The Jhen of Winter, Chapter Four

Chapter Four.

Maryth stared languidly through the window of her chambers in the embassy. Outside her window, the fading stormlight painted the sandstone walls and towers of the Council district rose, violet, and gold. Inside her head, the memories swelled and ebbed, crashing waves and sudden pregnant silence in oceanic breath. 
Exhausted, she sighed.
In an hour, she would sit with her daughter to dinner and await the Vizier of Aren.  But now, she would just sit, wait, as impotent now as she was in Enad’s cell.  Better lighting, she considered briefly. But waiting, still. And, after a moment, she added: Always.

Maryth had waited relentlessly for Daurun. 
The wild-haired, severe, lanky beautiful man in the market, shouting his proclamations and pushing his leaflets—she’d not thought she’d see him again, though she’d hoped maybe she would.  The absurdity had charmed her.  She was fourteen, the younger of two daughters of Council nobles. He would sweep her away, arm in arm in some sort of revolution (it hadn’t mattered to her which, back then).  The scandal, the danger—it’d been delicious.
She’d looked for him the next market day, and abandoned the entire fantasy when he was nowhere to be found.  He’d probably been arrested, or had fled the city. Either way, he was not there, waiting for her, and that disappointment had made her so angry with herself she’d decided she’d never talk to another man again.
She’d forgotten this vow three days later, when she saw him again.  Awkwardly dressed, making too much of a show of belonging on the streets of the Nobles, he met her eyes and she melted.
“What are you doing here?” she’d asked him, trying to sound unenthused.
“I—I wanted to see you again,” he’d answered, and Maryth was conquered.

Days, she waited for him. He couldn’t come to her until stormfall, and not everyday.  She couldn’t go to him, he’d explained—she wouldn’t be safe returning from the Commons late at night, answering the questions of the Enforcers as to her activities.  He wouldn’t be safe entering the Nobles by day, because he was common. 
Hours she waited, then, from the first tolling of stormfall until the rustling of the birch branches just outside her window. The wind would make her heart leap so often she had soon demanded a different summoning from him—a large stone dropped into the pool before the statue of Lord Relvir nearby, rather than a pebble at her window.
Minutes she waited, too, as Daurun climbed walls and crept between hedges to scout the seclusion of their sanctuaries, perched above the sluggish water of the grand canal or sitting in the overgrown grasses of wilding courtyards.
And then no more waiting, only now, until omens of stormrise made short their seeming eternity of timelessness and promised to them more waiting.

She was always waiting, except when he was there with her, she with him.  In those times, she listened.  She listened to the rough timbre of his lowered voice, the shapes of the words he spoke, the vast unspoken tales in his breathing silence.
            Daurun was a laborer.  Mornings, he woke before stormlight to linger with other men for jobs along the city’s crowded docks. He loaded and unloaded, hauled, carted to and from warehouses and vendors the sundry fabrics, foods, and materials upon which others built their lives. On days there was no work, or on days he chose not to work, he distributed leaflets in the market and the commons.
            Against the Alliance, she’d read. Against the Council.
            She had listened as he’d told her why, and she’d found herself quickly convinced.

Daurun would tell her about his sisters, about his dreams and his fears.  He passed out leaflets when he could in the Market, proclamations against specific arrests, against particular Council declarations, against enslavement of the Fel’lal and against the wars with the Celyth.  He could talk for hours, and she would listen, sometimes thrilled, sometimes confused, sometimes horrified: his life so different from hers, and yet so much closer to her dreams and desires than anything offered by the title she was born to.  In light of his stories, her own always seemed dull and drab, banal beyond compare despite his rapt attention to her words which Maryth had feared she did not deserve. 
            She had already liked him, but when he had taught her about the Listening, she began to love him.  Two months after the beginning of their night trysts, something she had said offhandedly had made him jump, his eyes alight.  What particularly her words had been she did not know, but she would remember forever his response: “You can Listen!”
            What he had meant, though he had not said it, was that she was, like him, a heretic.  She could hear voices that were not there, could sense the thoughts of someone who was.  Beneath words spoken she could hear deceit and guess the truth hidden in their sounds—sometimes, only, but often enough that she had begun to rely upon it.
            “You can Listen—you should practice it, Maryth.  But…” and he had stopped, and would not finish his statement no matter how she had cajoled.  “I can See,” he finally continued, countering her curiousity.  “It’s almost the same thing.  You know you shouldn’t let anyone else know, right?”

