Salis and Dulcine

Standard
Digital drawing of a young woman facing and leaning forward, seen from the waist up, eyes closed, right hand held out, left arm thrown back. Her face and right hand are tattooed. Silvery-black streams flow all around her.  Behind her to her right are the spectral figures of a smiling young woman holding a young man in a headlock, surrounded by orange light.  Behind all of them is the faint facade of a manor house. 

Long ago in times that have now passed into myth, much was different in the newborn world.  Moths the size of hawks once fluttered through the sky.  The rings on the ringed planet cast a glow upon the face of the new moon.  The molten core of the world flowed not only with lava but with magic.  And human beings wept tears that were sweet not salty.

It came to pass that two were born upon the earth to the same mother, one right after the other.  Twins were rare in those days.  The brother was born first, only moments before the sister.   

Even when they were still babies, people noted their opposite dispositions, which only became more obvious as the two grew older.  Salis was well-liked by all, for he was sweet from his twinkling honey-colored eyes to his warm voice.  But some considered him too gentle and impressionable.  So, despite being older by a few moments, he was many times defended by his salty sister, Dulcine, who also had eyes that twinkled, or rather glinted like a sharpened piece of flint, and sharp too was her tongue. 

Both siblings had friends and admirers, though Salis had a whole village full, while Dulcine had her small group who were true to her and to whom she was true.  One of these was a quiet and unassuming girl named Amara, who befriended Dulcine before she met Salis.  Dulcine loved Amara so much that for the first time in her life, she did not want to share something she had with her brother.  She feared that Amara would be—like everyone else he ever met—utterly charmed and enchanted by Salis. 

But it was not so.

When Amara met Salis, she was indeed charmed.  But this is what she said.

“It is lovely to meet you.  Your sister speaks well of you, and that is not true of most, as you well know.  But she and I have planned to wander the market stalls just before they close.  Try and win ourselves some free sweets.”

Salis smiled.  “I like sweets.  I wouldn’t mind joining you.”

“Perhaps another time.  I would that it were just she and I, you see.”

Salis’s smile grew sweeter.  “I won’t be any trouble.  I assure you.” 

“Perhaps another time.”

And with that, Amara grasped a stunned Dulcine’s hand and pulled her away from an equally stunned Salis. 

As they wandered past the fruit-sellers, Dulcine recovered herself.  She laughed.  “You must be in love with me.”

Amara turned to her.  “Why do you say that?”

Dulcine shook her head.  “What other power could be strong enough to resist my brother’s sweetness?”

Amara was quiet for a moment, and Dulcine thought she should find some clever quip to fill the silence.  But then the quiet and unassuming girl answered her question.

“Friendship.”

***

As it was, Amara did become friends with Salis.  The three did wander through the market stalls together a time or two.  But Amara always put Dulcine first, even when Dulcine insisted that she did not mind being second to her brother.

And on the day that Amara was to leave the village to study alchemy and magic in the top academy in their province, Dulcine wept hard and deeply as she clutched her friend.  Her tears were tears were pride and joy for Amara’s great accomplishment, and they were tears of sorrow and longing, for her friend was not yet gone, but her heart already felt the ache of missing her.

Salis too was sad, but he comforted his sister that day.  He held her and joked, “It is as if you’ve lost your twin.”

Dulcine, exhausted from crying, grasped his hand.  “I hope you’re not thinking of leaving me, too.”

“Never,” he said.  “And don’t be so morose.  She’ll be back to visit once a year, and in only a few years, she’ll be back for good.”

***

A year went by, and Amara sent letters, but was not able to visit.  Her studies and her practice kept her busy and tired.  She spoke of friends she had made.  It heartened Dulcine to know that Amara was not lonely.  She had begun her own apprenticeship as a metal-smith.  Her heart was calm.  And after all, she still had her other dearest friend nearby in Salis, who was learning to be a leader from the village elders.

