Andrea Novis Episode 16
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
Her knees were damp. The moistness of dewy grass had seeped through her leggings.
That had never happened in the dry cell.
Should she just take them off? In fact, should she simply undress?
She’d chosen to be naked in the prison cell and nudity had helped her reach the dream-like state in which she’d passed that endless time.
But she couldn’t do it here, not yet. In the cell preserving her clothes so that she could walk out in dignity had been a victory. Here, with jangling nerves confused by the endless open spaces while walls seemed to press close on every side, her garments gave her identity. (She could still hear Cassie breathing somewhere back along that thread of light she had kindled.)
The wet grass shone green where her hands rested. This was going to drive her mad, this crazy mixing of small objects in ordinary light with this immense, inky, crowded darkness.
Thrusting herself to her feet, she waved her hands through the night, trying to touch the very wind, trying to hold pockets of air in her hands.
And it helped.
She found she had restored normal shadows and depth. Before, she had seemed to stand on disembodied, phosphorescent ground but now she stood as in a lamp’s glow.
She would take off her clothes, but not here. She would find someplace dry and protected to leave her garments. If only she could look around and see where to go! But for now she would walk and continue to carry her boots.
Eyes wide and staring, she strode into the darkness. She still put her hand on her heart as she walked. She would probably never completely lose that habit picked up in the cell. She dragged her feet through grass and cried as she walked, waving her hands like a firedancer creating patterns of light in the night air.
And always she saw her iron father, always watching but never smiling, maneuvering her to go alone into the clutches of a mad king known to have imprisoned women in the dark. She thought of his secret which she now held, and could have killed him with her bare hands.
For in this magical place, she remembered clearly every detail of what Sharma had told her on that rainy day when they had ridden back from the Goddess Pool.
“Sharma,” she had asked boldly, “How does a woman conceive a child at the goddess pool without the seed of a man?”
And a surprised Sharmelina Stellaria had answered gruffly, “She does not, not by herself. 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. If no husbands have asked for children recently, then the women must wait until a male couple does so. And then both couples must make love on the same night.”
“Together?” Andrea, in her relief that she could not be with child from having trailed a hand in the goddess pool and seen the Goddess herself, had raised an amused eyebrow.
“How else does a couple make love? Oh! No, twitterling, not the men with the women. Each couple separately, but on the same night.” She had turned an annoyed face to Andrea. “Why do you not know this?”
“Why should I, sister?” Andrea had countered. But she had seen in Sharmelina’s face that she should have known. Why did she not? Mystia Semlin had had the raising of her and of Sandia most often: why had she not told them this piece of ordinary knowledge? “And then the beloveds have a child? Please forgive my ignorance and simply tell me.”
“Two children, Andrea.” The countryside had flowed past as they rode quickly through rain and mud. “Each woman bears a child. And they cannot be sure they will keep them. That is the capricious way of the goddess. All know the rules. If both children are sons, the women keep them. Even if one is a son and one is a daughter may the women keep them, a three in four chance you see, for the women do the far greater share of the work. But if both children are daughters, then off they are whisked to the men upon birth. So, my sister, if you and some special sweet woman about whom you have told me nothing wish to have children, that is what you must do.”
Andrea Novis had blushed and muttered, “There is no one.” Even then she had wondered what she nearly understood and why it troubled her so. But then she had put it, and the details of the conversation, from her mind.
Oh, she understood it now. She barely felt the things she touched as Sir Robert’s words echoed in her mind: “He always wanted to bring light…”
Something tickled at her elbow. She still could not see own body, but she turned so that her elbow was silhouetted against the thread of light that trailed from her feet.
A spider with crooked legs and wavering eyestalks danced its way onto her forearm.
With a startled shriek she shook it off and breathed steadily for several seconds to stop panic. There had been a spider in her cell; she had followed its life with interest. She did not fear spiders. But nothing else moved in this empty land. What did it mean, this spider weaving its endless strands?
In that instant something which had hovered on the edge of awareness came clear: this land was covered with taut threads. Not physical spider webs, but strands of what must be magic. It was why this vast land felt stifling and claustrophobic: these lines were everywhere. Each step she took was with the fear that she would trip or stick. Each motion of her hands seemed to gather sticky webs of thread. A little boy caught his foot and sank willingly into peaceful sleep and spread as wide as pie until he became silver sand and just before he slept, he tossed a silver ball for Tricky…
Quite suddenly, Andrea Novis felt like a fly caught by a plotting spider, pressed tighter and tighter. Intelligences watched her from every hollow, every pebble, weaving their threads ever denser.
She kicked and danced and spun like a mad thing…
To be continued…