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The Story Is This

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Prologue


She smelled the blood before she saw the body. It happened sometimes, perhaps inevitably, during a girl’s early days at the school. A sorceress’s entrance to Aretuza was always marked by loss, by pain, by betrayal. Tissaia knew, as they all did, how much their kind was scorned, feared, and rejected. The world did not reward difference. It only took what was exploitable, and then left the rest to rot. This girl, bleeding out onto the stone floor, knew that already. Tissaia saw that, as she also saw her twisted body, her misshapen spine. Bought for what, half the cost of a pig? Yes, this girl knew exactly what the world was. And as much as Tissaia’s heart clenched in her chest at the sight of this broken child, she knew that this was exactly the girl she could use. Cradling the slashed wrists gently while murmuring words intended to mend, Tissaia felt a whisper of a centuries old discomfort from a complaint long since healed. She felt again the twisted coil of a misshapen foot, curled and clubbed at her left side. And while washing the blood from the girl’s face and tucking her back into her blankets, she remembered the stiffness of longed-healed burns, wrapping around her torso like the only embrace a malformed cripple could hope for. Tissaia watched the girl breathe easier in her sleep, and settled into an uneasy vigil, aware she would not have taken such care for another student. It was many hours till dawn, she knew.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

It started as a stray thought, drifting on the air. As incorporeal as a scent. The girls, she knew, were young, impressionable, and, frequently, vulnerable. Yennefer was no different. Brattier than most. And while her spine was twisted, it was also, regrettably, made of steel. Tissaia had butted heads against her more than her current brood combined. Frankly, the rectoress was at a loss to overcome Yennefer’s obstinance.

And so here they were, Tissaia trying desperately to frighten Sabrina into a creating a successful glamour spell whilst bending over the girl’s prone form, when she became aware of a rather new development with her troublesome student. Like the others, Yennefer was paying careful attention to the lesson at hand, but her eyes seemed to be trained, rather fixedly, on the arch of Tissaia’s ass. Grunting somewhat in surprise, Tissaia straightened her back and very carefully resisted turning around. Throughout the rest of the lesson, Yennefer’s thoughts stayed intently carnal in nature. And Tissaia was forced to endure the rather, ahem, creative fantasies the girl weaved. She was just grateful the entire class was not informed of Yenna’s predilection towards, admittedly, rather fantastic sheer yet supportive undergarments.

“Thank you, ladies, that will be all for today. Please memorize the rest of the incantations for tomorrow.”

“Rectoress can I work on my sky-reading in the tower tonight?” “May I please use a horse for a ride?” “’Brina’s still blue should I fetch a bucket of water?”

Tissaia swept out of the room as quickly as she felt she could get away with as curious violet eyes followed her path. Rushing back to her quarters, she stumbled at her door, wrenching open the doors before slamming them shut.

She gulped in air as she desperately tried to erase the erotic images from her mind. There she was, bent over her desk, taken roughly from behind, back arched, crying out in agony and ecstasy. And again, pushed up against a wall in a cupboard, strong arms supporting her from below as she grasped the hair of her partner, hips seizing in pleasure. Pressing her back harder against the door, she shut her eyes against the onslaught of erotica. She gritted her teeth as she waded through several scenes featuring her office desk. Clearly, someone had a bit of a fixation.

Her (favourite?) image so far was the simplest; silver moonlight casting a blue pale over a bedroom as she rides the body of her lover below. Her slow grind, the illuminated shape of her hips, the gentle sway as she leans forward to bestow a kiss, her hair falling like water, two hands finding each other in the dark. That, Tissaia had difficulty keeping from her mind. Had she ever been seen so? Lust she was well familiar with. Every king she had served over a hundred years had sought to turn her into such a pliant play thing. And while lust played a part in all the fantasies she had cycled through, there was no hiding the care and worship present.

Her back to the door, Tissaia throbbed as she tried desperately to rein in the need pulsing through her body. After many moments, shaking, she gave in. Hiking up her skirts, she traced an invisible line up the path of her thighs. Gasping as she reaching the drenched apex of her thighs, she gently pushed her undergarments aside, and began to tease around her clitoris. She struggled to control the sound of her cries as she moved against herself, faster and faster, finally dipping inside with her other hand, clenching her front walls. As she comes, Tissaia finds herself focusing on one last image; that of Yennefer, head bent between her thighs.

Lust quenched, Tissaia was left with nothing but the yearning. This, she knew, complicated things.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Come on Humpty Dumpty, it’s your turn.”  Sabrina’s face was smug as she looked across the table at Yennefer.  Yenna clenched her jaw, briefly baring her teeth at her classmate, and rolled her dice.  She grinned. 

 

“Five high straight,” she drawled, arching an eyebrow at Sabrina.  “Tell me, does that beat your three of a kind?” 

 

Sabrina scowled and looked away as the loot (three biscuits and an apple) was placed at Yenna’s end.  Jerking her nose in the air, she imperiously stood from the table.

 

“These childish games bore me.  I’ll leave the rest of you to…” Sabrina’s air of superiority fumbled for a moment, as she went pink trying to think of something subtly scathing. 

 

“…enjoy a relaxing evening with people we actually like?”  Yenna beamed up at her.  Sabrina haughtily harrumphed her way out the door. 

 

“Try not to get caught up after curfew.”  A swish of her shiny hair and she was gone.

 

“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” Yenna groused.

 

“She’s a right one,” Anica murmured with a wry grin. 

 

“More for us then.”  Yennefer doled out her winnings to the remaining girls.  She raised a mug. 

 

“To victory!”  Clinking glass and giggles followed.  As they murmured quietly amongst themselves, Yenna pondered these… were they friends?  Often companions, frequent study partners, and encouraged rivals.  She had no experience with friends.  Whomever she had didn’t last long.  Pity was the best she could hope for from others, and it was something she preferred not to have. 

 

“Ugh, she’s totally going to ascend first, isn’t she?”  Doralis flopped down next Anica, who smiled down at her before fiddling with Doralis’ hair.  Yenna scrunched her nose at the thought.

 

“Is she really as posh as she acts?” 

 

Sitting off to the side, Fringilla answered in a low voice, “she is a descendant of Jade Glessivig, a powerful sorceress, long since past.”

 

“Well, that’s her in then,” Yenna huffed out.  Fringilla shyly nodded, eyes shifting downward, no doubt thinking on her own strong connections to the Brotherhood.  Watching her hunched shoulders, Yenna made a decision to ease her discomfort. 

 

“Well, let’s see,” she dramatically mused, “what would the first to ascend of the class choose as her gifts?”

 

Anica and Doralis rolled around on the floor giggling together at the thought.

 

“For sure she’d want to be taller.”

 

“A fuller top lip, for one.”

 

“How about a quicker wit?”

 

“A not so blank look on her face!” 

 

Yenna laughed, knocking her shoulders against Fringilla.

 

“No no, I’ve got it,” she said dramatically, waiting until all the girls were looking at her in suspense.  She leaned forward.

 

“BOOBS.  Giant, full-mrphm…” A pillow in her face knocked her sideways onto the floor where she was pummeled with two more.  Using her hunch as a spring to roll herself back up, she came up laughing. 

 

“Yennefer!!!!!” 

 

“Oh, gods get it out of my brain!!”

