Both Aevlin and her ghostly twin stood, mirroring shock.
“Thank you,” the woman bestowed a beautiful smile on the guard, who stammered unintelligibly while bowing and backing away.
Aevlin shot a look of hurt at the captain as he stood, unsurprised by the visitor.
Callily entered the room and looked at her visible daughter. “Ae-” she hesitated, barely perceptibly, “-very.”
Aevlin avoided her mother’s embrace and stalked out, glancing back at the Captain with disdain.
He watched her go.
Callily observed him, “Captain Winter, or is it General Silver? How confusing!”
Captain Winter smiled professionally, “Madame Saliz, do sit down.” He returned to his seat without waiting for her.
“I see it is both.” Callily sat. “I understand I have you to thank for my daughter’s present condition.”
“I believe you are more responsible in that.” The captain’s professional expression did not waver. “I cannot offer you anything, but you may tell me if there is any matter with which I might be of assistance.”
Callily smiled, eyes crinkling. “How like an order mage. I suppose you think you can stand beside her and it will all disappear.”
“My abilities are limited.”
“As long as you know.”
“I know it well.” The captain tilted his head. “We met once, though I do not imagine you would recognize me. I was only a boy, then.”
“Were you? You do not look younger than I am.” Callily's eyes narrowed even as her smile brightened.
“You look the same as then.”
“You flatter me.”
“I speak the truth,” the captain’s voice held a hint of regret.
In her fortieth year, Callily had the face of a much younger woman. “Do you? Then tell me truthfully, what do you intend for my daughter?”
Eliot Winter answered without hesitating, “I intend for her to be the best that she can be.”
Callily stood. “That is my hope, as well. I hope also that you will not forget her nature. She is living chaos—any hint of instability may undo her. Emotions are her worst enemy.”
Aevlin ran into Thorne on her way out of the palace gates. She stepped back and covered her face. “Sorry.”
“I missed,” Thorne frowned.
“What?” Aevlin looked up, having done her best to hide the traces of her reaction to seeing her mother.
Thorne smiled cheerfully. “I missed you. Why do you never visit?”
“Neither do you,” Aevlin’s shadow folded her arms. “It has been hectic, here.”
“Ah, the trials of royalty.” Thorne looked around. “Were you escaping? What to do? I interrupted, and now your chance has been missed. Shall we take a walk?”
Aevlin nodded gloomily and followed her old Master Woodcrafter.
“I understand you gave Captain Winter a full report.”
“I did not share your secret,” she mumbled, eyes on her slippers.
“Which would that be?”
“All of them. I avoided talking about you.”
Master Thorne smiled fondly at the depressed girl. “I brought you a present.” He held out his right hand, closed around something small.
“Rosewood,” Aevlin guessed.
“You are no fun at all.” He pouted at her. “Close your eyes.”
Aevlin obeyed and Master Thorne took her hand and placed the rosewood pendant into her hand. Her shadow appeared at her shoulder to look at it. “All of yours from the ball were scattered and broken, so I made you a stronger one.”
“You cut a Rosewood for this?!” Aevlin was horrified. “This is heartwood, how could you?”
“I could not,” Thorne stepped back and looked down into the distraught girl’s eyes. “I asked nicely, and I described you. I felt very foolish doing it. Would you believe that the tree spit a bag at me? I could not believe it myself. Look, I bruised.” He showed her a bruise on his arm.
“Oh.” Aevlin took a few deep breaths. “Sorry. Thank you.” She fumbled for a moment before successfully fastening the flower pendant. “Will I need it?”
“Naturally not,” Thorne smiled. “Not like you needed the last one—very creative, that. But it has more uses than only masking your magic. This will store chaos, if you have too much, or if you think you may need extra later. It will allow you access to more than you naturally have, which can be dangerous. Only use it if you must.”
Aevlin nodded solemnly, and master and student smiled at each other.
