Aager Fogstep, the right hand of the town sheriff, the head of SIS —Serenity Intelligence Service, and unbeknownst to any but the willing few; the dreary Winter Knight and Inshala ‘laFey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Mistress of The Grove, the wont of MabandTitania, the Lady of Durkahan and the Ritual Guardian walk side-by-side, indeed, arm-in-arm, worn and tired of a long day’s hard accomplishments.
The quiet young woman, somewhat abashed and with the small smile of an unspoken achievement clearly etched on her face, walks with light steps next to the silent, spooky man in his dark, sinister-looking leathers, hood, and mask. The girl inadvertently does this little skip-and-hop thing every once in a while for she has her hair down and her awesome rams horns are in full display; the source of her smile, her skip, and her elation.. and one of great consternation, fear, dread, dismay, and anxiety —each distinct, now, and finally overcome, accepted, and acknowledged.. The man on the other hand seems alert and distracted at the same time. His steps are steady, careful, and ready to pounce. His distraction, hidden under the hood and mask, is perhaps due to the unaddressed nature of the hope he hankers, as they head for the little, single-room lodge assigned to him years ago, and that the girl with the light, happy steps next to him would also call, ‘home’..
“Thank you.”, he whispers in his growly and gravelly voice.
The girl turns and gives him a look of shy elation.
“You are welcome. But, why?”, she asks.
The man clears his throat.
Fighting and consequently bleeding, many times, has never been a matter of trepidation for him.
This little girl, and trying to express his feelings, for her or otherwise, however, has always felt like an uphill battle for him.
A battle he knows he would win, should he but dare.
She certainly wills, with all her heart and mind, that he would.
Dare.. and win..
“I suspect you know why..”, he says carefully.
“I do. But I like it more when you voice it. Reminds me of Katana, my saber-tooth.”, she replies quietly.
“You like my voice because I sound like a cat?”, he asks a bit amused.
“My cat was not just any cat.”, the young girl retorts with mock fire. “She was a great, six hundred pound tiger, with a massive jaw that could take a man’s head whole and still have room for dessert, and awesome paws that could cave in an ogre’s belly, flat! And I find the viscous similarities between the two of you quite.. intoxicating! I am sure, or at least I very much hope you find something in me that makes you remember things you liked. Perhaps that is why we find something akin in one another.”, she says happily.
“How do say things like that and claim not to understand people?”, he asks with unveiled wonder.
“I claim nothing other than you, my Aager —for as long as I can.. Some things are clear to me. People.. and this.. social-thingy.. is just not one of them.”, she replies with resigned remorse.
“Fair enough.”, somewhat agrees, Aager. “Though you are wrong about my finding something akin in you that reminds me of something else that I once liked.”
“Ow.. How come?”, asks Inshala with a small pout.
“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity.”, he says with a well-hidden smile.
“You are unique!”, Aager admits, and freely.
And without even needing to turn, he feels, through their bond, how the young woman blushes.
“That.. is beautiful to hear.”, she stammers.
“You like?”, he asks, with a very un-Aager like tone. A tone that he would never, like never ever, use with anyone but the girl in his arm.
“I.. love!”, she smiles, blushing even more.
“I thanked you..”, Aager says, rewinding a bit back. “.. because of your brevity. And for not hiding what you are, for I wish you never to be my personal secret, but known to all, and that we belong.”
“I must thank you for that, even though I know you will not let me. But we both know I would never have come here, let alone display myself the way I have, had it not been for you.”, she admits and smiles even more.
“Perhaps. But this is your moment. Not mine. And..”, he says and freezes in his pace.
As if on cue, so does she.
“What is it?”, she asks peering into the night.
“I.. am not sure..”, admits Aager with a slight frown. “I sense.. an equal.. but not.. at the same time..”
“You sense quite correctly.”, says a deep, muffled voice from the night.
“Show yourself, if your intentions are honorable!”, grows Aager Fogstep, his hands clear and at his sides and Inshala standing, not precisely behind, but with the exact amount of space and distance he would need to draw his swords for a swing, a parry or an unrestrained thrust..
“That, coming from you, I find a bit ironic, Sir Knight.”, says the muffled voice.
“I sense.. Summer.”, whispers Inshala, a bit baffled.
“I greet you, Lady Inshala, and I mean you no harm.”, comes the voice.
“But you mean harm to whome I belong!”, she says staring hard into the night.
“That is but for him to decide.”, declares the muffled voice with an intense and implied voice.
“What is this?”, asks Aager in her mind.
“I am not sure, my Aager. I have a guess, but I would rather he introduced himself, lest I give him power he may not have.”, replies the young woman in his.
“Dammit!.”, very nearly blazes Aager with frustration. “Apparently, running around all day fixing issues and defacing potential political outbreaks, training three different parties for the upcoming battle, and corking security gaps as an encore, is not enough.. I would like one moment.. ONE SILENT MOMENT IN PEACE with you and alone, dammit!”
“I am sorry, my Aager. This is my fault.”, whispers Inshala guiltily.
“How is this your fault?”, he asks, still frustrated.
“You are the Winter Knight because of me.”, she says in a small voice.
“Inshala.. To this day, I have done many things that I have come to regret, and shall likely end up doing more.. Dying for you to live, however, was never one of them.”, he almost lashes back.
“But..”, Inshala tries to object.
“Also to this day, never have I banned nor barred you of anything, have I?”, he steams.
“No, my Aager. Never.”
“Well, now I have. Never shall I hear another word of regret to the choices I made with regard to you. Because when you cast doubt in my choice, you cast doubt on what I feel for you.”, he says, and not without wroth.
Inshala falls silent, whether it is perhaps due to shock of how her Aager has just addressed and admonished her, or because she is afraid, is not clear. When she speaks, however, it is due to neither.
“I.. am sorry, my Aager. It was thoughtless of me to question you and your feelings, for I know it isn’t easy for you to speak them, yet you have.. For my sake.”, she says with shame in her voice.
“Inshala. Please. There really isn’t any reason to go there.. Much like you have made peace with some of the things in your life, your past, and your choices, I have thus done so. If being Mab’s hatchet man is the way to keep you and safe, peace, then, is upon me.”, he says, though not unkindly.
“You want me to cry, don’t you, my Aager..”, pouts Inshala.
“Not for me, and not tonight..”, he says as he smiles..
..and turns to face the man, hidden in the night.
With a low, distant, and arctic voice, the Winter Knight growls..
“Who are you, and what do you want? I have run a full day of petty mortal errands and am tired. I have another long day full of such errands waiting for me tomorrow, which is in mere few hours, and hence have I but little time to spare for late-night theatrics, and none for drama. Either come out and spill your wont, or go. Suffice to say, move or I shall move through you, should you truly want to test me tonight, for you are between myself, my lady, and my home, in the middle of the night, and in my town..”
“Oh, my.”, giggles Inshala and mimes a tiny, virtual fist into the air —in his mind.
“I think he just ate earth! You go, Winter Knight!”
“You go,WHAT? Where did you even hear that?”, asks Aager both surprised and amused.
“I am sorry. I have no idea what I just said.”, bubbles the young girl a bit embarrassed. “I heard young Master Cümeyt say it, but I am not sure what it means! He did make it sound like a ‘cheer’, though!”
Aager laughs.. silently..
“It is ‘dirt’, by the way, love..”, he inserts, stifling another laugh. “Not, ‘earth’..”
“But.. isn’t dirt, well, dirty?”, wonders Inshala a bit confused.
“The best thing about dirt, you never want to eat it more than once, love”, Aager says, not without a certain amount of vicious satisfaction. The man in dark leathers, hood, and mask wears what he does for three, rather distinct reasons, and none of them has anything to do with drama;
One, the obvious reason; for better cover in the dark.
Two; Aager has an astute sense of smell, particularly for bad ones..
And three; a dark hood, along with the mask, has the practical capacity to fend off fools.
There is a moment of chagrined silence and Aager gets the distinct impression that whoever it is hiding in the night, is perhaps a tad new at whatever he is at..
“Very well.”, the muffled voice says. “Meet me at the Guest’s Inn tomorrow at noon.”
“Afternoon!”, Inshala counters.
Another silence ensues.
“Why? Why would you back this evil man, Lady Inshala?”, he asks quite perturbed.
“My Aager is no evil man. He has proven his mettle. Yours is yet to be seen, Sir.”, she replies the young girl with stern command.
Aager’s eyebrows shoot up.
It isn’t the first time his Inshala has gone out of her way to defend him, and it certainly feels.. surprisingly ‘awesome’.. to be.. safeguarded?.. by someone you dearly loved, but the verbal dual here is a subtle one and in a realm, he is not yet accustomed nor has had much privy to.
“Afternoon, then. I shall consent to this request for your sake, Lady Inshala.”, the muffled voice says.
“You shall do no such thing, Sir. I owe you nothing and have promised you nothing. And I shall owe you no debt! ‘Afternoon’ is a neutral time, neither too warm nor too cold.”, Inshala says, equally sternly.
A sigh of resignation is heard followed by the slightest shuffle of feet and the muffled voice is gone.
“Alright.”, Aager muses, staring into the night. “That wasn’t odd or anything. Your thoughts, love?”
“I.. I am not certain..”, Inshala frowns slightly.
“It’s alright. Your halves are better than my nons!”, smiles the sinister-looking man.
“You are in an unexpected mood this night, my Aager. And I can’t even claim any crafty skills on my part.”, smiles back the young girl.
“First of all, I apologize, wholeheartedly, for my harsh words earlier. You deserve better than that. But I would much rather we put my choices and their reasons well behind us. They are done and gone. Going over them makes neither of us happy, but puts both of us in despair. Agreed?”, he says quietly.
“And I apologize for bringing it up in the first place, though I got what I deserved for it. I shall submit to your wishes on this matter, my Aager, hence, yes. Agreed.”, she replies staring somewhat at her own feet.
“Please, don’t do that.”, Aager says.
“Don’t do what?”, she asks.
“You did nothing wrong. Don’t look down. As a matter of fact, never look down!”, Aager pleads.
Inshala looks up, her face is slightly pink.
“You will not even let me suffer my own follies.”, she says with a flustered pout.
“The pout can stay. It looks sweet on you.”, smiles the man in dark leathers.
Inshala does a very unladylike snort, causing Aager to laugh.. out loud!
“Well. How about that. I laughed. Can’t remember the last time I did that. I guess I do owe my mood to crafty skills on your part.”, he says with an amused tone of voice. “As to what that was all about, I believe you do have some thoughts on the matter.”
“Yes. And deep down, I believe you have as well, my Aager..”, replies the young girl, suddenly looking at him with intense eyes.
Aager cocks an eyebrow and thinks..
..and the thing that has had him itching somewhere at the back of his mind suddenly dawns.
“Yes, my Aager. Nature is balance. Winter will follow Summer and Summer dies when Winter arrives. Much like Summer will melt and defrost Winter upon her arrival..”, she says softly.
“Damn..”, he blurts. “He is.. double damn.. the Summer Knight? My opposite?”
“That is my thought. I believe he wanted to keep that to himself and perhaps use it as a levelidge.. lefedirge.. leafer—”, she blunders and her face turns pure red in self-disgrace.
“Leverage?”, Aager offers kindly.
“Yes. That..”, says the young girl, her face still burning with frustrated shame.
“But he gave himself away.. Ahhh, that’s why you argued about ‘noon’. It is likely he will be at the peak of his power at noons and at summer times. That was very ingenious of you the way you refused him and moved the time of the meet to afternoon.”, says Aager admiringly for even though the young girl hadn’t quite won him an advantage, she had, instead, stripped any his opposite might have gained, just by changing something that had seemed so trivial.
Inshala blushes some more.
“I suspected.. the moment you said, ‘sensing an equal, but not, at the same time..’, and when he called you, ‘Sir Knight.’ Only fey would know you for what you are.. And the vassals of either court. I felt no fey vibes from him. He seemed.. mortal.. and something else.. perhaps some sort of affiliation I am not aware of.”
“How come there is suddenly a Summer Knight now and what does that entail?”, asks Aager, with a ‘should-I-be-concerned?’ frown.
“Nature is balance, my Aager. Both Winter and Summer have a ‘Mother’ known as Mother Winter and Mother Summer, and then they have the Queens, Mab as the Winter Queen, and Titania as the Summer Queen. Both courts are also supposed to have a ‘Lady’, but there hasn’t been a Winter Lady for ages forgotten After she lost her own daughter some unknown millennia ago, Mab refused to take another as the Winter Lady, causing the Summer Lady wane, and eventually fade away.. There was the potential for a new Summer Lady, but she was slain at Gull’s Perch by some ruffians a year or two before I was born, which is why there has been a ban on mortals, and a dwarven outpost there, guarding the Perch’s entrance ever since.. I believe there were some dwarves among the ruffians and Titania blamed their kin at Scowling Hills and forced them to build and safeguard the valley as a payment for their kins’ sins against her daughter. Whether the death of her daughter was a coincidence, or it was because Mab would still not take a new Winter Lady, I do not know.”