 

“You’ll see I’m right; you’ll see!!  You’ll rue the day you doubted my foresight!!!! Ha ha ha!!!”

 

Anica rolled her eyes, settling back down while Doralis was groaning with her eyes scrunched shut.  A more relaxed, and more giggly Fringilla settled against Yenna’s side.  A comfortable silence followed their previous gaiety.

 

“What do you think you’ll chose, if we all ascend?”  Doralis had a serious look on her face. 

 

Yenna contemplated that for a moment.  It was obvious what was necessary for her; mages could not be hunchbacks in a court.  Well, perhaps a man could; it could lend him an air of otherworldliness. A female mage was different.  Beauty was the main means of grabbing a man’s attention, as well as a tool to use against him.  Or, if that did not work, a knife.  A female mage had to have magic in her hands as well as magic between her thighs.  That was the currency of the position.  Her body had to be a part of her stock and trade.  But Yenna had never thought beyond that.  What else could she want? What else could she ask for?

 

“For sure I would want clearer skin,” Anica emphatically replied.  Doralis nodded in agreement.

 

“Less sloped shoulders, for one.” 

 

“A more even gait.”

 

“Slimmer form.”

 

“How about better dancing legs.  Kings are known for their dances, right?”  Even Fringilla, with her powerful connections and clear skin, fretted over these insignificant, yet life saving details. 

 

Yenna continued to listen as her companions traded ideas in the hopes of one day increasing their worth.  She lay silent, knowing that these girls, despite the unique tragedies of their circumstances, could never understand the indignities she had suffered for the shape of her form.  What she would trade for spottier skin and sloped shoulders!  The possibility of children and family seemed an impossible, unwinnable dream.  When could that happen?  After she was a mage for a king or two?  Would they even let her leave?  And even then, would her child share the burden of her elvish blood, her twisted spine?  She thought of Istredd, of his soft hands and gentle eyes.  She thought of the way he would hold her hands in his, as he taught her to use her magic in wonder.  He held her and touched her like she was something precious.  It felt, she supposed, something like hope.  Or perhaps, love.  Was this too something to be sacrificed? 

 

And then, she thought, Tissaia.  The woman who had bought her for half the cost of a pig, who ridiculed her during lessons, and openly speculated whether Yennefer belonged at the school.  Yenna felt the familiar surge of rage at the thought of her teacher, but she could not stop the warmth in her chest either.  The woman who had bought her, and then washed and dressed her wounds, who (sternly) gave her hope for the future.  She closed her eyes at the memory of the woman’s figure; at the curve of her cheek, the oh-so-delicate shape of her chin, at the arch of her brow.  These feelings were too complicated for Yenna to understand as they were, all they did was confuse her.  And yet when she thought of which parts of herself would be sacrificed at the Brotherhood’s alter, she knew these feelings would survive.  Her feelings for Istredd felt so delicate; like the wings of a butterfly, they would be gone with the whisper of the slightest breeze.  He felt like the calm to her storm; a steady hand and a tender heart.  Whatever existed between herself and Tissaia could swallow the world over. 

 

Yenna placed the firm hand on her stomach, as if trying to contain the intensity of her chaos.  Someday, she knew, it would be released.  She tried to force herself back into the conversation.

 

“I would want, above all things, full confidence, in both myself, and whomever I serve.  I would want my destiny to be clear.” 

 

“And no more frozen cats?” Anica smiled good-naturedly.

 

Fringilla gave her a full, assured smile.

 

“No more frozen cats,” she said confidently. 

 

“I hope you find that someday,” Yenna said.  “A king you could serve with full faith.”  

 

“That’s the dream, isn’t it?”  Doralis said dreamily.  Anica pondered this for a moment.

 

“Who are we meant to truly serve, do you suppose; our kings, or the Brotherhood?” 

 

“Or the people,” Fringilla added sadly.

 

None had an answer to those questions, not even Fringilla.  A few giggly moments later, and the young sorceresses slept where they fell; all aware of the oasis they had created with each other in the room.  None wanted to leave it, and so they slumbered on. 

 

 

 

---------------------------------

 

 

 

The next morning, Tissaia gazed down at her students, curled around each other, partially swallowed by blankets; like a basket of puppies.  She fought the soft smile that threatened the authoritative integrity of her face.  She envied their comfort with each other, knowing that it would not, could not, last.  She paused over Yennefer’s face, lingering on the relaxed brow and the stubborn, crooked jaw that gives her so much trouble.  Whatever the girl felt for her could not be indulged.  Keeping Yenna occupied with that boy would be the best way to control the burgeoning brashness that had been developing.  Control, Tissaia reminded herself.  That was what mattered.  She straightened her spine.

 

“Well, am I late to a gathering, or is this a private party?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ugh,” Tissaia grunted inelegantly as she flopped into her cushioned office chair.  Her eyebrows were singed and there was a distressing amount of ash present on her clothes and person. 

 

“Students,” she grumbled again. 

 

After casting a cleansing spell as a pot of gardenias in her windowsill wilted, she searched around for something bracing after that lesson.  Her students, she was convinced, were going to be the death of her.  She wasn’t sure if it would be a physical injury or a psychological strain, but it would happen, someday.  So utterly strange to think that outside the walls of Aretuza they would have been mostly married off by their families by now.  They were not, technically speaking, girls.  Women that, had circumstances been different, would most likely be married and carrying their first child.  She tried to imagine them as mothers, as wives (tried to imagine herself as well).  Though, she thought, there was one who would not have been so.  Where would Yennefer have ended up?  Without a supportive family, the choices were each a horror.  A traveling sideshow.  An enterprising whorehouse.  If the girl was lucky, she would have found a sympathetic miller or stonemason who needed a hard laborer.  But they would have paid the least for her, and her father was a hateful brute.  Tissaia’s heart clenched in her chest as she struggled to shed herself of these imaginary scenes.  A clutch of guilt gnawed at her. 

 

Casting an eye back to her locked bottom cupboard, Tissaia mulled her choices; she wanted more than her usual gray moonshine.  Freezing lightening could chase away her gloom.  A Fryslân ice wine could be the bracing medicine she needed after all the fires (not to mention the desks and Fringilla) she just had to put out.  But then, shoved in the back, she spotted it.  Very gingerly, she reached for a small, unassuming pouch tucked up against some Drakenborg wine and assorted Rivian spirits.

 

Tissaia was loathe to actually open this gift.  She could remember the occasion this had been bestowed, and it was not a memory she thought of ‘overly fondly’.  The night Philippa sealed her commitment to Redania she had caught Tissaia about the shoulders.  A few choice comments about certain parts of her anatomy needing sticks removed later and she held a pouch of what Philippa promised would be a relaxing, fun ride down the pipe.  She scowled, at both the memories and at the pouch on her desk; regarding it as she would an explosive device of unknown provenance. 

 

“Come oonnn Tissaia,” Philippa had giggled.  “I know there’s a feisty woman in there somewhere.”  Slurring slightly, she (most unfortunately) continued. 

 

“This will get you loosened up a bit.”  Two rude, sexually suggestive hand motions later, and she wandered off, cackling to herself. 

 

Mulling her choices, Tissaia held her nose and added a pinch of Philippa’s mix to her pipe.  Breathing in deeply, she begrudgingly admitted that she did feel, indeed, loosened up a bit.  Two puffs later, and she swore the world was a turning a lovely rose color. 

