Marus thought that he was making progress on deciphering what Jules had discovered.
Granted, he didn’t have the book that had guided Jules, so he didn’t have much of the source material, but from the notes that his brother had left Marus felt that he was gaining something of an understanding of the power that had so tempted Jules.
And the power… the potential was great indeed.
There were people, individuals gifted from birth with the ability to alter the fundamental nature of reality in a way that wasn’t just greater than magic, it was something completely different. And greater than these gifted ones were the “Speakers”.
Primary among them was the “Mother Speaker”. Not because she was the most powerful; they all were equal, he supposed, in power. But she was primary because she was the most active, the most approachable, if one knew the proper channels to use. It was just a matter of finding those channels.
Marus was walking through the Palace complex when he was approached by a tall, thin man in a white garment. The man seemed almost nervous, but then Marus was rather proud of his oddness and so the oddness of another didn’t bother him. He did, however, notice the dark round-lensed spectacles that the man wore.
“Your Highness, if I might have a moment of your time.”
Marus nodded curiously. “Yes…?”
“Ah, pardon me, forgive me, my name is Vulkos Revier. I am a doctor, a scholar of sorts. I understand that you have been seeking volumes of… an esoteric nature of late and I was wondering… hmm, I was curious about whether you would be interested in investing… in assisting in some research.”
“What sort of research?”
“I have been looking into, investigating, some artifacts of ancient date. The potential in them… I wish to know how they were made and I wish to know how to make more, and I wish to study individuals who show… hmm, particular resonance to these objects.”
Marus raised an eyebrow. “Artifacts?”
“Yes, Highness, of four centuries past. I seek to reclaim the knowledge of the wanderer who assisted Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon.”
Marus raised both eyebrows. Now this… this was intriguing. “Tell me more, please, Doctor.”
Lukan watched the conversation from a safe distance, looking at the reflection in a bowl of water. His own magic did not lean towards scrying simply in the silences of his mind, though there were others…
Two years he’d been cultivating the good doctor and it looked to him as if the new tool was doing his job quite well. The doctor, a true scientist, was easier to corrupt than the Prince had been. In truth, he’d been halfway there already. He even had been eager to change his name, and the glasses… that was the man’s own stroke of brilliance. Inspired by his compatriot in research, naturally.
If at first you don’t succeed and all that.
Late in the afternoon, Grainne called her family together. Her time was coming quickly, and she knew it. As they gathered around her, Dauris and Illian sitting at the foot of the bed with Marus on her left hand, and her husband on her right, Grainne looked at all of them and sighed. She missed Jules terribly.
“Mother?” Marus asked. “Why did you ask for us?”
Grainne took a deep breath and nodded to one of her maids, Stella, who walked over to a shelf and brought over a box to the Empress. “I wished for you to witness something, my sons and my husband. The time has come for me to pass something on.” She opened the carved wood box and pulled out a silver bracelet.
It was a wide band of silver, open like a crescent moon, but carved with vines and flowers curling around an oval shape on the top. There might have once been a stone set in that oval, but there was not now, and it did not look incomplete for the absence. Dauris’ eyes grew large when she saw it.
“Mother, that’s pretty.”
Grainne laughed softly. “Now my daughter notices jewelry. Your suitors will be hard pressed to catch your eye with anything less than the most unusual or the most unique.” Marus covered his mouth to hide the smile and Illian blinked in surprise. The Emperor, though, smiled large and openly, even though his health had not been good since his wounding two years earlier. “This, Daughter, is an heirloom of my house, one that is known throughout all the noble houses. It has passed from mother to daughter for four hundred years, since the time of Lady Zaira and Lord Gryphon, and though it sometimes leaves, it always finds its way back to Castellan. I give it now to you. Know that if you are ever lost or alone, show it to one of noble birth, or one in close service to nobility, and it will proclaim whose daughter you are, so that you can claim what is rightfully yours.” She reached forward and placed the bracelet in her daughter’s hands.
For a moment Dauris simply looked at the bracelet, then she looked up at her mother with tears in her eyes. “Yes, Mother, I understand.”
Marus looked at the bracelet, and at his sister, and at his mother who was dying in front of them, and wondered what had passed between them when no one else was around.
Dauris slipped the bracelet on her wrist, but it was still so big around her arm that she had to put it over her sleeve. Another year or two and she would grow into it, though.
Grainne nodded to her children, told them to run and play and enjoy themselves for what remained of a glorious summer afternoon. Illian and Dauris left quickly enough, though Dauris paused to kiss her mother’s cheek. Marus followed soon afterwards. Grainne looked at her husband, and held a hand out to him. “Would you stay with me, my husband?”
