The color of magic

She had thought a member of the undead might be more dour than this.

Fletcher laughed. “You don’t keep anything back, do you?”

Nemissa paused for a moment. “What do you mean?” Some understanding dawned on her. “I am quite tactful.”

“One can be forward without being blunt.” Fletcher showed her son his magic again, taking up drops of paint in a rainbow between his fingers, mixing the colors together and pulling them apart. She was as fascinated by this as the child was. However, Nemissa could still keep up conversation, while her son was content to keep silent and watch the show.

“Am I overstepping a boundary?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Not at all. I simply wasn’t expecting a question like that. I’ve found that many are. They start out that way and if they haven’t, they grow into it. I’ll admit at first I was in the former camp. But dourness truly is a choice in this manner. I much prefer a positive outlook.”

“Then we have a shared perspective. Even when things go badly, continuing to look at further ill can’t make it better.”

“Sometimes nothing can make something better.” Fletcher smiled up at her. “Yet trying to, regardless, can create something else good where there might not have been any.”

With conversations like this, Nemissa couldn’t determine for the life of her, if the rest of the humanoid undead were in anyway similar to Fletcher, why people might fear the undead.

Twenty one

The Baroness of Castlehaven’s birthday was a grand event, whether she wanted it to be or not. Not that she minded too much, giving the people another excuse to celebrate was always welcome.

Their conversation was interrupted every other minute, from those who wished Nemissa well on her birthday, to those who wished to say hello to her son, or to Fletcher. Those who beckoned them to their stalls, for food, games, trinkets. There was barely a moment to speak, but when there was Fletcher tended to get to the point.

“You are twenty one?”

Fletcher sounded surprised, for a reason Nemissa could only attempt to guess at. “Yes. Do I seem younger?”

He laughed. “What a trap of a question!”

Schooling her face, Nemissa made sure not to smile as she continued. “Then I seem older.”

“You look like a young woman, where time stands still as to make one immortal. I guessed at a different age because of a different culture, not because of your appearances, my lady.”

“I accept that explanation,” Nemissa said. “What part of your culture does mine differ from?”

Fletcher stopped to look at the glass fish, colors reflecting off his eyes in a way which fascinated her. “Your son was born when you were seventeen. You seem older by way of mental maturity which isn’t apparent in the youth of other cultures.”

Nemissa reached out, plucking a blue fish from the selection as her son gestured at it. “That is the case here as well. My own youth was something I brought with me when I came here, I suppose.” A thought struck her and she gave a sidelong glance at the undead before beginning to pay for a large assortment of fish for her son’s friends who would be around somewhere. “How old are you?”

Fletcher laughed again. “Another trap? I should be embarrassed to answer.”

He didn’t seem embarrassed, but he also didn’t answer. She had the feeling it wasn’t something dramatic, but that would seem odd in comparison to the age of the living. Nemissa didn’t ask again.

What is still close

“You have done well by your people, my lady.”

Nemissa nodded, watching as Fletcher picked up his cup. He ate, drank, much like any other being. Other than the oddities of his appearance, she wouldn’t have called him undead. “I have been left with the best of tools to do well by.”

“No one has answered me about what happened to the Baron of Castlehaven.”

In an instant, Nemissa felt her breath leave her. A subject she had never thought to speak of again, brought up by this stranger. He appeared to notice how his lack of decorum affected her.

“I apologize. That was improper of me, nor any of my business.”

“I suppose it is curious, a baroness without her baron.” Her reply was nearly breathless. She should have had more control then that, but for some reason she didn’t. For some reason it hurt all over again, right when she couldn’t afford for it to. Not with anyone around.

Fletcher hesitated. “More that your son has no father. My apologies. Again, it is none of my business. And it certainly has had no outwardly ill affect on your heir. He is a delightful child.”

Nemissa could breathe again. “That he is. I almost don’t deserve him.”

The undead chuckled. “Almost?”

“I am the Baroness of Castlehaven.”

“Ah. Good point.”

When she first heard of him

Nemissa first heard of him from her trusted chamberlain. He spoke of the newcomer in a rather absent manner during his morning report, occupied as she was with brushing her son’s hair.

“It appears as though a member of the undead has arrived in town.”

Nemissa settled her son in his chair, smoothing his black curls back. “Undead?” she asked Tumelo. “In what way? I thought revival was impossible.”

“That is simply the umbrella term for the creatures who should be, by all rights, dead, but are alive. Other societies shun them for this difference. Your people have also had little experience with such things, but haven’t found themselves worried about him. He has been in town for a week and has been warmly welcomed.”

Nemissa thought about that for a few moments. “That’s interesting. I would like to meet a member of the undead.”

“That would be wise, my lady. While he has not come to introduce himself as a representative, he most certainly is to your people, no matter his true status. It would be quite strategic to learn who he is, why he is here, and make certain that terms remain positive for both he and Castlehaven.”

Nemissa smiled, pressing her lips against her son’s head for a moment before letting him toddle off the chair and try to make his way around the room. “Those are all important, Tumelo, but I also have another reason: pure curiosity. As you must have guessed from my question, there are no such concepts where I came from.”