One day, Salis did not report to the village hall when he was expected, and the elder who was his tutor sent word to his parents and to Dulcine.  They too had not seen him.  It was unlike Salis to be late or rude.  But it was quite like him to be absentminded.  And Dulcine remembered him speaking of entertaining a visiting merchant who’d suggested she might want to build an inn in their village.  But she did not find him with the merchant.  She did not find him in any of the places where she had expected to find him.  Neither did anyone else who went searching.

Dulcine’s mood went from perplexed to annoyed to worried to panicked. 

Her brother was truly missing.

When one of those few who disliked Salis uttered a false and salacious rumor within earshot of Dulcine, he almost got a hot poker in the eye.

“It’s true!” the man cried.  “He ran off with a woman.  I seen him!”

Dulcine drew aside the hot poker and instead brought her face close to his.  She’d never seen her own eyes when she was angry, but she’d been told that they sparked like flints and seared like burning coal.

“Where,” she said.

Dulcine was fortunate that the man who’d seen her brother leave town was the peeping sort, who thought he might follow and see some sport.

“He was drunk, the way he was walking,” the man said as he led Dulcine down the same path he claimed her brother had taken, under threat of being skewered in the eye if he was lying to her.

Salis did not drink spirits.  Ever since he tried when he was too young and got sick for several days.  But Dulcine asked the man to provide every detail he saw.  He claimed that Salis was stumbling, and that when he spoke, he mumbled and slurred his speech.

“What did he say?” Dulcine asked.

“I could not say.  It was as if his mouth was full of mash, and I was too far away.”

He led her down a familiar path, leading to a mountain pass that separated their province from the next.  But instead of heading toward the pass, he stopped in the middle of the path and pointed into the forest.

“They went this way, and I’ll go no further.  I followed, but I became lost, and I thought I’d freeze waiting for morning.” 

The man had somehow stumbled his way back to the path, and had gone home, thinking nothing more of his misadventure until the next day, when it was discovered that Salis was missing.

“Wait here,” Dulcine said, handing him a few coins.  “If I don’t return within the hour, go back and tell the elders.  If I run into trouble and you have a hand in getting me and my brother out of it, you’ll get more coins, and an even more valuable gift.”

“Your eternal thanks?”

“No, my promise to never drive a poker through your eye.”

The man hung his head.

Dulcine sighed.  “Yes, if it goes like that, I will be grateful.”

With that, she stepped into the forest and kept as straight a path as she could.  Her lantern had plenty of fuel and yet it grew dimmer and dimmer, until it was extinguished altogether, forcing Dulcine to stop.  She could not see the stars.  The sky was cloudy, and a fog now surrounded her.  She pulled a flint from her bag and tried to re-light the lantern, but the fire would not catch.  While she thought of what she might do next to keep from getting lost, she heard a faint voice.

She listened for a moment, and heard it again.

Dulcine followed the sound of the voice, hoping that the fog was not so thick that it misdirected her. 

She soon came upon a path and followed it to a metal gate twice her height that was latched but not locked.  In the distance ahead, she saw the glow of light from what she thought were windows in a large manse.

She opened the gate carefully, glancing about for guards or dogs.  She crept down the path.  The voices were coming from the house.  The path she found was a short one.  She had not been far from it when her lantern gave out.

Dulcine walked up several steps to the landing that led to the front door.  She approached and after a quick glance to search for an open window, she decided to try a straightforward approach.  She lifted the knocker and knocked.

A woman’s voice from within told her to come in.

When Dulcine entered, she found a woman in dark red robes stoking a small fire in the receiving room. 

“If it were anyone but you, you would not be welcome,” the woman said.

Dulcine watched as the woman turned around. 

The man who’d been following her brother had given a rather lacking description of the woman he saw with Salis.  The woman did have yellow hair like he said.  But he did not mention the tattoo of delicate red swirls and curls on her left cheek.

A sudden fear pierced Dulcine’s heart.  She glanced at the fire the woman had been stoking.  It burned with a reddish flame.  Only red.  No yellow, orange, or blue.  For it was an enchanted fire.

And the woman was a sorceress.

She introduced herself as Perdita and offered Dulcine something hot to drink. 

