Rain trickled down the pane of her window. Liora sat cross-legged on the green slate sill with the almanac open before her. A pile of paper rested on her lap while she worked away on the translation of the text with a small charcoal pencil.
She had been hoping to sit in the garden like she had over the past weeks. The sounds of nature and the open sky above her didn’t make her feel like she was in a cage like the cold walls of the inner castle. Sure, there was incense burning on the desk smelling of cinnamon, and the window was open a gap for her to get some of the fresh air, but it wasn’t the same.
After completing another chapter of the book, Liora evened out the finished pages before sliding off and heading for the door. The sage would be glad to get another chapter to the book.
Caldor had begun to spend his time exploring the translated pages now that the prince was no longer screaming. The old sage didn’t ask her any more questions regarding her people, or how she had escaped Morza. Caldor never mentioned the time when she used her strange ability to view his past.
Everyone dealt with her being a seer in different ways.
Marcia was the one who was curious about it. The Detress asked Liora about it whenever they were together. The woman had asked when the girl had first noticed the change and how she figured out what triggered the visions. The woman had even asked about what Liora had seen, but Liora kept it to only the basics. There was still a lot Liora didn’t know and was still learning about her seeing abilities. She didn’t quite know how to explain them.
Liora sauntered down the hallway to the room close to the end of the hall. This was Caldor’s room and she knew the old sage was likely hiding inside working away on one of his many projects.
With a quick knock, Liora heard the scruff voice from within shout.
Opening the door, she peered in. The sage sat at his desk under the window. His back was facing the door. A cluster of candles lined the windowsill, as well as blackened, shriveled matches. Some candles flickered, some had melted down to an unusable state, while others were new and unlit.
Books carpeted the floor alongside piles of papers, each with notes or drawings. The four oak bookcases were stuffed along the right wall reaching up to the ceiling. The shelves sagged under their weight, and the fireplace between the bookcases was lit with a small fire that was more like burning coals.
Scurrying in, Liora danced across the books, hoping not to damage them as she made her way to stand beside the old man hunched at the desk. A cup of cold, black tea was sitting before him. He was chewing on the end of his pen, as he stared intensely at the pages of the book before him.
“The translates for chapter eighteen,” Liora squeaked, placing the papers on the corner of his desk, awaiting the old sage to acknowledge her presence.
“The translations, you mean?” Caldor corrected. He glanced at the pile of neatly stacked papers. “Very good. You have very neat writing, have I told you that?”
Yes. Liora thought, smiling. The sage said that every time she handed him a completed chapter. Naygu had done the same, using the same compliments or repeating herself without remembering she had already said it.
“You have but I don’t mind hearing it,” she chimed, swaying on her heels. “You know there’s another reason why I’m here - you told me to come by to remind you.”
“Remind me of what?” Caldor lifted his brows, shifting in his chair not lifting his eyes from the thick text before him. His fingers gripped his pen, and he tapped the nib against his desk. A pool of black ink grew with each tap, not that the old sage cared. His desk was covered with ink scratches and spots.
“The prince’s afternoon check up,” she paused to allow the old man time to remember, although his expression didn’t change. “Marcia asked us to tend to it since she’s busy with her other duties.”
The old man lifted his hands to his nose before running them down to the end of his beard.
“Right,” he exhaled.
Caldor had forgotten. It was no surprise since he was so absorbed in whatever was preoccupying his attention for the moment. From her short time living under Caldor’s care, she realized that she did more of the caregiving. The old sage had the habit of forgetting to eat if she didn’t pester him. He couldn’t just run on tea, as much as he tried to.
“We shouldn’t delay it for much longer since it’s already noon,” Liora hoped that would push him to leave the chair, but he shook his head instead. The old sage had a different idea.
“I am in the middle of something important and it would ruin my train of thought if I am to just see the boy to see if he is still breathing. A monkey could check a pulse, and since you are my apprentice, you will be that monkey,” Caldor said.
Liora wasn’t sure how to react to that comment. Had that been an insult, or one of the man’s strange expressions?
