Elder Begrenzen stole looks down the dark hallway as he muttered a prayer under his breath. The dampness seeped into his throat, forcing a guttural cough. It seemed to take her longer than necessary to open the door, but when he heard the latch finally release, the woman he dreamed about stood in front of him.
He bowed to her, though he slightly outranked her for now, and took in the state of her rooms from beyond her form in the doorway. The last time he had been allowed to enter, everything was in its place, tucked neatly and securely. He expected nothing less of her but a completely organized room, as she was always herself put so succinctly together. At every dinner, every festival, her gown was always freshly clean and pressed. Her hair was always perfectly in place and her manners equaled those of any queen. In many ways, she reminded him of the late Queen Polete, King Theosi’s wife, and also Begrenzen’s aunt.
Not so today. Long wooden tables had been brought in to almost every available space and upon them sat ledgers and books, chronicles of forgotten histories and recipes for healing poultices. The floor in the corner was piled high with more of the same, random papers were strewn about everywhere.
Begrenzen cleared his throat. “My lady?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. Please, come in.” She moved aside and allowed him entrance. He stepped through her threshold breathing a small sigh of relief, as he always did, that a curse seemed not to have befallen him from doing so. For such were the tales of this part of Dritan Citadel, those hallways and corridors, towers, taken from the manor the Provider had kept Aoife in. Superstition would say they were fraught with curses to the wicked and overflowing with blessings to the wise.
From his new perspective, he could see her dressing room was amiss with a garment thrown onto the floor and another still hanging from the dressing curtain. A dirtied washbowl with a rag hung off the edge of her dressing table, threatening to spill everywhere. The heavy winter cover for her bed had been crumpled onto the floor. Lady Kaelah was frazzled and pale. Her auburn hair was knotted atop her head, unkempt, and the strong scents of mint, ginger, and mugwort, mingled with sickness and sweat, filling the air.
Once he was fully convinced of his welcome, he removed the hood from his green Elder’s gown and shifted his gaze to Lady ReAnne. Thin and grey, her form was almost undetectable under the sheet. Other than the small lift of her chest, she did not move at all. She looked nothing like the rambunctious teenage girl who had left quite willingly for Staas less than two months ago.
“Have you met with the king, then?” She stepped over the cover for her bed instead of picking it up and threw the curtains open wide, allowing both fresh air and the morning light to come in. She paused at the wooden table that had been positioned under her window to read an opened book passage.
“I hear Master Edward believes you have a common Vex living within your quarters.” Begrenzen eyed her suspiciously as he made his way around her chambers, checking behind the curtains and peering into her dressing room. The hand she moved across the paper as she skimmed some out-dated source paused almost imperceptibly. But he had noticed. “Tell me, does the Foresight really come so easy to him?”
Lady Kaelah took in a sharp breath and stopped trying to read the same line for the fourth time. “Master Edward is foretold to be the one who will defeat the Vex for good. Of course it comes easily to him.” She flipped a page in the book. “Did you really come here to ask me about his foresight or do you have a purpose? I was told you were to report back of her condition.”
Begrenzen ignored her question. “Some would say there is no such man.”
“Would they?” Dust from the page she turned flew up, glints caught in the stream of light.
“Some. Yes.” He ran his hand across a dusty scroll. “It was orange? Are you sure?”
“Unfortunately, I am quite sure. I tested it three times.” She closed the book and picked up another. He meant her no harm, and still, he could see his presence unnerved her. “I am very sorry, Elder Begrenzen, but if you have no intention of properly inspecting the patient –“
“I don’t see a need for that, no.” He inched closer to her, stepping over a book and a fallen rag on the floor. He stopped only when he was an inch from the book she held out in front of her as a barrier between them. “Lady Kaelah.” His voice was slow, his words deliberate. “If it comes to it, you know what you must do.”
She lifted her eyes to his, clutching the book in her arms. “It will not come to that. I cannot let it.”
Much to his surprise, tears filled her eyes, the heaviness of her task weighing upon her for Begrenzen to see. He wanted to help her, but he had duty and honor he was bound by. Being one of the more recent candidates to be instated to the Elder Council, he couldn’t afford to risk losing their trust. They had sent him on this arduous task and he must complete it, regardless of his feelings towards her. He was determined to earn the wearing of the robe.
Still, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak, he only found himself able to wish her tears to be gone.
“Are my tears so startling, then? There was a time when you comforted me.” She asked, her head tilted in sorrow, and was that…regret…he saw?
“It was only yesterday, Begrenzen, when all of us were friends, was it not? Have we gone so far into our respective fates that we can no longer see who we used to be?” She glanced down at the book she was holding, a faint breeze from the window filling his nose with the rosemary scent of her hair. “Have we forgotten ourselves? Those children who ran through the village and into the fields, determined to not make the same mistakes as those before us. Are they no more? She is like my sister and my heart aches at the thought of losing her. Would we give up hope, Begrenzen? Is that what you would wish for me?”