 

Lovely, she thought.  So very lovely…

 

“Rectoress?” Yennefer’s surly voice lifted Tissaia free from the smoky fumes drifting around her desk.  She coughed, turning red as she tried to gracefully disperse the smoke around the room, more than a little alarmed to see the sun had long since set.  While the herbs she had been (inappropriately) sent from Philippa had in fact served their purpose of relaxing her, she was, once again, faced with her intractable student. 

 

She fumbled for her sobriety, trying very hard to right herself without swaying.  Damnit Philippa there was fisstech in that!!

 

 


 

 

Yennefer gazed wide eyed in shock at her (usually) stern taskmistress.  Tissaia was disheveled, pipe ash strewn across her desk, hair frizzled, and her clothes in a concerning state of disarray.  While todays lesson had been… a little more intense and fire-y than usual, Tissaia’s current presentation was… alarming.  Yenna’s attention was more than a little drawn to her dilated pupils, flushed checks, and rosier-than-normal lips.  As a matter of fact, everything seemed slightly, shinier than it normally did.  And there was something in the air.  It was sweet, with a bit of spice to it.  Yenna found herself breathing in a little more deeply.  

 

“Piglet!”  Well, she had not meant that little word to come out so breathless.  Tissaia fought hard to get her control back, but she was clearly still intoxicated by the tobacco mix she had just ingested.  A student seeing her like this was unacceptable.  She waved her hand and the windows swung open, fresh air pouring in. 

 

“I’m so-sorry I…” Yennefer stuttered, “I need help with my geomancy?  You said I should come after supper?” 

 

Tissaia cursed both herself and Philippa for their foolishness.  What had she been thinking?  Of course, Yennefer had come as she’d asked.  The cool night air helped cool her overly active mind. 

 

“Please take a sit, piglet.”  As usual, Yenna clenched her jaw against the name, but did as the Rectoress bid.  Tissaia took the pot of gardenias she had drawn from for cleanliness earlier, and placed it on a stool in front of her student. 

 

“Now, empty your mind, and before you recite the incantation, try simply to feel for the life force of the flowers.  They are dying, but they are not dead.  Not yet.  Try.”

 

A wrinkle of effort appeared between Yenna’s brows as she searched; her mind still felt strangely fuzzy.  She felt herself, she felt her teacher, she felt the large palms in the back of the room… and then she found her prize.  Tissaia was right; the flowers were fading, but the life force was still there.  She whispered the incantation, and tried to force power back inside of the flowers.  She drew chaos through the air, which was almost electric with the possibility of rain.  Trying to thread the flowers with life, Yenna again whispered the command. 

 

Taking pity on the girl, Tissaia weaved her way to Yenna’s chair, hiding a slight hiccup by dropping down in front of her and taking her student’s hand in hers. 

 

“Using the wind’s natural power was a good start, but you also need to focus on its direction; the magic is spilling over itself.  You need to direct it.”

 

Yenna gave a slight growl in frustration.  Why did magic always fail her when it came to her studies?  She wasn’t certain why Istredd could coax it from her in streams, whilst under Tissaia’s eyes it wilted.  Closing her eyes to recapture her sense of the magic around the room, she considered what was different in how she was accessing it.  Then, oh so very carefully, she found the strands of magic that flowed between herself and Tissaia, using it as an anchor, and centered herself, before reaching again for the dwindling lifeforce of the flowers.  A slight glow infused the room, as the withered stems began to raise their heads.

 

“How are you doing this?” Tissaia asked, her brow furrowed in bewilderment.  Where was the incantation?

 

Yennefer’s lips quirked up a bit in a half-smile, reaching for Tissaia’s hands, cradling them between her own.  

 

“Sometimes,” she said, “magic isn’t a command.  Sometimes…it is a prayer.” 

 

Under their entangled hands, the flower began to bloom.  Yenna raised her eyes to meet Tissaia’s curious gaze.  She seemed to be looking for something, Yenna saw with slight alarm.  Whether or not she found it, she was not able to tell. 

 

“How are you doing this?”  Tissaia whispered.  Yenna gave a half-frown and a shrug.  How could she admit that she drew the magic from between the two of them?  Or that she had let bits of her own chaos spill into the room?  In the end, she settled for a half-truth, one she had learned from Istredd.

 

“I didn’t try to control the chaos.  I didn’t order it, neither.  I just asked it to do what I wanted.”

 

Tissaia’s mind ran with questions.  Could it be so simple?  She thought of the girl’s partial elven blood.  It was unusual, highly unusual, even in a place such as Aretuza.  The magic taught to her ancestors had been different; in scope and in practice.  She knew, from her own research, that the elves had asked relatively little of magic, and most of it was from earth.  But since those times, magic had changed.  It took a much stronger force of will to channel it.  And while she tried not to think of it, the proof of this change swam below their feet; conduits for all their long, unnatural lives.   

 

Tissaia regarded her student for a long moment.  Yenna’s, unusual, natural abilities so far had not unbalanced one cold hard truth; her chaos, untapped and untrained, that she had yet to even partially explore, was very, very, valuable.  If she did not find a way for Yenna to become more ‘useful’ to them and more consistent in her studies, she would be a powerful conduit.  Even the great Rectoress of Aretuza would be relatively powerless against that command.  The path to saving Yennefer was clear, but Tissaia’s heart clenched at what must be forfeited to achieve it.  She straightened her spine, head clear, and gaze steady. 

 

“This is an important step in your training, Yennefer,” she said.  “I’m pleased with the progress you’ve made, as well as your potential.”  She paused, trying to find the right words for what she knew must come next. 

 

“I’m sure you are aware that magic is only part of a mage’s path?”

 

Yenna, warily, nodded her head. 

 

“The boy you’ve developed… an attachment to, do you love him?”

 

Yenna floundered at the unexpected question.  

 

“I… I don’t… know.”  Cursing herself for being so foolish as to think her private life was her own, she dreaded what came next. 

 

“Then you must be aware that there are… maneuvers you must perform as a mage in order to keep the continent… obedient?” 

 

A short jerk of her head was all Yenna’s answer. 

 

“How will I know you are ready for such a task?”

 

“I don’t-”

 

“That’s a phrase I’ve heard a great deal from you, is there possibly an end to that sentiment?”

 

“What must I do?”  Yenna angrily brushed the tears from her eyes.  “What do you want?”

 

“A token.  I want whatever he gives you as a gesture of his affection.  I need to know you can keep your heart under your own control as well as direct the actions of others.  You will never be ready to ascend otherwise.”  Her voice softened for a beat. 

 

“You have extraordinary potential, Yennefer.  Don’t waste it.”

 

Tissaia regretted her assignment, but knew how necessary it was in their world; inside the Order, as well as out of it.  It was a lesson most would learn only by necessity.  As Yennefer angrily stormed from the room, Tissaia was thrown back many centuries, when she first learned to hold and hide her heart.  She glanced sadly at the pipe she had used as an escape, what felt like so long ago, hoping what she had done would ease her student’s way in the world; wondering if it would be worth the cost.

