In Serein


1-3-1 Comrade In Arms

Part 3 – Of Failures & Virgin

Chapter 3/1 – Comrade In Arms

Marani was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t blame her.

I wrapped up the black cloth into an untidy bundle and went to stuff it into an empty cupboard in the kitchen. It was big and didn’t want to go in, bits kept slithering back out before I had a chance to slam the door shut.

Exasperated, I stopped and looked closely at the cloth. Called upon my Lucian sense as to how to change its colour. It was really simple, even easier than the fire had been. All it was to brush across it in a certain way, and the outermost patterns would fall one by one, no change as such at any level. I brushed the cloth and it transformed into a grey greeny brownish obnoxiousness. I felt a helpless giggle rise up from nowhere.

I shook my head, trying to hold the giggle back but I could not. “Ah Isca,” I said to myself. “Even easier than the fire. Right. The colour change is easy, but how many years before you get the right shade?” and I just couldn’t help laughing at the sickly thing oozing from between the shelves, its proud silky black funeral glory utterly shattered by my inept application of Lucian’s colour changing principle.

I pushed it with my mind, and with my hands got ready to slam the door on it, laughing all the while as I did so. Even when I returned into the hall and started to drag the table back into the room from where it had come (a vast empty room that might have been a feast room once, with windows right down to the  floor and out into the overgrown garden, panes cracked and dusty, and grey creeping plants trailing across most of them from the outside), the giggle was still with me. After a moment’s thought, I put the candlesticks too into the forsaken room, then shut the door on it for good.

In the hallway, my magic torch still burned. I giggled again and set each single one of the iron lamp holders ablaze, one by one, then two at a time, lighting up the hall, and then lighting up the steps, feeling more light-headed and giggly than ever. I raised my arms and turned around on the spot in the hall, watching the lights flash by that I had created out of nothing, like little children do.

Lucian’s sharp presence flashed into my mind.

?????

I stopped suddenly and nearly lost my balance. I bent over, hands on my knees and breathing hard, the giggle still there in the back of my mind.

I sent him a thought picture of the grey green cloth in the cupboard and for one tiny moment, I am sure there was a ripple of shared amusement before he brought us both up sharp.

Come! he flashed, then after a pause, ... to the tower room, please.

I sent my appreciation for the attempt at politeness and made right away for the door behind the tapestry.

He was standing at an unusually open sky light, looking out into the night.

A single glow orb on one of the tables that circled the central space was all the light that was provided, and shadows crept and loomed and whispered all around the tower room.

I walked over to him around the wooden walkway and stood by his side, looked out through the window so I too might see what he was seeing.

Outside, night was happening, stormy and fast. A small moon, high up and clouds shifting by. A coolness and moisture in the air. A scent of wet grass, and the calling of small birds. Against the horizon, a tiny tinge of grey showed that it was perhaps an hour away from sunrise now. I noticed how tired I was and felt myself sinking into myself.

At my right shoulder, Lucian drew a deep breath.

“Tomorrow night,” he said, and his voice was dark and very low, “tomorrow night, we are to be judged in Serein.”

I let my head fall against his upper arm and moved my cheek slightly against the weave of his coat. For a moment, he froze, then with effort and very consciously, he put the arm around my shoulder and allowed me to rest against his chest. I was very tired. My eyes began to close and I was only distantly aware that he began to lead me back towards the doorway. He untangled himself from me and held me strongly by the upper arms. With a tremendous effort, I willed my eyes to open.

“Go to bed,” he said loudly. “Sleep. We will talk in the morning.”

I nodded acquiescence and he half turned me and gave me a not unfriendly little shove in the right direction. I stumbled wearily down the stairs and it took a real effort to make my way up to the first floor, past all the still merrily flickering torches and up the stairs into my bedroom, where the fire in the hearth was still burning brightly, lending a warm and rosy aspect to the room which was missing from anywhere in the rest of the house.

I slept better that night than I had in months, the singing stone still tucked between my breasts and a listening to Lucian, who was still looking out at the rising dawn.

He woke me gently the next morning with a light touch of invitation and we met in the resting room. There was food on the table, and it was hot, a strange whitish yellow substance that was fluffy and salty and I liked it and ate hungrily.

Lucian didn’t look too well. He had shadows under his eyes and the lines in his face seemed deeper than normal. He had obviously not slept at all. I sat on the floor by the low table, cross-legged, and ate happily, determined in the moment and the moment was alright.

“Aren’t you going to eat anything?” I asked him through a mouthful of bread and hot fluffy stuff. He just shook his head once and leaned back in the resting chair, steepled his fingers before his mouth and watched me eat. As though he was somehow drawing sustenance from me in a second hand fashion, as my belly filled and I sighed happily, he began to look slightly less pale, and at one point even moved his neck in a circular fashion, as though he was releasing a tension that had been there too long.

Finally, I could eat no more. I poured some red wine from the pitcher and after a moment’s consideration, only filled the glass half full, then topped it up with water which was probably offered as a choice.

I drank the slightly sour stuff but it was alright, refreshing, nice.

I placed the glass on the floor before my crossed legs and touched the stone between my breasts, just to check it was still there.

“So,” I said. “Tell me about this judgement of ours.”

He raised both eyebrows at that and let his hands drop into his lap. Looked down at them and opened and closed fists reflectively.

“Not much to tell, really,” he said slowly. “Tonight, we are going to be called into Serein, and there we will stand trial for that boy’s death.” He paused and straightened out his hands flat in front of him, then folded them in his lap and looked directly at me.

“We will be found guilty, of course, and then they will punish us.”