“I would never…never wish that of you.” He reached out his shaky hand and rubbed her arm, gently. He had no need to use his gift with her. Unable to offer any other solace, he glanced at Lady ReAnne. She had not stirred. He knew what the histories spoke of, the severity of her plight, and the unlikelihood of her survival. He also knew how Lady Kaelah loved her as her own sister, and would sacrifice all that she had to save her, even if it cost her life. This was what he feared the most. The Great King was welcome to send Edward and Benjamin off to their doom, but not Kaelah. It was his only contribution to the discussions when the Elders and the Great King finally came to an agreement to send them on the doomed journey. Though there were others within the Order who could lead the scholarly search for a cure, Lady Kaelah was to stay behind.
No, they could not go back to where they used to be. There was too much between them, too much knowledge of each other. They could not become as children again, for how does one grow content with milk after having experienced a feast?
The night he had held her in his arms as she cried had been a feast for him, indeed.
He had rejoiced when Edward had chosen Foresight in Shadow that day. The three of them together, as it usually was, had stood before the Great King, in the main hall, decorated with banners and swags of streamers. In a half circle behind them sat the Elders, followed by those within the Order, and then their respective family members who were of age to attend. Dressed in their finest clothes, tailor-made for the ceremony, they had walked up the center aisle together, in step with one another, to the melodious tune of the Mirias March. Behind the Great King, sitting upon an ornate altar were the Six Chalices of Gifting. Though only three would be used that day, the six were always present at the ceremonies. Begrenzen had never known why until that day.
Edward had been nervous, constantly wiping his hands on light pants until they had the slightest tint of darker color in streaks down his thighs. His longer hair had been pulled back into a low pony tail until after the ceremony when he cut it shorter, in the traditional Foresight manner. Kaelah had been even more radiant than usual, her hair done up with flowers, her tall, slim frame covered by a flowing, white dress. Her eyes sparkled, reflecting the green sash cinching her waist denoting her Elder bloodline. He had worn his light green Cloak of the Minor, having been recruited by the Elder Council already by his father, Elder Conradin, regardless of his gifting.
They were ready to accept the gifts offered to them according to the wisdom of the Great King. For himself, the gift of Hindering Touch. To Lady Kaelah, the Gift of Somatic Mending. And Prince Edward, ready to accept Endearing Presence, the most logical gift for a future king.
But right before they had walked into the ceremony, Edward had asked him to switch places, to take the middle between Lady Kaelah and himself. At the time, Begrenzen was unsure as to why, but when the Great King had lifted his hands from the Shadow Chalice of Confirmation and placed them on Edward’s head, he understood. Edward had declined his original offered gifting and accepted Foresight in Shadow, instead. And could not stand next to the one person whose heart he was bound to break.
Begrenzen had fought to hold back the corners of his mouth from reaching his ears, he had been so giddy. He knew immediately the consequences of what Edward had done. When Kaelah stumbled and he was forced to break his stance to steady her, he felt sure it would be his arms holding her in the future as well. For the briefest of moments, they had made eye contact. He masked his pleasure and showed only utter surprise. Her green eyes were pleading, asking him one question: why? Why had Edward not chosen her after all?
Of course, he had no answer, except one of sheer delight and love towards her. Wisely, he only half-shrugged and shook his head as they readjusted their position before the Great King. All that talk in the fields of love ever-lasting and never being driven apart while Begrenzen had rolled his eyes and walked away to leave them alone had been a lie. He had always wished he could trade places with Edward so Lady Kaelah would love him, and that day was the first time he ever allowed himself to believe it could happen. Because Edward had betrayed her and he had not.
Still, she had refused him. And continued to do so. He could feel the familiar anger well up within him, but he forced it down and gave her a small, awkward smile instead.
He had been ready to suggest she take a break from study when Lady Kaelah’s door slammed open. Prince Dennis came running in, still in his nightshirt, with a small box in his hands. He was the epitome of the youngest sibling, his short brown hair sticking out in every direction, straight from slumber, with an utter disregard for propriety. Never out of orneriness, but out of sheer innocence and an unfortunate lack of responsibility. At fifteen, Edward had been dueling the guardsmen and being prepared for the kingship. In contrast, at fifteen and a half, Dennis was barely getting woken up before ten for chores. Begrenzen had a secret wish for Prince Dennis to become king. He seemed he would be significantly easier to control.
“I think I found something.” His eyes danced with excitement as he shoved aside books and placed the carved, wooden box onto a table.
Begrenzen stepped back, embarrassed of being caught so close to her. But Dennis paid him no mind and readily set about opening it with Kaelah right next to him. They bent over the contents, mumbling to each other, suddenly oblivious to anyone else.
Elder Begrenzen cleared his throat.
“Oh, you can take your leave, Begrenzen.”
Her voice was harsh. Cold. A swift departure of the whispering tone she had used just moments before.
He bowed, stepping backwards and stumbling over the blanket and then her chair, on his way to her door. The hood of his robe fell far over his face.
Pushing back his hood, he placed one hand on the latch as he turned to her again.
“Lady Kaelah, you will not have a choice. It is your duty and you are bound by it.”
He watched her back bristle, and then quietly latched the door to leave them to their fruitless efforts.
He barely missed knocking into Pammy as she spun around the corner with a fresh pot of boiling water from the kitchen.
“See to it her room is tidied up, Pamella.”
But Pammy only skirted around him and unlatched her door with ease.