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His Daughter's Madness

by Wendy A. Simpson

 

Moira lifted the round, moist fruit to her lips and bit heavily into the soft skin. Blood-red juice ran through her fingers and down her arms as she ate. Her stomach convulsed as the sickeningly sweet liquid coursed down her throat. In a matter of moments, she was unconscious on the floor.

*   *   *

"Your highness," Drucan said. "The princess is now awake."

Drucan, the Royal Advisor, waited with no small measure of discomfort as the king sat, unmoving. The once-noble warrior was slumped in a worn chair with a bottle in his sweaty grasp. The king's drunkenness had become too common an occurrence. Drucan was not the only one who noticed. Finally, his liege said, "Very well." Alden rose from the seat and left the parlor, crossing the hall to the room where his daughter lay. The medicine-hag, Patrice, was at the girl's bedside. Alden dismissed her with a wave. The girl seemed asleep, but Alden knew better. He stood over his daughter's form, seeing the silvery hair, and golden eyes, that branded her of afyr ancestry, traits she had inherited from her late mother.

"Moira," Alden spoke.

"Yes, your highness."

Alden was surprised that she had answered him. "Why, Moira?"

She was silent then; her eyes remained closed.

"This is the third time," Alden whispered. "Why? Are you so unhappy? You have everything a girl could want. I am not forcing you to marry someone you don't love. I am allowing you to follow your mother's ways. Why do this? Why attempt to end your life?"

No, Moira thought, he wouldn't understand. "There is more to life than riches, than contentment. If only you could truly see."

"Then show me," Alden said. "Tell me what you are trying to achieve."

"What is beyond the sight of human kings...," Moira replied, her golden eyes darkened. "You didn't truly know mother, did you?"

"Madness," Alden muttered. "Utter madness. What does your mother have to do with this insanity?"

"How could you not see?" Moira sat up in bed, much to Alden's shock. "How could you sire me and not know?"

"Moira," Alden's harsh voice sliced through her words. "I must do what I can to preserve the dignity of my kingdom. You will remain in your room for three days under close observation. I have already sent for Anistar Parlan. We will see if he can free you of this madness. That is the only word I have for it."

"No fath -- your majesty, not the Anistar!" Her irises became as large gold coins.

Her turned his back to her. As he made to leave, Moira called, "Father, what do you fear most of all?"

"Now what nonsense is this?" he muttered, keeping his back to her, not wanting to see those exquisite eyes of hers.

"You fear growing old." Moira's voice held a taunt. "You fear a thief called time. What is the only way to best a thief? Learn their secrets."

"I have given my command," Alden said coldly. "I will not lose the respect of my people because of you." And he left his daughter alone.

When the door closed and Moira heard it lock, she threw the blankets aside with a curse and leapt from the bed. Respect indeed! How much respect did he believe a drunkard garnered? She swayed weakly for a moment, but her unnatural strength helped her steady her body. Were it not for her human blood, she would not feel any lingering, adverse effects at all from the poison fruit she had ingested that morning. There was a door, beside her bed, which would only open by her hand. She went to it now and entered the cubbyhole. She kept it clean and sparsely furnished for her needs. Inside was a simple straw mat and two identical jugs, placed at either side of the head of the mat. At the top of the mat were two candles that both lit instantly when Moira entered.

She drank from the jug to the left, which contained a bitter potion, then she lay down on the mat and closed her eyes. She became very still, as though she had achieved her earlier plan.

Moira concentrated as her body relaxed, and she felt a stirring deep within her soul. The sensation began as a spark that spread throughout her to engulf her in flame. Colors danced inside her eyelids and she laughed. Then the colors faded and the heat cooled.

Slowly she rose from the mat and stood. The cubbyhole was now draped in dust and cobwebs. Several stubs of ancient candles and globs of wax lay scattered across the floor. The mat was crumbling and molded. It now appeared as though the place had not been entered in years, and Moira knew that to be the case -- she was now in an earlier time. It frustrated her that she had not succeeded in her latest attempt to end her life. She truly had no wish to die, but it was necessary. With the Gift of the afyr, she could best the mortal enemy of time. Leaving her cumbersome body behind was the key, however. She could continue to use the potion in the jug, but that was not the true Gift and was not the way of the afyr. With the potion, she would still grow old and frail. She could become ill, like her mother had.

Moira passed through the door of the cubby to find everything around her had taken on a surreal quality. A muting of colors and shapes to contrast with a sharpening of her senses. A maid was changing the bed linens and couldn't see Moira pass her. Moira said, amusedly, "I wish I could control it."

