Delita bleeds to death.
nistelle (at) gmail (dot) com
For Alexander Oliva
On the morning of December fourteenth, 1056, Delita Hyral, king of Ivalice, set out with two stewards into the North Wood. It was his custom in the winter months to wake with the sun, hunt until early afternoon, and return to Zeltennia by dusk except on days of snow or intense cold. That particular day was cloudy and chilly, but not frigid, and there was only a light wind.
The king and the stewards, whose names are lost to us, had been hunting a particular white-tailed stag for the greater part of the morning and had trailed it far into the denser part of the forest. There, the king ordered his stewards to dismount and to double back to surround the animal from all sides. All three chocobos were left tethered beside an old encampment; the king took his leave and entered the thickest part of the forest by himself.
It was customary for the king to have the privilege of actual attack, and so the stewards waited at the south and west clearings simply to herd the stag back if need be. However, when more than an hour had passed with no word or signal from the king, they regrouped and returned to the camp find the mounts missing -- a fact that to this day remains a mystery. There was no trace of the king or his whereabouts.
The two stewards searched on foot through the forest until one discovered the king beside the dry bed of what used to be the Strathearn River. On his left side, the king had a deep blade wound stretching from his chest to his ribs; on his right lay his own ivory knife, stained with blood. His bow had been dropped some distance behind. The stag itself was found across the riverbed, dead with two arrows in its neck.
(Most, after reviewing the evidence, agree that no foul play was involved. After killing the stag, the king had apparently drawn his knife in anticipation of some attack or danger, real or imagined, and somehow wounded himself by mistake.)
The two stewards decided that the king should not be moved. He had lost much blood by then and would not have survived a laborious walk back to Zeltennia, nineteen miles away. They decided that one of them should remain, treating the king's wounds as best possible and trying to keep him conscious -- though by this point he was delirious and unresponsive. The other would return with all haste to the castle, there to ride back with a doctor and white mage.
Running nearly nonstop, the steward reached Zeltennia in a little over three hours; the rescue party took fifty minutes and reached the forest at sunset. Unfortunately, they arrived too late. Four hours after being wounded, the king had died.
Delita cannot remember how he injured himself. It couldn't have been long ago, he thinks, ten or fifteen minutes perhaps -- he has kept enough knowledge of war and battle to know when a wound is fresh and when it is not -- but how it got there escapes him. He remembers the chase, a routine of countless winter mornings, and he remembers dismounting and tracking the animal through the trees. Yet afterwards, his memory turns blank -- white, as it has done with increasing frequency over the past several weeks. And here he has awoken, beside a dry river, his right hand slick and slippery from the blood pouring out of his side.
He falls to his knees now, almost as from a sense of duty (when so wounded, one should lose the strength to stand), and places his knife by his side; then all at once he drops to one hand, his breath catching. The pain is shocking, but not from intensity. It is pain heightened with a sense of dread. His life is bleeding out of him; he can feel it go, the heat of him escaping into the chill air. He thinks, again from duty, that he should try to find help, or call for his stewards.
But by then he truly has lost the strength to hold himself up. Every exertion of muscles in his body rubs raw at the wound in his side. With slow, jerky movements, he lowers himself to the ground, there to lie with one hand pressed hard against the wet hot gash.
Minutes pass. Some summons reaches him; his eyes close, and he drops into the past.
Fifty years had Ivalice been without a king, battered by conflict and endless war, when at last in 1008 Delita Hyral ascended the throne. Never in the country's long history had an event been met with such exultation in the part of the people. Delita, the bringer of peace, was universally loved, even adored: he was the glorious war hero, the savior of the common man. The day of his coronation was less a ceremony than a nationwide celebration of parade and festival.
For all the revelry in the streets, however, there was no public crowning, no procession through the royal city. Delita, as all kings past, was crowned in a quiet, private service in the palace chapel -- the world had not yet changed so radically that such traditions were questioned -- on the dawn of his coronation day.
