The Book of Andrada
Every year on midsummer day, Princess Andrada waited for King Cothelas to come and wish her a gods-blessed birthday. Every year, he was too busy ruling Kerta to visit his daughter. But this year was different because she was turning ten, and the gods had given mortals ten fingers and ten toes for a reason.
The morning before her birthday, Andrada and her nurse shared a light meal in the women’s wing of the king’s house. Andrada gobbled up her bread and cheese, staring at the grand balcony outside the dining hall. Her father could be in the square right now, drinking from the fountain of Mount Kogalan or talking to people. Yes, she’d meet him tomorrow, but tomorrow was so far away. If she could catch another glimpse of him, she’d be better prepared for him on her birthday. She had seen him from afar at public gatherings, but her nurse had always kept her from going near him.
Andrada took one last bite and bolted to the balcony, ignoring her nurse’s call to finish her milk.
She flung herself against the stone parapet, catching her breath. On tiptoes, she surveyed the sunny square for a sign of her father. Then she searched the stepped terraces of Sehuldava, all the way down to the fortified city walls.
People crowded the streets as always, but there was no sign of their king. Andrada clasped her hands together and prayed to the sun god Sehul to shine a ray of light and reveal her father to her in the bustling city below.
She waited, twirling a ringlet of hair around her finger.
Nothing happened. Andrada looked away, a painful knot growing in her throat, tears blurring the snowy mountaintops in the distance. Maybe her father was in the throne chamber, listening to his subjects on Petition Day. Maybe he was in his council chamber, preparing for an attack from Emperor Nero’s Roman legions. Maybe—
A gentle touch on her shoulder made her flinch. The nurse had joined her on the balcony. And someone else was there: a man, his sandy hair wild under the bright sun. He wasn’t her father though, so he didn’t matter.
Andrada wiped her eyes while the nurse nudged her toward the stranger. He stood by a trestle table covered with parchment sheets, charcoal sticks, and clay jars marked with colored brushstrokes. He didn’t wear a cloak or the forward-bent felt cap of a chieftain.
“Princess Andrada,” he said, bowing. “I come from a land named Valdavia, beyond the Carpates Mountains.” He spoke her native Dhawosian but with an unfamiliar sound. “People call me the Cartographer because my work reveals the hidden face of the earth goddess Ea. I take places too big for the naked eye to see—watersheds and mountains and seashores—and I capture their likeness on my maps. Would you like to see a map, Princess?”
No, she wouldn’t. She already had a map of the four Dhawosian kingdoms in her chamber. She studied it every day so her father would be impressed.
She found a new ringlet to play with and said nothing.
“He’s here to capture your likeness,” the nurse whispered in Andrada’s ear. “King Cothelas sent him.”
Her father wanted her portrait? Then she shouldn’t make him wait. Hands trembling, she parted her thick, curly hair and brought it over her shoulders. “Oh, no, no, no. It needs combing.”
“Your hair looks fine, child,” the nurse said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Andrada said, her heart beating in her throat. “Bring me my comb. It’s in my horse-box.”
The nurse sighed. “Cartographer, watch over the princess, will you?” In that light, the scar on her right cheek looked like a streaming tear.
Andrada waited for the nurse to disappear into the dining hall before she approached the man. He had already drawn a few black lines on a sheet of parchment that was held flat on the table with pebbles.
“My father wants my portrait?” she said.
“He needs it, yes.” He glanced at her and back to his parchment.
“Where is he now?”
“In the king’s chamber.” That was in the men’s wing, on the other side of the king’s house, past the great hall with the throne chamber.
“Doing what?” Andrada said.
“Drawing, as I do now.” His breath smelled nice when he spoke.
“Something he lost ten years ago.”
“What did he lose?”
The Cartographer laughed. “You ask a lot of questions, Princess.” He dug into one of his belt pouches, took out a few green leaves, and tossed them in his mouth. “You remind me of a little girl back home in Valdavia. Her name is Una.”
Andrada caught that pleasant scent again as he chewed. “What kind of leaves are those?”
