Andrea Novis Episode 22
Copyright © 2016 by Michael Litzky
In his soft bed, Markul twitched in a fitful dream. He opened an endless line of black cells. In each cell was a princess and he looked at each princess eagerly. But they were all either dead and withered, or raving madwomen with stringy silver hair.
Then out from the very last cell ran an ordinary slip of a girl, no beauty, just a serving wench. Flinging her arms around him, she cried, “You’ve saved me! Oh sir, your hands brought me Light!”
Markul fell to his knees. “That was all I ever wanted,” he sobbed, and woke up crying in an empty and very dark room.
In another world, Andrea Novis, who truly had brought light, walked through swathes of tall grass which alternated with pockets of emerald green glimmering with pools and springs, secret stones and sections of wall.
She found she knew each and every one of those pockets but the prairie, and the rivers and lakes were delightful surprises.
Without stopping, she let the warm understanding in. The land was bigger because when the last dark crevices and holes sprang into light they had grown, they had fashioned themselves as new land!
She felt the warm pride a good parent feels when her child exceeds her expectations. She had brought this land back but it had gone further, created part of itself anew.
Her inner map guided her correctly but the walking took longer because of all the unknown places in between. Stepping between a last stand of trees, she reached the meadow where she had first looked at her hands and her clothes were just as she had left them, as perfectly preserved as everything else in this land which had only started aging again an hour ago.
As she dressed, she remembered how she had stayed naked by choice in the dark cell as well, and then had dressed in preparation for reentering the world. But her release there had been completely at the whim of another. There she had triumphed as well, but how different this was! She wrapped her arms around her body, hugging herself with delight.
Someone was walking towards her, a tall form on the horizon. Since she did not know that people had lined the mountaintops watching her, she had no dread about what had happened to them with the mountains gone. She simply watched the stranger approach and recognized her as Sandia Belin.
The old affection welled up and the bickering of recent years seemed like the fleeting smoke of a campfire.
Sandia Belin pushed aside a few bunches of tall grass and stood in front of her, looked her up and down with pride. “Novice,” she said at last.
“Bellicose,” Andrea Novis replied, her smile referring to all the times she’d tried and failed to make a nickname stick to Sandia Belin in return for being called “Novice.” The sisters embraced, and the warmth from Sandia Belin meant as much to her as the thought of her teacher’s approving nod. As they held each other at arm’s length and gazed with approval, large swathes of important explanations and apologies passed unspoken but well understood.
“In a large ring around this new-born land,” Sandia Belin finally said, “legions of your father’s loyal subjects sit rubbing sore posteriors.”
“Indeed?” Andrea Novis felt a laugh bubbling up.
“Oh indeed. You had quite an audience on those ridiculous ‘mountainettes’ watching your performance, your bellicose sister among them. When the land sprang suddenly into full life, those puppet hills rolled outward like waves, losing height and bouncing people ahead of them. Oh, wash me not with those sickly puppy eyes, all are well aside from a few bruises and scrapes; would I jape with you so if legions lay dead or injured?”
“No,” Andrea Novis chuckled, “though I am surprised you let pass the opportunity to toy with me the other way, letting me think for a moment that thousands were dead. I jest, sister, flash not those firestorm eyes at me!” She held up her hands in mock terror and surrender. The old rancor was helpless before the flood of mirth that Andrea Novis felt to the tips of her very fingers.
“Come, sit,” she said, brushing imaginary particles from the pristine marble top of a low bench at the edge of the emerald grotto. “I had thought,” she remarked, wonderingly, “of making this land my home once it was restored. It seemed that I would know it so well, I would at last have found the place I could call my own. I still think I will live here, but now I feel I must ask this land’s permission.”
“Tell me about this feeling,” Sandia Belin said without trace of scorn or ridicule, filled with simple respect for her sister as they sat side by side.
“Elemar was the pleasure land,” Andrea Novis began. “It had only one export: happiness. The hands laid upon this land, never heavy, cruel nor destructive, were yet merciless and strict. Anything which did not contribute to the happiness of visitors was uprooted, smoothed over, hidden or removed.
“Every river was shaped by lines and surfaces of magic which smoothed sinuous rock walls and flung sparkles in the waters. The fabled mint was enhanced and all other varieties suppressed by guiding lines which generated patterns of force.”
Her gaze focused on infinity as she sorted out the images she had seen. “But the effects grew and always there were side effects. For every river which ran gracefully through a fluted canyon or fed a perfect, marble tiled pool, there was a hillside where winds bit too sharply. For every grassy slope with perfect picnic weather or forest with pine-cooled glades, there was a guest room which the fireplace simply would not warm. For every inn and palace where tapestries glowed with the pinks of desert stone and the emerald of primeval forests, there was a cat that nipped when it got overly affectionate.