It lasted less than an hour. Afterwards, when he walked out with his queen, a servant stopped him in the corridor.
"My lord," said the servant. He was breathless, as if he had been running. "I have been sent to ask -- that is, your Majesty, if you could --"
"There now," Delita said. He was smiling, both from the young man's enthusiasm, and from the title "your Majesty." It was the first time he'd been called it. "Rest a moment, and then speak. What's your name?"
"Radcliffe, your Majesty."
"Radcliffe. Well, Radcliffe, what have you been sent to ask?"
"For," the servant had turned slightly red, "a statement, good my lord. For the people. It's a tradition, you see, and they await any word from his Majesty, if he wishes to give one."
"Perhaps I should return later, to give your Majesty time to prepare."
"No, no." It was his first duty as king, and he would fulfill it truly, with all speed and sincerity. Just as he'd resolved to so many years ago. "That's all right, Radcliffe. A statement, well."
He paused a moment to think, acutely aware of the servant's flush of wonder at being addressed by name, like someone respected -- like an equal. Delita felt he could see this entire exchange, this scene, from a distance, etched in history: the new king of Ivalice, and his word to the people.
"Tell them," Delita said, slowly, "that I shall serve them, and only them, until the day I die. This is my oath, before the eyes of God."
The servant was, for a minute after, wide-eyed and without words. He seemed touched, overwhelmed. Almost he could have been in the presence of St. Ajora himself.
At last he nodded and said, "I -- yes, I will tell them. Right away." Then he dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and said hoarsely:
"Hail to his Royal Majesty, King Delita!"
Delita wakes with a hiss of breath. He opens his eyes to see brown winter grass beneath him; he is lying stiffly on the ground somewhere. He feels exhausted, old. The whole of his left side is chilled, as if the cloth there were soaked with water. He flinches when he feels a weight on him, but it is just his own prickly woolen cloak. A voice above him speaks.
"Your Majesty? Please stay still, you've been wounded."
It's one of his young stewards. Delita can't remember the boy's name, and has no desire to try. He feels his right hand pressed flat against his side. Reflexively he moves his fingers; they are glued together with drying blood.
The steward puts a second cloak over him; now he is lifting up his surcoat and leather habergeon. "Please, your Majesty, let me look at the wound. I will take care of it. Don't worry, Bemond has gone to find help." The boy's voice is high and weak, difficult to hear.
Delita lets himself be turned slowly over until he is lying on his back, looking at the pale gray sky through the tree branches. He feels cool air on his skin. Now, with every breath, his wound sears with pain and heat.
There is the sound of fabric ripping. The steward is tearing a linen undershirt into strips. "Just lie still, your Majesty. You'll be fine. Bemond will be back very soon. Do you remember how this happened?"
The steward is looking into his eyes. The boy's face is very pale, almost translucent it seems, except for the tips of his ears and nose where it is tinted pink. Delita is unable to focus on it fully.
"It was my ivory dagger," Delita says, and reaches out to where he left it.
"Yes, we found that, please lie back, sire," says the steward. He is now pressing the folded strips of cloth against Delita's side. Delita feels how the fabric becomes soaked through almost immediately. "Why did you draw your knife? Was there some enemy, an animal?"
Delita lies back to look at the sky. "The deer."
"The deer we found across the riverbed, sire, but surely it could not have done this?"
"Is it dead?"
"The deer?" The steward is flustered. "Yes, your Majesty, the deer is dead. But why did you unsheath your knife?"
The sky is dense and pale, the same color as Delita's exhaled breath. So there is that, at least: the hunt was a success. The branches above him have begun to blur. Delita, under two cloaks, feels warm now, though heavy and still, as though he were being drawn into the ground.
"Your Majesty? Sire? Why did you unsheath your knife? Do you remember, sire?"
He closes his eyes.
"His Majesty then proposes to outlaw nobility?"