I reached to link to him, to better ascertain his emotions on the subject. He did not seem to be afraid, just weary, tired, resigned even. I did not like to combine the thought of Lucian and resignation. At the edge of my awareness, a memory started to nudge and claim attention. It wasn’t one of mine so I resolutely pushed it away.

“What kind of punishment will they give us?” I asked.

Lucian laughed without any humour whatsoever. “Ah,” he said dryly. “Some form of eternal damnation, no doubt.”

That really didn’t mean that much to me, so I just said the first thing that came into my head.

“Does it hurt?”

His eyes seemed to darken for a moment, or it might just have been a trick of the light.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “We may assume it does.”

I must have felt a flicker of fear then, and he picked it up.

“I will do whatever is in my power to protect you,” he said.

“Thank you.” I meant that sincerely. The whole thing was a mystery to me. I did not really understand why Dareon had died, or why it was our fault; from what I remembered of Lucian remembering, the boy had volunteered for the task and there had even been times when Lucian offered him an alternative to sacrificing himself. Dareon had chosen his own destiny – how could we be punished for this?

Out loud, Lucian answered my question.

“Any one who participates in the unnatural death of a Serein, will face the most severe punishment,” he recited it in a dry voice and I understood it and remembered it from a time before that I did not care to now remember.

“It is unjust,” I said suddenly and Lucian laughed again, this time more a snarl than laughter.

“It is Serein justice,” he said and for the first time that morning, I could feel a shadow of the old Lucian re-emerge, anger seething just below the surface.

I thought. “If it is Serein justice, how can they judge us? After all, we’re not really Serein.”

He sighed tiredly and shook his head.

“You are such a child. Their justice is the highest justice there is, and their power is the highest power. They can do as they please, make up the laws that please them, and they don’t concern themselves with justice over us any more than the butcher concerns himself with the rights of the slaughter beasts.”

“But is not the highest power the creator? Is not the highest justice …”

Lucian made a cutting motion with one hand. “The highest power is the hand on the hilt of that one sword with the tip digging into your throat,” he said. “That is the power of life or death, and it may as well be in the hands of the village idiot, for what good it does, and for what justice there is or ever was.”

I said nothing in the face of his utter hopelessness and godlessness, and I could not help but think of some of the things that I had seen, and felt, the starfield around the dying child’s head, the gentle power of the stone, warm on my breast, and of Dareon, dying for me because I had cried and touched his heart. Deep inside me I knew that he was mistaken. There was a higher power than the Serein, a higher order to things of which they were but a part, a something so profound it would sandblast their minds and blow them to flying fragments in the blink of an eye.

Lucian broke my thought with a sharp movement as he rose from the chair and took two steps into the centre of the room.

“Can we fight them?” I asked him.

He hesitated before turning towards me and looking down from his great height.

“I don’t know,” he finally said, and a small smile broke around his lips. “I don’t think there’s ever been such a thing, in all of history …”

I could feel him beginning to think differently, strategically, in a soldier’s way, weighing up the odds – him, alone, and a useless young apprentice, against the multitude.

He shook his head and smiled, sincerely this time.

“It was a brave thought,” he said. “You are a brave - …” he broke off and searched for a fitting description for me, could not find one and rephrased the entire sentence instead, “You are brave. And very foolish.”

This time, I waved his statement away.

“Brave or foolish or no, there must be a plan, Master Lucian, for I will not just lie down and let them do to me as they please.”

He really didn’t like me calling him Master Lucian, and responded with a raised eyebrow, “Oh yes?  Quite as you didn’t lie down for me like a beaten dog and all it took was a single look!”

Blood rushed into my head and I couldn’t control that. Still, I bit my lip and forced eye contact with him.

“You know why I let you do the things I let you do to me.”

He made a very small movement with his head as though he was trying to shake that idea from the room. Pointed a finger at me and said, “You are weak. You scare easily. Your body is fragile. You have no experience of true pain or suffering. THAT is why you lay down before me, and that is the only reason why.”

I stood up and held his glance.

“Why don’t you try and scare me now? I may scare easily, and it is true that my body is fragile, compared to yours. It is even true that I have little experience of true pain, whatever that may be, but one thing I am not and I will never be, and that is weak. You know full well that I fell in love with you the instant I set eyes upon you. I laid myself open to you and that is how you were able to hurt you. Not because you can hurt me, but because I let you.”

“Is that right,” he said very, very softly. He stepped closer towards me, extending menace like a shadow and letting it fall upon me. I had to raise my head to keep eye contact with him as I simple pulled the menace into myself, spun it around and threw it back at him, gold and beauty, whilst the stone between my breasts began to hum.

He startled and had to force himself to stand steady, and then from nowhere, a huge purple and black explosion hurtled in my direction. I welcomed it with open arms and embraced it, turned it gently until it spun, fast, then faster still, spinning, changing into all the colours of the rainbow and I threw it back at him. This time, he actually raised an arm instinctively across his face to defend himself, took a step backward and went into a half crouch.

I laughed at him.

Through the link, I could feel him diving for the blue ice deep at his core and for a moment I was afraid because I had first hand knowledge of what it did to you. As his contact with the ice transformed him into a deadly volition, so sharp and true that it would cut through flesh and mountains alike with never a hesitation or regret, I called to the stone and aligned into its blue and green harmonies. The sword of ice came rushing towards me, singing with its purpose that was a destruction, purer and clearer than any fire could ever accomplish and for just an instant, my faith faltered and I feared. But before me and around me, the blue and green began to merge to jade and as the sword aimed clear at my heart approached and touched the jade, it began to slow fractionally. This was all the time I needed to regain my centre and attention and as the sword’s tip touched my heart I reached out and drew it into myself, joyfully and welcoming.

There was no pain, just a clear energy filling me from the centre and the sword melted into me and became one with me and then was simply gone.

