(chapter continued from previous post)
Alone again with her unconscious sister, Narcissa curled back up. She was probably going to have to announce the existence of the other moonblood line and her own transformation, preempting a moment in the future when someone less sympathetic and less trusting caught her or one of the others and claimed that they were part of the cabal or a rival sect. But that could wait. And if she revealed herself and there was no, or at least less, need to hide, would that mean she could stay longer? Or the opposite, would her presence ultimately be detrimental to Enodia?
If Lysandra died, did it matter?
She drowsed a bit. Motion roused her enough to listen, the hospital nursing staff doing rounds, making sure everyone conscious was fed and that everyone injured was checked for changes. The nurse who looked in on Lysandra didn’t disturb Narcissa, only quietly made note of her breathing and her heartbeat, and took a look at the area around the bandage on her side.
“Neaira and Makarios,” Narcissa heard her whisper. “We need these two together and well, for Enodia’s sake. Please help them.” She adjusted the sheet over Lysandra, gently brushed back a straying lock of long black hair, and left.
A little later, more motion, Tyrel and Madoc returning. Names given by the cooperative, and names unearthed by stealth, had more than doubled the number of captives from Phleion alone. Measures had been put in place to keep them isolated and contained. Hermia, now awake, had further suggestions, and Narcissa dozed off again to the rhythm of their discussion, trusting them to see to it and to send word to other locations about what to do.
Kaveri’s hand on her shoulder woke her fully. “It’s nearly moonrise. We’re going to the roof, maybe not for long, but we’re all tired and need all we can get. Are you coming?”
Narcissa hesitated, then shook her head. “Later. I don’t want to leave her alone. Just in case…”
“All right. I’ll come sit with her so you can have a chance, once I’m at full strength, and you can take as long as you need in the moonlight.”
Narcissa nodded, though she doubted that even the wonder of Lirit’s light could wash away her fear right now, or make being away more tolerable. Once Kaveri left, she got up and checked on Lysandra again herself. Still breathing, shallowly but steadily. Heart still beating, slowly and less strongly than she’d have liked, but it was for the most part regular. Her skin felt a trifle cool and clammy, though. Around the bandage on her abdomen, the skin was slightly warm and dry and tight, but no red streaks, no foul scents to suggest infection. Considering how close she’d come to dying, it was, well, perhaps not promising, but not discouraging, either. She pulled the couch closer, so she could take Lysandra’s limp hand in hers, close enough to sing her lullabies, to remind her of happy memories, anything that came to mind.
“Please wake up. Don’t force me to do something I don’t know whether you want me to do. Please don’t die.”
Kaveri came back to tell her that Lirit was high in the sky, and promised to stay with Lysandra and to send Mirren immediately to fetch her at the slightest sign of change.
“Tyrel and Madoc need to get some sleep, but if you don’t want to be alone, Madoc’s doing better, moon-wise, than ‘Rel is…?”
Narcissa shook her head. “Alone is fine. I doubt there’s any current threat.”
“I think they’ve done a very thorough job of rounding up the people responsible, so I agree, but stay near the stairs, please? Any threat, get back inside, or change and run.”
The hospital roof would, in time, be a pleasant private garden for patients and their loved ones to seek solitude and solace—and a source for fresh herbs as well. Part of it would be a shrine to Neaira and Makarios and the other gods associated with healing, their priests sharing the responsibilities of it, allowing prayers and offerings to be made for the sake of loved ones without leaving the premises. Some of the great pots were already in place, a few with plants in them, and there was a scattering of mismatched furniture, but there was much more work to do.
Lirit’s light, like cool clean water, washed away the fatigue, but could do nothing for the gnawing fear.
“Lirit,” she whispered. “How can you and your sisters allow them to do these things? You know who they are and what they’re doing, but you aren’t stopping them. Is this all some sort of game to you? Us against them, and you give us a few advantages to even out the odds and make it more interesting to watch?”
Wise daughter, pain clouds your wisdom.
Words, not exactly a voice, but the violet moonlight wrapped around her in a bright aura, and there was no mistaking that presence. She’d heard it once before, that first night, advising her to trust Kaveri and her friends.
“How can I think anything else from what I’ve seen? Before I was of any interest to you, they tried over and over to kill me! They’ve killed countless people and condemned even more to misery and despair!”
But you have always been of interest.
Narcissa paused. “What?”
