their father wait? Andrea Novis had practiced with the sword, learned affairs of state and how to groom a horse, studied hungrily the beauty of mathematics and the sprouting of a seed. She had walked boldly into woods, sitting in glades until timid rabbits came close enough to sniff her toes. She had searched and searched, increasingly unhappy. Sandia Belin, blazing with enthusiasm for each new paramour, seemed doltish to her, just as she seemed a fluttering fool to Sandia Belin.
Now Andrea Novis, who had come to beg Sandia Belin to journey with her, said “I am so sorry for you, sister,” knowing that the gentle reproof would only provoke her further, but unable to stop herself.
She walked out wearing humility like a royal robe.
To be continued…