I took a deep, deep breath and opened my eyes to see Lucian, wide eyed in shock.

“Who – what are you?” he whispered hoarsely.

“I am Isca.”, I said.

He broke eye and mind contact with a shaking of his head and stepped away from me. Leaned on the fireplace and I could feel him working hard to regain his composure; yet there was a second strand, the one of thinking like a general in battle, as he was analysing the situation from a new standpoint.

Very seriously, he looked at me.

“You were really never trained in Serein?”, he asked me, and it might just have been the first time ever that he was addressing me as an equal.

“You know that I wasn’t,” I replied.

He nodded and thought.

“Is it the stone?”

“To a degree, yes,” I admitted, but I knew that when I had first come to his house, the stone had been intact and I had not used it to protect myself against him.

“Why didn’t you use it then?”

“I fell in love with you.”

“What kind of explanation is that?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

I shook my head and sighed. I picked my glass of water and wine up and sat down in the second resting chair, pulling my feet up and tucking them under myself.

“You believe what you want to,” I said. “You find whatever explanation you want to. It’s all the same to me.” (liar, liar liar liar – oh yes alright just shut up!)  “The question remains – shall we try and fight the Serein tonight, together, you and I?”

He rubbed his hand across his face and then ran it through his hair. Another entirely human gesture - Lucian, you are losing it, my friend.

He struggled within himself for another moment or two, then said reluctantly, “If the worst comes to the worst.”

I followed the pictures he was making in his head and nearly dropped my glass.

“Oh no. Oh no you don’t. No more noble sacrifices for me. You let them take you in my place, and I will raise heaven and hell together and rip their Serein apart until there is nothing of it left!”

Lucian smiled at that outburst. “Aah, my little apprentice.” He said it quite gently. “The fires of damnation burn bright and strong in you. They chose well when they chose you. You will make a most wonderful avenging angel for them.”

With all the volition I could muster, I pushed into his head, right through his skin and tissue, through the bone right into the centre of his brain, I will NEVER be anything for them. I would rather DIE.

He raised a warding hand and with the other touched his head. Grimaced.

“Alright! I understand. I don’t know anymore what is about to happen. It has all gone wrong, from the moment …” he let the sentence trail off but I knew well enough what he meant. With his memories at my mental fingertips there was no doubt at all that he had fallen in love with me just as I had fallen in love with him. A little something that had never been in the master plan.

“Lucian,” I said slowly, “what do the Serein want with us both? Why did they send me to you, and what is it that I am supposed to learn from you?”

Instead of answering the question, he reached out and took me into his mind, showing me the timescape and the patterns of Serein design – through all the ages known, there had always been one, a dark one, a one that was born to evil, who was serving the Serein council in executing the acts that they would not. Lucian himself had been in apprenticeship to the previous dark one when he was only a small child, an orphan after a war destroyed his father’s home and all his family was killed.

For countless years rushing past me at speed, Lucian had burned, murdered, raped, destroyed and wreaked vengeance in the service of the high council. He showed me selected scenes of horrors upon horrors, living nightmares made real, and all of it at his doing, by his own hand. He showed me with a proud pain, and he showed me what was to be my fate as the new Lady of Darkness, trained to take the burdens of being the executioner of vengeance from his tired shoulders.

He showed me the fate of three previous apprentices, two boys and a girl, who died or went insane beneath his treatment of them, none strong enough to bear the burden, none of them carrying the evil inside them as Lucian did.

I watched the last one die screaming and in agony, many years ago down the corridors of time, his young mind incapable of containing the forces that had been set free within it.

And I watched something that Lucian had perhaps never noticed himself, and that was how each evildoing, each wrong and each pain he inflicted, he inflicted upon himself, heaping torture upon damnation, a self loathing so intense that it crystallised into …

The link snapped shut and I became aware that I was crying. What exactly I was crying about was hard to say, his victims, him, me, or perhaps even all of us.

From across the room, Lucian said with wry amusement, “So, does that answer your question?”

I slowly closed my lids and caused some more moisture to curse down my face, and even as I did, the sadness was receding gently.

“What were you trying to teach me?” I asked of him.

He was surprised and did not answer right away.

“Was I supposed to learn that it is all meant to be, that this is part of life’s design, that we are nothing but puppets in the Serein’s plans?”

He still did not respond but looked straight ahead as though he was trying to shut me out.

I continued.

“Lucian, I don’t know much of anything, but I feel … somehow, here …” I put my hand to my chest and inadvertently touched the singing stone with immediately vibrated back happily, “I feel when something is right and when it’s wrong.”

“And you’re right, I suppose?” Lucian said in that same tone of condescending amusement.

I got up and crossed the distance between us.

“No Lucian,” I said with intent. “You know that I’m as wrong as anyone can be, but at least I know that I am all wrong. And as wrong as I may be, this … wrong that is going on here, with the Serein deciding to find one person, telling them they are evil and have them do their dirty work for them, that is wronger still!”

Lucian looked at me with his pale eyes, a weariness there that was profound, as deeply profound as his rages or more profound still.

“And what difference does that make?” he asked of me.

I shook my head, exasperated, trying to make him see as I saw.

“It makes all the difference in the world! It has to be changed, it has to be stopped, something has to be done about it!”

I was trying to get hold of my own anger and rage at the injustices all around us, the wrongs all around us that included us too but instead, I felt a failing, a sense of desperation and a terrible sadness. I reached towards Lucian both with my mind and with my hand to his shoulder.

