Chapter 9—Serious Dreams
A gentle tune drifted through the Queen’s suite—strum and pluck of guitar strings, humming, then silence. A chord change, more strumming, then silence. Mara sat on her bed, leaning against the bedpost, guitar in her lap, pencil in her teeth. She scribbled a note on the score beside her, then picked the changes.
The windows on either side of her headboard showed a jewel blue sky full of sunlight. She remembered a morning here with Jonathan and all that light falling on them, how he had squinted against the light to watch her, just like this. She ran through a tricky fingering, tested her voice, and looked at the interface sitting next to her on a pillow. Pictures of Jonathan and newspaper clippings of them littered the bed and spilled onto the floor. She touched the ‘record’ light on the interface and sang to him.
You are the Sun,
I am the Dew
Gifted with life for a moment or two
That I for my time
May sparkle and shine
O, Sun, come fill me with you
You are the Wind
I am the Sail
You are my strength and without you I fail
Breathe but a sigh
And I’ll open wide
O, Wind, come fill me with you
The soundboard of the guitar resonated against her belly, filling her with warm vibration. She smiled, rocking back and forth.
You are the Wine
I am the Cup
I can yield nothing ‘til I am filled up
Hold me upright
And pour in your life
O, Wine, come fill me with you
O, Wine come fill me
O, Wind come fill me
O Sun come fill me
“Majesty?” a familiar voice whispered.
Mara stopped singing and looked again at the windows. A face seemed to be hidden in the bright blue.
Her arm felt so heavy—she dropped her guitar.
“No, don’t leave.” Her body wouldn’t move. “Wait for me.”
The Queen’s eyes snapped open. Prime Minister Cabot bent over her. Long, vine-like willow branches draped behind him against a blazing blue sky. He gripped her arm, giving it another shake as her eyes fluttered. Mara lay in the cradle of the old willow’s roots, deep in the west garden. She pushed herself upright.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, still wading through the tatters of her dream. “I thought I’d just rest here until you came. I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
Cabot’s frown deepened. “You slept like the dead. There’s a flu going around—half my office is out with it. Maybe you should see your Doctor Deborah.”
“I have seen her.” Mara pulled her trousered knees up to her chin and patted the dirt in front of her. “Sit down, Colli.”
The Prime Minister eased himself down, his eyes never leaving his Queen’s face.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
“What…” Cabot started to grin, then froze. “Archer’s child.”
Mara watched him carefully. He looked ridiculous, sitting in the dirt in his expensive suit; his pant legs rucked up exposing pale, hairy flesh above his socks. But, his eyes turned hard, then soft, then hard again.
“Who else knows?” he asked.
“Only you and Deborah. I won’t be able to hide it forever, though. I thought we should have a strategy.”
“Yes,” he said softly. “Of course.”
He straightened up and squared his shoulders. Looking out past the willow branches, he continued thoughtfully. “The anti-South/anti-Earth movement will use this.”
Mara nodded. “I’ll be the naïve monarch co-opted by Earth’s agent. A puppet. They’ll see an Earth agenda behind everything I say and do.”
Cabot made a face, pulled on his ear. “And… Callindans love nothing more than family. If the people’s Queen chose an Earth man after all these years of infamous celibacy, what must that say about Archer’s character? And Earth’s character by extension? Archer is your family now. That makes him closer to all of us. This pregnancy may work more in our favor than against it.”
“We have a couple of months before we need to do anything.” Mara hugged her knees. “Deborah said there are potential problems. I’m too old to be a first time mother. Also, my mother’s tendency to miscarry might be something I inherited.”
“But, you want this baby,” Cabot said.
Mara smiled at him, thinking of Jonathan. “Yes.”
“Then, we act from that fact, whatever the outcome.”
Mara took a quavery breath and looked her Prime Minister in the eye. He smiled dearly.
“Whatever the outcome,” she agreed.
They walked in silence back to the Palace. The early Quatora flowers, the ones in bloom when Jonathan walked this path with her, were lost among the later blooms. Tall stands of sturdy tulips and daffodils pushed back the delicate Krystalins and Duck’s Fluff. Mara stopped and picked the last few Maiden’s Bright, spots of orange buried in the green. She remembered Jonathan bending down to examine their touch-sensitive heads, his bark of delight when one tangerine blossom closed around his fingertip.
“Are you staying for Adrianna’s Farewell?” she asked, twirling the delicate flowers between her fingers.
“No. I have a meeting with Horatio. It looks like the first spring hurricane will make landfall near Aqualegia. We need to mobilize the Guard.”
Mara nodded. “Supplies?”
