Publisher: Brightlynx Publishing
Date Published: Jul 2016
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Oria squinted into the heat shimmer rising in the distance beyond the high walls of the city. Maybe if she looked long and hard enough, the weapons of the clashing armies would give off a telltale glitter or the shouts of the men would echo back. But, even though her high tower gave her one of the longest views in Bára, she remained blind and deaf, stuck in her chambers, remote from the battle underway.
Just as she’d lived most of her life isolated from the rest of the world.
Despite the lack of other evidence of war, the hot wind seemed to carry an unfamiliar smell to her rooftop garden. Layered among the scents of sand, the brackish bay, and distant ocean came something new. Something like roasting meat, redolent of rage, despair, and determination. An unsettling combination unlike anything she’d ever experienced. But until this, no one had attempted to attack Bára in her lifetime. Not for a long time before that either, according to the histories.
She paced the gilded balcony as Chuffta, perched on the rail, watched her without moving, green eyes sliding back and forth as if he were watching a xola match.
“You realize you walk much and get nowhere,” he said in her head.
“Yes, yes—the story of my life,” she snapped at her Familiar. “Besides, it’s not as if I need to conserve my energy just to hide in my rooms while the city falls.”
“Bára will not fall,” Queen Rhianna said in a mild tone. Her nimble fingers never faltered as they wove seven needles threaded with different colors in an intricate embroidery, a casually powerful exhibition of her magical skill, her the golden metal mask that covered her face without eye holes demonstrating her ability to see in other ways. “It has not these many years and there’s no reason to believe it will now. Don’t put attention on a result you do not want. You know better than to articulate such thoughts, lest they manifest in truth.”
Oria frowned at her mother. “I don’t know any such thing, but let’s try it out. Everything is fine! The Destrye army has vanished into thin air and we’re no longer under attack.”
Queen Rhianna sighed, leaking the barest hint of exasperation through her carefully cultivated calm. “Your casual attitude toward powerful forces beyond your ken will be your undoing, daughter. You should know better than that, too, by now.”
“If they’re beyond my ken, how can I respect them?” she grumbled.
“You’ve never met a Destrye and you fear them, so your logic is faulty,” Chuffta pointed out.
She did—and fear of their ancient barbarian enemy drove her to rudeness, as Chuffta obliquely noted. Sometimes her Familiar’s wisdom grated on her. Okay, a lot of the time, but he offered sincere advice and helped her when no one else could. True growth is uncomfortable, even painful, the temple taught. She made herself stop and stroke the winged lizard’s soft white scales between his eyes. “You’re right. I apologize, to both of you,” she added to her mother.
“What is Chuffta right about?” her mother asked.
“That I’m afraid of the Destrye without knowing any, so my logic is bad. Though there are plenty of stories and illustrations to inform that opinion.” Oria’s longtime morbid fascination with the warrior race that shared their continent had led her to ignore the texts she was meant to study in order to linger over the vivid drawings of the Destrye with their big bodies, darkly gnarled hair, black-furred garments, eyes wild in their cruel faces. So unlike the Bárans.
“As there are similarly many stories, diagrams, demonstrations, and lessons on how magic works,” her mother was saying in a placid yet pointed tone. “You may not yet have access to all of the temple’s knowledge, but you know the basic laws. If you paid as much attention to those as to the gory histories, you might be making more progress than you are.”
“Yes, but they never really explain anything. Like ‘you’ll understand hwil only when you master hwil.’ How in Sgatha is that remotely helpful?”
“Some things may only be understood through experience. You know that we would tell you if it could be put into words.”
Oria did know that, not that it helped. “None of this has anything to do with my original question. How can you sit and sew not knowing what’s going on out there?” She flung an impotent hand at the desert beyond the city walls.
Her mother raised her featureless mask toward Oria. “Is pacing about like a wild thing giving you information on how the battle goes?”
“Maybe not, but it makes me feel better than sitting still does.”
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