In Serein

1-2-4 Apprentice

The next morning, my head hurt, my feet hurt, and all the various little bruises I had acquired by slipping and falling in the rainy muddy dark had turned livid blues and purples and blacks. I felt sick and alternated between shivering uncontrollably and rushes of heat that had me sweating. I got up and could hardly stand. Drinking water from the washing bowl did not help, it made me feel even more nauseous and I thought I was going to be sick. But this was my first day and I knew he was waiting downstairs for me. I was not making a good impression.

Combing my hair was too utterly painful as every pull on every knot made my head explode with pain anew, so I just patted it down with water. I used a bed sheet to wrap around me and made my way downstairs, hoping that I might manage to retrieve my Serein garment before meeting Lucian Tremain.

Everything was very silent.

Rain and wind were beating against the small, dirty black framed windowpanes and the house itself was grey in grey. I crept carefully and painfully down the dark wooden stairs and around the corner to the room where we had been the night before. No-one had tended the fire which was still smouldering and my robe was there and so were the plates and glasses. Were there no servants here? Was it still so early they had not had time to do any work? Where was everyone, anyone, where was Lucian Tremain?

I knelt down to put on my robe and nearly threw up with the pain and effort of it all. It was dry enough, just a few wet patches here or there, and once I had struggled into it, I was most glad that I was dressed again. The fabric did not show any traces of the dirt it must have been plastered in, and it seemed to alternate between keeping me warmer when the shivers started again, and to cool me down when the heat waves came.

I had all intentions to seek my new master in the strange vast grey house right away, but my eyes fell on the relaxing chairs and I fancied to sit down for just a moment. They were great chairs, wrapped around with tapestry, high off the ground and embracing. I drew my feet up from the cold stone floor and tucked them under me, silently requesting for the pain in my head to stop so I could get on with this new life that had befallen me.

I think that I remember was being carried and a voice from far away but I can’t be sure.

Then, comfort and stretching out, light fading and coming, and at one time, I thought I heard someone screaming.

I lay all by myself for what seemed to be days, fading in and out of awareness, sometimes so hot I thought I was burning up and at other times, trying to crawl inside myself in desperate search for warmth, never seeing a single soul or hearing a single voice at all, but I had my stone there and it soothed me to sleep when I needed it to do so.

One day, I awoke and felt alive again. I really couldn’t say how much time had passed, but there was a kind of acceptance in my heart and I could move again. Whatever had befallen me was banished and felt much like myself in every way if perhaps just a touch unsteady on my feet and unclear of thought.

I washed and dressed very carefully, combed my hair as nicely as I could, and then went in search of Master Lucian.

It must have been late morning, judging by the placement of the sun through the windows, and I went downstairs.

Cautiously, I knocked on every door before looking inside, but I could not find him. Eventually, I searched around with my mind and noted a presence high above. He must be in the tower.

I searched for an entrance to the tower for what seemed for ages, until it occurred to me to check behind a simple old tapestry (spiral patterns, interlacements, colours faded mostly to a grey and darker grey) on the left wall that occupied a central space of some distance between two large black doors. I lifted it cautiously and yes, there was a blackwood door with copper fittings which opened silently and easily, leading to a narrow set of steps that wound away into gloom upwards to the right. I closed the door behind me as quietly as possible and ascended.

The way the steps wound in a tight circle made me dizzy and so did the steepness of the worn stone steps – how old must they be to be worn down by simple feet? – but eventually, breathing unevenly, I emerged onto a threshold and saw:

A circular room, with a wooden gallery all the way around. Wooden steps from the gallery and where I stood to a lowered central area.. Set high into the roof, windows with coloured panes of glass, dusty and some of them not even see through enough for the bright day outside.

Up the walls, rows and rows of books and rolls and stacks of pieces of rough paper, and before them, a circular arrangement of tables full of all manner of strange items. Master Lucian, dressed in sternest black, stood with his back to me at one right across on the other side. The empty floor space in the middle was made from ancient wooden boards and painted with strange colours and fading symbols I had never seen before.