Maryth had waited for Daurun, until she decided she may never have to again.   Daurun worked, because he had no money. Maryth did not work, because she had money.  Nothing seemed simpler.
She began setting apart most of her monetary allowances each month, paying to have older clothes mended rather than retired and replaced with something new.  Her mother remarked on this, her father argued with her.  Neither knew nor cared where the thirty thalers per month went, but wondered aloud at dinner and before banquets and balls precisely why their daughter insisted on wearing mostly the same dresses and shawls they had seen so many times before. 
It was not her dresses which were the problem: she was old enough now, they had told her, that she should look to her “future.”  Her wardrobe would have sufficed a year earlier, before her sister had engaged and her parents began to wonder to whom their younger daughter might eventually be married.   The clothes were now a proxy for another matter, in which they had fretfully noticed Maryth showed little interest. 
Yevonne, Maryth’s sister, had become engaged at seventeen, and Maryth never failed to point this out to her parents after the beratements.  She was only fifteen years, and barely that.  There would be time, would there not? But her parents only answered with more discussion of her clothing.  Why had she not bought a more delicate gown for the evening? 
            But another question mattered more to her—where was Daurun? The day she’d decided on her plan became, for months, the last day she’d seen him.
            Maryth waited again, walking during the day, strolling past the gaslamp-and-linden-lined boulevards, walking through dreams along the walls of the canals, taking the same circuitous route back to her house that she and Daurun sometimes took during their night walks.  Every evening she could, she lingering by the statue of Lord Relvir and the small pool nearby, staring at the surface of the water as the shadows lengthened and grew before drawing the shapes of everything into themselves, covering the world in their darkness.  But Daurun never came, and her parents became more insistent.
She searched when she could, asking in the market, along the docks (seldom a pleasant task), and in both the Eastwall and Westwall villages.  No one had heard of him, or none who had heard of him would let her know.  She took to wearing shabbier clothes, having tired quickly of the hatred disguised as deference shown her when she dressed her station.  Thus disguised, people became more willing to speak to her, but never did this yield any news of the man she so dearly longed to see.
 Daurun had never told her where he lived, where the small rented-house he had kept for himself and his younger sisters might be in the city.  Was it a set-stone?  An attic above a shop?  He could be anywhere in Thalyrest, or nowhere within the city’s wall at all. 
Her waiting had become despair, but still she clung to her plan.

Late that autumn, two months after she had last seen Daurun, Maryth’s older sister Yevonne married.  Maryth had almost refused to go, for  it meant two weeks away from Thalyrest, without a way to Daurun she would be gone.  If Daurun did want to meet her, if he stood by that pool before the statue, would he think her no longer interested?
In her fear, Maryth comprehended little of the wedding, remembering even less. Her sister married the Lord of Galn, but Maryth could not remember precisely if Yevonne had cried as she was married, or if those tears were only Maryth’s memory of her sister at a later time.
After the wedding, Maryth returned to no sign of Daurun. Only more waiting.

