Chapter 2 here
Chapter 3 here.
Chapter 4 here.
Chapter 5 here.
Chapter 6 here.
Chapter 7 here.
Chapter 8 here.
Chapter 9 here.
Chapter 10 here.
Chapter 11 here.
Chapter 12 here.
Chapter 13 here.
Chapter 14 here.
Chapter 15 here.
Chapter 16 here.
In the middle of a land that did not exist, in the middle of a time that was, it seemed, all times and none, the woman named for her ancestors who had often found the names fit like someone else’s shoe put someone else’s crown on her head and found that both seemed to fit better than they ever had at home.
“I am Malina Serafina Anastazja Dominika Naveed Jeleń nic Cecília O Alexandre. I am the daughter of Cecília Portela Dominika, the daughter of Tiago Jeleń Alexandre, great-granddaughter to Serafina who brought home the sun. I am she who wears the crown here.” She lifted her chin, aware she was speaking to the wall of an abandoned – or nearly-abandoned – castle. “I am she who crossed the border lands.”
“And this is the castle that is your home,” the cat told her. “The castle wants to see you.”
“Then let us see the castle.”
She left the sitting room, left the foyer, left the long hall with its narrow but beautiful walls. She stepped into the air and the sun, surprised to find a pleasant and nicely-scented breeze brushing against her.
The cat had turned in front of her along the way and now he turned right, stepping along a sand-covered floor. As Malina followed him, the sand blew gently away, revealing beautiful mosaics that were still in perfect condition.
In front of them, a courtyard stood out in the sun, light filtering through the leaves of trees that reached up further than the castle walls. One tree in front of her looked, at first glance, to be stunted and twisted, like those in the oases in the desert. She glanced down at the mosaic – the skill in designing and laying these patterns, so that there were dozens of interlocking patterns all repeating over a huge area! – and when she looked back at the tree, it was standing straight, flowers just starting to bloom in its branches.
“The castle knows you.” The cat’s tail was straight up; his voice was inordinately pleased. “It’s waking up.”
“You, of course, never doubted that for a moment.” Malina made the comment out of the side of her mouth, but she was nearly too distracted to care.
As the castle woke up, it became clear that the whole thing was that beautiful. The mosaics repaired themselves in a few broken spots. The trees dropped fresh, bright fruit into her hands. A small herb garden perked up as its reservoirs filled with fresh, clear water. A moment later, the sounds of a fountain came to life. She made her way between two very eager trees to see a bright pool, deep enough to swim in, and little fish-sprites splashing happily in its depths as the water refilled and the fountain in the center burbled and popped.
The fountain, she saw, was topped with a statue of a tree, stylized and pouring water out of its branches and leaves.
“This place -” She had thought her parents’ palace was beautiful. She’d thought Lady Rosário’s home was lovely. “This place – This is built – was built – with – “
She had failed to find words, which made her feel more than a little embarrassed. For once, the cat waited, rather than taunting her or providing information which didn’t help at all.
She looked around, turning in a small circle. “Every single bit of this place is made with care,” she murmured. “But it looks like more than care. It looks like it was made with intent – oh, that’s not quite right either. Most things are made with intent.”
Carefully, she touched a carved series of gratings. They were made out of sandstone, screening one area from another while letting the breeze go through. And they were made to look like something like peacock feathers, as if invoking the breeze by the idea of feathers.
As she touched them, she could see that the design was not quite symmetrical but perfectly balanced, that it was made so that this one feather here tilted a bit, as it was mirrored by two smaller feathers on the other side, leaving both a slightly larger gap above the single feather at just above eye level and also making what looked like a letter.
She turned to the cat now. She had a feeling something was just out of her reach.
“There’s a language in the carvings,” she tried carefully. “Maybe not quite a language, but something that means something – oh!” She shook her head. “I am missing the language for this.”
“You are,” the cat agreed solemnly, “but one thing at a time. The meaning in the carvings is magic – or at least it is partially magic. Some of it is simply words. The beauty here is in honor of this place, that sort of thing. The magic, however, was carved into, painted into, planted into, every single thing in this place. That is how it stands and renews itself so well. That is how it is still here, and how it – hmm. How it pins down the border lands.”
Malina walked around the courtyard slowly, looking over the little garden, the way the plantings were arranged, looking up at the trees and at the sky, bright and sunny and unforgiving, just beginning to be visible over the edge of the castle walls. “It was built to be magic,” she murmured. “To – to pin down?” Her brow furrowed.
“The borderlands, as they are, are not stable. They’re not meant to be. They’re a place between. But to have this place be what it was meant to be, they needed to have a measure of consistency. Thus, this place.” The cat washed a paw nonchalantly. “Thus, you.”