Icy water clawed at her flesh, pulling at her arms and legs as she gasped for breath.
She was drowning.
“Lio!” A boy called her name, as she saw someone reach down into the water.
With all her might Liora pulled herself to the surface.
Grabbing the hand as tightly as she could.
Liora jumped up.
Birds sung outside her window, as the gentle breeze made the curtains dance. There was the smell of smoke, but only from the fireplace that someone had lit while she slept.
It had just been a dream. All of it had been a strange, confusing dream.
The room glowed in the bright light of morning, as she crawled to the end of her bed. A tray with porridge and milk sat on her desk along with her iznata’s almanac. Caldor must have come by.
Taking the bowl of porridge, she sat on the floor. Yes, there was a chair. It was actually sitting right in front of her, but she felt more comfortable sitting on the floor. That had been how she had eaten in Morza.
Liora scooped out the porridge with the silver spoon. The spoon had a metallic, sulfur taste that made her teeth ring, but the porridge couldn’t be eaten without it. She hadn’t grown up with such refined utensils. Her iznata had wooden spoons she used for cooking, and most of the food they had eaten were finger foods.
Morza didn’t have such strange food as mushy oats with honey. She had eaten fruits gathered outside the village, or dried meat from the market. The only food that came close to this tasteless meal was boiled fish.
Scraping the bottom of the bowl, Liora placed it on the tray before taking the dishes out to the hallway. There was no servant, or anyone else for that matter. The more she thought about it, the more she believed that she was alone in the fortress.
That was, until the prince’s howling started up again.
I need to find Caldor. Liora thought, placing the tray beside her door. That had been what she had done with the dinner tray the night before, and no one had told her to do otherwise. Someone would come along and pick it up. If she knew where the kitchen was, she would have delivered it there herself, but no one had told her where anything was.
Strolling down the hallways, Liora spotted the old sage scuffling towards the hall leading to the upper level. She darted towards him, folding her hands behind her back before moving beside the old sage.
“Good morning, Shezemest,” Liora chimed.
“Master Healer,” Caldor corrected, glancing at the girl that skipped beside him, “that is what I am called here, and you should stop with the Morzi. You are in Derm now, and no one will understand you.”
“Fine…good morning, Master Healer,” Liora repeated with a grumble.
“Good morning,” Caldor responded, “any reason you are following me?”
“I figured out what the cause of the prince’s pain is,” Liora answered, noticing the old sage stop in mid-step before turning to look at her. “His knee was locked.”
“How?” the sage asked.
“Well, his knee must have been twisted… probably when he was moved. He doesn’t have a lot of muscle, so it would have been easy enough to-” Liora stopped speaking when the sage raised his hand.
“I meant, how do you know the probable cause when you have not seen him?” Caldor asked, as the girl fiddle with her fingers before glancing away.
“I went to his room last night,” Liora muttered. The old man rubbed his hands down his face. “I swear he’s fine. Better than fine. He will stop screaming when you massage out the strained muscle in his leg.”
“Fine?” Caldor didn’t believe that. Couldn’t the girl hear the boy’s screams above their heads? Was she deaf?
“Yes, I fixed his knee. He was sleeping before I left,” Liora exclaimed. The old sage began to laugh. “Please, Caldor, this is serious. The knee must be checked, or it will seize up.”
“I assure you, girl, it is not his knee,” Caldor said, as he started shuffling down the hall. “I did a full examination of him before I left. This has something to do with what the boy has been suffering with since he was an infant, nothing more.”
“No,” Liora stomped her foot. She knew what she was talking about. “You must check his knee. This has nothing to do with whatever else he has. Please, Caldor, just check.”
Caldor glanced at her before turning back to the stairs. He didn’t reply; he just continued on his way disappearing upstairs. She wanted to follow him, but she didn’t want to upset the man more than she had already.
Turning back down the hall, Liora headed back to her room. She could distract herself now that she had her iznata’s almanac.
Stop saying that. Liora grabbed at her hair, as she scurried into her room and sat in the oak chair at the desk. She had to stop using Morzi words.
Sliding the text in front of her, Liora ran her hands over the soft padded leather cover. The edges were lined with gold trim, the corners protected with gold plated brass. The outside left much to be desired, but once opened, the pages were filled with vibrant arrays of colours.