The physical contact made the link deep and carried with it a resonance of that time when we had been one, indistinguishable from each other. He neither fought it nor resisted, and we merged deeply, twisting and writhing between what was I and what was him, between my burning desire for justice and his equally profound acceptance of impotence and hopelessness, a thousand incidences of injustice unpunished, of wrongs not set to right, and as each one appeared, I would just over and over again slash at the picture and scream wrong, wrong, wrong, and as we spun faster and faster, my cry turned to evil instead, and there was convergence and harmony as he agreed that it was evil indeed. Both of us cried evil then, cascaded against each other and ricocheted out of the link.

My hand dropped from his shoulder. He laid his head back and whispered, “If evil is what I am decreed to be, I will be the best evil there ever was, the purest and most profound evil that ever existed.”

“And are you?” I asked, quietly.

He struggled with the answer and finally, said so low that I felt it rather than hear it, “No. I failed at that as well.”

The memories rose unbidden and I allowed them to come. His first apprentice, a young man, huge frightened eyes, helpless skinny body, so afraid, on the very verge of falling into the intense darkness that was the point of genesis for the executioner, and as he was about to fall, Lucian reaching out and ending his suffering with a single well aimed single thrust of pure white energy. The second apprentice, a girl. New determination to do what was told he should do. Driving the girl harder and faster towards the point of no return, make it quicker, get it over with, this is how it’s meant to be and at the critical moment, once more there was impossibility of visiting his own suffering on this frail creature and she was ended too. The third apprentice died within days of arrival.

For a long time, the council did not send anyone to him. Lucian went about his tasks as before, and then the message came that there was to be another, and that he should take special care this time because this one was the perfection, older than the others, stronger, other - this one was perfection, this one would surely make the grade.

And I walked into the room and into his life and he loved me and recognised me as a part of himself and he could not bear to hurt me beyond a tired attempt at doing his duty, his sworn duty, as he had done his entire life, his duty and his honour in black that were the only things that sustained him through the bitter days of what was everything. And when the time came he could not kill me and could not even bear to see me die.

“You have failed indeed.”, I whispered in return, and he turned his head away from me.

The silence stood deeply in the room and I got up and left, walked to the kitchen and then out through the dusty doorway and into the gardens, olive green in the sunless day and covered in thick blankets of interwoven weeds some of which were flowering yellow and white.

The kitchen garden was entirely given up to weeds and neglect, an old neglect that must have been for many, many years, weeds crawling upon the brown corpses of their previous incarnations, bushes bent double beneath creeping vines and trailers. I walked along the side of the house on the small stone path that was kept passable by the prisoner’s work, and beyond the creeper covered walls of the kitchen garden, out towards the main gardens of the old mansion house.

Ill kempt grass that was torn not cut with care, brown patches and patches of weeds, like the surface of a swamp spanned between two large rows of silent black old dense trees, forming deepest black green walls that reached high as a mountain it seemed. One side cast a shadow halfway across, zig zagging across abandoned earth grey water features that had not been replenished for a long, long time, save by rain water. Large square ponds alternated with fountains, grass growing thickly and high brown close to their bases no-one cared to trim properly. I walked further out towards a temple like structure at the very end of the long corridor, past the sludge filled ponds, thick green with grassy weeds, buzzing with tiny flies.

My bare feet traced across the oblique shadows of the treetops, only slightly darker and hardly visible on this overcast day. The sky above was greyish and heavy, and the further out and away from the house I went, the more stifling the wet warmth became.

I had never been this far away before, not in all the time I had spent in the house had I ever really set foot beyond the kitchen entrance and I stopped and turned to look at the house.

At this distance, for a moment I could imagine it to be the home of a rich and well to do family, it was intriguingly built, stretching out long, the bottom two stories about the same size with the third and fourth tiered and the tall tower attached to the east wall. My eyes slid up the tower towards the windows circling it just beneath the domed roof and a strange sensation caught the breath in my throat, a strange homesickness and I even half lifted a hand as though I could reach from here and touch the tower’s window softly.

I listened out for Lucian but there was only a profound silence on that level, though there were numerous dampened sounds all around me where I stood, my feet feeling the cold and wet of the grass beneath me now. I sighed and turned my back on the house. A little further lay the greyish building that was at the end of the formal gardens.

It was made out of the same materials as the fountains and pools, pitted with age, surface rough and dull, and the closer I came to it, the more I could see how it was all in ruins.

Big cracks in the supporting columns, with shards of stone that had fallen some time ago and over which weeds and creepers grew strongly. The roof had caved in and scattered its tiles into the inside; lopsided, one part of the roof remained intact.

Three large layers of stone steps circled the entire building which was to have been open on – I counted – five of its six sides, with the back made of solid stone and backing into a wall of those huge black green trees that towered behind it. Branches had pushed into the back wall and bulged it but not yet broken through.

In the centre of the building had been a pedestal with the life sized sculpture of a young woman, draped in sheets and looking back towards the house – it was at an awkward angle now because a small tree had taken seed by the side of the pedestal and pushed it over as it grew strongly in the shelter of the structure. I stared at the blind eyes of the woman with her hands broken off who lurched across the centre space, roof tiles smashing into her profile, and it occurred to me that in perhaps another 20 years or so, absolutely nothing would remain of this place, as the trees just moved forward and swallowed it all, and everything had fallen down for good.

I brushed some dead leaves and bits of stone from the step and sat down on it, leaning lightly against the step behind and stretched my legs out long in front of me.

I didn’t want to be here by myself, on what might be the last day of my life.

I didn’t want to be here all alone.

The stone hummed between my breasts and I soothed it with a loving thought, thanking it for reminding me that I was not alone.

The truth was, I wanted Lucian to be here with me. Just to have him close made me feel stronger.

Lucian please come to me.

I let the thought really ring out then,

Lucian come to me. I need you.

