|Written by Therese Arkenberg / Artwork by Marge Simon
I stumbled on my way up the stairs. Perhaps it was the anxiety, or my sleeplessness had
finally caught up with me, or I was simply clumsy. In any event, I had already regained
my feet by the time the servant ahead of me turned around.
“Is everything well, madam?”
“It is.” I waved off his concern, and we resumed our climb. The Mirror was in the highest
room of this tower, and it was a tall tower. It had a name I couldn’t remember,
something in the language of this land. Orgien would know. It was a shame Orgien
wasn’t here—more than just a shame, because I needed Orgien here, needed a diplomat
who knew what he was doing. But he was on the coast, watching the sea rise. Why he
was more suited for that than I, I certainly didn’t know. Perhaps his calm self-possession
was more important in managing the growing disaster at home than in making a petition
Maybe they thought my awkwardness would be endearingly amusing.
For all that I thought the stairs endless; the door at the top came quickly enough. Two
statues of man-headed, winged bulls flanked it. Aseselek, I remembered they were
called. Guardians of the Mirror. It might have been my apprehension, but the bearded
faces seemed watchful, almost suspicious, as if I offered some threat to whatever was
past the door. The servant stood aside, leaving me to go through alone. I sighed and
brushed down the front of my skirt. In order to get this meeting, we had called in favors
done by persons centuries dead; I wasn’t about to muck things up with a poor
The Chamber of the Mirror was smaller than I had imagined it. Or, perhaps, it only looked
small, because the massive curving Mirror and its stand took up so much of the room.
The rest of the space was filled with a chair, the woman who sat on it, and the desk
beside her covered with pens, ink, and an open ledger. Every once in a while she would
turn from the Mirror to scratch a word of two in the margins.
The servant closed the door behind me. At the sound, the woman looked up. I tried to
remember the title she preferred—the Watcher or the Seer or something—but settled
with a bow and a murmured, “Your Puissance.”
She looked up, pushing the hood of her green robe back from her eyes. Her features were
round, her skin dark. She was obviously a foreigner. Only, I realized, I was the foreigner
here, in her land.
They should have sent Orgien instead of me.
“Good morning,” the woman said. “May I help you?”
“I am an ambassador from the Shadiar court.”
She nodded absently, then suddenly leaned forward in her seat to watch something in
the Mirror. She turned and wrote in the book beside her.
“Adian might want to hear of that,” she murmured. Without raising her head from the
ledger, she raised her voice and spoke to me. “Well then. Ambassador, I am Adriel
NaAdeen, currently in possession of the Mirror. That makes me Oracle, I suppose, or
Prophetess or whatever they want to call me. You’re here for a look into the future?”
“Er…yes, I suppose so.” Too late, I realized there had been sarcasm in her accented
Adriel peered into the Mirror. “This may take a few moments. I can only command the
Mirror so much, you know, and it helps if I have a good idea what I should see. Why did
Shadiar send you? What sort of problem do you have?” She said the name carefully, but
mispronounced it anyway. It was strange to realize she was not familiar with Shadiar,
the Golden Island: what we called the greatest nation on the earth.
She repeated her question, eyes still on the Mirror.
I stared at the stones of the floor as if the answer were written there. “Our land is
sinking,” I said finally.
Adriel turned to me, foreign eyes opened wide with surprise. Well, our predicament had
surprised an oracle. Perhaps we should take pride in that.
“According to legend,” I said, “Shadiar was raised from the depths by the sea goddess
Sadaldra. But now it seems ready to return there. The water in our harbors rises with
every tide. We want to know where it will end.”
“Or if it won’t,” Adriel said.
I met her eyes a moment, then looked away. “Or if it won’t,” I agreed.
“I’ll see, then.” She turned to the Mirror and mouthed something; I saw her lips form the
word ‘Shadiar’. Whatever it showed held her attention breathlessly for a time, then she
sat back and laughed. It wasn’t a happy laugh. It was the sort of half-deprecating
chuckle a powerful person gives when something escapes their control. It was a sound I
had been growing familiar with.
“Yes?” I said.
“I…” Adriel NaAdeen pinched the bridge of her nose. “It’s hard to explain. Perhaps…” She
looked up at me, eyes narrowed. “May I tell you a secret, ambassador?”
“Yes. Of course, your Puissance.”
“They say it takes the inborn power of an Oracle to see anything in the Mirror,” she said
softly. “But it isn’t true. There is no such thing as inborn power—not for seers, at any
rate. All the power is bound in there.” She gestured to the Mirror. “In the glass. For the
God’s sake, the girl I send in to clean every month sometimes sees visions. We keep
quiet about them, of course…” Adriel waved a hand as if shooing something bothersome.
“Though I suppose it doesn’t matter. No one in their right mind would want my place.
