Reflections in Moonlight
Crone tilted sideways and let the tip of one of her great splayed wings skim through the dark fluffy clouds beneath her. It was surprisingly bright above the canopy of rain clouds. The full moon shone brilliantly, the crown jewel in the diamond studded midnight sky. As she had burst through the cloud cover even she, who had a lot on her mind that night, had paused to drink in the majestic beauty the night possessed. But that had lasted just a moment. Before long, the Darigan Eyrie’s mind had wandered back to the events that had taken place earlier that day.
Crone sat erect on her chair with her eyes fixed on what was going on in front of her. It was a beautiful chair, really, made of polished wood of the finest grain. Many hours of labour had been spent in its creation, especially in the intricate carving that covered it completely like ivy growing all over an abandoned building. It was, however, not even close to as splendid as the chair that it stood beside. The Throne of the Crimson Sun was worth at least the entire annual crop yield of the Kingdom, and once over. Crafted from solid gold, it had been studded with gems to such an entirety that most of the precious metal was not even visible.
On the Throne a Desert Lupess sat with, if it were possible, a straighter back than Crone herself. With her chin slightly raised – the way most nobles’ chins went up when they were displeased – the Empress Siph eyed the commoners in front of her with a stern expression. It was the day of the week when all the woeful peasants of the Kingdom would flock at the Royal Court and relate their miseries and today, the Empress was not in the best of her moods. Today, her very glare could bore holes through the palace walls.
“Next,” she hissed.
An uneasy looking Lutari stepped forward. By the looks of him, he was a farmer. A pretty Lutari stood a little behind him. She held a sleeping infant in her arms. Further behind stood a myriad of little Lutaris, most of them in rags or clothes many sizes too big for them.
“Name, region and problem,” barked the royal scribe who sat on a plain chair on the other side of the Throne.
“Salabor Pift,” said the farmer, hesitatingly. “From the Intar province.” He looked at his wife for encouragement who nodded at him to continue. “Our problem is the monthly tax. We had a bad strale infestation earlier this year and the rains haven’t come yet. Please help us! We are already buried under debts. Please... I have many mouths to feed.”
The Empress surveyed the family as the scribe copied down Salabor’s words in a blur of motion. Once his quill stopped moving, she opened her mouth to speak.
“You seem like an honest bunch of people,” she said. “We shall consider –”
But what would be considered, no one heard, for the Empress had been interrupted. One of the Imperial Guard, a large, burly grarrl thundered into the Court, panting somewhat. He held a small, green, struggling Lutari by the scruff of his neck who, in turn, held a golden goblet, no doubt from the palace kitchens.
“Caught in the act,” he boomed triumphantly soon after bobbing out of a hasty bow. “This li’l un was stealin’, yes he was.”
The Empress’s gaze swung from the wriggling child, to the farmer, and then back again. Her eyes narrowed beneath her mask. “Is this child yours?”
The farmer swallowed. “Yes, your Highness. This is Hal.”
“Why did you steal from me, Hal?” asked the Empress.
The child didn’t reply. He seemed to have been struck dumb by Empress Siph’s angry glare.
“I’ll tell you why,” Crone broke in suddenly, with her rasping voice. “They’re all part of this, all of them. This was but a display, a distraction which would keep us busy while this little fellow stole something worth more than the village he belongs to.”
The colour drained from each of the Lutaris’ faces.
“Is that so?” said the Empress, her voice becoming more menacing by the word. “Well then, that’s that. Guards, lock them up. And have their properties taken away. Next!”
“No...” The farmer made a feeble attempt at negating the Empress’s wrath.
Several armed guards appeared out of nowhere and whisked the sobbing family away. Even though Crone had seen this happen many, many times, the speed with which it all happened still astonished her.
Something on the floor caught Crone’s attention. The goblet the young lad had tried to steal rolled helplessly on the floor until it came to a stop. It was now dented from where the guards must have mistakenly kicked it. Crone stared at the goblet. It seemed so familiar...
And then she remembered. Beads of sweat formed under her fur and she felt as if she would lose her breakfast. She swayed but steadied herself by opening her wings a little.
“What’s wrong?” demanded the Empress.
“I...” began Crone. “I’m not feeling too well, Empress Siph. I – I think I better go rest.”
“But I need you here if I have to make any crucial decisions,” she snapped. “Stay,” she said, as if to a warf.
Crone was suddenly weary. “There won’t be any crucial decisions to make today. There will be an argument between two Myncies over property. The land belongs to the red one.”
“Very well,” said the Empress. “You are dismissed.”