There then started, to her annoyance, first a trickle and then a steady stream of suitors for Maryth,  many of them her age yet nauseatingly boyish, or older, boorish and vapid, and not a single one of them Daurun.  She tired quickly of them, asked them questions in the sitting-room about subjects certain to make them fluster, whimsically choosing to pretend she had not heard them or (more often, which brought a greater effect) answering their questions with completely unrelated answers.  Word of the flighty and probably hysterical Maryth of Relvir reached the ears of her parents.  Her mother shook her head, her father shouted.  Maryth did not answer.
Yevonne came to visit late the next spring, just after Maryth’s sixteenth birthday.  She tried to win over Maryth’s confidence, pretended not to have been sent to speak to her younger sister about this matter.  Maryth listened to her assurances that married life was not nearly so bad as it might by every other reckoning seem, that once the man has done what he wants with his wife she is left to herself and allowed what else she wants, and “besides, they only hurt you a little bit each time, and only if you let him see you cry while it happens.”
And then Yevonne cried, and Maryth comforted her.  Maryth told her the truth—that she had fallen in love with an orphan, with a day-worker who that hadn’t hurt her one bit and she had rather liked it all and was certain she loved him, and they both cried long into the evening.  Before Yevonne returned to Galn, to her husband who would hurt her only if she let him know she feared him, she vowed not to tell her parents about Maryth’s love. 
She told their parents anyway, though Maryth could not sustain any anger against her—she felt pity for Yevonne, regardless of the broken promise.
“Yevonne isn’t happy in her marriage, why would I be?”   Her parents became only further incensed.  Her mother wept, her father shattered several wine-glasses.
“Who is he, then?  He isn’t even a merchant’s son, is he?”  Her father ignored his bleeding hand, her mother called for the maid.
“He’s no-one, Father.  That’s why I love him.”
There had been nothing else to say.  She was forbidden to leave the house in the evening, new dresses were bought for her, more suitors came and went, shaking their heads sullenly or gritting their teeth against the manic laughter.  A few shouted at her.  And one, many years later, long after Maryth had stopped waiting for Daurun, proposed.

The eldest son, Council-heir, Lord-in-waiting of Eleth: he had been named Stel.  Red-gold hair, brooding eyes painfully pensive.  His mother had arranged the meeting, against his father’s suggestions, though Maryth did not learn this from the letter her own father bade her read.  Her father forbade her touch her food until she do so, aloud, without laughing or sneering.  That warm afternoon, lunching on the terrace, Maryth had felt too much exhaltation to be stubborn, and so read the letter without hesitation.  It was from the Council-heir of Eleth; she hadn’t paid attention, and had remained confused for much of the ensuing conversation until she glanced again at the seal.
It didn’t matter.  Maryth’s waiting was to be over.  Just that morning she had found scrawled upon the statue, in front of the pool, in chalk--I miss you.  Sixth-day, usual.  I love you. 
Daurun had returned.
She happily agreed to meet the proposed suitor, certain she wouldn’t be around long enough to make good on that promise.   Her mother smiled, her father melted.  The afternoon stayed warm, the stormlight streamed across the garden, upon her face, playing gently and brilliantly with the outlaid crystal from which she drank her wine, floating.

A little less than three hours after stormfall on the night before she was to have tea with Stel of Eleth, Maryth stepped lightly from her parent’s house and into the street, walking past the other title-houses across the ancient cobbles to the small park in the centre of which stood the rose sand-stone statue of Lord Relvir, brandishing in its left-hand the chipped scroll of the Accord. 
She had waited months.  She would wait no longer.

The hand on her shoulder from behind startled her completely, and she yelped in shock before turning to find Daurun laughing.
“Sorry,” he said, lowly.  “My leg’s hurt, so I was watching you from the over there.”  He pointed to a low section of wall.
“I didn’t see you.”  She threw her arms around him, careful not to throw him off-balance with her fervor.  He smelled of sweat, of rynwood, of nera smoke. 
“We should go somewhere else, Maryth. How about the canal?”  His arms had not yet released her.
“Yes, please.  I brought some food, if you’re hungry.”  His chest felt hard beneath her face, muscled and bony.  She would not let him refuse the food.

They walked together along the narrow leniencies between the noble manses, quiet and hidden paths for anyone wishing to move between estates without being seen.  The two of them walked through these voided spaces, crossing the streets from one to the next, careful not to be seen but also unconsciously reveling in the freedom they had found together.  The storms had long since cleared upon the unseen wind, roiling away to reveal a night filled with stars.  They pushed their way through the tall grasses and wild-flowers, stepped over fallen masonry and broken pottery until they came to stone wall they had to climb and walk along for a few feet before dropping down upon the edge of the canal wall.  Daurun needed her help both for the short scramble up and also on the other side.  Maryth misjudged his descent and tore her cloak slightly as she fell under him, cushioning his fall without complaint.
“Sorry,” he laughed, and she kissed him.

