Andrea Novis Episode 14
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
With a gasp, Andrea Novis sat up, swiveled and let her hand come down on the lush silk of a noble’s shirt. Efficiently, she traced the form of this man who had let her languish in prison for nine months. He breathed shallowly, with a thin whistle. His left forearm bent as if he had a second elbow and his right was flung behind him, hanging over the open water.
The ropes of force which had pulled them in had brought her and Cassie to soft landings. But when she felt Sir Robert’s head, she hissed in shock: his forehead and left temple squished like a crusty sponge. The violation to his body was as shocking as a gash in the earth that crawled with vipers.
She remembered the wetness on the sharp corner of the low wall, and understood that if she looked at it now it would gleam with blood, that her own hand was now coated with it.
She drew back from the edge of terrifyingly dark feelings. The man was nearly dead. She pushed down an urge to spit on him and crawl away.
But what could she do? Sandia Belin, she was sure, would have slit his throat in something like mercy and moved on.
“Wu-u-u-uh…” She’d had no notion that he might be conscious. Automatically she soothed him. “Be still, Sir Robert. You have suffered grave injuries, be still.”
“Wu-u-h ned…” His ghostly voice, withered and tattered, pushed on with something he had to say to her. She had not touched his face; she could see the caved-in side of his skull moving but not his lips.
She relented. “Yes, Sir Robert. I am here, I am listening.” Unable to bear seeing only that awful wound, she touched her hand, still sticky with blood, to his face. No other part of him could move; he must have broken his neck as well.
“You wanted me? Is that what you would tell me?” He had made that abundantly clear in her tent; why did he need to tell her this now? She studied his face as once again her touch brought it into that mysterious light, and she felt again that quickening of her heart. Not because of him but because she almost understood…
“I-i-nnn … hell…”
The shock of his statement yanked her back into darkness. She allowed her lip to curl; he would not see. But she breathed again her meditation breath which had sustained her through much worse: if he needed to confess at this last moment how deeply he had hated her, she would listen.
And then she realized that he had said, “In cell.” He had wanted her when she was in the cell.
“…ut hidden hush you… eff you alone… was good…”
She could almost see his eyes, pleading for some last understanding, some forgiveness. And then she translated correctly. He was telling her the missing piece which she had sensed the night before in her tent: he had left her in the dark cell because he had wanted her so badly, wanted to go down and ravish her. Instead he “didn’t touch her, left her alone, was good” by his standards. He had consigned her to the dark but he had not forced himself upon her.
Something was still missing – or had it simply never occurred to him that he might have released her on the sly, and pleaded his case upon bended knee before her?
And what would she have done if he had? Would she have accepted him as a lover simply because he was less physically repulsive than Markul, knowing that the price of refusal might be going back into the darkness?
But he was dying, and she could put aside all confusion and mixed emotions and touch his face now and say, “I see, Sir Robert. You behaved like a gentleman when you could have been a beast.”
He let out a long sigh. His eyes rested on her hands.
“… u-u-urrr handzzzz … vhring light … vhring light … he ah-ways wanted … vhring light …”
Sir Robert breathed once more, and was still. Andrea Novis, hand upon his face, thought she felt a drop leak from the corner of his eye. She saw herself in the cell, mastering the very roots of darkness, while this soul before her, from a twisted notion of good behavior, left her there, for all he knew, to rot.
And what in all creation had his last words meant? “Your hands bring light, he always wanted to bring light.”
She had an uneasy feeling that she already knew who he was, and why Sir Robert had not tried to make her his lover. She consoled herself with the now strangely reassuring fact that he had tried to make her his lover in her tent that night. Or had he? She ran over in her mind his behavior then: offering to share a glass of wine, offering to walk under the stars?
Why did she care? And why did this ridiculous question seem tied up with that conversation with Sharmelina Stellaria on the way back from the goddess pool? Sharma had spoken of the pact two women must make with the goddess at the same time as two men in order to have children. “And there is a one in four chance…” she had said.
In a way most unlike her usual inquisitive self, Andrea Novis shook her head, stopped trying to remember the details and moved on. When she looked back she could see Sir Robert, a black stain on the healing fabric she was weaving in this country, a permanent reminder of the darkness she had mastered.
A moment later, she stopped as still as a goddess statue, the smaller question of what Sir Robert had meant drowned in the vast realization which flooded her with those words.
The healing fabric she was weaving? The darkness she had mastered?
Her trials shall have made her best equipped for the task…
The land of Elemar was still here, wrapped so tightly in magic bonds that it was hidden in darkness, and only when she touched it and knew it as she had learned to do in her confinement, could she see it.
Her task, which the silver prophecy had foretold, was to restore this lost land by touching every inch of it, knowing it so well that the light shone upon it once more.
It would take years. A lifetime.
…but least capable of returning.
Her heart hammered like mad. Her hands fell to her sides and she filled her lungs. She barely knew what protest she was about to scream.
Just before the mad embassy which ended with her in a black dungeon, she had asked her teacher in a voice shaking with emotion, “When will I find a task worthy of the doing, a challenge that will truly test me?”
“Your test comes each and every day,” he had answered, seeming troubled. “Living a good life is a challenge.” Then, he had said something which had warmed her at the time but which haunted her now. “I think that you shall meet a deep challenge one day. You can do things very few can do.”
Webs of ghostly presence thickened around her. Eyes wide, staring into the night, she knew her time in the dungeon had only been to prepare her for this. Her great challenge had come at last. When it was complete, she could rest.
But oh how distant that sweet island of peace! And how vast the darkness she must cross to reach it!
To be continued…