“Are you sure that’s wise since you haven’t told Charn I’m helping take care of the prince?” Liora asked. It had been her mission to avoid the brutish king. There was no need for him to see her, since she knew her presence bothered the man for whatever reason.
“The prince is awake and knows how to deal with his father. You will be fine,” the old man waved her off towards the door. Obviously, whatever had his attention took precedence over her safety.
“All right, but if the King hangs me by my ears from the ramparts, it’ll be on your conscience,” Liora called back, opening the door before reentering the hall.
Liora stopped when she was just outside her room. There was nothing she needed there. Since she had been under the impression she was going to see the boy again, she had the one item she had wanted to bring that morning tucked in the pocket of her cotton dress.
Ambling over to the walkway, she stopped to look out at the atrium. A flash of lightning outside filled the room, briefly making the red and blue glass windows shimmer coloured light on the railing and wall.
The rain poured down harder. It sounded like small stones hitting the rooftop. There was a metal bucket on the ground floor catching a small leak in the roof, while two guards patrolled the lower level near the entrance. Their boots clicked along the stone and long capes swayed behind them as they marched towards the dining hall on the far left side of the atrium.
Sliding her hands over the slate railing, the cool stone sent tingles through her fingers. The slate was smooth under her palm while she stopped at the second hallway along the walkway. Liora peered down the dark tunnel. Only three of the eight torches were lit, giving the hall a creepier feel than normal.
There came an unfamiliar sound when she reached the middle of the hallway. A string-like instrument was being plucked. The player took their time between chords but the tune showed that whoever was playing had some skill.
Liora followed the noise up the stairs, finding herself at the prince’s door. The boy played a sweet melody that Liora didn’t recognize. Most of the songs she knew were from the West or South and were commonly played on sitars or djedjets. The sitar had a higher pitch that was hypnotizing with its harmonic fast paced chord progressions.
The boy wasn’t playing a sitar; she recognized the sound of such an instrument from the minstrels from the Morzi marketplace charming those passing by with their skillful finger work. She had spent hours sitting on the crates listening to the music and admiring the other children dance.
This instrument sounded closer to the djedjet, with its harp like twang, but it wasn’t quite the same thing. A djedjet was too big and awkward for the boy who was confined to his bed. The instrument would have needed to rest on the floor and balance against his body for support. He didn’t have the strength for such an instrument.
Liora opened the door just enough to hear the music clearer. The sound was deep. The plucking noise of the strings vibrated through the air, making her heart ache in her chest.
Moving inside the room, she kept quiet and close to the wall so as not to bother the boy who hadn’t noticed her arrival. He stared at his fingers playing across the five gut strings; the round, sycamore wood lute cradled against his chest.
The song was somber. She found herself closing her eyes to enjoy the melody ring through her ears. The music reminded her of her people and the southern boy.
During her visits in the morning she hadn’t really had the chance to speak with the boy. He joked with Caldor and asked her questions, but she limited her answers. The sage told her to keep her comments to herself and focus on tending to the boy. She knew the sage was just ensuring she didn’t blabber something out that he would later have to apologize for. She did have some discretion, but she also found it easier to be honest than force herself to lie about certain subjects.
Everything was easier when she was honest with those in Morza, but Derm preferred to dance around honesty and avoid the obvious. They worried about peoples’ feelings more than they cared about the truth, something she knew she would have to get used to.
When the boy finished the song, he glanced up from the strings. His bright eyes widened at noticing her by his door. He glowed in the grey light that filled the room from the balcony window. The rain had calmed down. Only a trickle remained gently pattering against the glass panes of the balcony doors.
“Sorry to disturb you,” Liora bowed her head, “I’m here for your afternoon examination.”
The boy stared at her from the bed before she noticed a small smirk form on his thin lips.
“How’re yah gonna check me from over there?” Cáel jested.
It sounded like the boy had meant it as a joke, but Liora didn’t feel like apologizing if she was wrong. With a quick nod to acknowledge his statement, Liora hurried across the floor to the side of the boy’s bed - her back to the balcony. She didn’t want to keep him waiting and she didn’t want to be caught by Charn, who was likely lumbering about the halls.
