By Flyss of Dark Ages
The moon hung low and full in the clear black sky, encircled with a faint fiery nimbus. Her book sat forgotten in her lap as Flyss stared up at it though the open shutters.
A blood moon, she thought, and a keen sense of disquiet shivered down her arms. Such a time promised hunters increased stamina and success in the kill, but it also fed Sgrios; under a blood moon, less experienced hunters felt compelled to take foolish chances. But the reddish hue was also a blessing time: a time to wed, a time to induct new members into a motley or guild, a time to take any forever oath.
A time for all things new.
As if her thought needed reinforcement, a ripple of sympathetic pain cascaded through her abdomen. Yes, the blood moon was a birthing moon, too. It was time to find her mother and then her sister.
It was time to go.
Zofilia sat at her own fire, pounding dried herbs in a stone mortar as she hummed a folk tune under her breath. Flyss stood in the doorway for a moment, studying her mother's face in the flickering light. It was her own face still to come, softened with age and framed with pale blue-green hair threaded with silver. Flyss pushed back the hood of her cloak and rapped her knuckles on the wooden lintel. Zofilia looked up and smiled a greeting.
"Smell this personaca, wasn't this a good batch? You'll have to take some home with you."
Mother . . .
Zofilia reacted to the sound of Flyss's voice in her mind just as if they were having a spoken conversation. "I couldn't find any hydele this time, but, maybe tomorrow."
Mother, we have to go.
Zofilia straightened up, the bunch of herbs she held between her fingers temporarily forgotten.
It's Raeven's time.
Zofilia reacted instantly: she stood up and rehung the rest of the personaca on a hook by the fire. "Get my basket from the stillroom," she asked, untying her apron. Then she went to the corner cupboard and selected a few vials of fifleaf, counting on her dusty fingers all the while. The last time Zofilia had questioned Flyss' strange, sudden pronouncements, Flyss had been eight.
Mother! Flyss had come running up, intensely worried. Is Sorcha in the stillroom?
Zofilia had been hanging laundry. "What?" She had stared at her daughter, pausing for a fateful wasted moment with her hands tangled up in wet sheets.
"She's gone into town with your father."
Flyss gave her a relieved but sympathetic look.
Flyss shrugged and bit her lip. Zofilia frowned at her and opened her mouth to demand to know what was going on. But Flyss was looking past her mother's shoulder, at the enormous ancient capsel tree which shaded the outbuildings around the cottage.
Never mind. The voice in Zofilia's mind sighed, frustrated and disconsolate. It's too late.
A strong gust of wind ruffled its leaves, there was a sudden groaning, shuddering sound, and the great tree started to sway like a drunken Mundane. Its lower branches caught the edge of the stillroom's shingles, peeling a few away and tossing them to the ground.
Zofilia dropped the sheet, wanting to run towards the little building, but Flyss put a small hand on her forearm. With a bone-jarring whump! the tree fell over, smashing into huge rotten splinters and crushing the small wooden stillroom underneath. Zofilia lost an entire season's worth of herbs and preparations, and several finely crafted glass vessels she had purchased from Dar in Mileth. But she had gained a full and respectful appreciation for Flyss' premonitions.
Zofilia shook off the memory and hastily cleared the table. But when Flyss reappeared, a crease of concern lined her mother's brow.
"It's too soon. Raeven should have a few more weeks."
Flyss only shook her head, but the worry lines bracketing her mouth sent a trill of fear down Zofilia's spine. This time, as always, Zofilia wanted to ask, what have you seen? But in the end, knowing the details would make no difference. Whatever Flyss had envisioned would come to pass.
They crossed through Rucesion proper with their heads lowered, moving as quickly as possible. A guard at his post by the community tablet took a step towards them: it was very late, no one else was about-but Zofilia raised her basket and her hand in greeting. He relaxed.
"Fiosachd go with you, milady. May the child be healthy."
Zofilia lifted her hand again. Flyss gathered her cloak at her throat in one hand and pressed ahead.
The Five Guilds of Rucesion sat outside the city boundaries, beyond the temple of Luathas with the castle of Dubhaim in the distance. Flyss pulled the bell rope at the front gate and it sang a clear ringing note. For a moment all was quiet again, so quiet they could hear the faint rush of the sea in the distance. But then the gatekeeper arrived, grouchy and still half asleep, demanding to know their business.
