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I Cannot Promise

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For months after her return, when she had dripped fire and blood indiscriminately and knew not the difference between Deerskin and Lissar and that frightened child in the tower room, Lissar was unable to sleep beneath a roof. She tried, for Ossin's sake, but Ash whined and the puppies, though they could hardly be called puppies anymore, circled her chamber as if the way it made Lissar shake with fear was something they could bring down with a well-placed leap, as they had done with the toro on the Lady's hill.

And so Lissar returned to sleeping outside, breathing in the warmth of the summer and exhaling the fear, the loneliness, and the anger that had defined her life for so long. Sometimes, Ossin would slip out to join her, the two of them just as covered in silver silken fur and gently breathing dogs as they once had been in the kennel, but more often than not, Lissar was left alone with her thoughts.

Fragments of memory would stalk her, threatening to devour her whole, lurking just beyond sleep in the shadowy softness of the dark. Lying in the grass, Ash's breath as steady and comforting as the breeze through the grass had been on the Lady's hill, all too many lifetimes ago, the memories would creep up, surprising her with their clarity, and leave her just as suddenly as she awoke, pulse-quickened and sweaty-palmed and utterly alert in the quiet.

But time passed, not as quickly as it had in the Lady's realm, but certainly fast enough for the people of Goldhouse's. In the wake of the foreign king's rapid departure, aided in large part by the citizens who heard their beloved Deerskin's accusations, much change had come to the castle and village alike. The wedding decorations were torn down with relish by those that had put them up, in preparation for a celebration that never came to pass. The throne room doors were repaired, though they would never hang quite the same way ever again, and the floor scrubbed and polished bright in an attempt to remove the stains laid into it by Lissar herself, who had not returned to the room since. Ossin told her, though, one evening as they lay in the grass outside the kennels, curled together almost as tight as Ash and Ob were. He told her that people were coming to visit the stain, to trace the path of its many loops and swirls, to hold it in their mind as they thought of a difficult problem or a specific worry. Lissar listened silently, her eyes never straying from the stars above, but her body was stiff, her legs, conditioned from years of such use, were tense, ready to flee at any moment. But Ossin, feeling the fear seeping into her once again, just held her closer, and between he and Ash, who had nosed her head under Lissar's palm on the other side, she relaxed, turning to face him.

She sat up, her newly-black hair even darker in the shadows, showing no trace of the red her mother's had been so famous for. "I am no Moonwoman," she said, her arms clasped protectively around her knees, "and your people must understand this by now, for I have done far too much and revealed things that no such woman ever would."

Ossin leaned his head back, breathing deeply. "They know full well that you are not the Moonwoman of childhood stories," he said, watching the moon glide overheard, as blind and watchful as ever.

"Then why am I still followed by whispers; why do I hear 'Moonwoman' wherever I go; why do they still come to me with tales of lost children; why do they come to visit that stain borne of my pain and anger?"

"They do those things because you have become what the Moonwoman always was to them. You came to them, just in their time of need, to rescue their princess. You are followed wherever you go by silver fleethounds, and you rescue their lost children. But to them, you are even better than that of legend, for all that you have shown you are not her, because you are human, and you are theirs, their very own protector. And that is a powerful thing."

Lissar pondered this until her head felt weary, and she dropped off to sleep, sheltered by a prince on one side, seven dogs on another, and the moon overhead.



Time passed even more swiftly for them in the years that followed. Lissar had promised to stay, to use her strength to create a place for herself and for Ossin beside her, and she felt stronger and stronger as the days went by. The faith of her people (no longer just Ossin's, but hers as well now that they were wed) no longer frightened Lissar, though she would never enjoy balls or diplomatic dinners, and she flatly refused, with a vehemence few had ever heard from her, to sit for any sort of portrait. But she went out and met her people, much as her mother had, though Lissar was unafraid to appear human to them, assisting with the harvest in the fall, and helping a town along the river prepare for a flood, becoming just as soaked and bedraggled and utterly unpleasant as any of the other workers.

She soon gained a reputation as an odd sort of royalty, more concerned with her dogs than with any other duty, although in a country accustomed to the actions of a man such as Prince Ossin, this was seen as not so much a detriment as a boon. Who else, the people asked, could understand their dog-mad prince better than the Moonwoman herself? Other royalty in neighboring countries just sniffed and held their heads high, glad that they, at least, were of better breeding than the Goldhouse royalty.

But Lissar settled into her new life, wincing away from the still-raw edges of the old one. And, as time went on, the nightmares came less and less often, and the Lady's voice, I give you the gift of time, began to fade as well until Lissar herself was not certain if it had been a dream, a way to escape that first endless winter at the cabin. She still carried the scars of that cold life, and the previous one (they are a part of me, as much as my hands and eyes and breath are part of me, she'd said to Ossin, and it was still true), but they were fading, soothed by Ash, and Ossin, and Ob and Pur and Harefoot, Ferntongue, Meadowsweet, and Fen, by Lilac and Cofta and Clementina and Camilla, and the countless people in her kingdom who came to see her, to ask her advice, who trusted her more than she sometimes thought she trusted herself. And slowly, but surely, those raw edges healed, a little crookedly, like Ash's wound, inexpertly stitched and still painful to the touch, but healed nonetheless, and Lissar was more and more comfortable in her role in the castle. Ossin had commissioned an enormous bed, large enough for the both of them and all seven of the hounds, each sprawled in a different direction, and Lissar began to spend more of her nights there, surrounded by those comfortingly warm bodies, than she did outside under the moon and stars.

And though she sometimes still felt it, that silver-thread yearning, the iron-filing feeling that pulled her to the woods, to run barefoot and silent and trailed by seven fleet-footed shadows through the moonlight, Ossin understood her longing well enough, and did not worry when he awoke alone in their bed. He knew that when he came downstairs for breakfast, she would be there waiting, more relaxed than she had been, and there would be one less missing child in the village, or sheep lost from the castle farm.

And sometimes a farmer, leaning over his fence at night, or a housewife looking out her window at the fields, might see their Moonwoman running past, the moonbeam silver of her seven dogs dimmed somewhat by her moondark hair, and smile, because a night with the Moonwoman is a safe night indeed.