 

 

                               


 

That night Tissaia dreamt, for the first time in a long time.  She remembered the flames as her home burned; the way her eyelids had struggled to remain open as she breathed them in.  She watched the fire lick its way up through the ceiling, cutting off any escape she could make.  Chained to the kitchen as she was, clubbed foot hobbled to the ovens, she knew that she would die.  The calmness would unsettle her later, but then, as in the dream, it was a fact that was steeped in oblivion.  She faced her fate with serenity.  When the ceiling above her collapsed, she felt the flames scorch through her body.  She was barely conscious when she decided this would not be her fate, and woke to find herself elsewhere.  Tissaia de Vries, would survive. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chickens clucked amongst themselves, picking through the refuse to find what little food could be salvaged against a backdrop of a crumbling stone wall, riddled through with vines.  She had clear two feet of sky above it, to watch the sun as it moved across the sky, or the rain as it fell.  The view she was afforded was very mean, yet it was the only view she had ever seen.  In order to access it, she had to drag her little chain all the way over to the furthest wall, and lean at an angle towards to the floor.  Her dirty brown hair fell in front of her eyes, tunic worn, but clean.  The hardened dirt floor had toughened her feet into two large callouses; one large yet short foot, one small.  What she looked like beyond these facts she did not know.  She must be frightful, as she could remember nothing beyond this room and was kept from any visitors.

 

The only other souls she knew were Cook (gruff yet kind), her two assistants (Kind and Not-Kind), the Man, the Woman, and the Boy.  She did not know the latter three well enough, but she suspected they were Not Kind.  Boy, especially.  He smelled strongly of something animal, and watched her a little too closely.  Man and Woman were the opposite.  They smelled clean and fresh, and preferred not to look at her at all.  While she struggled with words and the forming of them, she had grasped that there was much that had been kept from her beyond her room.  She had grasped that her name was ‘Dove’, because that’s what Cook called her.  Though she sometimes called certain small winged animals that, so perhaps not. 

 

Her life at this point was considerably unvaried.  She woke from her alcove beneath the ovens when the dawn broke, waited for Cook and Assistants to arrive, stirred what was asked of her, washed what was asked of her, and when Cook (and Assistants) left at dark, she crawled back under the warmth of the stove.  Her world measured the length of the room in which she was kept.  And while sometimes she imagined she felt a certain hum coming from underneath her skin, she still did not think much beyond her life as it was.  Cook taught her how to knead bread, while Kind Assistant taught her how to best dip it in warmed butter.  And sometimes in the evenings, they taught her songs about a number of things she didn’t quite understand.  Not-Kind Assistant berated them for teaching her ‘drinking songs’, which were apparently bad.  And there were frequent moments of quiet when Cook would gather Dove into her arms and rock her while humming softly.  If she was sickly, Cook and Kind Assistant stay all through the night with her, taking turns rocking her between them. 

 

But her favorite moments were the ones when they would tell her stories.  Stories of prophecies and magics, heroes that slay monsters, suns that cast shadows, and of royal courts.  The worlds her guardians painted would sparkle across her eyes.  Eagerly, she demanded explanations for dragons, and magicians, and kingship.  She learned of oceans, and forests, and cities.  There was good and there was evil and there was a great deal in between.  Even the heroes sounded fearsome.  They were as big as a house, and could tear a grown man apart with just his hands.  White-haired and solitary, they traded safety for coin.  She hoped never to meet one. 

 

The world beyond the kitchen doors frightened her.  She relished the quiet isolation of the kitchens, and the attendants therein.  While she had learned of the wider world from her carers, she did not yet wish to see it.  It seemed scary.  And dark.  And big.  She worried she might get lost.  Best to stay in one spot, really.  

 

And there, lying amongst her two guardians, little Dove did feel something. 

 

Protected.  

 

 


 

Yennefer placed the flower in the center of the table.  Tissaia raised an eyebrow, a pleased gleam taking over her face.

 

“You surprise me piglet,” she said.  “Not three weeks have gone by since I gave you your task, and now you come to me victorious.”  Her eyes were warm, pride in her student obvious, undercut by a distinct sign of relief.  Yenna, eyes downcast and jaw gritted, did not notice. 

 

“Is that it?”  Yenna asked, defiance coloring her words.  A flower seemed such an inconsequential thing.  So why did she feel such loss?  Or perhaps it was dread.  She felt a hole inside herself; at times she was scared she was whittling parts of herself down in order to fit better into the role she wanted.

 

“Am I to ascend then?”

 

Tissaia regarded the young woman, trying to gauge her mood. 

 

“Listen for the knock,” Tissaia murmured.  This was the last true test before Yenna’s ascension.  She had a good five years of magical and courtly training ahead of her, but tonight would determine her suitability for a role as a court mage.  A certain amount of ruthlessness was necessary for the position; that was Anica and Doralis’ downfall.  Yenna was hungry to prove herself, to prove her worth.  The child sold for half the cost of a suckling pig was now a woman, and she wanted more, and knew the cost of getting it.  As Yenna left the room, Tissaia began to prepare for the night’s ceremony.  

 

This portion of her duties she did not relish.  She kept a clear head for the task, and whenever her heart began to falter, she reminded herself of the importance in keeping chaos, and the continent, balanced.  Better sacrifice the few, to save the many.  Feeling her chaos rise up a little against her quelled disquiet, she fixed the items on her desk till they were precisely as she liked.  The tide inside her settled; she breathed deeply while smoothing her skirts.  There was much to be done.

 

 


 

 

“You turned my friend into a slug.”

 

“Eel”, Tissaia replied, starting a slow half circle of the room.  “They are conduits.  Their power will help our view to the future, as well as our ability to change it.  This room,” she said, arms wide, “is the stability of the continent.  It holds chaos in place, and then channels its power.”

 

Yenna stepped hesitantly forward, till she had taken Tissaia’s previously held spot on the rocks.  She stared down, in a passive sort of shook, at the spots the young women had stood; dresses scattered haphazardly on the ground.

 

“Flowers, piglet.” 

 

Violet eyes flashed back to her, understanding, now, fully, what it meant to be a conduit.  Magic, she remembered from her lessons, needed sacrifice.  It needed to feed.  Always hungry, this was its feeding ground, where it could gorge to its hearts content.  Chaos could not be controlled by willpower alone. 

 

“You must choose,” Tissaia said, almost as a plea.  She stood, not a hair out of place, her dress free of creases, a picture of perfect order.  Inside, she felt desperate.  Yenna had to choose wisely in this next stage of her education.  Sabrina would have passed without question; no need to even test her.  Fringilla was coming along, though was still quite sentimental.  Luckily the girl had her uncle to save her from this fate.  But Yennefer, all sound and fury, contrary to her core, Tissaia never knew what she would do. 

 

Is this what it all came to?  Yennefer watched as the eels (her friends?) slithered around on the ledge.   She wanted to be a mage; she hungered for that feeling she felt under her skin, a buzzing that wouldn’t turn off, that was fed by her casting.  It was desire as she had never felt.  She wanted to be beautiful and admired and important (wanted most of all to be important to someone).  She gripped the rake tightly, watching the eels move on the rocks, wriggling more and more desperately, as if they knew who they were.  Perhaps she was imaging things.  She gripped the rake harder and, hesitantly, nudged them into the pool.  She knelt down to watch them glide into the water, mingling amongst the sparkling waters.  Looking closer, Yenna saw that there were many more eels within the pool; dozens, perhaps hundreds.  Her stomach twisted inside her.  And all she could think was, at least it wasn’t me.  Turning to look back at her mentor, she found Tissaia offering her a relieved and hesitant smile, and held her gaze, feeling it touch deep inside of her.  Yenna hadn’t been discarded.  Tissaia had chosen her.  She was important

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Your excellence, it’s an honor.”  Yennefer play curtsied in front of the mirror, grinning widely.  She giggled at the thought of it all.  She was going back to Aedirn, not as a hunchback, or as a pig girl, but as a mage.  One of the most powerful people in the kingdom.  She would sit on privy counsels and advise a king.  “The honor is mine.” 

