Andrea Novis Episode 7
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
The company crested a rise. Before them the downs fell away in green waves. In the distance was the tight ring of mountains which surrounded where Elemar had been.
“We’ll be there on the morrow,” Sir Robert Maxwell observed pleasantly.
Andrea Novis, astride Amber, was tempted to ignore this as she had ignored all his other pleasantries. He had followed her from Markul’s kingdom and asked her father if he might accompany her. When she had discovered this she had nearly stormed in to tell her father that she would slit Sir Robert’s throat before accepting his company.
But, as her teacher had pointed out with kindness and Sandia Belin had pointed out with scorn, that was not her way.
Only two nights before she had sobbed in her teacher’s arms, “I let them lock me in a cell! I lived in the dark for nine months because I did not fight them. If my father had not sent for me, I might have been put back there.” She had shaken and retched with horror she hadn’t dare let herself feel before.
“That is not your way,” her teacher had soothed her. “The way of the warrior is not your way. You did well, my child, you did well. You used well the meditation skills you have learned here. You did well.” Gradually her sobs had ceased and she had let him tuck her into the guest bed and had fallen asleep with his hand on her shoulder.
Now, wishing she could remember the way of peace with Sandia Belin, she decided to treat Sir Robert with courtesy and let him prove or disprove himself. “Quite likely,” she replied to his observation, and he grunted, satisfied.
She called the company together. In addition to herself and Sir Robert, there were eight soldiers: hard, lean women and men skilled in archery and sword-fighting. “Soldiers and companions,” she said. “We see our destination. We will camp on the low downs tonight and arrive in the late morning at the mountain ring. What we will do then, I have not decided. The prophecy says only that I shall restore Elemar. A useful plan of action generally lies well outside the realm of soothsaying.”
Her companions chuckled. They all liked Andrea Novis. “Unless anyone can produce another king with seven daughters?” she asked, playfully hopeful. Everyone laughed, Sir Robert among them.
“Well, then. A good night’s rest and off tomorrow to fulfill an ancient prophecy found in a marketplace by a scholar with the breath of a dead fish.”
With pleasant friendship, they set up tents on the springy grass. She set a watch but expected no trouble until they reached the mountain ring. By lantern light in her tent, she took out the silver ball and studied it again, reflecting on the story of tiny Elemar.
Elemar had been the garden land at the heart of the world. People had come from Vinaldur and many other lands to walk through Elemar’s meditation forest, to stand breathless at its prismatic fountains, to boat on its lake. Children had reveled on slides as tall as a castle tower. A rose from Elemar had once fetched its weight in diamonds, they said. Elemar had exported a special soft spearmint candy which had inspired poetry and a song which was still sung. None alive had tasted it but it was supposed to have contained hints of caramel and elderflower, wind and rain.
But Elemar had fallen to sorcery; nobody knew how or why. The old accounts were united in their insistence that this had happened overnight. On a Thursday, visitors had left Elemar sated and at peace. On Friday, the next round of visitors had arrived on the borders to find a ring of snow-dappled mountains with saw-tooth peaks surrounding the place where Elemar had been. Nobody had ever found a way in and people had stopped trying.
And now, generations later, when Elemar had passed into legend, a prophecy had surfaced which said that she was supposed to bring the land back. It was laughable on the face of it. She would have suspected her father of cooking up the tale to get rid of her, except for two things. He could have left her in Markul’s dungeon without ever asking for her back. And her cold, emotionless father was scrupulously honest in all his dealings.
And yet he had changed or concealed something about the prophecy supposedly written on this silver ball.
Why she’d demanded it of her father she couldn’t have said. The letters meant nothing to her. It filled the palm of her hand solidly. But the object sent a shiver up her arm when she held it, in spite of her lightly dismissive words to everyone today. It seemed to cast an eldritch light, a light which was strangely familiar.
She heard a footstep outside her tent and knew it to be Sir Robert. She expected him to push aside the flap, request an audience, hint at his availability as a bedfellow this night. Andrea Novis had had three lovers in her 24 years, two men and one woman. She had not been in love with any of them. She was deeply in love with her teacher and was grateful that his solid ethics kept him from seeming to notice. She still found her greatest pleasure in the perfect touch she gave to herself alone. If she ever did make love with another, it would be after falling deeply in love and she would see the stars blasted from the heavens before that person would be Markul the Malignant or his lackey Sir Robert Maxwell.
His voice called lightly, “May I speak with you a moment, Your Highness?”
She allowed herself a long breath in and out before she answered, “You may enter, Sir Robert.”
He lifted the flap and entered, handsome in his silver-studded black. She nodded at him with the same regal politeness she given Markul, indicated a stool and asked him his business, hoping childishly that he would do something truly obnoxious so that she could have him run off.
He seemed nervous. “Your highness, let me open my mind to you.” She nodded.
He took a deep breath. “Your highness, the truth, as you are well aware, is that I behaved shamefully over the last year, and I beg your forgiveness, little though I deserve it. I did not protest my king’s cruel usage of you, nor did I use what power I have to get you out of that cell. I apologize to you most humbly.”
She looked keenly at him, remembering his irritated look when he let her out of the cell, how he licked his lips as she displayed bare leg. “I thank you for your apology now, Sir Robert, and cannot reconcile your humble words with your attitude when last I saw you.”
He shifted uncomfortably and she saw his gaze dart toward her neatly made bed. With stern will, she kept her mind open to him.
“It was by my influence that His Majesty let you out of your cell that day,” he eventually began. “I persuaded him to limit your captivity to the length – what we thought was the length – of a pregnancy. My hope had been that he would see what you had been reduced to and desire you no longer, perhaps even be shamed into releasing you. Instead you looked like a vision of loveliness and regal dignity. Your clothes were clean, your hair was neat, you did not cringe or beg, you even smelled wonderful. I was certain that you would get yourself thrown back into that cell or a worse one. It was only the happy chance that a messenger from your father arrived that same day that kept you from such a fate.”
He had not told everything, of this she was certain, but he had spoken the truth. She inclined her head to him. “In that case, I thank you for your good intent, Sir Robert. I would not have liked to return to the dark but I could not have done other than as I did. I also now think it unlikely that the king would have sent me back to the cell with the whole of his court against him. Is there anything else?”
She expected him to declare himself now and she was only partly disappointed. He confidently offered to share a glass of wine with her, to walk under the stars or perhaps just to sit side by side and study the interesting silver orb. She refused each offer politely and without moving. At last, he drew his own courtesy around him like a frosty robe and bade her good night.
She sat still, considering how she felt: pleased that she was so calm, wishing she could extend the same grace to Sandia Belin. Then she took a walk around the boundaries of the camp, talking with the three who were on watch about their families and hopes and what they thought the morrow would bring, looking for anything amiss. The mountains in the middle distance were rimed with silver and shadows which seemed to shift too quickly as the moon rose. At last, troubled in mind, she turned in and fell quickly asleep.
To be continued…