Andrea Novis Episode 15
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
Andrea Novis swiped hands across everything she could reach: soft cool grass and patches of scratchy dry stems. She looked to see them spring into bright light. But nothing happened. Swiveling, she saw the distant corner of marble wall, the faint gleam of water, the patches of grass she had walked upon.
She hurried back to those places but before she reached Sir Robert’s body something scratched her arm a sharp thread. She thrust hands into the darkness and felt stiff leaves and thorns which tore. But she still saw nothing.
The faint lights which she had created earlier dimmed and blurred as she blinked away tears. That far future sweet haven of rest was no closer for this interval of crazed scrambling. Her arms fell to her side, her left hand still holding the sweaty grain of leather boots. A bead of what was surely blood tickled down the outside of her right forearm.
This was not how she had begun to “see” in the cell. Those first weeks of shock, terror and panic muted by stern self-control had not created that sense of mystic light. It was only when she had begun to explore with real curiosity, losing herself in the texture of the granular walls, the roughness, the small smooth spots, the spider web, the patterns made by the smallest of bumps – it was only then that she had the sense of seeing these things.
Trembling, she placed the boots on the ground at her feet, reassured to see the tops of them glimmer. With both hands extended she stepped forward. She stroked the night-dark leaves as she had seen Kathleen’s rough but tender hands stroke Mystia Semlin’s moon-round face. Her fingertip traced serrated leaf edges and then a stem with swelling thorns whose points scratched delicately over the tiny ridges of her fingertip.
Her eyes drifted shut and she sank at last into the meditative trance she knew so well. Beneath her ordinary fingers the flower, soft as baby skin, folded and fluted into graceful swirls.
She thought of babies she had held in farmhouses she and Sandia Belin had visited, little faces looking with wonder on a huge world. She saw their parents, some bright and young, some weathered but still cheerful. Then another face intruded on her thoughts: a face she had never actually seen. In the cell, she had heard the wailings and weepings and rantings of other prisoners that she could never save and she had put a representative face to them, a grey, bewildered face, larger and more desolate than any she had ever seen in life.
From there she slipped without knowing it into dream. She was the weaver, she held in her hands a dozen threads. With her shining silver hands she touched a thread.
Instantly she became soft round Mystia Semlin making passionate love with her wife Kathleen. It was so important that they both reach orgasm that night, and she feared that somewhere in the kingdom two men would not do their duty. She feared that Kathleen was holding back now out of fear. But Kathleen only backed off to return and bring Mystia closer and even closer, as she knew her wife loved. The moment came when she pressed her tongue just so…
Before a blushing Andrea could understand what was meant, she became Mystia in another time, roasting squash for the Winter Sleep with the seven-year-old sisters. Oddly enough it was Sandia, a fighter through and through, who had the best technique for getting the pieces soft and golden, with toasty brown spots which gleamed in the butter, spice and honey coating. Andrea Novis often burned her pieces to bitter charcoal. “Boneless rabbits!” she cursed as she dropped another piece into the fire. Sandia Belin turned her laden skewer with showy contentment. “Poor little rabbits,” she said calmly.
Andrea Novis started to set down her skewer to slap her sister’s face. Mystia Semlin said quietly, without seeming to look at her, “Andrea.” Andrea Novis instantly stopped her planned motion. Sandia Belin swept her perfectly roasted pieces into the bowl and started to stick her tongue out at Andrea Novis, but suddenly was swept away by enthusiasm: “Mama Bear, can we show you with skewers what we learned at sword practice yesterday? Twill take but a minute and we will both take great care!”
“Slow motion, please girls.” With great affection but a little sadness, she watched her two younger sisters move through the graceful dance. The fraternal twins had come nearly 27 years after Mystia. Queen Mardia Stempinella had been bedridden by that point, paralyzed by a riding accident, and she had died soon after. Nobody had expected the king, with five daughters already, to suddenly have two more. Everyone thought they understood why he was so cold and distant with them.
But Mystia Semlin knew better.
From those mysteries, Andrea Novis wandered on to touch another thread and became a nine-year old boy named Markul on a summer day out in the woods beyond the castle grounds watching his playmate Bobbin fall down a deep hole. He hurried back to the castle but what with finding where rope was stored and taking some without attracting attention and what with lunch being served and his riding lesson, it was nearly three hours before he got back to the place of the cave-in. All that time he could barely keep from dancing for glee at the thought of how grateful Bobbin would be to him when he finally brought him up from that dark hole. He wept a little himself at the thought.
And then she was the grown Markul, smiling at the beautiful princess who stood before him. He could do to her what he had done to so many other women! Nobody in his court would dare to stop him! But he would give her every chance. He asked her to marry him with all courtesy and she was tauntingly gracious in refusing. Like a child passing a tray of rich desserts without looking at them yet, he ordered her brought to a richly furnished room and in private asked her at least to share his bed and give him a child.
He could have clapped his hands when she said, “I have no wish to spend nine months of my life carrying a child, your majesty.” And so her fate was sealed. Beside himself with excitement, he had her carried down to the cell while she slept. And every day he tantalized himself with the thought: Would he wait the nine months he had promised her in his mind? Or would he set her free tomorrow? Or would it be today?
Andrea Novis was no longer the weaver. She flung away that sticky thread and reeled back, nauseated. But she brushed a final thread and became her father as a black-haired, sallow-faced young man pacing the garden at the moment when a blob of mud splatted against his cheek. He turned slowly to see an attractive, scholarly and also mischievous face under a mop of brown hair. The young man who had just splattered him with mud spread his arms wide. “You looked so serious,” he explained, chuckling. The two young men stood facing each other.
And just as with Mystia Semlin and Markul, Andrea Novis jumped forward in time and became King Jerrold just three days before her embassy to Markul’s kingdom. He sat in darkness, holding a silver ball, his thick eyebrows pressed like black insects over his brooding eyes.
The ball nagged at him, reminded him of a promise he only half remembered making. One of his daughters. Just one. The one he loved had translated the inexorable black letters. A king with seven daughters must sacrifice one of them to the darkness in order to bring light. When Andrea Novis and Sandia Belin had been born to complete the seven, he could not deny it, nor did he wish to, for that would be self-deception, which he never practiced. Not a prisoner, the ball had explained, nor a miner, nor a nighttime party animal.
A thought alighted in his mind like a bright butterfly: this reluctance to lose any of his daughters might be a form of love. But the thought became a somber wisp of ash. If he could love only someone whom he must lose, it was better not to love at all, to pull the heavy black curtain of knotted cloth around the bed where love lay and never look there again.
He summoned a servant and said, “Send for the princess Andrea Novis. I have a task for her.”
Trembling with shock and horror, Andrea Novis pulled free. She was not the weaver. She would never be the weaver. The threads nearly choked her.
Why was she shown these scenes? There was much that she did not understand. But one thing was clear: her father had sent her to Markul knowing full well that he often imprisoned women in the dark. She had spent nine months in absolute blackness because of his deliberate choice.
And one other dark secret of her father’s lay in the palm of her hand to look reluctantly at whenever she chose. She would examine it presently.
She opened her eyes.
There glimmered a rose bush, newly emerged from the long night, painted in deep red brush strokes against the velvet black.
As she stroked the baby soft petals, she wept quiet tears. On the far distant day when this work was finished, Jerrold the Cold might actually say to her, as she had longed, “Well done.” And it would mean nothing to her now.
To be continued…