Crone walked unsteadily through the corridors that riddled the palace. She let one of her wings brush against the walls in case she became unbalanced and toppled. Her mind raced. Her stomach threatened to empty itself. Her heart pounded in her chest. She felt each one of her two hundred and twenty six years in her bones. Again the image of that goblet rolling on the floor flashed before her eyes. And again. And again until she thought she might scream.
What was happening? How could it be? In truth, Crone knew the answer to both those questions. The question she needed to ask was: what was to be done now? She needed to tell somebody. But who?
Suddenly she bumped into someone. Crone snarled. Then she realized who it was.
“Oh hello, Adviser Crone,” said Beggins, the Archivist of the Kingdom, a cheerful old Bruce. Beggins caught sight of Crone’s expression. “Bad day?” he asked, his brow wrinkling with concern.
“Beggins,” she said in such speed it sounded like a yelp. “I need to talk. With you. Now.”
The Bruce gawped at her in confusion for a moment or two. Then he gathered himself. “Yes, of course. I was heading to the Archives. Maybe we can talk there? Good. Right this way.”
Beggins led Crone to the Archives. They walked in silence.
“Here we are,” said the Archivist, unlocking a large wooden door, ushering the Eyrie in and locking it again from the inside. “Now, what is it you wanted to talk about? Please, have a seat.”
Crone did as she was told. “I saw it,” she blurted out.
“Yes. I Saw my demise.”
Beggins’ eyes widened. “Is that possible?”
“Not in the way you are thinking of it as. I’m a Seer, you know that.”
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
“The first vision as Seer Sees is something connected to his or her... end. It could be anything. A flower, a face... anything. When they see it again, they know their time will be up soon.”
Beggins looked at her, unsure of whether he should be sad or not. “What did you see, if I may ask?”
“A goblet,” Crone rasped. “But that’s beside the point. I have to tell you about... something. A mistake I made.”
Beggins nodded, clearly intrigued.
Crone took a deep breath, trying to find the right words. “Empress Siph... isn’t the true Monarch.”
Icy silence oppressed everything. It was broken by a sharp intake of breath from Beggins. “What!? But – but you...”
“I Saw Siph as the true heir, yes. But she wasn’t the only person I saw in that position. You see, Seeing doesn’t always work that way. Think of time as a river. If you are ignorant of its course, at any given time it is possible for the river to take multiple courses; it could make a bend, or it could meander, or it could just go straight. I See the possibilities. The most probable possibilities. For small ordeals, there is usually just one possibility that is most likely to occur. But for important affairs, I See more than one. Regarding the Monarch, I Saw what would happen if Siph took the Throne and what would happen if she didn’t. I shaped the river’s course.”
Beggins was quiet for a while. Then, at last he spoke. “Crone, who would be the Monarch if not Siph?”
Crone looked sadly at the Bruce. “You would.”
“Why, Crone?” he asked.
“Greed,” replied the Eyrie matter-of-factly. “You see, if you had taken the Throne, you would also find out that I planned to place Siph on the Throne and I would not have gained the same position I have today. You do know that I rule Kingdom, albeit in an indirect way. Siph does not question what I See.”
“And why are you telling me this now?” Crone could see anger flashing in Beggins’ eyes.
“Because I see what I have wrought. I see how this Kingdom has been robbed of happiness and joy. Know this, Emperor Beggins, I also Saw that with you on the Throne, the Kingdom would prosper just like it did in the days of Activis.” With that she stood from her chair.
“Where are you going?”
“To the Lake of the Moon,” said Crone, gruffly.
“Oh.” Crone thought the Bruce’s eyes were looking teary.
Crone’s thoughts returned to the present. She had been flying for hours. Her old wings ached with every flap. She had only a little farther to go. She was nearly there.
Suddenly, Crone dived straight through the clouds and began her descent. The Lake lay beneath her, a pool of inky blackness. The Eyrie landed on the bank of the lake and looked around. This was the Lake of the Moon, where people went for forgiveness. It was said that even the tyrant Zalim had been forgiven in these waters once he had righted his wrongs.
Taking a deep breath, Crone put a paw in the water. Then she jumped in. She swam a couple of strokes, begging for mercy.
She swam a little more, begging harder.
So this was how it would be. She would carry her wrongdoings with her till the very end. Crone growled. Anger gave way to anguish. A tear trickled down her face and splashed into the water.
Suddenly the clouds parted and moonlight hit her. Bliss filled her. She had been forgiven.
Crone closed her eyes and swam. In her mind’s eye, she could See that Beggins would soon overthrow Siph. Maybe the damage she had done could be fixed after all.