Heart of the Lost
"Believe what you will, you have a Destiny."
I look up from the evidence I am cataloguing, unsure as to whether to be amused or annoyed by Warren's sudden, uncharacteristic insistence on distracting me from my work. Still, my brother-in-law is a big, square man, just like my Eppie, and I tend to humor him more than I probably should.
When unsure, retreat into what you know. "I am an forensic alchemist," I point out with a wry smile, "not some sort of adventuring loon." While I utter these words, I carefully begin to peal waxy bark away from the underlying woody structure of the 'unnatural' ivy vines I had been given to analyze, and note in my lab journal the total absence of cankerous galls, warpweb, or other signs of banework.
"Besides," I grunt as an afterthought, "the days for such things have come and gone. I have matured beyond the notion of making a name (and place at Court) for myself through romantically daring (and stupidly dangerous) alarums and excursions."
Teasing several woody fibers from the ivy stem, I press them between two thin panes of glass and add a drop of malachine dye. Muttering the Conjury of Proximal Phantasm beneath my breath, I adjust the angle of the magnified and stained image for maximum clarity of detail and begin my next set of notations. Still no sign of either natural disease or malefic tampering.
Warren, to my semi-surprise, holds his tongue at my semi-casual flaunting of sorcery and replies to my words. Crot! So much for my hopes of distracting him, or perhaps dismaying him, into abandoning his attempts at redirecting my life and leaving me to finish my work in peace.
Pah, I really don't have time for this, and I am doing nothing wrong. I have an Exemption with the Queen's own seal: I am not only allowed minor sorcerous conjurings, I am commanded to assay them in the service of the Realm. But Warren is devout, and the Queen's recent legalization of cold magics does not erase a lifetime of queasy prejudice and Temple warnings.
But no, today something is driving him more than his usual concerns for the state of my soul. Instead of retreating from my homely little garret, he shuffles his feet and runs print-stained fingers through his yellow hair while pointedly clearing his throat. Then, when he is sure he has captured my full attention, he holds up his big, blunt hands and begins counting on his fingers.
"Primus, Miralis," he declaims, holding up his pointing finger, "you are only twenty and eight. This is the Fourth Century, not the Dark Ages. As a working adept you have at least 100 good years ahead of you. Maybe 200. Stop talking like you've prunified.
"Secundus, Varshalla's an elf. You left his service ten years ago, which is three breath's difference to him. It's questionable if you've been gone long enough for him to consider you gone, instead of stepped out for a breath of air.
"Tertius, now that Ephrahim has passed on you have no further excuse for putting off your practicum. And once you have that, you'll be a full guild member and won't have to stoop to cold work anymore."
"Quartus," he continues with a pained frown, "cynicism and love of comfort is not the same thing as maturity. And, and..." He pauses and his eyes roll up and to the left as he searches his memory.
"Quintus," I supply, impressed that he had made it as far as he had. Very few non-adepts learn even one or two words of Old Arcane, and few as religious as Warren will defy superstition and speak them aloud. But then again, Warren is from a family of wordsmiths. I think he must be trying to impress himself with his own open-mindedness as he prepares his last point.
"... and Finally," he holds up his thumb, ignoring my offering, "Mir, I don't know how much longer you'll continue to be safe here, useful to the new Queen or not. If you won't complete your training, and you won't check out Varshalla, you should at least 'port to some place off the Eastern slope."
"Warren," I begin in a voice of utter reasonableness that belies the sudden bitter sickness in my belly. "Twenty-eight IS past 'prenticing age by anyone's reckoning. Varshalla wouldn't want me anymore. And... in the normal course of events, I'd be planning out my children's training, not jabbering on with my absent husband's brother about starting over myself! ...I'm as safe here as I would be anywhere. Safer. I... have family here."
Do I hear an edge of pleading creep into my voice as I stumble over the last words? Yes, I do. Warren hears it too, and his lips turn up in a crooked, smug, smile.
"Mir, you don't actually have any children and Ephrahim's been missing for going on two years. You lost your house last year and live in a garret apartment over my printing shop, with a nearcat and two hoppers for company. You may make a decent living sifting through rat droppings and making lists of what you find in the pockets of the dead, but since you've gotten back from your own searching, every centum that you've been able to scavenge beyond what you need to stay alive has gone for diviners and locator spells.
"Eph's dead. Even Mam's nearly come to terms, and your hanging on is making things harder for her than it needs to be. Let Eph go. Move on. Get away from this place and start a new life before winter sets in and we're snowbound and trapped with bad memories and plague nightmares again. Be reasonable, Maralith."
"Don't call me that!" I
want to scream when I hear the hated nickname from my childhood. My
hands begin to shake, my carefully maintained adapt's detachment
flash-flared away by the sickening flush of old trauma layered atop
what I was pretty certain was my upcoming eviction.
Now, at least, I know what Warren's real issue is -- the baletaint I had picked up during my own starcrossed first expedition searching for Eph. As long as I practice sorcery, I can't turn to the Temple for cleansing. And sorcery is the only skill I have that will allow me to earn enough coin to keep up my search for Eph.
Yes, I realize. My brother-in-law is speaking out of fear of taint and fear of sorcery and rising religious fervor as the traditional values we grew up with are brought into question by the edicts of the new Queen. Or maybe he's just afraid that when the mob comes for me, it will come for him, too.
So I catch myself. I swallow the lump in my throat and choke out the only truth I have to offer. "Ephs' coming back, I know he is. Or I'll find him. I'd ken if he were dead."
"Eph's not coming back," Warren shakes his head and replies with reasoning-with-the-madwoman solicitude. "You know it, Mir. I know it. The roads have been cleared for months now. If Eph survived the first strike, he would have gotten something back to us by now. In your own words, he wasn't much of an 'adventurer'."
And now, emboldened by his mastery of 'superior' reasoning, justified and entitled in his own eyes... Oh, haya, no! I can see Warren straining against the urge to 'comfort' me. I can tell from the forlorn slouch of his shoulders and the rigidity in his half-open hands. He is wondering if he dares cross the six feet between us, from where he perches on my spare stool to where I lean against my workbench.
But, no, he won't dare. At some level, my Eppie's sib and his poor widowed mother are certain I am damned. And contagious.
"If you can't recant, then go to Sdao or Coronado. Southlanders don't follow the Precepts -- they won't care that you're not clean." Warren grumbles this parting shot as he stands, adjusts his tunic, and reaches for the doorlatch. I turn my back, holding my breath and my own spine rigid until I hear his footsteps starting down the rickety stairs.
Pause, breathe. I'd just confirmed that there's no evidence of baletaint on the ivy. Now I need to test for shambler's rot and poisons. Align edge and center, resonate void. I need my wits about me if I am going to have my report for the magistrate ready before the hearing.
So I can get paid my bonus. I'm going to need traveling money.
I have a Destiny, after all.
Last Updated: 08/13/2007