Aager listens to the young woman in amazement as she explains the monumental goings-on that no mortal would know.
“There also hasn’t been a Winter Knight since the last one was slain by a mighty wild fey, who was actually a noble in Mab’s court once, many, many millennia ago. And Summer failed to produce a knight of their own during that time. It isn’t a coincidence that they would do so now, almost the moment you chose to become Mab’s Winter Knight. For there to be balance, nature compempates.. compendates—”, she pauses, her face flushed with embarrassment again. “Help me, please..”, she pleads..
“Compensates?”, offers Aager as he puts one hand over her small shoulder and gently turns her to face him.
“Conpendates.. That..”, blubbers the girl, her face burning red. “I hate this. I am so stupid. I lack so many important words, and I am supposed to be the Ritual Guardian and fill my Father’s shoes..”
“Hey.. Don’t be like that.. Please.. We promised to be stupid together, remember? At least you know what you are talking about. I don’t even know where to begin to even understand.”, he says kindly, and gently pulls her into his arms.
Inshala just stands there, burning with embarrassment on any number of levels now.
“You are so awesome.”, he adds quietly.
“Awesome like.. Madina? Or awesome like Moira?.. Or perhaps awesome like Laila? Laila is awesome and cool, though I am not sure what that means.. I mean, she has a nice, warm heart. And I think that De-De-Dexter boy likes her. I saw him give her as an example of how his trainees should act and behave, just the other day.”, she mumbles.
“Madina, Moria, D.D. Dexter and even Laila aside, I would say, awesome like Inshala.”, he says. Then thinks for a moment, nods, and repeats. “Yep. We shall thus call it, Inshala-Awesome!”
Slowly he releases her, and they are once again, arm in arm, walking in the night, towards ‘home’..
. . .
“She is pathetic.”, says the skinny, vixen girl, hidden further in the night, and quite waspishly.
“She is what she is, love. And she holds great favors from both the courts. It is not wise of you to speak ill of her, nor to go out of your way to taunt her. She is good people..”, replies the man with the muffled voice.
“And the man. His attitude. Such arrogance.. Perhaps a nice hex will fix that for him..”, she sneers after the two.
“You shall do no such thing, love. There is no point in starting a war here when there is another war right on our doorstep. I merely wanted to meet him and warn him not to abuse his powers. We shall meet on the morrow.”, he says sternly.
“You are afraid of him.”, sniffs the girl with disdain.
“No one in his right mind would be uncautious of him, love. Mab chose carefully, as she always does. Don’t let your pride get the better of you.”
The girl sniffs again, and haughtily, with her small, perky nose.
“I bet, I could best her!”, she declares.
“Perhaps.”, says the man. “But you will not go up against her. She is the Ritual Guardian.”
“Suppose you best her. What then? Who will take up her burden?”
The girl shrugs.
“Will you?”, the man asks, looking at the skinny girl.
“Why would I? It is a folly burden that offers little to no reward. She is as foolish as her Father was..”
The man with the muffled voice signs. The slight girl standing so agitated next to him is a fun, life-loving girl, but she does have her moments of pique, and they did tend to get the better of her indeed, and she is quite a single-minded girl who lives for silly challenges..
..which was how they had met, really.
“Come. We have much to do ourselves..”, he says, in hopes of distracting her. “Thousands of mouths to feed..”
“I think I want to know what they talk when they are alone.”, she says, squinting after what little she could make of the two, distant figures walking away, arm-in-arm.
“No.”, says the man even more sternly this time. “You don’t..”
..And picks up the skinny girl, by her waist and carries her off, literally, as she kicks and squirms and laughs with delight..
“Will you feed me too, Sir Knight?”, she snickers viciously..
It isn’t the life-threatening moments that makes us realize the value of those we love..
Sometimes it is the silly things..
..such as coloring pictures in a children’s book..
This story takes place several days after The Oathbreaker (Part Four) and after Aager Fogstep and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane defeat the tyrannic oathbreaker; Lord Tarakadahan Karkashi in a very bloody duel to the death.
Aager Fogstep held Inshala close and tightly to himself for she was in mourning and because her soft warmth was the only thing that kept him from screaming in pain. The little girl held a sad, broken piece of dry twig in her small, delicate hands —the only discernable part left of what was once a giant walking tree; Snare! True, Snare had never been a ‘nice’ tree, but rather a vicious, sour, and one old cuss of a monster. He had, however, kept the little girl safe and company during their stay at Arashkan, before the city’s fall, hiding in plain sight among other trees, deep in Heaven’s Park, and had helped both her and Aager in their numerous encounters.
This last fight, however, had just been once too many for him. The tyrannic lord, Tarakadahan Karkashi, had come down on the grumpy old bark like ten thousand axes and smashed him into the ground. And now, his tiny mistress held the only bit of what was once a grumpy, eighteen-foot tall monster..
“When we.. get out of this stupid.. arena..”, Aager grinded his teeth. “I want you to go with Lady Alisia and Moira..”
Inshala looked up at him through her tear blotched face.
“No. You are hurt. I need to—”, she started.
“Inshala. Don’t argue with me. Not now.”, he cut in harshly. “This is an excellent opportunity for someone to take advantage of and make an attempt on your mother’s life.. Or Moira’s.. Or yours.. You must watch over them as they watch over you.”
“But.. What about you?”, she asked with a pleading voice.
“I hold no power in this city, love. I am a nobody here. I am not of the nobility and I carry no titles. I am not even a squire, let alone a lord. Not that I would want to be one. Ever..”
“..The only person that would have benefited from my death is dead! Anybody else coming at me will gain nothing from my demise. You, on the other hand, hold the city in your hands and it will take but one fool to ruin everything we gained today should he attack you, your mother, or Moira.”, he said through his gritted teeth.
The pain of his dislocated shoulder was getting at him and trying to rationalize why he wanted her to go, rather than to stay and watch him suffer was taking every ounce of his remaining strength.
“Please. Do this for me.”
The great gates leading in and out of the arena parted with a booming echo, smoldering any objections the little girl might have said, and Lady Alisia, followed closely by Lady Moira, Captain Fardashi, and half a dozen guards came running at them.
“Okay. I am going to let go of you now. You mustn’t show them any tears because everyone is watching you. Be strong and go with your mother.”, he hissed quietly.
“Sir Aager..”, Lady Alisia called as she stared at him, and at the little girl holding a piece of twig, with unveiled awe.
“Lady Alisia..”, Aager greeted the First Lady of Durkahan with a barely contained voice behind his leather half-mask. “..Lady Moira. If you would be kind enough to escort Lady Inshala to your quarters whilst she could rest. She has had a trying day.”
Lady Alisia ogled at the bloodied, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers.
“Please..”, added Aager with emphasis and giving a quick glance at the watching crowd.
Lady Alisia’s face lit with comprehension.
“Of course, Sir Aager. Daughter, please come with me. We must get you out of those bloody clothes at once. I believe a nice hot bath, a meal, and sleep will do wonders to you.”, she said as she held the little girl close to her, nodded at Aager.
And with Moira on the girl’s other side, they started back towards the arena gates as the guards fell in formation around the women.
For a moment Aager was left behind and he gave some serious thought to whether he should just surrender to gravity and fall where he stood.
..said a gravelly voice from behind him.
The fact that he hadn’t even heard that someone was actually standing behind him without his notice was definitive proof that the man in dark leathers was about to lose it soon.
“I’d love to give you a hand and carry you out, but that would totally ruin your ‘cool’.. And I am not sure I’d even get the hand back!”, he recognized Fardashi’s amused voice.
“That was one hell of a fight, young man. Hard to be impressed when you get to a cussed old age like mine but, what can I say, I am impressed. Good thing I didn’t tell you to buzz off the night you two came at the city gates. Will you be able to make it until we get out of here? People with nothing better to do love watching the victor drop dead after a good show!”, the old captain said lightly. A bit like the way he spoke right before he had smashed in the castle guard commander’s face in, about a week ago.
“I think so.”, grinded Aager, and took a stubborn step forward.
✱ ✱ ✱
Stand guard here.”, commanded Fardashi at the guards, pointing at the door. “I must see to the Ladies than make sure the rest of the city is all well and good.”
Just before he left, however, he paused, gave a thoughtful look at the door, frowned a little, and quietly added, “Whatever happens, don’t enter the room!”, he warned.
The guards looked at their captain, then at the door, and hastily nodded.
Aager stood in the darkness of his room. The one he had been given shortly after their arrival at the inner castle of Durkahan city. It was barely ten strides in either direction with two, separate, single-beds, a small chest at the feet of each bed, a decent-sized cupboard, a high, rectangular table complete with a large washing pan, two blocks of soap, and several neatly folded rough, gray towels and one, slit of a window that seemed to stare gloomily at the arse end of a rigid, stone tower rather than at the city, but it still seemed cavernous compared to his tiny, one-room house back at Serenity Home. That house at least had had a larger window —two, in fact, now that Aager had a moment to think about it. Not that he preferred large windows —or any window, and he certainly had never fancied homes with scenic views, but that house —his home— had had them anyway; an easy to climb in and out window with a view to one of the town’s mildly busy streets. The other, he’d boarded the day he had moved in, years ago, because it had provided too big a security flaw for his taste, and because it was a window, it also provided a natural security ‘gap’.
He grimaced in pain at the jarring irony there;
Security Gap – Open Window!
Apparently, Aager thought, he had a bit too much free time in his hands, since he had the luxury for such delinquent ironies. But there was a point to that irony.. and the boarded window now. It used to open to a rather picturesque view of the back garden. Not so much picturesque since Aager had moved in, as it was full of dead plants and ugly, barbed, and thorny weeds. But should his Inshala come to Serenity Home, he could open that window while she did some things nice with that garden. And perhaps they could share responsibilities at that point as well; he could keep an eye on the street side window like he always had, and she could cover the garden side!
Alright, the man in dark leathers, hood, and mask thought. There was something genuinely wrong with that thought!
He doubted anyone in that town ever ‘covered’ their windows with the metaphorical fanaticism as he did.
Or rather, no one else..
He shrugged —his other shoulder.
At least with both windows open, his home would be ‘sunny’.. Unlike how this chamber would ever be..
This chamber was dark at noon, pitch at night, and was slightly on the musty side.
More like a lair.. or a den, really. Men like him did not have suits or chambers.. They had lairs!
Just how he preferred it..
..just how he should have been preferring it, as awkward as that phrasing sounded!
But for whatever reason, however, he did not.
Yes, he had come here every night, washed off the day’s dirt here, slept here, and ate here, quite laconically, too —many times. For the same, ‘whatever reason’, however, that just didn’t seem to ‘cut’ it anymore. He felt ‘blank’.. more than empty, here. A blank he had come to recognize very slowly and growing recently.
He stared at the dark walls of the chamber, all the while sweating profusely in pain.
Carefully he chose a specific stone.
Not that it mattered, but focusing on something in particular had always given him a sense of purpose. And that purpose, now, was not going to be fun..
Slowly, he walked up to the stone he had selected and stared at it with baleful eyes.
“I am sorry, love.”, he growled with pure, unadulterated self-loathing, swung his shoulder once, twice..
..and smashed it into the stone and wall!
A horrid, meaty crack was heard by the guards outside followed by a feral roar of pain..
..and something stumbled over and the room fell silent.
Somewhere two floors above, Fardashi ran back into Lady Alisia’s quarters, his sword drawn, when he heard the single, shrill scream of a girl in savage pain!
✱ ✱ ✱
And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late one night, several days later. The proceedings, the meetings, the strategic plannings, and the secretive, impromptu ‘hallway’ chats on how they should mobilize the Durkahan Army, and which route they would take to reach Serenity Home in time were taking their toll on him. He felt like the sore merchant of some vast trading company, bargaining for rights of free passage through man-eating local’s lands.. without getting et!
..or possibly the CEO of some bank trying to stay afloat during an economic crisis!
“I am coloring this book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, Inshala replied from where she lay on the thick, pale beige carpet. Aager knew it was pale beige because the guard who had brought it had told him so like it held some significance and in all likeliness, it probably did. Just not for Aager..
..in any way that would be significant.
But then, this whole carpet thing was a new addition to his chamber/lair/den and seemed disturbingly out of place.
Feral beasts like him did not do carpets, nor cushions or loveseats..
Alright, there weren’t any loveseats in his chamber now either, and Aager did not really want to know what a loveseat was, but there were any number of colorful cushions, thrown on the said, pale beige carpet.
Aager scowled at the thick, soft, comfy thing and its fluffy little companions, and they scowled back at him..