She left her bedroom and proceeded down the corridor to her mother's room. The afyr queen, Doire, lay in her bed, propped against piles of silken pillows. She had a pall of death about her. Her pale hair was limp and her face soft and sunken. It no longer mattered to Moira, for in truth the queen had died long ago, but in the future time that Moira had just departed. Doire had acquired the Gift upon her death, but by then she had been unable to put it to much use. Like Moira, Doire would have had to prematurely end her life, but Alden seldom gave Doire much solitude. Like he has done to me also, Moira thought.

"So, you have come to visit me again, daughter?" the queen whispered, as Moira approached.

"Mother, I failed again," Moira whispered. "I was forced to use the potion to invoke my spirit disunion. When I left your old room, the maid didn't even see me. And now Alden has summoned the Anistar."

The queen's golden eyes grew round. "You must not let the magician touch you, or interfere with the ritual. His very presence may disrupt your essence."

"I know mother," Moira said. "Are you certain there is no other recourse?"

"My daughter, I wish there were, but for all the countless centuries, my people have not found it," Doire said. "Death is the price you must pay for the Gift. For your immortality and eternal youth. For this."

Doire closed her eyes and her body was infused with a pale glow. The pallor of her face warmed to health. She opened her eyes and they were bright and alert. Doire stood before Moira, proudly and raised a pale hand. The queen slashed her arm downward and a silvery curtain of light appeared. Moira watched with rapt attention as Doire drew the curtain aside to reveal a scene of days to come.

There was Alden walking down the corridor to Moira's bedroom. The afyr women watched as he unlocked the door and entered. As a child, Moira had always admired and perhaps feared the commanding presence of her father. She had long since ceased to envision him as anything more than a drunkard and a bully.

Doire stepped through the veil and motioned Moira to follow. They watched as Alden moved carefully around the room, until light flared to life within an oil lamp. Alden turned in their direction and for a brief moment the king's face contorted in confusion. Almost as if he can see us, Moira thought, but she knew that was impossible.

"Look at him," Doire spoke with clear malice. "Once a warrior, now a cretin."

Doire moved to the bedroom door, then slammed it shut. The Gift allowed her to manipulate solid objects out of their place in time. Of course, once Moira learned the Gift she could do the same. Doire then moved to where Alden stood, pursed her lovely lips, and blew out the lamp's flame. Her spiteful chuckle floated through the darkness.

"Come daughter," Doire said. Her mother's actions caused a scheme to take form in Moira's mind. She followed the queen back to her bedroom.

When Doire lay down again, Moira asked, "Mother, why did you marry Alden?"

Doire sighed. "To save my clan. I was a peace offering to Alden when he conquered our lands."

"So that is why he never saw," Moira whispered. "He took you by force. He did not truly love you."

"Are you angry that I did not tell you before?"

"No, mother," Moira said. "Do... did you love him?"

"No," the queen said. "But I love the daughter he gave me."

"And I love you," Moira said. "What of our clan now? Do they live under Alden's rule?"

"Yes, but what of it?"

"If Alden were to die, I would be queen and I could free our clan."

"True," the queen said. "But you must not allow yourself to be discovered, if you plan to harm him."

"No, I will not harm him," Moira said. "But I know now what I must do to complete the ritual. Since Alden has me confined, this is my only choice."

When Moira rose, Doire reached out a hand which passed through Moira's arm. "Promise me you will take care."

"I will," Moira said. "I may not return again, if I am unsuccessful. The magician will be here -- there, rather -- in three days. Mother, before that time, I will trick Alden into killing me."

***

Late that night, Alden approached Moira's door and unlocked it. The light spilling in from the corridor allowed Alden to see the still mound of Moira's body under the blankets. The instant he stepped over the threshold, Alden sensed something was amiss. Perhaps it was the almost tangible silence. Instinctively, he felt for the dagger at his side, then he breathed inward deeply and quelled his fear. Foolishness; he was a warrior and couldn't allow himself to be frightened like a child. And what did he have to fear in his daughter's room?

"Wake up, girl," he commanded roughly as he advanced toward the bed. "I --,"

The door slammed shut, temporarily blinding Alden. He heard someone moving swiftly for him. Pain erupted when a sharp metallic object sliced into his shoulder.

"Moira!" the king cried out, as he clutched his injury and felt his own blood. His assailant struck again, slashing at his thigh, and another cry escaped Alden's lips. He tore his dagger from its sheath and let his instincts take hold and guide him. His eyes were adjusting to the darkness, and he could see the lithe form of his attacker moving back toward the bed.

