XVIII.

Uncertainty is a thing with wings, is a scene which rings of sorrowful nostalgia, airy, beating the atmosphere to seek concrete grounds or an olive tree in the vast ocean of the Creator’s wrathful disappointment.

So, the raven took flight.

Athlem wanted to shut the windows so she didn’t have to see the shrinking blot of black engulfed by the vast grey blue, but forced herself to watch: if a six-years old should watch the brutal end of her own mother, she can watch her messenger’s aimless search basked in desperation while the child in blood. The past and present were mingling, a distance of fourteen years not nearly enough to part them.

She turned around to find Horatio seated in their study years ago, thumbing through pages with as much interest as an ant for God. She remembers that afternoon, after she stored Lyra to the outstretched arms of a mourning servant girl, after the former cried herself to a sleep traumatized by scarlet. She originally wanted to retire from society for a breath, but found himself in this study instead.

“Horatio.”

Horatio, yet to be the Emperor’s first advisor, dared not divide his attention from the volume. Athlem enclosed the gulf between them.

“You don’t…you shouldn’t act in front of me, you know that,” An insolent hand invaded silent mourning, rested on tensed shoulders. We agreed on that. I don’t wear my “masculine pretense,” you don’t need yours.

“Act?” Choked voice addressed audience unseen. “Was I?” He relaxed, dissolved when he remembered that he was home in the physician’s arms.

The volume struck the floor.

Why? If only I was a day earlier. If only I interfered. I secured their passages, she could’ve gone home, could’ve gone with her Leo, with Lyra even…I had it all planned. Why,

Why,

…why? “Ath…would you…do the same? At least…give me a warning…when you think the world is without remedy and not worth your time…would you…at least bid me farewell?”

Such a simple request, a child wanting a goodnight’s kiss, lovers desirous of one last squeeze of the hands before parting for seconds stretched into eternity, “Why do you ask so little?” Gentle whispers did their best to dry tears. “I cannot hold instruments of self harm” when my arms rest about you. “For the last six years nullified my first seventeen,” for the last six years I planned to stretch to six decades. “Do you not…”

“…feel the same?”

Uncertainty is the jet black feathers left behind by his fruitless messenger, is the net, hacked by weathers clefted by his soundless beloved.

Her study is empty, the scenery changed in her hometown, where happiness proliferate despite and to spite her gloom. Remnants of life before she moved to the capital provided comfort too distant to be enjoyed, each day of silence a curse the Creator prescribed to the physician.

Far less than two decades, for only fourteen years into her dream the wisps of breeze a hurricane that bellowed.

Horatio…Lyra…

And her thoughts wandered…the little child was an addition she did not imagine she could love with so little reserve: her parents’ negligence and Horatio and her own paranoia landed her primarily under her care. The times when she wasn’t even slightly fazed by the idea of her title of “Court Physician” being downgraded to a mere tutor/caretaker almost officiated the parenthood she cannot have. Her world blurred when the girl pulled at her hair and chimed “aunty.”

She was her aunty.

But, the child started averting her eyes. She broke away to focus instead on those darting looks in the hallway, those foul whispers, the lies of the priests cursing love for they know not what it is.

She knew when and what made Lyra look away.

As the past and present continued to mangle, she clenched her fingers about uncertainty, the black feather with a stem white and Athlem’s fingers whiter.

That night was darker than that jet black plume, when she started from her office to retire to her chambers. The week had been elongated by eight-years-old Lyra’s brief illness, her sleep killed by the servant woman’s notice of every cough. So, she was nearly asleep, walking, when a click of a heel too close behind her jumped her awake.

“Who…”

A hand answered, struck, pinned her against an icy wall. She fought, bit, gasped and screamed into the hand calloused by hypocrisy. “I know your secret,” the voice hissed. “Comply, or the world should know that you are but a disguised witch.” Memories only came in flashes of pain, more fear than agony, the seconds of premature relief when she found the vase and crashed it into her assailant’s head. Finally the hand stopped tearing at her.

But.

How did it make her wake in the middle of too many nights, forgetful of her blissful dreams and that the arms about her belonged to her beloved and no savage? How did it make her jump at every click behind her, even slapping away a young hand tugging at her sleeve desirous of breaking through?

Lyra, her dear child, her eyes watering cold marble when she instinctively brushed any contact aside. She was sent her backward onto the floor while she wondered why her Aunty Athlem looked so much like father, so very tall. She went forward to pick her up, to mend the hurts she had done but Lyra grew up and got up and sprang, far away from her lying aunt while her other guardian spent too much energy loving Athlem back to life and he, too, was left behind. Left her behind.

Athlem can never catch up, for her eyes darted away, her pace sped up and her head lowered to kill all potential meetings. And now…

Lyra, where are you?

She twirled the feather, and hope took flight and shrank in the grey blue sky while she sat by her least favorite patient’s bed.

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