Zofilia reached down to uncover her basket, preparing to explain, but then she felt Flyss' cool fingers on her wrist. Flyss turned her violet eyes towards the discomfited rogue, still wrapped in his sleeping blanket, and smiled gently.
We're here to see my sister Raeven Kyrkonnel, he heard, like a soft whisper intertwined with his own thoughts. Will you please let us in?
He blinked. The young woman before him made no sound, but simply waited.
"Of course," he murmured as he stepped aside. Zofilia hurried through the portal but Flyss made a graceful sign of blessing. The gatekeeper yawned as if in reply, wondered why he had gotten so upset, and closed the door behind them.
Raeven's quarters had been recently moved to the top of the southwestern tower, and they quickly ascended the curling inner stairs. As they approached her door, they saw light at the sill: she was still awake. Zofilia paused, suddenly more worried than before, but Flyss lifted the latch. The door pushed back to reveal Raeven sitting propped up before the fire, wrapped in a green woolen robe, reading parchments and eating cherries.
"Mother! Flyss!" She stood up awkwardly, with one hand over the broad swell of her pregnancy. "Why are you here, what's wrong?"
Zofilia noted several things at once: the normal paleness of Raeven's cheek, the ease of her movements, the faint red stain of cherry juice on her lips that showed her healthy appetite. But she still stepped forward and put her hand on the outermost curve of Raeven's stomach. By force of habit, Raeven moved Zofilia's hand down and to the left. The child within her stretched and kicked as if on cue, pushing her tiny head against her grandmother's fingers. Zofilia breathed a deep sigh of relief and brushed a loose strand of long black hair away from Raeven's cheek.
"Do you feel alright? Any nausea, or pain in your back?"
Raeven shook her head, her gray eyes wide with bemusement. "No, Mother, I feel fine." She closed the book she had been reading and looked towards her sister again. Flyss stood by the door, holding out Raeven's boots and traveling cloak, with a grim and stubborn expression.
We have to go now.
"Go?" Raeven lifted her brow in surprise, looking to Zofilia for confirmation. "Go where? Why?"
It is time to bring your child forth, for her own safety and for yours.
Raeven pulled back a step, spreading her hands across her waist. "But it's too soon."
Zofilia put her arm across Raeven's shoulders and spoke to Flyss in a firm, calm tone.
"Raeven is right to be worried; it's dangerous to force a child into the world without a good reason."
Impatience and alarm passed over Flyss's normally serene features, and she dropped the shoes and cloak. In one hand she grabbed her mother's wrist, and in the other she took her sister's. Then she closed her eyes and reached inward for the vision she had Seen.
Soldiers, struggling hand to hand, slipping and falling in the bloodstained mud. The banner of Loures tied in a knot with the flag of Undine. A rag-tag band of assassins, dirks gleaming in their hands, attacking a green-haired monk among the grape fields in Suomi. . . then stealing towards the Five Guilds under cover of night.
Raeven gasped and pulled back from the sight of her husband's dead body among the fluttering green vines, but Flyss held on. Tears pooled and spilled from in Raeven's eyes as she saw her own death then, her throat slit by the knife of LeGalle's murderers, the same knife raised high over her belly and the innocence of her unborn daughter.
If we deliver Raeven now, Flyss promised, I will take the girl child away to a safe place. "Take her where?" Zofilia demanded in a hoarse voice. Raeven stood frozen with terror, one hand covering her mouth and the other one, torn free from Flyss' grasp, cradling her stomach.
To the faerie realm. We can hide in the lover's glade and I can take the baby through.
"Through what? To where exactly?"
Flyss shook her head, mournful but stubborn, and she withdrew her hands and any access to that part of her knowledge.
"I've never heard of such a thing," Zofilia insisted.
Raeven drew a deep shuddering breath and wiped her cheeks. "I trust her." She gulped back her tears one more time and sat down on a nearby bench. "If this means our lives, mine and the baby's and even LeGalle's, then we have to do as Flyss says."
Flyss picked up the discarded cloak and draped it over her sister's shoulders, smoothing the last few tears away from the high curve of Raeven's cheek.
Zofilia stood there for a moment, clenching and unclenching her fingers around the handle of her basket.
"Flyss Mekare Kyrkonnel, are you absolutely sure of what you're doing?"
