Lira- Chapter One
Summer 1273, Cyllian Imperial Count
The wind blew steadily over the tall grass, bending it to the west as it always did. The sun was warm on my skin, but when the clouds rolled by I noticed a chill on the wind, warning of the winter to come. “It’s such a beautiful day,” I said aloud, though I doubted he heard me. Venticle scholars didn’t teach of an afterlife, and as much as I prayed he found the one promised by his people it was hard to ignore the truth. There was no divine path set for us all. There was no promise of a never ending tomorrow, only the tranquil embrace of death.
“You would have offered me your jacket,” I continued. “And I would have taken it, if only to let you play the hero for a moment.”
I ran my fingers over the inscription carved along the trunk of the eldertree and paused. The words were weathered now with the passage of time, a requiem, and as fitting a memorial for him as any. I took a seat on the grass next to a cairn lined with smooth stone from the Ellish. I took in a deep breath as I looked out over the valley… our valley.
“I’m sorry I haven’t visited in a while,” I said. My eyes focused back on the cairn. “I’ve been bus—” I caught myself. Lying to a grave seemed almost as pointless as talking to one.
“I will try harder,” I said as I reached into my pack and pulled out a handful of papers. “Let’s see what the world is up to.” I unfolded the first and noted the date. It was nearly a cycle ago and from a town close to the Burh. I assumed the language of it’s message would lean as far south as possible, but I didn’t think he would mind.
“It was a poor harvest again in Cyllia and to top that, Emerand’s spice fields were raided and burned by the Sunemere. They expect grain shortages this winter. Chancellor Breoak has ordered rationing in the Northern Territories. On top of the existing rationing of course.” I sighed. “I think it’s only a matter of time before they take it all.” I flipped the paper over and read the back. “This is just more about the war… but I know you don’t want to hear about that.”
I placed the paper down and selected another. This was from Gent and less than a week old. “A frost came in early and took out most of the vineyards south of the bay. Poor souls lost half their harvest. Sounds like there may be a market for Sam’s wine after all.” I scanned through the rest, looking for a story that may contain a breath of sunshine. I found nothing and decided to leave the wider world for the one I was building instead.
“Penir says he will be done with the bunkhouse before the cold sets in. The boys are helping with some urgency there. The ones that remember last winter don’t want a repeat.” I inched closer to his cairn and replaced some stones that had wiggled loose.
“Sam is ready for the harvest next week. He told you it would be a few years before the vines produced anything decent, but I think he was just being his typical dour self. I tried some of the first batch. I thought it was fair, a passing Northern red at the very least, but I saw the way his eyes lit when he tried it.”
Dandelions had grown in a line around the edge of his cairn, I picked a few absently, then stopped, deciding they belonged afterall.
“Let’s see… what else… Cole is getting bigger by the day. He sits up by himself now. Tab got him a cat as a gift for his mid-year. I thought it was sweet at first but the damned thing howls at night. I am pretty sure she just wanted to be rid of it and knew I wouldn’t turn it away.” I placed my hand on a stone and felt a tear race down my cheek. “I miss you,” I said, allowing another to streak through the road dust on my face. “It hurts still.”
Bird song floated by in harmony with the Elish that gently rolled behind me. The sun broke through a cloud and illuminated the stone lined mound. It was peaceful here, so peaceful I felt an intruder, a disturber of that peace. He was here, laid immortal beneath the bows of the eldertree, here to live out the rest of eternity in peace and quiet. This was his sanctuary, the final gift I could give him. But coming here only served to remind me of where our life together ended. Much had happened in the past year. My life continued on and I felt guilty in that. I felt guilty that I wanted it to continue. I felt guilty in saying goodbye.
“Well,” I said, wiping a hand across my face. “I had better get back.” I looked toward Lilly who was tied to a low branch of the eldertree and stood. “It may be a few weeks before I can make it back. Cole needs me more and more, and as much as Tab is happy to offer I don’t want him to be a burden.”
I turned to Lilly and unwrapped her reins. “Maybe I will bring him one day so you can meet him. His eyes remind me of yours.” I felt a tear begin to form but blinked it away. I ran my hand one last time over his name. “Until next time, my love.”
Lilly had me back home a few hours before sundown. As I arrived one of the boys approached me and Lilly. He was one of the older ones that had joined us a few cycles ago. He was tall with tangled brown hair and bright green eyes. He offered his hand to help me down. I handed him Lilly’s reins instead.
“See that she is brushed and fed, Kess,” I said to him.
He nodded. “As you wish, milady.”
I frowned. “Lira will suffice, Kess. Or matron if you prefer something more dignified.”
He smiled. He always smiled. I might have smiled back, but I was weary from the road and weary of giving him the wrong impression. I heard Cole from inside and felt his smile linger past the point of politeness.
“On your way then,” I said firmly. “I’m sure Sam has tasks for you.”
He nodded. “As you wish, Lira.”
In my past life I might have taken a bath and washed the road from my skin while a dozen servants prepared a meal to be eaten in silence and Venticle reflection. That seemed so long ago. When I stepped inside Cole was in a fuss and although ama Tab was doing her best to soothe him I knew there was only one person he wanted.
“Lira, dear,” Tab said. “Back so soon?”
“Yes, the road was easy.” I reached my arms out to Cole. “And how was my little boy?”
“Oh we’ve had a grand time, deary. Though he doesn’t care for that goat milk. I settled for feeding him some grapes and warm cheese instead.”
“Ama, you know he shouldn’t be eating—”
“Lira, dear, boys have been eating grapes on this patch of dirt since before I was born. Haven’t lost a one yet.” She picked him up off her shoulder and handed him to me. “Still, he could maybe use a drop or two.”
I nodded. “I’ll take him in my room to feed him.”
“Oh nonsense, dear. Why don’t you get cleaned up first, you’ve been on the back of a horse all day. Take a moment for yourself.”
I bounced him twice then tickled his little belly. “It’s fine, he comes first.”
Tab smiled. “As any little master should. Well, I won’t keep you then. I’ll just let Sam know I’m leaving.” She chuckled. “Old goat doesn’t know I’m playing bones with Nora tonight. It will be cold meat and stale bread for him— would you mind?”
I shook my head. “I never mind the company… even if he talks less than Cole.”
She stepped through the door. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She reached toward the side table where a sealed letter waited. “Post arrived for you today.”
I stepped forward as she handed it to me. “From who?”
Her mouth went tight as she pointed to the seal made from black wax. It held the imperial six star. I knew then who had sent it.
“Well you know what they say,” she said nervously, “bad news can always wait the dawn.”
“Yes, but I think that refers only to executions, Ama.”
She didn’t laugh. Nor did I. Back in my room I stroked his head as he nursed. He was so quiet, so peaceful, so unaware of what his life would be like in only a few short years. I thought of the sealed letter staring at me from across the room and sighed. Bad news could wait the dawn.