I mentioned in my last post that I dreamed a lot of this. This is the very first dream of the elements I ever had, rewritten - I've rewritten it probably a dozen times since, as my writing skills have improved.
It was hard enough just walking up to the door.
The house looked quiet. Last time I’d been here, there were apprentices, students, servants everywhere. This time there was no one, only the huge outdoor garden blowing in the wind. In the rush of wind I felt like all the plants were reaching for me.
By the time I got to the door I was nervous. It felt like the keep was under siege. From who? Was it me they were scared of? Or was I walking into a trap from one side or the other?
I had to do something, though. I was tired of waiting for other people to explain things to me. Waiting had only given my stepfather a weapon, and my mother a crutch. Maybe it wasn’t fair to take that out on the other set of parents, but I wasn’t going to let it get away from me again.
I knocked on the door. A long time went by before there was any response. Just as I raised my hand to knock again, a young man opened the door. He was younger than me – probably no more than ten – and I thought I remembered him being introduced as a member of the family before, but it was hard to be sure. He gestured for me to come inside.
The moment I was across the threshold, he slammed the door shut behind me and slid the bolts back into place. I started to ask him what was going on, but he only shook his head and looked suddenly shy.
“So what now?” I asked him.
He pointed to the stairway on the far side of the room. I crossed it, noticing how much darker it was than the last time I was here. Not only were the windows shut, but there were hardly any lamps lit, either. I turned at the base of the stairs, but the young man had disappeared.
There was nothing else for it. I had to keep going.
About halfway up the stairs, I paused. The way it curved allowed me to catch a glimpse of several people, all facing away from me. The new wife of the man I now believed was my father. The young woman I’d been introduced to as her oldest student. A young man about my age, her elder son. All of them were whispering heatedly. But I didn’t see my father.
I took a deep breath and turned the corner, giving myself over to plain view. If this was a trap, well, I’d dealt with traps before.
“Oh, it’s just you,” his wife said with a sigh of relief. Well, that was one question answered; at least it wasn’t me. “I don’t mean to insult. It’s simply been… trying, lately.”
“Is that why it’s so quiet? Was everyone sent away?”
She nodded. “For their own safety. You’d do best to leave as well. I understand why you want to see my husband, but I think you’re really best off not being part of our family right now.”
I shook my head. “I’d rather die with a family than suffer alone.”
She smiled, thin and sad. “Well, he’s in the library. I hope he knows what he’s doing.”
I nodded to her, then to her apprentice and her son in turn. Her son’s eyes were – something about them caught mine and held them for a fraction too long.
No, I told myself. This is no time to get distracted.
I hesitated again at the door to the library, and then quickly crossed the threshold hoping it hadn’t been noticed.
“Sir?” I called. It was even darker in here than in the rest of the house.
“I’m over this way,” his deep voice answered. I couldn’t see him but I could head in that direction, at least. “Scared to call me ‘Father?’”
“I’m not yet sure I’m entitled, sir,” I told him honestly. “I don’t wish to get my hopes up too high.” Picking my way through the books, I found myself in a corner surrounded by tall plants. Some grew out of pots, but I realized that most were coming out of small holes in the floor or through the almost-barred windows.
“I had my suspicions about you the first time you passed through my forest,” he told me. I stood politely on the edge of the wild corner, unsure what I should do. “I wrote to your mother. I knew her, a long time ago.”
“You would have had to,” I said.
“I didn’t know about you, or I would have… I don’t know what I would have done. Your stepfather’s family outranks my position here even in the best of times. But I would have done something.”
“As much as he disliked me, he might have been glad to be rid of me,” I told him honestly. I thought about the elder boy in the front room. “You were both married when I was conceived, weren’t you? He didn’t want to admit it publicly, but he knew.”
He stepped forward, away from the plants and into the dim light. He looked older than the last time I’d seen him, more worried. “We can’t-” He hesitated. “Your mother and I were… naive. But I don’t want you to feel unwanted. Regrets will do us no good at all, now. Let me look at you.” He gestured behind him, and one of the plants raised a lantern. He extended a hand to me.
I reached for it, wondering what exactly he was hoping to see in me. My mother?
He didn’t get more than a look before I took his hand. At his touch, a rush of pain shot through my head, starting at the base of my skull. I felt my knees buckle, and someone caught me from behind.
No, not someone. The plants had reached out and caught me, twining around my arms and my waist.
“Oh, gods, no. Don’t make it this easy. Don’t make it this hard,” he murmured.
I blinked up at him. “What–?”
Someone was behind me now, and these were definitely human arms holding me up now. The plants relaxed and fled as if even they were confused about what was going on. A moment later, he had picked me up and I could see it was my father’s son. Whatever I had seen in his eyes before was stronger now, scared and angry.
“What are you doing in here?” my father asked.
“She needed help.”
“No one called for you.”
“She needed help,” he repeated, carrying me back through the library. I could hear my father following behind him.
“Temyl? Richel?” His wife – my stepmother, I suppose – was hovering in the doorway of the library. “Temyl, what happened to her?”
“The gods are kind to us, my dear. She’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”
“She – but she’s your daughter! That is hardly kind.”
“We’ve found her. That’s all we can ask for.”
Her voice shook, though I couldn’t see her anymore. Richel was carrying me into a room and setting me down on a bad.
“Richel took off running without a word,” I heard her say quietly. He sat next to me on the bed. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know where to begin. Apparently neither did he.
“Our own Richel,” my father mused. I wonder if they knew we could hear them. “Under our noses the whole time.”
“This is heresy. She’s his sister. This can’t be right.”
“This was always heresy, Lyse.”
A minute later I saw shapes in the doorway. The two of them were looking in on us. Richel stared back, his face oddly fierce, like he expected them to drag him away. I had some of my strength back, and thought about arguing or demanding answered, but I didn’t know how likely they were to give any.
In the end, they went away without a word. When I woke in the morning, I was still dressed in my traveling clothes, and Richel was asleep in a ball at my feet.