Sister, Sarisa... I write this in hopes that someday you will return to us. Father and Mother believe you are dead, drowned at sea the night we all lost you. I cried the night Father told Mother about it...you had been tossed overboard in the violent storm, disappearing into the dragon-infested waters and never to surface. Father was cold, remote when he told Mother, and I remember that she took the loss with chilly calmness. She had foreseen this, she said distantly, and she knew already that any searches would be futile. I don't think you ever knew this, Sister, but Mother is a Seer. Not a strong one, it is true, but she knew enough, and always resigned herself to fate. And, of course, she never told anyone the whole truth of anything she'd see in her visions, if at all. You were dead, she told my father, gone to all of us. Father had slapped her for not mentioning this before, and with that she gave a small half-smile that went unnoticed. As he left the room to drink, Mother picked me up from my play area on the floor and asked me if I knew about the phoenix.
I wiped away my tears and shook my head. Where Mother came from there is a legend of four celestial beings: the Phoenix of the Fire Crystal, the Tortoise of the Earth Crystal, the Tiger of the Water Crystal, and the Dragon of the Wind Crystal. The Phoenix and the Dragon were married, as were the Tortoise and the Tiger. Unlike the others, though, the Phoenix was mortal, and so had to die and be reborn from its ashes to stay with her lover forever. Mother always had secrets, and always preferred to drop hints rather than explain anything outright, and that night I picked up that hint and ran with it. I did not cry any more that night, believing you to be the Phoenix that had died but never really deceased.
It still saddens me that you would not be there to talk about how boring Jenica's class was, or how you had wrestled with Cousin Falil over some bit of candy and won, and how you wished Father would notice you for once and train you as a dragon knight instead of a princess. I remember that best about you, Father always wanted a boy and he made no secret of it, and you bullied our male cousins and trailed Father constantly to get him to acknowledge you, yet it would only take a tragedy to get him to realize how he had neglected the both of us.
Quite a few years have passed since then, seven years, I believe. I maintained a perpetual fantasy that you had turned into a mermaid and swam in the sea everyone thought you drowned in. Fanciful, I know, but it helped me sustain my belief that you were alive. Father isn't the person he used to be, he gave up on his wish for sons and instead pampered me worse than our extended family ever had. And yet, he mutters sometimes that I am not you and I will never be you. I think your antics were some success, Sister, because he missed them terribly. Mother has become increasingly ill of health, lately, and no one is sure why, but all of us are worried nonetheless.
However, it is late, and past my bedtime. I close this letter in slight awe that I remember so much about you considering that I was only four years of age when you left. But it is late, and I pray still for your return.
Long, rope-callused hands browned with years in the sun returned the letter into its envelope, careful to fold along the creases so as not to ruin the paper. They tucked the small envelope into the tiny chest in which it was preserved, pulling out another to read. There weren't a lot of letters, disappointing their reader somewhat, but nonetheless their reader was glad of their existence and carefully opened the next one.
Life goes on, everything at the castle is peaceful, but there is always death hovering above us. Mother's condition only worsens, and none of the doctors Father has summoned could suggest a cure. Rumor is abound that it is the same disease that showed up years ago in Lix, yet, while the victims in Lix were struck down almost instantly, Mother only deteriorated slowly. Father and I, we're both scared that we may lose her. He always paces before the room when the doctors are present, staying by her bedside when they are not, and always blaming himself for Mother's illness. Mother is always in a lot of pain now, but expectant. I think she knows what Father and I were afraid to realize. And, of course, she seems almost amused at some ethereal presence only she could see. It was after some half-amused trance, during which the servants wondered if she hadn't gone mad, that she called for me earlier today. I went into her bedroom, bowed as was my due as a princess, and after dropping all formality I ran and buried myself in her arms, crying that I did not want to lose her as I did you.
'What is lost can many times be found,' Mother said as she stroked my hair reassuringly. I asked her what she meant but she did not answer...she never really answers things directly, just hedges and leaves things to assumptions. I curled up beside her on the bed, almost afraid to crush her as she looked so pale and fragile. She was as white as the sheets on which she lay, her once lush and wavy purple hair straight, limp, and incredibly thin. Her silver eyes, once merry and always mysterious, were now clouding slowly as her condition worsened. She asked me what I thought of noble knights in the guise of thieves, and I responded that I never thought of such things, and asked again what she meant. And again there were no answers, just a knowing half-smile. We lay together, me wishing that Mother would get better, and I have no idea what was on her mind. I left her side when my class with Jenica was to begin.
The last wild flying dragon was killed by a poacher near Walse, meaning that Father's flying dragon, a survivor of the great Dragon War fifty years ago, he was the very last. I never really cared for the old creature that much, but something drew me to him that evening. I stood in front of the weyr in which he lived at the top of the tower, watching as he slept peacefully. His wings were folded and held close to his body, and his wedge-shaped head cradled in his extended arms and the tail that looped before them. I remember how you used to play with that blue-grey dragon, hopping over his tail as he slowly slid it back and forth across the stones, sometimes jumping on his shoulders and pretending you were a dragon knight like Father was in his youth. In our mourning over your loss, neither Father or I thought that others had been affected, but now I realized that both of us were being selfish in that respect. I made it a point to get closer to the old veteran, if possible. Hopefully he can be happy again and not look as sad as he did.
