Lorne tread carefully along the narrow wooden planks that led to Reyna's home. His coat and hood were soaked completely through, the wetness seeping into his tunic and undershirt, and running along his hair to drip down his face. It was no more than anyone else was experiencing, though. He looked around the usually busy market, finding only a few braving the rain to travel from hut to hut offering wares. Many faces peered out from the dark enclosures, watching the endless dark clouds that came from the east day and night. True sunlight was a thing of the past, real warmth nothing more than a memory now. Everything was so wet that they feared a sickness spreading like wildfire.
Ten days. For ten days, the deluge had continued, the storm's waxing and waning their only blessing. Their fields were ruined and those not yet underwater were molding. An increasing number of their cattle were breaking their legs, becoming trapped in too-deep mud. Their homes were beginning to crumble; the clay that had once filed the cracks was gone and the foundations were washing away. They simply were not a people accustomed to so much of a blessing.
Lorne slipped on the wet wood, his foot sinking into the mire almost to the top of his mid-calf boot. Grumbling a curse, he pulled himself free, continuing on more carefully. Finally he reached the shelter of the overhang on Reyna's home. Her servants had taken the doors and windows from their hinges in an attempt to keep air flowing through, but trapped humidity hit him like a wall as he entered.
One of the waiting girls took his outer clothing and boots away to be hung by the kitchen fire. This front room was small and plain, with simple wooden floors, the usual baked bricks and thatched roofing with no adornments. A large fireplace graced the left wall, with a wool rug, two chairs and a small table. The doorway that led to the other rooms was rather dark, despite the smoking torches that graced every wall in the house. Soft, feminine sobs came from deeper within the Lady's house.
Harmon stood before the fire, his hands outstretched. Judging by his shimmering dark hair he'd only arrived a few moments before. Lorne went to join him. The heat from the blaze was most welcome.
"Any change yet?"
"Of course not," his friend shook his head. "At this point I fear our only hope is that her grieving will ease a little. None of the distractions we've brought to her have had any effect."
Lorne knew this, but it was a failure that promised an end to their lives here. They had tried to tempt the lady to even the look of a smile with everything from newborn kittens to a potential young lover. Nothing deterred her from her grief. That, sadly, was to be expected. Even respected.
"Has my father said anything?" Lorne asked.
Harman shook his head again. "He is as hopeless as the rest of us. I have heard that he sits beside the Lady's bed and watches her with never-moving eyes. I have heard that he has refused all food or drink until she recovers."
"He is a dedicated caregiver," Lorne mumbled the appropriate salute as he decided to peel off his tunic as well, unbuttoning his white undershirt. It, at least, was mostly dry.
Silence stretched between them, disturbed only by the serving girl returning with a couple jugs of good spirits for them, and to take his tunic away as well.
After many minutes, Harman asked, "What will we do, Lorne? It cannot go on like this."
Lorne knew this as well. Their physical culture had already sustained much damage and the people were discouraged. Soon, they would either desert or begin to die. He had done everything within his power to comfort Reyna though, and as her only potential consort that was more than most.
When the Lady Millana had died ten days ago, a violent quaking of the earth had scared them all completely from their skins. The quake had done no serious damage, but on the heels of that had come the fierce storm clouds and frequent lightening strikes. Reyna had borne her birthright by herself for the first time in her young life, and coupled with the loss of her mother, it had simply overwhelmed her. And so the storms continued, then with fierce hurt and power, now with dead resignation and deep loss.
There was one option they had not tried, one for which Lorne prepared himself now. To change her mood, even in the slightest way, would mean they had a chance. Grief was not eternally linked to rain, bless the Mother. Though, he recognized that in Reyna's current state, a change of any kind could bring about something worse. But it was a risk he must take.
Downing the rest of the spirits, he replaced the jug on the table.
"I know you," Harman said. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking," Lorne said as he made his way to doorway that would eventually take him to Reyna's bed chamber. "That it's time to remind the Lady of her responsibilities."
Harman's eyes widened with horror. "You mustn't anger her, Lorne. What will we do if we're gifted with something worse than rain?"
"Our fate is decided if we do nothing; at least this way we have a chance," Lorne said, and then left his friend to travel the dark halls.
Harman muttered after him, "Better to make peace with death this way than create an apocalypse."