The first page was decorated with lime and dark turquoise vines. Royal blue morning glories and fading pink clematis turned the page into a fictional garden, while her eyes danced along the neatly scribed words. This first chapter she knew off by heart as it held detailed descriptions of the plants that grew near her home. Each plant was described by its appearance, season, and uses before moving on to the next.
Liora ran her fingers over the thin parchment before reaching for the graphite pencil resting beside the pile of neatly stacked linen paper. This was a better time than any to begin the tedious process of translating.
Sure, Caldor hadn’t asked for her to begin the translation, but that was her whole reason for being there. That was all that was keeping her safe from Charn, and why Caldor was putting up with her.
The prince’s cries grew louder. Liora glared at her window. If Caldor had listened, the boy wouldn’t have been screaming. The boy would have been resting, recovering if the old sage had realized she was right.
Pellar would have listened. The wild man listened when it came to tending to patients. Then again, Liora was better trained in healing than the Pellar was. She had better hygiene and manners too.
Aside from that, Pellar was kind and called her his lil Li. The only other person who had called her that was Foe. No one else cared about her. Caldor didn’t enjoy her presence, and Marcia had avoided her since the bath the previous day. Charn called her a brat, and all the servants ignored her or avoided her. The only people that enjoyed her around were Foe and his son, Druce.
And the prince. Liora remembered how the boy had thanked her. He had smiled and had been comfortable enough with her to fall asleep. She knew nothing about the boy, yet that one gesture of appreciation had gone a lot farther than anything the others had done for her since her arrival.
Maybe it was better for her to leave when she was finished translating. It wasn’t like they would need her when they could read the text. Her usefulness would be over and they wouldn’t have reason to want her.
“Just keep writing,” Liora sighed, copying down the second page of the book.
The language was easy enough to understand if one had the basics of the Western and Southern languages. Northerners wouldn’t have known that, and she would have been surprised if Caldor had.
It was mid-noon when Liora decided to take a break. Between the ache in her wrist and the prince’s screams, she was losing motivation and concentration. It was clear now that the old sage had ignored her suggestion. The boy wouldn’t have been screaming like this if he had. Was Caldor so set in his ways that he hadn’t even considered trying her idea? Did he believe it was so far-fetched that she might be right?
How am I supposed to work when he’s screaming like that? Liora glared up at the ceiling. The boy’s room was right above hers. She could hear him as if he was laying in her bed. Even closing her window hadn’t helped much, since the sound was coming through the floors above her head.
If he had been making any other noise, she could have found ways of ignoring it, but the screams weren’t helping her. With every one of his screams, she would see a face of someone she had known, leaving her with an ache in her chest and churning in her stomach.
With each scream she would remember the massacre that took everything she loved away, making her head spin and her heart race. Each scream showed her the monster who had done it all, making her tremble and squeeze her upper arm leaving deep nail marks in her flesh.
Pushing her chair away from the desk, Liora headed for the door. She couldn’t take it anymore. Charn could threaten to hang her out the window by her toes. She didn’t care. The boy had to be silenced.
Making her way to the boy’s room, Liora had expected to see someone outside his door. She had spotted some of the Sisters in their long navy robes hurrying through the halls below the prince’s room, but no one was around.
Looking into the room, she could see no one was inside. Just like the day before, they were letting him scream. Maybe they were hoping he would lose his voice? The thought had crossed her mind, and she had secretly hoped for it.
Slipping across to the side of his bed, Liora glanced down at the boy who peered up at her. She could have sworn for a moment he had tried to smile at her. The corners of his mouth twitched before he belted out another wave of screams.
“Hello, prince,” Liora chimed, “can I touch your leg?”
The boy nodded his head quicker than the last time. The boy knew she was there to help, and she was glad he was so willing to let her.
Moving away the blanket, Liora lifted his leg to rest his foot in her lap and sat on the edge of the bed. She began the massage with his toes and then the soles of his feet. Her hands moved to his ankles and shins, before leaning forward to begin the process of working on his knee. The knot was back, but luckily his knee was able to bend. She pressed her thumbs into his flesh, moving one over the other until the knot faded. The boy’s screams faded with it. She moved to rub the other side of the knee.
Glancing up, she could see the boy’s eyes were on her again.
“You’re staring at me,” Liora accused.
“I’m tryin’ to figure if yar an angel,” the boy replied; his face flushed. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“I’m no angel… I’m just a girl who wanted you to stop screaming,” she spoke bluntly, hearing the boy chuckle before he began to cough. It was a dry cough, likely a small irritation caused by his screaming. Warm tea and rest would help ease his recovery for that problem. His knee would be another story. Ointment and massage would be the first steps, but it would take longer to recover than the boy’s throat.
