Evaline never liked taverns. They were too dense and smokey. As alcohol poured, japes inevitably turned to harsh words and then to violence. Though she preferred quieter settings, the loud noise and crowded atmosphere were working in her favor that night. And there was thunder on the horizon, providing a background symphony. Sitting hooded at the bar, nursing a glass of water, she was closed off in a room full of people. It was easy to hide there.
“I just can’t get why no one is doin’ anythin’ about it. Princess Senrala puts our village to the torch and we’re helpless, no aid, no supplies. Mark my words; she’s goin’ to bring the end, she will.”
Evaline pulled her cloak in closer around her face as the fat man spoke. He had an unkempt mustache, a mean glint in his eye, and a ripe belly. She had been listening to his coarse, rude words about her sister all night, and couldn’t say she blamed him. Senrala had done terrible things, and continued to do so. She was a mage more powerful even than their father had been, and was using it to try and reclaim the throne that their family had lost not so long ago. What the fat man didn’t know was that someone was trying to stop her. Evaline and the others had been close to catching up, but had found only ashes. The skeletons of burnt homes haunted her dreams each night.
“The last thing we need is another Ilarion heir blowin’ up the country tryin’ to take their throne back. That’s all they ever do since the last true king died, kin fightin’ kin. Can you imagine a mad wench like that as queen? We just barely got done with the last civil war!” A chorus of agreement rang out, gruff men growling through their beards.
Evaline straightened, listening closer. They were still talking about Senrala. That she could handle, that she could listen to for as long as she had to. I still love Senrala, I must, but she is out of control, a lost cause. She took another sip of water and scanned the tavern with dark eyes, searching for the familiar face that was due to arrive at any moment.
“They’ve had their day, that family. Look where their pride got them now, both dead, one of them killed by the magic wench. They got what they deserve, if you ask me.”
Evaline’s hand clenched around her glass, fingers slipping on the condensation. She closed her eyes and saw only vivid memories of the family she’d lost. Don’t talk about my uncle, Evaline thought, don’t talk about him that way. Keep talking about Senrala. Already she could feel the spell coming on as her heart grew weak, and blood rushed in her ears. Even after all this time, she still could not take control of these fits. If she blacked out, someone was sure to notice her hit the ground, and they would recognize her in an instant. She didn’t know if they would put her in a bed or kill her. No, I have to stay awake, she told herself, I must stay awake. Don’t talk about my uncle. And gods, most of all, don’t talk about…
“But what else can you expect, thinkin’ about the witch’s parentage? If they’d drowned King Avedis in the river the first time they’d captured him, we wouldn’t be in this mess now would we? He’s the one we have to thank for the war, and now this.”
Evaline shut her eyes as her grip on the glass tightened.If Ivahlasa didn’t arrive soon, it meant something had happened to him and the others. Something bad. She didn’t doubt Senrala might turn back and track him and the others down. Once it got past a certain hour, Evaline would have to leave, and go out on her own. That wasn’t safe for anyone these days. Where are you, Ivah? She felt the darkness coming on, the panic as her throat seemed to swell, everything closing off. The sensation of suffocating was upon her. She forced her eyes open and desperately searched the room once more.
And then she was back in Ilaquoi, six years old, curled up in a soft feather bed with the walls pressing in on her. Her lungs were tight, every few breaths dissolving into coughs, and the pain in her leg made sleep far out of reach. Even at such a late hour she heard footsteps approaching, so she tried to quiet herself, to stop the sniffles and the steady drop of small tears. The outer door to her and her sister’s chambers creaked open slowly, and a tall figure with broad shoulders appeared in the doorway.
Cautiously, Evaline sat up, and said in a small voice, “Da? Is that you?”
“What are you still doing up, Evvy?” he spoke quietly so as not to wake the other girl. He sat on the edge of her bed, and gently pinched one of her feet, the good one, the one that didn’t hurt.
“My cough is bad but I can’t go outside because my ankle hurts too much again.” She said and looked away, ashamed, feeling weak.
As he reached out to brush black hair from her eyes, Evaline’s tears came anew in quiet sobs.
“Let’s go out to the deck, then.”
He scooped her up, keeping one of the blankets wrapped around her so she wouldn’t catch a chill and went to unlatch the door to the deck. He held her easily in one arm. Outside the air was crisp and cool. Winter was close, the sky overhead clear, every star and smudge of galaxy visible, their beauty overshadowed only by the two moons, shining pale.
“I’m sorry I’m sick, Da,” she said, “I know you want me to be strong like Senrala,”
“It’s okay, sweetling, you don’t have to apologize for that. We’ll find a way to make you healthy. And you are strong, and will be stronger, in different ways than your sister.”
“Don’t be afraid. Everything ends as it was meant to, Evvy. Don’t fear the future.”
Evaline was still sitting. Normally the visions ended with a sharp snap, but she lulled back into consciousness with the memory of his dark eyes smiling down at her. The scent of smoke was still in the air, but not the thick musk from the tavern. She opened her eyes, relieved that she’d managed to stay upright during the dream-memory.
She searched the room again as voices faded back in around her. Ivahlasa still wasn’t there.
“They say he died in battle, right as it should be if you ask me. I hope they ran him right through with–”
Evaline’s blade slipping from the scabbard was but a whisper amongst the din of the crowd. Its flash on the way down and the fat man’s high pitched scream, though, those were seen and heard. Silence dominated. Her hood had fallen, puddling around her shoulders along with black hair, long and straight as the king’s had been. Her eyes were the same solemn, deep brown; they followed the drops of blood trailing one, two, three, four, down the long curve of her knife, which was set against his throat, small black drops falling on his chest.
“Say one more word about my father and you will never speak again.”
His chins trembled as he squeaked, “P-princess Senrala?”
“No, the other one,” said Evaline. Her blood coursed painfully, and she cast another imperceivable glance around the room.Everyone was watching her, waiting. She wanted to put all the strength she had into her blade and run him through. It had been a long time since she had felt such anger, let alone lost control of it this way. Her sister had killed many people, hundreds and counting, sometimes for necessity, sometimes for fun—but Evaline had yet to take another person’s life. So why should she now?
Her head jerked around to meet familiar russet eyes, and she breathed relief when she saw Ivahlasa standing there, unharmed. His cheeks and nose were red, and he was looking at her with a face full of worry. They didn’t have to exchange words to communicate. She lowered the blade, touching the smoothness of the worn hilt, the slight imprint left by her father’s hand. His memory was tainted in the eyes of their people; she had grown up knowing that. Her mother had explained it, over and over. It didn’t matter what they said. Their family knew the truth, what he had been, how he had taken care of them, given his life to protect them and so many more.
She looked back to the fat man. “Careful what you say about King Avedis. My sister will not be so merciful.”
The exit was close, and Evaline walked past Ivahlasa, knowing he would follow. She threw herself into the massive wooden door so the dozens of pairs of eyes that watched her go would not see her struggle with its weight. Outside, the storm had gained momentum, and the skies opened up, finally releasing their long held burden of autumn rain.
Ariel Durkee is a writer and artist finishing her BFA at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA. After school, she plans to return to Maine so she can dedicate her time to the development of her fantasy series, Tales From Ismenara, which includes her first novel currently entitled “The Ascent of Avedis”. She is most comfortable in the piney woods of her home state, and is inspired by nature, animals, and magic.