“Where come from, Ma’mer?”

“A place far away from here, my flower.” She watched as he interested himself in a cabinet. “Is he staying at the Eternal Drink, Tumelo?”

“Yes, my lady.”

Nemissa tore her eyes away from her son long enough to look out the window. “Then I might go and see him there.” She ignored the very mild protests of her chamberlain, who suggested that he be invited up here to meet her. He was used to her doing this.

Everyone was.

The months after

Honestly, Nemissa changed nothing when the refugees began filtering in. Her city did it for her and she allowed it. Truly she could have asked for no better people than those she could claim to be Baroness of.

“Ma’mer, what?”

It was her son’s favorite thing to do: ask questions. She lifted him up in her arms so he could better see the construction going on around the harbor. “Construction. A new dock, for the new workers. New knowledge of the water, combined with our old knowledge. They’re building a shipyard there. See?” She pointed toward it, watching his eyes light up. Nemissa didn’t know how much of it he understood, but if he kept asking she would keep answering.

He looked to take after her much more than her late husband. In some ways she regretted that. In others… she hoped he was more her than the Baron. She pushed the thought away. Gods, she missed him. All what he had done while ill… not so much.

“Ma’mer?”

She snapped out of it. “That’s where they are going to build a trawler,” she continued. “A big ship that will catch a lot of fish with a net. Shall we go see where the trawler will be?”

He smiled and laughed. Whatever he understood, it cheered him more than anything else could cheer others.

“Then let us descend, my son.”

With her son in arms, Nemissa would walk out of her castle and see the changes of her lands.

The Baron of Castlehaven

The inhuman roar preempted the shaking of the doors by a total of five seconds. Nemissa’s breath caught in her throat. Either mucus or blood streamed down from her nose, she couldn’t tell. It would all feel the same in a moment.

“My lady?”

“There’s nowhere to run now. He’s here.” Giving up wasn’t an option though. She didn’t have that opportunity. “Where is my son?”

“Safe.”

“Thank you,” she told her chamberlain. Wiping off her face, she saw that very little of it was blood. Satisfied, she stood up on her chair.

“My lady?”

“Be ready to defend yourself.” Nemissa yanked the window curtain down, jumping back off of the chair as the rod clattered to the ground. She knelt down, picking it up.

The chamberlain swallowed, then cast his eye about. “Y-yes, my lady.”

He would hesitate to strike against his lord. As much as she would hesitate to strike her husband. But the man out there was no longer her husband. Whatever this illness had done to him, he was no longer there.

She shifted her hands around the rod and faced the doors. They shook again – they wouldn’t be able to hold up for much longer. “Ready?”

Her chamberlain had picked up a chair. Less reach, more mass. “As much as I can be.”

“That makes the both of us.”

The creature then entered the room and the two of them descended upon the Baron with their weapons.

Her lands

Nemissa stared down at the waters from the precipice of the rocky crag. Castlehaven’s shore was not a welcoming place. There were not stretches of warm sands and easy tides. Those who fished here were as sturdy as the outlying stone which bordered the ocean. She had fished in the rivers near her home, but it was not the same process at all.

“You don’t need to learn everything,” the Baron had said. “But understanding the daily toil of our people is good.”

Nemissa had squared her shoulders. “If I’m to start, why wouldn’t I finish?”

He had not dismissed the idea. She was certain her new husband would not mind either way, as long as she had learned something. She pulled her long, long curling hair back from her face, binding it behind her back as she continued to view the pearl of her new oyster. The sea.

“My lady?”

She turned to the Master Fisherman, who had arrived with his journeymen. She pictured herself, figuratively and eventually, among their ranks.

“I’m ready.”

The Baroness of Castlehaven

When Nemissa moved into her husband’s castle, she knew she might get in trouble.

The bed was huge and the mattress even more exquisite than the ridiculous ones her parents had always bought for her. Of course it was for two, there was that impression her new husband had to make. She supposed it was new, just for this fact. Probably even more comfortable than it had any right of being.

All she wanted to do was jump on it. She sat down on the edge of it and carefully removed her shoes. Fortunately, her dress came down far enough that no one would be able to tell, if anyone were to come in. Pulling her legs up on the bed, she pushed herself to stand upright again and bounced a little bit.

She could never do this with her previous beds. Her body went up and down, the fight against gravity real. Nemissa couldn’t help but smile. This was what she had wanted when she was a girl. Other than all of the swimming and climbing… bouncing on a bed. She bent her knees and jumped as high as she could, repeating it as soon as she hit the mattress again. Her dress flared out around her, probably showing off her feet and ankles to anyone who came in. Which was no one. A giggle escaped her.

“Nemissa?”

Nemissa was not easily embarrassed. It was not in her nature, nor in her station. As she stumbled and turned to the door, where her husband stood. Was he appalled? Amused? She flushed.

Then she said the only thing she could think of to salvage the situation. “Care to join me?”