It is time for me to close this letter again, and as I do so, I make a note to myself to write again. Maybe someday I can hand these over to you and let you read about what happened instead of relying on servants' rumors.
Like its predecessor, the letter was carefully returned to its envelope, and that returned to its proper place in the small chest. A third was picked up from the lot, and opened with a careful slice of a stiletto.
Mother died last week.
It happened an hour or so before noon, when all the servants were away to prepare for lunch and I was studying literature with that plump tutor from Istory. I dropped my pen in shock when Mother's maid dashed in and breathlessly relayed the news. Then I bolted from the study room, racing down the stairwells and hallways until finally coming to Mother's room. Father sat with his pitch-black hair shielding his grief-stricken face, his hand holding Mother's, who had yet to go into the stiffness that followed death. I rushed to his side, feeling for a pulse that was not there. It could have been stopped, Sister, there was a cure, but...
Nine days ago the last of the doctors in the world left the castle, and I watched Father and Jenica in conference. There was no one else, Jenica said, there was no one else with any cure for Mother's illness. All the people in this world and the only cure was the cut tongue of a flying dragon. I perked up at this and grabbed Father's dagger, rushing out to the old veteran's weyr. Jenica followed close behind, catching my wrist before I drew the sleeping beast's tongue out and sliced it off. She demanded an excuse for my actions and what I planned to do, but whatever answer I would give her, Mother would die anyway. Her death could have been prevented had I gotten away with slicing out the dragon's tongue, but the cost would be the life of the last flying dragon in the world. Jenica had assured me that Father had struggled over this decision as well, spending many a sleepless night standing before the dragon with knife in hand but never acting. I withdrew into my room and cried, the final option closed to me and Mother already lost in my mind. And I wondered, how soon before Father leaves as well and I am alone?
The night before Mother died she called me in and mentioned, in her usual mysterious way, that another would be in need of her help, and that help could only come once she passed on. A knight in a thief's occupation would need her as a guardian, she said, and it had been forever since she had seen that knight. I do so wish she would explain her riddles, but whatever she saw was not for me to know. I told her that I needed her as well, but her answer was that I had Father, and that he would stay with me for a long time. It was the knight that needed her protection now, more than I did, and I cried out that I needed her more than whatever stranger she was talking about. I stormed out furiously, but as I think back now with a cool head, I remember that she mentioned that the knight was no stranger, not if I believed, and in time I would meet the knight again too. What did she mean?
Sister, I'm sorry you were never to know Mother like I did, never to wonder over her strange answers that left only more questions, or to bask in her warm maternal glow, or to listen to her exotic stories of long-dead warriors. She used to be a beautiful woman, dear Sister, her long wavy hair falling in cascading ripples around her slender shoulders, silver-grey eyes mysterious and knowing, yet always withholding an air of sadness. Illness ruined her, turned her healthy and volumptuous body into the thin frame of a wraith, painting her tanned skin a deathly white tone. As much pain as she was in, Father and I didn't want her to die and leave us forever, but... her favorite phrase during her last week before her death was thus: 'There is a time for every season, and for every purpose under Heaven.'...from some ancient book, I think. She was so sure it was her time, but how could she just leave us?
I guess I should tell you about her, just writing keeps me from crying, and I do so hope you won't mind. Mother was Siduri Geraldyn, from the summoner clans dwelling in a fishing hamlet not far from Tule, according to Father. She was so used to living with her family by the sea, but abandoned it all when she and Father fell in love, willingly going with him to Tycoon like a good young wife and gave birth to you and I. I think in the end she came to regret leaving her family and home so quickly, it is the closest possible explaination I could think of as to why she was always so sad and often looked out the windows wistfully. She never liked to contradict Father, so always kept to herself...always so self-contained, quiet, and wistful... like the dragon Father keeps in the weyr on the roof of the castle. The old veteran, his resigned stance, woeful glances to the free clouds beyond, his solitude, just like Mother's...
I've felt myself growing steadily closer to the dragon over the past few days, he shares so many of the same qualities Mother had, and I feel only slightly better realizing this. There is no replacement for Mother, but maybe I can make a friend of the veteran?
As I look over this letter I realize that I have forgotten my manners and babbled like the silly goose I am. Please do forgive me, dear Sister, and I hope that the length of this letter will not repel you from those that may follow.
A soft, throaty chuckle emerged, carrying with it a note of strain that betrayed the steady mask of the person who held the letter in her hand. The only other occupant in the room looked up from staring self-consciously at the clenched fists pressed into her lap. She blinked in surprise as she noticed a tiny tear glimmer down the older woman's cheek before long hair swept over to hide it and reinforce the mask of indifference. Before she could question her, though, the elder of the two returned the letter to its envelope and picked up the last.
