Everything alright, dear?” her father asked as Elizabeth plopped herself down into one of the two expertly-carved chairs that faced the hearth in her little cottage. Gifts from Ferryl—not that he would remember that. No fire burned in the fireplace, the coals from the night before waiting for her to relight them and begin the nightly routine all over.
Except she had absolutely no desire to prepare dinner tonight. Not since—
Elizabeth slid her gaze to her father, emerging into the small living room; he took a seat in the matching chair beside her, his silver hair glowing in the evening light that streamed through the windows of their quiet cottage. His eyes, so kind and colored with concern, searched her thoroughly. “Has something happened, love?”
She let her gaze flick back to the empty fireplace. “Something is wrong with Ferryl.”
“What do you mean?”
“He…” How could she say this? It made no sense. Absolutely no sense at all. “I don’t think he knows who I am.”
“Love, I’m fairly certain that could never be true,” chuckled Bedell, taking her hand across the chairs. His hand, speckled with age, the veins showing clearly through his papery skin, was surprisingly warm on top of hers, his grip somehow both impossibly strong and heartbreakingly tender. “He has had eyes and a heart for none but you for as long as I can remember.”
She only managed to huff a sardonic laugh.
“Tell me what’s happened,” he went on.
“That’s just it,” she said. “I don’t know what’s happened. Yesterday…yesterday day he…” She hadn’t told him. She hadn’t yet told her father what had happened. The question Ferryl had asked. The question a crown prince should never have asked a servant. But the promise he had made nonetheless. And she as well. “Yesterday he was fine. But this morning he…well, it was as if he had no idea who I was.”
“What do you mean?” Bedell asked, his voice kind but not terribly concerned. She wasn’t sure whether to laugh with relief or cry with frustration.
“I thought maybe he was just playing with me. Some sort of game, I suppose.” Never mind that Ferryl wasn’t one to play those kinds of games. Not so thoroughly anyway. “But then he just…left. And when he returned—which wasn’t until just an hour ago, by the way—he had a page bring Erel back to the stables. He never does that, father. He always brings him back. Always.” Always an excuse to see her again. To kiss her once more. In nearly fifteen years of friendship, he could never seem to keep away from her. Which was convenient then, considering she did not want to be away from him, either.
“It’s as if…it’s as if he’s never met me before, father.” She hated it—the tear that threatened to fall. The lump in her throat. She should not be so upset. For surely—surely there was some sort of logical explanation for it all. But the tear fell despite her. And she rushed to wipe it away.
Bedell only squeezed her hand.
“Have you…” she asked, pausing to swallow back the tears. “Have you ever heard of such behavior?”
“Hmmm,” he said, stroking his long, silvery white beard. He too stared into the cold hearth.
“Could he be ill?” she offered. “Is there some sort of illness that would cause such a thing?”
“I suppose it’s possible,” her father responded. “Logical, perhaps. But I’ve not heard of such an illness.”
She knew then. She knew what he was about to say. The explanation he would offer. The impossible, improbable, useless explanation. Her father, the Chief Advisor to the king of Navah, was little more than a believer of færytales. She gritted her teeth and waited as he finally said, “I have heard rumors though.”
“Rumors?” she asked, despite herself. “Rumors of what?”
“The Midvarish. They are rumored to have such abilities, though it is merely conjecture, of course.”
“What abilities?” she ground out. Waiting. Waiting for the answer she did not want to hear.
“Magic, my dear. Not true magic, of course. But the dark magic of Midvar. Dark magic that can take a person’s most cherished memories. Wipe them away with no trace or hope of return.”
No hope? No hope of return? Fear pounded in her veins, even as her mind—her logical, capable mind knew better than to believe such folly. Magic? There was no. such. thing. as magic. But still… “Why would someone want to take away Ferryl’s most cherished memories?”
“Why would someone want to take anyone’s memories, love?” Bedell asked in that annoying habit he had of answering a question with a question. Or a riddle.
“Father,” she muttered, glaring.
A quiet chuckle. “Memories, love, are powerful things, are they not? Perhaps in taking Ferryl’s memories, one might hold the power over Ferryl’s future.”
His future? “But father, Ferryl seemed perfectly lucid. It’s as if…it’s as if he has only forgotten me. What benefit could there be in taking such a memory?”
“Are you or are you not his future, love?”
And there it was again. Just as her father had always said. “The prophecy,” she said. And it wasn’t a question.
Bedell nodded, a twinkle in his wizened eyes.
