Forbidden Memories

Alex McHaddad, 1/14/2020

"The court finds the defendant guilty in the charge of murder."

Sana tried to stay strong as she held her quaking daughter in her arms, terrified of what would likely come next. Murder was a capital crime under Airgiallan law, and her daughter was certain to face the hangman's noose. Tears came quickly, Kathryn covering her face to sob and leaving Sana grateful that she did not have to feign a look of reassurance.

"Your honor, my client, uh, requests an, um, appeal," stuttered Kathryn's lawyer, drunk as always. "She is only… Seventeen, after all…" He burped and learned onto the table, barely able to stand. An appeal was not in the grasp of a drunkard who couldn't even remember his client's age.

"Your appeal is denied," said the chief magistrate of the trio of judges seated at the front of the packed courtroom. All three were bland, bald men appointed by the Airgiallan aristocracy, kept fat and happy to rule in favor of their patrons. "The schools so generously run by the Imperium teach that immorality of murder at a young age," the chief magistrate continued. "Your client was well aware that she should not have killed a man, even out of vengeance for the crime she claimed but the plaintiff disproved."

The lawyer turned to shrug at Sana and fell back into his chair, drunk but not disappointed.

"Your attention to your client's age will not, of course, go unnoticed," the magistrate announced, shuffling papers on his desk. As he reached for his sentencing papers, Kathryn's lawyer smiled optimistically and Kathryn pulled her head up from her hands, glancing hopefully at her mother.

"The Baron of House Martin wishes to show compassion for the defendant," announced the chief magistrate. "For the crime of murder, Kathryn Andros forfeits her freedom as a subject of the Airgiallan Empire and is remanded into the possession of House Martin."

"What? No!" Sana jumped from her seat, screaming in rage. "You will not take my daughter from me! She was violated!"

"The claim of the defendant was disproven," said the chief magistrate. "Your moral failings as a mother drove your daughter to take the life of a man sensible enough to ignore the romantic entreaties of a child. You could not even keep her from lying, and your are blind to her dishonesty. The generosity of the Imperium is shown here again, as Baron Martin has assured this court that your daughter will enter adulthood as a reformed woman, eligible to be freed no earlier than ten years from this date." He slammed a gavel on the bench before him as the other two magistrates sleepily nodded their approval, and the crowd in the courtroom clapped in celebration of the noble who controlled the City of Martinvale.

Guards who had been waiting on the sides of the courtroom approached the table where Sana and Kathryn were seated, and Sana shot a glance of absolute rage at the prosecutor seated at the table next to her. She clung tightly to her fearful daughter, shielding her with her body as guards unraveled chains and reached down to grab Kathryn. Sana would not let her daughter go quietly, reaching out her arm to bat away the nearest guard.

"Leave her alone, you apes!" Sana shouted, glaring at the lawyer who refused to assist. He merely stood up and backed away from the table to offer the bailiffs better access to his clients.

Realizing their prisoner would not be removed easily, the bailiffs forcefully grabbed Sana together, one swinging the chain at her face. Consumed with pain, Sana was forced to let go of her daughter, joining Kathryn in crying aloud in fear. She blindly reached out a hand to touch her daughter one last time, but screamed in pain when her knuckles were battered by a bailiff's chain.

"Mom!" Kathryn screamed, heels dragging on the ground as the guards dragged her out of the courtroom.

"Kathryn!" Sana screamed, barely working through the pain to run after her daughter. A pair of bailiffs quickly restrained her, and Sana found herself too weak to leave their clutches. Kathryn's screams echoed through the court chamber even after she had been dragged off of the room, entering a life of pain and drudgery as a slave for the next decade. She would forever be known as the wench who murdered an aristocrat who had scorned her, not the girl innocent of killing a monster who had violated her. The courts of the Imperium would be far less tolerant of one believed to have killed a noble than a woman who had removed a predator from the streets.

Time seemed to run together thereafter, days unaccounted for and minutes passing like hours with no reason for the clock to move forward. Sana wasted away in her hovel until she ran out of food, and it was only at the peak of starvation that she found the will to go back to her work as a seamstress.

One day she heard an unexpected knock on her door, revealing a servant from House Martin with a short letter from Kathryn. The servant began dutifully delivering messages back forth between the pair, and even apart that were able to rebuild a semblance of their familial intimacy. Kathryn's best notes contained embarrassing stories about aristocrats, whose public nobility masked a facade of salacious crudeness common to every person in the city. Sana had little to describe in her mundane life, usually noting the colors and patterns of the clothing she sewed. Her greatest accomplishment was to ask her daughter about her vision of the perfect dress, which Sana sewed for a young noblewoman in the palace. The latter that arrived after Kathryn had seen the dress was painfully bittersweet, praising the design and thanking her mother for creating a garment of such beauty that they both knew Kathryn would never wear as a slave.

