Chapter Three- LIVIA
"What do you mean, tomorrow? Are you afraid more will come?” I ask.
Leaning forward, Amah reaches down and unlaces her boots, wincing from the stiffness in her hands. For years now, she has spent her evenings massaging them, trying to work out each laborious day’s ache.
“We leave tomorrow because I fear for you.”
“I don’t understand.”
A shadow passes over her face.
“There was once a prophecy. I’ve never told you of it, because I don’t believe in prophecy. It speaks of a descendant who will bring magic back to our world. A descendant of Queen Bellflower.”
“The Queen Bellflower? The most powerful queen in all the four kingdoms, the one born with all four gifts? That queen?”
“Yes, that one.”
“How does a Silent Watcher coming out to the middle of the Black Pines have anything to do with Queen Bellflower? She’s been dead for a hundred years.”
“It’s time I told you of the night Willobourne Castle was raided.”
I know she means the night my parents died. For so long I’ve wanted to know. But dread decides to take shape inside me, and I fear how her story will unfold.
“I’ll start by telling you how much King Helm and Queen Kyra were loved deeply by the people. And no one loved the people more than they. The people begged them for years to produce an heir, and the king and queen wanted to, but the queen found herself barren. It was heart-wrenching for both the queen and her people. However, King Helm wouldn’t leave his beloved queen subjected to the depression that befell her. He called on the most unexpected person you could imagine--the Enchanter.”
“What! Why would he do such a thing?”
“Quiet. Let me finish. The Enchanter agreed and sent forth a Woman of the Scree.”
I grit my teeth. The Women of the Scree are creatures created by the Enchanter himself. They aren’t even human, but magical puppets that the Enchanter can control from afar. Our kingdom has been forbidden to have any dealings with them.
“When the Woman of the Scree first arrived, no one knew. She went in and out with no one knowing any the better. But I knew. I was there. This moment is what put the prophecy in play in the mind of the Eastern King. He discovered the Western Queen had become pregnant, and was told the child would be the heir to bring back magic.
To our king’s dismay, he uncovered the alliance between King Kgar and the Enchanter too late. I was in the nursery that night when the two assassins came in. I fought with all my strength and I almost died. But the king saved me. He had already been fatally wounded, and he still managed to keep me safe--and you.
“Me? Why would he save me?”
“Before I answer your question, you must understand I had reasons not to share this with you.”
She closes her eyes, and takes in a pained breath. “They wanted you, because they wanted the heir.”
“Did I share a room with the heir?”
“No. Your father commanded me to escape with you, because your father was King Helm, and you were his daughter.”
My mouth opens but nothing comes out--my thoughts are frozen. A silence fills the room.
“It’s impossible, what you are saying.”
“It’s not, En Oli. It’s the truth.”
“So I’m the heir? The heir?”
A rush of emotions passes through me.
“How am I supposed to believe this? King Helm and Queen Kyra were my parents? My parents? This whole time you’ve lied to me? Now I have to believe my parents were actually the king and queen? What’s next--that there isn’t truly a High Healer position to begin with?”
Her silence answers me, causing a tightness to form inside my chest. I no longer know what to think. Our reasons for living here are shrouded in lies. Amah isn’t hiding here for her own fear of the Silent Watchers. She hides so the Eastern King won’t find me. And with my parents dead, it makes the Western Kingdom--mine. I’m the missing heir! A wave of nausea passes over me as I sit on the edge of my chair, resting my head in my hands.
“The Silent Watcher was here for me, wasn’t he?”
“And you are afraid more will come?”
“Yes, more will come. It’s why we must leave and go to Pynth. Go back to where you can get Regent Grif’s protection.”
My throat closes up, unsure of how to feel. I feel a sort of denial of it all, like a dream that I will soon wake up from. I look out the window. The sun is long gone, and the darkness will soon turn to morning--reminding me again, we will soon be leaving.
“Why did you keep this from me? Did you ever plan on telling me?”
“I was planning on telling you one day--all of it. Each time I tried, words failed me. You’re too smart for your own good, and I knew you would put it all together. And I knew you’d be hunted. I wasn’t ready to place that fear inside you. But I wanted you to know the Eastern ways so that when I did tell you, you’d understand the seriousness of what I am doing for you. Never doubt the love of your parents, or the sacrifice they made for you. The only thing that changes are the crowns they wore. I’m sorry I kept this from you.” Amah clears her throat. “I also wanted to wait to see if the prophecy spoke truth.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in prophecy.”
“I don’t, but I’ve always believed in magic’s return.”
“Well, as of right now, I don’t have any magic. If I am supposed to have it, when should it appear?”
“I don’t know.”
“Will it be the lost healing gift of our kingdom?”
“Another question I don’t know the answer to. I’m sorry.”
I remember as a little girl pretending to be Queen Bellflower. She is the only queen in all the four kingdoms to have had all four gifts.
I would pretend rocks were small creatures that were injured, and that I could use our Western Kingdom’s gift to heal them.
With the Northern gift, I would pretend to freeze trees in place, mimicking the gift’s physical manipulation. But when it came to using the Southern gift, I would make Amah frustrated, for I would cover myself in mud to become invisible and hide for the whole day--that is until my stomach grumbled and gave me away.