"Moira!" Alden screamed again. Despite his lack of concern, he knew the dishonor he would face, if he didn't protect her. But why didn't she move? His assailant moved swiftly and was upon him. Alden stabbed with his dagger and felt it sink deep into flesh. The air was shattered by a feminine scream.

Moira grasped her father's hands around the dagger hilt and smiled at him through the darkness, and she slept, but did not die.

***

Alden paced worriedly around his chambers. First Doire dead, now Moira. Would the people blame him? Would he be stripped of his crown? He could say he had found Moira that way. With her attempt at patricide, she had unwittingly provided him with a plausible story about an unknown assailant. Yes, that would be perfect. After all, no one had seen him enter the room.

And Moira's death would ultimately benefit his people. He could not, very well, have a mad-woman inheriting the throne.

He must calm himself. He went to a nearby cabinet and removed an amber-colored bottle. He unstopped the cork and drank deeply from it. Drink was his only pleasure now, and, unfortunately, his vice. Perhaps others guessed his weakness, but they would never speak of it. He lowered his frame into a nearby chair and tipped the bottle up, letting the liquid sear his throat. He coughed and wiped a hand across his lips. His head began to drop slowly to his chest.

Alden sat up suddenly, fearfully, squinting his eyes, wondering if what he saw was a drunken illusion. A veil of silver light had appeared before him. It parted and Moira stepped through. Her golden eyes gleamed like the dagger she clutched in her hand. She drew aside the shimmering curtain, and Doire, beautiful young Doire, stepped out beside her.

"M-moira? Doire?" Alden tried to stand. The bottle fell with a thud.

"See to Alden," Doire said. "I will return to the other time to oversee things."

"Yes, mother," Moira said.

Doire passed through the veil again.

"How?" Alden gasped.

"If only you had truly loved mother," Moira said. "You would know. If only you truly loved me."

Moira threw the dagger. Alden died instantly. The afyr princess smiled as she walked to the door to the chambers and locked it. Then she placed the key in Alden's rapidly cooling hand. His other hand she placed firmly around the dagger's hilt. Then she chuckled spitefully as she drew the veil again and stepped through.

***

Moira approached Doire as she watched the struggle between her daughter and her husband.

"You have succeeded, daughter," Doire said. "As time itself journeys where it will, so now may you. No more are you bound by the universal laws."

"It was still disconcerting watching myself die," Moira said.

"The shell of your body was an anchor," Doire mused. The queen watched as Alden stumbled around to escape the dark room. It was unsettling to see her daughter dead and alive at the same instance. "It was necessary." There was no more to say.

"I will be queen now? I will free our clan?"

"Yes, daughter."

"And you will be beside me?"

"Always daughter, yet, it will not always be this same self, any more than it will be so for you."

"It does not matter to me, mother."

Doire smiled at her. "You had best return to the present."

"Yes, mother," Moira said.

Moira walked past the scene and back to the cubbyhole, just as Alden retreated from her room, locking the door behind him. She no longer needed the potion. The cubbyhole was clean when Moira awoke. She walked into her bedroom just as there was an urgent knock at the door.

"Yes, who is it?"

"Oh, your highness!" a voice cried from without. "You must come quickly! Your father is dead!"

Moira opened the door. "How?"

"He -- ," the maid stammered. "Oh please don't ask me --."

"Tell me, foolish girl," Moira snapped.

"They believe it was suicide. The door was locked from the inside."

Moira looked down to conceal her laugh. "There is much that needs to be done, plans that need to be made. Have Drucan come see me at once."

"But-but your majesty! The king, he was --."

"Yes, yes, I know," Moira said, impatiently. "But as they say, death is a part of life. And perhaps death is not all we imagine it to be."

The maid was staring at her strangely. Yes, Moira thought, she thinks I'm quite mad.

"Now go and follow my orders," Moira continued.

"Yes, your highness."

Once alone, Moira locked herself in her room and went to her window. She mightily threw back the shutters and was greeted by the cool air and the warm sun on her face, yet there was a darkness in her eyes that few would see. If they realized, she knew they would fear her too much to speak out. She felt, with no need to turn, the veil draw aside once more, and Doire step near.

"They have found Alden?

Moira inclined her head. "When the Anistar arrives I will make it clear to him that he needn't stay."

"And with that, the afyr will rule this land once more," Doire said. "You have honored your clan, my daughter."

"I will honor my clan," Moira said. "And I will rule forever. As you said, mother, as time does what it will, so shall I." *

 

*   *   *

 

 

Story copyright 1998-99 by Wendy A. Simpson <LadyBard@msn.com>

Artwork "Madness" copyright 1998-99 by Romeo Esparrago <public@romedome.com>


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