After a time, the notes grew less frequent and more depressing, Kathryn finally revealing that a mistake made in the household has been blamed on her. As punishment, she was reassigned to more grueling work in the palace scullery, leaving her with time to do little more than rest. Eventually, the notes ceased altogether, and when Sana did not receive a letter on the second Winter Solstice holiday of her daughter's captivity, she grew fearful.

After a week of searching, Sana found herself shattered by terrible news once again: Kathryn had grown despondent and was last seen throwing herself from a palace balcony into the river that flowed through Martinvale. Grief, anger, sadness, fear… All these emotions flowed through Sana as she carried herself through the streets back to her home, collapsing into the floor once she arrived. In her depression, she felt she could go on no longer, until she realized that her daughter could have survived! Sana had taught her to swim, and there was a chance that she had braved the current and escaped her slavery.

She spent weeks running up and down the riverside, asking homeowners and merchants if they had seen her daughter climb onto the riverbank a few months before. Searching further and further from the palace, Sana was originally impressed by Kathryn's stamina. In between her searches, Sana sewed a duplicate of the dress meant for her daughter, envisioning the day when Kathryn could be adorned like a princess.

Eventually, Sana realized that she had likely gone too far from the place of the fall for her daughter to have safely braved the waters. By the end of winter, she stood by an icy riverbank outside of town, dress in hand to be gifted to the waters that had claimed Kathryn's life.

"Oh mother, you shouldn't have!"

The voice of her daughter would remain in Sana's mind until the end of time, and she was flooded with tears when she turned to greet Kathryn. Her embrace was strange, and when Sana cleared her eyes, she saw that her daughter had changed. She was not haggard as a scullery maid would be, but older and taller, dressed finely as a warrior and carrying a sword.

"Kathryn, what happened to you?" Sana asked.

"I fell backwards and landed earlier rather than later," Kathryn said, a crazed look prying from the corner of her eyes.

"Whatever do you mean?" Sana asked, worried that her daughter had been bewitched.

"You know how one thing happens after another?" Kathryn asked. "Morning follows night, follows evening, follows afternoon, follows morning, and so forth?"

"Yes?"

"Imagine living the other way around, and picking and choosing whether morning ought to follow night or the other way around?"

"Oh no." Sana gasped, nervously stepping back. "Kathryn, what happened to you? Who has bewitched you?"

"We're both cursed, mother," Kathryn said. "A thousand years ago and a thousand years hence, I see that you never change. You age in one direction, and I age in all directions."

Sana nervously looked around for a stick or a rock that could defend her against her clearly unstable daughter, but she doubted that she could hold back a sword or a spell.

"I killed Brian Martin," Kathryn said suddenly.

"You lied to me!" Sana gasped, putting her hand over her mouth in surprise. Kathryn had assured her that she had not killed the young nobleman who had violated her, despite what seemed like forced dishonest testimony from a key witness.

"Oh, I told you the truth," Kathryn assured. "I just hadn't killed him yet."

Sana could not comprehend Kathryn's riddles, simply staring at her in confusion.

"When I jumped from that balcony, I fully intended to die, but instead I found myself in the woods where Brian had been killed," Kathryn said. "I thought he had survived and merely hid himself to play a cruel joke on us commoners, and I was so enraged that I beat him to death with a sharp rock. The witnesses at my trial indeed saw me, wearing my scullery clothes rather than one of the dresses you had made me. When I ran until town to find you, I found a wagon that took me part of the way, but when I fell off the side, I found myself in a different Martinvale, flying flags of a new empire. It was then that I discovered that I could bend time to my will."

"Why didn't you come back and take me with you?" Sana asked.

"I didn't want to remain powerless," Kathryn said, briefly glancing down at her sword. "Now I can protect myself, and you. So where and when would you like to go, mother? I never travel to this era."

"Kathryn, listen to yourself!" Sana cried. "You've been bewitched, and you must cast away this spell. Let's find an Enchanter who can free you."

"The pointed harts run scared in these times," Kathryn laughed. "Besides, I'm not bewitched, but if you want, I can take you to the throne room of Janis herself to prove my sanity to you."

"No," Sana said. "You just need an Enchanter." She held out her hand and said, "Please, come with me! We will find an Enchanter, no matter what it takes. I will see you freed." She smiled hopefully, but Kathryn simply shook her head.

"I'll return when you've come to your senses, mother," Kathryn said. "If ever you should have need of me, simply write down my name and say that I have appeared. Whenever and wherever you summon me, I will find your note, and I will come for you." With that, Kathryn jumped up and flipped backward, blinking out of sight as the jingling sound from her chainmail ended earlier than it should have.

Sana turned toward the river once more, red sunset clouds reflecting like blood on the icy river before her. Whatever had happened to her daughter had changed her forever, and Sana was scared to summon her back. She resolved to find one of the rumored remaining Enchanters, not to exorcise her daughter, but to fight alongside a magician and other rebels against the cruel world that has turned Kathryn into a murderer at best and a witch at worst.

"Goodbye, Kathryn," Sana sighed, casting her daughter's new dress into the waters that had claimed her soul.