If a sorceress had her brother, Dulcine had no hope of fighting her way out.  Her only hope was her words, and she had no skill in winning people over with her words.

“I wonder,” Dulcine said, “if you might have seen—“

“Salis is here,” the woman said, and when she smiled her eyes grew big and shiny in a way that made Dulcine wary.

And so Dulcine held her breath for a moment before speaking. “That’s a relief,” she said.  “I had feared that—“

“He will be staying.”

Dulcine nodded.  “I see.”  She resisted glancing toward the stairs that led to the second floor.  She resisted calling out to him.  “May I see him?”

The woman pressed her lips together.  “No need.  He knew you would come.”  She tilted her head to the side.  “And you did.  He asked me to tell you that he would be living with me henceforth.  And I’m afraid this will be your last visit.”

Dulcine clasped her hands behind her back as calmly as she could manage.  She stepped toward the woman and slipped one of her hands under her jerkin.  She felt for and grasped the handle of the poker she had strapped to her back.  It was madness to think of attacking the sorceress, and yet…

“If you think you can force my brother to be your lover—“

“I don’t want him as a lover!”  The woman’s eyes widened and this time there was actual emotion within them.  She was surprised and offended.  “I want him as a friend.”

Dulcine stopped.  Her brow furrowed in deep confusion.  She hesitated to speak.  Her brother was the one who knew how to spin sweet words, not her, but knew she must say something.  “But…you can have his friendship without keeping him here.  Salis is sweet to everyone.”

“Not to me.  No one is sweet to me.”

Dulcine peered at the woman.  She wondered where the woman had come from, how she had come to know of Salis.

“Why his friendship?” Dulcine asked.

“If the sweetest person in the world won’t be my friend, then who will?”

Dulcine thought for a moment.  She would have done anything to save her brother.  She would have killed.  And she would have died. 

And she would have been the friend of her enemy.

I will,” she said. 

“You don’t mean it.”

“I do.  I will stay here with you, but only if you let my brother go.”

The sorceress kept a smile on her face, but a slight pinch of her brow revealed her suspicion.  “You can never see him again, or anyone else.  You would be my friend, and my friend only.”

“Very well.”

***

Salis had been drugged, just as Dulcine suspected.  He grinned upon seeing his sister, and wrapped an arm around her shoulder so she could steady him as they walked out of the manse and onto the path, where a light glowed from the lantern that Dulcine had set down near the gate.

She knew now why the lantern had dimmed, and why the man who’d been following Salis and the sorceress had gotten lost.  The manse must have been hidden by some illusion.

When Dulcine found the main path, and the man still waiting by it, she handed Salis off to him.  She gave the man all the coins she had on her person.  She locked her gaze with his and with firm but entreating words, asked him to bring Salis safely back to the village. 

“Warn the village that a sorceress lives in this forest, and that I have made a bargain with her.  They are not to come looking for me lest they wish to bear the brunt of her revenge.”

Dulcine knew that the man would heed her warning by the terror that gripped his face.  One did not often hear the words “sorceress” and “revenge” used together.

She knew that most others would heed too.  Salis would not heed her warning, after he sobered from whatever enchantment the sorceress had placed upon him.  But he would not be able to find the manse again.  Dulcine had only been able to because the sorceress had allowed it. 

As Dulcine trudged back to the manse, she dropped her poker in the forest.  Her mind was empty of thought.  Her heart was empty of feeling.  So she did not mourn the last time she would ever see her brother.

***

Being the friend of the sorceress was the hardest thing that Dulcine had ever had to do in her life.  For the sorceress did not require that Dulcine love her, but she did require that Dulcine behave as if she did.  And to the sorceress that meant utter devotion and harmony.  Dulcine had to hold her tongue whenever she had a quip or a criticism.  It was a false friendship, as false as could be, for if Dulcine ever displeased her new friend, their bargain would be broken, and she would lose her life.  And despite the sorceress’s promise not to do so, Dulcine feared that her so-called friend would go after her brother next.  Not to befriend him this time, but to dispatch him.