Flyss met her mother's stern and terrified eyes with perfect, sad calm.
Zofilia held Flyss's glance for another long moment. But then she set her basket down to help Raeven with her boots.
They walked past the gatekeeper without incident, with Zofilia and Raeven in the lead and Flyss bringing up the rear. As they traversed the dirt path back to town, Flyss watched every tree, examined every shadow, while her stomach churned with fear. Her Gift was still imperfect; sometimes she Saw events in jumbled order. The killers could come after Raeven and the baby first, and then LeGalle afterwards, or one of the murders could prevent the others.
Flyss pulled the hood of her cloak over her head and hid her face. Luathas, grant me wisdom! Let me See clearly! But there were no more clues, no revelations in the puddles that dotted the path like black pools of fior creag. Still Flyss watched, and listened, and kept her eyes flickering everywhere until they reached the relative safety of town.
At Flyss' insistence they took a ship from Rucesion to Abel, avoiding Loures and its environs altogether. Raeven fell seasick and Zofilia tended her on deck. But Flyss stayed in their tiny cabin, poring over the only item she had carried with her: an ancient scroll within a well-worn cylinder of leather, so old the sinew-stitching had become brittle. Both the parchment and the protective covering were inscribed with faded calligraphic symbols that Flyss could barely translate. But the little information she had successfully gleaned from the writing had proven too valuable, and too timely, to dismiss.
The ancient texts described the faerie realm in ornate but complex Aosdan metaphor. If Flyss understood it properly, the scroll explained that the faerie realm lay juxtaposed with the aisling world. In particular places, it was said that the boundaries between the worlds had worn thin, like old cloth turned delicately transparent, so that the fae moved back and forth by magickal incantation. Deep within the woods lay several of these places, the scroll proclaimed, including the enchanted glade. If an aisling could speak the proper spells, and make the proper rituals of non-aggression and respect, then he or she could pass into the faerie realm.
Flyss practiced the spells over and over in her mind, watching the shoreline through the porthole. Did she dare attempt it-with a newborn baby nonetheless? Wasn't there any other way to protect her almost-born niece that was less drastic, and dangerous?
But it was too late to second-guess herself, or to let her anxieties show. It was her part to lead the others, to dictate what should be done. She wrestled her uncertainties and her panic, and continued to practice as the wind pulled the ship towards its destination.
They reached the Eastern Woods by sundown the next day, moving down the path to the enchanted garden as quietly as possible. When they saw the first copse of flowers, Flyss turned north and led them along the edge of the clearing. The wings of the wasps looked gauzy and iridescent against the fading light, and they hung suspended in the cooling air as if by magick, wandering lazily from blossom to blossom.
Flyss felt the fae glade's nearness before she saw it; all Priests did. It gave off a low pulsing thrum she felt pushing up from underneath her ribs, resounding through the long bones of her arms and legs like the ringing of a bell. Raeven moved cautiously, barely able to wedge herself between the densely flowered bushes. But Zofilia helped the clear a path, and then they were within the charmed circle, where the very air around them seemed to change.
Zofilia brought Raeven to a flat, wide stump and made her sit down. When she was comfortable, Zofilia made eye contact with Flyss for the first time since leaving Rucesion. "You sit there," she pointed to a tuft of grass, "facing her, not me." She rummaged around in her bag, withdrawing a flask of rum and some small vials she kept hidden between her hand and bosom. "You're not to see what's in this mixture. It's a secret of my trade."
Flyss nodded easily and sat down facing her sister. Raeven held out one slim, trembling hand and Flyss took it.
"Is there anything more you can tell me, anything at all?"
The sunset filtered through the trees in tendrils of pink and gold, limning the curves of Raeven's worried, anxious face. Flyss pressed Raeven's hand to her own heart and sighed.
He's not dead, she told her, knowing it was meager consolation.
Raeven looked down at her lap and her mouth trembled. "I try not to ask him too many questions," Raeven whispered, her eyes glistening. "Whenever he travels, whenever he's gone, I know he's working for the freedom of his people."
Flyss covered Raeven's hand with her own. If you had known about the blood feud that killed his father and endangered his own life, would you have withheld your heart? Would you have refused to marry him?
Raeven shook her head.
Then it is Unwise for you to second-guess yourself now. It will only add to your worries and your grief.
