Andrea Novis Episode 18
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
Sandia Belin was not to be stopped again.
“I do not descend into this thick darkness to hinder my sister in her sacred task, numbskulls,” she said carefully to Tupela and Ralph, who still held her arms. “I go to rescue Cassie.”
The hands of her soldiers loosened. Sandia Belin pressed home her point. “See you not? There she lies in yon pool of light. While my sister goes about her sacred task, shall Cassie die? Did not one of you think to rescue her?!”
Tupela and Ralph looked sheepishly at each other and let her go.
Sandia Belin quickly made fast her rope to one of the driven pitons and stepped over the edge. “Now belay me!” she cried, and let herself descend far too quickly.
She had several hundred feet of rope. If it truly was thousands of feet down to the hidden land, she would reach the end of the rope and could do nothing but hang. But she guessed that, just as she had only climbed a few hundred feet up the toy mountains, so she would descend only a few hundred feet inside them.
The raw screams tore at her heart but she forced herself to slow her descent. Hurrying would only court disaster.
She was a hundred feet down now. Steady, she cautioned herself. Steady.
King Jerrold knew that something was coming.
He wore his heavy cloak even though the day was warm, and his head was wrapped in blue velvet beneath his crown. His hand rested on the polished stone of the windowsill, as it had rested on the knotted, carved mahogany of the bedpost where his wife lay dying so many years ago.
Back then he had felt a restless pain like the tapping of a child’s finger at the sight of her ashen, collapsed cheeks, the wisps of grey hair leaking from beneath her cap, the bony fingers. Her longing eyes had begged for something: for him to come and take her hand, kiss her pale lips once more? But he had drawn the curtains around the bed where love lay, paced slowly from the room and left her in the care of Bestina Silver, the daughter who had followed the ways of healing.
Something was coming. The darkest corner of his study gleamed as if touched by a ghost.
In his mind’s eye and in his heart was a handsome young man with a mop of brown hair, and the same face much older, blinking foolishly, helplessly unprepared for the sight of two baby girls.
Jerrold reached for the silver ball, but he had given it to Andrea Novis. His fingers curled tight. He pushed himself upright, his hand on his desk. “Who are you?” he cried. “What would you with an old man?”
Deceit, his mind cried. He was 68 but he had never considered himself old until he used that defense in this moment.
Then he saw what came for him and sagged against his desk.
Before their cozy fire, Mystia Semlin kneaded Kathleen’s shoulders. Those poor muscles were tight with years of hard work. Mystia’s fingers were soft and plump, even after years of living and working on a farm, but they knew how to work their way into tense muscles as delicately as a whispered “I love you.”
She bent and kissed Kathleen’s angular cheek. Just that, and Kathleen imagined the lovely way Mystia’s curves would fold and dimple underneath her muslin dress. She breathed harder and Mystia kissed her more sensually, soft lips treasuring Kathleen’s cheeks and chapped lips. When Mystia smiled, it was the secret smile of the face that had gleamed out of the goddess pool on that day so long ago to let them know their request was granted.
A pang of sorrow pierced her heart with unbearable sweetness. She remembered a night twenty seven years ago and what they had lost.
She remembered the contractions that had racked her body, the feel of the baby’s head in the birth canal. For a midwife, she and Kathleen had had only each other and the Goddess but Her hands had cradled them both.
How Kathleen had screamed: her small body felt the pain of birth, harsh and sharp. How it hurt her, Mystia, to have no extra strength to do more than hold Kathleen’s hand. And then that final, powerful, forceful push and they each delivered into the world the precious life they had carried through so much for so many days. The forces of the Goddess thickened around them as She Herself looked to see what even She could not know until that moment.
Two tiny girls lay on their backs, wide eyes shining in the lamplight. Two sisters, born at the same instant. Two baby girls, bound to their mothers for a few more minutes by the gleaming ropes of the umbilical cords.
Exhausted, Mystia Semlin looked at them, cherishing their dear little faces while her eyes filled with tears. The invisible hand of the goddess cleansed their bodies of blood and mucus.
“Misty…” Kathleen’s voice called weakly. “Are they to be ours?” Kathleen’s angular body was too worn out to let her look. Mystia Semlin squeezed her hand again, unable to speak.
The bodies of the two women disgorged their afterbirth. For one moment more, the two baby girls lay in the space between their entwined legs. Then the cords and the placentae dissolved into blood which soaked the bed, and the little girls were gone.
Mystia had not thought about the pain of that moment for so many years. Why did the memory come to her now?
And then without fear or surprise, placing a calm, reassuring hand on Kathleen’s head, Mystia Semlin looked at the lines of light which wove themselves at the head of their bed, and saw her visitor.
Markul hated the softness of his bed. Every night he was punished with the smell of rich earth and the sight of a leg sticking out from a heap of debris.
But he had tried! The day Bobbin fell down the hole, he had tried to rescue him!
He had fetched a rope ladder and climbed down. The lad had wept and clung to him and Markul had wept himself.
But Bobbin’s leg was broken and so was his left arm. He couldn’t climb the rope ladder and Markul wasn’t strong enough to carry him. Poor Markul raged and gritted his teeth and managed to get the heavy weight a few inches up the ladder. Then he realized the ladder would pull loose in a moment and he stopped.
It was no use. He would have to call the captain of the guard or the butler or somebody else to rescue Bobbin, and that would be deeply embarrassing. It was getting dark now. He would go back and eat dinner and then decide what to do.
But he still hadn’t decided by the next day and the next. Then somebody said, “Where’s that young scamp Bobbin? I declare he’s about to drive me mad,” and Markul went out to the hole and kicked at the dirt until with another rumble, the whole thing caved in.
And then Bobbin had returned, shambling from the dead to stare at him in front of the whole court…
The grown man Markul tossed and turned. Perhaps it was time to go and release the serving maid who had been in the dark for a month now. Perhaps she would be grateful.
He was just envisioning how she might fall to her knees to thank him when the ghost appeared and he screamed.
Scrambling to the farthest corner of the bed, he stared, panting.
“Pah-pah-princess,” he gasped.
Andrea Novis knew that she would do anything to get out. All her sophistication, all that had sustained her through her horrible time in the dark, she would throw it all away.
Long ago a small boy had tripped over these lines of force and had instantly given in, stopping just long enough to make a ball to throw before he became a ring of silver sand around a land squeezed tight. But that option was not offered to her. The land was already squeezed tight and the webs of force around her would press until she was squeezed into a thin, hard wall…
No! She would not be! If you cannot change something that frightens you, you have no choice but to be frightened…
She would master this as she had mastered everything else. Her teeth were clenched: that would not help. She relaxed her jaw, breathing as slowly as she could.
And then the hand touched her and she screamed again.
“Hush, sister,” came a familiar voice. “We have only a moment before they realize what I do and haul back on the rope.”
And tied to her was a rope that glimmered with light from the world outside. A thread, a line, an escape!
In an instant Andrea Novis flung herself up that glimmering thread, swarmed down the rope outside and flew back across the miles and miles and miles.
“Father,” she said calmly.
Or perhaps it was “Mama Mystia.”
Or, darkly, grimly, “Markul.”
But to each of them she said, “I know…”
To be continued…