The Lorelei Signal
Memories of Air
Written by Josie Gowler / Artwork by Marcia Borell
The silk curtains flapped in the breeze, waking me up. I squinted against the bright morning light. I tried to push myself up into a sitting position on the bed and instantly regretted it. Clasping my bandaged right hand with my left, my lengthy swearing confirmed I had no place in the sumptuous bedroom I’d found myself in.
The oak door at the far end of the room opened and a neatly-tabarded older woman came fussing in. I spotted a little wooden stool, just outside the door. “How are you feeling, dear?” she asked, checking a bandage on my forehead.
“Splitting headache,” I replied. I stared at my injured hand, and cringed when she touched my bruised ribs. My knee didn’t look too good, either. Whatever had happened to me, I’d been struck or landed on my right side.
The old lady clucked around me like a demented hen. After a while she decided I was definitely going to live and stood back, satisfied. “Are you hungry?”
“Ravenous,” I answered, noticing the smell of breakfast for the first time.
“Well, when you’re ready, come out to the balcony and we’ll get you something to eat.” She pointed to a washstand and a clean white tunic on the chair next to it.
I stood up, wincing as I did so. “Where am I?” I asked.
“In the Vizier’s palace. Come along, breakfast is waiting.” She turned to leave.
“No, wait, please.” I reached out and gently caught her arm. She smiled. “I have another question. Who am I?”
Her next smile was a thin wisp compared with its predecessors. “You’ll remember, soon enough.”
I let her arm go and she left, gently closing the door behind her.
I limped to the washstand, thoughts bouncing and hovering. Everything was indistinct, just out of reach. I looked nervously at the door. How could I go out there when I had no idea who I was, what I was doing, how I’d been injured? Washing, I caught a faint whiff of gunpowder. It felt like a slap. What the hell had I been involved in? I scrubbed furiously.
Changing into the white tunic, I made my way out of the bedroom, past an ornate dining area and onto a wide balcony. I gasped at the view: beautiful gardens stretched away into a distance truncated by a mountain range.
A tall man walked towards me. “There’s a storm to fend off,” he said.
“That’s a shame, it’s such a nice morning,” I replied. I gestured to the food laid out on a wide table. “Shall we?”
“I’ll fetch yours,” he offered, indicating my injured hand. Grateful, I hobbled to the table and sat down, admiring the view. The breeze ruffling my hair reminded me of… something.
He returned and put a very large plate of food on the table, picked up my knife and fork and chopped the sausages and bacon into bite-sized pieces. I tried not to laugh when he set it in front of me and sat down opposite with his breakfast.
“So… how long have we been married?” I asked.
He looked startled but delighted. “You remember our wedding?”
“No. It’s just that you’ve served me breakfast – skipping the fried rye bread, which you clearly know I don’t like – and cut up my food for me without offering to do so first.” I skewered a piece of mushroom on my fork. “I’d say that was a pretty good sign that we’re married.”
He laughed. “Five years.”
The breeze flicked at my hair again and in the distance the noon cannon boomed.
The floodback. Stars burst in my vision. I grasped the edge of the table to steady myself.
“Andoria?” It was Jodiro, my husband. He had reached across the table to hold my hand but sounded leagues away.
“Jodiro Stormfend,” I muttered. So he hadn’t been talking about the weather earlier: he’d been trying to see if I remembered his name.
“I’m fine,” I said, sitting up straight and shaking my head to clear it. “What a night. Was it a success?”
“A total success,” he confirmed. “Armaments factory destroyed. It’ll set the Thalassocracy’s war effort back by a year at least.”
“So all good apart from me being knocked out of the airship while escaping. I’m going to get teased by the squad forever for that. Still, nice of them to come back for me.” I shook my head and tutted. “Getting caught in my own blastwave.”
“Can’t have it all, eh?”
“So what’s the next target?” I asked, munching my breakfast like I hadn’t eaten in days. “We’re going to have to keep the momentum up.”
“Dockyards,” Jodiro replied.
Jodiro looked put out. “Well, you’re the one who found out they were developing their own airships.” He sighed. “You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?”
“Just like you’d forgotten who the old lady was.”
“Yes, no wonder she was put out. Poor mother. Still, a war’s a war.” I ate a piece of sausage. “So usual protocol, dockyards as soon as we can and get Dayell to spellcast forgetting on me so I can’t blab if I get caught whilst laying the charges?”
Jodiro sighed. “I suppose so. It’s just….” He stared down at his food.
“Every time you come back from a mission, you’ve forgotten a tiny bit more.” He fought back tears. “I don’t know how long you can go on like this.”
“Until the war is over, of course,” I said, realising as I did so that that was the response I always gave.
And always would give, until the war really was over or I didn’t remember it any more.
Josie Gowler has had short stories published in Lorelei Signal, 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Theaker's Quarterly Fiction and Perihelion. She specialises in weird tales set in the English Fens and science fiction and fantasy short stories; it's fun when these all overlap.
In her non-writing spare time, Josie is a Napoleonic re-enactor, another source of short story inspiration.