“Are you nervous, King’s Heir? Tonight, you relinquish your throne.” Noticing a return of the young girl’s gloom, he chuckled self-depreciatingly. “I must confess, when I told Winter that your mother called you all Avery, I thought myself quite clever. I had no idea that there might be any truth to it. What do I call you, now?”
“I do not know,” Aevlin admitted. “I always thought—” she glanced at her shadow, who had no comfort to offer. “She is here. Mother. But—I could not ask.”
“Does she even know?”
“That was not my meaning,” he smiled kindly. “What would you prefer to be called?”
Aevlin sighed. “I lived sixteen years as Aevlin and one as Avery, and in one book I am Avery and the other Aevlin.”
“We can share. I don’t mind.”
“It’s confusing,” Aevlin shook her head.
“You could give me a new name. It’s only confusing for us—all but our family know only know one Aevie.”
Aevlin took a breath and let it out. “I suppose I should ask her.”
Thorne shrugged. “As you like. I never found asking Callily anything to be productive.”
“Stop, right now, just stop.” Aevlin covered her ears in visible distress. “Whatever you’re about to say, whatever you have to ask her, I don’t want to know.”
“I won’t, I won’t,” Thorne put up his calloused hands in a show of defense. “It is not as though I ask anything out of the ordinary…”
Thorne entered without knocking and looked at the apparently dozing captain. “Where is she?”
Eliot opened his eyes. “She went out.”
“You look rough.”
“I gave her the pendant.”
Eliot closed his eyes again. “I do not know why you are informing me.”
“You helped make it, infusing it with order. I thought you would want to know.”
“I do not.”
“What did she say?”
“I do not remember.”
“That sounds like a lie,” Thorne leaned against the bookshelf.
Eliot looked over at him. “As was everything you ever said about that Family. Including your student’s name.”
“Why do you ask?”
Eliot looked at the empty chair across from him. “I saw her face when Callily called her Avery.”
“She was Aevlin,” Thorne admitted. “There was never an Avery. But Callily did say, once, that there was protection in a name. She told me to call her Avery when I brought her papers here.”
“You knew about the twin.”
“I knew that she had died, though not from Aev, nor Callily. I did not know if she knew.”
“She died, she lived, she knew. Callily knew. You knew.”
“Winter. I didn’t know about the count. I didn’t know my student…I swear I didn’t know that.” Thorne’s expression was sad. “I promised to protect her, to protect them all. Can you imagine how it feels to have failed in the only meaningful thing I have ever done? Four times I found them and four times they disappeared. At the last she decided to trust me. She was exhausted, and she needed help. Every time they moved, every time…That little girl’s chaos kept growing. Callily was falling apart trying to hold them together.”
“You knew she was a chaos mage.”
“Only because of the trees. Plenty of plant mages talk to plants, but the plants never talk back.”
“She brought a teigan to life.”
“Did she say that?” Thorne hid a laugh, but a smirk slipped out.
“A chaos mage strong enough to bring life to a rug, and you never mentioned it. I said I was looking for a mage, and you wished me luck.”
“I had a lot on my mind. And it wasn’t a rug, it was a very nice, very expensive teigan fur. I almost died for that. Several times, thanks to it inconveniently returning to haunt my house.”
“And she’s not recovering like she should. Being around you, she is in a constant state of opposition.”
“We gave her a pendant full of my energy.”
“It won’t leak out of the wood, and that is only in case of emergency.”
The captain rubbed his forehead, showing signs of a headache. He looked over at his silent friend. “Thorne. There is more you are not telling me.” At the mastercrafter’s continued silence, he added, “Vior loves chaos magic. She is in no danger there, and they will be able to train her properly.”
“They will undoubtedly be most reluctant to ever let her leave. I saw Marius de Vior’s expression, when he made the request—it is the first time in nearly four decades that anyone from here has been allowed to go to Vior. He even agreed that she could bring a companion. Who, by the by, is packed, if not prepared.” Glaring at Eliot, he added, “It would have been nice to know sooner how quickly she was to leave.”