I never liked to play pretend with the Eastern gift of undeniable strength. The Easterners killed our people and I refused to be a murderer. But to really have even one of these gifts? How does one even fathom that?
“Sleep on this, En Oli. Tomorrow we’ll have plenty of time to talk. I’m sorry for the secrets, but I’m glad you now know.”
We stand, I wrap my arms around her, and rest my head against her chest.
“I don’t know how to feel right now. But I understand. Thank you for keeping me safe.”
She squeezes me tight and for a moment I sense she is going to say something else. But she doesn’t. I go to my room and slip under my covers. Tomorrow we leave. And we will most likely never return.
The next morning, I drum my fingers along the windowsill and watch tiny flakes of snow trickle down from the sky. It must’ve been falling all night for it to have covered everything in sight. I search for any traces of yesterday, but find nothing.
Adjusting my quiver and bow on my shoulder, I head outside. Amah was awake when I got up, and of course everything is ready to go. All she has left to do is to bring Rosie out from the barn and hitch her to the wagon. While she does this, I decide to get one last round of arrows in before we leave.
I pull my cloak tight around me, and cold wind licks my face as I step off the porch and head towards the barn. Like the shed, it also has plenty of character. Built of aged pine, it has taken repetitive beatings from my arrows. Rosie might not have enjoyed the continuous thump against her home, but over time she’s embraced it as an everyday part of her life.
I stop fifty paces out from the backside of the barn, the one place designated for me. Sliding an arrow out of my quiver, I set it and pull back the string. As I have so many times before, I release it without having to think. I’ve been shooting since I was seven. It is just another extension of myself.
The arrow slices through the brittle air, hitting the worn-down target, sending chips of paint flaking away. I grab another arrow.
Waking up this morning was surreal and somewhat painful. Sleeping on the revelations from last night, however, was the best thing I could’ve done. Knowing that we would soon be heading to safety, I was able to embrace my excitement for everything else.
Surprisingly, knowing the truth of my parents wasn’t all that bad. This is something I know I will eventually be able to accept. The reason why they died, however, is the hardest part to swallow. It brings all of known history to bear on my own reality, and it’s caused a hole to form inside my heart. I can only hope that I will manifest the gift of healing, because that will be the only thing to mend it.
I continue sending arrows one after another. Soon they are all bunched together in the center.
“I will rely on that aim if we run into any trouble.”
I turn around. Amah is standing there holding Rosie by her reins. I wonder how long she’s been watching me.
“As long as it’s my bow. That knife throw was horrible.”
“Never doubt yourself, En Oli. You see it as a flaw, but I saw it as opportunity, and it saved my life. Now go gather your arrows. It’s time to go.”
I do as she says, then follow her back to the covered wagon, and watch her hitch Rosie in the harness.
I kick the snow from my boots and climb up onto the wagon and settle on the padded bench. Amah climbs up after me and without a single look back, she clicks her tongue and we move out.
I look back to the place I’ve called home my whole life. A heaviness sinks through me. A part of me will miss the memories made here. There is another part, though, that has longed for this adventure. Then again, here I could have been anything I wanted. No one here to judge. Soon I will be in a city where there will be expectations of me. A part of my soul imprints itself among the trees, knowing the Black Pines will always be a part of me, no matter where I am.
Amah rests her hand on my leg. Her face reflects my thoughts. She too will miss this place.
We travel the next few hours without much talk. My thoughts move between reminiscing on my past and chewing on my new-found future. At first I feel guilty for wanting to be excited about it all. I should be upset at Amah for hiding these truths from me. But being angry isn’t something I am accustomed to and it won’t get me anywhere, so I try to embrace my excitement instead.
“Does Regent Grif know I’m alive?”
“Have you been in contact with him?”
Amah sighs. “You know the Regent is a Northern Prince, right?”
“Where is your mother from?”
It’s a question that gives me pause. My whole life I’ve thought of my mom as being from the West. But Queen Kyra is now my mother. And Queen Kyra was from the North.
“Are you saying Regent Grif is my uncle?”
“He is. And we’ve been exchanging messages your whole life.”
“You’ve been in contact with him this whole time?” The depth of this hidden truth strikes me. It is one thing, him knowing of me, but actively keeping up with me for sixteen years without my knowing? That’s hurtful.
“Why didn’t he reach out to me? If you were in contact with him this whole time, what kept him from bringing me back to Pynth?”
“The city of Pynth needed to rebuild. I wasn’t confident of the safety at Willobourne Castle. Regent has dedicated the last sixteen years to making Pynth strong again. He’s been wanting you to return.”
“So Regent Grif allowed you to tell him no?”
I would think that Amah would have no say in such matters. The Regent was just as powerful as a king. “What could’ve kept him from marching up to us and taking me away.”
“I used an evlock.”
“An untraceable bird. I acquired one in a trade, in Kale. Annie keeps it for me.”
Of course Annie does. Annie is Amah’s sidekick of sorts. She owns the only inn in Kale, Bear Horn Inn. It wouldn’t surprise me if she knew all about me.
There are many layers to Amah and I have a feeling there are more I will uncover before we reach Pynth. The open world will be a challenge for her, when all my life she has tried to keep me hidden away. In the morning I will be sixteen, and I am already on the adventure of my life.