I scanned the heavens and noted the faint silver streaks overlaying a starry blue-black sky. It was the last few hours before the Dawn of the Starfire Queen. I had been running for a good hour after awakening from a brief standing rest. My breath was even and unhurried. Still, underneath my flesh crept a slow burn, ankle to calf, knee to hip. I knew this day’s run had to be shortened somehow. Yesterday’s journey, my second day carrying the message, had lasted from morning until high moonrise when I finally left behind the trio of guards. I knew they might catch up on horseback as I tired, so I had taken my fill of paste of prime root and drunk as little water as possible. Nothing is worse than running with full stomach sloshing.
Best to stay muscle and bone, that was my philosophy. It kept me streamlined and fleeter than other runners and the better messengers. As a result of my lightness and narrowness, some doubted my gender was female. That suited me. I passed more easily through all spaces and lands with a slight profile. But I had kept my name, Oriane, as my mother said it would be a blessing of mercy upon me when all else failed, though she never explained. It was, I knew, the name of a rare wildflower that bestowed unusual strength on those who found it. She had discovered and transplanted one when she was pregnant with me, only to have to eaten by wolves after my birth. She did not gain strength at all, yet it had reached me through her hands, her blood, her breath. When I was seven, she wept when she told me how the flower was devoured, but even then I found it reasonable that wildness sought the nourishment of wildness.
She was right about the importance of the oriane flower, as I was the one by age eleven with the most stamina and strength. Because of this, I have become greatly valued since I have come of age. Beyond that, I don’t know what to think of my tasks or her ways. She is the Lady Tam, the creator of music that soothes the temperamental, those distressed of spirit. She thus holds a powerful position under the ruling of my uncle who is, in truth, the most temperamental man I have yet known. I am being judicious with my words. My mother bows to him though I cannot easily do the same. The Lady Tam has made her place; I assume there she will remain. I fear it, despite changes ahead. And between her position with my uncle Rath Overseer of Trammill, my fate appears to be sealed. But once I had not believed I would undertake a challenge such as I have done.
One winter evening I admitted to admiring the Starfire Queen’s visionary ways and I was promptly forbidden to again leave the boundary lands beyond Trammill alone. I should have thought twice; I am most given to silence, but felt compelled to admit this neophyte royalty held a wisdom I not only had heard about–I felt it so. Knew it to be truth. Hence, the guards–Rath Overseer’s henchmen –as I carried the missive. I had been charged with delivering the letter informing the new queen that if she took her foretold position at Antelier in Immerling she would have to face battle with the southern lords. Though I had served as Messenger out of my love for my mother and duty to my uncle, they had long spoken against the Starfire Queen’s ascendancy. She had dared to exceed the parameters of the lords’ traditions. She riled those who held dear the patriarchal and privileged ways with her sweeping belief in celestial guidance. Everyone assumed the worst, as if she was set to be the usurper of their jealously guarded territories.
I thought she meant to unite us all, not separate us from one another further. Only a fool would take the ancient warring road to greater might. I had read some of her ideology, passed hand to hand by those of us who have eagerly sought her ideas. My mother knew little of my new-found beliefs as she did not inquire. I was expected to follow the known ways and she seemed unaffected by the debates others had. Only Rath Overseer, whom I had been taught to obey despite my dislike of his manner toward most (though lodge folk said he loved my mother and I could not deny her right to such since she was widowed so young), thought I was a danger.
And he was right. I found no good reason to bear up his arguments for his own (and his cohorts’) autonomy, nor accept still them as truth before hearing more of the Starfire Queen’s. Surely she did not deserve threat of defeat before her own voice carried more clarity and the very power of coronation. Immerling was a land of fertile earth and lush beauty and if small in acreage, it’s bounty had kept the rest of us alive more times than not. It had been well ruled for centuries, if little weight had been given to its political workings. It was known as one of the very last matriarchal societies, I had heard, which I found odd if intriguing. Others found it irrelevant. Until this new person this heretofore unheralded Starfire of Antelier.
I had to warn her of trouble. No one should be judged ruinous until the facts are known. And we–even those of us who read her few works– did not even know her yet.
