When I finally awoke, the world was a totally different place.
Half across me with his head painfully heavy on my stomach lay Lucian, one heavy hand across my chest. He was unconscious but breathing audibly.
I moved myself carefully away from beneath him by sliding back up to the headboard then saw Dareon, or rather his corpse, crumpled on the rug in front of the bedstead.
A small wave of sadness touched me for the boy but I had Lucian’s memory of the events and I knew he had done what he had to do, and that this outcome had been clear and fully aware to him. Still, I would miss the thought of one day being able to meet with him again in person.
I looked around Lucian’s bedroom with a strange sense of familiarity. Although I had never been in the room before, I remembered it well and knew where everything was kept, even the secret things in their hidey places beneath the floorboards and behind the loose brick by the hearth.
Letting my eyes and mind flow across the tapestry, the ornate and deeply alien chests beneath the window, the two mirror shine blue black swords across the fire place, and the small statuette of a cat goddess, I began to have an inkling of what it would be like to have his memories and ways of seeing things woven through mine, and even then I think I understood that this was merging of ours was going to be both a blessing and a curse.
I slid from the bed, feeling dizzy and light-headed and cautiously stepped onto the pieces of rug that contained neither parts of Lucian nor of Dareon, and with the aid of the massively carved bedpost, managed to stand up straight.
I had no idea what time it was, what day, how long I had been here. I had strange memories of hurting myself and being hurt floating in my mind, and my stomach growled loud enough to make Lucian twitch in his sleep and attempt to pull his legs up onto the bed.
I loved him briefly, then made my way around Dareon and out of the room. Walking slowly down the corridor towards the landing, I passed by my bedroom and went inside. I took the Serein cloak out of the wardrobe and let it slither slide across me, welcoming its enfoldment and embrace. Until he could buy me something of similarly delightful material, he would just have to suffer seeing me in it. The thought made me smile lightly.
I went down the stairs and into the kitchen. To my surprise, asleep with her head cradled in her arms, Marani was sitting at the far end of the table.
I walked over and lightly touched her on the shoulder. “Hmm,” she mumbled, raised her head, looked at me in an unfocused fashion and then recognised me and startled properly awake.
“By the sisters, and my eyes! You’re up!” she exclaimed and rubbed her eyes, then moaned and put a hand on her back. I smiled and without thought reached into the black disturbance in the middle of her spine and dispelled it, then soothed the bone and fluids with a gentle breeze of ointment white.
“Ooh,” said Marani in surprise and twisted here and there cautiously, amazed I think that the pain had just disappeared. I got her attention.
“Marani,” I said, “could you be a dear and make me something to eat, and a big jug of that amazing tea you do? I am so hungry I could eat a whole horse.”
“Oh yes, of course,” she said, surprised and confused, climbed off her stool and still holding her back, made automatically for the corner where the meagre allotments of food were stored.
She reached for the bread box, then stopped and turned back towards me, looking at me searchingly through scrunched up eyes.
“You alright then?” she asked, “I thought for sure you were going to be dead, or at last, real sick?”
I sighed, pulled down a chair and sat down. A strange flash of irritation went through me which puzzled me, but then I identified it as belonging to Lucian, not to me, and that it wasn’t current, but an old pattern he had with chit chat amongst people who he discounted as unimportant. I sent it away and smiled at Marani.
“Yes thank you,” I said, and couldn’t help but smile a bit more, “never felt better. Apart from the hungry thing, you know?”
Marani said, “Ooh!” again and immediately turned to cutting bread and stoking the kitchen range, where only the tiniest glimmer of red was still in appearance.
I could feel her wanting to know badly what had transpired, and what was going on, but being afraid to ask. There was also another, deeper fear and then I remembered that Lucian had forbidden her to talk to me.
Time for new orders.
“Marani,” I said carefully, “Things are different now. You don’t need to be afraid of Lucian,” - she startled strongly at my use of that word and nearly dropped the knife – “the master, if you will, anymore.”
She said nothing but set to chopping away at leg of meat a little too profoundly. Doubt and surprise, but suspicion foremostly came from her so strongly I could feel it, and the Lucian currents within me responded to this with a black sardonic rage that took a moment to bring under some semblance of control.
I sent her a sheet of pure white whilst I said calmly, “You can trust me on that.”
Marani slapped the knife down on the counter and turned to me.
“Now look here,” she said and surprised me with her volition. “I’ve had enough of this witch work in this house, for sure I’m used to it but don’t you go messing with my head no more, young one. And as to trust, why when the Master makes you beg on your knees for mercy again, I shall remember what you said and be glad I trusted me own counsel above all else.”
