Andrea Novis Episode 17
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
Sandia Belin felt like a fool using a handrail to walk across level sand but Tupela and Ralph, who had set up the system of ropes, were adamant.
“Ye’ve not seen it, Commander,” Tupela had told her, “but believe us, the ordinary laws of the world be capricious as the goddess once you let go the rope.” And if scoffing, acid-tongued Tupela said it was so, it was so. The soft, well-made braid flowed through her light grasp as she took step after cautious step.
At the foot of the toy mountains, the rope continued up like a narrow roadway, hammered in with pitons every few feet. Again Sandia Belin fought the urge to let go and climb with her own two hands. Her eyes narrowed as she pulled herself up the rope as it switchbacked from anchor point to anchor point.
Her every sense of proportion was outraged as she climbed into snow, crunching across small glaciers and starting showers of ice crystals. The morning sun warmed her back. Just ahead were the jagged-toothed tops of these laughable hills. Behind her the gentle countryside opened out in sweeping fields and forests.
Grumbling, she pulled herself the last fifteen feet. Two sharp peaks rose only ten feet above the top of her head to the left and the right and the rope had been run up the wall of each one to make a handrail.
Tupela and Ralph had tried to prepare her for what she would see but still the breath hissed out of her.
Framed in the V of snow-painted rock, thick darkness pooled like ink. A white star gleamed far off in that tangible night. But as she looked, it swam closer and became her sister, only a few hundred feet below, wandering as though she couldn’t see the open sky above.
Sandia Belin blinked and her sister was far off again, a pale star thousands of feet below and a mile away. But when stared without blinking, the illusion of seeing Andrea Novis up close returned.
Or was that the reality and the vast distance the illusion? “What’s the little fool doing?” she muttered to herself.
But Ralph heard and answered. “Commander, ‘course I’m no wise certain, but I’d say she were weaving light.”
Sandia Belin mouthed the words, “Weaving. Light.”
But she saw the light trail like a thin wisp of spider web stretching from Andrea Novis back past the smooth pale cream of a marble wall, the gleam of a swimming pool, swaths of grass, back to the barely breathing form of poor Cassie…
It must be so. Magic had conspired to bring Andrea Novis to this point. Sandia Belin ground her teeth as she remembered how she had forgotten her sister’s existence when she was in the dungeon. Even now she had to fight with all her stubborn will to hold on to her purpose to rescue the dear beloved little idiot.
She brought out the rope she’d coiled around her waist. “I shall descend,” she announced. “Belay me.”
The next moment the hands of her soldiers were upon her, upon her, holding her back.
For of course they were under the spell too. “She restores the land, Commander,” Ralph muttered, red in his whiskered face.
Screams rose through the stifling darkness, screams of a woman beyond all endurance. And still the bewitched fools held her arms.
Andrea Novis slammed into a thick trunk and fell half stunned onto soft grass, arms splashing into cold water.
This water was not a deep still swimming pool. This water ran pleasantly over her hands while her fingertips touched a clean pebbly bottom. A little brook in a glade where lovers might sit and court while lute music played.
That spider which had landed a moment ago on her arm had come down from somewhere — and she was under a tree!
She lurched clumsily to her feet again and felt with quick strokes the nubbled surface of the trunk and the soft leaves above. Nothing moved.
With an agitated gasp she sat back down and leaned against the trunk, which now was visible as steady, sensible brown wood. A glint from the brook reached her eyes and she realized that over her breath and pounding heart she now heard the merry sound of running water. Had she forgotten everything she had learned with such joy from her teacher and with such pain in the cell?
With her eyes closed, she might have been sitting beside any brook in any glade in the free world. Then she felt again the tickle of the spider, weaving its lines, goading and prodding her like her father in his tower full of artifacts, weaving the pattern of her life, guiding her with invisible lines until she was here. She brushed the hateful thing away again.
How could her father have known what she would find in Elemar? Why should he care about it so much that he would sacrifice his own daughter? She and Sandia Belin had been born so late, long after their mother should have had children, and now it seemed he had conceived them both only so that she should be brought to this place.
On an impulse, she brought out the silver ball.
It glowed like a mad sorcerer, fully in its element. This was its place, this was where it came from. The lines which bound this land so tight were mirrored and matched in the swimming black lines in its surface which had told her father that he must sacrifice one of his daughters to the dark because he wanted to bring light.
They said nothing of the kind to her. In her eyes, those lines surged and pushed and rebelled.
The feather touch of the spider made dots on her arm once more.
On that first night in the cell, the spider had walked on her and she had been on the edge of screaming her throat raw, hurling herself against the door, clawing at the floor and the walls. But her teacher’s calm, chiding voice had helped her then and it helped her now.
If you cannot move to change something that frightens you, then you have no choice but to be frightened. Or not.
Breathing rapidly and then more slowly, she accepted the touch of the spider, as she had in the cell. She accepted the dread that it would sting, the bothersome tickle of its feet and at last, as in the cell, the fascination of its touch, its explorations.
In the cell, the spider had at last moved on and she had searched for it with the subtlest of touches, brushing her fingertips slowly along the rough stone walls until she found the clinging ghost of its web.
Now as she allowed the spider to walk up her arm she found the strength to handle this smallest piece of the task before her. She opened her eyes and looked at the things she had restored to light: a faint reddish brown smudge which was the trunk of the tree against which she leaned, a dancing warble which was light reflected off trickling water, a rich green gleam from grass. She could do this task. She could accept the burden placed on her.
She made to stand again and found herself held in place by a thousand webs of magic.
She could not move or turn her head. She was trapped and could do nothing.
Andrea Novis screamed until her throat was raw and struggled until she was exhausted and still she could do nothing.
To be continued…