Two years passed, and Dulcine only knew so because she counted the days.  The season did not change outside the manse.  It was always just foggy and cloudy.  The trees never turned green.  They were never laden with snow.  Their leaves were perpetually red.  And yet, Dulcine had asked and been allowed some time each day to sit outside and watch the sky and the surrounding forest.  Though the manse was hidden from people, and any who came near it were diverted away from it, it was not hidden from animals.  Deer came wandering through the grounds on occasion.  Green snakes slithered in the garden behind the manse.  And birds chirped and cawed in the trees or flew overhead.  Dulcine watched them.  She could not leave the manse, but she dreamed of finding some way to send a message on the foot of a pigeon perhaps.  She knew nothing about birds.  And the sorceress did not allow her to read any of the books in the manse’s library.  But she hoped to use her observations and instinct to lure and befriend a pigeon, then somehow train him to fly toward to her village and back.  And all without the sorceress knowing.

A few more months passed and while Dulcine was at the edge of the grounds feeding a small group of pigeons with the roll from her breakfast, she heard a sound she had never heard since she’d lived in the manse.

Footsteps.

The pigeons flew away just as the door to the manse opened.  Dulcine turned to see the sorceress appear in the doorway in a voluminous dress checkered in many shades and tones of red.  The sorceress lifted her skirts and swept down the stairs and onto the path.  Dulcine met her at the gate just as a figure approached.

A woman wearing a thick cloak of gleaming silvery black threw back the hood of her cloak as she stopped at the gate.  She had a complexion that matched Dulcine’s.  Her eyes were just as flinty.  And her hair a nimbus of dark curls. 

“Forgive the intrusion, ladies,” the woman said.  “But I believe I am lost.  I wonder if you could direct me back toward the main trail.”

“Turn around and go straight,” Dulcine said. 

To her surprise, the sorceress laughed and lightly slapped her shoulder.  “Forgive my friend’s rudeness,” she said.  “We don’t often get visitors.”

“Not at all.  It is I who should ask forgiveness.”  The woman turned to Dulcine.  “I don’t mean to impose.”

The sorceress glanced between Dulcine and the stranger.  “You know, you two could be sisters, so much do you favor each other.”

“It is a kindness to compare me to your friend,” the stranger said.

To Dulcine’s horror, the sorceress opened the gate.  “Perhaps my friend is just envious.  We were meant to spend the day in the gardens together before you arrived.  May I ask your name?”

Dulcine’s eyes widened, and she hoped that the stranger knew better than to give the sorceress her name.

“Umbra.”

The sorceress and the stranger bowed their heads to each other.  The sorceress gave the stranger her own name and Dulcine’s name, and invited the stranger in for some refreshment.

Dulcine could not protest without putting the stranger in more danger than she was already in.  She had seen the pinched brow of the sorceress as she made her way to the gate.  The sorceress had been suspicious of the stranger’s sudden arrival.  And now she seemed to be toying with the stranger while she decided what to do.  Dulcine decided that she would try to convince the sorceress that the stranger was harmless, that she had stumbled upon the manse by accident, and that they could send her on her way with no more disruption to their day.

But Dulcine never had the chance to speak with the sorceress. 

Perdita invited the stranger to come and sit by the fire.  The stranger, Umbra, made charming conversation about her travels, an embarrassing misadventure or two, interesting characters met along the way, and various foods she had tried.  Dulcine marveled, for the stranger seemed to put the sorceress at true ease, something Dulcine had never managed to do.  For Perdita always knew that Dulcine’s friendship was as false and empty as her own.  But here was a stranger from a distant province, ignorant of anything but the hospitality she was being shown.

Something about the woman seemed familiar to Dulcine, beyond the similarity of her features.  Dulcine too very much liked the stranger.  That was why she wanted Umbra to move along. 

She found her chance when the stranger expressed that she was getting hungry.

“One who claimed that she did not mean to impose is now asking us to serve her lunch.  What a turn,” Dulcine said.  And a sense of warmth filled her.  She realized it was because she had spent almost two years being sweet to the sorceress.  It felt good to revert to her true salty nature.

