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That which the deep heart knows


Prata- December 3993an

The island was bleak in December, although there was something grim about it even at the height of summer, when the naked sun baked its rocky shores and the scrub covered hills inland. In the grip of winter now, the narrow windows of the monastery of the transfiguration, beneath the lee of one such hill, looked out upon the meagre fields and olive groves of its lands from beneath leaden roofs and domes hunched against a leaden sky, like the sightless eyes of a skull. So it had always appeared, to one of the dwellers within, who looked up from the path on the slopes beneath, pulling her cloak more closely about her. It had snowed a little and the wind had blown thin drifts of it into the corners of the stone walled fields and the little cemetery she approached now.

‘The exercise is surely good for you,’ said the younger woman at her side. ‘Notwithstanding your condition. Although, I wonder that you should choose the cemetery for your destination. I believe the other side of the hill offers a gentler, more cheerful prospect and, today at least, a little shelter from the wind.’

‘I always come here,’ said Adala, with a shrug, pushing at the little iron gate that gave entry. ‘It suits my mood and my circumstances.’ Once therein, with the other at her heels, she stooped to scrape a thin scatter of snow from one of the grave stones that dotted the little enclosure, regarding the inscription pensively.

‘Marielo’, the younger woman read, standing at her shoulder. ‘Just that. One of the monks, I suppose.’

‘Then you suppose wrong,’ said Adala, straightening up, stretching her back carefully. ‘Here lies the mighty Emperor Teradore, who departed this earth more than a hundred years ago. His sons are here, just yonder and there are others too, who wore the purple and paid the price of it. See, there is the great Timon Drakarenos in the corner beneath that slender stone, exiled here by his own sons, much good it did them. Look you now and ponder on the great equality of death. Humble monks and emperors moulder side by side. Look how the great are brought low. This is the graveyard of hope and ambition, the price at once of aspiration and of failure.’

Her broad gesture encompassed the dismal plot with its stones like broken teeth.

‘I see,’ said the younger woman, whose name was Ureni, and who was newly arrived as a maidservant and companion. She glanced about surreptitiously for evidence of a newly dug grave that might mark the resting place of her predecessor.

‘Over there, by the far wall,’ said Adala, with a gesture, divining her companion’s thoughts.

‘And perhaps I shall be next,’ she added, adjusting her cloak once more, turning to look out across the iron-grey sea towards the vague horizon and far beyond to where The City lay.

‘Surely not, my lady,’ said Ureni, brightly. ‘Your physician was most encouraging, was he not?’

Adala said nothing. Ureni, regarding her thoughtfully from beneath her own cloak’s hood, could see that she had once been very beautiful, as everyone said. Even now her face retained the shadow of that beauty, although the skin had shrunk back upon the bone. That little hair disclosed by her head dress was shot with grey now and the eyes that turned upon her were grey too. It was the prevailing colour of Prata, like the colour of the fabled underworld, or of purgatory, perhaps.

‘And you believe him, do you, in all your wisdom and your knowledge? You believe I shall live to see The City once more?’

‘Of course.’ Ureni was about to add something encouraging about hope springing eternal but the words died on her tongue. The wind whipped their clothes around them and the monastery bell began to toll. Long seconds passed, became minutes, or so it seemed. The cold wind gnawed at her bones and it was all she could do to stop the tremor in her jaw.

‘Tell me how you came to be here,’ said Ureni, at last, to break the silence between them, although all the world knew at least the bare outline of that story.

Adala’s mouth twitched vaguely with the rumour of a smile.

‘If you wish,’ she said.

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