Flyss smiled, adding her own fervent prayer to help her follow her own advice. Raeven nodded, biting her lip and holding her sister's hand tightly as she thought.
"Name her Maiala," Raeven said at length. "Will you promise me to do that, if something goes wrong? If I can't do it myself?"
It was Flyss's turn to nod, and for once, she was glad for her vow of silence. The expression of loss, fear and tenderness on Raeven's face put a lump in Flyss's throat that would have rendered her speechless.
"Alright," Zofilia said in a low voice, turning to kneel next to Raeven with a brimming wooden cup in her hands. "Raeven, you have to drink this in one gulp." She nodded towards a wooden spoon and a wide glass flask. "Flyss, you be ready with that honey. It will help kill the aftertaste."
Zofilia put the cup to Raeven's lips and tilted it. After the first swallow, Raeven gagged, and Flyss quickly reached for the honey. "Come on, sweeting," Zofilia murmured, "all together now."
Raeven made a sound of disagreement in her throat but kept drinking. As soon as Zofilia took the cup away Raeven coughed and choked, but Flyss held out the honeyed spoon. Zofilia sat back on her haunches, her hands on her thighs, and beheld her daughters with a long and serious expression.
"You should walk now until the contractions begin." She looked to Flyss. "When the time comes, I want you to put her to sleep, just enough to keep her relaxed and quiet. The potion doubles her body's effort and it will be very painful. And, I'm guessing we should be as silent as possible."
Flyss frowned but nodded.
"Alright, then. Get moving."
Flyss helped Raeven up and put one arm around her waist, still holding her other hand. Zofilia sat down on the stump and watched them, periodically holding the bridge of her nose with two tense fingers.
They circled the garden, and the long skirts of Raeven's nightgown swished the grass. As the daylight continued to fall from gray to purple to blue-black, Flyss was certain she saw movement in the bushes. For one moment, as the last ray of the sun touched the flowers, she saw the fine cloud of faery dust that floated over the entire glade. It purled and rippled behind them like glittering smoke as she and Raeven walked, but Raeven did not note it. All her attention was focused inwards as the potion took hold.
Suddenly she stopped and gasped, holding her belly, and Zofilia stood up. "Now, then . . ." she wiped her hands to hide her nervousness. "Let's get down to business."
They helped Raeven lay back and once again Flyss sat with her back to Zofilia. Raeven's hair twined with the long green grass and fallen flowers, and in the fading sunset her tears turned to molten gold. It was a moment Flyss would remember all her life: looking into her sister's eyes and commanding her to Sleep, knowing she and Raeven might never meet again. Flyss held Raeven's loose fingers laced between her own and gave into her own tears, watching the moon traced a slow path across the starry sky. She studied the fiery-silver face of Glioca and whispered entreaties for the love of Raeven and LeGalle and the life of her niece. She prayed to Fiosachd for luck and courage, and she prayed again to Luathas, for wisdom and for understanding.
When the moon began to fade, Zofilia suddenly tensed with purpose. Raeven let out a low moan, and Flyss shifted to look at her mother from the corner of her eye.
"It's a girl," Zofilia said, wiping the baby clean with a scrap of cloth. "Just like you said it would be."
Flyss reached out and Zofilia handed her the squirming bundle. Soft green curls framed the little face, hardly larger than the palm of her hand. Flyss brushed her niece's cheek with one fingertip and the tiny gray eyes opened for the first time.
Her name is Maiala.
Zofilia nodded, bending her head to tend to her other daughter. Flyss bent over Raeven's sleeping form, gently pressing her little finger to Maiala's hand. The baby grasped it firmly, and Flyss stroked their joined hands over Raeven's brow. Zofilia made a choking sound, and when Flyss looked up there were tears slipping down her cheeks.
"Promise me you'll come back," was all she could manage to say. Flyss tucked Maiala more firmly into the crook of her arm and faced Zofilia with a grim nod.
I swear it, Mother, we will.
Zofilia dashed her tears away with the back of her hand. "What else do you need from me, then?"
Do you have spring water from the temple pool?
"Aye, always." Zofilia picked up her bag.
And a vial of freshly made fifleaf?
Zofilia nodded, drawing out her flask of holy water and the smaller glass vessel containing the herb.
Pour a little fifleaf in your hand, Flyss instructed, and add a drop of the water.