Lifting her hand to his forehead, she brushed away the curled ginger strands. His face flushed, but from what she could tell, he wasn’t overly warm. His heart beat was strong and breathing was good.
Pressing the nail of his right index finger, she waited the white mark change back to a healthy pink.
“Everythin’ look good?” Cáel asked, noticing how the girl avoided eye contact. Her wild hair shimmered like a raven’s wing, and dark thick lashes fluttered at his words.
“Yes,” Liora muttered, moving the quilt to the side to check his legs. “Let me know if anything hurts.”
Cáel didn’t know what he had done for the girl to be so cold. Others had spoke highly of her friendly nature, but she wasn’t the way they said she would be. He felt her hands gently caress his thigh before she massaged his calf. Her touch was gentler than Caldor’s and the Sisters’. Her hands were warmer too.
The prince swallowed hard before forcing himself to focus on something aside from her touch. Not that he minded her touching him; he actually preferred her methods of healing compared to those of Master Caldor’s or the Sisters’. The issue was that her touch was causing more than the muscles in his leg to react, which filled him with an uncomfortable embarrassment at his lack of control.
By her unfazed expression to his reaction, he knew there was nothing to be embarrassed about but he couldn’t help it. This was the first time since she had fixed his leg that she had been able to tend to him on her own. What would she think of him if this was how his first examination with her was going?
“How are you feeling?” Liora asked; keeping her focus on the boy’s knee. She kept her gaze on his leg because of how flushed his face and stiff his shoulders were to his reaction. Such bodily functions didn’t bother her, they were common in the practice of medicine and the only reason she averted her eyes was out of respect for the boy, not due to discomfort.
“A lil stiff,” Cáel muttered, giving an awkward chuckle before feeling his face burn with more embarrassment that the girl didn’t laugh with him. He noticed her focus on his knee, while she avoided eye contact. Humour usually helped ease situations but his just made the situation worse. “Not feelin’ pain in the knee.”
“Hmm, there’s some swelling,” she said, reaching into the pocket of her dress to retrieve the red clay jar. The spicy scent of camphor and mint filled the air when the lid was opened to reveal the cream coloured ointment inside.
“Usually carry that with yah?” Cáel inquired, noticing her smirk.
“No, just when I come see you. It helps with joint pain,” the girl explained, taking one knuckle and scraping the ointment out to rub between her hands before massaging his knee.
The ointment was cool, like ice on his skin. There were plenty more uses for the ointment she was using on the boy’s knee. Common colds, Winter Lung, and other types of congestion could be helped with the camphor in the ointment. The smell was more pleasant than the other medicines she had noticed in the room, and the tingling coolness appeared to have distracted the boy’s attention allowing him to relax.
“Yah don’ like talkin’, do yah?” Cáel felt the girl stop for a moment before she began massaging harder.
“No, I love talking but it’s easier to stay quiet than run my mouth and insult someone by being too honest,” Liora replied, pressing her thumbs into the side of his knee before rolling them upward to start working around the patella.
She had grown tired of Caldor scolding her and Foe’s lectures on filtering what she said. Liora didn’t want to change the way she was, not when it was a part of her that her nana had liked.
“I’d rather someone to be brutally honest than sweeten their words,” Cáel stated, “I hate when they tell me I’m fine. Obviously I’m not, or I’d be walkin’. They say I’m healthy, but obviously I’m not when I can’t do anything for myself. Yah think they’d realize I know they’re lying. I can’t wipe my own butt or feed myself, but yet they say I’m bloody fine!”
He lifted his brows before looking at the girl who had stopped what she had been doing. Never had he told anyone that, and as much as it was nice to get those feelings out, he also was afraid he may have added to the list of reasons to never return to his room that the girl was probably making in her head.
Cáel hadn’t spoken to his father about how he really felt because he knew the man wouldn’t understand. Marcia was a good listener, as were some of the Sisters but they would have told him to pray and find blessings in troubled times. Foe would have told him it would get better, to keep his chin up, and Caldor… well the old sage wasn’t the friendliest person among his caregivers.