..with compounded smug smirks because they knew they had won, and there was not a buggery bum he could do about it!
He certainly wouldn’t have asked for them, had it been up to him. But the young girl had taken a habit of bringing things her new brother, Cümeyt, or her new sisters Madine and Maira, and even Moira would give her, to here, and either play with them or draw pictures —on the cold, stone flour.. Hence, Aager had asked one of the guards if he would be kind enough to bring in a carpet, for Lady Inshala’s benefit.
And a cushion or three, while he was at it..
Or even if he weren’t kind enough!
Aager did not recall having put any such emphasis, but the thick, soft carpet had arrived within ten minutes followed by the half a dozen or so cushions..
And now, said Lady Inshala was here, lying flat on her little tummy, her skinny legs swinging up with lazy contentment and coloring what appeared to be some sort of flower in the book with little, colorful sticks scattered around.
“Crayons”, Inshala had told him with knowledgeable accomplishment.
They were called crayons.
The sinister-looking man in dark leathers thought that sounded suspiciously like a fancy name for some kind of deathly and dermal poison!
Then there was this coloring-book-thing!
Aager had never seen a book that could be, or even should be, colored before. Would have been a surprise if he had. He wasn’t sure if anyone back at Drashan had ever seen one, either.
Drashan aside, why would he?
And what was the point of buying a book, and books weren’t cheap, then doing all the work by coloring it yourself, anyway? Apparently, some smart artisan was making a lot of money by openly cheating his customers!
The nerve some people had in this world..
What kind of a demented idiot would even buy—
Aager opted to stop making combustive, mental commentary at that point.
Whatever he was about to say about said idiot, one of them was already here, and apparently, he was about to be the other by joining her!
“Would you like to join me for some? Before I am called back to sleep in my room?”, she asked smiling up at him.
It was quite obvious this coloring thingy was something she had liked a lot, Aager noted, because not only did the young girl seem happy, but she also appeared content. And there was a distinct sense of serenity about her, which made her glow in an altogether new kind of beautiful.
“Maybe..”, smiled Aager as he pulled off his dark, leather hood, undid his mask, and tossed them both on his bed. Then unbuckled his leather armor, and his belt, ridding himself of his swords and daggers, and carefully set them aside.
“You want me to pout, don’t you?”, asked the girl honestly.
“Very much.”, replied Aager in kind. “You could win just about any argument with me using only the pout.”
“But.. I do not want to argue with you. Arguing is not nice. It tarnishes some things between people. And I think it becomes a habit in time and people start doing it without noticing anymore.. They argue about everything, and they do not recognize, both love and respect are now gone!”, she said..
..with a pout!
Aager was astounded, once again, at the depth of the young girl’s insight. Particularly when taking into account that this girl never had anyone to have argued anything in her past, save one, venerable old man, to have observed, and consequently, gained such insight.
“We are not doing this on the table, why? Seems easier on the knees.”, he asked as he knelt down across the little girl and on his stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, stared at the flower in the book, which he assumed was some kind of a rose, picked up one of the red sticks, and carefully started to fill one of the pedals.
“I am not sure.”, Inshala replied.
Aager cocked an eyebrow.
“When.. when we sit around a table, the table is standing between us. That makes me feel like I am alone.”, she said, frowning slightly.
“We could sit next to one another, perhaps?”, he offered.
“We could. I suppose. But.. that feels like we are only friends.. Like Ranger Corporal Laila, or even Master Gnine are my friends.. I like friends and I like that they are my friends. And I like that Alor’Nadien ne and Udoorin are my friends. And how Lady is my friend. And Merisoul and even Anglenna are my friends. I want you to be my friend too, but not like them. I do not know the words. You should not be my friend like they are my friends. When we lie down on the floor like this while doing things or talking, however, it feels like we are actually sharing something.. and more than just these pictures and more than just words..”, she said, struggling to correctly phrase her mind.
Then she went a bit pink.
“And.. and our faces are much closer when we are lying down and coloring these pictures.. And I can watch you from this close, as well!”, she said with a blush.
And now Aager had both his eyebrows cocked up, for this insight did not belong to a little girl.
They colored the flowers and some other things that Aager was not always sure as to what some of them were. But they did it anyway and in content silence..
..for two hours straight.
He asked what color he should use when he wasn’t sure and the girl would look around for the appropriate stick, pick it up, hand it over to him, and say, “This!”, every time, with a happy, accomplished smile.
It was during those two hours Aager had the opportunity to think, or perhaps, contemplate on certain things.
He threw careful glances at the girl as she savagely colored the flowers, the stems, and the leaves, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses in the coloring book with child-like fervor.
He looked down at his own workmanship and noted his seemed more like he was dissecting the flowers, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses with jugular accuracy, waiting to be labeled and placed into their corresponding jars!
It was just about then, a number of things dawned on him.
The little girl was deliberately, or maybe the correct word would be, ‘inadvertently’, acting like a little girl because for the first time she had a genuine mother, a grandmother, three sisters, and a little, overtly smart, mischievous brother and hence she could afford to.. let go?
Or perhaps, drop her guard.
A something, Aager thought, was quite encouraging to see, yet altogether sad —in a way.
Thanks to young Master Cümeyt and the emo girl Madina, though Aager still did not quite understand what the buggery bum an ’emo’ was, she, Inshala, was catching up to everything she had missed during her own childhood, both because such entertainments had never been available to her, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they had been, seeing as how solitary and dangerous a life she had lived.
He himself was pretty much in the same rickety boat as she was, dammit! When people looked at his Inshala, they saw a traumatized little girl, all the while thinking he, Aager, was the steady one and that at least he was ‘alright’.
Lying face down, coloring silly flowers and dears and bees and bugs, Aager Fogstep realized he was not alright. He realized he had never been alright, but always skirted at the edges of suppressed, angry insanity all his life. Coming to Serenity Home had been a blessing, certainly, but in a way, and unwittingly to be sure, that had merely diluted his very unhealthy mental status. Or camouflaged it, to put in a more astute perspective.
This little girl, Inshala, had come to his room, much like every other night, and shared everything she had seen, learned, felt, and experienced that day with him until late hours, in effect, making sure he healed as much as she did. Bit by bit, she was freeing herself from her fears, her desperations and her losses, all the while seeding her desolations with her mom, her grandma, her sisters and brother, while making new friends, and learning and experiencing the things left missing all her life. And by coming here, she was sharing her joys with him, in affect, bringing whole new norms into his life as well, even if only by proxy.
The beauty of it was, there was never been any deliberation in her actions at all. Only instinctual need to make him feel as good as she was feeling, and the irony in all of that was not lost on Aager.
Inshala was giving him surcease, just by being here and being herself!
Aager loved it!
Without any doubt.
All of it.
And knew, at that very moment, why he had felt thus ‘blank’ of late.
For he had just recognized, with quiet fervor, that he could no longer tolerate her being just a ‘part’ of his life..
He wanted to be all of hers!
“You seem.. odd tonight. Lost in thought and distracted and your hands are drawing without consulting you.”, whispered Inshala, staring into his eyes.
“I am odd every night.. And distracted much of late.”, replied the man in dark clothes, a tad gruffly.
“A gold coin for your thought?”, she smiled. “I have a gold coin. I think.. I could go and get it if you like.”
“I doubt my thoughts are worth a gold, love.”, Aager said quietly. “But I will share them with you. Just as soon as I understand them myself. I promise.”
“I could ‘pout’ them out of you, you know!”, giggled the girl.
“I think you have been with Master Cümeyt for far too long, love..”, mourned Aager.
“He has shown me so many interesting things. Did you know there is more gossip going on here, in this place, than among the fey at Gull’s Perch? You would think a city full of paladins would have a bit more honest people!”, she said a bit disturbed.
“Ow? Is there some theft going on? That kind of behavior should be discouraged.”, said Aager with a frown and felt no guilt or shame, whatsoever, at the fact that being a thief was what he had started his long line of an uncouth carrier in the first place. But thieving had never really been any more than a stepping stone for him. Sort of something he’d had to endure in a ‘just do it’ sense until better options had presented themselves. If anyone he’d known had been an outright thief, it had been that Darly Dor kid —which did also explain why he had disliked him so much..
“No, no.. Nothing like that. It’s just something I learned, that many people are sleeping in someone else’s room and few wake up where they are supposed to!”, mumbled the girl as she slapped her tiny feet together for emphasis as she totally drowned a sunflower in dark purple with vehemence.
“People are strange sometimes. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. And I am not sure that’s the color for that picture, love.”, said Aager, pointing at her page.
“It isn’t. I am just angry. That is why it is purple. My sunflower is angry too!”, she said unhappily.
“Ow? Why are you angry? Did something happen?”
“I do not know.”, came her frowning voice in his mind. “I am sorry. You are tired and have been keeping me company when you should be sleeping and now I am afflicting you with my silly!”
“True. I am tired. But doesn’t ‘keeping company’ work the other way around as well? And let’s not go to ‘silly’, please. I haven’t even begun my daily ranting yet!”, he replied in an amused tone. “Now tell me, what has gotten you riled up?”
“I do not know.”, she repeated. “I am put out that people don’t wake up where they should, yet I am doing the same thing. I go to sleep in my room, but wake up here all the time.. Is something wrong with me?”
“Uhhmm..”, said Aager, not sure as to what he should say or how he should respond, really, so he tried for a casual sort of tone. “I.. do not think what you and they are doing is quite the same, love.”
“How so?”, she asked glumly.
“Well..”, he began but faltered. “..Possibly because when you come here every night, I call your name, every time, but you don’t hear my voice. You truly are asleep. You come, your stand before my bed, hold out your arms, and just.. stay there. Took me by surprise the first time you did it, and even more, when I finally figured out what it was you demanded.”
“I.. I demanded something from you? I shouldn’t be making demands from you! That is not nice! And in my sleep, too? What did I demand?”, she asked in a depleted voice.
“A hug.”, replied Aager kindly.
Inshala’s face turned bright pink.
“I..”, she stammered. “I thought I came here and just slept in the other bed, to keep you company, though I honestly do not remember ever getting up, nor walking here..”
“That.. might have been partly my doing. Not the coming here. The waking up in the other bed.. After I’d give you your silent demand, you wouldn’t move but make this funny noise.. like when cats see a bird or a squirrel..”, said Aager honestly and Inshala dropped her coloring sticks and just buried her face in her skinny arms..
“I think, or felt, to be more precise.. you wanted to.. cuddle up and sleep next to me.. But something about your base, honest character wouldn’t let you.. Not without my express permission.. And because you weren’t really awake, I wouldn’t give you that permission because it would be wrong.. Which is why I would pick you up, and tuck you away in the other bed. You’d make a bit of a fuss in there but eventually, go still.”, he said kindly.
“This is so embarrassing. I do not remember the last time I was this—”, she mumbled in a muffled and horrified voice.
“There is nothing to be embarrassed about, Inshala. We both want, what we want. Apparently, you decided to actually do something about it, without ever knowing.”, he said thoughtfully.
“But.. what do you want?”, she asked, her face still buried in her arms.
And, there it was..
The simple question that was the core of what they had been, what they were, and what they would become for one another.
To simplify that even further; what they had, and what they could have..
What did he want?
What did he want?
And what did he want?
The small nuances in the same question made all the difference, to be sure, but the only thing he was certain of was the answer to the question that actually preceded this one;
Did he want?
To that, he said, yes.
Not because he was mentally sure of anything.
But because the blank in him was telling him exactly that.
Or rather, he had the blank, because he no longer could tolerate the lack of certain things..
..or a certain someone.
And something clicked in his mind.
Aager decided, then and there, to shut up..
..and do something about the blank in his soul.
“Come, love.”, he said with a deliberate, casual tone. “It’s getting late. I’ll escort you to your room. I believe most of our plannings and meetings are done, but a few crucial details are left. They will need me wide awake for them in the morrow.”
The young girl accepted his offer to take her to her room gracefully.
Not that it would matter.
She’d be back in a few, anyway..
✱ ✱ ✱
Aager dropped off the strangely beautiful, deeply sincere, shyly honest, and unconventionally his Inshala to Moira’s former room with a gentle kiss, then left..
But not back to his own room.
He decided to have one meeting before going there and for some oddly existential reason, this one would be much more important than all the meetings he had done for the last eight or ten days.
He dashed silently through the torch-lit corridors and long halls of Durkahan’s inner castle and skid to a halt before the one door he would have never expected to have knocked.
“Aager Fogstep to see Lady Granma on an important matter —if she is available.”, he said quietly when a young, feminine voice asked who it was, upon knocking on the door.
A moment of surprised silence ensued, but it didn’t last long.
“Come, boy..”, he heard the old, cackling voice of Granma.
Aager slowly opened the door and entered the dimly lit room of the very old woman —the mother of Lady Alisia.