The sorceress laughed her false laugh again, and said, “Oh Umbra, please forgive my friend.  She does have a sharp tongue.”  The sorceress threw Dulcine a disapproving look, but it was one that was meant to be seen by the stranger, and Dulcine could tell that the sorceress was not truly upset.  Rather, she liked what she seemed to perceive was competition between the other two women for her attention.

Umbra too apologized.  She had only meant that she would be eating the lunch from her pack, and had wished to do so outside, so as not to insult her gracious hosts.

The sorceress declared it “nonsense” if the stranger did not join them for lunch.

Dulcine then decided that it would be the stranger she spoke to, not the sorceress.  The first chance she got, she would warn the traveler Umbra to flee.

***

Umbra accepted the sorceress’s invitation to stay the night, after Perdita noted that the traveler seemed tired.

Dulcine was unable to get the traveler alone.  She resolved to wake in the middle of the night to try.  And so she did.  She was wide awake when she heard a whisper in her chambers and froze, fearing that the sorceress had found her out.  

“Dulcine…can you hear me?  Wake up.”

It was not the sorceress who had spoken.  It was Umbra.

Dulcine glanced about her chambers.  There was no way that Umbra could have entered them.  The sorceress kept them locked.  Dulcine could leave and wander the manse if she wished, but no one else could enter.

She found she was indeed alone in her chamber.  So it had to be some enchantment.  She recalled the one time she had almost gotten close enough to say something to the traveler, when she was clearing the table after lunch.  Umbra had bumped into her and grasped her arm to steady herself. 

Dulcine wore an overcoat most days.  It was chilly in the manse despite the red fires that burned at every fireplace.  The coat was thrown over a chair by her writing desk.  She checked its pockets and found an ordinary-looking stone that she had definitely not put there.

So, that was how the traveler had sent her voice into Dulcine’s chamber. 

“You must leave,” Dulcine said.

“I intend to.  And you are coming with me.”

Dulcine frowned.  “I can’t.  I made a bargain with her.”

“The bargain is false.”

“No, I made it freely.”

“Did you?  You brother’s life was at stake.”

“And it will be again if I leave.”

“Not so.  I can protect you both.”

“How?  Why would you?  Who are you to us?”

“Come downstairs and I will show you.”

***

Dulcine had no intention of leaving the house as she crept down the stairs.  Her intention was to drive the traveler out of the house somehow.  She was sure that Salis had something to do with the traveler’s arrival.  He must have sent her.  He must have purchased that enchanted stone.  And he must have found some way to see past the illusion that the sorceress wove around her manse.  And whether Umbra was hired to rescue Dulcine or had volunteered out of love or obligation to Salis, she did not deserve to earn the wrath of the sorceress.

Dulcine saw the traveler at the foot of the stairs and led her to the front door.

“If I leave this house, she will know,” Dulcine whispered.  “But you may go.  I was watching and I did not see her mark you.  She has not yet decided if she will keep you or dispatch you.”  Dulcine was half a head taller than the traveler.  She straightened her back and loomed over the hapless stranger who had come to help her.  “I’ll push you out the door if I have to.”

The traveler was unperturbed.  She grinned.  “Do you not recognize me, Dulcine?”

Dulcine peered at the traveler. 

“Yes, of course.  I see a similar face whenever I look in a mirror.”  Dulcine glanced behind her and up the stairs, before turning back toward the traveler.  “Go quickly, before she wakes.”

“She is a sorceress of illusion,” Umbra said.  “No ordinary illusion would fool her.  I had to borrow a face.  It is an uncomfortable spell.  So even though we risked her being suspicious, I borrowed his face.  This isn’t your face, Dulcine.  It’s your brother’s.”

Dulcine frowned.  “No wonder it looks uglier.”

“Look closely,” Umbra said.  “See past the illusion.”  She leaned toward Dulcine and raised her right hand.  She closed her eyes as wispy silver-black snakes of shadow curled around her hand. 