Lucian come to me! Come! Co-

His voice to my left made me jump clear off the step.

“No need to shout this loudly. I’m not that useless.”

He was leaning against a column, eyes narrowed against the brightness, hands loosely by his side.

I stared at him.

“How did you …?” and let the words be as I “remembered” how you step between one place to another through a shortcut …

This was not the time, nor was it the place.

“Thank you for coming,” I said sincerely but also felt embarrassed and not sure what do with myself. I sat back down on the bottom step and folded my arms about my knees.

He  pushed himself off the column and slowly walked over, then sat down on the step next to me, one level up.

I could feel his presence right through my skin and hugged my knees tighter.

Softly he said, “So now I’m here. Now what?”

I couldn’t say it and so I just thought it instead.

Now I’m scared. And sad. And lonely. And I want you to take me into your arms and somehow tell me that it’s alright and that there will be another grey weedy day tomorrow for me, and for you, to find out things about each other and the world, or perhaps a rainy day spent in the tower room cataloguing those senseless books …

Hesitantly, he reached out and placed a heavy arm across my shoulders. I closed my eyes and welcomed his presence. He ran his hand over my hair which had began to grow again, and I leaned my head against his knee, then unfolded myself and hugged myself against his leg. I felt his momentary consternation, then he stroked me again, carefully and rhythmically. I reached for a closer link and he resisted for a moment, then let me in and …

I felt me against his legs, so entirely strange a sensation, helpless, no previous patterns to fall back onto, I felt my own breasts pressing against his thigh, my hair so soft! so soft, softer than silk beneath his palm and lingering fingertips, I could smell me and sense me and there was a building energy of some kind, unfamiliar to me but familiar to him, he was fighting this energy, always fighting - look! This is me against your leg, hearing your strong and regular pulse inside my head and inside my chest, this is your leg, strong and hard as wood, this is your hand on my head, this is your smell, dry, dust, desireful and exotic …

He shattered the link so viciously that I called out in pain and fell from the step into the weeds and cut my head on one of the stones that lay concealed beneath. Lucian stood on the step, his fists clenched and a desperation about him, “You would undo me! On this day of all days, you would undo me …”

I touched the back of my head and it was hot and wet. I held my hand out, palm up, covered in dark red blood, held it out to him and said, “Look. Look what you’ve done.”

He sighed and stepped down, reached out for me and took the bloody hand, pulled me into a standing position. We were touching close now. I touched the cut on my head again that was turning the back of my neck damp and warm, the damp warm seeping down into my gown and towards my shoulder blades, a strange and sensuous sensation. With the fresh blood on my hand I could have reached up and coloured his hair above his ear, and then he might have reached out towards me and kissed me on the mouth, holding his hand onto the wound on the back of my head, and the other arm around my waist. I could have let myself drop towards and opened myself to him completely and then he would have been me and I would be kissing me with rising, spiralling excitement and the smell of my own blood in my nostrils, my lips, his tongue, my tongue, her lips, ….

When I regained consciousness, my body felt very, very strange, pulsating with energy and my head hurt. I was in his arms, my legs across one of his, the other beneath my back, and he was looking down at me closely and breathing faster than he normally did.

His eyes seemed enormous so close up, shifting from grey to green as though clouds were passing across the surface of a still lake, and oh creator I loved him so much it made me shudder to my very core. He forced concentration on us both and said clearly, both out loud and in my mind at the same time for added emphasis and to make sure I’d really hear and understood,

“You need to heal that cut on your head, Isca. You are losing too much blood.”

You do it, I thought back lazily, fascinated by that strange energy shifting and rippling throughout me.

I can’t heal, came the patient reminder, and I took him and swept him up towards where the pattern was broken and dissipating, weaving swiftly and mending it briskly, like you would mend a hole in a sock with crossing strands.

I could feel his amazement at how easy it was and let him finish the last few strands for practice. He was a little clumsy and I noted a few pains across the wound in my head, but he did well enough and I knew that the bleeding had stopped.

I smiled at him. He was still holding me and looking down at me, but there was a most unusual expression on his face.

He reached out carefully and moved some of my blood matted hair to look at the wound below. I took the opportunity to tune in and look at it as well, through his eyes (his vision is sharper than mine, clearer but the colours are washed somehow, everything looks so grey in grey). There was blood but the skin beneath it was entirely healed and without a scar.

His amazement, no, wonderment, rippled through to me.

“So simple,” he said under his breath, shaking his head lightly.

I moved a little within his arms. It was nice to be held like this. In response, he tightened his hold on me.

“As easy as making fire,” I said and snuggled into his chest, feeling the strong beating of his heart on my temple, feeling the double warmth at every place we touched, heat. I snuggled some more.

“Don’t do that,” he said gently.

“Why not? It’s nice.” I very nearly pouted.

He straightened out and was making moves to put me down but I put my arms around his neck and send a plea/refusal.

He sighed.

“You are a virgin, yes?”

“You know I am.”

“That’s not the point,” he sighed again, deeply, but continued to hold me.

“What is the point then? What are you afraid of?”

He send thoughts instead of words. That I/you can’t cope/handle it - you fainted - I cannot allow myself to love you any more than I already do - to add the physical domain would be my/your undoing - you’re too young - I don’t want to hurt you/me any more - this is ridiculous - tonight, we will both be dead …

I picked up that last thought and spun it back, … and I will never know what I would have missed!

He shook his head, sadly, and out loud he said, “We are already so vulnerable because of each other. This would make it even worse if it could be done at all. Which it cannot.”