The room was comfortably decorated with many chairs holstered with velvets in subdued colors, a long, comfortable-looking, dark maroon divan, and cushions, several deep, soft rugs, a large, old wardrobe, any number of shelves with books, delicate porcelain cups, vases, and many other delicate curios, and a small table covered with cream-colored laces, all of which gave the distinct impression of ‘been there, done that and I have the aged wisdom to prove it’ feel to them.
The old woman was sitting in a large, rocking armchair, delicately holding a cup with something steaming in it.
“Tea, boy?”, she asked in her wheezing voice but didn’t wait for him to reply. She motioned a hand and Moira’s younger sister, Lady Maira produced another cup from the shelves and poured him his tea, while the Granma watched the sinister-looking man settle down.
“Sugar? Honey? Milk, Sir?”, Lady Maira asked politely, though it was apparent she was not very comfortable with the idea of being just her and her grandmother in the same room with this man.
“None for me, Lady Maira.”, Aager growled with his gravelly voice, inadvertently making the girl flinch.
“Honey. Put honey in his tea, girl. Methinks he will need it.”, snickered the old woman.
“Ma’am..”, said Aager, sort of as an excuse to start from somewhere.
The old woman snickered again.
“You didn’t come here to Ma’am me this late, boy. ‘Granma’ will suffice. I have heard it enough many times to respond to it by now.”
“I came.. to..”, stammered Aager. “I was hoping for a private talk.. on a private matter, Lady Granma.”
“Well, now.. Lady and Granma.. You truly must be desperate, boy. But polite. Good qualities to start a conversation. Maira, dear, why don’t you take the night off. You don’t have to sit up late every night for my sake, you know. Do tell Alisia I said that, if you would, please. I am old. Not invalid, nor senile. She can attend to me personally when I am, rather than send her daughters..”, she huffed.
“Are.. are you sure, Granma?”, Maira asked tentatively, giving a sidelong glance in Aager’s direction. “Will you be alright?”
“I am alright, dear. And quite safe with Sir Aager here, seeing as he is the only trustable man left in Durkahan.”, she said steadily.
“I shall not keep Lady Granma up for long, Lady Maira.”, promised Aager quietly so as not to scare the girl any further.
“Then I leave my grandmother in your tender care, Sir Aager.”, she replied politely, bent down, kissed her granny, curtsied Aager, and regally left the room.
“I hope I didn’t scare her too much.”, mumbled Aager.
“My daughter and my grands don’t scare too easily, boy. Managed to give them that much at least. Though they did botch the job when Tarakadahan happened.”, said Granma, staring at him thoughtfully. “Now, what’s on your mind, young man? You truly must be desperate to have come to me for wisdom. People seldom do, anymore.”
“Their loss, I am sure..”, Aager said. “It is true that I am desperate, but I do not believe my choice of wisdom was faulty.”
“Very good, young man. Polite, and honest in his praise. No wonder that poor, skinny girl cares for you so deeply.”, she replied. “I suspect this has to do with her?”
“Uhhmm..”, stammered the sinister-looking man and.. squirmed.
“Speak, boy. Wisdom must be given direction to make sense.”, said the old woman sternly, surprising Aager a bit.
The man in the dark clothes took a slow sip from his honeyed tea, sort of to wet his throat, then started talking..
“I.. am not sure where to begin.. I.. deeply care.. for Inshala..”, he whispered. “Before I met her, my life was only about work. And the safety of the people who I knew nothing about, and who knew nothing about me. But I did it anyway.. As payment for my past sins. Then I met her.. while tracking the miscreants in the vastness of Ritual Forest, who ran and hid inside the old Themalsar ruins. We spent weeks in the cursed halls and dungeons of that mad man’s temple, fighting and bleeding on a nearly daily basis.. Then we faced Themalsar himself.. I almost died when he cursed me, Inshala got banished and then he dropped his demons on Lady Moira and the others.. We were.. desperate.. Dying, really.. But somehow, possibly by sheer stubbornness and a good dose of dumb luck, we did it.. We slew the mad priest who had plagued those lands for over eight hundred years., though we still couldn’t do anything about his deathly ruins, which would always be a gathering place for evil, as it did on at least four occasions, causing the death of tens of thousands of people.”
Lady Granma did not say anything, nor did she interrupt the whispering narration of the man sitting merely a few feet away. Silently, she listed to his desolate recollection of the historical event that had, perhaps unwittingly, changed the world.
Aager had just remembered what had happened after that.. and the ten days he had spent watching over the girl he’d come to love and honor, constantly making sure she was still breathing and still alive, every moment of those ten days, day and night..
Inadvertently, he shuddered.
One day, it was likely he would get over the terrors of those ten days..
But not anytime soon.
Slowly, he took another sip and continued.
“When we got out, she, Inshala, just stared at us and smiled, and just like that, she took the responsibility of kings and queens, great generals and armies, and buried the sins of men and the ruins of Themalsar, deep into the earth, and brought forth life —a whole forest of it, upon the dead and desolate land that was Themalsar, sacrificing everything that was precious for her. Everything that defined her.. She gave away what she was.. for the sins of men..”, whispered Aager in a desperate voice. “And now, I feel lost.. She comes to my room and together we color these silly pictures with colored sticks —with crayons, and I have never felt anything thus fulfilling in the entirety of my life, Lady Granma. What’s worse, we are going to a desperate war and she will follow me there, right into the bloody field.. I.. I do not know what to do, yet I feel so empty.. so blank.. without her.. I want her to be with me, for the rest of my life, and I want to be there, with her, for the rest of her life.. And yet, she is so young.. Do.. do I even have the right to ask such a selfish wont from her?”
The room seemed to hold its breath as Aager fell silent again.
Then Granma took things into her hands and dismantled everything!
“You are aware, that you are speaking to a woman who married at the age of fourteen, right, boy?”, she said with a toothy smile.
Aager ogled at her.
“And the same woman whose mother married when she was twelve! My father was barely sixteen himself and could barely hold up a shield.”, she continued with a cackle. “My mother was playing hopscotch with her friends when my grandfather called her inside and they wed her with my father who was nursing a bloody nose because he had just been fighting with some other boys at the time. Then the wedding was done, in under ten minutes, my mother returned to her game and my father went back to return the compliment done to his nose and had his lip split for his efforts!”
“Life is not how we define it, boy. That is base arrogance. Yes, they fought and so did I and my beautiful man, who had the soul of a shark, and was a brigand in bed! We did all sorts of silly things and fought over even sillier things and it took us years to understand what being married truly meant. But when we did, we were thick as thieves after that. Children marry at an early age in Durkahan, and for many reasons varying from the need for soldiers to farmers and artisans because we constantly feed our troops who safeguard the vast lands around the Demon Plains just north of here and Heavens Hand to stave off the evil that is constantly trying to overrun the Demon Wall, with logistics, soldiers, masons, and both armor smiths and weapon smiths, knowing should we fail, Heavens Hand will fail, and then the kingdom will fall. Other cities might have the luxury to live otherwise, but we do not. Boys and girls tend to marry quite after their twenties at Koruxan, while it varies greatly in other cities, and our dear little Inshala is not a human girl. Judging her by our standards is a poor way to repay her due respect. Not to mention the fact that she is a bloomer. I could see what she sees when she looks at you. You might see a little girl when you look at her and try to be honorable for all you like, but she sees a ‘mate’, when she looks at you! True, she has not grown in a society, hence, she lacks the things she should know and do, which refrains her from fully blooming. But you should also note; none of that is her fault.
Think of this when you are deciding whether she is too young or not; she sleeps in her room, wakes up in yours!
I am guessing, she does not do this because she needs a father figure. It is possible you filled such a gap, before, and at the beginning. But that is not the case anymore and has not been so for quite some time now, and I believe the delay was only due to her lack of social mingling; she just couldn’t correctly define what you were to her because she never had the appropriate social references. When it came to boys and men, that only meant being chased, caged, and whipped!
It is commendable and quite remarkable that you have managed to be as honorable as you have and never taken advantage of her, seeing as how honest, sincere, earnest, and pretty she is. Just for that, you have my respect. Methinks, however, playing with fire every walking moment of your day, and ‘not walking’ moments of your nights, and not expecting to eventually burn, or burn out, is foolishness, and you don’t look like a fool to me, boy.”
Aager stared at the old woman with astonishment. He had expected her to be mildly straightforward, certainly, but what he had gotten was a whole herd of Moxes trampling over him!
“You think.. I should ask for her hand?”, he asked carefully.
“And here I thought you were a smart man.”, muttered Lady Granma with exasperation. “We are past hands, boy. Ask her whole, already!”
Aager dropped the cup!
“Tell me, boy..”, the old woman asked. “When is the correct time to kill? You should know. It’s quite your area of expertise. Right up your alley, as they say..”
Aager paused for a moment.
This was something quite off-topic, and not exactly a ‘table conversation’ kind of thing to ask, nor answer, for that matter..
“I.. do not understand what you mean, Lady Granma.”, he replied carefully.
“Let me dummy that down for you then, young man.”, she said with a slightly disappointed tone.
“What happens when you stab too late?”
“You have missed your opportunity and are likely bleeding to death now.”, he replied.
“And what makes you think love is any different when it’s too late?”, she asked, staring deep into his eyes.
Aager Fogstep picked up the porcelain cup off the thick carpet, slowly rose, and spoke in his gravelly voice.
“Thank you, Grandmother. Your wisdom, it would seem, is quite sharp and well earned.”, he said a bit flustered.
“Sit, boy. We are not done yet!”, Granma ordered.
For a moment he wasn’t quite sure what to say. Finally, a low, harsh, and bitter whisper escaped him.
“I can not think of a life without my Inshala. I shall ask for her hand from Lady Alisia. I dearly hope she gives her to me, and with her blessing..”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about Alisia, young man. She yearns for a wedding.”, replied Granma with a snicker.
“Thank you for the tea.. and your insight..”, he said honestly.
“Do not wait for a day or three. Ask her hand in the morning, and have the wedding afternoon. The moment you forget to mention that, Alisia will turn the whole thing into a parade. Thrust me, boy, you don’t want that.”, Lady Granma warned with a smile. “Nothing short of an ambush will save you!”
“You have a very interesting way of laying things out, Lady Grana Maarva!”, Aager said, quite intrigued.
“I do, don’t I?”, she replied with another snicker. Then her face turned serious all of a sudden. “You will take care of my granddaughter, yes?”
“As tenderly as I can.”, replied Aager.
Granma stared at him and something deep inside her squinting eyes lit up..
“Tender is good.. But do not overdo it. Inshala is a flower, but not a wilting one. She will cry easily because she has never had the benefits of social moderations in her life. She also knows pain intimately and does not fear it. She has, methinks, figured early in life that, much like being tired after a long, happy run, being hurt and suffering pain is merely one of the natural outcomes of any venture —as sad as it is that she has come to that conclusion, and at such an early age, really is.
What she fears is not pain, but one of two things that very much matter to her. This, I have seen in her. She listens to everyone around her, and carefully asks the things she does not understand, even things that are trivial or just silly. I am guessing my mischievous grandson Cümeyt and my hair-brained granddaughter Madina are giving your Inshala a crash-course in many things she has missed, and possibly on things it would have been perfectly alright for her to have totally missed.”
“Yes. Buggery bum!”, said Aager with a short snort.
“Heard that, did you? Madina’s favorite for this month. Drives her mother crazy every time she uses it. And now she has learned it to young Inshala, who, willy-nilly, also uses it when her mother is there and is totally innocent of her deed. You can imagine the snickers all around, and there’s nothing much Alisia can do about it. I haven’t had this much fun in the last three decades..”, cackled the old lady.
“Her responses are oddly early or late, though. It is like she is miscounting her turn to speak, but eager to blend in..”
“Huh.”, grunted Aager. That had never happened when she was with him.
It dawned on him that it hadn’t because she trusted him to see her flaws and correct them appropriately, and for some reason, that made him feel happy.
Funny how it was always the little things!
“..For whatever reason, your little Inshala absolutely fears not being comprehended!
This she dreads mindlessly and can not shrug off nor ignore. My guess is, it is because she has been judged, and consequently punished for being something she is not —her whole life, precisely for that reason.
Somehow, she sees the absence of respect not so dissimilar to being misunderstood, hence, she fears this also. It is possible she strongly believes; ‘the misunderstood’ can not have respect.. Ignoring her wonts and desires —and likely her strengths as well— for the sake of your own conformity and providence and for something she can, and is willing to bear and endure will do her injustice on both accounts and give her the impression, quite clearly, I might add, just how little you really understand her, thus, how little respect you have for her! My man had faults. Too many to name here and now. But one thing he was never at fault nor lacking was, he showed me his love the way I wanted it, and I laughed every time he did a funny, even though he was a lump when it came to humor! Give her what she wants, boy. And let her give you the love you need to fill in your blanks.. Life is too short for stupid, and we are all going to war and some of us are not going to come back! Live with the regrets of loss. Not with the regrets of never having had the balls!”
