This was written at least two years ago. I posted it on my journal once, but forgot about it until today. It will make no sense to anyone who has not read the book, and makes many references to Catriana's past, Alessan's "blade in the soul" and most of the scenes in Senzio. The characters and scenes all come from Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana.
A breeze swelled, scattering the scent of salt along the shore, along the gleaming stones, along the beaten path that led to an old wooden chair and the figure who waited there in the early light of each day. Grey-haired now, and nearly blind from year after year of squinting seaward, but the face remained the same.
How many years lay between them? The world had changed; not the way it did eighteen years ago, but irrevocably nonetheless. She had changed with it. She needed to, in the end. Yet despite the unfamiliar faces, despite the new porch, the scene in her mind was one she knew. This spring was no different to those from years ago. Her mother's gaze still flickered out towards the horizons, scanning each boat, following each wave, seeking the ghosts of memories that would never fade.
Ice is for endings.
One hand closed over another, then reached of its own accord for the thin band that encircled her finger. A thumb ran absently over the carving on the metal. That ring still felt so innocent, even now. There was nothing to mark it for what it was - nothing to hint at the secrets it held, or the grief shrouding its past, or the enormity of the burden entrusted to it as it was slipped onto the finger of a fourteen-year old girl. Nothing at all to warn of what it would do to her life.
She still wondered if they had realised where it would lead. To some, the meeting at the market along the coast in Ardin town would have seemed one of chance - three lines of fate, intersecting momentarily yet without any particular purpose or intent. Something inside told her otherwise, though. Just as Devin's song was a key, so was her ring. It bound her to the others. It bound her to the now-nameless land that lay all too far away, not in distance but in time, and it bound her to the path they all shared. It bound her to the ending they were even now rushing towards, whatever the ending was to be.
The story, when she finally heard it, seemed almost surreal. Any pain it brought was filtered through a dream; there was a part of her that refused to register what it meant. That could not register it. Sometimes, that denial returned and she would be left wondering how much of the past could be encompassed in something as ordinary as emotions. How could anyone hold it all inside and not break? There was so much to carry. Too much. She had no idea how Alessan did it, sometimes.
Another part of her, however, accepted the past as though she had expected it all along.
Ma and Da had known too. Of course they had. There was certainly less surprise there than a shadow of an almost ancient ache, a legacy of the land abandoned eighteen years before. She had thrown a question into the air - she had been young then, and sensitivity never was her strong point. Sometimes, the memory of the blow still left her face tingling. The other blow was worse, though. It ate into her, wringing at her insides every time she thought about it, spurring her to act, to fight, to give her life and more if it could compensate for that single act a lifetime and a generation ago, but nothing could.
Coward. She had said so then, to Alessan in the inn under the light of two full moons, and his eyes had grown even heavier. He said nothing, though. He did not laugh or smile or dismiss her. Nor did Baerd. She joined them that night, joined the cause that had been hers all along, and yet the condemnation remained - a cry flung into the stillness only to settle again, more heavily than before. A cloak of darkness around her shoulders. One spun by a coward who, having fled the Ygrathens with his wife and child, stormed out of the room leaving the windows and doors trembling in his wake at the very mention of that final battle at the river. They never did say goodbye.
She had, however, embraced her mother before she left; it was odd that the memory could still bring tears to her eyes, because neither of them cried. It was yet another thing she would change, given a chance, especially when she pictured the lone figure waiting along the shore for the return of a boat that would never come. One could hold onto tears. Emptiness was so much harder.
Ice is for endings.
The comb slid deftly behind her as she turned, half-hiding the gown with her body, and forced her face into what could have passed for a smile. 'What is it?' Even as they tumbled out, she realised how the words must have sounded - she was growing better at noticing these things - and lifted her hand in an almost reflexive movement. 'I meant...'
Alais slipped through the open crack and shut it again, quietly. The apology hovered on her lips then stayed itself, to be replaced a minute later with, 'Am I intruding?'
Yes, the voice in Catriana's head said immediately. She clamped down on it, attempting another smile before giving up. 'It is your room too.'
A silence. Alais's lips moved but Catriana abruptly raised her hand again, forestalling the graceful retreat that would carry them both past the awkwardness. She would retain a semblance of civility this time, as much as she knew how. If only until supper. They somehow meant more now, these small, once insignificant exchanges marking life as something that would linger long enough for them to matter. She closed her eyes, then exhaled. 'I'm sorry. I am bad at this tonight, it seems.'