I let myself feel his strong neck beneath my hands light, fingers flexing slightly. He half closed his eyes in response and took a deep breath. Before he could say anything, I sent him me, how I was feeling him around me, how I was feeling good – hmmm, so good – to be held by him, how I wanted to be touched by him. It caused an instant rise of excitement, a groundswell of a heavy wanting in the very deepest parts of his mind and body, and the merging began again, where I was he, holding me, wanting me in a way I could not comprehend yet made me rush with energy, and at the same time, me, being held, wanting him in a way I did not understand, as though I was bursting out of my skin … Gently this time and yet with uncompromising purpose he steadied us both and untangled the link, quietened the waves and laid calm and relaxation upon me.

“No!” I said, angry at him, disappointed, refusing the calm, pushing it back towards him.

“Why do you keep stopping me/us/you? Stop stopping yourself!”

He slid me off his lap and gently but very definitely undid my arms from around his neck.

“You have no idea at all what you are wanting and what you are asking,” he said very seriously and in a tone that allowed no disobedience. “You are a mere child. Worse, what you are asking me to do cannot be accomplished with any degree of safety even if you were not.”

I sat in the weeds before him and was utterly angry and rejected, but worse, I really didn’t understand him at all in this. I tried to come up with something that would shake his certainty, make him change his mind, but he stood up and straightened his jacket.

“You should have a bath and some rest before the evening falls,” he said in a very neutral way, and before I had a chance to respond, there was a flicker across him and he was gone.

I hit a clump of weeds with my fist and flattened it temporarily. So, I was a child. Just a virgin. I didn’t know anything. I hit the weeds again, two or three times in rapid succession but each time they bounced up again. Ok, and so tonight I was going to die a virgin. Great. Thanks a lot, Master Lucian.

I got up too quickly and was dizzy for a moment. The black robe drew in the invisible sunlight and made me feel uncomfortable and hot, and the blood drying at the back of my neck was partially hard, partially sticky, and entirely irritating. For a moment I considered trying to follow his trick of just disappearing from here but I was far too distracted and unhappy to concentrate on any of it, so I began to walk, no, stomp my way back to the house, the walking beginning to untangle the knots in my shoulders, back and stomach and I could feel myself becoming somewhat calmer. As soon as I stepped into the kitchen, the old cool of the house enveloped me again and I was really grateful for it. Automatically and without thinking about it first, I cast around for his presence and located him in the tower. We touched and he send me wordless instructions to go and clean up and then prepare some food for the midday meal.

I snorted as he shut off the link like someone slams a door shut deliberately noisily. I went  upstairs to my room and looked at the Serein wash stand. Wished there was a lake nearby instead or a river where I could immerse myself completely in water, the only way I knew to feel really, really clean and refreshed all over. A ghost memory overlaid onto the washstand for a moment and I turned on my heels, went out into the corridor and along to one of the many, many doors I had never dared open since I arrived, yet now knew exactly what lay behind each one.

I opened the door to a room that seemed entirely bathed in green.

It had a stained glass window set with alternate green and blue panes – very pretty. It softened the light and revealed a large rectangular object, like an open coffin but fixed to the floor and clad inside and out in small mosaic tiles – no, not a coffin but an indoor pool! It was empty, but I soon noticed the water delivery system which was the same as on my washstand but larger. I let the water flow out but it disappeared down a hole at the bottom of the pool. Something to stop that? Yes, there it was, a wooden thing shaped the same as the hole. I put it in place, and the tiled indoor pool started to fill up gradually. I smiled to myself. At least that wish had been granted.

Whilst the water rushed behind me, I turned to look at the stained glass in the window, moistened a finger and rubbed it across its sticky and dirty surface. The glass was really beautiful, swirls of colour, some deeper than others, the green shades lovely and the blue ones perhaps even lovelier, fading into purples and pale sky blues, and that even with the greyness of the outside day behind them. I tried to imagine them being really lit up by the sun. They were so beautiful and it really annoyed me for a moment how neglected they were, here in this room which no-one ever seemed to enter, turning more blind and dust streaked as each day passed.

I traced one particularly lovely blue square of glass again with my finger, feeling for the glass beneath the dirt with my mind and finding it, circular surface like a frozen lake, with tendril attachments clinging to it at right angles. I pushed the tendril attachments and then blew them off the entire surface and when I opened my eyes the small square was perfectly clean from the inside, and below the window on the dusty tiled floor lay a small streak of black dirt. I smiled to myself and tried the same with the outside surface where the tendrils were different and small white stones where enmeshed into their structure, and when I looked this time, that one blue square shone so, it virtually pulsated with life in comparison to its blind comrades surrounding it.

I reached for a neighbouring square of a deep sea green when behind me a strange splashing noise made me lose my attention. I turned around to see that the indoor pool was overflowing, water sheeting off the sides and creeping along the tiles and towards the door which was still wide open.

Hurriedly I slid across and turned the water off, put my arm deep into the cool but pleasant water and removed the wooden block for long enough so that the water level was about half way. I replaced the block and now couldn’t wait to get myself into the pool.

I climbed out of my robe as quickly as I could, untied the binding that held my stone in place. After a moment’s consideration, I let it drop gently into the water too, and I could swear I could feel a little tingle of happiness from the stone as it sank beneath the surface and with a sweet little sound, settled on the bottom of the pool. Quickly I pulled the undergarment over my head and then climbed over the ledge into the pool.

Oh but it was so absolutely wonderful that I vibrated all over with the welcome embrace of the cool and softly sparkling water. I immersed myself completely briefly, then took a deep, deep breath and let myself fall backward and under the surface, my fingertips stretching to touch one end and my toes stretching to touch the other end of this amazing pool. Still under water I turned around, and then around again, totally enjoying the experience, drawing the clear calm vibrations in through every pore of my body. I surfaced with a gasp and a laugh, pushed the hair out of my face and saw Lucian standing in the doorway, leaning against the doorpost, watching me.