I was still wondering whether to call to him or to cough to make my presence known when he lifted his head sharply and spun around.

The look on his face and the pure ice in his pale eyes froze me to the spot. He looked frightening and he was frightening me. I could feel the apologetic smile die from my mouth as I stood transfixed with my hands and feet going cold.

He crossed the room with speed and stepped up the wooden stairs easily and fast and I stepped back until I could feel the doorframe behind me.

There was no recognition, no pity and no friendliness about him as he stared me down. He was furious and much, much taller than me and twice as wide and I was really and truly afraid of him, as I had never been of another human before.

Then he bent forward and straight into my face, shouted, “Out!”

The sound of his voice reverberated right through me and although I tried to, I was simply too afraid and shocked to move.

“You disobedient whelp – do as I say! Get away with you!” he shouted again, and I felt a physical push shoving me towards the steps without him having moved his hands or touched me in any way. I nearly fell headlong down into the narrow circular stairwell but managed to catch myself against the rough walls, before tripping, rushing and stumbling all the way down, all the way down, open that door, brush the tapestry aside and out.

I ran across the hallway to the other side of the entrance hall and stood, shaking, with my back to the wall.

What had happened? Why had he been so angry with me? I had not known not to go to the tower room and I was only looking for him? And at the back of my mind, I was trying to come to terms with how afraid that had made me feel and how fragile, and somehow after that single moment in the tower room, the world was never the same again from thereon in for me.

I had been shouted at and beaten many times. I had been shoved around and people had tried to frighten me into obedience ever since I could remember, but I had never really been this afraid before – this was a fear that my own anger could not alleviate, it was all through my body and my mind and it rendered me helpless.

How did this happen?

I shook my head and tried to think clearly but could not over the strange knot in my stomach and the beating of my heart in my neck and head. I truly did not know what to do now. Ask his forgiveness? Pretend nothing had happened? Go back to my room?

In the end, I was too unsure to do anything other than to slide down the rough wall and sit right there on the spot, my arms drawn about my legs. I would wait for him to tell me what to do. I would wait for him to come down from the tower and then he could tell me what I should have done instead and I would do it and he would be no longer angry with me.

As I was sitting there, waiting, I tried to get a sense of the injustice of what had happened and I tried to get a sense of that righteous indignation that I usually used to get over people treating me worse than I thought I deserved. I tried to remember other times where I had been threatened to my life even, and what I had done to protect myself from it. The old memories didn’t match up, they did not synchronise to this house, this man, this morning. There was just a scared paralysis and victimhood that I noted with dismay but could do nothing to counteract.

Time passed. Sometimes the timbers in the house would creak all by themselves. Sometimes a gust of wind would shake a window somewhere. Sometimes there were other little sounds that I could not trace and at every one of them, I startled inside myself with my eyes fixed unmovably at the tapestry and the concealed door behind it on the other side of the hall. I wanted to reach out with my mind to check where he was but did not dare to do so for fear that it might be yet another thing forbidden and that I would trespass yet again.

Time passed.

Then I could feel him approaching.

Then I could hear him open the door and the hair on the back of my neck stood up and way down inside my mind, a small part raged at me and called me a coward and an idiot but there was nothing I could do to stop myself from being this afraid.

The tapestry moved and he stepped through, dressed in black with his hair white against the darkness of the door. He closed it behind him and made sure the tapestry was hanging straight and true. Turned. Saw me sitting there and his face took on that same hard and icy expression that I would come to know so well.

“Get UP!” he said with a barely repressed snarl. I clambered to my feet, my face hot, hands seeking the wall behind me. I really tried to get control of myself this time and force my breath to stop being so quick and shallow, to stand and face him squarely on.

He looked me up and down with something so close to disgust that I really didn’t know what to do with myself. What had I done that was so bad to deserve this?

“Please, …” I started to say but he made a gesture with his hand and an invisible force rocked my head and shoulder back into the stone behind me and I fell into the wall.