Zofilia cupped her hand and made the mixture, stirring it a few times with her index finger. "Now what?"
Flyss cleared her throat once, and twice, and put her own finger into the green liquid. Then she spoke for the first time, to Zofilia's knowledge, in five deochs.
"Blessed Danaan, watch over us," she whispered in a low, hoarse voice. "Lady Mother, let me see only what is true and what is not."
Zofilia's eyes widened as the liquid on her palm grew warm and shimmery. Flyss wet her finger in it and smeared the watery fifleaf over her eyelids. The strong peppery smell overwhelmed her for a moment and droplets clung to her lashes. She stood for a full minute waiting for it to dry a little, and in her arms Maiala started to twist.
"She's hungry," Zofilia said.
Flyss opened her eyes slightly and whispered the sleep spell under her breath. The baby's tiny rosebud mouth parted in a yawn, her lashes drooping. Then Flyss looked up into the pearly gray sky: dawn was coming.
I have to go now. Zofilia swallowed hard. "Be safe, my daughter."
Flyss nodded hard in reply, and stalwartly turned to the rear of the garden. Dew had begun to settle, coalescing with the faery dust into a fine pinkish-orange mist upon the flowers. She pushed aside the white-blossomed branches of a betony plant and held Maiala to her tightly.
There, in a small clearing among a cluster of ancient rowan trees, rose a faery mound.
Flyss took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh piney air. The light that penetrated the thick forest was rapidly turning brighter, so she knew she had to hurry. Stepping sideways to the left, Flyss began to circle the hill.
The smell of the garden flowers and rowan trees dissolved. Then the coming day seemed to recede back into the forest. On her sixth turn around the hill, she looked back through the cleft in the flowers and saw her mother fading away; the light and the air grew uncommonly warm. Then on the tenth pass, as she circled round to the point where she began, Flyss saw the curvature of the hill rise and bend. It was the entrance to the faerie realm, a doorway of stone and magick.
She nervously touched a corner of her eye and felt the rough, blotchy stain of the fifleaf-and then she stepped forward. The scroll fell from her limp fingers, landing somewhere in the damp grass.
She expected to emerge inside a cave or cavern, into a dark and dank place far underground. But instead, she found herself standing on the shore of a circular cerulean lake with the warm water lapping at her toes. Everything around her pulsated with magick-the grass seemed greener, the colors of the flowers more vivid, the rippling sheen of the water's surface undulated as if it were alive. A softly diffuse and golden glow seemed to emanate from everything; there was no sun or moon or blue sky. But the thing Flyss sensed most strongly, like the living presence of another person in her mind, was the quiet: there was no restlessness, no sense of time. The waves purled over her shoes with a soft sucking sound, a faint breeze rustled the trees and plants. And then, when Flyss turned around to look behind her, the stone door had vanished.
We were wondering if you'd come.
Flyss gasped and whirled, clutching Maiala to her breast. Before her, a tall slender man had suddenly appeared as if from nowhere. His smiling blue eyes greeted her, and then roamed up and down her body as he appraised her in frank admiration.
You're a bonny lass, she heard in her thoughts, and a rush of pleased self-consciousness flooded her cheeks. She studied him in turn: he was handsome with even, well-formed features, though the pointed tips of his ears and the slant of his eyes proved he was neither aisling nor Mundane.
Do you find this form displeasing?
As she watched, the man seemed to tremble slightly as if he shivered, and when he opened his eyes again they had turned green. His dark hair went abruptly red, the line of his shoulders lengthened and broadened as he stretched in a disarmingly casual motion. Flyss stared, unable to conceal her shock and fascination, and then she put a hand to her eyes again.
Yes, it is a glamour, he responded, but do not be afraid. He held out his hand, tilting his head slightly to one side so that the braids at his temples swayed.
She looked down at Maiala to make sure she was still asleep, and gave the man her free hand.
He smiled. And I am Orian. Welcome, he added. Come across the water with me, and tell me how you came to know the way.
She nodded her consent, and he turned towards the water with a wider smile on his face.
As he stepped forward, the surface of the water broke and a rock rose up to meet his foot. At first, Flyss concentrated on maintaining her balance, but the rocks were not slippery or unsteady. She looked up at Orian, watching the movement of his long flowing hair, gold and red and orange all at once, and the turning of the serpent torques at his wrist and upper arm.