He looked startled, and carefully sat down next to her. “I thought that you wished privacy?”
“I do, with you. Our daughter… she is almost as odd as Marus some days.”
He nodded. “You dreamed of her, though, and so she is ours.”
“I dreamed of our sons, too, before their births.” She paused. “Do you remember how we were given Illian?”
He smiled. “The courtiers still whisper the tale in corners some nights. Three days in a row you came unannounced into the council chamber to request my presence in your bower that evening. I was… flattered. Our son… means a great deal to me.”
“I dreamed of him before I went to you. I dreamed of a son who would be innocent and a joy to both of us. I wanted that son so much…”
Something in the Emperor, in the man Matthias, broke then. “You have dreamed of our sons and you have dreamed of our daughter. Grainne, why have you never dreamed of me?”
She smiled at him though tears were falling down her face. “Why? I always dreamed of you. I never spoke of it because I was never as strong as my sister, and I was afraid that you would not have me if I told you that it was because of dreams. You were so very proud, Matthias, my love.”
Matthias drew in a painful breath. Hearing the words after hoping for them for so long… it was too much to believe and yet he ached that the words were only said now, when they were so close to parting. “I was very proud, Grainne. I would not have believed you had you told me of dreams when I was young and sought cause for war.” Tears began to fall down his face as well. “But why wait until now to tell me the truth?”
“It became… habit. I had you in my life, and I had our sons, and I thought… I thought that dreams were unnecessary. I thought that you didn’t need to know. Our daughter… our daughter told me otherwise. I just wanted you to know the truth before I pass from this life.”
“To imagine that a foundling daughter would bring me such a gift…”
She took his hand, squeezed gently on it to interrupt him. What she had to say mattered more to her than dwelling on lost years. “Matthias, our daughter dreams.”
He sighed. “Yes, Grainne, she dreams, but she does not believe in her dreams. She told me the day you brought her home. I promised her that day that if she had cause to run that she would have my permission. Is that why you gave her the bracelet?”
She nodded. “Yes, so that she has a bridge back to her home here. Her dreams warn her of her brothers. One will try to stand between her and the man she sees in her dreams, this man who will be her friend and ally and maybe more than that some day, this man who would fight against his own blood to save her.”
“No, not Illian. Never Illian. She has told him and he wishes to help her find this man she does not believe is real.”
“Her brother will be Emperor after me, and I… I do not know how long I can be without you, Grainne.”
“He will have the right to keep her from running. He will deny her the permission that you have promised. He dotes on her so very much.” She sighed, struggling to breathe through the weakness in her body. “She must be free to run to Castellan. I saw it in my dream. He waits for her there.” She paused. “Castellan will come here for the coronation of the next Emperor. My brother would travel personally for the coronation of his nephew.”
“Our daughter is still only eleven years old. She is too young to run.”
“Then you must survive, Matthias, until she is twelve. At twelve she will wear the clothing of a woman grown and will have begun her transition. At twelve she could be a fosterling in my brother’s court until she is of age to find her own way in life. I will write a letter to be given to my brother; I will tell him about our daughter and beg his help. He is of Castellan and will believe in Castellan dreams. I will tell our daughter to deliver it personally. It may be that Fate will smile upon us and the one she dreams of will be part of my brother’s cortege. Please, Matthias, survive.”
He smiled through his tears. “How could I ever deny you anything, Grainne?”
“I love you, Matthias.”
“I love you, too, Grainne.” He leaned forward to softly kiss her, tears mingling on their faces.
Several days later Grainne called Dauris to her in the privacy of the bower. She held a sealed roll of paper. Dauris looked curious. “Yes, Mother?”
“After I am gone, I want to you to deliver this letter to my brother, King Ainmire of Castellan. I need you to do this personally, Dauris.”
Dauris nodded. “I understand. What is in it?”
Grainne smiled. “Nothing that you need to worry about now, my daughter.” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “If you have to go to Castellan yourself, in the merchant’s district there is a shop run by a dwarf. His name is Kodran and once upon a time he was my friend. He is also something of a father to the streetlings of Castellan, and many know him through them. The streets of Castellan would be much more dangerous for the streetlings if not for him.”
“Is that how you knew him? Did you walk Castellan’s streets under his safety?”
She smiled again. “Yes, Daughter, I used another name and I walked Castellan’s streets as a streetling whenever I could escape my maids in the Palace. Without Kodran… it would not have been safe.”
Dauris nodded. “I will see your letter delivered, Mother.”
Summer faded into autumn and the Empress faded with the year. With the falling of the first snow, she died with her family around her.
