Malida wore loose tunic and trousers and ankle boots. A light dusting of snow lay on the grounds of the villa. She made her way to the nearest okre tree in the garden and began to collect the large tri-tipped leaves. The leaves were thick and waxy and managed to survive the cooler temperatures of haltath. She collected until the cloth hanging from her shoulder was full then turned back to the house, trudging through the bare, brown gardens to the driveway and then to the front door.
Toyus stood on the top step of the stoop. He watched her with a worried frown.
“What are you up to, Aya?” he asked in a soft voice befitting the early hour.
She climbed the steps and paused to gaze up into the beautiful clear blue eyes he had inherited from their Yllysian ancestor.
“I must do as the dream tells me,” she replied and entered the house, making her way to the kitchen through the wide hallway that bisected the house into north and south wings. Both wings shared the large kitchen at the back of the house. This early, Masiha and Dihsa would be busy with breakfast and prepping for the other meals. She would prepare the tea quickly, leaving them to their domain.
She murmured soft greetings to the women, who curtsied.
“May I do something for you, my lady?” Masiha asked.
“No, my dear,” Malida replied. “You continue your work.”
Masiha curtsied again. “Just let me know if I can help.”
Toyus watched Malida sharply as she pulled two large leaves from the shoulder bag, setting the bag on the counter afterward. Using the larger mortar and pestle, she crushed the thick waxy leaves. The fluid in the leaves was thick and slimy, releasing a green scent that was not unpleasant.
“Tell me how I can help you,” Toyus said.
She flicked him an impatient glance. “Fill the kettle with water and boil the water.”
He went to do as she asked while she continued to grind the leaves into a paste.
When the water was boiling, she scooped two tablespoons of the leaf paste into a mug and poured boiling water afterward.
She turned to the women. “Do not touch this pestle and mortar until we are done.”
Dihsa curtsied. “Of course, your Majesty.”
Malida carried the mug with her to the sitting room, Toyus at her heels.
“Aya, you are going to drink poison?” he demanded.
“I’ve been directed to do so,” she murmured patiently and took a seat on the loveseat.
He sat beside her. “What if…”
She looked at him. “Are you doubting now?”
He wrung his hands. “Aya…” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, but what if you die?”
“Then you become King,” she snapped then sighed. “I’m sorry, son. I must do this. Promise me one thing.”
“If I die, wait five days before burying me.”
He shook his head. “Why?”
“Trust me. Do you trust me?”
She sighed. “A state burial will take a few days. Just don’t have them embalm me for five days.”
“The dreams tell me the okra poisoning is a little death, mimicking real death, but that the person sleeps and is not dead. The heartbeat slows down but does not stop. Pay attention and have faith, Toyus. Promise me.”
She nodded and looked at the thick green tea, grimacing.
“How long does it steep for?” he asked.
“Until it is almost cool. Go wake your siblings, please.”
He rose and walked out into the hallway.
She closed her eyes and prayed to Atana to give her strength. If her dreams were metaphors, then she was about to poison herself. Goddess help her, it was not her intent or wish to die, but if she died…Toyus was ready, she thought. He was young, but honest, hardworking and serious. He would make a good king.
She waited until her children had risen and dressed and gathered around her. She looked at each in the eye.
“If my dreams are metaphors,” she began.
Itina burst out weeping and Malida sighed.
Pren wrapped his arm around his younger sister’s shoulders. “Aya–“
“Listen to me,” Malida said. “We’ve talked this to death. I don’t want to talk to any of you about this anymore. I ask you to witness this. I’ve given your older brother instructions. Abide by his word. Do I make myself clear?”
Each of her children nodded.
Emeida and Soena clasped hands.
Malida drank the bitter, slimy tea in one go. She shuddered at the taste and gasped.
It only took a few minutes before her stomach was cramping. The muscle spasms started soon after, followed quickly by a fit. She fell to the ground, insensate. The dream came almost right away.
She saw several young people dressed oddly. They were of different races, but all impossibly young and serious. They were of average height. Something was off about them, but it was not apparent right away. Then she saw that each had a hand that was metallic. They wore their hair close to their skulls and some went completely shaved. She realized these were the Sentinels, the Guardians of the planet, and they were awake and making their way to her. They knew of her, although she could not fathom how. There were two young women and they led the others. There were seven in total.
She knew their names as if by instinct and knew they were connected genetically, although she was not sure what it meant. How could this thing be? How could beings 15,000 years old be connected to her? And how could they be so ancient and appear young and vibrant?
We are not Gods, they told her. Do not worship us.
She could feel her desire to worship them, to believe in something solid and real. And how was Atana involved in all of this? Was the Goddess real?
Her mind whirled with questions.
A sharp pain sliced through her like a knife cutting her soft organs. She shook like in the maw of a great predator. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she saw no more.
Toyus grappled for control of his fear and impatience.
Itina was sobbing disconsolately and the sound of her sobs was grating on his nerves.
He bent and picked up his mother’s slack body, carrying it down the hall to her bedroom, where he lay her on the bed and covered her with blankets up to her chin. If she was in some sort of sleep then her body temperature would plummet. He needed to keep her warm until she awakened once more.
His siblings had followed him into the room and stood awkwardly around the footrest.
He pressed his ear to his mother’s chest and closed his eyes. He could not hear a heartbeat, so he pressed the tips of his fingers to her neck. He felt nothing. He went hot and cold at once. To distract himself, he wiped the foam from the corner of her mouth. Her skin was waxy and pale, with the sheen of perspiration, but it was cold as well.
“What do we do, Toyus?” Pren asked.
Toyus turned to his brother. “We wait five days, as she asked. If, after five days, her body decomposes or she won’t awaken, we contact father.”
