Stella was having a good day, sight wise, and she was grateful for that. How many more times, after all, would she be able to see Coveline rising out of the horizon over the Dragon Tears River? She didn’t know, and it seemed bad luck to try to count them.
The sailors milled around her, preparing to pull the ship into dock. Stella wanted to hide, wanted to make herself small among all these strangers. She didn’t know anyone on board, barely even knew anyone’s name.
Part of her had to admit that she might have known them if she hadn’t been sulking the whole way home. But maybe she deserved to sulk. She was going blind and being shunted home by her teacher.
The ship pulled up to the dock, and Stella saw that almost her whole family was waiting for her there. A ring of citizens stood around them at a respectful distance. The crowd cheered for her and waived. Stella waived back, the soft, gentle smile on her fact that she’d been taught from the cradle.
Her mother, Queen Shori, was a massive dragon whose bright red scales and silver ridges seemed to cast their own light. In front of her stood Stella’s older brother, Sol, and younger brother, Terrae. Terrae had their mother’s red scales, with gold ridges and a thinner form like their Vondrai ancestors. Sol could have been Stella all grown, with a wider, squatter body, bright blue scales and silver ridges. Stella supposed that the only thing that kept them from being identical was his glasses.
The irony of which was just sickening.
“Oh, look at my baby girl!” Queen Shori cried as Stella trotted off the ship and onto the dock. “Travel suits you, daughter. Come here and let me see how much you’ve changed.”
Stella embraced her mother and brothers. “I’ve missed you all so much,” she said, letting her pleasure at seeing them overwhelm her poor feelings for the moment. “I can’t wait to get home and see everyone else. Why didn’t Luna come down to see me arrive?”
This seemed to be just the wrong thing to say, however. Shori glanced at Sol, who grimaced. “Don’t worry about her right now. Tekie and Hiro are so excited to see you. They couldn’t get away from their work this morning, or they would have come as well.” They started for the palace along the wide stone path, waving goodbye to the crowd as they went.
“Luna isn’t living at home anymore,” Terrae blurted.
Shori gave her youngest son an exasperated look. “Can you not tell, my dear child, that maybe this wasn’t the sort of thing we should talk about right this very minute, with Stella just home?” she asked.
Terrae’s eyes grew wide and innocent. “But she’s going to find out anyway, Mamma.”
“How about some better and healthier conversations?” Sol asked. “Stella, wait until you meet the healers we have working on this blindness issue. They are so excited that you’re home.”
So, her education as a seer had been put on hold so she could become a science experiment. That sounded fair.
Since she couldn’t imagine saying that in front of her mother, she said instead, “I hope I have time to see all of you on this visit. I don’t intend to be here very long.”
“No, this will just be a short visit to check in on your vision and hug you exactly one million and twenty-three times,” Shori said. “Then you will have to leave us again and go back to your teacher.”
“That is a lot of hugs, Mamma,” Sol said, giving Stella a wicked look. “You’d better start now if you’re going to get them all in.”
“I think you’re right,” Shori said and scooped her daughter up into another hug.
“Mamma, stop that!” Stella cried.
But she didn’t really mean it.
The one thing that King Devon had impressed upon Stella before letting her on the ship to head home was the vast importance of meditation to her physical and emotional wellbeing.
“I know it feels hard to fit it in some days when you’re so busy,” he’d said. “But your mental health isn’t going to take that as an excuse.”
Stella knew he was right. She didn’t like to admit it to him, but she felt different on days she didn’t make the time.
Not a good different.
And so, as soon as her family left her to settle into her old room, she took out her meditation notebook. Unlike every other thing she owned, it was a mess. There were charcoal and ink stains all over the leather cover. Many pages were stained or torn. When visions came to her, they came as strongly as they wanted. They didn’t seem to care for the preservation of her book. Of course, they were visions, and certainly above such petty concerns as physical things.
Stella sat down at her desk and took out a piece of charcoal. She flipped to a relatively clean page and began drawing slow, steady loops on the page. This, she had found, was the easiest way to corral her visions during meditation. What came out wasn’t always pretty, and sometimes it was impossible to decipher. Sometimes even when she could decipher it, she wished she couldn’t.
And on top of everything else, it was taking her vision. But what could she do? The worst of the whole thing was that she had no control over this at all.
Her hand was moving the entire time she was thinking mutinous thoughts about her visions. She breathed out deeply, trying to control her mind the way Devon had taught her. She thought of nothing, trying to let whatever would come to the page come.
Sometimes she had no visions. Sometimes she came up with nothing but indecipherable scribbles. But this was not one of those times.
Her hand sketched a collection of candles, with thick black smoke pooling down from them like water.
A moment later she was sketching a set of bassinets, without any children inside of them.
Still, her hand moved. She drew an opal, with light shining around it.
Finally, she drew two people that she knew very well. Princess Lenore, her teacher’s older sister, being led to a pole with kindling stacked around it in chains. Next to that was Devon, her teacher, and dearest friend, with broken twisted legs.
“No, oh no,” Stella whispered. She moved away from the desk, nearly knocking it over. Her eyes clouded over, and she couldn’t see anything anymore. “Help, somebody, help me!”
“Stella, Stella what’s wrong?” It was Terrae, she could hear him skittering into the room. He grabbed her arm, and she reached for him.
“Get Mamma, and the Septan ambassador,” she said. “We’ve got to get a letter to the capital right away.”
“Why, what’s going on? Oh, oh I see.” He must have looked at her notebook. “I’ll get Mamma, don’t worry.”
A ship left for from Coveline to Septa at first light. Stella’s letter, hastily written, was in the satchel of a royal messenger. Stella slept peacefully, content that at least she’d been able to give a warning to Devon.
But the ship would never make it to Septa. There was a ship waiting just inside of Septa waters, with a black sail. A ship full of men who would stop at nothing to destroy Devon and his family.