So here I was moving very fast on foot, my boots skimming the hard ground. I felt driven morning til night by the intention of reaching her before Rath Overseer’s men did. I couldn’t consistently outrun horses or most other goodly beasts. But I did know how to outmaneuver them, hide well, forge difficult new routes that they and their riders could not. When I was climbing the Fifth Wall of Rock that surrounded Immerling’s far borders, I turned to look back once. The undulating desert sands rimming the last low mountains of Trammill glowed white under the moon’s glow. The horsemen were specks in the distance as I flattened my body to the rock, hoping the outline of my figure might appear as one jagged spot along the wall. But they might see it for myself, who they sought since my eluding them before last dusk. My feet found purchase so I paused to send a thought toward my mother, praying she might find it and be heartened.
Oriane is flying well, rest assured, the fire is bluest at night.
Surely she would remember the line of the song she gave me as a child, how the fire burned hottest under the tending of her own hands, my safety assured by life giving heat and steady light. Her loving watchfulness. Now I was seventeen. I was on my own. True, her love could not protect me as once it did. But I needed to draw on her caring, wanted my gratitude to be felt as I carried on alone.
It was a mistake to pause even that moment. As I lost my point of reference a split second, fear invaded me me. My right foot slipped, rock loosening and clattering below as I reached for a jutting ledge above me. My hand strained and missed and I slid, losing a few inches, my shins seared by pain as my worn leggings and then my flesh were torn. I poked and prodded the toes of my sheathed feet towards a spot where rock held fast. Reached and grasped, exerted my might. And surmounted the ledge, breath ragged. I would not be looking back again. I would not be sending thoughts to my mother. I could not forget this was survival and make progress towards the only goal needing to consume me. But the Fifth Wall was not accepting my presence, it seemed, as my sense of balance was altered and I descended too fast.
As I slipped and pounded down the rocky prominence, I recalled the basic fight mechanics of hawk hunters I had studied the last few weeks at home. I raised my long arms and held fast my slim legs, compressed my skin and heavier bones and when my feet again contacted the obdurate surface of the rocky wall I pushed off and rose above it. I willed my body to release gravity. And then began to soar. My heart stopped beating or perhaps it was thrust into a different rhythm and mode of operation as I traveled through the empty moonlit night. And then turned upside down and headed downward, swooping right and left like the brave hawk hunters I had witnessed. Only I wasn’t a hawk hunter, I was a runner only and out of my element, needing ground beneath my feet. Now. I scrambled awkwardly as the mighty currents of air tossed and turned my body; there was nothing to hold me fast. How did the hawk hunters master such a skill? I was falling and flailing to my death.
Was I being tricked by Rath Overseer’s men, were they really magicians that he sent to follow me? They must have gotten me to believe this was an option. I was galled but panic gripped me as I gulped wind that tore at my throat. My flesh felt as it would burn up, vanish into the atmosphere. I would not overcome these elements, and I had made a foolish assumption that I might do whatever I believed possible. It had worked before but I saw it was likely I was done with this living.
I closed my eyes against the pressure of turbulent air. The Pre-Dawn was upon me and I was so close to being in Immerling… yet would not complete my crucial task. Faster and faster I plunged toward the emerald earth below. Though spinning now, I tried one last time to reassert orientation, hold my head up, bring my body to vertical position. To calm heart and mind, locate the forest that shielded the Starfire Queen’s vast lodgings if only by my instinct for survival.
My arms were being tugged, almost stretched and first I felt my right hand grabbed and held tightly, and then the other hand. I saw I was being held aloft and slowed down in increments as I slid through softening air, my body righting itself. I more felt then saw two beings with bronzed limbs that sparked brightly, then faded to a warm glow as we descended, landing at last amid tall grasses with a quiet thud.
They released me and neatly vanished before I could summon the will to speak or move. The silence hummed. I smiled as I checked body parts, held my head. I was whole and alive, stunned but relieved.
Come, Oriane, fleet of mind and foot, brash of heart and strong of soul.
The words melted into the fading night as I crouched and turned in a slow, full circle. I saw nothing parting the grasses, nothing above or beside me. My sore but now more energized legs pushed me up to peer over tops massed blades of deep wild grass. There was the forest. Splashes of light limned the massive tree trunks. I parted the plants and plodded toward a golden mist that began to gather among the center most trees.
I want to say that this all made sense to me, that I knew well the tales of Immerling and so was prepared to enter the golden center of the land. That fear did not enter my bones or anxiety, my center. That the two day trajectory from Trammill’s mountains to desert to wall to grasses to forest was what I had expected and could manage the walk with grace and assuredness to see what lay ahead without any self doubt. In truth, I knew nothing of what was to be experienced other than a message sealed and tied under my innermost garment would now be delivered.
