Harry woke with a start, her hand already reaching for Gonturan in the darkness. For a moment her body sung with tension – and then her mind, cloudy with sleep, registered the yowl of an offended Narknon, and she relaxed back into her blankets.
Corlath’s rumbling snore had stopped when she sat up, blade in hand, but he hadn’t reached for his own. He was easy to wake – no king of Damar could afford not to be – but his unconscious mind had far more years practice than hers in distinguishing actual threats from a passing guard, a trysting couple, or indeed a prowling cat.
Now Harry felt him turn next to her, his hand coming to rest on her arm. “All’s well?”
The sleepy murmur was affectionate, and Harry smiled as she relinquished her grip on Gonturan. “Narknon mistook my face for a pillow.”
Corlath laughed, a soft exhale of air against her breastbone, and she pulled him closer against the cool night breeze. Sometimes a night wakening would mean a pleasant interlude, for they were yet newly wed. Tonight, however, he seemed content to rest in her arms, body relaxing against her; presently she felt the rhythm of his breathing change, and knew it would not be long before he once again began to snore.
Her father had snored. Harry could picture him almost as clearly as if it were yesterday, asleep in the library armchair after supper, a book fallen open across his knee. She had always let him doze, finding the whistle of his snores almost peaceful, while she sat by the fire with an adventure novel in hand.
The memory was a vibrant one; Harry could almost reach out and touch the furrow between his brows. And yet so many of her memories had faded. So many quiet days, peaceful rides, warm evenings – so many casual friends, pleasant laughter, awkward dances. They all seemed to blur together now, here at the other end of the world. Her husband slept in her arms, and outside she could hear the nicker of a horse; her Home fireside seemed to belong to another life.
She rested her cheek against the top of Corlath’s head, and closed her eyes, trying to find sleep again.
Jack was becoming quite a passable rider, Harry noted. To praise him aloud, however, would sound patronizing, so she confined herself to an approving nod. Oh glory, she thought, I’m becoming regal already. I do hope I shan’t become as pompous as Sir Charles. Though Corlath would no doubt find it quite amusing.
She brought out their luncheon, patting Tsornin on the nose as she passed, which he accepted as no more than his due. It was a beautiful spring day, one of the first that was truly warm.
“I feel lucky to have beguiled you away from your people, my Queen,” Jack said, in his best courtly fashion.
She made a face at him, which only made him laugh. It felt good to not worry about her dignity. “Even a Queen may do as she likes on her restday. And I have been wishing for a long ride this fortnight.”
They traveled in the western end of Damar, to bring the king’s justice and reestablish contact with Hill tribes that had not paid fealty for generations. With them traveled the filanon, Kentarre at its head, for she and Richard had been wed in the City a month ago, and she now carried him off to her home.
“You work hard,” Jack said, breaking off a piece of cheese. “Don’t push yourself too far.”
Corlath brought the king’s justice, and was fast earning the Hillfolk’s respect (although they had heard much of him, Hillfolk preferred to evaluate firsthand), but it was Harry who was the most loved, rather to her surprise. Kentarre was teaching her and Richard Hilltop dialect in the evenings by the fireside, and Harry put it to use as often as she was able. Damalur-sol, little girls whispered, stars in their eyes, and she had only to announce a training session for it to be flooded by eager adolescents (and more than a few children straining to look larger than their size).
“I would tell you to not push yourself too far, greybeard, but you look more vigorous now than ever you did in Ihistan. Our mountain air is good for you.”
Jack smiled. “It is.” He leaned back on his elbows, looking up into the clear mountain sky. “I may have been born a world away, but I truly feel as if I have come home. Even if I haven’t a drop of Damarian blood in me, like you do.”
“Do you miss Home?” Harry asked, though she thought she knew the answer.
He frowned, running a finger absentmindedly over the seam in his sash. “Sometimes,” he said, at last. “Not Home itself, but - people. Places. The smell of the woods after heavy rain, or of a crisp snowy day.”
Harry thought of her mother, the low bell-ring of her laugh and the way her eyes danced with merriment. She had been a storyteller, Harry’s mother. Harry wished she could remember the sound of her voice, but it had been too many years. She could remember the smell of honeysuckle and lilac in her mother’s garden, as she sat listening to her mother read aloud, but the sound of her voice had faded.
“Do you miss it?” Jack asked.
She didn’t answer him for a minute, brushing crumbs off her lap and pulling an extra apple out of her saddlebag for Tsornin.
“When I lived in Ihistan,” she said, finally, “I dreamed only of the land outside my window. Damar was everything.” Her father had been dead six months; Home had been almost too painful to think of, lest her eyes blur with tears.
She held the apple up, and Tsornin plucked it out of her palm. "Now I dream of a land a world away."
Richard did not miss Home. “I miss Father and Mother, of course,” he said, looking at Harry anxiously. He was still a little shy around her, perhaps an aftereffect of her pulling a mountain down around their heads, and she had to be excessively teasing sometimes to snap him out of it. “But I was at school so much, and I don’t miss that.”
Harry could understand that. If she had been at a school like Richard’s, she thought she would most likely have been sent down within a month.
“And there’s something about Damar that gets under your skin,” he continued, rubbing at his arm. “It just… feels right. I can’t remember snow now. It’s a bit strange.”
“Perhaps Kentarre is part of what … just feels right?” Harry asked, keeping her face completely still but letting her eyes dance at him, just like their mother’s used to do.