“Water mint. When you travel as much as I do, you want something to remind you of home.” He swallowed. “The medicine women of Twin Willows tell me it’s also good for my stomach.”
Andrada realized she didn’t have time to waste before the nurse returned. “Can you draw my father’s portrait for me?”
“Your father’s? Why?”
Just then, the nurse stepped onto the balcony, holding Andrada’s horse-box. Fast as a night spirit, that woman.
“Ah, let me look at that,” the Cartographer said, taking the box from the nurse’s hands. “Beautiful carving of a horse. Whitewood from the northern forests. Good for pigments.”
Andrada didn’t dare ask him again for her father’s portrait with the nurse there. “Can you make my horse’s hair blue?” she said instead. “With a golden harness?”
“As soon as we finish our work here.” The Cartographer gave the horse-box back and returned to his sketching.
Andrada opened the whitewood box—always hard for her small hands to handle—and dug through her treasures, looking for the bone comb. Her fingers touched the gold coin stamped with her father’s profile. She couldn’t quite tell what he looked like in real life, but she was sure to recognize that shaved head tomorrow. It had to be tomorrow.
She stiffened her neck as the nurse forced the comb’s wide teeth through her unruly hair. On the next pass, it caught in her gold hoop earring. She yelped as a dark hair fell on her embroidered skirt. “One day, nurse, I’ll hurt you back.”
“Of course you will, child. Though not for a while.”
Once her hair was tamed and pinned up, Andrada put on a piece of jewelry from her horse-box: a gold necklace with a crystal pendant.
“Queen Pegrina would’ve liked that for your portrait, yes,” the nurse said. She turned to the Cartographer. “Before she died, the queen left this necklace for the princess.”
Andrada whipped her head toward the nurse. Her beautiful crystal necklace had belonged to Queen Pegrina? The woman her father still mourned? He’d been shaving his head since the day she died, as a promise to wait for their reunion in the god Azemel’s Underworld. Andrada couldn’t understand why that woman deserved such devotion. When Azemel’s wife Samca, the goddess of the night spirits, had come to Queen Pegrina’s deathbed with Her twin cups of life-giving water and deadly water, the queen had chosen the one that took her to the Underworld—not the one that would have kept her here, with her newborn daughter and her husband.
“No, don’t take it off,” the nurse said.
Andrada dropped the necklace in the horse-box, then climbed onto a high stool to pose for her portrait.
“May I borrow that necklace?” the Cartographer said.
Andrada shrugged. The Cartographer picked it up and looked at it. Light passing through the pendant speckled his sunburned face with many colors. He drew the crystal and the chain on his parchment, added more details, then returned the necklace to the box.
Andrada sat up straight, posing. She listened to the voices in Mount Kogalan’s Square below and to the water trickling in the fountain, and after a while, she felt warm and sleepy.
“We’ll do colors now. First your eyes, then your hair,” the Cartographer said, picking up a jar. “This is malachite green, the favorite color of the goddess Enoz of the crops.” He scraped a good amount of pigment onto a wooden plate and took daubs of yellow, blue, and brown from other jars. He mixed and added, and smeared the result on that plate. Then he stared into Andrada’s eyes, squinted, frowned, and mixed some more.
“Will you see my father today?” she whispered to him.
“Yes,” he whispered back.
“Tell him not to forget tomorrow’s my birthday. I can’t wait to meet him.”
The Cartographer scratched his sandy beard. “Wait, you’ve never met your father?”
“Never.” Before she knew it, she was in tears.
The Cartographer looked at the nurse. “This child needs her father. Without him, she’s lost. Not just now, but always.”
The nurse squeezed Andrada’s shoulder. “Tomorrow, child…Maybe tomorrow.”
On midsummer morning, Andrada climbed into the warm washtub without her usual splash. The chamber looked unfamiliar somehow, even though the beds, shelves, and tables were the same, as was the hearth in the center with the smoke hole above it. Then she noticed the large wooden screen blocking her sight of the door. Was that there for her birthday?
“What’s that?” she asked but received no answer.
The nurse poured water over Andrada’s head and rubbed scented oils in her hair. “Keep still now.” She wrapped the wet hair around her fist. “May the gods forgive me.”