“You speak when you are spoken to.” His voice was unbelievable, as though he was struggling to stop himself from screaming at me and at the very verge of his control.

“Get out of my sight. And out of that get up. You do not wear the Serein blue.”

I just stood crumbled against the wall and didn’t know what to say or think. He raised his hand again and I flinched like a yard dog. He noticed and stopped, then slowly forced himself to lower his hand.

“Did you hear what I said?” he asked with that barely controlled fury and made me shrink ever deeper into myself to make myself smaller and less of a target.

I nodded a tiny yes.

“Right. Get away with you.” And, as I did not jump to it right away, “NOW!” I ducked past him and ran up the steps as fast as I could, heart pounding and tears beginning to sting in my eyes, around the corner and into my room, slamming the door behind me and climbing onto the bed, scrambling right up into the furthest corner.

I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t comprehend and I could do nothing about the strange broken feeling in my chest. I was afraid to move and afraid not to move and all of this was unknowable and had nothing to do with me. Me, who had walked into a Serein monastery and stolen a holy treasure. Me, who had taken a hundred beatings with pride and with derision. Where was that me now?

My mind eventually focussed on the one clear instruction he had given me – to get out of the Serein blue robe. I took it off which only left the short undergarment of yellow white. Surely he did not mean me to wear this? I cast around the room and opened drawers and closet doors but they were all empty. There was nothing for me to change into.

I hung the Serein tunic which had served me so well in my journey here on a hook at the back of the large empty, dusty smelling wardrobe.

I took the sheet off the bed and wrapped it around me like a cloak, and in the bed there was the singing stone.

I saw it with a guilty remembrance and rush of fear and reached out to pick it up and to my horror, the same resistance that had first been between us stopped my hand in mid air.

Stunned, I reached out to the stone with my mind, but there was nothing. No, not nothing, but a dark black wall where the familiar presence of the stone used to be. I pushed against it, disbelieving, but it would not move. I tried to contact the wall and merge with it but it would not accept my presence. I called to the stone, then screamed to it but nothing happened apart from the flat black wall pulsating a tiny bit and seeming to move closer.

I opened my eyes and stared at the physical object in the bed, round, smooth, the size of a child’s fist, white, without its usual shimmer or opalescence, it was as though it was dead.

Something fell on me then and I couldn’t stand it all anymore. I put my hands in front of my eyes and started to cry like I had never cried before to that day, a feeling of loss and helplessness and loneliness so profound that I thought that I would drown in it.

I cried and cried and at some point, I was beginning to hope that Master Lucian would come and do something,  scream at me or slap me out of it, but he did not, no-one came and nothing happened, nothing changed, apart from that I was getting exhausted with all the crying and then I couldn’t keep it up.

The intense pain had gone, leaving a dull and heavy ache all through my body and my mind. The stone lay as before, dead and unresponsive.

I sat down on the wooden floor, cross-legged, and wrapped the sheet tighter around me.

There I sat until the light from the window had long faded away, and the empty room was in darkness. I don’t think I thought of anything much, I just sat there and my legs went away, and later my back and my head, and I was  no-one, nowhere in nothingness and at least, that didn’t hurt then anymore.

Clear and sharp as the tip of a sword, in my mind stood the command,


I shot up and fell straight down again for my legs had no feelings in them and could not support me.

I scrambled for the door and best I could, hurried down the stairs, hugging the sheet around me closely.

It was very dark but the room with the fire cast a golden glow.

I hesitated in the doorway. My legs stuck pins and needles, my face was streaked with dried tears, I was wrapped in a sheet, I needed to relieve myself badly and I was terrified.

Lucian Tremain stood up from the resting chair and looked at me across the room.

“Come here,” he commanded sternly and in words and before my mind had time to think about it, my legs had already started to walk towards him.

I slowed down more the closer I got to him until I stopped about a man’s length in front of him.