I let myself drop back into the water and leaned my head right back, washing the blood and the past from my hair, then just floated in utter comfort.

He said, “So you found it.”

“Hmmm,” I said, wriggling my toes deliciously and arching my back.

Into my mind, he said, Marani has arrived. She will see to lunch and I will have her bring you some towels, ointment and such.

It caused me to giggle. “Ointment?” I said out loud.

He shook his head and waved a hand at me, pushed himself off the doorway and left.

I was rather disappointed for a moment but then let myself return to the pure pleasure of this incredibly clean and clear water, so unlike bathing in a pond or river. I let the water suck away from me all that I no longer needed and in return, I took it’s sparkling energy and made it part of myself. Once the initial excitement was over and the strictly necessary cleansing accomplished, I continued to float on, and let my mind wander over to the window, blowing the dirt of the panes, one by one, until even with my eyes closed I could feel the increase of green light with clarity and it made me smile. I continued to float happily until I felt Marani struggling with the stairs, and tracked her slow and painful process until I reached out to her and soothed a distortion here, melted a vortex there, and lightened her all over. Eventually, there was a knock on the door and she appeared physically.

“Oh my,” she said, “water all over the floor. What have you been doing in here?” and avoided to look at me.

She was carrying a number of strange blanket like cloths which she placed on a dry spot by the door near the wall, then she came over and picked my cloak and undergarment off the floor.

“These’ll need a wash,” she said, and I sat up in the pool with a small tinge of regret.

“Yes, I guess so, “ I sighed. “Wish I had something else to wear.”

“Not to worry,” said Marani, shaking out the black cloak and hanging it over her arm. “We use that there water, and wring it good. Put it out on the wall in the garden, it’ll be dry in no time, providing it don’t start to rain.”

She handed me one of the large towels – such towels I have never seen! It was near enough the size of a bed sheet, made out of a very strange texture indeed, soft as a kitten to the touch, and probably whitish in colour although it was of course, bluey green here in this wonderful water room. I made an effort to stand up and stepped out of the pool, onto the tiled wet floor and wrapped the towel around me.

Marani was pushing my two and only items of clothing around in the water with one hand whilst holding her aching back with the other. I reached into her back and reconnected some broken patterns, smoothed out some others and re-grew some that had worn away. I soothed the lot yet Marani continued to hold her hand to her back. I guess she was so used to the pain that she hadn’t noticed when it had gone. However, I felt better about not helping her clean my clothes, and could turn my back and pick up another one of the strange towels to dry my hair.

It helped that it was short, there wasn’t much to it and I had a desire to drop the towel on the floor and just walk naked out into the garden and sit in the outside air until both I and my clothes were dry.

Of course, I didn’t. Wrapped in the towel I walked down the corridor, with no-where to go and nothing in particular to do. When I passed Lucian’s room, I went inside on a whim. It was extremely much cleaner than just about anywhere else in the house and the bed was made. I wondered whether he did it himself and the answer came back that it was an old soldier’s habit.

Covering the bed was a rich tapestry-like throw of a deep blood red, woven through with threads of many colours and with gold. I remembered this on many levels, right down to acquiring it in an exotic market, found amongst upturned stalls and smouldering remnants the day after the siege on the town with the white walls – thank you, that will do! I admonished the memory and sent it back.

Still, it was inviting. I first sat on the bed, then got up on it completely and finally, lay down in the middle of it, feeling his presence as though he was beneath me himself instead of his place of sleeping.

I closed my eyes and let my thoughts drift, carefully checking their direction for safety as not to think of something that would disturb my current feelings of happiness and relaxation, a strange non-tiredness yet a heaviness in my body that felt nice.

And my thoughts drifted straight to Lucian. Of course.

“You’re a virgin,” he had said, as though it was an accusation. There’s always something wrong with me. You’re too old to be doing this, you’re too young for that. If you’d been a boy, things might have been better. You’re a slut. You’re a virgin. Always the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place.

It got me to wondering what it was like to do the unspeakable thing, like the beasts of burdens or the dogs in the street that wouldn’t stop even if you screamed at them and threw a bucket of water over them. It got me to wondering if I’d ever know what it was like. And the wondering got me to remember …

A tightness, intense like pain in my groin. Heart beating hard. On the floor of me, before me, a woman, tear streaked, hair dishevelled, her gown torn and one of her breasts hanging free, swinging with each sob and shuddering breath she takes. Her hands are tied behind her back, her legs white sticking out from under a torn and muddy mess of fabric.

Behind me, shouts of laughter and encouragement, a physical force pushing me forward, a heavy hand on my back shoving me towards her. I stumble and half fall upon her, then I am upon her and a wild force sweeps me away, I grab her by the shoulders, throw her down, force her legs apart. Far away, I hear her screaming but my attention is on the white lightning building up throughout my body, focussing on my groin, building up higher and higher still until I explode

I snap wide awake and I am trembling.

So that’s what it’s like for him. That’s what he was refusing to do to me. That’s what it’s …

“No.” His voice was rough and brought me up sharp. He was walking into the room, towards me and I hastily gathered the towel around me, sat up, discovered in a place where I should not have been, doubly so.

He reached the bed and sat down on it, leaned his elbows on his knees.

“I was young then, there, what you just saw,” he spoke away from me and into the room at large.

“I had just been made up to full soldier. We took this town. It was an initiation.”

“You didn’t even see her,” I said, wonderingly. “She could have been anybody, any thing.”

He turned around to look at me.

“She was.”

I couldn’t meet his eyes. “Is it really as bad as that?” I asked hesitantly. “Does it have to be?”