Andrada felt something cool and thin on the nape of her neck. She pulled away with nowhere to go, heard a hiss, and her forehead slammed against her knees.
“What have you done?” she cried. Her beautiful hair was in the nurse’s hand. “Why?” Tears already rolled down her cheeks.
“King Cothelas’s orders,” the nurse said. “May the gods forgive him.” She covered the severed hair with a fine linen meant for sacred offerings and carried it beyond the wooden screen. She exchanged a few words with a man waiting there and came back. “The Greek physician is ready for you.”
Andrada’s chest tightened with sobs. “Who?”
The nurse handed her a damp cloth for teeth cleaning, but Andrada wiped her eyes with it instead.
The nurse patted her on the back. “Your mother, with her last breath, made your father promise you’d be like a son to him. So now the king believes he must cut your hair short, dress you in boy’s clothes, and send you to school for the next eight years. Girls’ apprenticeships end at sixteen so they can marry soon after. You’ll be with a tutor for two more years.” She shook her head. “I tried telling him that your mother meant he should love you like he’d love a son, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”
“Then…this…is all her fault,” Andrada said, crying.
“No, child, it’s not. He’s just a man who can’t understand a mother’s love.”
“And what would you know about that?” Andrada whispered through tears. “You’re no mother either.”
The nurse touched the scar on her cheek but said nothing. She took a towel and draped it over Andrada’s trembling shoulders. She then helped her out of the water and walked her to the edge of the screen.
The Greek physician’s hairy hands reached out from the other side to inspect the limbs Andrada extended to him. He counted her fingers and toes and listened to her chest and back through a twisted horn. Andrada kept touching the bare skin at the back of her neck. No hair there. No ringlet long enough to loop around a finger. She told herself she’d be more like her father now—less hair—but she couldn’t stop crying.
“The princess has no bodily flaws,” the physician announced. “By the grace of the Three Light Divinities, she can enter an apprenticeship.” The door opened and closed a moment later.
“What kind of apprentice…ship?” Andrada asked through sniffles. She didn’t want to go to school with the boys.
“King Cothelas never told me,” the nurse said. “He just ordered me to get you ready.” She tucked Andrada’s short hair behind her ears and removed her earrings. “You won’t need these anymore.”
A handmaiden brought new clothes, and Andrada put them on. First, there was a linen tunic with tight sleeves. It only covered part of her legs, ending just above the knees. Then there were woolen trousers, tall leather boots, and a leather belt with pouches. She wondered if that was why the Cartographer had done her portrait the day before, drawing her long hair and her dress.
“Am I supposed to pretend to be a boy now?” Andrada said.
“You be yourself, child,” the nurse said. “But you’ll be learning and doing things that only highborn boys are allowed to.” She held up a black shawl with a hole in the center and slipped it over Andrada’s head. “This is your apprentice’s apron.” She tied a tasseled rope of red and white thread around Andrada’s waist. “The king is taking you off Ea’s path of womanhood, may the gods take care of you both.”
The nurse gave her an unwanted hug. Andrada breathed in the familiar bittersweet scent of sage, and it comforted her. Then she pulled back, wiping another tear off her cheek. She’d be with her father soon enough.
Andrada, her nurse, and her royal retinue arrived at the school on a lower city terrace. It was a stone building with many chambers that opened into a square. Highborn apprentices in black aprons filled the air with shouts and laughter. With no hair ringlet to twirl, Andrada took the nurse’s hand and squeezed it. Her father must be there somewhere. It was her birthday, after all.
A man raised the draco, the Kertan wolf standard, at the top of a spear. The brass tongues of the wolf’s hollow head rang in the wind, claiming power over the realm. The linen bag that was the wolf’s body swelled in the breeze, adorned with flapping ribbons. At the wolf’s call, the boys headed for the doors of the school chambers.
“You may leave now,” a guard told the nurse, but Andrada wouldn’t let go of her hand.
“I’ll pick you up later,” the nurse said. “And I’ll have walnut honey cakes waiting for you at home.”