 

She jumped as the door to the chamber swung abruptly open.  Giltine stormed in, his lips two thin lines slashed across his face.  Roughly tugging the dress from her, he shoved another into her hands. 

 

“King Fergus chose this.” 

 

Her heart froze at those words as she grasped the scantily thin red dress in her arms.   

 

“King Fergus… of Nilfgard.”  She felt dread pulse low in her belly.  “What are you talking about?” 

 

Giltine looked as though he was caught between boredom and exasperation.  When he could not find an answer to give her, she knew. 

 

 


 

 

“I demand an audience with the chapter,” she roared as soon as she entered the room.  Yennefer stood firm, her face a mask of fury and resolve. 

 

Tissaia sat behind her desk, having steeled herself for the conversation to come.  It was inevitable, she knew.  A part of her trembled at the wrath Yennefer wore on her entire being.  Or rather, she supposed, it wasn’t fear, exactly.  Perhaps it was regret.  It prickled against her skin, and she had to force herself not to scratch herself to be rid of it.  This was not a moment for weakness.

 

“I handle court assignments, Yennefer.  Not the Chapter.”  Her pride snapped at her as she said those words.  She stuck out her chin at the thought. 

 

“You promised me Aedirn!” 

 

“New items came to light,” Tissaia bit out, “which made me think you would be a better fit for Nilfgard.” 

 

“There’s no power in puppeting fools, especially one who’d sooner fondle his sorceress than listen to her!”  Tissaia felt a familiar wrench in her stomach at that thought and struggled to give nothing away, as an ugly sneer formed on Yenna’s face as she stalked closer, looking for a weak point. 

 

“I don’t think new items came to light.”  She came closer, eyes sharp.  “I think the chapter overruled you.  Is that it, yeah?  The all-powerful sorceress, Tissaia de Vries, knocked down from her glass pedestal!”  A cruel, mocking laugh followed her pronouncement. 

 

Tissaia clenched her jaw at that declaration.  While not completely correct, it nevertheless cut her down to her bones, as only the cold unflinching truth could.  This spelled the beginning of her downfall.  She had been overruled and brushed aside.  The balance of power at Aretuza was tilting.  And so too, was the continent.  Hundreds of years she had shepherded the continent, the Chapter, and the Brotherhood.  Perhaps it was fitting, that her student’s Elven blood would spell her fate, just as she had stood by and offered no aid to the Elves the kingdoms had slaughtered almost to the point of extinction.  Hubris, she thought. 

 

“Twas your blood,” she said evenly.  “Efforts in Cintra prevent the Brotherhood from placing a mage with elven blood in Aedirn’s court.” 

 

Yennefer gasped, anguish briefly flashing across her face.

 

“How could you tell them?!?”  She was breathing fast, anger and betrayal surging through her veins.  While the majority of their relationship had been adversarial, she never thought Tissaia would sabotage her chances. 

 

“I did not.”  Tissaia paused, unsure how far she wanted to take this line of inquiry, before settling on the truth.

 

“Stregobor did.  Divine the rest.”  She held Yenna’s gaze, watching the young woman stagger at the knowledge that her trust in another cost her what she had spent more than a decade striving for.  What’s more, she had failed in the task Tissaia had assigned her so many years before; the boy had seduced and maneuvered her, not the reverse.  Tissaia gave nothing away as Yenna drew herself up, before fleeing the room.  Tissaia ached to follow her, but she knew that certain paths were meant to be undertaken alone.  Afterall, the young woman was no longer her student; she must find her own way. 

 

 


 

 

Yennefer screamed as the fire split apart her body, racing along her flesh in waves as they crashed into her over and over again.  She felt the vibrations of her screams bouncing off the stone walls more than she heard them.  Every molecule of her body exploded and reformed themselves over and over again.  Her lungs collapsed and expanded so fast she couldn’t catch her breath as her core distended itself.  Finally, she felt her bones snapping into place.  Breathing hard, stars still ricocheting around her skull, she awoke to find herself on the floor.  The chair lay before her, snapped in half, remnants of the leather restraints hanging loosely.  A cold, harsh laugh burst from her.  She spied Giltine sprawled across the table opposite; face pale and eyes wide.  

 

“I told you I didn’t need the herbs.” 

 

She stood shakily, grasping the broken chair to haul herself upright.  The pain radiating from within what had been her womb was a sharp and steady throb.  A pinch of willow bark would help ease her discomfort.  Perhaps wormwood would help as well.  Her legs wobbled but held firm as she stretched her back upwards as she stood.   She rolled her shoulders, relishing how unencumbered she was by the absence of her bent spine.  Turning toward the mirror, she did see that powerful sorceress Tissaia had conjured for her earlier.  All lithe, slim muscle, shiny hair and straightened teeth, she was also now several inches taller.  She admired herself a moment longer, before she prepared for her entrance.  A bemused smile spread on Giltine’s face as he handed her a new gown, nodding at her dry thanks as she turned to leave. 

 

Her first thought entering the ballroom was admiring the various magicks that were being worked around the room.  A starry sky above, along with a misty purple haze lingering in the corners, made the banquet hall seem both mystical and immense.  A showy, ostentatious, and formidable display of power.  And powered by the lifeforces of the failed mages below, she thought bitterly.   Eyes passing cleanly over the room, and barely sparing Istredd a glance, she was pleased to find King Virfuril had noticed her first and was eyeing her appreciably.  This was her moment. 

 

Tissaia once again felt dread winding its way through her stomach.  This was a dangerous game that Yennefer did not yet know the rules of.  She had not sworn loyalty to the Brotherhood and the Chapter at the initiation ceremony, and now she had arrived to forge her own fate despite this fact, it would seem.  It was a move beyond reckless.  The board was being reshuffled right now, in this very room, and Yennefer threatened to unseat them all.  She hurried over just as the introductions were underway.

 

“Please allow me to remove this misguided girl,” she said while turning to grasp Yennefer’s arm. 

 

“Now, what sort of king refuses a dance with one of his subjects?”   It would appear he fancied himself gallant tonight, dazzled as he was by Yennefer’s beauty.  Yennefer grinned as if she had already won.  Tissaia watched them as they swept across the dance floor, something bitter scorching through her as King Virfuril’s hands lingered on Yennefer’s body. 

 

Easy does it, Piglet, you don’t want to overplay your hand, she thought, sending the message directly to her ex-student.  If the young woman heard, she gave no indication.  Fringilla and Vigo stood off to the side, angry whispers not quite reaching her ears.  Tissaia continued to watch the players, hoping she would be able to see the complete board before the next play occurred. 

 

We need to talk, she said.  This time, Yennefer inclined her head at the thought, and continued to let King Virfuril lead her across the dancefloor.   

 

 


 

 

“This is not how we do things; it is not how we maintain control, of neither the continent nor ourselves!!” 

