Answers to No One

King Tamar sat alone. It drove her mad to be blind while her city, her people, were in peril. They were imperiled by the blazing red-white circle that, by her guard’s faltering description, filled half the night sky now. She had given them all tasks, duties to prepare the castle defenses, to prepare the city for the long night that could still fall. My vision will return. There will be much to do come dawn, either way.

She had decided the best place for her to be was the Alabaster Throne, where at least she could be a symbol of resolve and comfort to her people. Her heirs were safely on their way, bound for the far city of Caleron. They had fought her decision, but they had bowed to her Sight.

The king raised her head. Someone was there, standing a few feet from the throne, silent and unannounced. She craned her ears, trying to decide if she should rebuke this careless guard, but she could not hear the jingle of chain mail, or the creak of leather straps, or the slight tap of a blade against armor. As best she could tell, the someone was standing in the blue rectangle, recently vacated by the knight’s tribunal.

Someone walked closer.

“Could I stay with you a moment?”

King Tamar felt as though she was stepping across a dark pit and wished that she had not left her glaive in the sitting room floors below. “I am sorry, but I do not know you.”

A strong hand took hers. “You know me.”

“Though we have never met.” The king returned the grip, the way she might handle a viper.

“I was curious about something. You had them break bread together. Simple magic, old magic, from the very bones of the city. Only the hunter noticed. You wanted to bind together your little band of heroes. But why did you not tell them all that you saw?”

Tamar the Thrice Cursed smiled, all teeth. “I am a king. I owe answers to no one.”

“She will pay with the coin most dear. That is what you saw. Why did you not say it?”

Tamar reached up and methodically pulled the blood-soaked cloth from around her eyes. Blind eyes, dry-rimmed with red, but she wanted her questioner to see the iron. “There is always a Cost. I have paid it many times. My city, my children, the stones I bought with steel and death. If they were Heroes they would pay it gladly, but they are villains all, so I will spend their lives for them. I know what Tomorrow holds for them, all but the goblin. The boy’s future is a brown cloak, the girl’s is an empty cup. The monster will wither in a teardrop of stone. Is that what you ask? Is that what you want to know from a king?”

A gentle hand ran down the king’s face, and she slapped it away.

“I know a king’s burden.” The hand released her and was gone, but as Someone walked away the voice lingered, coiling around her like a green vine.

Tamar sat alone and thought of the falling sky she could not see and her father who was gone and the battles she had fought, young and bright, scattering memories like flower gems on a broken necklace—falling to break on the floor of her throne room. Then she thought of promises. Promises kept and promises yet to be fulfilled. This is the last curse. To see with eyes unclouded how utterly empty the Game. Block this cut, stamp out this blaze, rip out the beast’s heart again and again, but still it comes. Only Once—only one chance to stand, to move, to protect, to find the right path. Stone cracks, wind falters, sun fades, even Time erodes. I walk down a tunnel of wind with a fistful of sand. What does it matter if the asteroid falls? Everything ends—everything falls apart.

“The button falls off the coat,” the old woman said, but not even Someone was listening.

Excerpt from Asteroid Made of Dragons.

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