Delveè glanced up at his charge as his hands automatically did their work, tucking his things in their places by habit more than conscious choice. She sat silently on her bed, her legs pulled up under her skirt, her eyes locked on her hands that were carefully folded in her lap. “Any ill effects?” he asked as he tucked the last bag of dried herbs into his black pack, leaning forward in his chair to see her face.
“No,” she said quietly, though the word sounded curt, a sign of her inner turmoil
Delveè had spent the greater part of ten years in the employ of the Fengol family, and quite a lot of time during those years had been spent tutoring the young, enthusiastic Anarisia. Now, as he looked at her, he could tell something was wrong with his young mistress. He took a deep breath. “Out with it, Miss Anarisia. What’s troubling you?”
Her lips twitched, but she didn’t look up from her hands. Delveè sat back, waiting for the confidence that he knew would come eventually. Hundreds of years spent living had taught him patience. Finally, she sighed and lifted her eyes to his, the eyes that reminded him so much of the staring, generally vacant ones that lay in another bedroom, never to laugh with the vitality Delveè occasionally saw in Anarisia’s. The resemblance was even more jarring today; her eyes were troubled yet distant, unfocused in an uncanny manner he recognized as thoughtfulness.
“You know what father wants me to do?” she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper. He nodded in reply. Lord Fengol had indeed spoken to him about the need for Anarisia to find a safe place—and he completely agreed. Lady Fengol could not be moved, but some part of the Fengol family must survive. Anarisia was the only part of that family who was able to leave, and so she must. It was, perhaps, a rather more coldly logical argument than the one he might have otherwise given, but the thought of losing any of them, especially Anarisia, was a painful one, and a possibility he’d rather not entertain.
But his approval of the plan did not extend to Lord Fengol’s optimistic ideas of his family’s good standing with the other nobles. Delveè entertained no hopeful illusions about who might help the young woman in her landless state. He was far more attuned to the realities of the political situation than her father, and knew that there were few who could or would help her. But he too had friends, and perhaps he could constrain her to find some of them, some even farther than Gelt.
She was rushing on, her words quick, tripping over each other in her hurry to get them out. “I don’t want to go, Delveè, I don’t. I don’t want to leave father or mother…or you. And Keely will have to stay behind. Father says he’ll send her to another village, but I know she won’t go. You know she won’t.”
Delveè stood and went to stand next to her, putting his hands over hers. She followed him with her eyes. Her hair was braided and wound around her hair, and the sun hit her from behind, making it appear that she wore a halo. In that moment, Delveè almost—but not quite—could find it in himself to believe in this Iidav the humans so often spoke of. He smiled softly at the human girl, the girl he’d tutored and trained.
“Anarisia, there are things in life that none can understand. This is, I believe, one of those things.” He settled down beside her, his hands drifting back to his own lap, where he folded them. “None can know what will happen in the next days, but I do know that you are strong, stronger than you know. You will find a way through.”
“I still don’t want to go,” she whispered, more to her hands than to him.
He smiled understandingly, then suddenly stirred, going back to his bag. “That reminds me—I have something for you.” He reached in, lifting out the flannel-wrapped package he’d kept hidden for so many years. “But first,” he said, turning back to her, “I’d like to see your wrist.”
She gazed up at him confused, but obligingly pushed her cuffs back and lifted her hands to him. He tossed the package down on the bed beside her and took her right hand, one thin, browned finger tracing the silvery mark that covered the delicate veins of her wrist.
“Why are you so interested in it?” she asked, jarring him from his thoughts. He smiled and returned her hand to her.
“I don’t know what it is. Doesn’t that make it interesting to you?”
“I’ve lived with it for seventeen years, Delveè. It’s no more interesting than any other bit of my body,” she answered with the pragmatism only youth can muster in the face of the extraordinary.
His smile grew a bit, softening at the same time, and he nodded. “Indeed you have. Forgive me. Now,” he picked up the package and held it out to her. “This is for you.”
She took it and quickly untied the ribbons that held the flannel closed, unwrapping the fabric and lifting out what lay inside. He watched her face rather than the gift. He’d had years to familiarize himself with the latter; the former was, however, not so easy to predict. He saw a crease settle between her eyes as she stared at the objects she held, and then looked up at him. “What are they for?”
“To protect yourself if need be,” he answered, his gaze going to the two long knives she held. They were delicate, made for a lady’s hands, yet strong—strong enough to kill a man if need be. The silver of the hilts, the pearls of the pommels, the delicate wires that twined around the hilt, giving a grip…they were indeed beautiful.
Her eyes followed his and she looked down, pulling one of them out of its sheath. Script wound along the blade, a poem that spoke of its maker, its purpose, its ultimate death. Pegasiath, the language of the weapon, the language of the sky. Anarisia’s eyes ran over the lines of script, quickly reading them.
“I pray I shan’t have to use them,” she finally said, returning the knife to its sheath. “They are far too beautiful to use for killing.”