 

“Why should I soften myself for a world that would not be soft for me?”  Yennefer sneered.  “Are you still in control?”

 

Tissaia felt the chaos undulating across the air like the beginning of a tidal wave with that taunt; her ex-student was perilously close to losing control.  The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, as if waiting for a killing blow.  She swallowed that fear as Yennefer began to prowl through the room, almost growling in her rage. 

 

“Don’t worry, Rectoress, your power might be failing, but mine will not.  Isn’t that what you taught me; never be a pawn, always a player.  We are, after all,” she said, nudging dangerously closer, “just pieces on the board.”  With a flare, she was gone, her magic echoing across the room like a slammed door. 

 

Yennefer had learned that lesson too well, it seemed.  Tissaia barked out a rueful half-laugh.  Of course, in her hour of need, power slipping through her hands like sand, she discovered that she had spoiled what could have been a source of comfort.  She sat, hugging her knees on the floor, the heaviness of a phantom clubbed foot at her side, and imagined the heat of a hearthstone, the scent of flour in the air.  She knew that mages needed ruthlessness, and that it was often at the cost of a soul.  She ached for the girl she had found once, bathed in her own blood.  But that girl was gone; Tissaia had as good as killed her that night.  Yenna was going to forge her own path, without her, as all her students did.  That resilient tenderness that Tissaia had been so drawn to, had been snuffed out.  She had made sure of it.  Yennefer was lost to her, forever.

 

Hubris, she thought bitterly.  I am fell low.  This loneliness I have earned

 

Tissaia wiped her tears on her sleeves, make-up smearing down her face.  She would have tonight to grieve, for herself, and also for Yennefer.  Tomorrow she would begin to take back her power.  It might take decades to undone what had been done in a matter of days, but she would see to it.  She had to. 

 

A knock snapped her out of her sorrow; low and hesitant.   She stood on shaky legs and made her way to the door.  Light flooded the dark room as it opened, revealing her newest charge.  No more than six, the little girl with sad brown eyes looked up at her, upper lip trembling, tears half formed in the corners of her eyes. 

 

“Did Yenna leave?”  Barely more than a whisper, the child’s voice gave away her utter despondency.  Without thought Tissaia bent down and drew her into a hug.  Little Triss had struggled since she had come to the school, and Yennefer had helped her with that; knew what it was like to be scared and lost.  Clearly, the young girl had grown attached.  Tissaia cursed Yenna for her thoughtlessness.  Hating her was one thing.  Neglecting this child was another. 

 

Triss hiccupped in her arms, sniffling out her hurt, eyes runny.  Tissaia tutted and stood, cradling the little girl in her arms.  It was a short stretch to her bedroom, where she placed the child in the middle of her bed, and magicked them bedclothes after making sure the room would be warm the whole night.  It was an extravagance, this magic, but so needed.  Pulling Triss to her once more, she began to hum, unconsciously mimicking the songs of her childhood sung under a hearthstone while running her fingers through Triss’ soft curls. 

 

“Miss Tissa?”  The little girl mumbled, “will Yenna come back?” 

 

Tissaia held back her reply.  The short answer was no.  The long answer was, most probably not, and then only on the most official of business.  She found it wasn’t in her to answer, and settled for simply holding the little girl closer, trying to ease both of their hearts with an embrace.

 

Yenna didn’t say goodbye to Tissaia; the betrayals cut to deeply.  Fringilla, Istredd, Tissaia… where was the fall from trust?  From grace? From friendship?  As she unlaced her gown for the King of Aedirn, feeling a strange new buzz of power from his appreciation for her newly cut body, she told herself; no one will ever touch my heart again.  There will never again be a lover, a mentor, or a friend who will cut me down in my heart.  Never again

 

 


 

 

They were gone, she thought.  Little Dove tried wailing for someone to find her, but still they did not come.  It had been seven days since Cook and Assistants were last in the kitchen.  Seven days she had waited, forlorn in her loneliness, eating stale bread with the few eggs the chickens had left around the kitchen.  Where had her companions gone to?  Why was there no food to be made?  Even the chickens were subdued.  There were still noises in the house, though they were quieter than they used to be.

 

Tongue between her teeth she swung her make shift sling as high as she could, hoping the spatula would have enough force behind it to make it to the hallway.  Once, twice, and finally on the third swing it flew through the air, landing with a clatter just beyond the entryway.  Cheered by her success, she waited, desperately listening for any sign of life. 

 

It seemed many minutes went by when a figure appeared in the doorway.  It was Boy, but he was different.  He no longer smelt like animal.  Instead it was something darker, something that made her wrinkle her nose.  Like an apple left too long in the sun.  The rotten smell permeated the kitchen.  His eyes seemed strangely shiny, and darted about as if checking for enemies.  She shrank away from him, back bumping against her stove. 

 

“Why you makin’ so much ruckus?  Oh wait, oh wait this is good.”  He clapped his hands together once, bent over at the waist, as though he couldn’t believe the humor of the situation.  

 

“Everyone totally forgot about you!”  He squealed, hands out in a mockery of supplication. 

 

“We all forgot, and woah, I guess you don’t know, everybody’s dead.”  Dropping the announcement with little fanfare, he began to hunt through the food stocks. 

 

“W-wha-what do you mean?”  Little Dove was wary of Boy, of his frenetic energy, strangely flushed face and his rotten smell.  “Where’s Cook?  Where are Assistants?  They promised they wouldn’t leave me!”

 

“She’s dead, you dumb cow!  They all are!  And so is my mother, and my father is barely hanging on.  Who cares about three slow menials?  Who knows, they might have starved before the red posy got’em.  Town’s been cutoff for days.”  The grief he wore seemed to collapse his face as he recounted all he had lost.  Eventually though, it turned his smile cruel.  She shuddered at the darkness in his eyes. 

 

“You don’t know, do you?”  He mock whispered to her, gravitating closer as she shuffled away. 

 

“I mean, there’s a plague about, little sister,” he grinned with a eleven-day old dried biscuit in his mouth.  There was cruelty in his eyes, and they narrowed at her confusion.

 

“And you don’t know that either!  What a day!  What a glorious day!”  Boy commenced with hopping around the kitchen in a grotesque mimicry of a waltz.  “What fun we could have had!!  And to think you didn’t know!” 

 

“Te-Tell me then,” little Dove asked.  There was a danger emanating from Boy, but the prospect of truth Dove found enticing. 

 

“Oh, little baby sister what a tell what a tell!!  How could I ever explain fully to you, malformed creature that you are in mind and body, the horror our parents felt at your birth,” he cried almost ecstatically.  “The lord and lady of Drachten, with a cripple for a daughter.  Of course, no one could knoowwww. 

 

“I mean,” he intoned with increasing energy, “how could they keep their position with a monster at the end of the table?!?  Who would have married you?  Were we to host you as family until our deaths?”

 

Dove felt tears running down her face, whether in terror, sorrow, or anger she did not know.  Her heart beat wildly in her chest as she struggled for breath.  Boy continued to dance around, singing songs like lullabies. 

 

“Who are we to ask- we to ask- we to ask- wither la pest come out to play...” 

 

Eventually, his frenetic dance ended.  Dove looked at him with fear in her eyes, uncertain now that she knew her parentage.  Or had the plague infected his brain? 