They stayed together well into the night.  Maryth had given little thought to her parent’s concern, or much else for that matter.  She had hidden some more clothes and money in the garden of their estate, in case he asked her to run away with him.  It would be simple to climb the wall, pass over her things, and quietly place the letter she had already written in farewell on the table of the terrace, or perhaps under the front door, or tied to the gate if it didn’t look like rain.
She chose not to ask him where he had been.  He would tell her, or have reasons for not telling her.  She would guess, might steer the conversation towards that direction, but at this moment, here along the lower wall of the canal, shielded from the view of the street by the un-pruned shrubs and overgrown grass, near to the hidden nests of goose and duck, occasionally watched by scurrying rat or prowling house-cat, where Daurun had been did not matter.  If it had been most a year (and it had), the long absence in memory collapsed upon itself to have been merely a pause, a very long afternoon staring through a window in anticipation of stormclear or a night spent alone but with sleep to help pass the time.
He was here again, and she with him.  She was done with waiting.
He didn’t speak while he ate the food she had brought him.  He tried, but she quieted him, chided him.  “You are too thin, Daurun,” she said, and when he tried to respond, she put her finger to his lips and pointed to the bread and cheese and wine, and he obeyed, smiling.  When he had finished, she pulled from the loose bag slung about her waist (a useful fashion, she had long ago decided) a packet of nyra and one of her father’s spare pipes, neither of which her father would miss.  She could never pick up the habit herself, and she thought Daurun might do it too much, but it did not bother her.
He pulled on the pipe thoughtfully, staring back at her through the cloud of smoke, his eyes upon hers as if through a thin veil, or as if looking at her from a dream.  Not a dream, she decided: the waiting had been a dream, the absence a mere wandering through sleep, a long wait until the early morning stormlight streaming through gently wind-rustled curtains woke her into him.