Oriane, Oriane, Oriane I heard and I followed the beckoning into the forest and the golden gleam that wound around the trees pulled me forward, the flutter of small, transparent wings about my shoulders, the heady scent of flowers rising from each step, the taste of strange fruits in my mouth. And yet I was not unable to navigate by my own power, think my own thoughts of my singular needs (a meeting with the Queen, simple food, rest). I was not unable to see the end of the forest and as the stream of light faded, I saw the sky was lightening above as the sun began to end its faraway journeying and rest with us.
Was I too late? Where would I find this threatening, wonderful Queen?
Come, Oriane, I am waiting, see me here.
And so she was, diminutive yet standing firm, her pale silvery hair wrapped in a royal rose turban, her body swathed in blue folds of shimmering, sheer fabric that billowed as she moved toward me, hands held out. Breathtaking, her face clean of any sign of unease, eyes filled with promise.
And behind her trailed Lady Tam. My mother. And she wore a rose turban wound about her her own dark curls that strayed about her lined, gentle face.
I stumbled forward and fell to my knees but could not lower my head as protocol demanded. I lifted my burning eyes and stared at them both.
What is the meaning of this unlikely meeting? I asked, stilled by this strangeness.
The Starfire Queen came to me first, and she pulled me up so we were face-to-face. A frisson of energy shook me. She guided me to a tent and my mother, after searching my baffled face with a knowing look, followed. When the Starfire Queen settled on a bench, my mother and me sitting on another across from her, she began, her words falling into my consciousness the way I had believed only my mother’s and mine could do.
This story is of a family wrongly divided . Our father, Lord Medalor, died at the hand of Rath Overseer’s warriors. Your mother was long ago taken from Immerling, from the royal family after the Ancient Wars, which finally killed your father. Rath Overseer saw fit to enforce the old rule: that she was duty bound to be his right hand companion since his brother, her husband, was deceased. She was forever of Immerling and he knew that but refused to release her after a visit. Of Immerling , yes, just so, as were you. As am I. For I am your older sister, Oriane, and your mother is my mother.
I thought I had misheard this young woman, this soon-ascendant Queen. Dizziness threatened me, sitting there with her and my mother, as if captured in a sleeping dream, not a lucid one where I could find my way around and out. My mother, wanting to ease my confusion, turned to me, then gave me her thoughts.
Let me continue. I had to leave your sister behind, as she was next in line for the Ruling Chairperson upon her twentieth birthday, after our Dowager Queen passed on. Rath Overseer didn’t want her, anyway, just me. But he didn’t know that your father had left me with child, that. you were waiting to be born. I have seen Starfire less than a half dozen times over the years, but could not tell you until I was certain we might get away at last. Because this was the prophecy, Oriane. You and I had to be returned before Starfire would be Queen and peace could begin to take root, at last.
But Rath Overseer and his warriors! We are not safe here, either! And how did you even get here? I impatiently responded.
I followed your path without your knowing so you would not be delayed. I can move in other ways, too, if essential. One day I will show you more. Much more.
I dared not ask anything else. It was overwhelming hearing these confessions.
Queen Starfire came to us, taking my mother’s and my hands into hers.Her touch was radiant and told me more.
Be at ease, sister Oriane. We are not alone with our calling and our work. Light of All Light fills us here in Antelier, withing our country Immerling and the wonder of Creator Power is that it provides us needed courage, good wisdom, and brings with it lasting victor. Now we will share the demands and dreams of the royal Chair. We can put plans of unity with love into action at last. Mother holds the beneficent, tempering songs we need; you hold the strength and trustworthiness; and I am given honor and commitment to being a leader here. Take your place among us.
Steadied by such certain and bold words I squeezed their hands in affirmation and we stood in harmony, together at last.
The long, exclamatory procession of Immerling’s people came upon our meeting place soon after, and after I was introduced and then wrapped in my own rose turban and draping gown of blue, we left for the forest’s radiant inner meadows. The ceremony was something my poor words cannot begin to describe–graciousness of a perfect sunrise bestowed upon that place; joy that gathered and emanated from everyone; the land’s beauty enriched the accord with which the people gathered. And the brimming heart and clear energy of their new Starfire Queen. My sister. And, too, our mother, now known by her formal name: Tambralia of the Sacred Song.
I am still just Oriane. I am yet the fastest, most reliable runner. Now in my own country, I can begin to teach the children how to move in harnony, powerfully, at will. But now I am also a Messenger for a Queen. More that, I hope you can call me a ready peace worker, a servant of love and humble carrier of Immerling’s tradition of benevolent truth.