I remember very clearly indeed.
I remember everything but perhaps nothing with such incredible clarity as the moment when I opened my eyes in the abbey and the magic had died.
I lay on the mosaic floor that no longer hummed with secret knowledge but that was just old and cold. The first thing I saw was a hand, a large hand bearing a plain golden ring, a white rim of a shirt disappearing into a black sleeve with three golden buttons.
I sat up carefully and looked to Lucian.
He was still breathing. His eyes were open, and on his lips lay a small smile.
I went to him, knelt by him and I took his hand, looked down upon him and smiled back into his beautiful pale eyes.
Of course, there was no longer a link but there was no need for that.
No need at all.
I held his hand in mine and watched with great care as he took the last breath he would ever need to take and then he died. It was an extraordinary thing. One moment, there was Lucian.
The next moment, there was a form that lay very still, very relaxed.
I knelt beside him and held his hand in mine.
Some time passed and people came.
Not many, and I noted from my periphery that it was Eddario, Carran, Chay and Camu. They stood silently outside the central space marked in the mosaic and waited.
I knew that they were most afraid, that they were waiting for me to scream or cry, go mad with the bereavement, with the loneliness.
The truth was that what I was feeling there this day could not express itself in childlike sobbings or in cries; indeed, if I had cries enough to fill the universe itself and ring it like a bell, it could have never been enough, could never have been anything but just an insult to his memory, to my emotion, to my love. That is why I sat without a tear, without a moan, without a sigh and breathed with steady regularity, my eyes to his form but my mind and heart to our lost eternity.
I would never see him again.
I would never meet him again.
If perchance, in another time, another place we might brush through each other, I would not know him nor would he know me; it was this thought that had distressed me most when first I learned and understood just what it was we had to do, just what it was I had to do. It had made me sad then.
More time passed and Chay came and took my hands and carefully opened them so that the form’s hand fell back to itself and was no longer connected to me. He raised me up and put his arm about me. He was trembling.
That night I spent in a room, white it was and gold, and it had a door that led to Camu’s quarters. The door was open. There was another door and that door had a chair by its side. Chay slept on that chair.
In the morning, we had a meal and in the evening, there was a procession and the form was burned in private, the ashes to be scattered when the fire’s roar had receded, the embers cooled and died.
Everyone was very silent and respectful around me and no-one spoke to me directly, apart from Camu who made an attempt once in a while. I would see her and find it very difficult indeed to make any sense of what she was saying.
I stayed in the palace for some time.
It was some time before I could begin to allow myself the understanding of the magnitude of it all, and then only in stages.
I knew of course that all the Serein children had died when I had repaired the structures that precluded access to any realm other than the Hard long before Camu told me in a horrified and bereavement struck whisper.
I was glad that no-one else knew anything about it.
Very glad indeed.
Chay went back to the soldiers. Some years later, I heard that he had died in a minor skirmish with some barbarians wielding clubs and crude iron lances in a forsaken outpost near the Northland borders. I smiled when I heard it. It had been hard for him and I was glad that he found a way out of it that satisfied him.
When Carran asked me to be his wife, it caused a riot of speculation and gossip, but he stood his ground and I agreed eventually.
It was nearly six months after our wedding that first we held hands. We were in a way perfectly suited to one another, and it is true that he was a good man.
We returned to Solland and he raised Sondra as his own. Guenta died giving birth and Carran had the child brought immediately. That was a fine boy, clever, lively and strong and a good companion to Sondra, until he drowned one winter, breaking through the ice of a frozen lake that had not been sturdy enough to take his weight.
I found some amusement in correcting some of the historical documents that were kept in the official library in Netari, the old capitol of Solland and near to where our residence lay. I remembered everything with absolute and uncompromising clarity. It was soothing in a way to teach the old languages in the correct manner to the young scribes, and sometimes I would find myself speaking to them much like Sepheal would have done when he was disgusted with an effort to render a symbol, or a set of letters, that their executor clearly had no understanding of.