“I hope the same, child,” Delveè said, smiling, though wistfully. He gazed down at this child-girl, a girl he would all too soon have to let go into the world on her own. He would stand beside her father and watch her go—for he could not abandon Lord Fengol. Not now, when…other things were stirring close by. Anarisia would be going east, far from the source of his worries. She would be safe. Telmen, and Fengol within it, would not be as safe. He must stay.
She stood, abandoning the knives on the bed, and wound her arms around his torso, squeezing him as if she were a child again. Her voice was muffled against his tunic as she spoke. “Thank you, Delveè.”
“Thank you, Anarisia.” He planted a kiss on the top of her head then put his hands on her shoulders, pushing her away just enough so that he could look down at her. “Anarisia, there is something I want you to understand before you go. There are things that are even more important to know, to understand, to strive for, than our families, or even our duty to those families. Your destiny does not lie here in Telmen, that I know.” He smiled and patted her cheek as if she were a child. “So now, you must go and find it.”
She smiled sadly, a look far too old for such a young girl to wear. “You’re trying to make me feel better about leaving. It shan’t work, you know.”
He smiled back, his own expression full of sadness as well. “I know, child. But I can try.” He pulled away from her, snapping his bag shut and picking it up, heading for the door. His hand was on the latch when he turned to glance back at her. “Do as your father wishes, Anarisia, and don’t try to fool him. It will give him peace, at least.”
Anarisia could feel the cold air, just inches away from her skin. She could sense, even with her eyes closed, that it was still dark, that this was no sort of hour for her to be awake. But something had woken her, of that she was very sure. The skin on the inside of her right wrist tingled just slightly, as if some sixth sense were being relayed to her. But there had been something else… and there it was again—the clatter of a not-too-distant tumult, the beat of a drum, the cry of a trumpet—and she was instantly up, hardly heeding the cold chill. Her hands fumbled about her dark room, finding a pair of what felt like dancing slippers but would have to do, a dressing gown, and then the door.
She dashed out her room and down the corridor, clattering down the stairs towards the great hall, where she knew her father would be. The downstairs corridors, always cold at this time of the year, seemed even chillier than normal, as if every bit of warmth had been leeched from the atmosphere, responding to the chill that had settled over her heart.
The doors to the great hall were open. She stopped, breathing hard, managing to look somewhat dignified as she stepped through them. The huge room was brilliantly lit despite the hour, torches and candles and a raging fire creating an almost uncomfortable heat, a distinct contrast to the chill outside. Her father stood next to the long table that they rarely ate upon, maps spread out before him, several other soldiers ranged on either side of him.
She stopped just inside the door, still struggling for breath, her eyes, wide with fright, locked on her father. One of the soldiers looked up, noticed her, and said something to the Lord. He turned, his eyes softening as they landed on his daughter. “Anarisia,” he said, coming towards her, putting a hand out to gently coax her back out the door.
“He’s coming?” she said, letting herself be ushered out of the room and back towards the stairs.
“Yes. He’ll be here by tomorrow afternoon, at the latest. They’ve appeared on the bridge at the Jel.” Her father’s voice was low, sad, willing her to not ask any more questions.
“Do I go now?” she asked, her lips stiff.
“Keely’s already waiting for you in your chambers,” he said quietly. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs, and as she looked up at him, she saw tears trembling in his eyes. She felt her lips trembling and she took in a deep breath, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
“Shall I ever see you again, father?”
“Perhaps not in this life, Ana,” he said, using her pet name for the first time in years. She threw her arms about him, and he responded. She was crushed against his tunic for just a moment, could feel the bumpy chill of the chainmail underneath it, and for only a second was able to breathe in the familiar scents of mint and snuff and pepper. “Go,” he said, kissing the top of her head and letting her go.
She turned halfway up to look after him, but he had already disappeared back into the hall. With a lump in her throat, she fled back up the stairs and down the hall, bursting back into her bedroom.
“There you are,” Keely’s voice came, though she didn’t sound half as cranky as she usually would have. There were tears in her voice, odd as the thought was to Anarisia, and the girl uncertainly stopped in the middle of the floor, trying to come to odds with this new side of her servant. Fortunately, the typical brusque manners of the old woman returned a moment later when she saw her mistress standing stock-still, doing nothing. “Oi, Anarisia Fengol! I’m not gonna dress you, you know.”
Anarisia jumped forward, grabbing up the clothes Keely had laid out for her. A shift, a dark overdress, serviceable boots, a cloak—she pulled it all on, trying to keep her hands from trembling. “Who’s taking me?” she asked.
“Kel, one of the Captains.” Keely answered, pushing a pack into Anarisia’s arms. “C’mon then.”
As Anarisia turned to follow her maid, her eye caught a glint of silver. It was the knives Delveè had given her, forgotten by Keely. She hurried over and caught them up, stuffing them into her pack and hurrying to catch up to the old woman.