It's another drab day in Tycoon, although the world outside these walls heaves in political turmoil. The last time I wrote to you was over two years ago, I think. You'd probably be sixteen or so now, perfect marriage age. I know Father had you slated, just before you were lost to us, for marriage to King Iskan of Walse' son Isellean. I'm sure he was planning to send me in your place, but after Mother died he's afraid to lose me, and it shows every time I try to step out of the castle to be alone. I'm not even allowed to travel! It's silly, I know, but he lost you first, then Mother. I'm all he has left, and he's all I have left, so I don't make a fuss about it and obey his wishes. So, King Iskan has had to look elsewhere for a bride for his son, and it has so far proven immensely difficult, especially with the pirate raids hounding on Walse's border to leech off the kingdom's trade ships. And here's where it only grows more complex: Queen Yllesia of Karnac has taken the leader of this confederacy of pirates as her lover, and thus they are under Karnac protection. I'm not sure what to think, really. It was not long ago that Queen Karnac's husband died, leaving her with a small son, and only a few weeks after his death she meets the attractive new pirate king (I don't remember his name, think it sounded vaguely Jacolean, but he had taken his position by killing the former pirate king in an act of revenge), and now this dashing ladykiller has all of Karnac at his disposal because he fathered the Queen's second son! In Bahamut's name, the entire world was in an uproar at the actions of the queen and her lover, and the servants were rife with gossip over the last few months. That's why Karnak won't lift a finger to aid Walse with its piracy trouble, and because Karnac is such a prominent and wealthy country, none of the others dare to come to Walse's aid either. It's insane, and not even Father wants to get involved. He fears for me even more now, especially with scoundrels like that Jacolean pirate leader seducing very high-ranking noblewomen to get what he wants. The servants' gossip tend to make him out as a brilliant tactician, womanizer, and leader, and there's really no evidence that goes against it. Walse is steadily falling even though they have the world's greatest navy, no one is sure why, and rumor has it that Queen Karnac's lover has even the wild dragons of the sea to do his bidding. How can such a man exist, Sister?
The world has gone insane, Sister, turned upside down by a woman's bewitched heart and an ambitious, dangerous young prettyboy not yet out of his teens. The world used to be so peaceful, but now... Now I feel almost ill as I think of what has come. Why must people abandon decent lives only to ruin the lives of others? Why must such things exist, and why can't the good guys always win like in Mother's stories? War may break out sooner or later if this escalates, and I don't think I could handle it. I'd probably worry myself sick as more and more people die because of this insanity.
I'm a princess, I keep telling myself, I shouldn't have to worry about things like this, and I'm certainly too young to catch that man's eye were he to take an interest in Tycoon, and yet... why do I keep running the scandal over and over in my mind? Why is it that the same thing that sickens me becomes so fascinating after I peel away the political tangles and strife? I've taken to talking to Father's dragon now more than I confide in Jenica, it's as if he understands, and he won't ever reprimand me for voicing sealed-away thoughts.
It is far too late for me to write any more, Sister, the candle is dying out and in a few minutes there will be no more wick to burn. I worry about you and wonder what your place might be in all this...?
The younger woman only watched as laughter escaped from the elder's lips, weak at first but steadily increasing in strength. She stretched out a hand as if to reach out to ask what her elder was laughing at, but thought better of it and withdrew the hand back into a loose fist in her lap.
"Heh, never thought the rumors got THAT wild! Yllesia, she was only a week or so pregnant when her abusive bastard of a husband died, it didn't show until well after the woman employed me to act as her consort to keep her father from marrying her off to someone else, we never thought to consider that anyone would think of her child as being fathered by me!"
"So, you were the Jacolean pirate king..."
The elder of the two turned to observer her with steady, solemn, penetrating green eyes. "Does it really matter now? What happened in the past should be forgotten, don't you think?"
The other returned her gaze to her now-tense fists, avoiding the sharply observant eyes of the former pirate. "I think so, but others... Sister, you were meant to be Father's heir, but the Assembly of Nations will try to use that past against you, any of your enemies will have good reason to be rid of you, and now that I have you back, I can't lose you!"
Ther was the slight noise of motion from the other end of the room, followed by the approaching claps of boot-clad feet. Lenna looked up into the gentle face of her long-lost sister, lips curled into an amused half-smile, and she too gave a soft smile in response.
"We have Mom and Dad to look after us, in spirit if not in flesh, remember," Faris whispered, her gender-ambiguous voice soft and soothing in its unquestioning belief. She pulled her sister into her arms and hugged her close. "Don't worry about it, sis, no one can do anything to me that I haven't witnessed before. No jail cell can hold me, not when I have you to take care of. Because that's what a big sister's for, and I'm sorry that I could not act the part when you needed me most."
Lenna rested her head against her sister's shoulder, breathing in the years of sea air that still hung on her sister's presence. "I don't mind, really...I'm just glad the Phoenix returns to the rest of us, no matter how long it took."
The elder grinned mischieviously as she stroked the pink mop that was her sister's hair. "So, by this reasoning and with what we've been through with the Crystals and ExDeath, Butz and I are supposed to be married or something, right?"
"Silly!" Lenna shouted, then laughed along with her sister as the joke sank in. "You don't care for him like that, remember Sister?"
"No, he's just a close friend, as are you, Krile, and Galuf. The best friends I've ever had."