I kept away from Sondra all through his childhood, until one night, when he was about seven years old, I came upon him and his then sword master by accident on my way back from the library. It was late already and on this particular occasion, I had chosen to walk through the rear gardens rather than to use the direct paved road back to my quarters in the East wing.
I heard the clash of wood on steel I remembered well from another life and stopped to watch for the first time in consciousness.
The boy was exhausted and doing his utmost to defend himself from the sword master, a bitter, dried up man who was torturing him with stabs and pokes, here and there, whilst exhorting him to keep up his guard and berating him for being too slow, too unconcentrated.
I think that was the first time I looked at the boy fully and in all ways; really allowed his totality to come to me in consciousness.
He was very big for his age, and clearly would thereby be exhorted to be far more coordinated, knowledgeable and advanced for it was deceiving to the eye and made one demand a level of maturity that was too much to be expected from one so young.
He was white blond, his hair waving into soft curls and his determination stood out with force.
I knew him deep inside me and something cracked physically in my chest, an old wooden pain of tension that finally gave way that night as I strode across the closely cut grass in my dark skirts, towards the boy and the man who stopped and stared at my approach.
I took the wooden practice sword from the boy’s unresisting hands and presented to the sword master, and then I beat the crap out of him until he could no longer stand, or walk, or hold on to anything but just lay whimpering in the grass at my feet. In the dusk, a number of servants and guards were watching.
I struck the blunt wooden sword into the ground with maximum force and turned towards the boy, looking at him directly and fully, one person to another, acknowledging him and his existence at last.
He was wide eyed and absolutely amazed. I don’t think he had been in my company for more hours than you could number on your hands since he was brought to live here from Tower Keep; the nursery was in a separate part of the house and Carran kept him away from me as well he knew was my desire. Apart from a fleeting passing here or there, I had avoided this child of mine – of ours – for all these years.
I said to him, “Would you like me to teach you how to learn to fight like this?” and he nodded before he had a chance to think about it, about me, about anything.
“Walk me to the house,” I said and he fell in beside me, his blond head already near my shoulder, an absolute presence in spite of his young years.
As we walked, I said, “Your father was the most extraordinary of swordsmen.”
He replied, “I didn’t know that about the Duke.”
I stopped dead and so did he, startled, turned to me. It was misty now, night had fallen for real. Across the gardens, the residence was brightly lit and in the distance, two dogs could be heard, barking far away.
Softly, I said, “Not the Duke. Your father.”
He swallowed and his eyes reflected the lights from the house, dark and big.
When he said nothing, I sighed and said, “Should you ever want to know, ask me,” and in silence, we walked back to the house.
I had him called the next day and began to teach him the basics of the art from scratch. We communicated very little beyond these exercises. Sometimes Carran would come and watch for a time; I knew that he considered what I was doing as unseemly but he said nothing about it.
When Sondra was thirteen, he asked me about his father for the very first time. It was not easy to hear his hesitant questions, nor to answer them. Servants’ gossip and general story telling had left a deep impression in him and in many cases, what I knew to be the truth would have paled all of this to insignificance. The further truth was that Lucian and his life made no sense at all unless you knew the context, and the context was something that I could neither explain to the boy nor have any hope whatever of having him begin to understand.
So I concentrated on those things that would create some kind of balance in the boy’s mind, left out a lot but tried as best I could to never lie to him directly.
Sondra had magic.
Oh, to be sure, not anything like once we knew, but magic nonetheless.
He was bright and powerful and wherever he went, there wasn’t anyone who did not instantly accept him as a leader nor would not struggle to try and have him be a friend.
Carran could not have been prouder or more loving of his own children, long dead as they were, and we never did have any children of our own.
At some point it became apparent that Eddario and Camu would not produce a male heir; without the help of healing magic, Camu nearly died during her second pregnancy and so their daughter was their only child. I was somewhat amused by the fact that Lucian’s son would be the next High King; it was as pre-ordained as the rising of the sun at dawn.