The boy gave a satisfied sigh. She still wondered how a boy who couldn’t move had gotten such an injury. Locked joints were common with hard labor in Morza, or when training dragons, but this boy didn’t do any of that.
Moving him could have caused it, but she was certain those caring for him would have handled him with care. They wouldn’t have tossed him around or dropped him like a sack of potatoes on the bed.
Setting his leg back down on the bed, Liora was about to cover the boy’s leg when she felt someone grab her tightly by the arm.
“Get away from him, yah lil snake!” the beastly man tossed her backwards.
Liora hit the floor hard, knocking the wind out of her. She glanced up to see the King growling at her like a tremendous red bear.
“Da, stop!” the prince shouted.
Charn turned to check on his son. Liora took the opportunity to get to her feet. Her fingers tingled in her left arm, as her shoulder ached.
“What did yah do?” he turned to look at her with a vicious glare. “What did yah do?”
“I helped him, you big troll!” Liora sneered.
“What did yah call me?” Charn snarled.
“Da, leave her alone,” the prince ordered, pushing away the blankets. “Ya’re actin’ like a brute, stop it!”
Charn’s jaw clenched. He balled his hands into fists before he charged the girl.
“Sorry!” Liora squealed, scurrying back towards the balcony. “I’m sorry. You’re not a troll.”
The cool glass of the door was against her back, as the man loomed over her. His piercing eyes flashed with rage. He reminded her of a rabid dog with his snarling teeth clenched. This wasn’t the man she had heard the other night. The King wasn’t acting like a man at all. His orange hair freed from his ponytail, while it fell across his face.
Liora felt the tight grip around her throat. The familiar panic of trying to breathe as she couldn’t get air flashed through her mind. This was how she had died the last time.
“Charn, stop!” a booming voice came from the doorway. “She’s a child. Let her go!”
Foe had his hands up to show he meant no harm. Liora could see the worry in his eyes, as he looked between her and the king.
“Is a child. Put her down,” Foe repeated in a slow, calm voice.
Liora dropped to the floor. Her arm hurt, her shoulder ached, but that didn’t stop her from hurrying as fast as she could to the other side of the room to hide behind her new hero. She clung to the Steward’s leg, noticing his displeased glance.
“The prince is fine,” Caldor broke the silence.
He had snuck in to tend to the boy, while Foe was tending to the King. The girl had found whatever had been causing Cáel’s pain. The boy was sitting upright. He clutched his quilt more out of anger than pain.
“Of course, I’m fine! Thanks to her,” Cáel turned to look at the girl who hid behind the Steward. Her eyes sharp like daggers directed towards his father, who stood seething by the glass balcony doors.
Caldor was surprised to hear the boy’s voice. Although it was hoarse, it was strong. Whatever the girl had done had worked better than any medicine.
“Hear that? He’s fine,” Foe said, patting Liora’s head.
“Come, girl,” Caldor called for her attention, “there is something we must discuss.”
The sage offered her his hand. Liora didn’t take it. Instead she plodded out of the room and into the hall. She waited there while the old man closed the door behind him, leaving Foe alone with the King to talk.
The old sage waved his hand, coaxing her to follow. Caldor rested his hands on the slate railing overlooking the atrium. The two guards stood at the entranceway to the castle, as more servants were running around getting things ready for lunch.
“What you did was silly,” Caldor finally spoke, “you did not ask the King’s permission to go near his son, and things may have ended differently.”
“I asked the prince’s permission. He needed help. I told you what the problem was but you didn’t listen. Nana would have wanted me to help him, and I would do it again because-” Caldor raised his hand, signaling to silence her.
“But,” Caldor paused, “whatever you did seems to have worked, and as Master Healer to his apprentice, I want to know what you did.”
“Apprentice?” she hadn’t expected him to call her that.
“Of course. Someone with your natural talent needs guidance and I believe Naygu would have been pleased if I was your mentor. Now, tell me what you did,” Caldor smiled, wrinkling the bristles of his beard near the corners of his mouth.
“As I told you earlier, I noticed his knee was locked,” Liora explained. “Last night I unlocked it and he stopped screaming. That’s why I asked you to massage it today to prevent it from locking up again.”
