Andrea Novis Episode 20
Copyright © 2016 by Michael Litzky
“I am bitterly ashamed, my child.”
The king’s hoarse voice trembled as it had not trembled when his wife died.
“I should not have married Mardea Stempinella knowing that I loved another. I fell in love when we were young men. He, he splattered me with mud…” His voice ground to a halt, the words sounding ridiculous spoken aloud.
“Because he was beautiful and handsome and a very good talker, so silky and smooth, was he not, Father?”
“A good talker, yes indeed, he is that and always was.”
“He is dead, Father.”
The king looked up in shock, naked grief on his face. “Not so! Not so!”
“I saw his crushed skull and that handsome face streaked with blood. Such a man! That I should need call him father!” At the sight of water pooling at the corner of her stone father’s eye, Andrea Novis relented a little. “His last words were of you, though, so I suppose he loved you too.”
Your hands bring light. He always wanted to bring light, Sir Robert had sighed, and died. Yes, for whatever reason her father had consigned her to the dark, he had wanted to bring light to the lost land of Elemar.
“You suppose?” King Jerrold whispered. “You know little of love, my child. He loved me as I loved him and I am very sure he loved you too.”
“He left me in the dark cell for nine months when he had the power to save me!” But at least he had not tried to make love to her there. As her father, at least he had done that. Though he had surely tried to persuade her into bed that night before they reached Elemar. Why had he done that?
“We did what we thought we had to do, my child.” Jerrold was in control of his voice again. If there had been water in his eye, it was gone now. “I did what I knew I had to do. That was why, even though I denied myself his company for so many years after your mother died, I finally arranged that you should fall into his company. I knew you needed him.”
“I wish you were dead, Father! May you burn and dry and crumble into ash! I lie bewitched and helpless in the land of Elemar. All your plotting and scheming was for nothing. I can do nothing for Elemar. If you only had me and my sister so that you would have a seventh child to fulfil the prophecy, your efforts went to waste. And my life has meant nothing!”
“Never believe that, child!” The king’s face seemed ready to crumble into the ash of Andrea’s curse. “We went to the goddess pool, he and I, because we loved each other, because we wanted children.”
Deceit! cried the voice in his mind. Had he not wished to prove the prophecy wrong? If the children were not two daughters, they would belong to the female couple, whoever they were, and would not be his. He would have only five daughters and could put that haunting prophecy out of his mind forever.
“You must not give up the dream of restoring that land which brought joy to so many,” he said, to hide his misery.
Andrea Novis blinked, and frowned. Her head jerked slightly and the red mark deepened on her cheek. “I think my sister slaps my cheek, as she has done so many times in our lives,” she said humorlessly.
“One moment, daughter!”
Jerrold rose to his feet and stared at her hands. “You say his skull was crushed? What crushed the skull of that innocent old man?” His eyes blazed an accusation.
Andrea Novis saw that her hands were crusted with dried blood, the blood of Robert Maxwell. She did not know which lie to refute first. Innocent old man? But she responded to the second. “Think you nothing of me? He died of the fall into Elemar. So think of that, Father. Had you not sent him to Elemar with me, had you not arranged for him to be in my company, he might now be alive.”
But the King took a step back and looked at the ghost of his daughter as if she were an evil demon. “You toy with me! I sent no one to Elemar with you except a contingent of soldiers and that smooth talking lackey from Markul’s kingdom.”
Andrea Novis felt her mind reeling. Another mark appeared on her other cheek; her head rocked. “No,” she murmured. “Stop.”
Markul’s eyes darted down to the silk covers. “You know about Sir Robert?” Andrea Novis had said I know about your Sir Robert and my father but Markul only heard the part of the accusation which made sense to him. “I saved him. I freed him too!” His eyes flitted to a corner of the room.
But he could not stop the memory which tormented him once more.
Two days after he told his father that Bobbin had gone away, Bobbin wandered into the castle courtyard, pale, starved, and covered with dirt like something risen from the grave.
All self-deception had dropped from Markul for an instant: he knew that Bobbin had come for him, would point an accusing finger in the next moment. And so with cleverness he could never later recreate, he ran to Bobbin crying, “I rescued you, I’ve saved you, I’ve done it at last!”
He realized with a start that made his breath catch that a crowd had gathered, that people who had been looking at Bobbin now looked at him. But Bobbin only stared silently: with accusation or gratitude? Oh please, let it be gratitude.
At last young Bobbin, looking only at Markul’s white scrubbed hands which had thrown down rocks and dirt until the hole caved in, muttered, “You made a … slope … shallow enough … crawled out…”
And Markul realized that he had saved Bobbin, he had! The cave-in had made a slope gentle enough that the half mad boy could climb.
“I saved you, I truly saved you,” Markul said to the accusing eyes. “I shall make you a noble when I am king,” he promised, saying anything to turn aside that bleak stare, “You shall be a Sir, just, only know that I have saved you. These hands brought you to the light, say it!”
But Bobbin Maxwell had said nothing and under the stares of the crowd, Markul had not dared say more.
“I saved him,” he said now to Andrea Novis with the simplicity of a child. “These hands brought him to the light. He would have said it. I brought you to the light, I have brought so many of you to the light, somebody will say it in the end, they shall.” His face did not hold lust for a woman but only simple longing that someone would say a grateful thank you when he freed them.
Andrea Novis, her mind reeling back and forth as the conversations with her father and her mother merged with this, her face rocking back and forth to the insistent far off slaps, understood now. Sir Robert had meant Markul when he’d said “He always wanted to bring light.” He was not her co-father.
There was only one old man into whose company her father had introduced her.
“My teacher,” said she.
“That is what I think too,” said Mystia Semlin.
“My father brought him to the palace for the Winter Sleep when I was sixteen so that I would fall into his company,” said she.
“I brought my beloved to you,” her father cried, “not that Sir Robert. Daughter, tell me now and toy with me no more: does he live?” There were tears in those eyes of stone.
“He lives. It is the other who is dead,” said she.
Markul nodded eagerly as if he knew what she was talking about. “Then he may yet say it!”
“He did so say!” cried she.
Her hand shot up and grasped Sandia Belin’s arm as it reared back to slap her once more.
Panting, she stared at the darkness where Sandia Belin was but a shadow, and at her own blood-encrusted hand which had pushed through all the forces which bound her.
To be continued…