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Song Suggestion: Forbidden Lullaby by Derek Fiechter
No-one loved the weavers. Most hated them. The Coven had taken over almost a century before, when the last king died of fever. His son had been only a small child and his wife had come from the distant lands of Liranam. The advisor – Mesophistas – had said the weavers would look after the throne until the boy was old enough to rule. Then they had imprisoned the queen and her son.
Some said they had died in the dungeons of the castle, but Gray’s grandfather had told him, when he was eight, that the queen had not died, but escaped. He’d been her personal servant, a butler, of sorts, though he’d come to enjoy her company and become more like one of the Jacks, running errands, listening to her, even keeping notes when she had something important she wanted written down. “She was too canny to just roll over and die,” his grandfather had told him. “She was not like the women of this country, not even then, when they were free and had value.
She met the king when she was a guard over her cousin, the Empress of Liranam. Oh, Queen Rhea had pretty manners, certainly. She could sit down to dinner with fifty nobles at a moment’s notice and none would ever have guessed she hadn’t been planning the mean for months. She knew when to curtesy and when to offer her hand for kissing, which dress to wear to a christening and which to wear to a funeral. And she hid lock picks in her hair and could throw one of her little knives fifty yards with enough accuracy and power to bury it to the hilt in an eye.” The old man had leaned back, smiling. “She was so witty and intelligent that I do not remember a single day when going to serve her felt like actual work. The Coven could not keep that bird caged. I don’t think I’d have believed it, even if I had not been involved. She had twice the worth of Mesophistas and he knew it. Believe me. It infuriated him.”
Gray had asked how she could have gotten away and his grandfather, careless and forgetful of danger in his old age, had told him. “I helped her. I knew the moment old Mesophistas made his promise that neither she nor her wee son would live longer than he was forced to let them in the name of convincing the public that she had poisoned her husband.”
“I sent one of the stable boys, a fine lad with a valiant heart, straight to her cousin before Mesophistas finished his flowery little speech. The weavers have magic, boy, and, if you ask me, rely too much upon it. But the Empress has her guards, the Shadow Blades, and there are none which might outsmart them. I did not know if she cared about her cousin, but I had to imagine she did; she had blessed the marriage and the queen spoke often of the Empress with love and warmth. Luckily, I had guessed right. I do not know how the Empress got her agents to Iviradelle so quickly. I suspect that it is as rumors say and the empress of Liranam has friends that are dragons. I did not see the dragons. At least I don’t think that I did. I have heard that dragons can take any form that they like and who is to say they weren’t right there, among those that walked with me to get the queen. The Shadow Blades came for Queen Rhea and her son and they had to come to me first; not even a dragon would have guessed where she was hidden. I knew who they were and went with them and I did not ask any questions; they unsettled me deeply. I did not see them fight; they had the stealth of that greatest of all thieves, the one they called the Ghost, and none but me and your grandmother ever saw them. But I tell you now, boy, that I’d have near pitied the weavers if those soldiers had taken the field.”
“Wrapped in black, they were, from the top of their heads to the bottom of their feet. You could see that some were women and some were men and all of them wore the Empress’ insignia, but any more than that was hidden. They moved like cats. Still one moment, pouncing the next. Their blades were short, crossed across their back and tucked into slim sheaths. And I, who stood before the king’s guard, feeling the ground shake beneath their iron booted feet, who stood in the face of magicians and traitors, knowing that they might well kill me, all without a single flinch, I, who had given council to queens and spoken with kings, was frightened near out of my skin. There was something different about them. More dangerous than all the weavers that ever were. They came for the queen and Mesophitas, for all his so called power, never even guessed they had come to his land and taken the true king away.” The old man gave a ratcheting, whining cough that Gray recognized as a laugh.
“Still, it took the stable boy some time to get to Liranam and the queen was imprisoned long before that. She escaped easily enough, but she couldn’t just walk away, not with the weavers so intent on finding her. She had to hide and wait for rescue.”
“How did she do that?” Gray had asked breathlessly, imagining himself a hero, cutting his way to the dungeons to free Queen Rhea and helping her and the prince to escape on the back of his valiant charger. That was the last time in a long time he thought about heroes and he had never again wanted to be one. Heroes die. And they take their families down with them, if they aren’t careful.
“I did not work so long in the shadow of Mesophistas without learning a few things about him and the other weavers,” his grandfather said. “The weavers have nature magic. Fire, water, earth, and air. And because they are so sensitive to these things, certain places in nature just utterly overwhelm them. It would be like a tracker trying to find a single dog in the middle of a great city. Too much noise, as my own grandfather would have said. They track you by your breath, by your footsteps, by the way your heart pumps your blood. But too much noise with blind and deafen them. Your grandmother and I took the queen into the cloud forest, to the Aerie Falls. There, were nature is so rampant that even a man with none of the weaver talents can drown in the power, she was as safe as she could possibly be while still in Iviridelle.”
“Your grandmother, Aine bless her, was a gatherer. The weavers employed them to find the herbs they needed; those men have never been eager to get their robes dirty and they probably couldn’t tell a morning glory from poison oak in the wild. You grandmother mostly harvested chemise for them. Since it has to be cut certain ways for them to use it and requires extreme precision, those who were as good as she was were never questioned about going into the forest. They never even bothered to inspect the baskets she carried, and that is how we kept the queen and her son safe and fed until the Empress sent her guards.”
Gray could remember how furious his father was when he heard what his own father had been saying; no words went unheard in Blossom Town. He had been frightened enough that he’d thought of leaving. In fact, they had been packing bags when the Enforcers came that night. Gray’s sister had nearly tossed him out the window to get him to safety. He remembered her fingers, gripping his mouth tight enough to hurt, as they dragged his mother away, screaming. Their house was already burning bright and fierce, lighting up the whole of the night sky, and he could hear his father and grandfather inside, burning with it.