Aager stared at his feet.
The sinister-looking man in his dark clothes felt singed.
That had been one, classy thrashing he’d just received from Lady Grana Maarva, and she hadn’t even been trying!
Also, she wasn’t done yet..
“Being polite and honorable is good and well. I am guessing, is how you have been treating her all along. Polite and honorable are indeed, good qualities, boy, but not at the expense of the people around us. Delia did the honorable thing, and good thing he did too —got himself killed by his own. Don’t get me wrong. I adored and respected that boy. He made my Alisia deliriously happy and I am sure that was a mean trick for him.. My Alisia was quite the petulant girl when she was young. Then my Moira did the honorable thing; landed herself in the dungeons. And then my Alisia decided to be honorable and good, and almost married the animal who killed his own brother and her husband. No one sought the wisdom of this old woman, which would have been; hire cutters, put a bounty on his head, poison his well, hex him, drop a loose flagstone on him, push him down the stairs, or whatever.. just kill him, already!“
“My Alisia did disappoint me, back then. Of all the things she could, and should have done, she chose defeat because that animal had threatened her with her children.. You see, boy, when someone threatens you and yours, you do not bargain to bed them. You simply have them killed! “, she finished pleasantly.
Good thing this old lady had been on their side.
“What you and your pretty little girl did was more than save our collective sorry hides. You, Sir Aager, and Inshala, in particular, remembered Alisia what it was to be a noblewoman, and the First Lady of Durkahan again. And when I say ‘Inshala in particular’, I do not emphasize it because you were less than her, but because she came here as not as a savior like you, but as the scared little sister, the lost daughter, and the awesome granddaughter!”
The old lady fell silent after that as if telling him she was done learning him her wisdom.
Aager stood up, respectfully nodded at the old woman then ghosted to the door.. and paused..
..as a moment of unexpected, and quite a retrospect insight dawned upon him.
“Would you..”, he asked, looking at Granma over his shoulder. “..know a Lady Daniella, perchance?”
Grana Maarva stared at him for a piercing moment.
“Now why would you ask me about Daniella?”, she asked sharply.
“No particular reason. Overheard a conversation between a young man, Udoorin Shieldheart, and Lady Moira once, right after we had come out of the Ruins of Themalsar and before my Inshala permanently sank it into the depths of the earth.”, he said.
“Why would Daniella’s name be mentioned at all?”, Granma asked intently.
“From what I gathered, she is the great-great-something-grandmother of the young man..”
“That so? And never did they figure, he and my Moira were cousins, then?”
Aager turned and stared at Lady Grana Maarva.
“You see, Daniella was my mother’s younger sister and a fiery, rebellious girl she was. She detested the nobility and married a promising young captain named Samdorin Shieldheart and together they left Durkahan and settled somewhere far off to the east..”
“Serenity Home!”, Aager blurted..
“No one will blame the beautiful Princess of Bari Na-ammen to have taken a simple country oaf for a king!”, said Lady Grana Maarva with a check-mate snicker.
✱ ✱ ✱
Aager Fogstep lay in his bed, staring blankly at the stone ceiling, back in his ‘lair’..
..and quietly waiting.
It was past midnight and he was exactly twenty-five years and one month old now. Normally, that wouldn’t have been remarkable for him. People who lived on a daily, ‘today, I have survived again’ basis, cared little about their age.
This particular night seemed special, however.
Or rather, this particular day.
There seemed a sense of freshness, and perhaps that of ‘expectation’, in the air. Much like how children felt when they learned their father was alive and coming home..
..from a long, depleting war.
“Huh.”, mumbled Aager. “That was a bit dramatic. Couldn’t have related to something brighter, something happier, could you?”
The door to his den opened and in a particularly pretty, pale lavender nightgown with white, frilly fringes that barely covered her slender hips and nothing else, Inshala walked in.
She didn’t wait at the door to look inside, nor pause for her eyes to adjust to the dark chamber.
She entered as she’d opened the door.
And with silent, naked feet, she ghosted around Aager’s bed until she bumped her, somewhat knobby knees, to his bed and just stood there with little to no expression on her face. What was there, however, seemed on the bare edges of distress.
Slowly she rose her skinny arms and held them outstretched and with her palms facing one another.
She had been like this ever since Moira had given her room to her, and gladly, but Aager suspected the whole idea had been Lady Alisia’s.
True, she had done it to preserve her new daughter’s dignity and avoid possible, slandering gossip. But she had, perhaps unwittingly turned ‘the girl who hangs around that sinister-looking man all day’, into ‘the girl who sneaks off into that sinister-looking man’s chamber at nights!’
Aager sighed and put the esteemed Lady Alisia aside, sat up, and stared at the girl.
He stared at Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane and quietly called her name.
The girl’s brows crested slightly, then she made a small, distressed noise.
She looked so very pretty, but sad..
..or perhaps ‘unhappy’, was closer to defining her distress.
She seemed like someone yearning to be somewhere, was allowed to come thus near, just not permitted to touch her wont.
It was a cruel way to punish someone, and unwittingly as it may have been, that was exactly what was being done to her.
Silently, he got out of his bed, came around behind her, pulled her to himself, and enfolded her, and her outstretched arms in his.
She seemed so small in his arms like that and Aagerwasn’t a large man, to begin with. A stab above average in height, and an edge broader at the shoulders, certainly, but altogether, a lean man, really.. A man, made of tightly woven, cord-like spring-muscles. More so since he had accepted Mab’s offer and taken the Winter Mantle.
Everything seemed more vivid, detailed, and alive since the Mantle, including his deadly attire, and his not-so-dissimilar desires..
In fact, everything was more since the Mantle!
His moments of happiness, and consequently, his moments of wrath. Which was exactly what he had dished out on Karkashi, in the arena..
And Inshala had found her solace in a man like him, of all people.
A good-for-murder, only Mab would have deemed worthy of her Mantle..
Inshala, on the other hand, had found her peace with him and in her beautiful gray eyes, he saw her storms, and her demons back off and scatter.. and he only needed to be near.
Was it, then, too much for him to ask just as much of her?
To stave off and scatter his demons?
And perhaps find solace too?
And certainly not for his demons.
For he had already found his solace in her and that had happened before the Mantle.
The scattering of his demons was merely ‘collateral damage’, per se.
Because Aager Fogstep was always honest with himself.
With her, he had been nothing less.
Slowly, and with great care so as not to wake her, he picked the little girl, as he always did, and tenderly lay her in the other bed. And with nothing less than honest desire, he looked at her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, quite visible under her revealing nightgown, and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, her long eyelashes, her slightly frowning brows, her cute, perky nose, her plush, cherry-red lips, her beautiful, curving horns, and her scattered, long, and silky hair..
And he wondered.
For an inevitable moment.
Whether this little girl knew.
Just what kind of a stirring effect she had on him..
But that was it, wasn’t it?
Other than some vague insight at an instinctual level, the little girl truly had no idea.
Only suppressed hope that the man, Aager, somehow found her appealing.
And that was also his fault.
Both that she didn’t know, and that she would think so little of herself..
Perhaps it was time, he thought, he really ought to tell her.
With a destitute sigh.
He reached down.
And covered her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, still visible, still calling from under her revealing nightgown, all the way up to her skinny, bare arms, slender neck and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, with his own blanket.
He watched as the girl did a sad little whimper and struggled to free herself from under her covers.
Inshala, it would seem, displaced her blankets quite frequently. A something he would look forward to tending in the near future..
..and mayhap, in the far future as well.
He bent down and kissed her forehead, then her beautiful, curving horns, and soothed her long, silky hair until she calmed, and with a depressed sigh, went still.
For a long time, Aager listened to her sated breaths, then gave a similar, depressed sigh of his own, silently ghosted to the large wardrobe, pulled out a spare blanket, and went back to his own bed.
Lying in the dark, and staring at the ceiling of his den, he asked.
“Do you want me thus much, Inshala?”
No reply came.
Only soft, steady breathing..
..and a barely discernable, sleepy little sigh.
It was possible he had a barely discernable smile of his own on his face when he finally drifted off to sleep. He was twenty-five years and one month old now, the girl he loved was barely an arm’s length away, and today seemed to promise a whole new beginning.
✱ ✱ ✱
And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late that night and stared down at the little girl lying on her tummy and on the pale beige carpet with her legs swinging lazily as she furiously colored what he thought was a woodsman’s lodge with a garden full of flowers, bushes, trees, a raccoon, a dear, a bear, and an eagle, or maybe it was a hawk, or likely a crow. A picture, he thought, was a bit on the pretentious side and would likely end with the bear killing the dear and raccoon destroying everything in the lodge and possibly knocking down a candle and setting the whole thing on fire!
“I am coloring this new book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, she said, looking up and smiling at him from where she lay. “He insists I am getting better so he gave me this one and swore on his ancestors that this one was for pros!”
“I could see how this one is indeed for pro’s.”, said Aager with a straight face, as he pulled off his dark, leather hood and mask off and tossed them on the bed.
“I told him he did not have to swear at his ancestors and that I would have believed him anyway because brothers and sisters never lie to one another.”, she said happily. “But he just stared at me with this funny face and he was like, ‘Ow, like never ever?’, and I said, ‘Of course, never ever, because brothers and sisters must trust one another, and he was like, ‘Well, that’s a buggery bum. Where’s the fun in that?'”
“That boy..”, growled Aager, while he undid the buckles to his dark leathers, pulled them off, and put them neatly on the bed as well. “..will either go far or go to jail, someday..”
“Then he tried to explain what pros meant and I asked him why he cut the other half of a perfectly nice word, and he said, ‘Cuz that’s what pros do, sis!'”
Then she sighed.
“The rules of cities and families are confusing and many.”
“That they are.”, he agreed and loosed his heavy belt and removed his swords, daggers, and knives, and carefully set them aside.
“And of course, I am confused now. I wanted to ask you, then and there but decided against it. You were in a meeting with the pigwigs.. or maybe it was the bigwigs, I am not sure which because both Cümeyt and Madina started laughing and giggling when I said pigwigs and neither of them made any sense after that and I was like, ‘This is a buggery bum of a situation only my Aager could untangle’, but you were at the meeting with the pigwigs.. So then I was like, ‘Girl, you must stop, like, now! You are like this clumsy bear cub that just stepped on a wasp’s nest and is now running around in silly circles with all the angry wasps on your tail!’
I did tell him, I would rather he never cut the other end of my name, though. Or anybody else’s. Can you imagine Inshes, Cüms, Mois, Mais, and Mads and Fards running around all day? I mean, we wouldn’t even have to be running, and we would still look funny and silly!”
“I would rather you all didn’t run around all day as Moi’s, Mai’s, Mad’s, Fard’s, and Insh’es, either. That would be awkward, indeed. And funny. And silly.”, he said with a smile, settled on the thick, pale beige carpet and on this stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, grabbed a brown coloring stick, and started on all the tree trunks, and the lodge.
Inshala giggled again.
“Master Cümeyt thought it was funny, and silly too. So he laughed. In fact, he laughed so hard, we had to stop playing for a while. But his laugh was also very squeaky and funny, so I laughed too. Then Madina laughed because she thought we were funny and because I make this snorty noise from my nose when I laugh. Then mother came and grounded us because there was an important meeting going on with the pigwigs and we were making so much noise and being irresponsible! That sort of annoyed Granma so she and mom started arguing. Granma told mom the pigwigs wouldn’t even be having their buggery bum meetings if it hadn’t been for us and we could hear them all the way from our room and Cümeyt, Madina, and I thought that was a bit unfair of mom to have grounded us when they were making so much noise themselves.. I did also wonder why we had been grounded. I mean, we were already sitting on the ground. But I decided to let that pass too, as things were confusing, and funny, and silly enough as they were and I thought maybe not asking would make me look more like this ‘pros’, rather than the clumsy bear cub! After all, I thought, I could always ask you.. when you are not in a meeting, and not busy, and not resting..”, she finished with a pout, as she picked three shades of blues and started on the sky!
“You could ask me now.”, he offered.
“No..”, Inshala said with a happy, yet slightly distracted voice. “..You are busy in a ‘resting-meeting’ now, with me.”
He just couldn’t help himself.
Yes, the story Inshala had just told was mildly entertaining, but it was the artlessly innocent, earnest, and seamless ‘commentary’ way she told it, followed by the unexpected conclusions that made it cute, adorable, and funny. What was more, was that Inshala was not telling her stories with the intention to entertain.
She was just telling them.
The way she saw them and comprehended them. It wasn’t all about her stories and how entertaining, or even fascinating they were.