What happens under our light, we see. We see humans more truly themselves than the sun ever does. We see humans committing acts they would not do by day. We see things that make us weep. We see things that give us hope and delight. We saw you, years ago, on the roof in the moonlight, telling your sister what you hoped one day to do, and we’ve watched you do so. We see your sister dance passion and joy despite the pain always within her. We see you out at night, or opening your doors, to help those who could not pay for a physician or feared to see one lest they be judged. We know you both well, wise daughter. We did not expect our children to cross your paths.
Narcissa considered that briefly, but right now, it felt largely irrelevant. “Fine, you knew us. How does that make it better that you let them keep trying to kill me? That you all keep letting them do terrible things with no consequences?”
What they do grieves us deeply. We did not intend that when we created our first children. But they are our children regardless, as much as you are. What runs in your veins is a part of my own substance. We can love our children and hate what they do. Meyar mourns for her son the bear, though she bears Kieran no ill will and would have mourned had he killed you. Sahen mourns for her daughter the eagle the same way. If you and your birth-brother came into conflict, with one of you acting in ways that appalled your birth-parents, would you ask them to kill their own child? And as the one still alive afterwards, would you ever again feel safe and certain that you would see the next day, that it would not be your turn to displease them next?
“I… suppose not. But you keep accepting more! Some of the ones from the attack in my house had only been approached within the past few years! Brykhon can’t have been long ago!”
When they are initiated, in a dark rite that we have never demanded and would rather never see again, if we do not choose them, they are killed, so that the secret remains a secret. Talir stopped accepting new children from any line save Neoma’s when Neoma fled. She feels that we are not truly saving them, only prolonging their existence with little benefit to them. Our opinions differ, but some of us are coming to agree. It is hard to let someone die when you believe they have much to offer the world and that they might have the strength to escape as Neoma did. So, we have made changes to Neoma’s bloodline, things the others know nothing of and cannot match. We have broken rules several times. Someday that may come back to haunt us, but when they caught up with Neoma, there was so much pain, so much grief, hers and the earth-lord’s and his spirit-creatures’ and Kieran’s and our own, we could not refuse what the earth-lord asked.
“That did Neoma a lot of good. Kieran hasn’t seen her in over a century, and it certainly sounds like he’s been looking!”
Neoma is safe. It took a very long time for us to convince Talir to stop holding Neoma to her like a wolf-bitch curled around a single injured pup. She returned Neoma very far away, where they could never find her again, and after so long with Talir, many many moon cycles, her memories of her life are rather distant and dream-like. Talir regrets placing her so far from Kieran. We will, when we can, set it right.
“Set it right. This is all fascinating and educational, but my sister may die because of that stag’s kick—and his blood is yours! Most of my household, who are my personal responsibility, are injured because of an attack on me, mostly by that same stag. What makes that right? They’re your children and you love them. Fine. When we were small, if we abused our toys, we lost them. If we wouldn’t cooperate and play nicely, we were forbidden to play with others. If we broke the rules, we were punished in accordance with what rule we broke and how badly and whether there were extenuating circumstances. That didn’t mean that our parents loved us less. It meant they wanted us to grow up aware that our actions had consequences and that were were accountable for everything we did and what came of it. Refusing to heal them helped keep the fight from lasting so long that Lysandra and Thaleia and possibly others would likely have died. Thank you for that much. We have some of them in custody now, and Aithre’s children are alert for others, but they’re like a plague, it only takes one carrier for it to start all over again! The grandparents of my grandparents were chosen to replace the royal family of the day who had been abusing their power. My family have been raised ever since to be aware of the responsibility that comes with authority, and that it can be taken from us as readily as it was granted if we give our people reason. We’ve given our lives, over and over, to trying to make Enodia the most strong and free nation in all the world, healthy and educated and peaceful. If they’re still lurking in the shadows, then I can’t leave. I will never leave Enodia while any of them are still free here.”
There was no reply for a long time, so long she thought she might have angered Lirit, or that this whole impossible conversation had ended.
Let us think, wise daughter. I would not like to see you feel chained. There is much good you could do outside of Enodia. For the time being, please trust that I love you and I want you to be happy, not in pain as you are now. I am no more pleased with what my son Yegor did than you are. For the time being, go back to your sister. You have a message waiting.
But there was nothing in the moonlight beyond the usual sense of love and support.
(chapter continued next post!)