They wound their way through the castle, heading towards the stables. Anarisia barely noticed the familiar sights they passed, all the haunts of her childhood. She passed her father’s receiving room, the library of her youth, with barely a glance. In fact, when she passed below the light of a torch, she was so pale that Keely gave an involuntary start, looking back at her. She looked as a ghost might, drifting through the cold halls of her ancestral home.
Delveè was waiting for them just inside the door that let into the stable courtyard. He smiled reassuringly at Keely. “I’ll take her out to Kel, if you like. I thought you’d like to go to the Lady.”
Keely looked relieved and turned to Anarisia, straightening the brooch that held her cloak together from force of habit. “Take care o’ yourself,” she said, nodding sternly at the girl. “Don’t let any man in inns close to you.” She gave Anarisia a rather awkward hug.
“I love you,” Anarisia murmured into her hear, and Keely muttered something back, then was gone, melting back into the gloom. Anarisia was very sure she heard a loud sniffle proceeding from the gloom before the footsteps of the old woman disappeared.
Delveè was watching her again, and as she turned to him, she tried to summon a smile. “Are you going to tell me not to let a man in an inn close to me, too?”
“Not at all. I trust your sense,” he said with a smile. He lifted his hand, letting something slither out of it, catching the end of it just in time. “Your father wanted me to give this to you.”
It was a delicate chain of gold. From it hung a pearl pendant that caught the light, glittering in a thousand different ways. Gold lettering was etched into it, creating tiny designs. It had been crafted by dwarves, Anarisia knew, years before. She couldn’t remember the exact origin of it, but she knew that some of her best memories were wrapped up in seeing that pearl nestled on her mother’s white throat.
She took the necklace, trying once again to smile at the Pixie and failing utterly. His all-black eyes were inscrutable, as always, but he seemed to understand. “Captain Kel is waiting for you.” His hand was on her shoulder as she headed out into the courtyard.
A tall man stood before the gate, holding two horses. One of the horses was already laden with saddlebags, though the other carried no load as of yet. The man was Kel—she could barely see his face in the gloom, though she knew his hair was dark, his figure imposing, from experience. A quiver was slung across his back and she caught the glimpse of a sword hanging from his belt.
Delveè helped her onto her horse, and then put a hand on her saddle, stopping her as Kel mounted. He looked up at her, his hand finding hers in the semi-darkness of the courtyard. When he spoke, his voice was barely a whisper, just loud enough for her to hear. “Trust no one in Telmen, my lady. Be constantly vigilant, no matter where you are, no matter how many friends appear to surround you. There are letters in your bag to friends of mine if you find need to go into Kalvenvên or Ardoc—they will help you.”
He took a deep breath, glanced from Kel to the gate which was slowly opening, then mustered a smile, returning his gaze to her. “Remember your destiny,” he said with a squeeze of her hand, and then stepped back.
Kel started forward, and Anarisia’s horse followed, the two animals galloping forward towards the gate. Their hoofbeats were loud against the packed dirt, and Anarisia couldn’t help glancing back at Delveè. He had raised a hand in farewell. She looked forward again, biting her lip and trying to keep tears back.
They swept through the gate and away, bypassing the village and heading for the open country. Anarisia looked back as they pulled away, trying to see the manor through eyes that were swimming with tears, looking back at her home—a home that was her’s no longer.
Anarisia could already tell there was no purpose in arguing. His tone was full of finality, giving a quick death to any thoughts of rebellion she had. But all the same, she made a feeble effort, trying to find the words and almost-wisdom she had when speaking to the peasants. “I would prefer to stay here.”
“And have Jel marry you off to his son?” he asked, managing to summon a smile at her expression as he said it.
Anarisia looked down at her hands. She’d tightly folded them in her lap, her knuckles white as she tried to keep them from shaking. She knew that their powerful neighbor had continued expanding his territory despite the king’s warnings. She knew, too, that King Gael was weak, far too weak to deal with a charismatic, relatively popular, and above all very independent nobleman. Anarisia knew he would be unable to protect even one of his most loyal supporters, as Lord Fengol was.
She would be forced to run, to turn her back on her family and her home. And she would do it, she knew she would, because her father would make her. She stood up, breakfast forgotten, pacing back and forth. She heard her father stand, make his way over to her. He stopped her, taking her hands in his. When he spoke, his voice was softer than she’d heard it in years, and she couldn’t help looking up at him, surprised.
“I know this will be difficult for you, Anarisia. Please believe that I wish there were another way. But we have friends in Talnaëa, friends who can help you…” his voice trailed off as he turned her hands over, contemplating her palms. Her gaze wandered over them as well, as if she were seeing them for the first time…
Her eyes landed on her wrists at almost the same moment as his did. There, on the inside of her right wrist, was an indistinct, almost silver birthmark. It had been there since Anarisia could remember, and now her father dropped her left hand and brought his up to trace it.
He abruptly dropped her right hand as well, looking up to try and smile at her. “You will be alright, my daughter. You bear your mother’s independence and—I hope—something of what I think is my bravery.” His hands landed on her shoulders and he pulled her close, planting on a kiss on her forehead. “You will fare well, no matter what happens.”