"No, Malachi, you misunderstand me." Delita, five months' king, leaned forward on his throne and laced his fingers. "Of course not. We can't punish the innocent for a simple matter of their birth. And many nobles -- many former nobles -- have supported us of late."
"Of course." His chancellor bowed deeply. "Forgive me, I wasn't thinking. But then...?"
"Make no mistake, the aristocracy will be eliminated," said Delita. "Class has no place in a civilized society."
He sat back. "Property given to favored families over the years will be reclaimed. And former nobles must renounce their names and take an oath of fealty to the crown within, oh. Three months. Only those who don't agree to the terms will be penalized."
"Yes, sire." The chancellor was writing on a slate. "The penalty?"
Delita drummed his fingers. "Mm. Imprisonment until the end of the year. Let them stew over things. If they still refuse -- death on the grounds of treason."
The chancellor scribbled.
"The women of course will not be blamed or punished for the crimes of their fathers and brothers. Understood?"
"Yes, your Majesty."
"Then make it an edict, starting today."
When Delita regains consciousness he feels, for the first time, confused. It is as though he has left for a short while, on an errand, and returned to find chaos. Where he is -- hard ground, forest, creeping coldness -- strikes him as being utterly wrong, as though he has mistakenly entered the world of some other man. The wind has risen; it chills him.
"What," he whispers, or tries to. His lips move, but he makes no sound. There is a weakness in him that goes beyond age, that goes beyond exhaustion.
What has happened, he wants to ask, but then he remembers: his steward's great face looming over him, the sharp shock of falling to arthritic knees, and before that his ivory dagger, the sudden surprising welling of blood. How much blood? he wonders. How long has it been? Ten minutes, an hour? How much blood?
But he is too weak now. Gently, the roilings of his mind still. He has forgotten what he was thinking about.
Delita becomes aware that someone has been sitting beside him the whole time. It must be the young steward, whose face he remembers. The steward is holding steady some folded fabric against the left side of his torso.
Something occurs to Delita. He laughs softly; then his breath hitches at the shock of pain that runs down his body.
The steward gasps. "Sire. Your Majesty, can you hear me?"
"It's the same place," says Delita.
"The same --" The steward is momentarily uncomprehending. "Oh. The same place. Yes, Majesty, it is, but not for long. We'll be back at the castle soon -- within the hour, I'm sure, it won't be long now."
"No, no," says Delita, but patiently. He will allow the steward time to untwist his thoughts. As for Delita himself, it has all become quite clear to him, this chain of events that began when he alone withdrew his knife and the world blanked to void. He closes his eyes. "This wound. It's the same place."
"The same place, sire?"
"Where Ovelia --" His eyes open wide. "And the same knife."
The ivory hunting knife she had given him so many years ago. It all makes sense now to Delita, perfect sense.
"Ovelia? Does his Majesty mean Queen Ovelia, sire? The first queen, God rest her soul?"
"It was right here, I'm sure of it." Delita's hand creeps toward the bleeding gash. In his mind he can see the scar that had been there for fifty years: a raised pale slit, now broken open.
The steward lays his hand over Delita's. "That's all right, your Majesty. Just relax." He speaks as one would to a child, but Delita is too lost in thought to be annoyed.
"She wasn't strong enough to pierce the muscle," he says. "It was her birthday."
"Sire, you are not yourself. You don't know what you're saying."
"And then I killed her."
The wind picks up, rattling through the tree branches. Dead dry leaves sweep the ground.
The steward slowly removes his hand from Delita's. "Your Majesty," he whispers. "The first queen died of the plague. A sudden contraction of the plague. Don't you... do you remember, Majesty?"
Delita does remember, with astonishing clarity. The long decades between then and now might just as well have been removed, rubbed out of history. "It makes sense now," he tells the steward.
The steward continues to speak, but Delita doesn't understand what he is saying. The wind has risen further, blowing coldly through his hair and his beard, numbing him. Soon, his hand falls limply to his side.
They had worked very quickly afterwards.