Caldor couldn’t believe that had been the cause of the boy’s pain. The girl had told him that morning but he hadn’t believed her. It was too simple to have been the answer, although at times the simplest answer was the best.
He had felt every inch of the boy’s legs looking for anything strange. He hadn’t noticed the hard muscles or the knot. Honestly, Caldor had been looking for something more obvious.
“I am sorry I did not listen to you,” Caldor muttered.
“Yes - you should be,” Liora grumbled, while she noticed the old sage smirk. A sharp pain shot through her arm when she went to rub it.
“Are you all right?” Caldor had noticed the girl wince, but she hadn’t said anything about being hurt.
“I’ll be fine. The King just wanted to introduce me to the floor, is all,” Liora answered in a caustic tone.
“The King did that?” Caldor was surprised to hear that. He knew Charn could be protective, but didn’t think that the man would throw the child. “Let me take a look at it back at your room.”
Those words sounded strange. The only room she had ever had was shared with her nana. They hadn’t been lucky to have a place that allowed for more. Liora followed Caldor back down the stairs, to the hall, and to her room.
“Sit on the bed and lower that collar,” he ordered.
The girl did as he instructed, loosening the string of her dress so it would fall over her shoulder. She could see now that a purple bruise was forming, but there wasn’t any swelling.
“Everything’s so different here,” Liora paused, “some of the people are nice… like Foe and Marcia…”
The sharp pain returned when the old man pressed on her shoulder. It ached, but she could tell by the pain it wasn’t broken.
“Aye,” Caldor muttered, “you know she spoke to me about what happened yesterday.
Spoke to him about what? There had been plenty that happened. The story of how she escaped and what she remembered, along with her visions and Marcia’s question. The sage had to be more specific.
“She called you a Seer, which I find unbelievable because the Detress is not one to believe such foolish things,” Caldor glanced at the girl. “So, when did Foe tell you about Gil?”
“No. I saw it,” Liora fiddled with her fingers, “just like I saw things about you.”
“Yes… my pipe.”
The old man didn’t sound like he was convinced. Even with their talk by the water, and her question about his pipe, the old sage was still skeptical. She couldn’t blame him. It was hard to change beliefs even if the proof was in front of you. He had the right to be skeptical but this was real. For whatever the reason, she was able to see through the veil.
“If you want to test me, I understand,” Liora took a deep breath. “Ask me whatever you want, and I’ll answer it.”
Caldor didn’t want to test the girl, but he was curious. Foe had mentioned the connection between the discussions of seers in the villages the girl had been in. Marcia had also been convinced there was more to this girl’s ‘visions’ than just guesses.
“All right,” he peeked at the door. It was closed. There was only him and her in the room. “Tell me about my childhood.”
That wasn’t really a question but more of a request. Still, Liora believed it was easy enough.
Putting out her hands, she felt him wrap his fingers around hers. She peered into his eyes, passed the hazel as she was swallowed by the blackness of his pupils. Images darted past, until one shot through her.
She was standing in the harbor of a small Chijin city. Large boats were tied to the docks, while men sorted through their catch. Dermites lumbered passed, carrying large barrels on their shoulders, as she heard someone call out a familiar name.
At first she didn’t recognize Caldor. In this memory he was probably closer to her age. His hair was shorter and darker. His face was shaven. He was sitting on a crate reading a leather text almost as large as him, while a man, his father, stood by shouting insults.
The man took the book; beating the boy over his head, before throwing the leather text into the ocean. She watched the boy for a minute or so. His father praised another young man, while berating the younger Caldor.
The image changed, twisting her around so she was sitting at a table in a small wooden shack by the Endless Sea. A Chijin woman was tending to something in the cauldron, while the man from the previous memory stumbled over the threshold and almost into the woman. He grabbed the woman by the hair, shouted in her face as the younger Caldor stood from the table. Caldor had tried to defend his mother, but only got hit for trying to be a hero.
Liora spun around, finding herself on the docks of the small fishing city again. This time it was in the late evening. Caldor was standing over the body of his father, as the young man that his father had been praising stood holding a blood stained paddle. She watched as the young man kicked Caldor’s father off the dock and into the water. The young man took hold of Caldor’s collar, ordering him not to speak a word of what had happened.
The image changed again, this time Caldor was walking away from the small city. It was night and all he had was a book strapped to his belt. He didn’t look back as he disappeared into the tall grasses of the eastern wild lands.