It was how she delivered them..
When Aager told a story, he said it like he was giving an intelligence report; short, succinct, to the point, and with professional deliberation. It would start at point A, and end at point B, using the shortest, straightest, two-dimensionally linear path, and A would always keep B in his LoS —Line of Sight because that’s how much his A’s would trust his B’s!
Inshala’s recollection of events never went from point A to point B. They certainly never followed a straight nor a linear path because there were C’s, D’s, E’s, F’s, G’s, and a whole flock of other letters both related and sometimes, not so related, to consider, hence, were all brought into her telling, because outright discarding them was obviously not nice, and probably rude as well, as she told the events of her day in her soft, seamless, and ‘slightly confused’ narrative voice where she took point A into her small, delicate hands and bloomed it!
From there, things could only branch or ripple out, seeming to go every which way without any purpose or destination. She would reach point B, but never in an ‘eventually’, sense.
Her point B’s were neither here, nor there, but stressed in her telling and you just had to be deliberately dense or outright lacking any form of sentient perception or insight to have missed it thus thoroughly, or it came from an angle that had little to do with what she was talking about in the first place but ended up being oddly relevant.
The curious part of it all was the fact that things THUS FAR FROM THE POINTandLINEARLY NON-TWO-DIMENSIONAL were the very same things Aager Fogstep had truly, and unequivocally hated..
..until he’d bumped into one, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane.
The counter-amazement to this was in the dilemma of how Inshala would rather be straightforward, to the point, and succinct like Aager had been all along, only if she could.
Aager certainly wished to never see that!
“I didn’t want to tell Master Cümeyt, but the real reason why I thought he shouldn’t cut names in half like that was because names have protective power of their own, and cutting them in half removes that protection..”, Inshala said after a while.
“I didn’t know that.”, admitted Aager.
“Not many do. This is why it is unwise to name certain evil beings. It might irk their interest and bring them upon us. Not something anyone would want, and it will give them power over us. This is also the reason why we shy from calling those we love by their name, I think. We already feel helpless against them and we fear we might succumb to them all the way, should we call them by their name, “, she explained quietly.
“Huh.”, said Aager. “Is that why you didn’t use to call me by my name before?”
“Yes.”, she replied honestly.
“But you are saying it now.”, Aager stared.
“Yes.”, she said again, her voice a bit smaller.
“What changed?”, he asked.
“Nothing changed.”, she answered in a tiny, abashed voice. “I have decided to succumb all the way..”
In silent contemplation, the two turned the picture around as per need and colored the lodge, the garden, the bushes, and the trees, the raccoon (who, against all expectations, behaved itself), the dear, the bear (which indignantly refused to kill and eat the dear), and the hawk, in unified trans, passing the crayons back and forth for the next two hours.
“You once asked me when I would see you as a girl and not a baby —like a woman..”
“Would you like to be my woman? My wife?..”
“..And be stupid together for life?”
Just like that.
Aager Fogstep proposed.
✱ ✱ ✱
Aager Fogstep, the silent, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers, hood, and mask, the Winter Knight of Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Lady of Durkahan, the Ritual Guardian, the Mistress of The Grove of Titania, the Queen of Mother Earth and Summer, married the very next day, just a bit after ambushing Lady Alisia and asking her blessing, and for the hand of her new daughter.
The wedding took place in Lord Delia Karakarsh’s own small, private chapel in the inner castle of Durkahan City where Ladies Moira, Maira, and Madina happily attended, while the young Master Cümeyt held the tail end of the pretty bride’s long skirt, merrily skipping and hopping behind her and punching the air with a victorious fist and shouting;
“Yeesh! You go, girl!”
Seated at the rear, one Lady Grana Maava smirked while her daughter, Lady Alisia, dabbed her eyes as she watched her Inshala join, in health and in sickness, up in the sky and down in the ground.. and for life, with the silence, spooky man, Aager Fogstep..
The ring Aager gave Inshala was handcrafted by the best gold and glass smiths Durkahan had to offer and was made specifically for her; a slim, extraordinarily elegant circular glass, quite indestructible, with a forest of very tiny life-like flowers and vines, and tiny motes of what appeared to be fireflies captured in it and smoothly framed with gold —all intricately molded and flecked with emerald, ruby, and diamond dust, and with both red and green copper.
Inshala’s ring to him was a simple, very dark, quite thick, blue-black thing with two fiery orange bands running around it’s surface. And between the seemingly burning bands, was a poorly scrabbled etchings that must have taken the skinny little girl hours to have carved.
To • My • AAGRR • I • Belong
✱ ✱ ✱
Far, far away to the east and in the dark, silent depths of the vast Ritual Forest was a rundown and abandoned derelict. Standing right outside that small, sad, and desolate hovel was an ancient oak with less than half her leaves and weighted down with snow.
A warm, happy breeze soothed unseasonably from the west and caressed the brittle branches of the old, nearly-petrified tree and the ancient oak shuddered, felling more of her remaining leaves. A sharp, precipitous crack echoed in the forest and the ancient tree split in two. With a great sigh of relief, Tamara whispered.
“She is safe, she is loved, and she belongs. You may rest in peace now, my love..”
And after some three fulfilling millennia of breathing life into her forest, the ancient oak toppled over and crashed with a resounding boom, adding to the derelict..
Tamara gave another sigh.
“You be good, now, Ritual Guardian..”
Tamara was the beloved wife of Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig who was Inshala’s surrogate father and master. Tamara was killed some eight hundred years ago, during the first Themalsar War. At least on one occasion, Master Cathber was known to have called or referred to the great old oak tree standing mighty in front of his tiny hut as Tamara.. Whether he was calling the oak, Tamara in reference to the day they met and right in front of the old tree, or he is being literal is unknown, as the only two people involved, Master Cathber and Lady Tamara, are both dead.
What Inshala etches on the dark, blue-black carbon-alloy iron ring may, or may not be a misspelling of Aager. She does know the secret runes and glyphs of druidic, and perhaps a spatter of elvish, but does not know how to read nor write common. Cümeyt and Madina are tutoring her some (possibly on Lady Alisia’s orders) and she has come far. Interestingly, the first word she asked to be taught how to write was not her own name.
Whether she does a typo mistake on the ring, or she has etched it so with deliberation is unclear. She does confess, much later (in the story: A ‘Warm’ Warning) how Aager reminds her of her saber-tooth tiger, Katana.
Themalsar harabelerinden çıktıktan sonra, bu ölü topraklara tekrar hayat getirmek için Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, gerekli olan gücü kendisinden beklenebileceği gibi Titania’dan değil Mab’den ister.
Ne var ki Mab cömertliği ile bilinen biri değildir..
Bu hikaye, “Yapmam gereken bir şey var..” esnasında, kimsenin müşahede etmedi Rüyalar Aleminde yer alır ve Inshala’nın, Mab ile yaptığı pazarlık sonucu, ödemesi gereken bedeli anlatır.
Yapmam gereken bir şey var.”, der Inshala, fısıltı gibi bir sesle.. ve yavaşça toprağa çömelir ve ona dokunur.
“Burası çok uzun bir süredir ölü. Fazla uzun.. Her şey yaşamayı hak eder, sonu ölüm olsa da. Ama hiçbir şey bu şekilde ölü kalmaya devam etmeyi hak etmiyor.”, der ve yavaşça yere, uyumak istiyormuş gibi uzanır ve bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar. Sözleri anlaşılmaz mırıltılar, önce bir şarkı gibi gelir. Şarkı, tam olarak melankolik değildir, ama hüzünlüdür. Bir an sonra herkes, şarkıyı sadece duyduğunu değil, içinde de hissettiğini fark eder.
Gnine’ın, “Bu bir şarkı değil. Bir büyü! Ama nasıl?!”, dediği duyulur.
Inshala, büyüyü bir şarkı gibi söylemektedir.
..ve Themalsar tapınağının tuzlanmış kömürümsü ölü toprağı yumuşar ve genç kızı içine çekmeye başlar.
Inshala yavaş yavaş toprağa gömülmeye başlar.
Lady Magella biraz tedirgin olur. “Inshala.. kızım?”
Inshala büyüsünü söylerken, yüzünde belli belirsiz bir gülümsemeyle ona bakar. Gözleri pırıl pırıldır ve kendisiyle karşılaştıkları o ilk, yıldırımlı geceden beri belki de ilk defa bu deli kızın yüzünde bir ‘huzur’ ifadesi görürler.
Inshala toprağın içinde tamamen kaybolur!
Herkes nefesini tutar ve bekler..
..aradan bir dakika geçer.
✱ ✱ ✱
Toprağın derinliklerinde, karanlığın içinde uzanmış kız uykuda gibidir. Yüzeyde olanlardan habersizdir, ancak hayal meyal bir şeyler duymaktadır.
Kapalı göz kapaklarının altındaki fırtına grisi gözleri, garip, puslu bir bahçenin içinde bir sağa bir sola bakar ve önünde aralanan sislerin içinde beliren taş patikayı görünce, doğru yerde olduğunu anlar.
Kız, derin bir nefes alır ve temkinli bir şekilde patikaya adımını atar. Küçük, çıplak ayaklarıyla pustan ıslanmış pürüzsüz taşların üstünde üşüyerek yürümeye başlar. Kız, korkmaması gerektiğini, korkulacak bir şeyin de olmadığını kendi kendisine tekrarlayıp durur zira yapacağı görüşme için izin istemiş ve kendisine bu izin verilmiştir. Fey’ler arası yapılan bu küçük anlaşmalar, onların hayatlarının bel kemiğini oluşturduğunu, ve asla bozulmadını bilmesine rağmen korkudan titremesine engel olmaz.
Görüşeceği kişi, kolay biri olmayacaktır.
Kız, üşüyerek taş patika boyunca ne kadar yürüdüğünü bilemez ama sislerin içinde şekiller görür. Bunların bazılarının ne olduğunu gördüğü anda anlar, çoğu ise ıslak sisin içinde muallak şekiller olarak kalmayı tercih ederler.
Kız, kurumuş dikenli dalları olan ağaç ve çalılıkların arasında havada asılı gibi kıpırdamadan duran kuşlar, şurada bir tilki, burada bir sinap, elinde kocaman cep saati olan bir tavşan, yüzünde mutlu gibi görünmeye çalışan bir sırıtış ile kaskatı kesilmiş, fırfırlı ve cafcaflı kıyafetler içerisinde ve saçma sapan saçlarının üzerinde up uzun silindir şapkası olan bir adam, arka ayakları üstünde durmuş bir aslan, üzgün bir korkuluk, tek ayakkabısı eksik, genç güzel bir kız, bir teneke adam ve onun hemen ilerisinde, ikisi oğlan ikisi kız, dört çocuğun yan yana kıpırdamadan durduklarını görür. Oğlanlardan büyük olanın elinde kılıç ve kalkan, küçük olanın ise her iki elinde birer kılıç, kızlardan biri yayını germişken ikinci kız elindeki hançerle üzerinde sarmaşık desenleri oyulmuş, tek kapısı açık eski bir gardrobun önünde poz vermiştir.
Saatli tavşan, tek ayakkabısı eksik kız, şapkalı adam, ayakları üstünde duran aslan, teneke adam, korkuluk ve dört çocuk gibi gördüğü birçok şeye anlam veremez. Ama gördüğü her şeyin sanki kristal camdan yapılmışcasına kıpırdamadan duruyor olmaları, kesinlikle doğru yerde olduğundan emin olmasını sağlar zira gördüğü şeyler ne kristalden, ne de camdan yapılmıştır. Hepsi buzdan oyulmuşlardır. Ama kız, gördüğü şeylerdeki ayrıntı inceliklerini fark edince, belki de buzdan yapılmadıklarını, buz içerisinde dondurulmuş olabilecekleri düşünür ve daha da korkar.
“Eveeeet! Onlar heykel değil.. Bedelini ödemeden, yanlışşşş yerde kahramanlık yapıp poz verenlerrr genelde kendilerini burada bulurrrrlar..”, diye testere hırıltısını andıran bir ses gelir sisin içinden ve kız yerinden sıçrar. Bir elini küt küt atan kalbinin üstüne yaslarken diğeriyle de çığlık atmamak için ağzına götürür.
“Merhaba küçük kızzzz. Pek de şşşşşirin bir şeymişsin. Ben şşşşirin, küçük kızlara bayılırımmmmm. Çok.. yumuşak ve.. lezzzzzetli olurlar.. mmmmmm..!”, diye keyifli, uzun tıslamalarla konuşur ses.
“Kim.. kimsin sen?”, diye kekeler kız.
“Aaaaaa.. Hayattaki en büyük ssssoru; Kim olduğumuzzzzz!.. Ssssen bana Cheshire diyebilirsin, küçük kızzzz.”, der ve sislerin arasından, muhtemelen yirmibeş-otuz kilo ağırlığında, arka arkaya üç sıra dizilmiş düzinelerce sivri dişi olan bir kedi havada süzülerek peyda olur.