“The master – Lucian – is asleep upstairs.”, I said and noted the flinch as I pronounced his name deliberately; causing me some amusement and then uncertainty if it was my own small cruelty or if it was his. I shook these thoughts out of my head.
“He won’t be troubling anyone for a while.”
The old woman wiped her hands on the back of her skirts and snorted.
“So he’s asleep now. But what when he wakes up? And finds I talked to you and gave you food? And what about that robe you’re wearing? I don’t know who I’m more afraid for, you or me, young one, for if he finds this state of affairs, he will most like tear us both to pieces.”
I smiled and drummed my fingers on the table. The hunger was now so strong that I had to fight as to not get up and just go over and rip bits of meat and bread from the slabs myself. I was about to give in to it when a clear blue iciness wiped my desire for food away and there was a tremendous calm inside me in spite of the hunger. Ah. That was a bit of Lucian’s resolve, to be sure. Now that was a handy thing to have inherited from our union.
“Marani, as I said, things are different now. Things have happened and transpired that have changed perhaps everything, but there is one thing I know for sure, and that is that Lucian will NOT be troubling either one of us again.” I paused and added, “At least not like he used to, anyhow.”
She considered my words in silence and finally, finally placed the plate in front of me, and then the serving plates with the cut slices of cheese and bread and meat. I briefly let the icy resolve in just enough to make my reaching hand be slow and steady, and to be able to take a normal bite and chew in a civilised fashion.
The pot was boiling and Marani prepared the berry tea. I was looking forward to it and watched her pour the water carefully and stirring honey into the two jugs from the pot.
She brought them both to the table and sat down edgeways from me.
“How can you be so sure HE …” raising her eyes to the ceiling and frowning, “..won’t be troubling us no more? I’ve been here for many more years than you could know and the master is who he is, and no-one and nothing could ever change that, that’s what I’m thinking.”
I drank the hot berry tea and felt it being warm and wonderful, sliding down my throat and into my stomach. Far away, a memory bubbled up – the same kitchen, the same tea, and he had called me so brutally that I had dropped the mug and shattered it. I had been so afraid of him, and had so not known what to do. The Serein had seriously overestimated what it would take to break me. I was broken the first time I laid my eyes on him. And that’s why it had all gone strange and we were here and what had been, had been.
“The young Serein, he died,” I said, and took another drink.
Marani stared and then quickly and repeatedly made the warding off signs she resorted to in moments of serious crisis.
“Dead?” she whispered, “Dead?”
I bit into a large piece of cheese, and with my mouth full I said, “Yup, his corpse is on the floor in Lucian’s bedroom.”
“Oh dear, oh dear,” Marani was still wide eyed and tried to understand the impossible notion of a dead Serein.
“How, did the master, did he …?”
“No, he didn’t kill him. Although I think he’ll probably get the blame for what happened.” I fell silent as a whole great deal of knowledge about Lucian, the Serein high council and their past entanglements revealed themselves to me. A small shudder went over my head and neck. They must surely know by now that Dareon had gone, and were probably plotting some kind of horrible punishment. They were probably on the way here right now.
I pushed the stool back and stood up.
“You wait here,” I instructed Marani, “we might have need for you later. I must go and speak with Lucian at once.”
Halfway out of the door, I reconsidered and came back. “Make me another tea, I’ll take it for him, that’ll help him wake up.”
The old woman got up hurriedly and made the tea as instructed. I took the hot mug from her and went back to the master bedroom as quickly as you can without actually running.
I couldn’t sit beside Lucian without moving Dareon so I just bend over him and touched him lightly on the shoulder with my hand and with my mind.
“Lucian, wake up.”
He snapped right up into conscious awareness and levered his body upright with straight arms. Tried to pull his legs under him but they probably didn’t have much blood left in them after all that time kneeling on the floor, so he just twisted himself around best he could and slid down to the ground, sat with his back leaning against the bed, legs stretched out long before him.
I handed him the mug and he was about to shove it away impatiently, when a small wave-like motion passed across his face and he shook his head, looking surprised.
I knew what had happened and grinned.
“Got one of my memories there, did you?” I asked and, still surprised and with an inward listening, he nodded briefly.
I pushed the mug a bit further towards his face, and he startled back. This time he took it, one hand and then both, and with a sigh, drank deeply from it.
I perched myself on the corner of a low cupboard by the wall, watched him and listened into him. He was having the same problem that I had when I awoke, and although he was silently fighting the sensations, thoughts and currents of my memories within him, they were there nonetheless and eventually, he accepted the fact, as I had done, as something that had happened and was not undoable in this moment. He sighed again, came out of himself and his attention fell on Dareon’s corpse, huddled in his blue cloak, with his fragile child hand and neck so very still.
Lucian went rigid all over and I could feel/hear his assessment of the situation, which he came to right away and which had taken me quite a while until I had come to it in the kitchen.
