Published on 2011/01/02

Awakening

Emily McIntyre

These are the halls of my remembrance. Men escort me down the long whispering rooms, and in my mind as I pass I see the stern portraits of my ancestors—darkened so with age that even the fine ladies had mustaches—lining the walls now bare and stained. Where once roses stood in their crimson glory there is dust in the corners and a few faded petals, spurned and forgotten.

Where my father once sat and ruled with a golden scepter there sprawls a tall man, broad across the chest, with a fair ragged mane of hair that he tosses like a lion. There is a scent of sweat, and of saddle oil, and of blood about him. I do not bow.

“You are the scholar Alred.” He is not asking a question in his flat booming voice. I incline my head, slowly, casting about with my inner sight. Why in this dead room is my gift-sense prickling?

“This is my daughter Mea.” One square-tipped finger—sienna lines of dirt around his broken nail—points to a puddle of misery at his feet. “Look at the man, Mea!” There is great anger in his voice, and disappointment. The puddle sways under it, and lifts its head. I see a face—a pale, ugly face with huge brown eyes the shape of silver coins, a little flattened on the corners. White hands, still and frail, clasp together like crippled birds. I recognize the trembling emanations around her. She is a carrier of the gift of healing, and does not know it.

Only her eyes stare at me and they reveal nothing.

This is how I meet my last student, daughter of the duke of Westfall who murdered my father in his sleep. The girl—perhaps of fifteen summers—is a solitary wraith amongst a castle full of living men. She rarely speaks. She drifts through the days like a flower petal on the wind. It is not hard to see that something once cruelly injured her spirit and that although she will one day rule in her father’s place she cannot bear to face him.

I admit that I have no care for her. I was compelled to come, to come away from my silent dwelling in the North to a castle long distasteful to me. I am merely waiting out the days until I step over the misty bridge into the world beyond.

They place me in a room next to Mea’s. It is a pleasant room, with a fireplace to warm my aching bones and a window overlooking the wide Western moors. As a boy I had roamed freely there. Now I can only stand and gaze, and wonder dimly how I lost that delight experienced then, when the sun rose and pierced me with its dazzling rays. Long ago.

This heart of mine had slept, and sleeping had withered. Now Mea, unaware, begins to awaken, enervate me. I notice this first when she brings me a rose.

We stand in the garden—long neglected but still bearing traces of its former grandeurs—and a strangled sound from her causes me to turn. She takes a hesitating step toward me. In her hand is a rose.

It is torn and trampled, and lies in her thin hand like a dead thing. Crimson petals drip between her fingers and form a tiny pool at her feet. A single tear runs along the curving line of her nose and makes a dark dot on her frock.

“Mea,” I say. Her eyes seek mine. Another tear trickles down her cheek. I reach out and wipe it away, the paper-thin skin of my finger rasping against the rosebud softness of her cheek. She flinches but does not drop her gaze.

“You can heal this rose.” My voice is no sweeter than the black-backed crows above us, but she only watches me the closer. There are no more tears.

“Fix your eyes on the rose, Mea.” Her lashes deep black shadows on her cheek.

“Think of this rose, whole, alive.” A pulse beats in her throat. Evening slanting across the sky tints her skin a pale mother-of pearl.

The rose, drooping in her outstretched palm, gains a richness of color. The tattered leaves slowly grow whole again, their jagged edges like green knives. The petals, bruised, fainting, revive and lift and multiply until I see before me a perfect rose like the roses of my youth.

I have not realized that I had stopped breathing until she gasps and breaks into a hoarse laugh. The breath rushes into my chest in a stinging draught. I remember the heart within my breast which I had thought forgotten. Mea’s slumped shoulders straighten and a faint glow of excitement touches her cheeks.

I think I am happy now. But when she steps forward—her feet are bare, and dappled with the evening dew—and tucks the rose into the collar of my faded scholar’s robe, I taste delight.

“Alred,” she says in a voice like the moonlight, “thank you.”

And thus it is that my heart awakes.


Emily McIntyre enjoys writing non-fiction and creative fiction, reading fantasy, and studying classic literature while listening to her I-pod on scramble. You may find her espresso and coffee-house-related articles at Examiner.com, Kansas City. Her fiction has been featured in Midwest Literary Magazine, among others. A celtic harpist and vocalist, Emily also enjoys playing around the state of Missouri in a variety of venues and under a range of weather conditions.