Kız, olduğu yerde taş kesilir.
Çığlık atacakmış gibi iç çeker.. ve “KEDİ!”, haykırır!
✱ ✱ ✱
Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane.. Sarayıma hoş geldin.“, diye kulağa şarkı gibi gelen bir kadın sesi duyulur. Sesin büyülü bir cazibesi vardır. Alımlı, karizmatik, dikkat çeken ve içinde çok hafif şuh tınısı olan bir sestir bu.. aynı zamanda soğuk, duygusuz, acımasız ve buz gibidir.
Evet, kesinlikle dikkat çeken. Bu sesi kim, nerede duyarsa duysun, mutlaka durur ve başını sesin geldiği yöne çevirirdi.
“Me.. Merhaba Mab, Havanın ve Karanlığın Kraliçesi, Kış’ın Efendisi ve Sahibesi..”, diye tedirgin bir sesle cevap verir Inshala.
Sisler dağılır ve tamamen buzdan oluşmuş devasa tahtının üzerinde oturan Mab belirir.
Mab, tarifi imkansız biridir.
Neredeyse saçları ve kaşları kadar beyaz gözleriyle kendisine bakma şerefine nail olmuş ölümlülerin, onlara gerçekte ne kadar ölümlü olduklarını hatırlatan dondurucu bir güzelliği vardır. Başında, rengarenk buzlardan kesilmiş zarif tacı, dolgun, kusursuz ve son derece davetkar vücudundan, bir akarsu gibi süzülen elbisesiyle, dokunulamazlığın zirvesini temsil eden bir kadındır.
“Görüyorum ki Cheshire seni bulmu—”, Mab cümlesini tamamlayamaz. Yüzünde şok ifadesiyle, önünde duran kıza.. ve kızın kucağındaki kediye bakar.
“CHESHIRE!”, diye içi tehdit dolu bir sesle kediye seslenir.
Kedi, yüzünde fena halde utanmış bir ifadeyle bakar ve “Çok özürrrr dilerim Hanımım. Ama hiç beklemediğim bir şşşşekilde üstüme atladı ve beni kucağına aldı. Sizzzz, ona zarar vermemem konusunda beni uyardığınızzzz için de bir şşşşey yapamadım.”, diye açıklamaya çalışır. “..ve kulağımın arkasını kaşıyarak beni tamamen etkisizzzz hale getirdi!”, diye daha da rezil olmuş bir ifadeyle itiraf eder.
Mab’in yüzü kararır. “SEN.. SENİNLE SONRA İLGİLENECEĞİM!“, diye içi gazap dolu bir tehdit savurur ve eliyle havadaki bir şeyi söküp atıyormuş gibi bir hareket yapar ve bir anda Cheshire, kuyruğuna basılmış bir kedinin cırtlak yavlamasıyla Inshala’nın kollarından fırlamışçasına çekilip kaybolur.
Inshala kaskatı kesilir.
Mab, sakinleşmek istiyormuş gibi derin bir nefes alır. Belli ki vermeyi düşündüğü ilk izlenim bu değildir.
“Benden korkmana gerek yok, küçük kız. Sana ‘Serbest Geçiş’ hakkı tanındı. Kimse sana burada dokunamaz.”, diye soğuk bir şekilde konuşur Mab.
“Teşek— “, diye bir anlığına önündeki ölümsüz varlığa teşekkür edecekken kendisine hakim olur. Yaşlı efendisi onu feylere teşekkür etme konusunda birçok defa uyarmıştır; “Bir fey’e teşekkür edersen, ona borçlu olduğunu kabul etmiş olursun.”
“Akıllısın.”, diye buzlu bir ifadeyle gülümser Kış’ın Sahibesi. “Ama buraya zaten bana borçlanmak için gelmedin mi?”
“Buraya pazarlık için geldim Hanımefendi.”, diye saygılı bir şekilde cevap verir Inshala. “Themalsar, sekiz yüz altmış yıl bu toprakları zehirledi, çürüttü ve öldürdü. Ve sekiz yüz altmış yıl bu topraklara yaz gelmedi.”
“Yaz’ı bana şikayet etmeye mi geldin küçük kız? Bunun için yanlış yerdesin..”, diye hüküm veren bir ses tonuyla konuşur Mab.
“Ama sekiz yüz altmış yıl bu topraklara kış da gelmedi..”, diye sessizce cevap verir Inshala. “Bu kötülüğe hepimiz göz yumduk. Bu kötülükten hepimiz sorumluyuz. Biz Themalsar’ı yok ettik. Ama bu topraklar onun çürümüş anısını yaşatmaya devam edecek. Buna engel olunmalı. Bu topraklara yaz da gelmeli, kış da.. bu şekilde tekrar bir denge kurulmalı.”
Inshala başta tedirgin ve çekingen bir şekilde konuşurken, cümlesini tamamladığında sesi inancının gücüyle yankılanmaya başlamıştır.
Mab, bir kaşını kaldırır. Önünde duran ve kendisini —Mab’i— yargılamaya teğet geçen ifadelerle söylediği sözleri değerlendirir. ‘Eveeeeet! Bu küçük ölümlü kesinlikle beni, benim önümde yargıladı.. Cesurca.. ve ahmakça.. ve… kurnazca! Kendisi dahil hepimizi tek hamlede yargılayıverdi.’, diye geçirir içinden soğuk bir şekilde gülümseyerek.
“Sizden sadece hepimizin ihmalkarlığı olan bu hatayı düzeltmek için bana gücünüzü paylaşmanızı rica ediyorum.”, diye çınlayan bir sesle devam eder Inshala.
“Buraya hayat getireceksen, bunu kız kardeşimden istemen gerekmiyor mu?”, diye sorar Mab.
“Buraya hayat gelmez, Hanımefendi. Burası ölmüş. Tamamen. Buranın önce yerle bir edilmesi gerekiyor. Derinlerden ve çevreden, içinde hayat ve canlıların olduğu topraklarla alt üst edilmesi gerek. Hayat ancak onu besleyebilecek toprakta yetişir. Siz bana bu gücü verdiğinizde, Kraliçe Titania’da, her ne kadar sizden ödünç almış olsam da, nihayetinde ve gerçekte size ait olacak olan bu gücü dengelemek için harekete geçmesi gerekecek ve bunun için de çoktan yerle bir olmuş bir yeri tekrar aynı ile vurmayacaktır. Sizin yaptığınızın aksini yapacak ve yıkım yerine hayat getirmekle bir denge sağlamış olacak..”, diye açıklar kız, başı yere eğik bir şekilde.
Mab, önünde titreyerek duran bu küçük, ürkek kızı takdir eder. Dolgun dudaklarının bir kenarını bükerek “Bakıyorum her şeyi düşünmüşsün küçük fey. Bedelini de düşündün mü?”, der.
Inshala, Mab’in kendisine bir ‘fey’ olarak hitap etmesinden nedense çok mutlu olur. Hayatı boyunca kendisine karşı tiksintiden başka bir şey hissetmemiş olan bu kız, her ne kadar kendisine ‘la Fey‘ demiş olsa da, en nihayetinde bununla sadece kendisini avuttuğu gerçeğine de asla kör olmamıştır.. Mab’in öylesine söylemiş gibi görünen bu ifadesinden, gerçekte Inshala’yı hangi kategoride gördüğünü ve kimlerle denk tutacağını, resmi bir şekilde ilan etmiş oluyordu. Çünkü Mab, asla bir şeyleri ‘öylesine’ söyleyen biri değildir. Yaptığı her hareket, kullandığı her kelime, yüzündeki her ifade önceden düşünülmüş, hesaplanmış, tartılmış, mantık silsilesindeki mutlak yeri tespit edilmiş ve bunların kümülatif sonucunda söylenmiş ve yapılmıştır. Mab, böyle biridir! Soğukta üşürsün. Çok üşürsen ölürsün – duygulardan arındırılmış, mutlak, acımasız mantığın zirvesidir Mab.
Mab, bu basit gibi görünen ifadesiyle, Inshala’yı resmi olarak bir fey kabul etmiş ve ona bir aidiyet vermiştir.
“İhtiyacım olan gücün bedelini size bırakıyorum, Hanımefendi.”, diye sessizce cevap verir kız.
“Öyle olsun bakalım, benim cesur, ahmak, kurnaz ve gözü kara misafirim.. Senden veremeyeceğin bir şey istemeyeceğim. EN ÇOK SEVDİĞİN ÜÇ ŞEYDEN İKİSİ.. Senden istediğim bedel budur!“, diye ilan eder Mab.
Inshala bir iç çeker ve gözleri kocaman olur.
“Bugün benim kedimi sevdin, onu okşadın ve ona sıcak bir kucağın değerini hatırlattın.. ve farkında olmadan onu Cheshire yapan şeyi de yok etmiş oldun. Bundan sonra ondan sadece bir şömine kedisi olur.”, diye büyük bir tiksintiyle burnunu çeker Mab. “Buna karşılık bana yeni bir kedi gerekecek. Sanırım seninkisi Cheshire’in yokluğunu aratmayacaktır.. BANA KEDİNİ VER!“, diye acımasızca gülümser.
Inshala olduğu yerde kalakalır. Kedisi.. Katana! Hayatında en sevdiği varlığı.. Kendisinin en vahşi, en oyuncu, en meraklı ve en kurnaz yanlarından oluşmuş olan kılıç dişli kaplanı..
Kızın gözleri dolar. Bu.. bu çok büyük bir bedeldir. Bir daha asla kedisine dönüşemeyecek olması fikri içinde bir şeylerin parçalanmasına sebep olur ve gözlerinden yaşlar süzülmeye başlar.. ve yanaklarında donar.
“Eveeet.. Bu kesinlikle en çok sevdiğin üç şeyden biri..“, diye onaylar Mab.
“Ka.. Kabul!”, der Inshala, kahrolmuş bir sesle.
“ÇOCUĞUN!..”, diye devam eder Kış’ın Efendisi.
“Be.. benim çocuğum yok ki.”, diye gözü dolu kız afallar.
“Bir gün olacak. Bunu gördüm. Çok güzel bir oğlan çocuğu.. Burnu ve gözleri sana ait ama kaşları ve saçları kara olacak. Senin gibi içli, ateşli ve gözü kara olacak ama kızdığında acımasız ve ürkütücü birine dönüşecek. Onun hiddetini ancak senden alacağı eşsiz sevgi dengeleyebilecek ve bu şekilde bir çok ölümlü hayatta kalacak!”, diye kati bir sesle konuşur Mab.
Inshala, çocukların ve bebeklerin nasıl olduklarını bildiğini sanır. Bugüne kadar birçok kuş yuvasında yeni yumurtalarından çıkmış yavru serçe, baykuş ve hatta kartal bile görmüştür. Ayı, geyik, kaplan ve keçi yavrularının doğumlarını da dehşet ve hayret içerisinde seyretmiştir. Ancak gördükleri ile insanlar arasında herhangi bir benzerlik ilişkisi bulamamış, dolayısıyla gerçekte bebeklerin nasıl yapıldığı hakkında da hiçbir fikri yoktur. Dahası, kendisi gibi bir ucubenin çocuğu olabileceği düşüncesini bile daha doğmadan öldürmüş ve toprağa gömmüştür.
Gözleri dolu olmasına rağmen Inshala kaşlarını çatar ve “Hayır. Bir gün çocuğum olursa o özgür olmalı. Ama çocuğum olacağını hiç sanmıyorum. Bu dünyanın, benim gibi bir başka ucubeye ihtiyacı yok!”, diye reddeder.
“Ucube mi? Ben de seni akıllı sanmıştım.. Kendilerine insan diyen gerçek ucubeler bu toprakları öldürdüler. Sana ucube diyenlerin bıraktıkları şerri temizlemek için, doğmamış çocuğunun üzerinden pazarlık yapılıyor ve sen kendinin bir ucube mi olduğunu sanıyorsun?”, diye Mab’in hiddeti bir anda yayılır buzlu taht odasında.
“Çocuğum üzerinden pazarlık yapmıyoruz, Hanımefendi, çünkü ortada bir çocuk da yok, olabilme ihtimali de!”, diye cevap verir Inshala ve bu şekilde Mab’in kızdığı şeyin özünü de tamamen kaçırmış olur..
“Öyle olsun bakalım. O zaman bana ‘SEYRETTİĞİNİ’ ver!“, diye imalı bir ifadeyle konuşur Mab.
Inshala anında ve kati bir şekilde “HAYIR! ONU BU İŞE BULAŞTIRMAYACAĞIZ. O BANA AİT BİLE DEĞİL. OLSA DA VEREMEM!“, der ve sesi buzlar arasında çınlayarak yankılanır.