He was looking me up and down. “Dressed for dinner, are we?” he said and raised an eyebrow sarcastically. I wanted to disappear into the ground but could not so I looked down at my feet sticking out from under the sheet instead.

I felt him moving closer and shivered.

“That hair is a disgrace,” he said right next to my left ear and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you, damn you, girl.” His dark voice had that repressed anger in it again and I had to struggle to force my head up enough to look into his face. There was nothing but ice and contempt there. Ice and contempt emanating from him like he was a glacier. I shivered again and felt tears burning in my eyes again.

What had I done to have displeased him so?

He hissed a breath and walked away from me. Sat down in the chair and over his shoulder, threw the command, “Go take some food and then be away to your room. Stay there until you are told otherwise.”

I felt like an insect, scuttling, bent, towards the table. I wanted to not take any food, wanted somehow to stand up to him, to fight him and yet I simply could not. His eyes were on me like chains as I snatched up a small loaf of bread and a piece of cheese, then a round fruit too. My hands shook and I dropped the fruit. It rolled a little way and ended up just by the tip of this boots, on the flagstone floor. I froze and stared at it.

“For all the stars sake, pick it up and be gone, you good for nothing …” he bit back the last word but his exasperation and building anger vibrated through his voice and straight into my stomach. I crawled forward and reached out but the fruit was still out of reach. I would have to crawl one step nearer  - he jumped out of the chair and frightened me so much that I fell backwards onto the floor.

“Get out. Go, be gone, just go! NOW!” he yelled at me and I gripped the bread and cheese tight and ran again, into the welcoming darkness and up the stairs and into my room.

In the darkness there, I sat and shook and ate the bread and cheese. I couldn’t stop shaking when I washed my hands and tried to comb my hair. I couldn’t stop shaking when I got onto the bed and lay at the bottom like a dog at his master’s feet because in the top half was the silent stone that I could not bear to attempt to move.

I fell asleep and dreamed – there was a dark and friendly silence, and far away and down below lay lights like the lights of a large hamlet if there was a feast day or a market or perhaps a celebration. I willed myself towards the lights and moved towards them at speed, when suddenly out of nowhere, a dark shape with a dark purple centre shot towards me and I collided with it so hard that my mind went blank, and then I was falling, falling, spiralling, out of control, falling …

A hand on my shoulder, shaking me. I screamed and shot away from it, into the wall.

A voice, rough, female, common. “Now there’s no need for that, me girl.”

I opened my eyes and the sunlight in the room hurt and forced me to close them again. I blinked and saw an elderly fat woman in a worn brown dress with a rag for an apron and very dilapidated hat standing by the bed. The bed. With the stone. In that house. With that man. I felt the shaking from the night before return, together with the memories.

The woman moved a little uncomfortably and reached out a fat and dirty hand towards me. “Come on now, “ she said in what was an attempt at a friendly tone, “I won’t hurt you none.” She paused and then said, like an afterthought, “I won’t,” strongly stressing the I in the sentence.

I couldn’t speak but nodded so she would know I had heard her and that I understood.

“Ah that’s good. You’re awake now. Come on, hurry girl.” Lowering her voice in mid-sentence for the next two words,”the master” and then returning to her normal speech, “The master’s given a whole heap of instructions and we must be quick about it.”

Our eyes met for a moment then and we both knew and understood. She was afraid of him too.

She stood aside and I crept from the bed.

“Go on, girl, wash yourself and do your thing. And be quick about it. Then come over here.”

She carefully lowered her bulk onto the bed which groaned a wooden groan in return and watched me as I used the Serein-type disposal seat with deep discomfort and embarrassment, then splashed my face and washed my hands in the washing stand. It didn’t take long and as I went to pick up the comb, she heaved herself back to  her feet and with some regret said, “No need to worry about that no more. I was told to take care of that.” And with this cryptic comment brought out a large razor from the folds of her voluminous gown and held it up so that the blue steel edge flashed in the sunlight.