“Finally the magics were so complex that it was impossible to move without setting a thousand ripples in motion, and still more beautifully the makers wove. I imagine them competing, each shrugging off with irritation the effects of all the others. Then someone, a small boy I think, though it could have been absolutely anyone, this ordinary small boy caught a strand of magic and unwittingly gathered in all the rest, pulling the land up around him like a mountain wall.”
She pulled out the ornament which she understood at last and held it up in the sun. “The child, as he fell, thought of throwing something for (I am almost certain) his dog. This ornament is the result. It escaped from the boy at some point after the land was hidden away.” She glanced at the writing on the side, nodded, and put the ornament back in her pocket.
“What remained in the land was a pool of tightly woven darkness, and the weavers ever spinning their webs tighter and tighter. But the ball, the silver ball, I see it as some rebel spirit of this land itself. It set out on a long, barely conscious search for someone who it could but dimly conceive.” Not a miner or a prisoner or a nighttime reveler. It sought someone who had mastered the roots of darkness without being crushed. “I would hesitate to put any strictures on this land again, for today, the last of the binding strands were dissolved and it flung itself wide!”
“Indeed, Novice,” Sandia said wryly, shifting uncomfortably on her bruised bottom.
Andrea Novis smiled, looking affectionately at the wind-roughened face she had slapped so many times. “I want nothing but to rest in this place I have helped to make. And so I will ask, with full intent to honor whatever answer I receive, if I may live here.”
Sandia Belin studied her serious younger sister with concern. “You speak as an old woman. You are twenty seven. Much life lies ahead of you.”
Andrea Novis turned her peaceful gaze on Sandia Belin without provoking her. “I think I would be happy if that life consisted of nothing but cherishing this land. Perhaps in a month or a year, I will feel differently.”
Then her eyes widened. “Only twenty seven, am I? I had thought I’d be much older, somehow. How much time has passed? I would have said years.”
“Just three quarters of a year, truly sister.”
Three quarters of a year. Nine months.
She thought again of the ornament and the markings which this time she had instantly understood. The ball had passed through many hands until Ramsey Longbottom’s mother gave it to him and he to King Jerrold. In that cold soul, the ornament had almost found what it needed. A child of his would surely be capable if she could only be taught to master the darkness. But the five he had were all too old.
And so Jerrold looked at the surface of the orb and saw what he saw. “There shall be a king who shall have seven daughters,” the letters said for him, goading him into having the final two. “And he shall sacrifice one of them to save the land of Elemar. Her nine months in the dark shall make her uniquely capable of saving that lost land, but least capable of returning. When she is prepared, he shall surrender to her this token and she shall be lost to him.”
She remembered his hand hesitating before he handed her the silver ball.
For the final time in her life, she saw a vision from another time and place. Her father and the man who would become her teacher watched a basket lined with blankets and soft cushions. If the basket stayed empty, Jerrold was freed from the prophecy. And Ramsey, used to his reclusive, scholarly life, felt a guilty but growing relief. Their hands did not touch, but might if the basket stayed empty.
And then between one heartbeat and the next, the basket was filled with two beautiful girls whisked from their birth mothers, rosy-cheeked, gurgling happily from the voice and presence of the Lady who had brought them.
Ramsey gulped and blinked foolishly. His owl-like eyes looked rapidly around his little home. Where was the soft food and milk two babies would need? Where was the crib for them to sleep in? He had done nothing to prepare. Consumed by shame, he could barely move. He did not want the children, and his lover knew it.
And so when Jerrold stood, a strong man accepting his burden, Ramsey allowed him to pick up the basket and carry it out to the coach with the padded wheels where the faithful old servant waited. “The babes will be mine, born to the queen late in life. You need do nothing,” the cold voice said with contempt, and Ramsey, more helpless than he was ever to allow himself to be again, and sensing the anger of the Goddess at what was happening, watched his beloved walk away.
Had her father clutched at the ornament to hold onto the memory of the love he had pushed away or had he wished for one golden, denied moment, to reach for his daughter?
Standing suddenly, she flung the ball as high and as far as she could. She had a strong arm and good technique (she had pulverized Sandia Belin in the snowball fight, she remembered) and the ball hung for ages, glittering and flashing in that joyous, bright and untamed sky.
In the silver sand that drifted on a distant wind, a little boy’s voice murmured, “…good boy…”