The prophecy. How many times had he mentioned it? She could recite it by memory, he had reminded her of it so many times over the years.
A queen in the shadows
Who will bring forth the light
A king’s song sung through the night
On the wings of eagles they would fly
That the way for the promised one would be made.
But it was nonsense. That she—a nobody. A servant. An orphan—was somehow the subject of some sort of Providential prophecy. Never mind that she didn’t believe in prophecies. Never mind the prophecy made no sense whatsoever.
“Your destinies are entwined, love,” her father went on. “Should it really surprise you that there might be someone out there who would thwart such a thing?”
Yes. Yes, it should surprise her because she was no one. Not just in some self-loathing I’m not worthy sort of sense. But in reality. She was no one. A nobody. An orphan, abandoned, nameless child, taken in by a kind old man who fancied himself a prophet—much too old to be a father and much too kind to leave a little girl to her fate. And what a fate it would have been—abandoned for her death in the midst of the Wild Wood when she was little more than five years old. Had it not been for the old man beside her, she would surely be nothing more than dust and a forgotten memory.
But that didn’t mean that she was a somebody. And it certainly did not mean that she was a somebody about which prophecies had been written. And certainly not prophecies about the promised one, whoever that was.
She was certainly no promise.
She was nothing but a stable girl in love with the crown prince. The crown prince who apparently no longer had any idea who she was.
A nobody, indeed.
But this nobody was bound and determined to find an explanation for what had happened to Ferryl. And it would be an explanation founded in logic and reason, not magic and færy stories, thank you very much.
“Why don’t you use that calculating mind of yours and go and find an answer?” he asked, tearing her from her stricken thoughts.
“You’re actually advising me to find a logical explanation?”
A pursed smile as he brought her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. “I’ve no doubt that if there is anyone who can find the truth, it is you.”
“And so is this the advice of the prophet or my father?”
“You will find, love, that I am inextricably both.”
“Elizabeth, dear! What brings you here?” asked Mary, a pleasant smile on her rotund face. The morning had dawned bright and cheery, replete with hope and the promise of answers. So Elizabeth had bounded out of bed, swallowed a couple of quick bites of last night’s bread and practically ran the short distance from her cottage near the stables to the old healer’s infirmary at the back of the castle.
“I was wondering if you had a moment to talk.” The ocean breezes had already begun whipping loose tendrils of her hair out of her plait, but Elizabeth only absently tucked them behind her ears as she stood before the old woman—a dear friend.
“Well of course, of course! Come in, child!”
Mary opened her door and ushered Elizabeth inside, a shock of savory spices hitting her nostrils as she entered the healer’s infirmary. Elizabeth had always found the room to have an odd smell, what with the vast array of herbs and potions it held. At the attack of the pungent aroma, she had wondered how Mary could stand it all the time.
“Everything alright?” Mary asked, as she pulled up a couple of chairs around a tiny table.
Elizabeth sat down across from the healer, wringing her hands in her lap. She hadn’t thought about it before she arrived, but it became suddenly imperative that the subject of her concerns remain anonymous, considering that an onslaught of rumors in the prattling busybody court at Benalle Palace was a distinct possibility otherwise.
“Yes, Mary, everything is alright. But I wondered if you might have some insight for me regarding a friend of mine.”
Mary’s eyes twinkled, and Elizabeth knew she was probably assuming who that friend might be. Ferryl’s infamous affair with the stable girl was by no means a state secret. Still, “You don’t know her,” she added lamely.
“I see,” said Mary.
“Well, you see, it’s just strange because my friend, h—she lost her memory recently and I cannot seem to figure out why.”
“Lost her memory, you say?”
“Yes. It’s the strangest thing. One day she was fine, then the next day, out of nowhere, she couldn’t remember who I was.”
Mary cocked her head. “Couldn’t remember who you were?”
“Yes, and the strangest part is that’s all h—she forgot. Just me! Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
Mary didn’t answer for a minute, drumming her fingers on the scarred table between them as she stared into the fire. “That is strange.”
“Do you suppose he’s ill?” Elizabeth asked.
“I mean, she, of course.” Elizabeth could feel heat rushing to her cheeks. Well, if nothing else were gained from this meeting, it was at least painfully evident that she would make a terrible spy.
“Well, my dear,” said Mary, “I’m aware of many illnesses that can cause memory loss. Fevers, especially. Has she had any signs of illness?”
Elizabeth did her best to ignore Mary’s emphasis of the pronoun for fear that she might give herself away. Heavens, she was most certainly a terrible spy. “None that I’ve noticed.”