For weeks Dauris was inconsolable.
Finally, Illian and Marus had had enough, and Illian marched into the bower to confront his sister. “Marus wants to take you for a walk and I want you to go. All you do is sit in here and cry.”
“I can’t help it. I’m a girl. I’m supposed to cry.”
“I know that! And I cry too. I will for as long as I live. But we turn twelve soon, and you need to do some shopping for the party, which we will have in spite of everything. I thought you were looking forward to giving up the short bodices.”
“I was, but without Mother…” She looked down at the bracelet that she still wore. In point of fact, she even slept with it on. It felt… comforting. She had only the dagger to remind her of the mother who had died before she could be born.
“Dauris, a walk isn’t going to hurt you. Please, if you lock yourself in here then Marus… he’s already going strange again when you aren’t around. Take him shopping with you. Gallus is with his grandchildren today and it can just be the two of you.”
“What about you?”
Illian looked down at his feet. “Father… Father and I are going to take care of some matters. I’d rather not have Marus around when we do.”
Dauris blinked. “What are you two up to?”
“Father is… Father is transferring the right to negotiate your match to me… So that Marus can’t use that to keep you here if you are, in fact, having Castellan Dreams. He seems to think… that you’re dreaming of a match.” He flushed slightly. “Especially since the Princely Knight keeps showing up again and again.”
She nodded slowly and then sighed and rolled her eyes. “Why is it that the presence of a male figure in a dream automatically makes people assume it’s that kind of dream? He could just be a friend.” She took a deep breath. “Alright, let me get my cloak.”
Marus waited for Dauris at the entrance to the gardens. She had to smile at him when she saw the worried look in his eyes. She still feared that one day they would be on opposite sides in a war, but she could never hate him. She loved him too much. Especially after what he had done for her after Jules died, and before.
For a while they simply walked in silence, enjoying the coldness of the air.
Then one of the females of the court walked by, all done up in tasteless wealth, walking her utterly useless lapdog that was almost as arrogant as she was. Oh, she bowed to them, they were higher on the social ladder than she was, but Dauris had seen how she treated everyone else.
Still, Dauris was better bred than to snort in her face. She saved the giggles for after the woman was out of hearing range. “Did you see that dog of hers? I’m surprised the poor animal can still walk. She tends to carry it everywhere with her.”
Marus was cheered greatly by the way Dauris laughed. It wasn’t full laughter, she almost never did that, but it was still better than the silence. “Lapdogs are all the fashion the last couple of years. Almost every female in court has one.”
“Do you want one?”
Dauris actually stopped still for a moment. “I was adopted by a dog, of sorts, when I was a baby. She decided that I was her puppy because I didn’t have another mother. The woman who raised me would laugh about it, but dragondogs tend to get what they want.”
“That isn’t answering the question, Dauris.”
“I know. I just… I never thought about having a dog, or a cat, or anything of that sort.”
“Well, it would have to be an unusual animal, certainly. No dust mop dogs for my sister.”
She chuckled. “I’m partial to short-haired animals myself. Easier to clean up after. Or ones with fairy wings.”
They continued walking and talking until they were almost out to the market where Dauris slipped on a spot of ice, falling flat on her seat as her feet flew out from under her. Marus looked at her, startled.
“Are you alright, Sister?”
She laughed, more at herself than anything else. “Yes, I’m fine. Just give me a moment and I’ll stand up.”
Marus reached a hand out to her to help her up when a small brown shape ran up from an alleyway, barking madly at Marus. It startled him so much that he actually backed up a couple steps. Then the small shape turned towards Dauris and started whining and she realized that it was a small dog, a puppy, barely even weaned, and it was cold and frightened.
“Oh, baby, what are you doing out here by yourself?” Before Marus could stop her, Dauris opened her arms and the tiny dog jumped into them, trying to burrow into her warmth. “Oh, sweetheart, oh you poor dear.” She wrapped the dog in her cloak to try to warm him up.
Marus looked at the two of them for a moment in stunned amazement. Then he threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, Heavens, some days I have to wonder if someone up there doesn’t have a twisted sense of humor.”
Dauris looked at him curiously. “Why do you say that, Marus?”
“Because that is exactly what you did when we first found you, Dauris.” He reached out his hand again and she took it with the opposite hand from the one holding the little dog close to her. He helped her to her feet and looked at the puppy, still smiling. “I believe we found you a lapdog.”
She looked down at the puppy, and had to smile at the big brown eyes that pled with her for warmth, and food, and safety. “I’ll call him Little Brother, Nii-chan.”