Mistress of the House
The clerk stopped at a tall black walnut door embossed with images of the stars, constellations, and signs of the zodiac. He knocked respectfully, announced Master Galwynn, and then waited nervously until he heard a female voice from within bid them enter. Then the old clerk opened the door, stepped aside, and ushered Master Galwynn into the private study of Lady Barbara De Lune, the Mistress of Stargazers.
As Kevin entered, he paused a moment, rummaged around in a pocket of his tunic, and eventually pulled out…a bright, red apple. He handed it to the clerk, smiled affably, and said, “A reward for your service.” The clerk was beside himself; most noblemen did not even notice their lessers. The grateful clerk bowed and gesticulated far too many times for Kevin’s comfort, as he backed out of the study, and closed the black walnut door behind him. Even as the portal thudded shut, the sound of the clerk’s feet could already be heard receding down the long curved corridor.
Master Galwynn noted that the Mistress’s study was much like his own, with shelves of books and scrolls and arcana, and instruments unique to her trade. However, she had personalized her study with lush house plants, colorful peacock feathers, and censers of burning incense.
It took a moment for Mistress De Lune to look up from a huge, disorderly pile of star charts on the table in front of her; blink twice from behind her gazing crystal; and then turn her deeply worried expression into a relieved smile. “Master Galwynn, my clever boy, you are here at last,” she said. “Have you had breakfast yet? Only a morsel? Come, sit down. First we eat, then we talk—for we have much to talk about.”
The Mistress of Stargazers dug beneath the pile of star maps and miraculously unearthed a tea cozy, a crock of poppyseed biscuits, and two mugs. “I knew I had put this somewhere,” Mistress De Lune said, as she carelessly tossed aside the cozy to reveal the pot, sniffed the steeping tea, and once satisfied, poured two mugs. Kevin enjoyed the tea—it was imported from Sky, and tasted as light and fresh as the air after a rainstorm. Lady Barbara drank, closed her pale-blue eyes, and looked as satisfied as a nomad who had been wandering through the desert and then discovered a wellspring. In short order, Kevin was still intrigued by his hostess, but no longer peckish.
“Now we talk,” said the Mistress of Stargazers, as she brushed a biscuit crumb from her lips. As a Master of Enlightenment is wont to do, Kevin half-closed his eyes, laced his fingers together, and listened to her story as attentively as a barn owl listens for the footfall of field mice as they tiptoe through dry stalks of summer grass.
“Last night,” Lady Barbara began, “my most learned astronomers, astrologers, celestial cartographers, and I ascended to the observation deck at the top of Stargazers Tower. I never tire of looking at the firmament from there. It was a perfect night for seeing, with the night sky as black as velvet, and the stars as bright as crown jewels on display.
“We were meticulous as we set about our measurements, and we made our readings several times over to minimize error. We recorded our readings in the tables of our ephemerides, and then adjusted them for the time, day, season, and temperament of the most capricious denizens of the Upper Reaches.”
Lady Barbara leaned closer and said, “Understand, Master Galwynn, we were also making readings that night when the stars whirled madly around Heaven, but we were so amazed by what we saw, we did not make careful measurements. This time we were painstaking; and this time, we saw something we hadn’t noticed before. Something that should not have been possible, my clever boy.”
Now it was Kevin who leaned closer, until he was nearly eye to eye with the Mistress of Stargazers, and the flecks of stardust in her gaze seemed to glisten.
The Mistress of Stargazers said, “This time we noticed that in a constellation—that is, a village where a community of stars dwell—named ‘Vystra,’ the bright star that should have been at its center—was gone!” Lady Barbara’s hands balled into fists and shook so fiercely in her agitation that the bangles on her wrists rang like chimes. “At first we thought we had overlooked the star. But search as we might, the star could not be found. We had made no mistake. The star was missing!
“Do you understand, my clever boy? A star is the offspring—a star-child—of the gods Sun and Moon themselves. You have children, Master Galwynn; I know them well; a sweet, precocious girl who may grow up to be as great a goodwitch as her mother, and a rambunctious, adventurous boy who may grow up to be as different but as great as his father. Can you imagine how you and your wife would feel if one of your children suddenly went missing? Now imagine your anxiety—your fear!—for the safety of your child, felt not by you, but by gods as powerful and volatile as the Sun and Moon!”
The Mistress of Stargazers leaned back and breathed deep. “My stargazers looked at their findings in stunned disbelief, and shook their wise, snow-white heads in denial. We couldn’t accept what our eyes proclaimed. We thought once again, that we must have made a mistake. And so, in a frenzy, we made our measurements one final time. But we could find no mistake. Our measurements were accurate. Our conclusion was confirmed, and it is this: An inviolable, everlasting, sacrosanct star-child of the gods, was missing. But what did the sooth say that meant?”