“Hmm, hmm, hmm,” the healer said, drumming her fingers on her chin. “That is strange, indeed.”
Elizabeth’s stomach was a pit of nerves, not only because she knew Mary was no fool, but also because of the fact that the old healer seemed genuinely perplexed. What if something was truly wrong with Ferryl?
“Of course,” said Mary, “even if she showed signs of illness, I’ve never heard of any such malady that could take away only parts of memories. Or entire people. Usually, if someone suffers memory loss due to fevers or injuries, it’s as if entire seasons of their lives are erased. Like time just stopped for a while. Not individual people. That is a strange illness, if indeed that’s what it is. I’ve certainly never heard of such a thing.”
“Nothing?” Elizabeth asked, knowing a strange mixture of disappointment and relief. So Ferryl probably wasn’t sick. But if not, then what in the world was going on?
“No, child, I don’t know of any such illness that works that way. I would venture to guess that she’s not sick at all.”
Not sick. Not sick, but then— “Have you any idea what could be wrong?”
“It could be a great number of things, of course. But if I had to guess based only on what you’ve told me, I’d say it was likely the product of a spell.”
“A spell?” Elizabeth asked, resignation giving her shoulders reason to slump. “You mean like magic.”
“Yes, magic. A spell. A curse. Something meant to take a specific part of her life away from her.”
“But magic, Mary. Surely you don’t believe in such nonsense.”
“What is nonsensical about magic, my dear?”
“Well for one, it’s not real. Not to mention it’s a silly, antiquated notion.” One that had, thanks to the much more logical and realistic minds of the powers that be, been thoroughly and completely eradicated from the more educated sectors of modern society. But not, apparently, from plump and aging healers. Or questionably old, adoptive fathers.
“My dear, just because you don’t believe in something, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
Elizabeth huffed a defeated laugh. “Now you sound like my father.”
“I know that it is the plight of a teenage girl that she should never believe a word out of her father’s mouth, but rest assured my dear. Magic is very real and I daresay someday, you’ll believe that for yourself.”
Elizabeth resisted the urge to roll her eyes or cross her arms—a very teenage-like thing to do. Instead she only toyed with the charm that hung from her neck—one half of a stone, cut so expertly that the glittering insides shimmered in even the most wan light. A trinket she had worn for as long as she could remember, though she had no idea where it had come from. Her family, perhaps? Her past? But what was her past? She had never known. Nor had Bedell. It was a mystery she supposed would never be solved.
Of course—of course the world was full of things that couldn’t be explained. But just as the wind cannot be seen but it is there nonetheless, just as thunder answers lightning without remorse, some mysteries are better left to poetry and song. To the imagination. Some mysteries are better left unsolved. She just hoped whatever had happened to Ferryl wasn’t such a mystery. Because to explain it away with something as naïve as magic…
The world—her world—had always been divided into two categories: those who believed in magic, and the realists who comprised the remaining majority. She, proudly, had always been a part of the latter. Her father, obstinately, had always been a part of the former. And apparently, so too had Mary, which was surprising, considering there was nothing particularly odd or naïve about the kind old healer. Unlike her sweet, well-meaning father.
The problem was that if Ferryl wasn’t ill, and had not been the victim of some sort of magic spell, then what was wrong with him?
“Of course dear, without seeing her, I couldn’t be sure. Can you bring her here?”
“Oh, umm, well…” Sweat slicked her palms as Elizabeth tried to think of an excuse on the spot for why her mystery-friend-who-was-really-the-crown-prince couldn’t come for an examination.
“Of course,” said Mary, “it would be strange to ask your friend to come see me when she doesn’t even know there’s something wrong!”
Elizabeth practically stumbled in relief. “Yes, yes, I wouldn’t want her to become worried over something that is probably nothing. I’m sure it will correct itself.”
“Yes, things have a way of working themselves out,” said Mary.
“Thank you for your time, Mary. I’m sorry to have wasted it.”
“Come now, child, you haven’t wasted a thing! Have some tea with me! I haven’t gotten to see you much lately.”
And so Elizabeth obliged the kind healer, drinking tea and chatting for a good while, listening patiently as the old woman prattled story after story of her glory days and the creative herbs she had used to heal the royal family—a salve to heal the king’s mysterious injury, a concoction she had made that once helped the queen overcome crippling melancholia. But even the long-winded reminiscing couldn’t distract her from what was beginning to dawn on her: that whatever was wrong with Ferryl wasn’t going to correct itself anytime soon. Nor was it going to be easy to solve.