 

Kneeling down in front of her, he reached for her face.  She grimaced as he cradled her chin, searching her features for something with his wild eyes.

 

“Eleven years we could have had.  Except for that,” he gestured to her foot, chain attached.  Sighing, he stood, and started his solo dance again.

 

“You’ll be safer here than outside,” he said dreamily.  “Caged like the animal you must be.  Who knows, you might eventually be the last of us left.”  He grabbed an invisible dance partner, and leapt out the doorway.  Dove blinked away her tears, bewilderment filling her senses.  She knew she was a secret, but that her family would be so close, and never with a kind word.  Was she meant to die here?

 

Anger growing in her chest, she looked at the fire, eyes narrowing.  She seized a feather stick in her hands, and let it catch flame.  Staring at the slowing growing embers, she felt a coldness taking hold of her heart.  She might not have lost her parents, but she had lost her family.  Sometime ignited in her veins, the normal buzzing she felt giving way to a roar.  She thought of Cook, and Assistants (even Not-Kind Assistant) and screamed in loss and rage.  The feather stick was fully ablaze now, and she used it to light the storage baskets that lay in various places around the room.  The fire burned quickly, inching across the ovens towards the bags of flour.  She watched in detached awe, as it burst into bigger bursts of flames.  Licks of flame climbed up the stairwell and into the corridor beyond.  Dove wished she could watch it burn all the way. 

 

She stayed huddled in her usual nest by the stove, club leg sticking out at an awkward angle from her body, feeling nothing for the carnage overtaking her surroundings.  The rage in her heart refused to quell, and she accepted that her actions would seal her fate.  There by the countertop was where Cook liked to rest between meals, singing or laughing with the others.  And there by the window was where Kind Assistant would sigh and talk of her dreams of leaving this life behind her.  She’d talk of kind princes and foreign lands, wistfully hoping her fate would save her from a lifetime of service.  One of Cook’s embroidered cloths lay near Dove’s bed.  She reached for it, caressing the sewn lines.  It was the symbol of the region, Cook had said.  Dove didn’t quite know what she meant by that, but she knew the curved lilies represented something bigger than herself.  The de Vries lilies, they were called. 

 

Dove wiped her eyes, crying for her lost family.  A creak from above signaled the collapse of the ceiling, as the support beams began to burn.  Closing her eyes, she waited for the end, only to remember Cook’s words to her one feast day.

 

“Don’t let nobody take away your spirit, girl.  The house may seem big, an’ the world may be bigger still, butcha ya gotta keep ‘old of yourself.  Ain’t nobody gonna take away somethin’ you don’t wanna give.” 

 

Those words held her fast amidst the burning, and as the ceiling went down, she seized the buzzing that shimmered in her veins, and wished to be safely away.  A great flash went off, and she awoke elsewhere.  Little Dove had survived, the symbol of the de Vries lily clutched tightly in one hand.    

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The cottage looked meaner than she remembered it, somehow.  The frame of the door seemed more slanted.  The roof had more holes.  The walls did too, for that matter.  She eyed the empty pig pen, chock-full with weeds, wondering if she should even bother.  A shuffling noise, like moving feet barely lifting off the ground, could be heard from the side of the house facing away from the town.  Hesitating, she tried to decide what exactly she thought this would accomplish.  She meant what she had said to Istredd the year past; she didn’t want to be that scared little girl ever again.  She wanted to forget.  And court life suited her.  But after a year of dances, private duties to the king, asinine obligations, and diverting intrigues, she had become curious.  There was no lost love between herself and her family, and yet.  Waiting a beat longer, she followed the sound. 

 

Her mother was sitting against a cut tree stump and breathing deeply, as if the journey had tired her.  A brittle and broken cough rasped from her lungs, spittle trailing from her lips.  Yennefer stood stunned for a moment, quickly calculating how long she had been gone for, wondering if she made a mistake.   This woman was old, far older than she should have been, if she was Yenna’s mother; dark lines etched across her face and hazy, deep set eyes suggested someone quite elderly and frail.  A tear fell in a straight line down Yenna’s face as she gazed at the old woman.  She gritted her teeth, trying desperately to hold back the chaos shimmering and buzzing under her skin.

 

“Ma?” Her voice broke only slightly, imploringly.  “Ma, it’s me.  It’s Yenna.”

 

Kneeling in front of the old woman, palms held up as she wondered whether a touch would be wanted.  Her mother’s eyes still didn’t track her, but she did release a heavy breath. 

 

“Yenna,” she croaked, “she left.”  Her brow furrowed in memory or confusion. Yennefer took a chance and placed a soft hand on her mother’s wrist, suppliantly. 

 

“I came back, ma.  I came back.”  Tears streamed fully down Yennefer’s face.  “I didn’t leave, I was taken.” 

 

“So long… so long…”  Her mother trailed off, still not seeing her lost daughter right in front of her of her unseeing eyes. 

 

“Mother, I’m here, I’m in Vengerberg.  I’m a mage to the king! I survived, I- I’m beautiful,” Yennefer found herself babbling, hoping something, anything, would draw her mother out of herself.  But the distance remained.  Finally, with some effort, she looked down and seemed to see her daughter. 

 

“Erica.”

 

Yennefer’s heart fell to her stomach as her mother called her by her sister’s name.  Wiping her tears from her face, she managed a tired smile. 

 

“Yes, mother,” she struggled to say, “I’m here.”

 

“Inside,” her mother gestured, wheezing with the effort.

 

“Of course.”

 

Yennefer took the other woman’s arm to help steady her on the walk back to the house.  Her mother’s clothes were ragged, her arms so thin they were bone.  Walking into the house, she noticed that there was dust and cobwebs everywhere, as if the home had not lived in for some time.  Dishes were left as they were, stacked haphazardly on the table. 

 

Finally, she saw it, the embroidered family life tapestry.  Even as poor as they were, her mother had dutifully woven the important family events into the cloth through the whole of her childhood.  Hands slightly shaking, she looked to it for answers. 

 

There, on the bottom, she saw the woven gravestones.  Three of her siblings and her father were gone.  A little above was her sister Erica’s wedding.  And so, her mother was left alone here, with the ghosts of the past all around her, until she taught herself not to see. 

 

Yennefer could shed no tears for her father, but she found her anger had lessened with the passing of time.  Turning to see her mother trying to climb unsteadily into the one bed the family owned, she moved to help her.  Even after everything that had been done, Yennefer did not find it in her to abandon the old woman to her fate.  She kept watch over the sleeping woman for some time, before gathering herself to go. 

 

She stopped just outside the farmhouse as she left, eyes marking the spot where she had first seen her, Tissaia.  Her teacher and her mentor, who had ridden up to her house all arrogance and glamour, demanding respect.  She amused herself thinking of how many of their fights had rehashed that moment.  Four marks indeed.  Yennefer had certainly made Tissaia pay for them during the length of her education.  And she tried, almost desperately, not to remember the way the woman had made her heart race, the way the sun caught the curve of her cheekbones, or the smell of ocean spray in her hair.  It was time to grow up.  It was time to leave the ghosts behind. 

 

She stepped back from what had been her home, heart strangely hollow with her leaving.  Heading into the small town, she made inquiries of several villagers for a caretaker, someone who would stay and give her mother the care she needed.  Finding the right woman, a newcomer to the town, Yennefer paid in a bag heavy in silver and gold.  The woman’s eyes lit up at the payment, assuring her that her mother would be looked after for the rest of her natural life.  A few measured threats and demonstrated fireballs later, and Yennefer was taking a portal back to the palace.  Entering her chambers, she realized that not one person had recognized her at her return.  Not least her mother. 