“That was a necessary deception. The fewer who know, the safer she will be. And the sooner she leaves, the sooner we can deal with Count Tergin and the deceitful Kivalya.”
“I still cannot believe you were taken in by her. I even warned you that the eldest princess was too pretty for her own good.”
“I was predisposed to be. I trusted that you and your student gave me the whole story that day.”
Thorne let his chagrin show. “How could I suspect that the moment I turned my back, Aevie’s mother allowed her, at fifteen, to be given in marriage to a manipulative snake?” Thorne crushed a small wooden carving of a jungle cat. “I was—when I realized—” he shook his head and dust fell from his hand. “And Callily acted so unconcerned, even after her eldest, who she claimed to be protecting, ran away to be with that same man. Kivalya came here wanting, expecting to become queen.”
“I liked that statue.”
Thorne opened his hand, but there was only dust left.
“It was a gift from an old friend.”
“I know the maker. You will have a new one.” The woodcrafter turned to leave.
“Thorne. I know what Marius is thinking, but he has picked the wrong girl. She is too clever, and she was taught by the best.” He did not smile. “Explain the pendant.”
Thorne looked his friend in the eye. “Reuben asked for it.”
A young woman flanked by two female guards and carrying a bundle of fabric knocked on an inconspicuous wooden door. One guard held a tray of food. Another, tall and gloomy in the dim lamp light, opened the door from the inside and nodded to her. “She’s one floor up.” He let them into the round tower room, locking the door behind them. Leading the way across the small room, he walked to a closet door and unbolted it, opening it to reveal a steep spiral staircase.
The women headed up while he returned to his chair and picked up his newspaper. The sound of footsteps on the stone stairs reverberated in his little room, but not beyond. “Count Tergin, vanished from house arrest,” he read. “Money really does save time.”
At the top landing, another guard sat in a small nook reading a novel. She nodded to the clothcrafter and stood to unlock the door.
Inside the windowless tower room, a young woman sat at her desk, as regal as any queen. She turned and stood gracefully. “Good afternoon,” she smiled graciously. “I have no chair to offer you. How else may I be of assistance?”
The clothcrafter held up her bundle. “If you would dress for the ball and take some food, Your Highness.”
One guard went to the small water closet while the other stood at the door. The third had already returned to her post outside the little tower prison.
“Certainly,” Kivalya accepted the bundle, her expression unreadable in the dim light of the one wall lamp.
“I will have a quick nap,” Aevlin closed her eyes. “Wake me when it’s time.” She sat in Mirelle’s private office in a rich gown befitting a queen. A young man was expertly styling her hair while Mirelle checked over her handiwork.
“You look like a queen,” Her spirit twin sighed wistfully, looking at her reflection over her shoulder.
“I feel like a doll.”
“You look very pretty,” Mirelle smiled.
Aevlin opened one eye to see her reflection. “And lifeless.” She turned to Mirelle. “Why can I not simply sign the book and skip the ceremony?”
“That question is not in my domain.” She stood to answer a knock at the door. A young clothcrafter stood without.
“Kivalya is dressed and ready,” she said. “Is there anything else I can help with?”
“No, Abigail, thank you. Go on to dinner.”
The girl curtsied and left.
“That is four!” Mirelle announced, pleased. “All House Saliz accounted for and prepared to dazzle.” Her attempt to close the door was blocked by an elegant hand.
“All four,” a shadow sighed and it's human blinked vigorously.
“May I speak to my daughter?” Callily asked.
Mirelle looked back at Aevlin and hesitated.
Aevlin forced herself to nod.
“Are you finished, Ustavo?”
The stylist double checked everything. “She is a vision,” he announced. “I can do no more. If all the men are not in love and the women in envy, it is no fault of mine.”