This girl was new and he had wanted to make a good impression. This was the first time she had visited him alone since he had recovered and he had chosen to rant about how much he felt like he couldn’t trust anyone.
“Sorry…” he paused, biting his lip.
“It’s fine,” Liora sweetly replied, returning to working the ointment into his knee.
“Is it? Be honest,” he noticed her smirk widen when she glanced up at him.
“Honestly, it’s healthy to get what is on your chest off. If that’s how you feel, then you shouldn’t feel sorry about it.”
He liked her. Although his father hadn’t had anything nice to say about her, Cáel felt the girl wasn’t hiding the truth like the others.
“Thank yah,” he smiled, leaning back into his pillows, “yah can be honest with me, if I can be honest with yah? That way we both won’t go crazy inside these walls, eh?”
“If that’s what you wish, prince,” Liora liked that idea.
“Cáel please, Liora,” he didn’t want her to call him by his title. Too many people did that and he wanted this girl to be a friend, not another of his caregivers.
“If you insist, Cáel,” she cooed, wiping the remaining ointment onto her dress before covering the boy’s leg with his quilt.
“Can I play yah a song on my lute?” he adjusted the wooden instrument in his lap. “Tell me a song and I’ll play it.”
“I don’t know any Dermite songs, and I doubt you’d know any I know,” Liora noticed his eyes roll.
“Yah don’ know unless yah ask me, now tell me a name of a song,” he insisted, strumming the chords to emphasize his point.
“Arg’oith Da’hale,” Liora fluently spoke, seeing his brow crease, “Fire Wish on Wind, would be its translation in common.”
“Ah… yeah… I don’ know that one,” he chuckled. “How about I play one of my favourites?”
“All right,” Liora patted the quilt by his leg, before adjusting herself on the edge of the bed. He began to pluck the strings. It was an upbeat jig with a good bounce to the tempo. The intro was ten seconds long before he began to sing:
On falcon wings I fly so far.
To the mountain peaks of Mor.
To seas of blue. To seas of green.
From the land of fire, back home to my king.
Fly like a falcon. Glide far, upon high.
Feelin’ the wind and sun in the sky.
Fly like a falcon. Glide far, upon high.
Over lush fields; the river’s my guide.
Although the boy’s body was weak, his voice was strong. She sat there, unable to look away. She could see the passion for his craft glow in his face as he smiled while he sang. The music he played gave him life, turning him into a happier and freer version of himself. He was that falcon while he sung, imagining the adventures and places the bird had seen.
Just as he began the chorus for the second time, she heard him stumble when he began to cough. He stopped strumming, moving his hand to cover his mouth. It was a dry cough, likely whatever remained of his throat strain.
Grabbing the glass of water on his bedside table, Liora lifted it to the boy’s lips as he took a sip before moving his head away.
“Damn it,” he hissed, following his words with another cough.
“Your throat’s still recovering,” Liora rested the glass on her lap. There was chance the boy would need it again.
“Yeah…well,” he didn’t sound impressed by his performance being cut short due to his scratchy throat.
“If we’re being honest,” she noticed the boy smirk, “you sing lovely.”
“When I’m not hacking up a lung,” Cáel cleared his throat, reaching for the water that rested in the girl’s lap. She was quick to lift it to his lips as he took another sip. “Tell me, in your honest opinion, am I gonna die?”
Liora didn’t know how to answer that question. She didn’t know what the boy was suffering from, and didn’t know if there was a cure. There was no way of knowing the answer to Cáel’s question.
The girl glimpsed down at her hands gripping the glass cup resting on her lap. From her experience she could see into the future by peaking through the veil. The boy could have an answer and so would she.
“Do you know what a seer is?” Liora asked, looking up to see Cáel’s brow knot.
“Yeah, most children have. They’re in the storybooks or tales, warnin’ heroes about trouble or good fortune. Why?”
“Well,” she knew it was going to sound ridiculous. Caldor had warned her not to share the knowledge of her ability. Maybe he wanted to still believe it was all in her head, but he hadn’t been the only one she had used it on. It was more than her mind playing tricks. “Marcia would call me a seer - the West doesn’t have a name for people like me and so that’s the best way I can explain. If you’ll allow me, I can find you the answer.”
