“Ithaca”

(In my now semi-regular posting schedule, Saturday seems to be the day for prose. Essays so far, but here’s an excerpt from my novel-in-progress Sunshine Civil War that’s also intended to stand mostly on its own.)

Jon’s eyes flashed open, then closed again and began the snail’s-pace process of moving to full alertness—but in that first blink he saw what had awakened him.

A ball of almost-blindingly brilliant red light hung in the air above his head, blinking urgently and buzzing in a tone that he thought could wake all but the dead. As soon as his eyes were open enough for him to function, Jon waved a hand to silence the thing and pried himself up into a sitting position.

One mental poke at the ball of light confirmed that it was from home. Whatever the message was must be frightfully important, since sending a self-sustaining working across two universes as nearly prohibitively expensive in terms of Power consumption—even the true mages, with their infinite power supply, could only handle so much at a time.

His curiosity was answered when the ball of light dimmed to reveal the face of his father and expanded to nearly life size. “We need you here, Jon,” the aged Vayna said. “Herald tried to dissolve Parliament retroactively this morning after we impeached him and removed him from office. He declared martial law, so we were forced to do the same, but we’re in a state of tense calm here while everyone sorts out where their loyalties lie. When things break open we won’t survive without you. I think this is my last war, son; the Master will likely declare me to have accomplished my last task when peace returns. Hurry back; I’ll brief you more fully when you arrive.” And where messages won’t be so expensive, Jon reflected.

“Taliesin?” a voice called from the hallway. “My lord?”

“I’m up,” he called back. “I’ll be ready ‘ere you’ve finished this round.”

He dressed carefully, choosing clothes that would be innocuous here but that would also fit in perfectly in the rural area of the Sunshine Kingdom where he would likely emerge when he went home. Once his boots were tied, he opened the door of his room, threw open the drapes covering his window to let in the sunlight, and began a letter on the parchment he always kept on top of the dresser that functioned as a desk.

My dearest Blanchefleur, he wrote,

This may be my last letter to you. I have been summoned home, where a civil war has begun. I dare not give you details, but pray for me. Merlin tells me that I shall see you again someday, and that we may have what we must now put off, but I do not know whether I shall return here.

He paused, quill suspended in the air, when the servant came round again and spoke.

“You’re to break your fast with the court today, my lord.”

“I thank you,” Jon said, rising to his feet.


When he reached the Great Hall, his eyes swept over the floor, identifying each face. At last his gaze settled on Blanchefleur, seated at the Queen’s elbow. He longed to run to her, catch her up in his arms, and kiss her, but he knew the prophecy as well as she did, and so he did not tempt disaster by considering these actions for a moment.

As he stepped into the hall, his boots clicking on the stone tiles, Blanchefleur looked up from her conversation. When she saw him, he saw the same feelings flicker over her face, but once she had masked them she rose and walked gracefully toward him. He saw her arms bending, like his, as she defeated the impulse to form an embrace, and then he thought he saw her shape the word “darling” on her lips. When she reached him, they did not touch, eschewing even the customary kiss of greeting on the cheek, as they had since they first decided to heed Merlin’s word.

“Is this wise?” he asked.

“We had this argument before, Sir Royal,” she said. Her choice of epithet shocked him—he had told her his truename, of course, but she usually preferred the use-name “Taliesin.” The rest of her statement was a summary of the argument they had waged the first time she came from her convent to visit him. “I am not usually given to prophecy,” she continued, “but this morning I found a letter from Merlin on my dresser telling me that my vision last night was true Sight. Therefore I know that you must leave. Your home needs you in its civil war—so much so, in fact, that they have a working prepared to pull you and your possessions home. When you arrive, burn the unfinished letter to me from the dresser, then wash your face; you must not be reminiscing about me when you meet a certain someone.”

“I beg your pardon?” he said.

“You will understand. Remember: This is true love, even if you must love another—though I never shall.”

“What?” he said, beginning to sputter.

“Vaynar only marry for love, but you will soon have to marry, before I see you next. I understand, and I love you forever. I will make your excuses in the court when you leave.” She let that stand a moment, then went on in a rush. “Now. I am assured by Merlin’s direct word that this is safe.” With that, she leaped into his suddenly open arms and kissed him soundly, but gradually she, along with the rest of the world, faded away to be replaced by a familiar mountain meadow at
dawn.

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