The Jhen of Winter, Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Outside the Fatherhall, the world looked calm.  The tolling had ceased and the Square of the Fathers, basked in the warming light of midstorm, looked almost serene.  Scribes and lawmen milled about, speaking in quiet but relaxed voices with each other, reading broadsheets or taking their tea. In the center of the square, the Fount of Remembrance splashed cascades of water over fallen stone men in their  memorialized last moments.  The crimson and violet blossoms of the ancient yrlych trees lining the approach to the Fatherhall lent the scene a sort of softness in this light, as if here reigned peace.
Maryth might have gasped at this beauty, had she not known it all so false.
Though she felt relief to be finally free from her son’s wyrdlit cell, to be again in plain air in plain light, she felt more like a woman just out of her sick bed, rather than a traveler soon to be home.  She craved not rest but strength—much must be done that had been left undone.  She did not know if it was too late.
Maryth searched the sky above the square.  Her eyes were just adjusting to true light, but it did not take her long to find what she feared against the backdrop of storms.  Three oblong shapes, barges tethered to the mooring towers of the Garrison’s Isle just west of the Council District—the Queen’s Wyrdships.
She started down the steps of the Fatherhall, but then had to catch herself.  Though her mind had willed only haste, the long days of sitting in that cell under those foul lights had weakened her--she had not quite yet caught the earth.  She steadied, tried the steps more cautiously, and made her way with slower, surer footfalls across the Square of the Accord.
Maryth ignored the interested gazes of two men who passed her as she descended the stairs.  Perhaps they’d seen her stumble, perhaps they knew of her son.  She cared not what they thought, but she imagined how disheveled she must look after her long vigil. 
She thought to turn her mind from this image, but it suddenly amused her.  She, the Lady of Elen, co-regent of the third most powerful land of the Accord, was wandering bleary-eyed, her hair tangled and her clothes rumpled, across the Square of the Accord during an insurrection she’d helped nurture and fund.  She laughed for the absurdity of it.
            The Justicar’s arrested the wrong person,” she muttered, just under her breath.  The true heretic just walked out of the Fatherhall.
            Delirium swept over her.  Her son would be Examined today, interrogated under the harsh light of unshielded wyrd.  It occurred to her suddenly to turn around, ascend the stairs back into the Fatherhall and declare her crimes before the assembled petty prelates, demand an audience with the Justicar himself and confess all to him.  But just as suddenly, she knew this wouldn’t help her son.  And who, besides perhaps the Queen, would believe such a thing?
            The sudden frenzy left her, and she felt suddenly alone.

But she could give this thought no attention, for another beckoned her, an upwelling of memory as she neared the center of the square and the splashing of the fountain’s water. 
A bitter irony that she could never seem to pass the Fountain of Remembrance without being overcome with her own memory.  The statues of fallen men,  unnamed, half-submerged in the circular stone pool had been carved and placed to memorialize the unnumbered dead who’d fought to found the Accord against the savagery of What-Was-Before, but memorials never meant to her what they were meant to mean.  They were stone men, unmoving, drowning perpetually under the weight of eternally cascading water.
But here, at this monument waited a memory of her own. 

She’d been fourteen, he was not older than sixteen.  He had stood next to her, silent, and she had felt his breath—heavy, sad, pained.  Maryth had worn black to avoid notice, stealing through the streets of Thalyrest.  
Daurun had worn black because he mourned.
They’d stood here, before the Fountain, its torrent of water at once indifferent and mocking, drowning out her lover’s silence. 
She had waited, chilled, her dark cloak moistening from the fountain’s spray. She had turned to regard his face, to await his words, to divine his thoughts.  She had seen there tears and met them with a question.
“Daurun, what’s wrong?”  
And he had said to her, without emotion: “This is where they killed my mother.  A year ago.  Wyrdfire.  For heresy.”
            Maryth shook her head.  She was alone before the fountain, reluctantly struggling against the memory.   Outside the recollection was the pain of the day, the fear for her son, the fear for herself.  The water falling in thin cascades, some of it trickling, some of it plummeting down the channels, over the ledges, out through spouts that were the stone lips of the faces of the fallen, the fountain named Remembering—because she refused to add to its volume the salt droplets of her tears, because Daurun had--
In its arms again, the memory made her laugh.