The prince stared at her for a moment, before looking down at his lute. Was she trying to use the same tricks the Sisters used on the younger children? They pretended to speak to their God. The Sisters had used similar tactics on him when he was younger, but the girl sounded sincere.
“All ’ight,” Cáel said, “what do yah need me to do?”
“Nothing, just take my hands and look into my eyes,” Liora responded, setting the cup back on the bedside table before holding the boy’s boney fingers. They were hot to the touch. She felt them twitch to try and grip her hands. His eyes though, were bright as they stared at her, almost into her as much as she was looking into him.
She stared passed the emerald and black, allowing the familiar steps to take place until she found herself in the garden of Demor. It was spring from what she could tell. The blossoms were in the trees, and leaves were fresh bright green after a winter’s rest.
It was then she saw the boy run past, heading for the old willow in the middle of the garden.
“Come on or we’re gonna miss them,” he called, climbing into the tree.
Just as the boy was at the top of the tree a group of gryphons tore through the sky. Upon their backs silver armored knights.
This image was the future. At least, she hoped it was. It was strange to see the boy running around like a normal child after only knowing him as the person who was stuck in his bed.
Closing her eyes and stepping back, Liora returned to the boy’s room. She noticed him tighten his grip on her hands.
“Yah good? Yah blacked out there for a moment,” Cáel inquired. One moment she had been smiling at him, the next her face had lost all emotion and her eyes had become lifeless.
“You aren’t going to die,” Liora answered the boy, “I see you getting better.”
There came a knock on the door as Liora jumped to her feet just as Charn entered the room. The King stared at her, his hands flexing before turning into fists. The room grew chilly as she fought the urge to grab her upper arm.
“What are yah doin’ in me son’s room?” Charn growled, stomping towards the bed.
“I came to tend to your son - as Caldor’s apprentice.”
“Apprentice!” the King laughed. “Yar no larger than a babe and you call yarself an apprentice. I gave no such ruling.”
“Caldor did. He chose me,” Liora crossed her arms. “If you don’t believe me, ask him yourself.”
“I don’t want yah anywhere near me boy. Westy’s like yarself can’t be trusted, and the fact yar here isn’t my choice,” Charn leaned forward. “I’ll warn yah once, girl.”
“Enough, da,” Cáel coughed, “Liora’s me friend.”
“Friend and she may be a westy but that shouldn’ matter. The West isn’t our enemy, the South is,” Cáel wiggled himself to sit higher up on his pillow. “Not everyone’s our enemy.”
“Do yah know where the Morzi’s came from? The South,” Charn pointed to the girl. “She’s a Morzi, boy, and got snakes in her veins.”
“I have no love for the South,” Liora growled, as the king turned his attention back to her. “After what they did to my people… my nana… my friend…”
“It don’ matter what they did girl, yar still one of them.”
Liora paused for a moment. Her chest fluttered and her mind raced.
“No, I’m not. I’ll never be one of them!” she barked, balling her fists, “I hate them and I hate-“she stopped. What good would yelling at this man do, other than cause her more trouble in the end.
If this man had said such cruel things to her nana, Naygu wouldn’t have reacted with hostility. If this man had attacked Caldor or Foe they wouldn’t have shouted back with anger. Anger never solved anything. Anger would only cause more ill will between them. They would never reach an understanding if she kept feeding his negative opinions towards her with actions or words.
Closing her eyes for a moment, she took a long deep breath through her nose. Liora relaxed her hands before peering at the belligerent man across from her.
“Have you ever looked up at stars on a clear night?” her question appeared to have bewildered the king, as his stiffened stance faulted for a minute. She knew he had wanted her to attack him, but she wasn’t going to give him the pleasure. This man wanted her to bare her teeth, but she would use a more tactful weapon.
“I ’ave, why?” his words were a slow and steady growl, while he looked her over with narrowed eyes. His nostrils flared before he ran his tongue over his cracked bottom lip.
“Then you would know about the constellations?” Liora asked.