 

It felt as though she had shed a piece of her childhood, much like a leaf falling from a tree. 

 

 


 

The fifth-year anniversary festivities for King Virfuril’s reign were in full swing.  Even with many guests the ale and wine continued to flow freely, adding to the general revelry of the crowd.  While waiting for the King to finish conversing with his foreign guests, Yennefer admired the splendor of the palace.  Despite living in magicked Aretuza for more than a decade, she was entranced by the Royal Castle’s beauty; magic had no hand in its creation.  Glass mosaics splashed across the ceiling lit up in vibrant and breathing blues, greens, reds, and purples by the sinking sun.  The marble columns scattered throughout the hall were carved with vines and flowers of unparalleled craftsmanship, looking almost alive despite the color of their blooms. 

 

For a brief moment, she wondered if this place had been home to elves before humans.  She trailed her fingers gently across the face of a nymph whose upper torso was carved into an archway designed to look like a tree.  Yennefer pondered the fate of a being transformed into nature, thinking once more of Anica and Doralis in their pool.  Did their families ever wonder about their fate?  Did letters go unanswered and dreams go unfulfilled?  Thinking once more of her mother gazing off into the void of her mind, she struggled to shed her musings to better fit the revelry mood.  And just in time, as King Virfuril turned to introduce her to someone important the next kingdom over.  She offered a dazzling smile in return, taking his arm and mingling with his guests. 

 

The night continued on till the wee hours of the morning, the visitors keen to speculate about the unmarried, handsome king.  Bets were being made about a possible marriage.  Yennefer thought of that only in regards to her duties as mage, presupposing that princesses and queens would make her job harder than when they were absent.  Her eyes lingered over the guests, wondering if she was in the mood to bed someone.  Stopping a yawn from leaving her lips she decided sleep was the preferred option.  And then, as she turned to make her good nights, she sensed something.

 

Somewhere behind her, she felt a tickle of recognition; Tissaia?  She couldn’t stop herself from turning quickly on her heel, eyes wide as she searched for the other woman.  Instead of the brunette, she saw a blonde.  A tall one, unfamiliar to her, who was curtseying graciously at the king, and walking away.  She slumped at her mistake, and with keenly felt disappointment swallowed the hope that had sprung up inside her.  She doubted the woman ever thought of her now, except in regards to her position, of course.  Trudging along to her quarters, she lost herself to her thoughts.  Surely Tissaia would have better things to do than check up on her.  Surely.  Yennefer knew it was the lingering liquor that made her think, but why not?

 


 

 

‘To whom it may concern -

 

The King of Aedirn requests additional support from the Brotherhood in seeding the fields of the northern territories.  A wet rot is hindering the planting season and the King is worried about instability amongst the peasants.  He’s been muttering about torches and pitchforks for a few days now and it’s become irritating.

 

Dutifully, Yennefer of Vengerberg’

 

 

 

‘Yennefer of Vengerberg

Mage to King Virfuril of Aedirn -

 

There is protocol for that request.  This is not protocol. 

 

Tissaia de Vries

Rectoress of Aretuza

Chapter of the Gift and the Art

Brotherhood of Sorcerers’

 

 

 

‘Do you seriously write that at the end of every letter?  How has there not been an ink shortage in Temeria?

 

Yemma of Vergerburger’

 

 

 

‘Yennefer of Vengerberg -

 

Please stop sending frivolous messages, it’s clogging my post.  And didn’t anyone tell you?  It’s far easier to just use blood, dyed black.

 

Tissaia de Vries’

 

 

 

‘Seriously how have you not stabbed someone yet? Or is this a confession?? Do you need a barrister, because I think I could be a good one.  I mean, I have an outfit that would work.

 

Yummifer of Vagdeburn’

 

 

 

‘Yennefer -

 

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but if you are this bored at court, you could probably fix that crop problem in the northern territories all by yourself.

 

Tissaia de Vries’

 

 

 

‘Did you not hear the part about the peasants?   

 

Yer-maw of Vagitable'

 

 

 

‘Dear Brotherhood of Idiots & Chapter of Cretins –

 

The King of Aedirn would like to Formally Request that you, please, wipe his Arse.

 

Respectfully, the Miltseed of Louse’

 

 

 

‘YENNEFER’

 

 

 

‘Piglet, I know that was you.  

 

TdV’

 

 

 

‘Oh, so now you won’t respond to messages?

 

TvD’ 

 

 

 

‘To the Rectoress of Aretuza,

Chapter of the Gift and the Art

Brotherhood of Sorcerers –

 

I am unaware of what it is you accuse me of.

 

Dutifully, Yowza deVirginer’

 

 

 

‘Yennefer, this is a dangerous game you are playing.

 

            TvD’

 

 

 

‘Tiss, before we go any further, I do insist we exchange safe words.  Mine’s ‘don’t stop’. 

 

‘Spank me daddy’ also works. 

 

            Yeppifer of Vagenda’

 

 

 

‘‘Yennefer of Vengerberg

Mage to King Virfuril of Aedirn -

 

I believe this communication needs to cease before it devolves any further.  As your superior, I request that you apply yourself a little more vociferously to the handling of court affairs.  I am putting together a compendium of information relating to agronomy that should help you with Aedirn’s problem.  I highly recommend The Treaty on the Northern Regions Relating to Agriculture of 1176, as it relays the importance of cooperation and cultivation in the continent.

 

Tissaia de Vries

Rectoress of Aretuza

Chapter of the Gift and the Art

Brotherhood of Sorcerers’

 

 

 

‘Yennefer –

 

Where has the Treaty on the Northern Regions Relating to Agriculture gone?!?  And why do I suspect that you have something to do with it???

 

Tissaia’

 

 

 

‘Dear Rectoress of Aretuzza –

 

I’m so glad you asked.  The item in question is on the very top shelf in the third storage cupboard on the fifth floor of the second tower. 

 

Dutifully, Yodeling in Vaginaberg’    

 

 


 

 

Despite herself, Tissaia laughed as she read over Yennefer’s last message.  It would appear that court life was of too unvaried an existence to retain Yennefer of Vengerberg’s attentions.  She fought a blush at the thought that she was.  Chances were, Tissaia knew, this was just a game to Yennefer. After all, it was game she had learned from Tissaia herself.  And one she had dabbled in since her teen years.  Tissaia battled with her yearning for a long moment, then, sighing, placed the letter in her locked cabinet besides all the others.  She touched them softly, remembering Yennefer as she knew her, not as she was now, transformed.  But there was much to be done. 

 

Smoothing her dress, Tissaia readied herself for class.  She collected her things and set off for the teaching rooms.  Soon enough, little Triss skipped by her side, babbling some story concerning jackdaws and a pail of oil. She quirked her lips at her vivacious companion, nodding at the appropriate moments.  When they reached the classroom, Triss turned to take Tissaia’s things before settling in her seat.  It seemed that the little girl, younger than the rest of the class by a decade, had appointed herself as Tissaia’s assistant.  Tissaia found it was not within herself to deny the role.

 

Lingering once again in her memories, she began the lesson.