Daurun chewed the edge of the pipe (he has been too long without much food, she thought—I should have brought more) and said, “I’m sorry it’s been too long, Maryth.”
She laughed.  “It’s nothing, love.  You’re here now.”
He re-lit the pipe with the matches she had brought for him, breathing in longer now, holding the smoke inside him before exhaling it, slowly.  “I have to leave again, tomorrow.”
Maryth’s memory fell upon the hidden pack of clothes and food and her journal.  It did not look like rain—she would post the letter at the gate.  Her hand felt for his hand, and he moved the pipe for this one to his other hand to take hers.  “How are your sisters?”
He leaned his body closer in on hers, his head resting upon her shoulder, his face close.  “Good.  They’re still with the Fel’lal.”
She waited, but since he did not say more, she asked him.  “With the Fel’lal?  In the woods?”
“Galnwyd.  That’s where I’ve been since I last saw you.  I got in some trouble here, had to get them out of the city before the Enforcers came for me.”
Galnwyd, with the Fel’lal.  She had guessed perhaps he lived in another city—maybe Woric or Coryl.  Maryth had never been in the Galnwyd, nor had she much experience with the Fel’lal, except in the markets.  Her parents hired only Thalish servants, though there were still a few other families who had some.  It had become unfashionable to have them in the house, Maryth had heard.  It didn’t seem a matter of fashion to her, but that was another matter.
“How has it been?  You’re still so thin, Daurun—how do you find food?”
She could hear a slight edge of derision in his voice.  “The Fel’lal eat, too.  Just like us, Maryth.”
 “That’s not what I meant, Daurun.  What have you been doing?  Just living in the woods, then?”  She had not meant to ask.  Suddenly the long waiting, so quickly forgotten when he had appeared again, came back to her in a dull ache.  Had it been she who had made him leave?  Was she still so unlearned?
“Working, still, but in Coryl, mostly.  Sometimes in Woric, and once or twice in the mines in Galn, which I won’t do again.”  His hand still held hers.
“Your sisters stay with the Fel’lal while you work, then?  How long do you have to be away from them?”
He released her hand, but only to strike another match for the pipe.  He shook the flame out, took her hand again.  “Not too long.  There are these paths, the chemins.  You can get through them to the city faster than walking straight there.  It’s hard to explain, but it works.  I can usually get home from Woric and Coryl by evening, but from here it’s a different matter.”
Maryth didn’t understand, but did not yet tell him so.  He could tell her later, or even show her when he asked her to come with him.  She asked him something else, instead.  “Why are you still working?  Was the money not really enough?”
He sighed out more nyra smoke as he answered.  “Oh, Maryth.  I told you, it’s more than enough.  It’s helped us out a lot, more than you can imagine.  I’m not just working because I need to.”
He liked it?  “Why, then?
“Look, it’s rather hard to explain.  I’m—I’m involved with some things I can’t really tell you.  The money you gave me before is enough to take care of my sisters for another year, and--“
She interrupted him.  “There’s more, Daurun.  I’ve been saving since you were last here.  I’ve got almost 250 thalers now.”
He dropped his pipe.  “I can’t take that from you, Maryth.”
Her earlier intentions fled from her.  “You can, and you will.  If it makes you feel better, you should know I’ve been saving it for both of us.”
He stared at her, saying nothing.
“Let me come with you, Daurun.  I can help you.”
He shook his head, numbly.  “Maryth—you can’t.”
Rage boiled within her.  “Of course I can, Daurun.  I can’t stay here, facing more and more pathetic noble men bent on taming the freakish side-show I’ve made them think I am.  Take me with you, or I’ll follow you on my own.”
Daurun looked away, down the canal, still saying nothing. 
The gesture hurt her.  “Why not, then?  Daurun, I’m not so foolish as you might think.  If I need to, I can live in the woods with the Fel’lal, too.  I’ll do what I need to, anything and everything except stay here without you.”
“There’s someone else, Maryth.”
She didn’t give this a second thought.  “You’re lying, Daurun.  I can hear you.”
He turned back to her.  “Have you been practicing the Listening?”
“Yes, and don’t change the subject.  Tell me why you don’t want me with you.”
Daurun’s face steeled against her gaze.  “You’re too young, Maryth.  You don’t know enough, you don’t understand the danger.”
“I’m a year younger than you!  Just because I haven’t lived the life you’ve been forced to live doesn’t mean I’m helpless.  And I can learn.”
His visage didn’t change.  “I can’t have you to worry about, too.  You’re intelligent, I know, and you’re strong.  But—“ He paused, and she allowed him the time.  “But, I’d worry all the time.  The things I’m doing—I don’t even know if I’ll survive half the time.  I brought my sisters to the Fel’lal so that, if I died, they’d at least have someone to care for them.”
She Listened, and heard only truth there.  “Has it ever occurred to you that maybe someone ought to worry about you?  That maybe someone could watch out for you?  I’m not a burden, Daurun—I’m a friend.”
“I know, love.  And that’s why I can’t take you with me.  It’s too dangerous.  Death comes for me all the time, I’ve got Enforcers looking for me everywhere, they just don’t know who I am, yet.  That could change, and then they’ll arrest not just me, but everyone involved with me.  I’m not completely certain my sisters would be safe.”
She was getting nowhere.  “How much longer, then?  I can’t wait another year.”
He laid down upon the grass behind them, supporting himself with his elbows.  She followed, laying on her side to face him.  They heard, far to the south, the final toll of curfew: soon the air around them would fill and swell with the clamorous warning.  Daurun stared into the dark sky above them, his lower lip quivering.  She moved to closer, slid her left arm under his shoulders.
“Maryth,” he started, his voice shaking with approaching tears.  “You have to forget about me.”
She wouldn’t answer this.  He knew she couldn’t, regardless of what he might say.  She put her other arm over his chest, her head against his.  “So, then.  When will you come back next?  Don’t wait another year.”

