Verse yet to be determined.
The Royal Garden
Stev’n tried to distract himself with the beauty of the sun rising.
The blasted recurring dream he'd had for many years. It gnawed at him. Just as it had all too often confused him.
Only recently had he remembered any part of it after waking. Before that, all there’d been was a lingering feeling of unease and an unassuageable longing.
This morning, he remembered trees as tall as the sky, blocking the sun. There’d been the loud crunching of leaves underfoot. And him kicking a man. A dead man. "Gui Gui, Wake up!"
Blackhawk had come to the garden, as the queen’s missive instructed. Sitting on a cold stone bench, he wondered why she’d called him.
The rustling of silk caused him to rise, turn and bow in a single motion… only to suppress a gasp as Caileagh approached with Ush-Wha behind her.
Where’s the queen?
The former Lady of Lorness motioned to Ush-Wha, who remained a respectful distance away. Then Caileagh curtsied and bowed her head to him. “I…”
“Madam Melazera, I was expecting someone else.”
“Ambassador… Blackhawk…” She stumbled over the words. “The queen… that is, she asked for your presence, on my behalf, so that I… could ask for… your forgiveness.”
Stev’n remained silent. His lips pressed firmly together. His brow furrowed. He did not understand this game, only that there must be some underlying malice. There always had been.
“I… I don’t know why… or if… you’d grant it,” she continued. “You must wish me dead… like Gaelib did. I deserve it. I cannot make amends. Not for… for the many things that we… that I… did to you. But…”
“Yes…?” He couldn’t see the trap. Yet, it had to be there. She couldn’t have changed that much. Even if she had, he wouldn’t risk being a pawn in another of her wicked amusements.
“I... took something from you long ago...” She drew a velvet bag from her pocket and offered it to him.
Stev’n did not want to touch it, or even acknowledge it. Yet, in the distance, Lady Ush-Wha winked at him. Daring him. Challenging him. Again. He could not show weakness in front of her.
With a steady hand, he accepted the bag and opened it carefully, very aware whatever it contained could be drugged or poisoned. Within was a gold necklace with a strangely engraved pendant, octagonal in shape with a black hawk in its center.
It was… familiar.
He looked at Caileagh with questioning eyes that turned dark. “This was mine?”
She nodded. “When I took you off the street…” She took a deep breath.
If Stev’n didn’t know better, he’d think Caileagh glancing at Ush-Wha was her seeking support. But that couldn’t be.
The dark-skinned woman from the far South nodded to the former noblewoman. Then, she winked at Blackhawk again.
“You,” Caileagh’s voice steadied, “appeared to be an orphan, but your clothes had been well-crafted. I… found this pendant hanging from your neck under your shirt. If I’d made the heralds aware, you could’ve been reunited with your family… but… I wanted to keep you... as a trophy.”
Emotions warred within Blackhawk as he looked at the symbol. He could not meet Caileagh’s gaze. He wanted to end her on the spot. He also wanted her to live a long, long, long life doing penance for – atop every other misdeed she’d inflicted upon him – she’d stolen the life he could have had. A life of…
Memory of this pendant was why he’d named himself Blackhawk.
His expression became cold. His callous eyes bored into her. “Who am I?”
“I don’t know.” Caileagh stifled a sob. “But, Lady Ush-Wha thinks she’s seen this crest. In Alexandria.”
Again, the woman from the far South winked. This time, followed by a predatory grin.
Stev’n turned away. Yet more thoughts, feelings – and events – flooded through him. He hated Caileagh more than ever. Despite believing her repentance was probably genuine. He hadn’t at first, but observing her during the weeks of the trials and since, he mostly believed. Or, wanted to.
Concealing his emotions, he turned back. His expression was warm, pleasant and polite. A line from the Writings repeated itself over and over within: what the serpent meant for evil, J’shua could use for good.
He took Caileagh’s hands in his and looked into her eyes. It took all his resolve, but he got the words out. “I forgive you.”
“I hope it helps you find your family. Perhaps when you pass through Alexandria on your way to Ush.”
“Thank you. If you’ll excuse me, you’ve given me a great deal to think about.” He bowed and walked away, his back straight, his stride firm, as it finally struck him.
I’m not a foundling.