Though Lorne knew the house well, he still followed the sounds of weeping. Reyna's bedroom contained the usual things, though everything within had been crafted with the greatest care. There was the writing desk and cushioned chair that stood next to the back door, which led into the house's gardens, and next to the desk was a night stand with little trinkets: sea shells from the northern landscape, a bottle of colored sand from the west, among others. On the right wall stood a loom with a half-completed piece on it, and a basket of colorful yarns beside it. A wardrobe stood against the same wall as the door, and dominating the center of the room from the right side was the four poster bed. The mosquito nets were pulled back, and the canopy draped tied up.
Reyna huddled against the headboard, her mother's pillow cradled in her lap. Her ceaseless tears pooled on the soft cloth, already stained beyond repair. She wore a simple night gown of loosely woven fabric that fastened at each shoulder, leaving her arms bare, and the lack of a belt or some such accessory let the gown flow free around her. A dressing robe of dark purple, simply a long, open ended cloak that gave some decency to her nightwear, was also wrapped around her.
She was killing herself; no food and only a little water had passed her lips in these last ten days. Her cheeks were hallow, her arms thinner and her color paler. Her hair was a tangled mess for she wouldn't let the serving girls attend her.
His heart hurt to see her like this, which only made what he was about to do seem even crueler. This cannot go on, he reminded himself with as much steel of will as he could muster. For her sake and ours, this cannot go on.
"Reyna," he said in his most demanding voice, straightening his spine and widening his shoulders. His father jerked awake, groggy and not understanding.
"Lorne, what in the Mother's name are you…?" he trailed off. Lorne paid him no heed.
"Reyna," he said again, more convincingly this time. "I come here to demand you do your duty by your people."
She sniffled, and slowly her head rose. Swollen, swirling eyes met his, but there was no recognition there, of him or of his words.
"You are Lady now, Reyna, and you've neglected us to utter despair. Your people weep for fear of tomorrow. They've abandoned their crops and their herds and some now consider drowning their children. They think it a kinder fate than enduring this deluge of uncertainty.
"I call you to your birthright, Reyna. Put your grief aside and serve your people; your mother would expect no less of you."
Silence hung between them for several long seconds, then his father, the elder Justen, gasped at him. "What do you think you're doing?"
His focused remained on Reyna and she stared at him as if he'd struck her. Tears still poured down her cheeks and the start of shock graced her face.
Lorne gulped, hating himself as he started to shake. He silently prayed that the late Lady Millana could forgive him using her name, and so soon after her death.
"Lady Millana would demand your complete dedication to your people, not this never-ending grief for her."
Reyna burst into fresh tears and a little scream. The steady downfall outside turned into a storm with a single strike of lightening, rain pouring down so heavily that it formed a solid sheet outside the wooden walls. Then she spoke, her voice broken and high, somehow heard over the great waterfall. "How dare you speak of my mother? How dare you use her memory against me?"
"I dare to point my lady back to her path," Lorne replied loudly, feeling himself slowly go cold as the shivers racked his body. He must push her harder; her focus was still on her mother. "I dare to remind you that you are queen here and that the needs of your people must come before your own."
"My people live on my whim, just as they lived on my mother's. They live if I will them to live and die if it is my pleasure, just as they did for my mother."
"You know as well as I that that is not the power you bear, Reyna. If anything, you live at our will. We have allowed you to grieve. We demand you harden yourself to your loss and return to your duties."
She sucked in a breath and the wild storm abated suddenly, as if the goddesses had simply picked up the clouds and taken them away. True sunlight trickled down to the ground for the first time in ten days.
Reyna's tears did not stop as she stared at him, unbelievable pain marring her, making her tremble so that she seemed she might shatter. "You are cruel."
"Forgive me, love," Lorne begged. "But if you are angry with me, you forget your grief and give our people a chance."
She did not understand, her mind was still so numb with pain and longing, though now it was not so all-consuming that her lands flooded. Lorne remained with her hereafter, afraid to leave her that she might slip back into total despair. He anchored her to the realization of her earthly obligations all the while he hated himself and loved her as simply a woman.
Reyna could never forget her mother, but time was no less effective on her than on others, and eventually the pain became bearable. She realized what Lorne had said had been truth; her mother would expect nothing less from her than everything. She was Lady to these people now, daughter of the Earth, child of the Mother, sister to the goddesses. Their wish was her command and her needs were theirs to meet, and the land soothed her in a way nothing else could, though it bore the scars from the great flood for many generations.