Two Sisters, Chapter 13 ~ Night Terror

In the deep of night the only sound was the clocks gently ticking.

There was a clock in every room of Tem Auriel’s home, it seemed.  As Elly stole down the length of the upstairs hallway, past closed bedroom doors, she could hear the gentle sway of the pendulum that stood at the end of the hall.  For a people who lived hundreds of years, the Airidani seemed mightily preoccupied with monitoring every passing second, and honored their clocks as prominent ornaments.  At first she had been annoyed by the omnipresent ticking, but quickly became used to it.  Only now, in the utter stillness, did she notice it again.

Restlessness took hold of her that night, though she had not intended to go out.  She had seen enough of the Elders, watching them that day, and she had thought to sleep through the night instead of traveling to the Temple.  It was River she blamed for her inability to sleep, because River was growing increasingly restless on nights when Elly wanted to stay inside Tem’s home.  Elly did not want to roam the streets, did not want to become a deadly shadow, but she thought River must actually relish it.

I am only human, I have to sleep.

And yet she found herself slipping out into the small garden between the house and its neighbor, turning her face to the moon far above.  There was jasmine blooming in the bushes.  River liked this garden very much but she could not smell the flowers when Elly was asleep.

To her surprise, she found that she was not the only person there.  Hayti was seated on a white bench, in her nightgown with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders.  Elly hadn’t seen her since the afternoon when she took the books away; Hayti barely ever left her room.  Elly could have turned invisible, so as not to disturb her, but she didn’t.  She was intrigued to see Hayti awake and outside in the night, like herself, for a change.  She could move soundlessly, but chose to let her footsteps brush against the stone walkway and allowed her nightgown to rustle against the flowers as she passed.

Hayti looked over, but in the moonlight her face was inscrutable.  “Hello,” Elly said.  “I couldn’t sleep.”

The older woman surveyed her solemnly but did not speak.  “Do you mind if I join you?” Elly asked.

“You do not ever sleep,” said Hayti, and turned away.

It did not sound like permission to join her, but it wasn’t a definite rejection, so Elly sat down beside her.  “Why do you say that?” she asked.

“I know things,” Hayti responded.  “I see the truth of things.”

How, when you keep yourself cooped up in your bedroom all the time? Elly wondered.  “And what truth do you see in me?” she asked instead.

Hayti turned back and gave her a long look.  The woman was not bad looking, Elly thought.  Age did not disguise the fact that she was lovely, with large dark eyes, delicate features, and long black hair that curled around her face, though she kept it pinned back.  She must have been very beautiful when she was young, in the days when Ren Auriel secretly married her.  The kind of beauty a man would do a very foolish thing for.  Was it worth it? Elly wondered.  The years of sadness had taken their toll on her fine face, and she had no life as far as Elly could see.  She sat alone day after day awaiting death.

Hayti ignored the question Elly had asked allowed; when she spoke it was as if she had heard her thoughts.  “I am not an Auriel, but I came from a good family.  I am not a piece of nothing found in the trash, though I have been treated as such by the Auriels.  My youth was so bright, and what do I have to show for it?”

Elly wanted to say that she was sorry for this woman’s loss, that her life was a terrible tragedy, and everyone who wronged her should pay for it dearly, but instead she heard her voice point out, “You’re married to a rich man, an Auriel.  You are alive.”

“I am alive, but what good is that?  I do not have the man I loved.  I have no true husband.  I have no children.  And I have no right in the eyes of my family to mourn for my losses.  I broke the law and brought shame upon myself.”

“Is that why you hide away?”

Hayti touched Elly’s face.  She ran a finger along the brush of freckles that dotted her cheeks.  “You,” she said simply.  Then, “Tem and his nephew would make you Queen over us all.  But they have no idea what you are.”

“And what am I?”  She wondered if Hayti possessed some kind of psychic ability, or merely a strong intuition.  What exactly did she think she knew about Elly?  About River?

“You are dead.  Like my Renji, dead.”  Hayti drew her hand away, and stood up.  “You frighten me; a dead thing in my home.  Such a beautiful, small, dead thing.”

She walked a few paces away, towards the house, as if she would leave.  But then she stopped and gazed out toward the street, though she seemed to be looking at something that was not there.  She wrapped the shawl more tightly around her shoulders and spoke to the night.  “It would be his birthday today,” she said.  “He was born in the dead of night, a hot summer night like this.  They opened a window and I could smell the jasmine in the air . . . along with the blood and sweat and new life of childbirth.  If he had been a girl I might have named him Ismem, after the flower, but he was a little boy, a little version of Ren.  Such a beautiful little thing.”

With a little shake of her head she looked back at Elly.  “By the time he was five he showed so much promise.  The gift of truthsight runs in my family, as the gift of the gates runs in his father’s family.  He would have been the best of both of us.  A gift to the house of Auriel.  They do not know what they killed.”

“Is that why you never had any children with Tem?”  Elly thought it was a tactless thing to ask, but it was River who said it.

“You have an eye for truth, little dead thing,” Hayti replied, tilting her head in acknowledgment.  She seemed to respect the impudent question, and answered it, “The Auriels do not deserve to have children of mine who bear their name.  Tem is a decent man, who lives to avenge the death of his brother, but as a whole the Auriels are despicable fools who hold this land down in tyranny and madness.”

“It seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face, to me,” observed Elly.  “Not allowing yourself to have children just because they would be Auriels.”

Hayti lifted her chin, looking proud and sad and regal as she stood in the garden path surrounded by night blossoms.  “What is lost can never be replaced,” she proclaimed.  “I could have ten children and it would never make up for the death of Renji.”

Elly wondered if that was how her own mother felt.  Liseli had four healthy living children, but Elly could remember the sadness her mother had carried close to her heart for years.  But her mother did not seem as despairing and bitter as this woman, who would not even try to love again.  Elly wondered if her mother would say that none of her children were worth what the Lost One might have been.

“Is that what your truthsight tells you?” Elly asked.

“My truthsight tells me that you are are the nightmare my grandmother frightened me with in stories when I was a child and my future was bright.  She told me stories of the murdered child; a sleepless walking dead thing that prowls the night.  I once thought my son was that nightmare come into my life, but I was wrong.  Death flows behind you like a river.”

Hayti came back to the bench and paused for a moment, looking down at Elly as if she did not know whether or not to be afraid.  Then she bent and kissed her forehead lightly, with one hand on the wave of red hair that flowed down Elly’s back.  “Bring your death to us all,” she said.  “I welcome it.”

She left Elly sitting alone in the garden, and swept back into the house like a queen retiring from an audience with her people.

River rose, and went out into the night, into the darkened streets of Junnen where the cruel and the powerful preyed on the weak.  Death lay in her wake.

next: Two Sisters, Chapter 14 »