Liora closed her eyes, taking a step back. She could feel the moist fingers of Caldor gripping her hands. She opened her eyes, and stared at the man before her.
“I’m sorry your father was so mean to you and your mother,” Liora muttered, noticing the man’s brow rise at hearing her words. “You’re better off as a healer than a fisherman, if you ask me.”
Caldor clenched his jaw to keep his mouth from dropping open. No one knew of his father’s abuse. It was common knowledge about the fisherman part; he was born in bloody Fish Bank. What other jobs were there if not for fishing?
“Details,” Caldor had felt this heaviness in the pit of his stomach before, but he had to stay skeptical.
“He threw your book into the ocean and told you to be more like your brother… Cavin. He insulted your mother, and at times beat her in front of you. You tried to stand up to him but he hit you, which led to you telling your brother. Since your brother didn’t care much for your father either, he lured him to the docks where he beat your father over the head with an oar before pushing him into the sea. It was after news of your father’s death reached the house that you felt like you needed to leave, and so you left Fish Bank for Calin,” Liora recognized the similar shocked expression that had been on Marcia’s face cross Caldor’s.
The sage turned on his heels, took two paces away from the child, and turned back. Again, the girl had baffled him. The information she knew, only he knew. The motive his brother had - the reason behind him leaving Fish Bank; it was too detailed to be a guess.
He had held her hand while she peered into his eyes. He had seen her stare glaze over for only a moment before she came to and began telling him about his childhood. The sage hated to say it, but maybe there was a possibility the girl was connected somehow. Maybe by that light? Of course that didn’t explain the other concern Marcia had shared with him.
“Well,” Caldor coughed, “the Detress mentioned you have a mark on your back, inked into your skin.”
“Inked?” Liora hadn’t been inked. She wasn’t old enough for such things, and her nana would have surely thrown her to the dragons if she had done anything as disrespectful as that at her age.
To the Morzi the body was sacred. Only those who held special ranks or positions had the right to decorate their bodies with the symbols passed down through generations. Liora would have only been inked when her nana had passed on the responsibility of master healer to her, and only then.
“Apparently, there is a Gods’ mark on your back, which after examining your shoulder I was able to confirm. Do you know anything of it?” Caldor asked as the girl twisted her head to try to see her back.
“No. I-” she strained to see where the mark was. If this was a trick to see if she was lying, it was cruel. “No, I would never desecrate my body like that - not unless it was with traditional markings and not a Gods’ mark. What’s a Gods’ mark?”
The girl’s voice sounded honest enough, and her reaction told him she was as confused about it as he was. Not only had the girl mystified him with knowing his past but she had this strange mark on her back.
“A three point trinity knot, commonly found in Chijin tradition,” Caldor answered. The mark had been around since the beginning of time. It was used by the first people to symbolize the unity of the three Gods.
Sirphan, the mother of all Gaitan’s children, was at the top. Darkel, commonly known as the Northern God and Earth God was on the bottom right. Kidoss, worshipped in the South was the God of Chaos who had been the first of the Gods and the last to create his own children, was on the bottom left. Together they intertwined to make the three point trinity, wrapped in a circle which represented the mother of the Gods - Fate.
“If it’s Chijin tradition, then why would I have it?”
The sage wanted to answer her question only to find he couldn’t give her an answer. The answers he had only brought more and more questions. He had found the girl, heard her story from Marcia, and had gotten the prince to stop screaming. He wanted to find a way to cure the prince completely, but at least the girl had given him more time and had made Cáel comfortable. He also wanted to know about that light, which the girl hadn’t mentioned, but now she had this mark on her back and her improbable power of sight.
Giving a sigh, he sat on the edge of the bed as he looked at the girl who had given up hope on seeing the mark. She gave a heavy sigh, as if she was feeling just as defeated about what was going on as he was. The girl had escaped death, had wandered aimlessly through the forest, was brought to a strange land, was beaten by the King, and yet she reacted as if everything that had happened to her was nothing but run of the mill events.
“The prince is still sick,” her voice broke the silence, “he may not be screaming anymore, but he’s still suffering from whatever he has.”
“I know,” Caldor nodded.
“Would you still like me to translate nana’s almanac?”
Caldor wanted to laugh. That was the reason she was there, wasn’t it? Her whole purpose for following them to Demor was to translate that damn book.
“Yes, girl, I would like that very much.”