They stepped up onto the tiled Avenue behind the Palace. The west wing’s back door stood open. Music, laughter, bursts of conversation tumbled out mixed with the yeasty aroma of Elspeth’s pastries. Cabot turned toward the door.
“You’re still going North tomorrow?”
“Yes. Jakaya Brown resigned.”
Cabot grunted. “I’m not surprised.”
“Kerner’s beside himself.” Mara shook her head. “I’ve never seen him take a political maneuver so personally.”
“It’s always a shock when an ally turns into a critic, and then an adversary.”
“I wonder how long Jakaya’s been planning to run against Kerner?” Mara turned at a loud burst of laughter. “Years, I suppose.”
“He’s an opportunist, just like Robby said.” Cabot frowned. “The anti-South/anti-Earth factions are gaining strength in the North, and Kerner can’t appease them fast enough. Jakaya’s using that to his advantage.”
“We all use what we can, Colli,” Mara said mildly. “Kerner will use my trip North to strengthen his standing with the moderates. I’ll use the trip to remind Northerners how benign and helpful we are in the South.”
She paused and watched her old friend. “Jakaya has asked to meet with me when I get to Holyoak.”
Cabot barked a sour laugh. “What nerve! That would be completely improper!”
“It would be if I saw him without Kerner.”
“You’re not considering it!”
“I told Kerner, and he wants to do it. He thinks it would be an interesting meeting for all three of us.”
“I don’t like it,” Cabot said flatly. “I don’t know what those two are playing at, but you need to stay out of it.”
“Really.” Mara teased him.
“But, of course you won’t.” His face remained serious, his eyes dark and dangerous when he looked at her. “Something’s wrong up there, something more than politics as usual. Be very careful, and keep your people close.”
Mara blinked back a trill of fear as Cabot marched away from her. She watched him cover the tiles at an intense, quick clip.
He’s just watching out for me, she thought. Just like always.
But, as she entered the side door, she thought she might have another talk with Ra before the night was over.
Marapura walked arm in arm with Yvette along the evening streets. Her simple silk shift whispered against the light shawl trailing from her shoulders. The night air sat damp and still over Mandalay. Behind them, Ra and his detail kept a respectful distance. Ahead, the temple glowed with candlelight.
“I’m so pleased you asked me to join you tonight,” Yvette said. “It’s been years since you and I have done anything together, just the two of us.”
“I find myself hungry for family lately,” Mara said, tucking her cousin’s arm tighter to her. She could feel Yvette’s scrutiny.
“Have you been able to reach Captain Archer on the radio-thing he gave you?”
Mara let her heart slow before she answered. “Not directly. No matter what instructions the Enterprise sends, Jasper can’t fix the delay. It takes over a day for our messages to travel back and forth. And now Ambassador Running Bear is in contact with us, but his messages take even longer.”
“At least everyone can send and receive—that’s the important part.”
Yvette leaned closer. “But, it would be nice to talk to him face to face, wouldn’t it?”
“Vettie,” Mara warned.
“You forget that I was here when Benjamin Gibson kissed you all those lifetimes ago. We huddled in your bed, whispering all night.”
“Goodness, you were on fire.” Yvette tilted her head up and smiled. “Lit up from the inside like a lantern. I never saw you like that again, and I made sure to check on you after each disastrous social coupling your father’s staff set up. No, I never saw you like that again, not until you and Captain Archer came to dinner.”
“I got frightened,” she continued, “frightened for you. To protect your heart for so long, then give it to a man you’d never see again… well… it’s a bad piece of drama, that’s all.”
Mara considered her next words carefully. There was no point denying a relationship with Jonathan since her body would announce it in time. But, neither would she indulge in Yvette’s romantic notions of a tragic, impossible love. The truth, if there was an actual truth, resided outside that spectrum. Some third point, not a part of the other two, held whatever meaning she and Jonathan brought together. And Mara had no idea what that third point might be.
She patted her cousin’s hand. “Do you remember the question Father used to ask us when we ran to him with our broken hearts?”
“How could I forget?” Yvette laughed. “Uncle Jacque was so cryptic, so romantic!” She lowered her voice and quoted, “Consider, girls—is love worth the pain?”
“I always thought he asked us that to make us stronger, to prepare us for all the drama, as you call it.”
“Of course,” Yvette said. “He was sick even then. He knew he didn’t have much time left to protect you.”
Mara closed her eyes to the warm kiss of night air. “I asked Adrianna that question today. She feels what many Callindans feel now—lost and insignificant. But, she also allowed herself to fall in love with her guest, Commander Tucker.”
“Oh, no,” Yvette tsked. “She knows better than that.”
“Yes, she does. So, I asked her ‘is love worth the pain,’ thinking I could show her a way back to herself. Do you know what she said?”