Here I am, the Mirror’s secretary, making notations in a ledger…That’s all an Oracle is
good for. But never mind. If you come stand here, next to me, you can see what I do.
And perhaps you can help me understand it.”
I moved carefully to her side, half of me expecting something to lunge from the shadows
and stop me before I dared to look. The surface of the Mirror was highly polished, and
three candles sat on a rack at its base, casting a low light on the metal. What kind?
Copper, steel, silver? I couldn’t tell.
At first I saw only a white mist along the inside curve. Then, slightly distorted, our
reflections appeared over it. I was paler than I had thought, especially beside NaAdeen’s
dark complexion. Our eyes met in the Mirror, and I looked away.
When I did, I spotted something blue as the sky—strange, because there were no
windows in the chamber. Yet the edges of the Mirror had a thin tracery of bright blue on
them, like the reflection of light off waves…
The coast of Shadiar had appeared in the Mirror. At least, it seemed to be Shadiar. There
was a child on the beach before us, life-sized, and certainly with Shadian features—clean-
cut, fair skinned and brown-haired, with wide gray eyes. He carried a bucket and a small
shovel, and was playing, digging and building something in the sand before us.
I glanced at NaAdeen. This was what she had seen, what she could not explain? Sensing
my impatience, she raised a hand and nodded. “Watch.”
The tide was going out. That only became clear to me after a long time, while we stood
and watched the Mirror, and the boy playing inside it. The bucket was filled with sand
and tipped carefully over, once, twice, four times, and then more sand was mounded to
form walls. A citadel, a fortress. When the outer wall was complete he made more
towers, inside and outside it, some with low domes painstakingly formed from handfuls
of damp sand, others decorated with twig-sketched shapes meant to suggest windows,
doors, balconies. On the wall he made shapes of arches, and he dug a trench that ran
through the streets of his sandy city right to the citadel, which he filled with water
fetched with his bucket from the sea. The sand swallowed it as we watched, the tiny
river drying before he managed more than half the trip to the surf and back.
The beach was at the end of a curving bay, a natural harbor with walls of soft pink rock.
There seemed to be a reef farther out, which was strange if the scene was indeed
Shadian. Very little of our island was far enough south to have much in the way of coral.
Still the surf went down. I felt a strange envy for the young boy and his beach: in the
Shadiar I knew, our tides only grew higher. His city seemed to be finished, but still he
fussed with it. He found some delicate shells and stuck them to the walls seemingly at
random. He added more touches to the windows on the towers. He even, with some
difficulty, found another twig to use as a bridge for his river, and started tracing the tiny
bricks forming the sides of the canal.
“Such perseverance,” I muttered, not even realizing I had spoken my thoughts aloud.
“It’ll all be washed away in the end.”
“Will it?” Adriel murmured. I didn’t think she expected me to answer.
The boy’s small improvements seemed to be make-work: he was simply trying to pass
the time while waiting for something. But for what?
The level of the water continued to fall, and I could finally see some of the reef. It was
almost white in places, and in other parts it shone—and as I watched, the salt-pitted
walls of a city were revealed, with tarnished domes, crumbling arches, balconies hung
with seaweed. It was the mirror of the sandy buildings on the beach. It was a city, sunk
below the surface, only revealed now by the lowering tide.
It was a Shadian city.
I pressed a hand to my mouth to cover a cry. Adriel NaAdeen looked at me, then back to
the Mirror, too quickly for me to really see her expression.
“What does it mean?” I whispered.
“An excellent question.” She spoke briskly. “It is obvious that at least part of Shadiar has
sunk. But the tides reveal it. Is this near in your future? Is the tide still rising? Will the
boy and all his people go to the depths? Or will Shadiar rise again, and is he waiting for
A new scene flashed in the Mirror: a fair-haired young man stretched on a dirty pallet in a
dark room, crying with a scrap of parchment hanging from his hands. This tragedy had
nothing to do with Shadiar; I turned away from the glass.
“I’d like to think I have brought you at least hope,” Adriel said. “But what can you
expect, when you go to the future for answers?”
I nodded, not at first trusting myself to speak. “It’s fair enough,” I said when I regained
my voice. “Now I will return…”
“What will you tell them?” She asked it softly, almost with compassion.
“I don’t know.”
I left the room with Adriel NaAdeen scratching something into her ledger—perhaps about
the young man weeping, perhaps about the sorrow of my entire race. I didn’t care. The
doors opened easily at my touch, and I walked past the Aseselek without looking back.
I stumbled down the stairs.
An intern in Washington, DC, Therese Arkenberg
has written short stories published in Beneath
Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, and several
WolfSinger Publications anthologies.
WolfSinger has also released her science fiction
novella, Aqua Vitae.