Waking to warm sunshine is always welcome, but finding yourself wrapped naked in a blanket on the edge of a cliff – with no idea how you got there – is disconcerting. Kari awoke with a murmur of pleasure, then scrambled to her feet in shock, clutching the unravelling blanket to her breasts as she looked around for –
“Lisa!” She breathed a sigh of relief. “Where are we? What happened?” Frowning as the memories slowly clicked into place, she added, “Where’s the wizard?”
“You wouldn’t wake up this morning. I think the iron was poisoning you.”
Kari nodded. “I’m glad to be free of the place.” She took a deep breath, filling herself with fresh, iron-free air and the wonderful smell of early Spring. For the first time since entering the forest the day before, she was able to appreciate its glory without a nagging sense of dread. Letting the blanket drop, she stretched tall, bathing in the warmth of the mid-morning sunlight. “Source of life and golden wealth,” she sang, “bring me fortune, give me health.”
“Was that a spell?” Lisa asked as Kari dressed herself. She was blushing again, the way she had when Kari stripped for the bath.
Kari wasn’t teasing the poor knight intentionally. Had Lisa really been a man, Kari would have been much more guarded, but she felt safe with Lisa in a way she seldom did with anyone. “No, just a rhyme. I’m starving. Do you have any food in that bag?”
They sat at the edge of the cliff, sharing bread and water while Lisa related the morning’s events.
Kari’s eyes went wide at the sight of the book, which she took reverentially from Lisa’s hands. “This is my mother’s journal,” she said, her voice catching. She opened it to the first page. “‘A spell oft repeated loses its charm.’ That is the first rule of magic. And the second: ‘All magic has consequences.’ The third line is a message to me. ‘I love you.’” Her name was there too, but the third rule of magic was never to speak your own name. And Kari never had.
Lisa opened the book at the drawing of the Silver Queen. “What does this say?”
“That the forest has many voices, some harmonious and some discordant, but there is one who sings for all, and she is the Silver Queen whose tears mend all wounds.”
“Where can we find her?”
Kari ignored the question, and turned back to the beginning. Her memories of her mother were mostly indistinct, but she remembered clearly her writing these words in the book and explaining them. “When I was six years old,” she said quietly, “my mother walked into the forest, and never returned. For everyone else in the village, life went on as normal. They assumed she was dead, my uncle and aunt looked after me, and only I waited for her to return. Of course she was alive. How could she be dead. She was my mother. And look!” Kari leafed through the journal, its pages dense with writing and illustrations. “She lived! Why did she never come back to me? What happened to her? How did the wizard have her journal? Where is she?”
That last question she shouted across the forest, before tears overwhelmed her and she leaned into Lisa’s chest, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Or maybe she did,” Kari said, when she could trust herself to speak again. “Maybe she was just too late. It wasn’t so long after that that the raiders came. I saw them kill my uncle, and I heard them make my aunt scream. We heard them make all the women scream – we lucky survivors who were chained together and marched to the slave auctions.”
“You were a slave?” Lisa’s voice held a note of horror. When Kari laughed, Lisa demanded, “Why is that funny?”
“That’s not how this conversation usually goes. Usually, it’s, ‘Oh. Who was your Master?’ To which I would reply, ‘Joshi of Tyria.’ ‘The one whose son was murdered by a slave. That dark girl?’ ‘The very same.’ ‘Oh. Ohh…’”
Kari waited, and Lisa obliged her eventually with, “Ohh…”
“Oh indeed.” She sat up, and studied Lisa’s expression for some hint of condemnation, but found there only concern. She looked away again, across the forest. “My mother taught me a spell to sing. To protect myself. ‘Nothing special, only me, let your eyes another see.’ Not an invisibility spell, but similar. I lost count of how many times I sang those words, especially once Dneshi – Joshi’s son – discovered the joy of sex.
“All magic has consequences. Every time I escaped his attention, another suffered in my place. I knew that. I saw my friends suffering, and yet I couldn’t bear the thought of him touching me. So I sang and sang, but a spell oft repeated loses its charm and one day he was there, in my room, forcing me onto my bed, tearing at my clothes.
“I was eleven years old. He was sixteen. There were knitting needles by my bed. I sent them singing through his head… What a song that was.”