“Angharad,” he said, but he was blushing. His and Kentarre's tent was not the quietest in camp.
She put an arm around his shoulders. “She could have done worse. You’re passably good-looking, and can shoot an arrow straight occasionally - ”
“Ugh,” he said, and poked her in the side with his elbow. He didn’t sound anxious any longer, and she took that as progress.
Senay did not seem worried to learn that her Queen dreamed of another land.
“You love Damar,” she said, as they walked together down a village lane. “These are not Meeldtar visions, to tell you of a possible future. They are simply night dreams.”
“I know,” Harry said, her hand resting on Gonturan’s hilt. Carrying her felt like a tangible connection to the land she loved, like riding Tsornin, or meeting Corlath’s eyes across a crowded camp. “But I have never dreamed of the Outlander world before. I do not wish to become heartsick for a land I have given up.”
They walked in companionable silence. Harry smiled at a little girl chasing a cat; the little girl, round-eyed, ran inside calling for her sister.
Senay was young, but she was wise. She would be a Queen’s Rider in time, if she wished to be; and more than that, she was Harry’s friend.
At Home, Harry had had casual friends, to chat with at dances and small social occasions. But she had never been close to any of them. She had been an awkward girl, tall and gawky, and then there had been the mysterious great-grandmother whose questionable nature had kept the mamas of their country circle from encouraging too close an acquaintance between her and their own daughters.
None of the girls she had chatted with between attempts not to tread on their brothers’ toes on the dancefloor had ever talked of anything deep with her. Perhaps they too had dreamed of adventure; she did not know. Senay, however, had stood by her side when all seemed dark. Senay had fought an enemy that was not quite human, because Harry had asked her to. Senay was home now, just as Corlath was home.
“You are a bridge,” Senay said, finally. “A bridge between two worlds. You may feel as if you belong most strongly to one hilltop; but you belong to the other hilltop as well.”
“Bridges can be cut down,” Harry said, as both small sisters piled back out of the house and came running down the path to follow in their footsteps.
“They can,” Senay said. “But you connect our worlds, and it is through you that I have hope that Outlanders and the Hillfolk will find peace. I do not think you wish to cut your bridge down.”
The next time the King’s Riders drank Meeldtar, Harry watched it approach her and wondered. Would she see true? If she did, would it be past, present – or future? Would she see herself as a child, held on her mother’s knee, or Aerin and Luthe, or her own great-grandmother falling in love with an Outlander?
She did not let herself wonder if she would see herself stepping on Homeland shore once again. She had no desire to return Home. This was her home now. Corlath, Richard, Senay, Jack, Mathin, Kentarre, Rilly, the little girls in the street who called her damalur-sol - these were her people, and this was her home.
And yet her dreams continued. Every night she dreamed of her childhood, and every night she woke with the smell of honeysuckle and lilac lingering on the air.
She could feel Corlath’s eyes on her. She knew he had noticed her restless sleep, but he had not asked her about it. Perhaps he waited for her to come to him; or perhaps he knew what she dreamed of, and was as loath as she was to think too deeply about it. Senay might call her a bridge linking two worlds, but she could just as easily be caught between them.
When she opened her eyes again, she met Corlath’s, and managed a smile, clasping her hands on her lap to keep them from trembling.
“I will not ask you what you saw,” Corlath said, in the darkness of their bed.
Harry had said ‘I saw myself’ after the Meeldtar. She knew that Corlath would have known she was not telling the whole of it, just as he knew that she knew that he knew. Thus they understood each other; and thus they lay wrapped in blankets, close enough to share breath.
“I will not ask,” he repeated, “but I hope that you will tell me, when you are ready.”
Harry could hear Narknon prowling outside their tent. Later, she would come curl up at their feet, or insinuate herself between them, warmer than any blanket. She was no respecter of the marriage bed, and knew herself well beloved by her human (and longsufferingly tolerated by her human’s husband).
Next week they would reach Kentarre’s village, and say goodbye to her and Richard. Next week, they would turn for home.
Harry reached out and laced her fingers through Corlath’s. “I saw myself,” she said, and her voice was deeper than it usually was, and almost shy. “I saw us.”
“Us,” Corlath said, something caught in his throat.
She thought he might have guessed. Perhaps Meeldtar visions always came to Queens at times like this, and filled them with joy. Perhaps he had seen it in her eyes earlier, and only waited for her to tell him herself. Perhaps her announcement was superfluous, and yet she drew him closer, her heart singing.
“Myself, and you,” Harry said, “and our child.”
He kissed her, fingers cupping the side of her face, his other hand twined with hers.
Years later, after it had all come true, she told him the entirety of what she had seen that night.
~~ She cradled her infant daughter in her arms, Lady Amelia cooing at her namesake, Harry's young son peeping around her legs at the strange woman who knew his mother and wore strange clothing. Across the room, Corlath was talking to Jack and Sir Charles; Harry looked up and met his eyes, and he smiled at her. She smiled back, full of joy.~~
Tor was born seven months after Harry saw him in the Meeldtar.
She still dreamed of her childhood, sometimes, of honeysuckle and lilac. But now she knew why: knew that if she was the first bridge between the worlds, so would her children be the second. Whether her dreams were kelar-sent or simply her own mind reaching for what had once been, she knew that she no longer feared them.
When Tor was three, Aerin Amelia was born.
They brought Sir Charles and Lady Amelia back for her Naming.