Andrada watched through tears as her nurse disappeared into the crowd. She reached for a ringlet but touched only the skin below her ear. Her hand smelled of sage though, which made her feel better.
The guard nudged her through a doorway. She wiped her eyes because she’d meet her father now, and that was all that mattered.
Inside, she saw ascending rows of stone benches and shelves full of scrolls. There was a round hearth in the middle of the chamber. A man in dark robes sat at a narrow table, but he couldn’t be her father because his head wasn’t shaved, and he had a gray beard. He was a tutor then, judging by the gold chain around his neck.
“Princess Andrada,” he said, “take a seat.”
With every step she took, her scratchy wool trousers rubbed against her thighs. She sat in the lowest row of benches, beside a wooden frame with strings of colored glass beads and a folded pair of wax tablets topped with an iron stylus.
“When’s my father coming?” she said.
“Do not speak unless spoken to, apprentice.”
“What kind of apprentice am I?”
“Quiet, or you’ll be sorry.”
No, he’d be sorry when her father learned how he had spoken to a princess—and on her birthday, no less.
She turned her attention to a map of the Dhawosian kingdoms hanging on the wall. Unlike the small map in her chamber, everything was big and drawn in vivid colors. At the center, the Carpates Mountains curled like a brown snake powdered with snow. Everything to the left of the mountains, all the way to the green fields at the edge of the map, was Andrada’s country, Kerta. To the right of the mountains were the kingdoms of Valdavia and Steppewynd, separated by the Pyretus River. Valdavia was painted in light and dark green because of its forests and fertile valleys. Steppewynd was shown in yellow and brown because its fields had long been dead.
“How much longer until my father arrives?” Andrada said.
The tutor looked up from his work, his eyes dark and cold. “By the Three, apprentice, I just told you to keep quiet.” As he opened his mouth for further scolding, a messenger walked in.
While the men talked, Andrada went to the map. The Danubius River flowed through six blue branches into the Black Sea. South of the Danubius, the former Dhawosian kingdom of Moesia—now a Roman imperial province—was marked with small pins, mostly along streams and lakes. What did those pins mean?
After a moment, she knew the answer: Roman forts, which had cropped up everywhere since Moesia had been conquered. She looked at the tutor to tell him of her discovery.
He was already approaching, a wooden rod in one hand. On his gold chain, a large crystal pendant swung against his dark robes to protect him against evil spirits.
“King Cothelas sends word that we are to begin at once,” he said.
Andrada clasped her clammy hands together. Her father had sent word? That meant he wasn’t coming. He wasn’t coming…
The tutor stopped before her. “Name.”
“Andrada of the Andori tribe, Princess of Kerta.”
“And I am High Priest Avezinas, your tutor in everything from numbers to sacred formulas to weapons. I’m the king’s first councilor, and you’re my only apprentice.” He frowned. “By the Three, what’s this? Tears? Tears won’t save you from the Romans if they come here.” He held out the rod. “Palm up.”
Andrada obeyed, not knowing the significance of that.
The rod struck her hand. Its bite sank into the bones of her fingers. She shrieked and pulled away.
“Now the other one,” Avezinas said.
She presented her other palm, shaking. The rod burned a bright line of pain across her hand. New tears sprang up, and she wiped her face with the back of her burning fists.
“That’s for crying like a little girl,” Avezinas said. “Now tell me why you’re crying.”
She tried to sound calm, but her voice wavered. “I…want to see my father.”
“The king will make time for you someday, apprentice. But not today.”
He laid a hand on Andrada’s head. She stood still, afraid to breathe.
“Andrada of the Andori tribe,” he said, “today, you begin your journey from ignorance to wisdom, as wished by your mother on her deathbed. Today, you become an apprentice warrior, like the highborn boys of our land. Today, I, Avezinas, high priest of Sehul and first councilor of King Cothelas of Kerta, take custody of your heart and mind in the name of the great mother goddess Ea and Her three divine children. May Sehul, god of the sun disc, Mehnot, god of the moon, and Heusos, goddess of the night’s guiding stars, watch over you during this sacred journey.”