“Heresy,” he’d repeated, and pissed in the fountain.
            She’d met Daurun in the market one summering evening. She’d heard his shouting before she’d seen him, great declamations against the Council and the Accord echoing off the set-stone walls and the loose cobbles.  What he had been saying was lost to her now, but what he’d looked like remained.  She remembered wild dark hair, fierce grey eyes, the dust on his sleeves, the sweat in his brow.  He’d been lanky, tall, beautiful, his features hard, his voice bellowing, but his face betrayed a restrained kindness which she had suddenly wished to unbind.  She’d watched him for a minute, forgetting herself in the passion of his edged words, and then took a stamp-printed leaflet from his hands with a wry smile.
            “Wait,” he had said, when she had begun to walk away. “Your name?” he’d called, his earlier ferocity stumbling from sudden uncertainty.  And after Maryth had told him, he asked another question.  “Can we meet again?”

            Of course,”  she had said.  “Of course,” she said aloud now, here before the fountain where they’d executed his mother, some thirty years before, remembering. 
            Maryth was clutching the worn wooden pendant, smooth from years of her fingers rubbing, wondering, across its grained surface.  Memory haunted her, memory taunted her, memory mocked her. 
            She started again across the square, unwilling to be caught here, before the Fountain of Remembrance,  seeking yet again for those lost years she could not forget, nor for those lost years she could not recover.  In her ears danced the rush of water over stone, the distant mutterings of other people in the square, voices in present echo.
            The worries came to her again now, filling the space in her head she’d cleared from the assault of the past.  Enad, carried or marched out of his cell without more than a moment’s recognition of his imprisonment.  They’d fought over something, she thought—he’d said something, and she’d fallen from the earth again.
            But what had he said? She felt with the tips of her finger the worn grooves marking the foreign rune across the surface of the pendant.  She knew their shape, their direction, the flowing soft gouges in the wood by sight and by touch, but no matter how often her fingers or eyes learned its form, understanding never came.
            She crossed the square, passed under the arched stone gate vined with fragrant wisteria, out onto the Way of the Nobles.  She made no sign to the Templars flanking the entrance to the square, nor they to her.  She wondered what they must think of their comrade, charged with heresy for aiding rebels.  She did not care what they must think of her, mother of such a heretic.
            She quickened her pace across the cobbles of the grand boulevard, escaping the Fatherhall’s inertial tug of memory and sorrow.  The clawing throb of the wyrdlights in Enad’s cell had not quite ebbed, and that lingering pain behind her eyes drove her to even greater urgency.  She strode with greater, more certain steps, barely noting the emptiness of the streets which crossed the Noble’s Way.  
            She passed a waiting carriage, its driver loitering nervously against a tree.  She thought almost to hire him, but she did not think she could summon the words to speak with another human, such anxiety and confusion welling within her.  The driver met her passive glance, and turned away, perhaps noting her inner state written across her face and rumpled clothing.  But a sight further along the boulevard granted her the words she’d need to negotiate her destination with the man.
            She’d walked not twenty feet past the carriage when she saw their approach, obsidian black reflecting the soft storm-light of the afternoon.  Dark polished metal, great silver wheels rimmed with the same indigo scripting which patterned the sides and front, iridescent even in the bright illumination of the day. Two of them, abreast, rolling unheeding down the boulevard towards her, on their way to the Fatherhall. 
            “There are wyrd-carts in Thalyrest,” she said aloud, shaking. 
            From behind her, the driver, thinking perhaps she spoke her words of indignation to him, answered back, “they’re like to put me out of a trade now, aren’t they?”
            A new foulness had swept over her at their appearance, but Maryth summoned to herself enough gentleness to answer the driver. “More than a trade, good man.  A home, mayhaps a world.”
            Prying her eyes from the object of her horror, she met the man’s inquiring stare with a question. “Are you for hire? I would like to get as fast as four days ago to the embassy district.”
            The man nodded, though Maryth saw he did not meet her eyes—they were, instead, trained upon the strange sight which she wanted more than anything to be rid of.  “I don’t need help in, good man.  Just—just hurry.”
            Her tone roused the coachman from the vision, and he was on the reins almost as soon as she was in the cab.  But he didn’t start, nor did she blame him, until after the wyrd-carts had wheeled past.  Maryth had quickly drawn the curtain across the window—she did not want to see wights today.
            “Something to be seen, I guess” muttered the driver to her once the wyrt-carts had passed far enough away that the disquieted horses finally obeyed his promptings.
            “Or to be feared,” she answered back, before she’d thought better of the words.
            The driver remained silent for a time before speaking again.  “Seems you and my missus would have a lot to say. She don’t like nothing of the wyrd.”
            Maryth’s darkness lifted slightly.  “You’ve married well, then.”  But because she wanted to speak nothing more of the great vise tightening around her, she spoke more formally to him. “I require transport to the Embassy of Eleth. Inform the gate that the Lady Regent Maryth Arich has returned.”

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