Delita had lingered among the church ruins long enough for his chancellor and two guards to come see if something was wrong. The chancellor had reached the garden, and seen the blood, first. He stopped the guards abruptly to block their view.
"I must see his Majesty alone. Now, please."
When they had gone, the chancellor followed beside the red smear on the grass until he reached the crumbling south wall, and came upon Delita.
Everything was explained then. Rapidly the chancellor had asked questions, and here, at last, was something mindless to do; Delita answered them. He told the truth, though he knew the chancellor did not believe it. He could tell nothing else.
"Your Majesty. Please listen, now," the chancellor had said crisply, and taken Delita by the shoulders. "I will take care of all of this. We will clean everything. But no one must know what has happened here. This must remain a secret, always. Do you understand?"
Delita hadn't understood, because the meaning of what had taken place had begun to loom in his mind. How rushed it had been, he thought; how confused and absurd. Surely a thing so enormous could not have happened so quickly?
But he had said, "Yes, Malachi."
They had covered him carefully with two linen mantles and taken him back to the castle with utmost speed and secrecy, as though they were smuggling something of great value. Delita recalled little of the trip, only flashes of the ground passing beneath him and the steady sound of riding; he thought his chancellor might have spoken to him quietly at times. The next thing he remembered was being carried up the rear staircase to his room, and the guards laying him on the four-poster bed very gently, as if they mistook his daze for pain.
"Your Majesty," whispered his chancellor into his ear, "what has happened today is unfortunate, gravely unfortunate, and I won't ask you how it came to be. But in return, you mustn't allow these events to be the end of all you've struggled for. You must never speak of them. Can you imagine what it would do? How the people would view you?
"The Queen has fainted from a fever," he went on. "She has been taken to the hospital at Zarghidas. On hearing the news, you grew weak with grief and had to return to the castle. Do you understand, sire?"
Delita nodded mutely. This seemed to satisfy his chancellor. "The chemist will be here soon," he said. "You mustn't speak to anyone else, or leave this wing, until you have healed."
Before he left, the chancellor placed a hand on Delita's shoulder. "This will pass, Majesty."
Once alone, Delita felt the most curious sensation: like he was new to his body, the strange lines of it, the weight of his organs and bones. The room, too, looked unfamiliar, vast and dim. The bay windows were dark. It would rain soon.
When a knock came at the door, Delita turned toward the sound. He had to think for a minute before he said, quietly, "come in."
The chemist entered, carrying a small medical bag. She was a middle-aged woman in a crisp blue cotton dress, her hair covered by a white wimple. She did not meet Delita's eyes as she closed the door behind her.
"Came to fix your cut, milord," she said quietly.
There was no response. Presently, the chemist looked up, to see Delita staring at the windows.
"Milord," she said cautiously, then grew bolder. "Milord, if you don't mind me sayin' so, I'm just knocked down to meet you at last. I know I shouldn't even be talkin' to you like this, God knows I've not the right..."
Slowly, heavily, Delita turned his head to look at her.
"It's just that durin' the war -- my husband died, and my boys and me, well, we were livin' like animals, like slaves almost, just because we was born low. We used to live on the potato scrapings -- my youngest almost died -- and I never thought or prayed that I could ever get close to where you brought me, milord, never even dreamed it. I thank heaven every day that they gave you us and that's God's truth. And I wanted to tell you, milord, that a saint is what you are. A livin' saint. And everyone I know says the same... but milord, what's wrong?"
For Delita had brought both hands up to cover his eyes, and was shaking his head from side to side.
"Oh, forgive me, milord, I've been blabbering on so long and here you with your side all cut up. I can just mend that --"
"No," Delita said, his voice muffled. "No, please. Please just let me sleep."
"But, Lord, you're bleedin' still."
"Please. I'm sorry. Please just let me be."
The chemist looked as though she were about to say something else, but then something stopped her. She touched a hand to her heart, lightly. "Of course, milord," she said quietly. "You just rest."