And as Dulcine watched, Umbra’s complexion lightened, her hair, while still dark, straightened.  On her face appeared black tattoos in the shapes of lightning bolts and arrows.  And that face, it was familiar to Dulcine, familiar and dear.

Umbra was a sorceress, but she was also—

“Amara!”

Dulcine surged forth and wrapped her long-lost friend in a fierce embrace.  But as she saw the glow of the red fire in the receiving room from the corner of her eye, she remembered where they were. She released Amara.

“Now will you come with me?” Amara asked.

Dulcine could not hold back the hope that swelled in her chest.  “Gladly.”  She clasped Amara’s hand and opened the front door. 

The two dashed toward the gate.

Dulcine glanced back and saw a light go on in the window to the sorceress’s chamber.

“She’s awake,” she whispered. 

“I expected that.  Keep running.”

As they approached the gate, Amara raised her free hand, upon which were drawn more tattoos, and the gate blew outward as if struck with immense force.

“Your schooling is worth the price, I’d say,” Dulcine quipped just as a wall of red flame erupted before them.

The two stopped and watched as the wall extended out in both directions, encircling the grounds.

“Now what?” Dulcine asked as she turned to her friend.  She noted that Amara was panting much more than she was.  More than she should have been for their short dash to and past the gate.  And she was dripping in sweat. 

“Now, I must try to bind her from reaching any magical energy.  The flames will vanish then.”

“You look spent.”

“The gate…I pushed too hard.”

Dulcine understood.  Magical energies were draining to wield.  But if that were so, then Perdita would be just as taxed from raising her wall of flame.

She turned to the front door of the house and watched the sorceress emerge.  Perdita strode toward them.  She did not appear at all tired.

Dulcine glanced over at Amara, whose breaths were growing deeper and steadier.  The tattoo that covered half her right hand swirled, and those silvery-black strands of shadow appeared again around her hand.

Perdita raised both her arms.  The palms of her hands glowed blood-red.  Red flame erupted from her palms and rushed toward Dulcine and Amara. 

Amara stepped before Dulcine and held her left arm bent before her as if she were holding an invisible shield.  The red flame struck her.  Sure enough it was deflected, spreading over the shield until it was spent.  Her shoulders bowed. 

Dulcine glanced around.

She saw the wall of flame flicker.  And she saw through it, past it, to the forest beyond.  She turned around and stared through the flames. 

They were an illusion.  She knew they were. 

Dulcine had spent two years with a sorceress who practiced illusion and deception every day.  She had never learned how to send a message through a pigeon.  But she had, just by observing every day, learned how to see through illusion.

But she had to focus.

Holding her breath, Dulcine walked through the wall of flame, the wall of illusion.  And she started running down the path.

***

Amara glanced behind herself and saw Dulcine vanish through the wall of flame before she could stop her.  But by doing so, her friend had just shown her that the wall of flame was an illusion.  Amara could still feel its heat.  Illusions were dangerous to those who could not perceive past them.

And Amara could not.  She had always been better at seeing truth than illusion.  She raised her invisible shield again, against another blast of red flame.  The sorceress Perdita was coming closer and closer, and as she did, her attacks were growing stronger.

She was far stronger than Amara had guessed.

Amara could not see the cracks in her shield, but she felt them.  The shield would withstand one more blow, maybe two.  Amara had to use the binding spell.  But Perdita saw her wielding it.  She would not come close enough to be trapped by it.  She would only come close enough to finish Amara.

But Dulcine had gotten away.

That was all that mattered.  Salis would see his sister again.  And Amara would bind the reckless sorceress who had tormented them, if it was the last thing she would do.

Amara raised her shield against another blast of red flame.  Her shield shattered.  She rolled away as it did, but a shard of magic still pierced her wrist.  She cried out and held her arm close to her body.

Perdita advanced.  Amara could have called back the binding spell, and called forth a blast of her own.  But it would not be powerful enough to overcome those red flames. 

Amara would have to run toward Perdita, force the other sorceress to attack in the hopes that she would kill Amara before Amara could throw the binding spell at her.