I found an ancient book of stories, she began, but then Orian stopped.
You do not need to form the words, he told her. They stood face to face on two rounded slabs, halfway across the water. The golden light caressed his fair skin, and she became conscious of the warm strength in his fingers.
Just give me your thoughts. Show me what happened. Do not tell it.
Flyss looked down at Maiala's sleeping rounded face, hesitating. I've never done that before./I
You're surprised to hear me in your mind?
You're the only one I've ever met who could communicate with me this way.
Orian glanced up at the honey-colored sky and smiled once more.
But I am not the only one, he assured her. Now give me your thoughts. The others will want to know how you came here, and why you brought the babe.
Flyss buried her face briefly in Maiala's fragrant neck, and permitted the memories of her visions flowed through her thoughts. They emerged in disjointed bursts, disconnected and vague. By the time Orian landed lightly on the island and had helped her onto shore beside him, she had given him the best interpretation of her experiences. He shook his head, understanding and sympathetic.
You must learn to hold your memories in the front of your mind as if they were words. It is the only way you will ever properly understand them, and See them for what they really are.
She wanted to answer, but Orian had turned his head expectantly.
The others are coming. He smiled down at her. Now you'll bide with us a while, and let us care for you and the child.
Flyss nodded her head, assenting, and watched the others come towards her.
For the rest of her life, Flyss would puzzle over what happened afterwards, always unable to understand.
Hands lifted Maiala from her grasp, lifting the baby high with coos of delight and laughter that tinkled like bells. Her clothing drifted away and she bathed in a pool of pink water, rich with spices and floral fragrance. The dress they provided hung loose and gauzy from her shoulders, and she felt her hair swing freely against the small of her back. But at her temples and forehead, they fixed tiny gold clasps set with amethysts. She studied herself in the reflection of the lake until Orian took her hand again.
There was food, delicate and light on her tongue, and thick heady wine. For a time, she felt the others' questions prodding in her mind so she recounted her visions and experiences as Orian recommended. She felt, rather than heard, the fae's reactions, and it was as if she became part of their collective consciousness. Feelings, laughter, ideas, intuitions, all flowed in and out of her mind as freely as her own thoughts. Through it all, constant and steady, was Orian's presence. He sat beside her, putting the choicest bits of food into her hand, brushing her arm as he reached out.
Pipes and harps played, and some of the fae got up to dance. Flyss swayed back and forth in time with the music and the strange braids at her temples knocked lightly against her jaw. Then Orian came forward with a smile and drew her to her feet. She whirled and dipped in time with the beat until she fell into his arms, and his kiss filled every corner of her mind and body.
They lay together among the flowers on the lakeshore, paying their respects to the goddess in the most primeval way. She gave herself to him without any reserve, as if they had courted and known each other for deochs instead of moments. Their minds and thoughts and bodies mingled without boundaries; it was synchronicity, and it was the purest, most powerful sensation Flyss had ever felt.
At one point she turned in Orian's arms and opened her eyes, and in the strangely constant golden sky she caught a glimpse of the waning moon.
It's only a sliver, but, this morning it was full. She turned back towards Orian, lifting his head to look at him. How long have I been here?
Does it matter? He nipped at her earlobe and kissed the side of her neck. Aren't you happy here?
She threaded her hands through his hair. Happier than I've ever been.
He propped himself up on his elbow, taking her hand. Then why look up at the sky, or count the hours? He pressed his lips to the inside of her wrist and she shivered.
I wonder how they are. She let him into her memories of her parents, and her sisters, touching lightly on Laoghaire's death and Zofilia's terrible sorrow at losing one of her children. Raeven must feel that way, even if I took Maiala here for good reason. And my mother . . . she is worried she will lose me also.
Orian pressed the palm of her hand against his cheek, keeping utterly still.
I just want to know she isn't suffering.
Orian sighed. Then look into the lake.
He shifted his weight and stretched out a hand to dip it into the rippling water. Flyss turned onto her stomach and his arm slid down her back to linger at her hips. The surface of the lake turned opaque at Orian's touch, and Flyss saw her sister Sorcha being inducted into the Academie Arcanus. Then with a shock she saw Zofilia picking vegetables in her garden, and Raeven presiding over a trial.
Is this the present, or the past?