She gathered her bag. "They got the best doctors at Zarghidas. They'll help her right quick, milord."
The door closed with a quiet click. Outside the windows, it began to rain.
Delita has lain awake for the past quarter-hour, his eyes half-closed, focusing his attention on breathing. Shallow inhales, painful exhales. He knows someone is nearby -- he's heard shuffles and felt movements by his side -- but he hasn't yet had the strength to talk. Now he tries.
He can only manage two words before he must concentrate on breathing again. "Who's there?"
"Your Majesty!" There is a sudden flustering beside him. The vague outline of a face appears before Delita. "It's I, sire, it's --"
"Collins," Delita manages, on an exhale. He remembers the boy at last. A hunting squire, younger than twenty. Delita can not imagine being younger than twenty.
"Yes," the boy says, sounding tremendously relieved. "Don't try to talk, your Majesty. Help is coming."
"Give me -- a moment." Even now, something in Delita balks at being given orders, even well-meant ones. He breathes as he tries to think. Something may end soon, he decides. It may not; in fact it probably will not, but in case it does, he needs to make sure it is the right ending. The right ending to the right story.
"Collins. I tried," he begins, "to live for -- Ivalice. Its people."
"Oh, no, don't talk like that, your Majesty, please don't."
"Listen. Let me -- speak." There's a long pause. "Tell them: I fought, for them. And my children --" He is astonished at how much he wishes he could be with his children right now. "Tell Clemence -- I am proud of him. And Justus. I am so proud, of them both. And Nora --"
Suddenly he can't think of what to say. The boy is weeping quietly beside him, grasping Delita's hand, and that, he decides, is good enough. He's not sure he knows what he wants to tell Nora, anyway. And there is whiteness at the sides of Delita's vision, and it is all reminding him of a man he knew long ago, and he is glad he can't speak anymore, because what kind of ending would that be -- to speak of a man dead fifty years?
Ivalice had, on that early spring day, dawned cold and dreary, and a light mist fell as the day went on. The royal city, nevertheless, was noisy with news and celebration. Queen Lavinia had given birth to the royal family's third child, a girl they named Honora, only the previous night, and the king was in especially high spirits -- he had said often since the beginning of his reign how much he wanted a daughter. That afternoon he was at his desk, writing invitations for the child's christening the following week, when there came a knock at the door.
"Come in," he said, and continued humming. A footman, in full ceremonial livery and clutching a parchment scroll, stepped in.
Delita glanced over his shoulder. "Ah." He recognized the servant, one of his finest, but his name did not come so easily. "Radcliffe," he said after a pause, and, pleased, turned back to signing invitations. "How can I help you on this most marvelous day?"
"Good afternoon, my lord," said the footman. He fidgeted. "Majesty, the gendarmes bring word that -- they say they have apprehended a former noble, sire. An unregistered one."
"Another, eh?" Delita scanned the calligraphy of an invitation, adjusted the thickness of a flourish. "I thought we'd found them all by now. Very well. Is that the execution order?" He put down his quill and reached toward the parchment in the servant's hand. "I'll schedule it for tomorrow morning."
The footman stared at the king's hand before stepping slowly forward. "Sire..."
"Come on, now, Radcliffe, I haven't got all day. I'd like to have these finished by tonight."
"Yes, but," the footman handed the parchment to Delita, "that is, your Majesty had said he wished to be informed if -- he's from one of the old families, sire."
"Is he!" Delita said, unfurling the scroll. "I was certain they were all extinct. Well, well." He selected a fresh quill, dabbed it on his tongue, and dipped it into a well of red ink. "What family, then? Rusnada? I heard there might be a few of that stock persisting in Goug. Barinten, Drowa?"
"Your Majesty, he's a Beoulve."
Delita stilled. His quill, half-raised, dropped two beads of ink on his desk. After a moment he turned.
"A what?" he asked softly.
The servant would not meet the king's eyes. He spoke, instead, to some point on the carpet.