I started back and for a moment I really thought he had sent this woman to cut my throat but then she saw how she had frightened me and lowered the razor and said quickly, “No, girl, I just mean to cut your hair, like the master ordered. Cut it right short, he said, short as a boy’s.”

I shook my head and felt like crying again. Why was he treating me like this? What had I done? Was this whole thing some kind of delayed punishment, dreamed up by the Serein, angry for my conduct and desirous to really teach me a lesson?

I need to get out of here, I thought. I cannot stay. I’m going to lose all I am and all I could be here – I must escape, and as soon as possible. I kept running this thought through my mind over and over again as I stood whilst the old woman cut away at my long hair with the razor and strand after strand cascaded down my shoulder and onto the floor until it seemed I was standing in a dark red carpet that glistened in the sunlight. The woman cut on in silence and moved around me, pulling me here and there, until at last she was satisfied. “There,” she said. “It’s a crying shame, of course, that was the best part of you, so you could say, but you and me both, we do what the master wants and there’s no complaining.”

I put my hand up to my head and felt the strange lightness and coldness and a spiky sensation where there had been smooth and silky flowing before. I couldn’t think of what to say or even to feel, for that matter.

“Go sit over there while I clean up this lot,” said the woman, and from her skirts produced a grey rag onto which she gabbed and pushed handfuls of what had once been a part of me. She did not do it very tidily and left many little shining pieces behind, but she seemed to think that was all that needed to be done and bundled and knotted the grey rag tight and placed it on the wash stand.

“You don’t say much, do you,” said the woman after she had rubbed her hands together and then brushed them off repeatedly on her skirt. “Mind I don’t blame you. I’m well used to his ways and he frightens me to oblivion. But you poor thing, there’s nothing of you, and the creator alone knows …” She bit her lip then and walked to the dressing table, on which a thing of greyness lay.

“He told me to fetch an apprentice’s robe, but he never told me it was for a girl, but that’s what he told me, so be a good girl and put this on and I see if I can make it fit.” She handed me the thing. It was a shift made from a harsh sackcloth, with no sleeves and a hole for the head, tied together with a cord around the waist. I put it on and it was scratchy and hard wherever it touched my skin beyond the Serein undergarment I was still wearing. It came halfway down my calves and stuck out all around me.

The old woman clucked and shook her head, then sighed and tightened up the string around my waist.

“This is no thing for a young one to be wearing, never mind her station in life. Why you look worse than the poorest beggar in the street with your hair all shorn and this sack all shrivelled up around you.”

I said nothing. The shift itched around my neck and I put my hand there. The old woman noticed.

“That’s gonna be red raw before long. Here, wait, this might help a bit.” She brought forth a dirty off white neckerchief from her pockets and shook it, put it around my neck, tied it and tucked it under the roughly sewn edges of the shift. A long way away, a part of me started to cry at this act of genuine kindness and compassion from the ill-kempt old woman. I let it cry because there was nothing I could do.

I cleared my throat and said, “Thank you.”

The woman looked at me with surprise and our eyes met again. Hers were short sighted, small amidst the folds of her heavy drooping lids, a washed out blue that had seen many things and understood many more than she had words to speak about.

She nodded and stepped back to survey her work. Sighed and shook her head again. “Well it’s no use, young one. It won’t get any better for the want of trying. Now come along, I am to take you to see the master once I’m done.”

My stomach churned instantly and she must have seen the fear in my eyes. She sighed again and put a hot wet hand on my bare arm, squeezed it sympathetically for a moment.

“Come on now. It might not be so bad if you just do what you’re told, and nothing beside, because he doesn’t like anyone taking liberties with nothing. You come along now, cause if we keep him waiting, he’ll be angry, see.”

I nodded and we made our way from the relative sanctuary of my room – my room? No, his room. There was nothing here that belonged to me in any way, not even the stone, and I wasn’t sure even about my mind anymore.