“Yeah, Figro the Farmer and Harbec the Hunter, what of them?” Charn replied, noticing his son nod at hearing the familiar names before glancing back at the girl who peered at him.
Liora tapped her fingers on the smooth quilt, glimpsing for a moment at the boy who gazed at her with the same confusion as his father.
“My nana used to say that you can learn a lot from stars… like when you look at them, and I mean really look at them you realize each star shining in the sky creates its own unique light… it stands alone within its constellation,” she fiddled with her fingers before tucking a lock behind her ear that had fallen in front of her face.
The king’s brow knotted as she moved past the bed to stand a body length apart from him as he followed her with his emerald eyes. Her words hadn’t sunk in, and maybe he was too blinded by his prejudice to have even heard them, but at least she tried.
“We’re each stars,” she stated, bowing her head before heading for the door. “I’ll leave you to your son.”
The man didn’t pursue her. A small smile made the corners of her mouth twitch at the memory of the dazed expression on the man’s face. She trembled from nerves and success in outsmarting Charn who tried to engage her in a confrontation. He could intimidate her with his size but now she knew she would stump him with her words.
She wanted to believe that was how the old sage would have handled the situation, and even though her heart thumped in her throat she felt no regret for forcing down her anger. The man was left confused and defused. He couldn’t shout at someone who refused to shout back.
Liora sauntered across the walkway to the stairs leading to the entranceway. Fresh air would help calm her nerves and the autumn atmosphere would help to distract her mind from what had occurred in the prince’s room.
One of the guards at the entrance opened the door just enough for Liora to sneak through. The autumn sun was hanging in the orange sky while purple clouds danced in lines. Puddles glistened like glass in the muddy yard. A pig squealed, rolling in the muck behind the paddocks. She had believed she would be free if she was through the entrance, but that wasn’t the case. She had entered another walled off section of the fortress with a tall gate which led to the city.
A blacksmith worked away on his forge. The orange glow and ringing of his hammer while he worked was joined by the clucking of chickens and the shouts of someone at the gate.
The scrawny man was wrapped in mud-stained clothes. He called out to anyone that would listen. In his hand he clutched a red book that was in better condition than the man’s tattered dirt smeared robes.
There wasn’t anyone aside from the guards and the blacksmith for the old man to preach to. Liora had heard these ravings back in Downrow. Many of the people in that village took the time to listen to the fellow that preached and some of the words they had said connected with her.
“And in the night there will be a light more brighter than the sun. This light’ll be from the Eternal, and bring with it our beacon,” the man shouted.
She stood five feet from the gate. The man noticed her, turning his attention to her.
“Ello, lil one. Yah listenin’ to my chorus?” the singer asked.
“Why are you reading about the light?” Liora noticed the man smile. “Isn’t there more than just one sign?”
“Aye, there’s six but the first has finally showed itself,” the singer answered. “Lights the first - the beacon. Yah know, like that bright tower that blew-up that westy village.”
“I see…” the man wasn’t well informed. “So, you’re preaching about this light because of Morza?”
“There’s a lot more to it,” the singer sighed, “here, take it.”
He pushed his book through the gate.
“No, it’s yours,” she picked it up, handing it back. All he did was step away from the gate and put up his hands.
“I’ve dozens. Read ‘em pages, an’ ya’ll understand. Eh?”
“Liora,” that had been Caldor calling her.
She turned for a moment to the old sage before glancing back at the singer who was no longer standing at the gate. There was no sign of the crazy man.
Gripping the red book, Liora made her way back towards Caldor.
“What is that?” he pointed to the book.
“It’s the book that chaos singer was reading,” Liora remarked, as the old man pulled it from her hands, “He said I should read it to understand what’s going on better.”
“There’s no need to fill your mind with this drawl,” Caldor tucked the book into his robe. He would find use for it as a door stop or another practical use for such uselessness. “I thought I told you to check on the prince.”
“But?” he noticed her sheepish appearance.
“Charn arrived and-”
“Ah, no need to bore me with details,” Caldor sighed, “come, we’ll get something to eat before heading back to our work.”