The Last Dance
Copyright 2012, Lazette Gifford
The mirrors in the great hall stood at the center of each of the four walls; tall, slender panels of silvered glass, webbed with lines of age. The signs of time shown everywhere in the room. The golden frames had grown tarnished and the tapestries had grown threadbare in places. The tiles on the floor, though so clean they almost glowed, showed chips and scratches. The room, like the palace that held it, had seen better days.
People still came to the Queen's Great Ball each year. Even musicians from half way across the land vied to play before the aging Queen Anna. Lords and Ladies, young women of means and young men with ambitions all came for the moment of glory, to dance before the Queen.
This would be the last time.
A guard stood by the northern door leading to the terrace and the cool night. He stared into the room as the well dressed men and dazzling women swept past him. Some might think he stared, blank-faced and saw nothing at all -- but this wasn't true.
Arcady stared at the oldest of the mirrors, the one that didn't really match the other three, with the ornate golden dragons curled up along the top edge. Few people looked that high.
The mirror held magic, but only the kind a person with certain talents could see. Arcady had that talent, though there were times, like this, when he wished he didn't.
"I heard the fever killed all but a handful in Satlin," an older woman said as she and another lady walked past out into the terrace. "I think we are in for a long, hard winter. I shall miss the dances and the parties when the winter comes."
And a man, a little later, talking to one of the Lords. . . .
"Yes, sir. We cut the village off, but volunteers took in supplies. We've heard nothing, but there's been a report of wolves in the area, and that can't be good."
And they moved on.
The people danced once more in a whirl of color around the room, images flashing in the mirrors; here, here, here . . . and finally in the dragon mirror.
Moonlight touched that silvered surface and for Arcady the view of the room changed. He saw not men and women, but shadows moving through the room, some bright with colors and others faded to almost black.
He closed his eyes for a moment, but not to block the view. He marked the ones in his mind he had seen fading and began the laborious, and often heartbreaking, work of deciding which ones would live. He could not save them all. He knew so from experience. But a few, a precious few --
What he had seen in the mirror had frightened him. There were far too few bright shadows. Most of these people would be dead before next spring.
"Oh no, I'm fine my love," a young wife said, brushing her hand against her husband's fingers as she smiled. "Just flushed from the dancing."
Arcady knew she lied, and he thought her
husband knew as well. The young man took
her hand in his and smiled, but the loss already hinted at the corner of his
eyes, shadowing his happiness.
The Queen's Chamberlain called the last dance, and when the music started again -- an old ancient tune Arcady had named -- the young man took his wife gently into his arms and out onto the floor. They melded into the sparkling of colors flowing through the shadows everywhere.
So few he could save. Magic had limits. Perhaps he could save ten, or even a dozen with all the magic he had hoarded for the last few months, but hundreds more would die here.
It would be that way everywhere through the country as the plague spread. He could not save them. But tonight Arcady could do his best.
Arcady watched the ancient mirror. As the shadows and too few lights moved past, he melded his magic with the music, and directed the power here and there -- yes, to the young woman would survive and her husband as well, though not merely for the sake of sentimentality. By next spring the survivors would need young, strong people, capable of holding on through the hard times. That they loved each other so well would also help them survive the darker times to come.
He chose a man of learning here, and a woman of compassion there . . . a few more of the young ones.
made his choices and he could not turn back now. By the time the music ended, he was done.
The old queen stood, smiling and waving them away into the night. The night had been glorious, a memory to cling to. But the palace would be empty all too soon. The Queen knew. She and
Arcady had discussed it.
She would not see the spring. No
one would come back, and the building would fall and rebuild in a later
age. They'd danced their last in this
When the others had gone, Queen Anna bowed her thanks to him and left, leaning on the arms of her younger ladies in waiting.
He crossed the room, walking over the old tiles, past the ancient tapestries . . . and stepped into the mirror. So few he could save as he moved, just a step ahead of death. . . .
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