The undulation of the water made it difficult to tell the color of Raeven's robes; they could have been green from her term on the bench in Mileth or blue from some future day in Rucesion. For a moment Flyss saw Gorvas her father as an old man with flowing white hair, and then in the next instant he was a young man again, emerging from the Mileth chapel with Zofilia, young and laughing, clinging to his side.
Orian shrugged. It's all the same. Time does as it pleases here. We don't try to impose ourselves upon it.
But then, another image came into view: a young woman with a rounded oval face, resting her chin on her knees while the wind swirled in her long green hair. She raised her head and looked at Flyss intently, curiously.
It wasn't a vision, it was a reflection. Flyss gasped and rolled over.
"Tantay-" the strange young woman addressed her using the ancient word for aunt.
Flyss pulled herself to her feet, yanking her clothes into place.
"Tantay Flyss, where are we?"
For a moment Flyss simply stared. The young aisling woman in front of her could be no one else other than her niece Maiala, fully grown. She had Raeven's mouth and straight, long nose. She had LeGalle's wide, inquisitive gray eyes and flowing fifleaf-green hair.
Flyss put a hand to her own eyes but her lids were smooth and clean.
It wasn't a trick, then, when Maiala slowly rose to her own feet on her long, coltish legs. Flyss looked back over her shoulder at Orian, incredulous, and he lifted one shoulder noncommittally.
Like I said, my love, time is all the same here.
Flyss reached out and put her hand on Maiala's upper arm.
Can you hear me, Maiala?
"Sure," Maiala said, though she frowned and cocked her head to the side. "But, why can't I answer you back the same way? Why am I the only one who has to talk out loud?"
Because you're an aisling.
Maiala's voice sounded loud and harsh in the strange quiet. "What's an aisling?"
Flyss opened her mouth to answer in kind, but the words wouldn't come out. Instead, she put her other arm around Maiala and pulled her close in a half-hug.
For a long time, they embraced, and Maiala laughed self-consciously. When Flyss reached up to cradle Maiala's cheek, she realized just how much her niece had grown. To look at her Maiala seemed fifteen or sixteen deochs old, a young woman not quite done growing. There was no trace of the infant left in her features or demeanor, and Flyss felt a stab of panic, guilt, and urgency.
Orian, I must go back.
Flyss heard her lover fall in step behind them, and felt his disappointment.
I came here willingly, but, she didn't. She should know her parents, if they're still alive. She should know her home, and herself.
He did, she sensed that aspect of his reaction, but underneath it flowed a river of sorrow and grief that poured all through her body. As Flyss and Maiala walked, she looked around at the trees and flowers, at the amber sky and the lapis lake, and knew she would never feel as content again.
When they walked up the short incline to the place Orian had led her across, all the fae were gathered to say goodbye. The others passed Maiala from embrace to embrace, but only Orian folded Flyss within his arms.
Will I . . . will I ever make it back? she asked him.
He smoothed his thumb over the crest of her cheekbone, smiling regretfully, and his answer was his silence. Flyss let out a shaky breath and hid her face against Orian's collarbone for one more moment.
Then, will I remember? She couldn't imagine ever forgetting him, but even as they stood talking the feeling of his touch grew cold on her skin.
I hope so, my love. I will always remember you.
She swallowed back a sob, knowing she had to leave now or she never would, and that Maiala could not get back to the glade alone.
And that moment-standing on the shoreline of the faery isle, watching the warm light spill across Orian's face-was the last one Flyss recalled with any clarity.
She never knew how she and Maiala returned to Rucesion; the spells faded from her memory, and she never regained the precious scroll. From time to time, Raeven or Zofilia would mention her absence in passing and Flyss would frown in confusion till they reminded her of what had happened. Even Maiala herself became just her favorite niece: one of many as her sisters bore other children.
Once in a while Flyss would pass a redheaded man in the street, or she would walk through the garden near the lovers' glade. Or she would meditate in the sacred pool outside Luathas' temple and see the faint outline of a face in the full moon. At those moments, when the edges of past and present grew thin and transparent from gentle constant touching, Flyss would remember, and it seemed only moments ago that she had lain in Orian's arms under the golden sky. And as her Gift increased, as the years passed, she learned to let time flow through her fingers like holy water.
In the end, past, present and future were all the same.
She never forgot.