He was dreaming of the cave again. He had dreamt of it many times over the decades. They varied little: just the Lady and her bear and the bees. Sometimes she spoke to him, but he could never remember what she said.
But the dreams these last few nights had been different. The bees were quiet. The bear was restless. And the Lady was glowing, shining so bright that he couldn’t even look at her.
And now she was gone. The cave was empty.
He knew. He understood.
And so, in the gray before dawn, he dragged himself from his bed. He didn’t bother to wake his valet. Santeneth had insisted on assigning him a personal attendant after he fell and broke his leg. He had complained, loudly and at great length, but she was right.
He was old now.
He pulled on trousers and a shirt and long jacket, and slipped his feet into comfortable shoes. His joints were too stiff these days to tie his boots. He needed a cane now, too, which he found in its usually spot, leaning against the nightstand.
He wrapped his hand around the cane. It was special, designed to fit his right hand. Mother had not been happy, but had accepted his story about getting caught in a sudden storm.
That had, after all, mostly been the truth.
He made his slow way out of his suite and down the hallway. A few guards here and there dipped their heads in acknowledgement, and the occasional servant or clerk, preparing the court for another busy day.
The sky was still gray when he stepped out into the large garden. Trees and shrubs and flowers and herbs crowded the space; many were varieties that he and Marjin and her husbands had brought back from their travels. Pretty plants were appreciated, but had no place in the Grandesse’s garden; only useful plants could be given room when winters were still long and harvests uncertain. Plants for tea or that made hearths burn longer or made water safe to drink or eased the pains of childbirth.
Marjin, quite unexpectedly, had made use of that one.
A babe, at my age? she had complained. And when Alicc had laughed she had thrown a rock at his head.
A babe yes, indeed, at her age. Karjintha, born in a creek high in the wilds of the Dellith Mountains. Her husbands had been ecstatic. The entire company of Temerares had voted and agreed to make semi-permanent camp, continuing their explorations from that point, but not moving on for another year.
A child of the wilderness, but one who also loved the noise of cities and the rhythm of the farmlands and even the storms of the sea. A true child of Eardval.
Robeth moved through the garden, touching leaves and petals. His cane crunched against the gravel of the pathways.
He missed Marjin. Missed her terribly.
And Alicc and Neitha and Jindann.
And his Mother.
One lost to a seircovra, one lost to a mudslide, one lost to illness, two lost to time and age.
He found the bench on the far side of the rose bushes. The wood was still cool. He ignored the dew that stained his jacket.
The court of Eardval was an old building, constructed even before the Hallowed Schism. It had survived, but the hastily constructed walls, meant to protect those who had taken refuge inside and to keep out storms and monsters alike, had suffered badly. There was a break in the wall here, behind the rose bushes. As the storms faded and the monsters retreated and humanity moved out from their fortresses and Inns, back into the remade world, the various cracks and holes and weak points had been transformed; like this one.
The wide open window looked down on the newer, lower tier of the garden, and across the wings that had been added to the court over the last centuries. It faced east, perfectly framing the Dawn Bear.
“Any particular reason you’re out wandering the gardens at this hour?”
“Mmm?” He looked up, smiling at Karjintha as they leaned around the roses to peer at him. They wore their official court robes, hair pulled up in a crown of braids. “Actually, yes. Join me?”
“For a bit.” Karjintha wiped at the bench, then sat next to him. “I have to meet with the Grandesse and representatives from the Southern Island soon.”
“A blight has nearly destroyed the tikkal root harvest on the Southern Island. There have already been raids among the farming communities. The Grandesse is negotiating to have other food shipped in at no extra cost; maybe increase the patrols of armed Guardians; even send some Inquirers done there.”
“Mmm. Well. Poor harvests and blights may not be an issue for much longer.”
Karjintha tilted their head at him in question.
In the east, the wandering sun peeked over the edge of the world, painting the clouds. Pink and gold streaked the sky.
“Santeneth, you see, will be the last Grandesse of a world with a single sun.”
The sky grew brighter and brighter, and the stars twinkled and glittered.
“And you, my dear, will be the first Grandesse to know the warmth of two suns in a very, very long time.”
Bright gold spilled over the horizon, warming the clouds, the trees, the old stone walls, his old bones. And he laughed as a second sun, steady in her course, rose through the paws of the Dawn Bear and into the heavens.
[Written by Rebecca Buchanan.]