“Aaaa.. En sevdiğin üç şeyi bulmuş olduk en azından; kedin, doğmamış çocuğun ve ‘seyrettiğin’..”, diye gülümser Mab, soğuk bir şekilde.
“Bir şeyim daha var. Ayım. Kedim ve ayım!”, diye tamamen umutsuz bir sesle haykırır Inshala.
Mab durur. Açıkçası kızın ayısını istemez. Evet, ayı cinsinin muhteşem bir örneğidir. Dahası ayı, kocaman, dev bir kutup ayısıdır. Tam kışa yakışır bir yaratıktır. Ama onu şaşırtan ve durmasına sebep olan şey, önünde duran küçük kızın, hem kedisini, hem de ayısını vermesi halinde, gerçekte etkili herhangi bir hayvana dönüşme özelliğinden tamamen feragat etmiş olacağıdır ve kızın ödemeyi kabul ettiği gerçek bedel de budur.
“Her ikisini de bana vermenin sana neye mal olacağının farkındasın, değil mi? Bunun sana vereceği acı asla dinmeyecek. Seni içinde bırakacağı yalnızlık ve boşluk da asla doldurulamayacak!”, diye, ilk defa içinde şefkat ve anlayış olan bir sesle sorar kıza Mab.
Inshala sessizce, “Evet.”, der.
“Öyle olsun bakalım küçük Inshala. Kabul ediyorum. GÜÇ KARŞILIĞINDA KEDİN, AYIN VE KAYBIN İLE GELECEK EMSALSİZ ACIN!..”, diye anlaşmayı mühürler Mab. Sonra da önünde kaybından dolayı ezilmiş kıza bakar ve “Ama merak etmeden de duramıyorum. Neden bana geldin? Titania’dan benzer bir gücü, çok daha ucuza alabilirdin..”, diye sorar Mab.
“Ucuza alınmış şeylerin bir kıymeti yoktur, Kraliçe Mab. Bugün, burada benden alacaklarınızın bana neye mal olacağını benden daha iyi biliyorsunuz. Almayı kabul ettiğiniz şeylerin ederini de benden daha iyi biliyorsunuz. Ne var ki ben alacağımla da, verdiklerimle de, yapmam gerekenden dolayı ilgilenemiyorum. Ben bu topraklara kışın tekrar gelebilmesini istiyorum çünkü kış acımasızdır ama hayatın kıymetini bize yazdan daha çok hatırlatır. Hayatın kıymetini en iyi bilenler, en şiddetli kışı yaşayıp da yine de hayatta kalabilenlerdir.. Ve kışı gerçekte güzel ve mutlak yapan da budur.”, diye kati bir inanışla cevap verir Inshala.
Bu sözler üzerine Mab’in iki kaşı da kalkar.
“Yaşına göre çok bilgesin genç Inshala ‘la Fey’FROSTMANE.”, diye vurgular Mab.“Ve kış’ı pek az ölümlünün görebildiği haliyle görebiliyorsun. Ama kış her zaman acımasız değildir. Yaz geldiğinde ölümlüler yer yüzünde etrafa saçılırlar. Kışın ise sıcak ateşlerinin başında bir araya gelir ve beraberliklerinden güç kazanırlar. Kış dünyayı tertemiz beyazlara büründürdüğünde ölümcül hastalıkları kırar ve savaşları durdurur.. Kış geldiğinde dikkat dağıtan bütün renkleri örter. Bu şekilde, ölümlüler yaşadıkları dünyayı takdir etmesini öğrenirler ve yaza daha bilge olarak çıkmış olurlar..”, diye ekler.
Bir an durur, sonra Mab’in kaşları çatılır ve muhteşem siması etrafa kati bir güç yayarak konuşmaya başlar; “Bu topraklara kış tekrar gelecek ve yaz da her daim onu takip edecek. Kız kardeşim Titania’yı kolundan tutup kendim sürükleyerek getirmem gerekse bile.. Ve burada oluşacak koru, bundan sonra ‘la Fey’s Grove’ olarak bilinecek ve buraya şer asla giremeyecek. Ölümlüler ziyaret edebilecek ama baltalarıyla burayı kesmelerine müsaade edilmeyecek. Kendilerini buraya efendi ve fatih olarak getirenler de benim gazabımla yüzleşecek ve kemikleri sonsuza dek buradaki ağaçları besleyecek!”, diye kati bir sesle ilan eder..
Sis tekrar belirir ve yavaş yavaş ortalığı kaplar ve bulundukları salon, buzlu taht ve Havanın ve Karanlığın Kraliçesi, Kış’ın Sahibesi ve Efendisi Mab, muallak şekillere bürünüp kaybolmaya başlar.
“Elveda küçük ‘la Fey’. Bir sonraki karşılaşmamızı dört gözle bekliyor olacağım zira acın kaçınılmaz olsa da, pazarlığın parçası değildi. Bu da Mab’in sana olan borcu olarak aramızda kalacak.”, diye sislerin arasında tekrar kaybolan Kraliçe Mab’in son sözleri duyulur.
Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane toprağın derinliklerinde, karanlığın içinde, hayatında hiç yaşamadığı bir acıyla uyanır.
Sanki birileri içinden bir şeyleri —çok sevdiği bir şeyleri— büyük bir şiddetle, koparırcasına çekip almıştır.
Inshala, kimsenin duyamadığı, içi doldurulamaz bir eksikliğin çığlığını atar..
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Ve bir dakika daha geçer.
Ancak birkaç dakika daha geçince Moira, “Lady?”, diye tedirgin olmuş bir sesle sorar. Arkasından Laila ve Lorna da “Lady?!”, diye Lady Magella’ya bakarlar.
Lady Magella ellerini başına götürüp saçlarını çekiştirmeye başlar, “Bilmiyorum, bilmiyorum bu deli kızın ne yaptığını bilmiyorum,” diye haykırır.
“Udoorin!”, diye bir başka haykırış daha duyulur. Aager, Udoorin’e sırt çantasından çıkardığı küçük bir kepçeyi fırlatır. Kendisi de elinde bir hançerle Inshala’nın kaybolduğu yere atar kendisini ve toprağı eşelemeye başlar. Udoorin, Aager’in ona attığı kepçe ile Inshala’nın mezarına koşar ve o da toprağı kazmaya başlar. ..
Lady büyük bir panik içerisinde sırt çantasını boşaltır. Yanında taşıdığı ilaçlar, iksirler ve şifalı otları sakladığı kesecikler çantasından yere dökülür. Seri hareketlerle keseleri açar ve içindekileri değerlendirir. Gerçekte bunların hangisinin ne işe yaradıklarını muhtemelen o deli kız daha iyi bilmektedir. Ne var ki aynı deli kız şu anda kıl payı nefes alabilmektedir.
‘Hangisi.. Hangisi..’, diye kararsız bir şekilde keseleri ve içeriklerini değerlendirirken birden aklına gelir;
“Eveet. Ekinezya şurda.”
“İşte. Şişesi burada ve hava almamış!”
“Dövülmüş ceviz. Kabuklarıyla beraber…”
“Al şu cevizleri, kabuklarını ayırmana gerek yok. Hepsini un ufak et, getir!”
“Anlamadım ama yaparım abla. Inshala nasıl? İyi olacak mı?”
“Çiriş otu ve limon çekirdeği — çekirdeklerden ölçü başı iki tane..”
“Evet, görüyorum. Onlardan da var.”
“Çam balı. Bana çam balı lazım. Hemen!”
“Abla bulurum ama bu hemen olmaz.”
“Üç mil güneybatı istikametinde, fuşya çalısını geçince..”
“Üç mil güneybatı istikametinde, fuşya çalısını geçince..”
“Koş Laila, koş. Udoorin’i de al yanına.”
“Udoorin’siz daha hızlı giderim.”
“Tartışma benimle şimdi. Al Udoorin’i, git!”
“Defne, devedikeni ve zencefil..”
“Hmmm.. Defne ve devedikeni var ama zencefili nerden bulacağız?”
“Gnine?! Sende zencefilin ne işi var evladım?”
“Bilmem. Yemeklere katıyorum bazen. Ne bileyim. Birden içime doğdu, ihtiyacın olur diye düşündüm.”
“Gül suyu.. Gül suyu.. Gül suyu.. Gül suyu mu?”
“Gül suyu mu dediniz, Lady’im?”
“Sevgili Lorna.. Var mı sende?”
“Var Lady’im. Saf, katışıksız, ev yapımı. Son derece yoğun. Bir damlası günlerce gidiyor.”
“Ama.. Bu çok pahalı olmalı.”
“Kıymeti onu bana verenden dolayı, hanımefendi..”
“Çok üzüldüğüm bir anda, beni avutmak için onu bana Inshala hediye etmişti..”
“Ve kendi rızasıyla verilmiş, kutsanmış iblis kanı..”
“İblis kanı.. Eveeet!.. Şuruba güç katacaktır. İçine de.. Ama kendi rızasıyla ve kutsanmış.. “
“İblis kanı çok güçlüdür ama bir o kadar da ölümcüldür. Ancak kutsanması halinde bir ölümlü onu değerlendirebilir..”
“Dur tahmin edeyim.. İlaca güç patlaması gerekiyor ve bunun için kanım lazım!”
“Inshala için.. Lütfen.”
“Veririm.. ama o kız benden nefret ediyor. Bunca zamandır benimle bir defa bile konuşmadı!”
“Lady Merisoul. Bütün atalarım adına yemin ederim ki Inshala senden nefret etmiyor. Sadece seni anlamıyor ve senden korkuyor, ama senden nefret etmiyor. Korkarım onun nefret ettiği tek kişi kendisi. Themalsar’la savaşırken ‘def’ edilmesinin sebebi, kolumu kırmadan önce Irine teyzenin senin için söylediklerinden sonra seni sahiplenmesiydi.”
“Karmaşada bunu fark etmemiştim. Ka.. karşılığında bir şey almadan kimse beni sahiplenmedi bugüne kadar..”
“KIZ NAAPIYORSUN SEN?!“
“Ay aranızda akıllı bir taneniz yok mu sizin yahu? Bir kaç damla yeterliydi. NEDEN BIÇAĞI KARNINA SOKTUN?!“
“İçimdeki kan, kolumdakinden çok daha etkili.. Bu.. bu biraz acıttı..!”
“Moira, al şu şişeyi doldur. Sonra da sana zahmet kutsayıver.. VE SEN.. SEN DE HEMEN UZAN.. YA MANYAK MISINIZ SİZ YAA?!“
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“Uyan ve hatırla.. Drashan’ı, ihaneti ve giyotini hatırla.. Hiç kimseye duymadığı kadar şimdi sana ihtiyacı var. Kurtar onu..!“
“Ama neden? En azından yanımda duran bir kişi var.. O da mı gitsin?”
“O bir ölümlü. Birgün zaten gidecek. Bu kaçınılmaz. Ona göstermelisin.”
“O zamana kadar bilmese de olur. Kimse bilmiyor..”
“Ona hiçbir vaatte bulunmadın. Ama yanından hiç ayrılmadı. Bunu yalanlarla yok etme. Ona göstermelisin..”
“Ama gösterirsem bu canımı çok acıtacak.”
“Sen acıyla doğdun. Acı senin en yakın dostun. Ona göstermelisin.”
“Benim iyi biri olmadığımı düşünecek..”
“Bu muhtemel.. Ama onun tercih hakkını ona sormadan elinden almanı takdir eder mi sence? Ona göstermelisin..”
“Hiçbir şeyim yok artık.. O da mı elimden alınmalı?”
“O zaten senin değil ki elinden alınsın.. Buna onun karar vermesi lazım. Ona göstermelisin.”
” ‘..Kış acımasızdır ama hayatın kıymetini bize yazdan daha çok hatırlatır. Hayatın kıymetini en iyi bilenler, en şiddetli kışı yaşayıp da yine de hayatta kalabilenlerdir.. Ve kışı gerçekte güzel ve mutlak yapan da budur..’ Bunlar senin sözlerindi. Ona göstermelisin..”
” ‘..Ama kış her zaman acımasız değildir.’ Bunlar da seninkiler idi!”
Titania, Queen of Summer / Kraliçe Titania, Yaz’ın sahibesi ve efendisi. İyi fey’lerin hanımefendisi ve Mab’in zıttı ve ikiz kız kardeşi. Daha çok iyilik ve duygularla hareket eder.
Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, Mistress of Winter / Kraliçe Mab, Havanın ve Karanlığın Kraliçesi, Kış’ın sahibesi ve efendisi. Kötü ve karanlık fey’lerin hanımefendisi ve Tinania’nın zıttı ve ikiz kız kardeşi. Daha çok soğuk, duygusuz, kati mantıkla hareket eder.