Amara was a fast runner. 

But she could not outrun fire.

Perdita had been growing tired too.  She had needed to catch her breath between each blast of fire.  But now she was raising her hands even as she panted, even as her face turned flushed, and something other than sweat dripped down her face.  Trickles of blood dripped from her eyes and both nostrils.

And a blast of fire was coming straight toward a defenseless Amara.

Amara held up her arm anyway, even without a shield.  She closed her eyes against the heat of the flames.  She felt arms embracing her. 

She had not expected the flames of death to be so warm and gentle, like the embrace of a friend.

Amara glanced up over her arms.

Dulcine knelt before her, holding her tight.  The red flames struck Dulcine’s back, fanned out, and dissipated, just as they had done with the invisible shield.  Those flames too must have been illusion.  They could hurt Amara.  But they could no longer hurt Dulcine.

“Let go, now!” Amara said.  And Dulcine released her.  Amara rose and sprinted toward the sorceress of the red flames.  The black tattoos on her right hand swirled and Amara flung her hand forward.

Silvery-black strands of shadow surged toward Perdita.  They wrapped around, pinning her arms to her sides, and covering her hands.

The wall of red flames collapsed.

Amara heard a cry of pain from behind her.  She spun around and saw that Dulcine too had collapsed.  She was holding her arms before her stomach.  She rose and stumbled toward the two sorceresses.

“As I suffer, she suffers,” Perdita said.  “And if I die, she dies.  I have linked our fates, just like true friends.”

“And as you die, Salis dies,” Dulcine said through gritted teeth.  “I will be reunited with my true friend.”

Perdita laughed, not a false laugh, but a true one, true in its cruelty.  “No,” she said.  “I unbound myself from him the day you took his place.”  Her eyes began to glow red.  “It will just be you and me, forever.”

Amara raised her hand to command the binding to cover Perdita’s eyes. 

Before she could, a poker pierced one of those eyes.  Their glow was dulled, forever.

Dulcine fell to the ground.

Amara fell to her knees.  Tears welled in her eyes unbidden.  She wiped them away. 

“Dulcine!”  The name tore out of her heart. 

Tears fell too from Dulcine’s eyes, but she was smiling.  “Salis is safe,” she said. 

Amara nodded.  “Yes…what have you done?”

“He is safe.”

Before her last days in her home, in happier times, Dulcine had noticed something that her sweet, but often oblivious, brother had not.  She had noticed that Amara had started looking at Salis in a different way than she had before.  And Dulcine had hoped that if her two closest friends were to become joined in love, a love that added to their friendship, and deepened, that they would not break each other’s hearts.  For if they did that, she was not certain whose side she would take.  She did not want to find out.

“You are a suitor for my brother’s hand?”

Amara blinked away tears.  If Dulcine was still speaking, perhaps the linking spell was broken, or at least weakened.  Perhaps there was still time for Amara to think of something.  “Not the only one.”

“The only one I favor.”

Amara grinned through another wave of tears.  “Who are you, and what have you done with Dulcine?  Surely you can’t be her.  She would never utter words so sweet.”

“Amara…you saved me.  I am safe.”

~***~

Salis wept so many tears over his sister’s still body that they turned from sweet to salt.

Amara wept so many tears that hers turned from sweet to bitter.  She was certain that Salis would hate her for letting his sister die.  She told him the truth of how Dulcine saved her.  But Salis, forever sweet, only thanked her for bringing Dulcine’s body back so he could say farewell and see her one last time. 

They married.

And sad days gave way to happy ones.

Amara and Salis had a child, a baby girl, whom they named Dulcine.  And one bright morning, Amara saw a ghostly figure floating over her child.  She was not alarmed, for she felt that the spirit was a friendly one.  She approached carefully as she heard her baby giggling and reaching up to the spirit of her aunt, who was smiling down at her.  The spirit vanished, never having raised her head to see Amara.

Amara shed a few tears, and it was last time in her life that her tears tasted sweet.



Copyright © 2021  Nila L. Patel

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