“Adrianna said, ‘Of course, love is always worth the pain, Majesty. It’s how we know we’re alive.’”
They ascended the old stone steps and passed through the temple’s high wooden doorway. Incense hung thick in the domed sanctuary, wafting sweet and pungent. An acolyte played a wooden flute to welcome those who wished to meditate together. The women pulled cushions from the back shelves and sat within the concentric circles created by the seated spiritual community. Soon, the flute stopped. A bell sounded. Mara adjusted her position on the cushion, closed her eyes, and breathed.
First she anchored her body, noting the pressure on her seat and knees, straightening her back, feeling her breath flow in and out of her nostrils. Then, she found her center—a heaviness in her belly—and focused her attention there. Finally, she let her mind stretch out to touch the others gathered and beyond.
Mara’s mind jumped from scene to scene, thought to thought. From Yvette’s probing to the sound of Adrianna’s sure voice, from Collier’s warnings to her last conversation with Kerner Kelly, her mind scampered and bolted from restraint. She continued to breathe and bring her attention back to her breath until the images and voices fell away. She floated for a time, breathing in, breathing out. Body disappeared. Emotion flattened. Mind settled.
She felt the presence of More—that which was beyond her and within her. Her sense of calm deepened. Supported and suspended in No-time and No-space, she breathed in and out.
When the bell sounded, Mara opened her eyes slowly, stretched her hands, straightened her legs. Beside her, Yvette unfolded from the cushion.
In the outer circle, Lama Ki began to speak.
“We are so very lucky,” he said, his rich saffron robe full of candlelight. “We have been shaken, enough to cause pain, enough to wake us from our dream of reality. If we chose, we can break free of this dream and see the possibility of More. It will take courage. It will take stamina. It will take Will. An easier path is to be frightened, and to act from the fear. But this is not helpful to those on the Path. See the fear. Name it. In this way, the courage will come.” The Lama placed his hands over his heart and bowed low. “Be at Peace.”
Slowly people began to rise, put away their cushions and leave. Mara saw Briank across the room. He moved slowly, as if he were in pain. Robby had told her Briank was fine, pining for Ensign Sato, but fine. She wondered how he would answer her father’s question.
Mara rose and made her way to the front of the big room. She stood patiently behind two other seekers, waiting for her time with the Lama.
“Master,” she said at last, bowing. “Can you tell me? How frightened are the people?”
Lama Ki nodded. “It is right for you to ask. The temples in Azteca tell me attendance has doubled. Similar increases in attendance are happening across the continent.”
The Teacher folded his hands. “Normally, I would welcome these new seekers with delight. But they are too many, too quickly. Desire for a connection to the All does not drive them. Fear drives them. With such fear comes clouded minds and wrong action.”
Mara closed her eyes and took a breath. “I understand the situation is worse in the North.” She looked into the Lama’s deep, kind eyes.
“That is my understanding as well,” he said.
“I go to Holyoak tomorrow. Can you give me any advice, Master?”
Lama Ki smiled and took her hand. “Follow your heart, as always, Marapura. All people are your people. Blessings on your journey.”
“Thank you, Master. Be at Peace.”
They bowed to each other, then Mara rose, allowing the next seeker his audience with the Teacher. She found Yvette waiting by the door.
“Did the Master give you anything useful?” Yvette asked.
“No.” Mara pulled the shawl over her head. Unconsciously, her hand slid across her abdomen. “As always, the answer lies within.”
Jonathan’s tight face peered into the screen of the interface. The gray room around him held dark shadows. A tiny light cast a pool of white near his folded hands.
“It’s been five weeks since the attack,” he said. “And it will take at least two more to reach Earth. This wait…” He pressed forward slightly. “…is unbearable.”
Taking a breath, he pushed himself back in his chair. “The only thing that helps is your letters. I don’t know how you do it. Your songs, maybe.” His mouth twitched. “I’m writing poetry to keep my mind occupied. I hope they don’t offend your musical sensibility.” His mouth twitched again, a bit more of a smile.
Some people say that the miles make no difference
But miles are the distance between you and me
So watch out for love, it’s not gold ‘cause it glitters
And cheap reminiscence isn’t worthy of you.
All that you ask me is that I remember
That I remember what we’ve been through
All that I’m saying is that I remember
That I remember you.
It’s not all or nothing, it’s not worth the giving
Love’s not worth the living until it’s put to the test
And one promise made doesn’t mean I’m not buying
It just means I’ll keep trying even more than the rest.
There’s no sadness in leaving if you leave for a reason
And the best of our reasons is to come back again
And the tears in the evening can bring joy in the morning
If you just keep believing that love finds the way.
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Click here to read Chapter 10.