"A Beoulve, lord."
"A Beoulve. The Beoulves all died during the Lion War."
"Yes, sire, but somehow we must have --"
"The very idea is laughable." But already Delita had risen from his desk; he snapped his fingers, and the silent guard by the door brought him his white-fur mantle, draped it over his shoulders. "You realize the man is lying. Or mad. He could have delusions. Or perhaps you misunderstood him. Perhaps he only worked for the Beoulves."
"Sire, usually I would agree completely, only --"
"Where is he being held?"
"The -- west storehouse."
Already Delita had begun down the corridor. The footman had to struggle to keep up.
"Do you know where the man was found?" Delita asked, through his strides. "Was it Murond? The temple?"
"I'm not sure, Majesty, I wasn't told."
"No, of course not," Delita muttered. "No one's been there for years. In here?"
They had reached the store-rooms.
"Yes," said the footman.
Delita rubbed the fingers of his right hand together as he stared at the door. Finally he decided there was nothing to be found in postponement.
"Thank you, Radcliffe," he said. "You are dismissed."
Delita had already begun to turn the knob, when suddenly a gloved hand covered his own.
"Please, your Majesty." The footman had fallen to his knees; his head was bowed. "Please forgive my inexcusable rudeness, but I must ask you -- I must beg of you, sire, to spare this man's life."
Delita was too astonished to react. He simply stared at the footman.
"I know him, sire -- I knew him. During the Fifty Years' War. I was very young, a child merely, and I served with him. He was never anything but honorable and -- and good, your Majesty, he is a good man. He's nothing like his brothers..."
Slivers of memory began to surface in Delita's mind, slow and steady as echoes heard underwater. A rain-slashed night. Booming footsteps on a church's floor. A woman's scream. Figures in the dark -- a female knight; a black-clad soldier; a man with hair rain-darkened to bronze and a face impossibly familiar. And with them, the flash of a boy: strong, clear gaze, fringe of red hair across his brow.
Rad, they had called to him. Rad.
"Be silent," Delita said, in a hiss. "Still your tongue. And remove your hand before I have it removed from your arm."
The footman obeyed immediately. He was bowing so deeply now that his head almost touched the floor.
Rage had so filled Delita that, for a moment, he couldn't speak, or think. He simply stared, breathing hard, at the footman.
"I will choose," Delita said at last, his voice controlled, steady, "not to have heard what you just said. I will also choose to forget that the punishment for defending nobles is death. But you will get out of my sight, and never return, and if I ever see you again I will personally take your head. Do not speak to me," he continued, raising his voice, when the footman lifted his head. "Get out."
Delita kept his fists clenched as he watched the footman rise, bow clumsily, and stumble back down the hallway, out of sight. He kept them clenched for a long time after, when everything was quiet again, and the only sound to be heard was his own breathing. Then, in an abrupt and violent motion, he turned on his heel and shoved against the door with his shoulder.
Barrels of seed and bundled piles of wheat stood neatly stacked before him; strings of onions and corns hung from the ceiling. Glass-covered windows lined the wall, to let in light and heat, and in the far corner was the threshing machine, locked and bolted to the floor until it was needed again at harvest-time. It made a convenient place to chain prisoners when there was no sense in securing a prison cell.
Delita let out a bark of a laugh when he saw who was there.
"So," he said. "I truly can't believe it. You'd manage to live through Judgment Day itself, Ramza."
Ramza, although he had lifted his head when the door opened, didn't reply. His wrists had been shackled with two iron bands and a length of heavy chain; they rested before him. His breathing was steady, even.
"Come to think of it, how did you -- no, I won't ask. I don't think I'd want to know. To think we'd meet again, here, of all places. I'm truly amazed." Delita had moved closer, studying the face before him, the shoulders, the gauntleted arms.
Ramza's eyes followed him the whole time.