The old woman whose name I still did not know and who had never cared to ask for mine, had a hard time with the steps, having to hold on to the banister with both hands and going down sideways a  step at a time. I took the bundle that contained my hair from her to make it a little easier and after what seemed to be a forever, she led the way towards the first door on the right, just beyond the entrance door – I couldn’t help but stare at it, I could just run to it now, unlock it, and be outside and running as fast as I could, free… Her knock on the door startled me out of my vivid day dream but it is true that even this fleeting little vision revived my spirits somewhat. I resolved to be as obedient as I would be asked to be, and do whatever he wanted, and as soon as the first opportunity presented itself, I would …

The old lady carefully opened the door just enough to slide her bulk through it, and reached out behind her and grabbed my wrist and pulled me inside too. She closed the door behind us both and cleared her throat.

This room was an assault of red and black. There was a luscious red carpet on the floor, huge and woven with the most intricate designs of foreign spirals and patterns. The whole room was panelled up to the panelled ceiling in the same black dark wood that was used everywhere in the building, and there was a very large table that seemed to have storage spaces built into its base. Two padded chairs covered with red tapestry sat facing the table, and there was another huge fireplace black and empty, and many layers of shelves with books.

The master sat behind the table with an open book in front of him, his pale hands and face and white hair and the open pages the only things neither red nor black that I could see. He sat entirely square and still, a statue cut from marble black and pale, with this hands flat on the table by the sides of the book.

He came to life and looked up when the old woman cleared her throat and his being changed from a relaxed non-concern to a grimace when he saw us standing by the door, yet this change was achieved without his face or posture moving in the slightest. His presence became stronger, a force that could be felt right inside your body all across the room and I could no longer breathe. Then he focussed in on me.

“Get here, closer, where I can look at you,” he commanded, and the old woman gave me a helpful little shove to start me off in that direction, glad that his attention had not fallen onto her.

He stared at me for what seemed to be an eternity, then a small smile that did nothing to make me feel any more comfortable played across his lips for a second or so.

He said nothing but beckoned to the old woman, who shuffled, neck bent, to stand beside me.

“Take THAT –“ making a motion towards me as though I was some unfortunate remain that needed to be disposed of as quickly as possible, “- to the kitchen and feed it. Leave me now.”

He went back to looking at his book and the old woman grabbed me once more by the wrist and pulled me to the door as fast as she could hobble.

We slipped out and the old woman closed the door behind us minutely and with bitten lip until the lock snapped into place. Then she turned to me and with a very deep sigh, said, “The stars be thanked. That’s over with. Come and lets eat!”

I had not seen the kitchen of the building before. It was enormous and big enough to cater for many, many hungry mouths and it really struck me for the first time that this was a big house which had been intended for a great number of occupants.

At the far end was a huge iron range that extended all the way from one wall to the other. There were storage cupboards full of delicate looking plates and cups the likes of which I had never seen before, not even in the market for sale, and copper pots and pans of all description hung dust and cobweb covered from the ceiling.

There was only one small place in the corner where any activity ever seemed to take place at all, and there under netting, was bread, and fruit, and in a meshed cupboard on a slab of marble, cold meats. The old woman got busy with plates and knifes and stoked the fire in the far left burner of the range, and set a kettle of water to the boil.

In the centre of the kitchen was a large table made out of somewhat lighter wood than the black oak that was everywhere else. I walked around and touched it. It seemed very, very old with many deep scores and scratches across its surface, and there were a large number of chairs pushed underneath it, and some three legged stools, too. Servants must have eaten here at some time in the past. Feasts must have been prepared here. This place must have been alive at some time.

I circled the long table until I was in the corner with the old woman and the food being prepared. I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t anything at the moment but I was glad of her company and wanted to be close to her.

She was busily cutting a piece of grey brown meat with a very large knife but glanced over her shoulder to see me standing behind her.

“Here,” she said, “Go get some plates, no not those, these ones over there, that’s right, and pull out a couple of chairs over there.”

I found the plates, and for a moment it was a feeling there of being back at home, helping my mother prepare the dinner, and homeliness and comfort. Far away, a part of me began to cry again.