They walked back together slowly as the night began to fade into morning, the clouds beginning to form in the east while the brightest of stars still held out for just a little longer, as did they.  She had decided it would be too much risk for him to come all the way to the gate of her house, since now it mattered to her what her parents had thought of her absence.  When she had gathered her things in preparation for a night flight which now would not come, she had guessed a sleepless night for her parents, or at least for the servants.  Perhaps it had even been short-sighted for her to assume she might have been able to steal into the garden to retrieve her pack without being seen, and now, quite likely, at least one person would still be keeping watch for her. 
They left each other at the monument, an embrace made short by the nearby sounds of an approaching watch.  Their farewell was frantic, abrupt, and she was suddenly alone.
She lingered in the darkness a little while before quietly opening the gate to the court-garden and the terrace, slipping in through the door, past the form of her sleeping mother in the sitting room, up the stairs and into her bed before finally giving herself over to the sorrow which she feared would never leave her.

It was her father who woke Maryth a few hours later, his face set with a look she learned long before could be either anger or pain and usually both. 
“Where were you, daughter?”  She heard his attempt to remain calm, and returned the kindness. 
“I needed some time, Father.  That is all.  It will be the last time I do that without telling you.  I’m sorry if you were frightened, but I’m alright.”
He shook his head in resignation.  “It is too late to rescind on Eleth, you understand.”
Maryth hadn’t remembered, but felt no trepidation.  Maybe, even, a slight sadistic delight.  “No, father, it’s alright.  I have no other plans.  What was his name again?”
He looked at her, horrified.  “Stel of Arich.  Council-heir, remember?”
“Of course.  It’s early, that’s all.  If you don’t mind, I could use some more sleep.  Have someone wake me at mid-storm.”
Her father threw up his hands in frustration, turned, and left, closing the door lightly behind him.

She took lunch in her room, bathed, dressed slowly, and descended into the great room where her parents sat, taking tea.  Her mother greeted her cautiously, her father thanked her for her choice of dress.  Maryth walked into the garden, retrieved her pack, and returned to the house, walking past her parents without hiding what she carried before taking it back to her room. 
She waited there until it was time.  The maid called to her, Maryth answered promptly, descending once again into the great room where the suitor whose name she had already forgotten waited, watching her with interest.
She let him kiss her hand.  She managed a believable smile, a practiced and false grace which usually turned her stomach and made her grind her teeth.  Tea and cakes were brought to the terrace, her parents took their leave of them, and they sat together in silence. 

He had not needed to study her face long.  “You love someone else.”   Stel (her father had used his name no fewer than seven times in the introductions, looking at his daughter each time) was at least not a fool.
Looking in his direction, though not at all at him, she answered, “Yes.”
“He must be beautiful, then.  Will you tell me about him?” 
Despite herself, she smiled.  “He’s dangerous, he’s in danger.  He stalks the shadows, he’s made of stormlight. He wakes the world from slumber, he sings the stars into being.  He isn’t you.”
Stel laughed, not unkindly.  “I’m happy for you, then.  I can only hope to be half that for any woman.  You are happy, then?”
She didn’t know why she told him this, still didn’t, even to this day.  Perhaps it was that he made no pretension of understanding her, maybe only because he had asked.  She told Stel as much as she could without giving away anything that might identify Daurun.  She told him about his dead mother but gave no detail as to why or how she had died.  About how they had met one night.  About the late walks, about how he felt against her skin, about his eyes which revealed as much as they hid, about his voice, young but darkened with too much nyra smoking.  Maryth told him about her lover’s younger siblings without saying sisters or brothers, about the horrors of his work, about how his sweat tasted. 
And to all of this, Stel only listened, never interrupting, speaking only to laugh with her or to offer her more tea.  And when it was time for him to take his leave, before they walked together from the terrace into the sitting room where her parents waited, both reading, she thanked him for the company and he thanked her for the conversation, kissing her hand gently before leading her by the arm, saying, in a low whisper to her, “I hope he comes back for you, Maryth.”
            She bid him farewell at the door, watching him walk to his carriage before turning to see her parents standing a little behind her.  Her father smiled, her mother embraced her, and she accepted their kindness, gathering up her sorrow and putting it away for now, until the moment she might see Daurun again. 

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