Andrea Novis Episode 13
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
A long time later, her left foot came down on smooth cool stone and her hand folded itself around a square corner, slippery and wet.
Her fingertips identified the ghostly richness of marble. Perhaps this was one end of a low garden wall?
Slowly she lay flat, seeming, like a falling child, to take an age of the world. Her walking fingertip found an edge. And then water. A swimming pool.
She stroked the surface of the mysterious water, hearing a disquieting drip drip drip.
She saw in her memory a face gleaming up at her from another pool. Why did that sweet and frightening image come to trouble her now? She had seen it on the day before she met the man who was to become her teacher and the closest thing to a real father she was to know.
The Goddess Pool made its own clouds on the rainy day when she and her older sister Sharmelena Stellaria had ridden there. The sisters tethered Amber and Winkle to thick trees and walked the last short distance through the grove to the edge of the pool through sweet-smelling fog which drifted like a feather carpet.
Moss hung over the pool’s edge and draped soft tendrils into the water. Andrea Novis seated herself on a boulder, crossed her legs and wondered again why she couldn’t she be happy with her life. In the presence of her focused, determined sister who grumbled at being away from her Tower observatory, her own lack of purpose was only clearer.
Sharmelena was there to test the waters and decide what day the Winter Sleep would come; Andrea Novis was along only because Sharma had gruffly said she could come. The grim-faced scientist knelt with a grunt and gingerly pushed a green sponge toward a small inlet. Wishing only to do something useful, Andrea Novis reached a hand down from where she sat to run it through the misty waters.
A face shone up at her from the pool, a powerful and strangely familiar face.
She gasped and jerked her hand back, just as Sharmelena said sharply, “Andrea! Don’t touch the water!”
Confused, her heart racing, Andrea Novis managed to say “Nothing forbids it, surely?”
“I forbid it! Your touch will alter my readings.”
“Of course. I apologize, sister.”
Sharmelena paid her no more attention; Andrea had been a problem and the problem had been resolved. Andrea Novis, who had no desire to be a problem to be solved, sat very still, thinking. It was said that the Goddess sometimes appeared to seekers such as Andrea.
But she also appeared to women who wished to have a child without the seed of a man!
Mouth dry, Andrea Novis tried to feel if she now carried a child. But no woman knows that immediately; only time would tell. Fool, fool, fool! She didn’t want a child. Why had she come?
But she was a seeker, searching for purpose. Surely the goddess had appeared to her because of that!
Sharmelena stood abruptly. “The Winter Sleep comes most early this year. Tomorrow will be the day!”
Andrea Novis cried, “It can’t be so soon!”
“Follow me sharply now, Andrea,” Sharmelena snapped. “Think you not that the kingdom needs this knowledge and quickly?” She turned away and Andrea Novis heard her mutter something that sounded like “useless baggage” or “useless cabbage.”
She did not quite dare to look in the pool one last time before leaving.
As they hurried through the trees, the mist on the ground was already thicker than when they arrived. They mounted and rode, calling out the word to any farmers or carters they passed. Only one day to prepare for the Winter Sleep!
As they rode, it came to Andrea Novis why the face of the goddess had looked familiar: it was something like the face of Mystia Semlin, the closest thing to a mother she and Sandia Belin had known. Born twenty-four years after their five older sisters when the crippled, bedridden queen could not care for them and King Jerrold could not be bothered, the two little girls had been passed from sister to sister. But moon-faced Mystia Semlin and her farmer wife Kathleen had cared for them most often.
“Sharma,” she asked boldly, ready to be rebuffed. “Nobody has ever told me. How does a woman conceive a child at the goddess pool without the seed of a man?” She found she was trembling inside.
But Sharmelina Stellaria answered gruffly, seeming surprised that Andrea did not already know. “She does not, not alone. She must go there with her beloved wife and they must both ask. And even so, a man and his beloved husband must ask at the same time.” Later, Andrea Novis would wish she had paid more attention to Sharma’s explanation of the complex pact which two women and two men must make with the goddess but at the moment she only sighed with relief. She could not possibly be with child.
And then she’d been caught up in the frenzy of cooking and cleaning and setting up of mattresses, and the heated discussions of what to do about Guides. Usually, those who thought they might be able to speak during the Sleep rehearsed for weeks the art of holding space for a roomful of entranced dreamers. There was no time this year; it began to look as if everyone would lie empty and helpless all day.
But the King said slowly, “I know of one who might guide us through the day alone.” Only his daughters saw the slight curling of his lip, as if he remembered a sip of sour milk. For several minutes, he sat silently, seeming to weigh an inner choice.
But then he gave a set of orders, slipped away from the frantic preparations and did not return until the next morning. He brought with him a quiet, silver-haired scholar.
Andrea Novis gasped when she saw the man. She had never met him and yet she knew him.
But she had no time to think about it for at that moment every mind in the land of Vinaldur saw a blinding form of great power rise through the churning white that covered the far-away goddess pool, raising Her spread hands to the sky. A solid dome of mist poured into every corner of the land. Andrea Novis, and everyone in the kingdom, sank down, some lucky enough to have soft bedding prepared, others lying on the cold ground.
The quiet voice of the silver-haired scholar led everyone from King Jerrold himself to the lowliest chamber pot cleaner through the annual day when not a scrap of work was done. And at last, when darkness fell and the mists dispersed and people rose famished as always and dug into the energy-rich food, Andrea Novis walked quietly up to the man who could ride the waves of Sleep and still speak so deeply.
He was gathering his robes and preparing to leave but at her hand on his sleeve, he turned solemn green eyes on her and regarded her with fatherly tenderness.
She breathed hard in his strange but familiar presence. “I am — lost,” she said, wishing she could express the depths of what she truly felt. “I know not what I am. I, I –”
“Come to my cottage at the end of Covington Lane next Tuesday at 10, then,” he said, bowed, and walked away, leaving her stunned but happy.
In the inky dark that wrapped Elemar, hearing the sinister drip drip drip beside the still-invisible swimming pool, Andrea Novis stroked the water once more, still feeling that strange excitement, wondering why these memories came to her now. She had been Ramsey Longbottom’s pupil for two years, learning deep meditations, searching for purpose with hungry eyes. He had given her the skills and she had used them to face a nine-month in the dark, emerging a master rather than a prisoner and still she searched.
Words came to her: not a prisoner and not a miner and not a nighttime party animal…
Her arm brushed something beside her which stuck out over the pool’s edge. Cringing, she felt along it with delicate fingers, watching it become faintly visible.
An arm clothed in rich silk. A hand, inches above the water, palm open to the black sky.
And the drip drip drip of blood from the end of a cold finger.