"Of course," Delita continued, "the circumstances are not exactly ideal. I'm sure you've heard about the law outlawing nobility. There was a grace period for nobles to denounce their names and swear themselves over to equality, but I'm afraid that was quite a long time ago. You've hid yourself well, eh, Ramza?"
He didn't answer.
"You understand, then, that I can't let you go. Much as I might want to. The laws apply to everyone now, not just commoners, you see. How would it look if, after years of killing the rare highborn rebel I come across, I should let you walk away? That would hardly be just, would it?"
Steadily Ramza stared at him, his expression inscrutable.
It was beginning to annoy Delita. "So I'm afraid that's how things are. It's unfortunate -- I had hoped that things might end up better between us -- but one can't change fate, can one?"
Still Ramza said nothing. There he sat, calm in his chains, dressed in the same armor Delita had seen him in last: white, bright white -- "blanched by the light of God," as from childhood lessons about St. Ajora -- his hair as golden as a seraph's. And those steady blue eyes, watching him without anger, without fear.
"You," Delita exploded. "You, it was always so easy for you. Follow your moral compass and fight with all your might and emerge triumphant. A hero! Not all of us are so lucky, Ramza. Not all of us are born with that luxury. Not all of us can sleep well at night -- but you wouldn't know about that, would you? No, not you. Some of us, Ramza, have had to sacrifice things greater than family name to save the world. Some of us have had to pay dearly indeed."
His voice grew louder until he was almost shouting. "I'd like to see what would have happened if our places had been switched. You would have crumbled. You would have been crushed at the very first. So you sit there and stare at me and think what you will, but I -- I fought harder than you ever could."
At last, Ramza had dropped his gaze, to his manacled wrists. Blond hair fell over his brow. Delita stood there, watching him, panting.
"Say something, damn you," said Delita finally. "Don't you dare just sit there. Say something to me."
So Ramza looked up at him. Finally Delita could see: his eyes were sad.
"And what did you get, Delita?"
There was silence.
"I--" Delita's mouth didn't seem to work. "I?" He tried to laugh. "I -- didn't want anything. I never wanted anything."
But he knew Ramza, with his relentless blue eyes, could see through his lie. Delita turned abruptly and walked away, to the wall and the windows, where the mist had turned to rain. "I didn't want anything."
He tried to think, soon I will see Honora. My daughter, my baby daughter. But -- Delita's thoughts were cloudy -- but Nora wasn't a baby anymore. She was grown, a grown woman, with children of her own. His grandchildren. But how could that be?
Delita pressed a hand to the cold pane of the window and tried to remember. As he stared into the rain he thought he could see, faintly, a figure lying under a bare and skeletal oak, with someone kneeling beside him.
There was a knocking at the door behind him. "Sire?"
Ramza. Delita had just been speaking to Ramza, on Nora's birthday. But nothing had happened on Nora's birthday -- a noble had been executed the day after, an old Drowa patriarch, but that was it. It hadn't been Ramza. It couldn't have been. Ramza had died ten years ago in Murond. No -- fifty years ago? Delita had never seen him again. Hadn't he?
"Sire, should we take the prisoner to the dungeon?"
The scene at the window, the figure on the ground and the one beside him, grew clearer. The sky was brightening to white, although it was still raining. Raining, Delita thought, or was it winter? But first he had to decide what to do with Ramza.
A decision to make. Suddenly, Delita's mind cleared: he could feel Ramza's eyes on his back. All that Ramza knew and all that Ramza could see, he felt.
"No," Delita said to the window. "No, execute him. Right now. The gallows. Keep it quiet."
Behind him, faintly, he heard a "Yes, your Majesty," a shuffle in the room, a clanking of chains. The sounds did not interest him, however. Through the window now, through the blinding whiteness, he could see something else:
A man standing at a window, old, young, crowned. His back was straight; his shoulders, broad. His arms were crossed. He looked noble -- heavy with his thoughts, heavy with his honor. He looked as a king should. Unless, Delita thought, you knew what was behind him. For Delita, his eyes white, did.