I helped the old woman to bring the food to the table and she told me to sit myself down whilst she poured the steaming water from the kettle into two jugs, then stirred something from a wooden container into it. A strange aroma filled the kitchen right away, pleasant, like autumn berries.

“Get that down you and you feel right better,” she said and handed me the jug. I took it and drank it gingerly, a sip at a time as it was very hot. It tasted very strange but somehow, it began to undo some of the tight knots in my stomach and she was right, it did make me feel much better.

As we ate, I asked her, finally, “What is your name?” and she replied that it was Marani, a common name amongst southern borns. I told her that I had an aunt of that name, and she asked me where I came from and what my name was, and where I came from, and that she had never been to my village but knew someone who had married there, and as we sat and talked and ate, it was like everything was normal for a while, and I was me again, and everything seems alright.

Until the cutting explosion in my brain caused me to drop the jug I was holding and it shattered on the flagstone floor – COME.

Marani started and stared at me as I got up  like a puppet and walked towards the kitchen door without volition. From the corner of my eye I could see her making repeated signs of warding off the evil and then I did not see her anymore but all my attention was taken up by Master Lucian who stood in the hallway, tall and straight, tightly contained yet barely so within himself and his pale eyes were sparkling ice fire at me.

My legs would barely move forward and my steps faltered on my approach towards him, and I could instantly feel his rage cresting like a fire lancing high. I forced myself to walk rhythmically and to keep walking towards him – his rage receded slightly but was still simmering, white hot, furious, just waiting to explode and wipe me off the face of the earth for good.

He only raised one finger of one hand but that was enough to stop me in my tracks, about three feet away from him. This was his preferred distance between us when he wasn’t intending on punishing me and I was beginning to learn.

“Now,” he said in a low growl. “Do you know why you are here?”

I swallowed hard and fought to answer him as steadily as I could.

“I was sent by the Serein … Master Lucian.”

His anger flickered dangerously – I had done something wrong again. Perhaps he did not like to be addressed as Master Lucian. But he did not respond physically yet.

“You are to learn from me,” he said with such derogation and contempt that it made me shudder.

He half turned away and I was just about to release the breath I had been holding for what seemed forever when he spun round and snarled at me, “And how are you to learn from me if you are intending on sneaking out through that very door here – “ he pointed at the door with the hand that flashed the ring, “- and run away?”

I bit my lip and tried to stop the tears from coming. “I don’t know,” I whispered and desperately tried to hold on to not sob out loud with shame and fear and discovery and he had heard me loud and clear and the knowledge that I could not think anything at all without him knowing about it.

“Come here,” he commanded and shaking, flicking my lids so that the tears fell heavily down my cheeks, I moved closer to him against my want or will.

When I was so close that he could have bent his head and touched mine, he put his fingertips under my chin and lifted it forcefully. Looked into my eyes.

“So what is it to be,” he said quite calmly, “Run or learn?”

I was absolutely petrified. I was waiting for him to explode, or scream, or push me into the wall again, and although the tears kept falling from my eyes with every beating of my lids, I couldn’t speak to him, I couldn’t think. I was paralysed with fear.

“Good.”, he said and released my chin. “Do as you’re told and never – never – think again of running. Is that quite clear?”

I nodded and tried not to sniffle.

“I will have a list of instructions for you so you may begin your training immediately.” He took his lethal eyes off me at last and made a small gesture towards the tapestry with the concealed door.

“Tonight, after sunset, you are to present yourself to me in the tower room.” With this, he just turned and walked away, back to the red and black room. The door opened and closed without him having to touch the handle. I stood frozen in the hallway for a long while, then I looked at the entrance door. Immediately, a clutching fear descended upon me and I knew he had placed a kind of spell on me so I would not be able to leave.

I walked back to the kitchen, to Marani and to some semblance of sanity, but the happy normality of our earlier talk would never truly come back. He destroyed it on purpose, I thought sadly. He had listened in and destroyed it on purpose. But why, I could not understand.