In due course, this is exactly what came to pass and it was a strange thing to be in the dead abbey and watch the young man with the soldier’s bearing be sworn in. A part of me was rather sad to see him standing there in Solland blue and silver instead of Tremain black and gold, but in the end, what did the colours matter? What did the labels matter? Here he stood, the spitting image of Lucian apart from his dark eyes and more relaxed and friendly posture, and placed the crown to the kingdoms on his own head to a riot of cheering and joy.
Eddario was still alive at that time but very sick and weak, and everyone commended his wisdom and foresight most highly to have passed the rule on to ensure full continuity rather than having everyone wait and plot and plan for his impending death.
I cried with Camu at his funeral.
Carran was perhaps the one and only factor that caused me to nearly lose a sense of destiny.
He became ill and his illness was a slow one, a painful one.
He would scream and cry for hours upon hours, for days upon days, for weeks upon weeks and there was nothing that could be done. There were moments when I would have given anything at all to be able to help him, to alleviate his suffering.
In his clearer moments, I even offered to kill him but he smiled at me and shook his head and said he would leave it up to the creator to decide just how much he would have to bear.
The creator decided that it was a lot before he finally released my brave second husband to his peace.
As Sondra grew older, he would sometimes seek me out to talk with me. We both knew that it wasn’t wise for anyone to know that I would offer my unique perspective to his decisions, and we both also knew that he had to do his own thing, no matter how much I often wanted to help him more and no matter how much more I could have helped him. Eddario and Camu’s daughter had unfortunately inherited her mother’s problems with childbirth and died in her first attempt; but a boy was born, and he did live, and I did tell Sondra then about Lucian and Malme, and how truly wonderful it was in many ways and how deeply appreciated it would have been to him to know that there was a one who traced back to them both.
I was allowed to rear the boy and it gave me a reason to be around in the household as he didn’t have a mother. His name was Adrial. He was a bright and wonderful child.
He is nearly a grown man now and I am sick and dying.
My breath is getting ever shorter, my eyesight is not what it used to be.
Sometimes I wonder if I would like to go to Tower Keep one more time, but then I think that must be a fancy.
I am also feeble of mind at times.
There are so many memories, some of them mine and some of them not mine in the sense that I haven’t personally lived them, yet it gets harder to separate as each day passes.
Sometimes, I am somewhere and I am living in a battle, in a camp, in a tower, in a hovel, in a circle, in a prison and then I startle awake and my rooms at Pertineri Palace are around me with the serving women asleep on their couches.
Recently, the desire to put it all in order and to revisit it all for clarity and for reclamation has been touching me more and more strongly, as though I am trying to keep something of myself from slipping away and by doing so, keeping myself from slipping away.
I have asked Sondra if he minds I get a scribe to take down some notes and he held my hand – ah, his big hand, so strong, so reminiscent! – and he nearly cried and said of course, I always wanted to know so much more about you, about him, about everything, than you would ever tell me.
A scribe came sometime later, a nice young, very young man, pale he was, his hair unusual and nearly white and his fingers long and fine, stained with ink. He was very reverend and not a little scared of me and I told him that it wasn’t so important that his spelling should be accurate nor his letters in perfection, but that he should try and keep up and take down my words as I would speak them, try and keep them as I would speak them even if they didn’t always make sense, and not to get in the way or guess what it was that I might have meant.
He was an earnest thing and he promised me with his hand on his heart that he would do his best.
The medics tell me that I mustn’t drink wine, yet I call for a bottle of special wine, all the way from the shores of Sikoria, in the traditional thin necked black glass bottles; they cost a fortune but Carran never flinched and Sondra doesn’t, either.
I take a drink from the chalice, held by my trembling old woman’s wrinkled, dried, speckled hand that still wears the ring that cannot be removed because it sits firmly and snugly behind the knuckle and I look at it briefly before I take a long slow drink.
On his stool, next to my bed, sits the young scribe. Who does he remind me of?
Ah, no matter.
“Are you ready?” I ask him, and he nods seriously and dips his quill into the inkwell, carefully touches it to the sides so it will not blot.
I close my eyes and I say into the room,
“As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a Serein.”
- The End -