“What will they do?” I asked out loud.
He grimaced and put the mug down by his side.
“I shudder to think,” he replied and then made an effort to get up into a standing position. He managed and straightened out.
Still looking down at Dareon, he said to me, “You’d better get out of here. Fast. And as far away as you can go.”
The thought picture that accompanied the statement was me, in some most alien hot place, with a nothing desert all around, scaredly looking over my should and wrapped into many concealing layers of cloth and cloak. I burst the picture like one would burst a soap bubble with the equivalent of a single sharply pointed finger nail.
“There’s nowhere that’s far enough,” I said dryly and he snorted, shook his head and turned around to face me.
“So you will stand by me, is that it then?” he said sarcastically, but there was no force behind that statement at all because he already knew that I would, and that although I might have no conception what exactly standing by him would entail in consequence, there was nothing he could do to change my mind.
It made me smile. I jumped off the cupboard and stood in front of him. Gently reached up and touched the side of his head with my fingertips, the contact producing a delicious tingle that reverberated between us both like an echo between opposing mountain tops.
“You could say,” I said very quietly, “that neither of us has a choice in the matter anymore.”
He reached up and caught my wrist in a grip that was designed to show how much stronger than me he wanted me to know he was. It was no good though. We were both well aware that I knew that he was scared of me, scared for me, scared for us both and of what there was to come.
I pulled my wrist and with it, his hand towards me and kissed it lightly. Looked up into his troubled eyes and smiled.
“Joined at the hip.” He said it softly, regretfully.
I released his reluctant hand.
“Perhaps it’s all for the best,” I said and he laughed at that, shook his head and backed away from me.
“We need to do something about this,” he said, glancing briefly in Dareon’s direction. “At least show our respect, get him off this floor here, lay him out.”
I sighed deeply and nodded my agreement. Between the two of us, various options flashed backs and forth, and in the end synchronised on a picture of Dareon being laid out in the front hall, centrally between the bottom of the stairs and the entrance door, on a waist high table draped in a black cloth.
Without another word being spoken, we went downstairs, shoulder to shoulder, and at the bottom our paths divided. I went to find Marani and she and I took a narrow table from one of the forsaken downstairs rooms and carried it through into the hallway. Marani started when she saw Lucian come through the tapestry door. He was carrying two man sized copper candle stands, and a night black cloth which he handed to Marani without a word. She took it gingerly and with outstretched arms; I helped her spread it across the table. It was large enough to fall all the way to the floor and drape beyond it.
Lucian placed the candle stands either side at the head of the table. I knew where the candles were kept in storage and went to fetch them, and noticed that Lucian was going up the stairs.
Not a single word was spoken throughout and all the audible sounds in were those of our occupation as Marani and I moved around the table, straightening the folds of the black fabric and arranging the corners that were long on the flagstone floor; when we heard Lucian’s steps very heavily on the stairs, we both looked up.
Lucian was carrying Dareons body in his arms. The boy's head hung silently and his long silver hair was streaming down like so much spilled essence, swaying with each step. My eyes went to Lucian’s face and my mind reached to his, and there was a sincere sadness there, tinged with a hard bitterness – the only one of them who was any good at all, and he is dead.
Our thoughts merged momentarily and I don’t know if this came from me or from him, but it stood clearly that the boy had done what he did because he knew me – had they but send another to be my guide on the journey to Lucian’s house, would it have been this other now carried in Lucian’s arms, respectfully deposited on the table, and arranged by my hands and his whilst Marani cowered in a corner, making warding off signs fast enough to cause a swishing sound of air displaced.
Lucian stepped back too once the boy’s body had assumed a position of repose. The head kept falling over to one side and after a bit of consideration, I used the hood of his robe to make a support to keep it straight. I combed his hair with my fingers and arranged it so it lay on his shoulders. His hands would not be crossed above his body but kept slipping back so I arranged them by his side, palms half open, fingers half bent. I felt a deep sorrow then, a deep sense of loss which was all mine and none of Lucian's. This boy had given his life for me – what an exchange. Had I been worth it? I didn’t think so but the Lucian currents hot and strong had no doubt on that score at all. But then, he did not like Serein and I – well I could never think of anyone at all in terms other than a single and unique entity in their own right, be they dressed or called as well they may.
I joined Lucian and both of us stood looking at the boy, side by side. With a sigh, Lucian glanced towards the fat white candles on the stands and both burst into flame simultaneously.
They burned brightly and cast a shadowy orange glow across the pale boy, causing an illusion of movement that was too disturbing for Marani and she backed away, close to the wall, and made for the kitchen.
I glanced up at Lucian.
He sighed again and his jaw was set and square.
“Now we wait.”