All motion stopped in that instant, along with the noise of the crowd and the banshee cry emitting from Mára. My body and everything else froze. I was caught there like a fly in amber, with my knee on her stomach and my hand on Durandal’s hilt as I stared into her crazed eyes.
I would have thought she had simply stopped, and the crowd had gone silent, but I could see the arcs of electricity were actually frozen in the air around me as well.
That very same weird not-reality feeling, just like when the angels visit during my sleep, had taken over. Except, I wasn’t able to move, not even to look around. The light around me has taken on a weird, golden hue. It was neither the gentle cool of moonlight that had been there, nor the vibrant heat of sunlight.
I felt a hand lightly settle on my shoulder, and, in my fairy sense, I felt a weirdly familiar presence behind me.
“Little Sen,” a deep, masculine, hauntingly nostalgic voice requested in a gentle tone. “Please spare this child.”
Just a moment ago, I had been in a desperate struggle for my life, certain that this woman beneath me would never stop until either she or I was dead. I had thrown away all thought of trying to come to a non-lethal resolution in the face of an enemy who simply wouldn’t accept one.
The halt had been impossibly abrupt. But this situation was impossible, anyway.
I could blink and I could feel my heart beating. Its hammering of a moment ago was still slowly subsiding. Tentatively, I checked and found I could indeed draw a breath, and let it out.
But I could do nothing else. The scene remained frozen before me. Arcs of electricity halted in midair before my eyes, and I stared without moving at the motionless woman whom I had run through. Durandal’s blade pinned her to the ground about two inches inboard of her left nipple, probably under the fifth rib, with his crossguard depressing the flesh of her breast. The blade has definitely passed through her heart.
“Please, would you spare this child?” the voice repeated.
Deep in my soul, I knew that voice. I knew it as well as I knew the voice of Robert’s mother on Earth. It was a voice from aeons ago, yet a voice of someone very close to me. Someone I had known on an intensely personal level.
Only, I had no recollection of this voice, as either Tiana or Robert.
Despite that fact, my first inclination was to defer to the voice as a matter of habit, but then I grew in anger as I comprehended what he was asking of me.
He wanted me to remove the sword and use my healing to restore the destroyed heart! I was willing to bet I could do it, with my insane levels of Healing magic, but this woman was trying her damndest to kill me!
But the part that knew the voice then separated from my personality a bit and took over. My current personality stepped aside. The recreated Tiana personality stepped aside, and then even the old Robert on Earth personality stepped aside. From behind all of it, a very old set of thoughts became just conscious enough to know this person’s name.
“You expect me to spare an insect that would bite me, Oranos?” my voice rasped as I discovered I could speak. “Her poison is quite lethal.”
Oranos. That was the gentle voice’s name. I knew him to be a being of awful power but endless patience.
A gentle chuckle was his response to my words, and then, a strange answer.
“I’ll return to you your own words from long ago, Senhion. Words I’ve long since come to agree with.”
“What words?” I demanded.
“‘She is but a baby, but the world is in dire need of her kind’.”
I had heard those words before… No, I said those words before. I said them to this very person.
Wanting to refute him, I struggled to remember the context of those words. All I could remember was that I had been holding a baby in my arms…
“I will help you,” he said in response to that struggle.
# # #
I have my new sister cradled in my young arms and I’m nervous of making a mistake and dropping her, probably due to all the skittish coaching Mom is doing while allowing me to hold the baby. I’m barely big enough to hold her, after all. But I’m thrilled too. I’m a big brother now. I wonder what she will call me when she learns how to talk. ‘Robert’ will be too hard for a little kid, right?
I don’t understand why my big sister has been mad at Mom for having a third baby. I do understand that it has to do with my absent father, but that’s not Mom’s fault. And it doesn’t matter. I think this is really cool. I have a little sister. I can’t wait to invite my best friend to come over and see her.
The voice comes to me again. Not far enough. Go farther.
# # #
From my small batch of straw, the only bed the jailer gave me, the view has little variety. To my left, stone walls. To my right, the same. Behind me, only an unglazed window near the ceiling to give light and ventilation. Before me, a door made of iron bars.
In deference to my status, they left me unshackled, but the seals carved into the surfaces in all six directions– the four walls, the ceiling and the floor– insure that my half-spirit nature can’t pass them. The condemned must have no release.
But a strange sight appears before me through the door. A man is escorting a woman carrying a child about one year in age. Only, the eyes I inherited from my nonhuman father inform me that this woman is a sorcerous Articulated Puppet and the infant is an Exalted Being.
The man, I know. I’ve worked in the Imperial Palace for decades. Although I look like a maiden at the older end of marriageable age, I’m really an old auntie. I have watched this man grow up from a young gentleman apprenticed to the Household Ministry until he became the Palace Minister himself in his middle age. He is one of the nine Esteemed Ministers directly serving the Dragon Emperor himself.
As the senior-most Physician’s Assistant, I would probably have been present in his dying bedchamber, if I had not spurned the Lord Chancellor’s advances and found myself framed for forbidden sorceries and sentenced to death.
The jailer lets them into my cell. The Palace Minister tells him, “Leave the keys and depart the building. Hear or see nothing within, until I exit.”
The man is not of sufficient status to respond. He mutely offers a deep bow, then disappears from my sight.
Once he is gone, the Minister tells me. “Undress. Remove everything.”
I’m shocked at the command, but I can’t imagine him committing rape in front of the puppet. The magician who is operating it from some secret location would be a witness to the crime.
While I am complying, he takes the child from the puppet, and it also begins stripping. I am amazed at the details of the puppet; it truly looks like a real woman. It could even accommodate a man if he desired to do such a thing.
“Fully turn around slowly. Allow her to see you from every angle. Then dress in her clothing.”
I do so, and then the puppet’s facial and body features mutate into a perfect reproduction of mine. I’m beginning to understand the situation, but I still don’t understand why. Why is the palace minister preparing to break me out of jail?
As I dress, he says, “She will even bleed human blood when her head is taken.”
He truly intends to use the puppet to fake my execution.
We don each other’s clothing and I carry the baby out of the jail. There seems to be an enchantment on me, because nobody recognizes me.
As he takes me in his palanquin out of the palace grounds and deep into the capital, he gives me a bag of coins and tells me to carry the baby far away and raise him in safety. Instruct him in all matters of statecraft and the court. He is the crown prince’s son by an outer palace maid. As a non-human myself, I’m able to deal with a descendant of dragons, to raise him properly. No human foster mother could do it, not even the mother who birthed him.
As he tells me all this, I realize the emperor has concocted the whole accusation and conviction. It has been a sham to erase my identity for the protection of his grandchild.
I should resent it, but how do you resent the will of heaven? It would be like a reed resenting the storm.
This isn’t it either, Little Sen. You need to go much farther back.