Leaving Aachen – an excerpt from LinkTales volume 2

[WARNING: SPOILERS for The Bride of War. Not wanting to be a shill, but you’d probably enjoy this better if you read that book first.]

Leaving Aachen
The tricky thing about leaving in the middle of the night wasn’t getting caught. Leanna had slipped out many times when she was younger, and knew the challenges well. When she was younger, she had been lighter on her feet, so sneaking about the house had been easy enough. No, slipping out in the middle of the night would be as easy as falling off a log, if she weren’t so encumbered now. The problem was, she was clumsy and off balance, bumping into things she never would have before, stumbling about in the night while trying so very hard to go unheard.

No, the hard thing was realising she couldn’t possibly be getting away with it; they almost assuredly had to be awake, listening. And yet, no one came to ask what she was doing up so late. They didn’t need to.

Out in the cool night air, she was reminded vaguely of the winter chill the last time she’d ventured out in the night, that fateful evening when she’d gone up into the hills to rescue her Cassandra. Only not her Cassandra anymore. Martin’s Cassandra.

Her Martin. No. Never really hers. The father of her… no, best not think it. Best just to go.
Leanna stopped by the old flower court, where the new Mayor’s house was being built, and looked at the results of the dismantling of the arboretum. It was good to see it gone, and yet some small part of her ached, thinking that a time would come when no one would remember the lives of the girls they’d sent into the hills to be ‘wed’ to the Dragon, never to return in this lifetime.

It had been just that afternoon when she had asked Bishop Alaric if he had ever heard of people coming back from the dead. She had been wondering ever since Maria had returned to the Hereafter, or wherever souls went when they weren’t being fed on by the Dragon. The bishop explained how, in far off Persis and Cathay, there were people who believed that souls were immortal, and that they were forever being renewed, returning to this world to continue to learn the lessons of life and of spiritual enlightenment.

She had been fascinated by his explanation, but he hadn’t gone into great detail with her about it when Cassandra reentered with a tray of tea, which she almost dropped on the way to the table. Leanna had risen quickly to help her, and between the two of them got everything settled. Cassandra had thanked her sweetly, and she in turn had taken Cassandra’s hand and held it for a too long moment, which the bishop could not have missed. Embarrassed, Leanna had withdrawn and made her excuses to go just as Martin had entered. He had smiled at her warmly, but she had felt so exposed already that all she could do was blush furiously and run from the room.

Leanna knew they both meant well. Together, they had privately asked her to live with them in the castle, now that it was being rebuilt to their specifications. They had sworn she would always be welcome, but she knew it wasn’t right. The villagers would never accept the three of them living together like there was nothing strange about three adults raising children together.

She felt a slight kick, and wrestled her coat to cover her belly better.

The worst part was that she did want to live with them, to be with both of them. She didn’t know she could feel that way about one person, let alone two, and her barely a woman yet. But she was sure of one thing: they couldn’t possibly love her half so much as she loved each of them, and in her heart, she knew she would be unhappy living with them if she couldn’t have their love too. She was almost certainly damned for thinking it, but she also suspected worse: that there was no Hereafter, and no reward for living without sin.

It was strange how quickly Aachen had returned to thinking about sin and salvation after Odovacar had been vanquished. Without the malevolent, all-knowing Dragon looking down from above, it was like the old faiths were returning with a vengeance. She wasn’t at all sure she liked it. Aachen had been essentially faithless for centuries, but in the vacuum left by the old Dragon’s passing, folks were starting to import their faiths, and in that day and age, that meant the gods of Wystrus, Persus, or Hindus, or the Parisian faith.

Leanna supposed it would only be a matter of time before the valley started filling up with churches and people started arguing about shoes gods were greatest. She wanted none of it. She knew a different reality to this one, after having been inside the Spell with Martin. She knew real magic, and knew that no religion could ever replace that feeling of certainty she had that this world held greater, finer mysteries than could be explained in a book.

One of her worries about having been inside the Spell was that her feeling for Martin were some form of worship. She had caught herself more than once wishing he knew her thoughts the way Odovacar had, so he’d know how much she loved him. Loved them both, really. In her heart, their love was her only faith, and she would do anything to see that love survive, even if she had to leave to preserve it.
The road out of Aachen seemed quieter, lonelier than it ever had before. She walked on, not really knowing where she would go, exactly. She only knew she had to leave. However, it was getting unseasonably cold, and her bones were growing weary. She had just about made the trees of South Aachen when she started to grow tired. She thought to be away from the village before finding a place to sleep, but it seemed her body would betray her in this, too.

Leanna found herself leaning against an old oak tree, breathing heavily, and then softly, and then starting to drift off, though some small voice in her head told her it would be dangerous to both her and her child if she slept so exposed.

It was at that moment that a miracle occurred. At least, it seemed to be a miracle. As if walking out of her dreams, there stood her sister, Maria, approaching through the trees, smiling softly, but looking concerned. Maria was beckoning to her, and though she was too tired to move, she forced herself to push away from the tree and climb back to her feet. It was the longest climb of her life. Then Maria lead her deeper into the Bospor Wood, deeper into the darkness, with only Maria’s soft glow to guide her. She knew not where they were going, but she had faith in her older sister.

One foot in front of the other, through the woods and up a precarious path, overgrown and forbidding, but Maria was with her. And then they came to a door.

© 2013 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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