“I wouldn’t know,” he said and got up in a swift, fluent motion as though being this close to me was suddenly unbearable.

“Perhaps it’s different for … us?”

My question stood in the room for what seemed a very long while and there was no doubt that I could feel him wanting it to be true on some level, yet absolutely not believing that it could.

And in spite of what I had just experienced, I felt that urge again rising within me that I now recognised as being my equivalent of his white lightning energy and the desire to touch him, to wrap myself around him, to have him touch me –

“Stop!” It was a nearly painful order he gave me with his voice and his mind, “Do stop it! You need to learn to control yourself, control your urges, master them, rise above them. Ah damnation, you are such a child!” He turned around and let out a hard and exasperated breath.

“Why don’t you go and lay yourself back there, and check out some more of my memories on the subject? There’s a few hundred there, if not a thousand. That should help you with your practice of control.” And, unspoken but loud enough for me to hear it clearly nonetheless, he added, That shall teach you to want me, you forsaken foolish stupid little girl!

“Alright,” I said, angry and flushed. “Alright, I will. I will visit every one of your memories, re-live every single one. And when I’m done and I still want you, will you then oblige me?”

We locked eyes for a moment, then he laughed briefly. “Why not?” he said pointedly.

“So it’s a deal?” I asked, firmly and held out my hand to him. The towel dropped off my shoulder and I could feel that he noticed it well enough, and a small ripple of a smile went through me.

He laughed again, without the slightest trace of good humour and shook my hand so hard that it hurt.

“It’s a deal.” he said, then a sadness flashed as briefly as the blink of an eye across him before he turned and walked from the room, very purposefully and very straight.

He did not think that I could take his memories.

Well, I would show him.

I lay back down, calmed my breathing and took the stone and placed it between my breasts.

I closed my eyes and went back to the memory of the woman with the torn dress, and allowed the association chains to ripple in and let me go there and where they would go.

Chasing the screaming woman of a small rural village on horseback with my comrades right behind and to the side. Absolute delight, laughter. Pretending to reach and just miss, touching them, causing them to run harder and scream even louder. Excitement building up and up with the motion of the powerful horse obedient to my every touch beneath me. There’s one, a priestess, more scared than all of them, white, stumbling, long black hair flying. That one’s mine. I take my time with her, driving her into the shrubs and thorns and running her until she teeters and stumbles and finally drops to her knees. I ride past and cut at her gown with my sword, her utter fear and terror and misery feeding me so profoundly it is making me dizzy. She stumbles on some more, and I keep playing with her until she is bleeding, near naked and so exhausted she doesn’t move any more.

I slide from the horse and take my time walking to where she’s laying. She can see me coming but hasn’t got any fight left in her. She cries and begs weakly as I spread her legs easily and then she screams drive myself into her, deliberately making it as painful for her as I can, wringing every last scream and cry from her, stopping myself from going too fast, coming too soon, to make it last. I want to fuck her to death. I want to kill her …

Two soldiers are having a hard time dragging this one through the open flap into my tent. I’m sitting behind a map table, with a metal goblet of wine in my hand that is as thick and as sweet as blood.

The soldiers are forcing her to her knees, and one grabs her hair and forces her head up for my inspection. I already know she’s the one I want, the consort to the prince of the realm, high and mighty and feared across the entire domain for her treachery and evil influence on her master.

She looks at me and everything about her softens. She seems to begin to glow and take on a sensuousness that is really quite delightful and makes both the soldiers and my adjutant flare their nostrils.

“My lord,” she says to me in a low and husky voice.

I smile back at her, delighted. It takes me ten days to truly break her, and when she finally begs to be killed, I hand her over to the soldiers.

A beautiful dark eyed maiden. She is the daughter of the village chief and she has come to negotiate some form of escape from the inevitable. She is so beautiful, I am quite in love with her. I keep her in irons close by for the rest of the campaign and have the cooks force feed her twice a day, because I really like to see her dance in the evenings, framed against the fire.

Across my saddle lies a nobody little whore. I’ve picked her up along the road and it is my fancy to be inside her on this long road, now and then. She stopped whimpering a while back and I’m tired of her so I push her from the saddle. I check to see whether any of my elite soldiers will break their horses strides but they don’t. I focus on the steadily darkening horizon ahead.

And so the memories go on and on and on and proceed through the years, and I am getting weary of these writhing peaces of meat, I am getting weary of the sport, yet I have to keep my reputation so I take one now and then and do what must be done. The dark lord has his appearances to keep. The flesh keeps on coming. The heat keeps on coming. But the purposes have gone, forgotten somewhere along the lines, the front lines, the trench lines, the roads, the never ending successions of sunrises and sunsets ….

I come back to my own self with a gentle awakening and I feel numb all over.

My face feels numb and I rub it with my hands. Pull them back a little and focus on them, remembering how they struck and held and forced and clawed. Not my hands, his hands. My hands have never touched the hilt of a sword – familiar, a part of me – never grabbed a woman’s breasts and squeezed them until she screamed in pain, these are my hands, and I nearly lost it again until in a small part of my mind, a chant started up that reminded me that my hands were the one without the ruby ring, that is how to tell them apart, you can tell them apart, you can know who is who and you are you and I am me, tentatively at first, then clearly. I am back in my own body with a huge sense of relief.

I tried to locate feelings but failed. Then I sought for judgements, thoughts or understandings, and there were none. There was nothing really. There was just me, quite comfortably lying on the last remnant of a burned out town way back in history, on his bed, in his room, looking across to the open door, and out into the hallway beyond.

I rolled over onto my stomach, supported myself on my elbows, looking around the room.

Then I cleaned his windows with my mind.