Emeida wrapped her arms around her slender body. “Decomposes?”
Toyus sighed. “If she died, she will decompose. If her body remains fresh, then she has not died.”
Soena wrapped her arm around her twin’s shoulders. “How can you sound so callous? This is mother.”
He rounded on her. “I tried to dissuade her, Soena. Did she listen to me? No. Goddess damn you, do you think I don’t love Aya?”
His sister’s eyes grew round. “I’m sorry.”
“She told me not to bury her right away, to give her five days, so I will.”
“Call father, Toyus,” Pren suggested. “Tell him, please. We need father!”
Toyus started. Pren had never acted more than serious and in control. His younger brother’s eyes gleamed with unshed tears and he looked all of his seventeen years.
Emeida took a step towards him. “Do as Pren says, brother. Please.”
Soena nodded. “If the Sentinels are on their way, we need a seventh. Maybe the seventh is Father.”
Toyus swallowed. “What if it isn’t?”
Pren scowled. “This is Father, Toyus. Our father.”
“I know,” Toyus assured his brother.
He took in his siblings’ pleading looks and sighed. “Very well. I’ll send a servant to fetch him.”
Pren released a breath. “Thank you, Toyus.”
Toyus nodded. “I’ll be back.”
He went out into the hallway and then into the yard, where he found Besen and his son, Oskel, raking leaves in the yard.
The servants stopped and bowed.
“May we be of assistance, my lord?” Oskel asked.
“Yes, Oskel. Can you go into the city and fetch our father? Mother has fallen ill.”
The young servant glanced at his father and back at Toyus and bowed again. “Right away, sir. Do I fetch a healer?”
Toyus shook his head. “Father only please.”
“Right away, sir.”
Toyus returned to his mother’s suites.
Warlord Moyen arrived near midday, riding his bahil into a lather. He jumped from the saddle before the beast had even stopped and threw the reins at Besen.
“Oskel is right behind me,” he told the servant.
Besen bowed. “Very good, my lord. Your children are in the Queen’s suites.”
Moyen jogged to Malida’s suites and burst through the door, startling the children.
“Eda!” Pren cried.
“What is going on?” Moyen demanded.
“Calm down, Eda,” Toyus said.
The Warlord scowled. “Do not tell me what to do, boy.” His eyes trailed to the bed, where Malida lay under blankets, looking impossibly pale. He paused. “What is wrong with your mother?”
“It’s a long story, Eda,” Toyus told him.
Moyen released an impatient breath. “Then begin, blast it! I need to know what is going on here!”
“Have a seat, Eda,” Toyus asked.
Moyen frowned at his oldest, but something in the young man’s gaze made him comply without fuss.
Toyus told him everything, his siblings piping up every once in a while.
Moyen gaped, his mind barely able to grasp what his oldest son and heir was telling him. His wife had deliberately poisoned herself because of her visions. Was Othol correct? Was she mad?
He rose. “I’ll send for a healer. Why has none of you sent for a healer? Are you mad as well?”
Toyus stiffened. “And that is why she didn’t confide in you, Eda. You don’t believe her.”
“Fool of a boy,” he snarled. “She poisoned herself. What person in their right mind poisons themselves?”
Toyus paused and sighed. “Father, please. Mother is perfectly sane. Trust her. Trust us, please. Wait here.”
The young man went to the trunk at the foot of the bed and lifted the lid, reaching within. He withdrew a tome and closed the lid, walking to where Moyen sat and handing him the tome.
Moyen read the cover, Ishones Thul, by Belihn Ekesj.
He glanced at Toyus. “What is this?”
“In Mother’s vision,” Toyus replied. “Belihn told her about this book. She found it in the castle vault. It’s several hundred years old, Father. If the Visions aren’t true, how did she know about this book? How is this book even possible?”
Moyen opened the first page and read:
In 310 years a descendant will find this book. Her name is Malida Ekesj. She will awaken the Sentinels when the Sha’jeen arrive from space. The battle between the Sentinels and the Sha’jeen will shake the very foundations of the world. This book is for Malida Ekesj and are instructions for awakening magic. The poems that follow show the way. Everything is clear to those who See and Believe. The rest will never know or understand.
Moyen went hot and cold. The pages and the ink were old, yellowed and faded. He grappled with his thoughts, shaken to his core.
Malida had not trusted him with something so vast and impossible. He grimaced, recalling his reactions to her telling the council about her Vision, about an alien race coming from the stars. Goddess preserve, had all she said been true? He went cold inside and glanced helplessly at his oldest.
“Why did she poison herself?” he asked numbly, thinking she had been in despair.
“Look at page twenty, Eda,” the boy replied.
Numbly, Moyen did as he was told. He saw the drawing of an okre leaf.
Through the okre leaf lies the door to magic. Through death awakens power and sight. Mash the okre leaf in a mortar and pestle and steep in boiling water for half an hour. Drink. You will step through a door into the future.
He looked helplessly at his heir.
“We are all going to do this, Father,” Toyus told him. “If Mother survives. We are six; we need a seventh to counterpart the Sentinels. Fourteen is a holy number.”
Moyen slowly closed the book. “How long before we know?”
“One to five days,” Toyus replied. “If on the fifth day she doesn’t awaken…then we call a healer.”
Moyen scrubbed his face with a hand. “By then she could have brain damage–“
“Trust her, Father. I beg of you.”
Moyen looked at Malida’s still form. He was paralyzed with indecision, which was not like him at all. He looked helplessly at his oldest.
“Let me send word to my second,” he said. “I’ll remain here as long as Malida does. If she survives, I’ll imbibe the poison as well.”
Toyus broke into a relieved grin. “Thank you, Eda.”
Moyen sighed and nodded. “Goddess help me, I don’t know quite what to believe.”