“Well done. Shall we to dinner as well?” She bowed slightly to Aevlin, who pouted at her and unconsciously relaxed. The clothcrafter left without acknowledging the other woman’s request.
The crafters’ quarters were empty—the crafters were gone to enjoy the fancy dinner that had been prepared and were not likely to return until the night was over.
Callily entered the small office and closed the door. She looked at the girl sitting before the vanity and did not see the other standing next to it, a perfect reflection except for the timid mingling of hope and hurt in the eyes of the girl who yet breathed.
With one voice, both asked quietly, “What is my name, Mother?”
Callily did not hear the echo. “Eighteen years ago, I saw two little girls growing into women. One was full of spirit, lively, and free.” She looked at the mirror rather than at the girl. “The other was calm, even-tempered, and sweet. Fire and water, Aevlin and Avery.
In those days, I suffered terrible spells of insomnia. One phase, nearing nine moons, I visited my usual apothecary for a sleep drought. Her sister was said she gone on holiday and would not return for several phases, if not a whole moon. She had all the mixtures written, and mine looked and smelled the same. Only it was not the same, and the girl was not a sister. I never found out who she was, I never saw her again.
A moon later I laid one little girl in her bed and the other to sleep forever in the cherry grove.”
The girl before her sat very still. Beside her, her reflection’s tears fell freely.
“I asked—your father not to put your names in the book. A drop of blood would be enough for Horatio to know his descendant. He did not listen, but later—when it was too late—he said that he would fix it. He was a plant mage, if a weak one. It was simple enough to remove a little ink from the pages, to change the names.”
“Why not change the Book of Kings?”
“He could not touch it while his father lived.”
“Then, what of me? Am I Aevlin, or Avery?”
“It is only a name. It does not change who you are.” Callily smiled at her daughter. “We will adjust together.”
And I will be forgotten, as it should be.
“Avery?” She reached out her arms.
One girl passed her mother, shadowless.
Callily stayed in the room a long while. “You always were the tempestuous one, Avery,” she let out a sigh. “Why did you never listen to me, Alaric?”
A little three-year-old, fondly called Aevie, sat on her mother’s lap playing with twigs. She tried to make them grow and was frustrated that they remained the same. She looked up suddenly and said in her childish voice, “Awie, help. I want it to gwow.”
Her mother did not mind it. She knew her child to be an imaginative child, and she was preoccupied with her four and five-year olds, playing in the cherry grove. The older girl kept teasing her little brother. Their mother watched for signs that the little boy was upset by it, but he seemed to not mind.
“Thanks, Awie! It gwowed!”
Looking down, the mother saw that the twigs had indeed grown. That in itself was not concerning. “Aevie, did you not have three sticks?” Try as she might, she could only find two—the two her baby’s chubby fingers still held.
The girl nodded gravely, “I gived—”
“Yes, I gived one to Awie.”
“To—Avery?” the mother asked, not yet alarmed.
“She helped me, so I gived one.”
Still unconcerned, her mother said, “Only one? Why did you not give her two?”
The little girl thought carefully. “If I give two, I have—” She held up the two sticks in her two hands and moved them apart. “—one.
Only one. And she have two.”
“But will she not be happy?”
“Will you? She will. Okay.” The little girl concentrated and the stick in her left hand cracked and became transparent. The woman could still see it faintly as her daughter held it out to ‘Awie’. Then it disappeared.
Callily held her child close. “Good girl,” she whispered. “Stay here, Aevie.” She set the girl on the oak stump and walked deliberately in the house. A few minutes later, she returned and went to the little bird house, tied a small piece of paper to the bird’s foot, and flung the small creature into the air.
Sitting on her stump, little Avery watched it go, her shadow twin mirroring her.
In that grove of heavy-laden cherry trees, a small stone stood guard over a tiny grave. On the front, lightly carved, was a small date. But underneath, where stone met darkness, was a second, deeper inscription:
may you always rest
in peaceful waters,
in the shadow of Myth.’