The other girl's eyes were studying her; she could feel it, the delicately questioning tingle that would strip her bare if she let it linger for too long. She could not afford that, not now. As if in response to her discomfort, Alais murmured, 'It is an odd night. Almost as though something is about to happen.'
Catriana glanced up sharply. Reached for inner calm even as she took another, steadying breath, and said lightly, 'Something happens on most nights. Just not the things we need, at least not while Alberico sits in Barbadior and watches.'
'They say he will move, in time. It seems that we must keep waiting until he does.' Alais's gaze bent away, towards the window and at the moons beyond. 'I'm glad that nothing more happened at the markets earlier.'
And that you're safe, came the unspoken addendum. Catriana felt nails bite into her palm and stopped herself before they drew blood. Careful. 'He would not stir trouble. Not now, not with things balanced as they are. Not unless he was sure.' Which was true, in the end. It was why she needed to do what she was planning to.
There was a pause. 'So little is certain anymore, these days.' A hint of longing, of wonder, of a mind wordlessly sifting through nuances and sights and sounds both heard and unheard. It was broken by a swift smile. 'I almost forgot, though. Supper will be ready soon. I only meant to sit for a while.'
Catriana froze, then fixed her attention on a stain on the wall, keeping her voice perfectly neutral. 'I will stay here tonight. Will you tell them for me?' At the searching glance, she made herself add, 'The moons are cycling.'
She regretted the words even as they escaped, but they were plausible, and she would do worse to ensure everything proceeded smoothly. Alais' understanding 'ah' faded. The silence stretched for some time more, and Catriana suddenly found herself saying, 'Look after them.'
Eyes flew to her face, piercing and without any of their usual shyness. Catriana cursed mentally. Uttering a wordless prayer to Morian, she hurried on, 'Devin has been edgy ever since he saw Anghiar at the markets. He is less rash with you around.' A pinkness crept over the other girl's cheeks, and Catriana found herself regretting her choice of distractions. She forced another half-smile. 'Talking with you calms most of them.'
Alais hesitated for a brief instant then lowered her gaze. 'Thank you. There is little else I can do, though.'
Little else, Catriana found herself echoing. There was an odd, twisting feeling in her chest that she fought off. She had never been able to do what the other girl managed so effortlessly. Outwardly, she only said, 'It's more than enough.'
Alais regarded her for a few moments, seeming to ready a response, but finally, she only repeated, 'Thank you.' Her eyes lingered on the folds of the gown that peeked out, and Catriana resisted the urge to hide them. No questions came, though. She had known they would not. Instead, the other girl smiled slightly and said, 'You should rest. I will keep some food warm, if you would like some later.'
'Thank you.' Awkwardly answered, but evidently not too much so; Alais disappeared through the doorway and into the darkness of the hallway on the other side. Catriana allowed herself a steadying breath. Unclenching her fingers from the exquisitely-jewelled comb, she slid it into place. Earrings, next. Black silk gown to match the comb, and a red glove that would serve as a signature. The hood.
The moons shone unwaveringly from among Eanna's lights as she slipped out the back door. A chill wafted through. She shivered, faintly, then recalled Tregea and the plunge from the bridge just before the winter snows began to fall. A sheaf of elegies left behind, a body that was never found. Despite the icy rapids of the river, death had not yet been ready for her that night.
Ice is for endings.
Her hood fell. Laughter greeted her then, just as the winds did, but with less warmth and more welcome. I will not sleep with you, she had said once upon a time. An almost otherworldly calm settled upon her even as the guards' hands roamed. It slipped tightly around her skin, replacing the cloak shed onto her shoulders by a coward, stripping all fear and uncertainty from her eyes and leaving them glinting as her jewels did, cool and composed as the name chosen for her.
Ice was for endings, after all.
The candles danced in the darkness, casting oranges and reds onto the amber of the walls and the richer burgundy of the furnishings. The gaze that caught hers and held her was blue, not grey, but that hardly mattered any more. Very little did. Feeling ice crust over her, a final blade to pierce the soul, Catriana di Tigana let a smile curve her lips.
'Red vixen, how do you like to play?'