In Serein

2-2-2 The Measure Of The Man

A while later, I lay in the lovely and familiar indoor pool, amongst some dancing lights I had placed into the water itself and it was a most beautiful effect. I wish I had thought of doing this when I had had the great pool in the tower to play with as I pleased, but there, I had never even set a flicker anywhere.

Across the hallway, Lucian was re-constructing some objects and destroying others in his room. He was using entirely the time shifting to do this, and was rapidly becoming tired with the energy he was expending, yet had no intention of leaving the task half finished.

I gently touched him and offered assistance when he was becoming extremely frustrated at his own inability to keep up with his plans and designs, and kept on nudging him until he finally found some humour from somewhere and accepted me in with good grace.

Together, it was an easy thing. I was rested and had only vague relationships with the objects in question so there was no emotional content to get constricted in and to have to fight free of before the relatively simple pattern transformation could be accomplished.

Interestingly enough, Lucian had far more experience in time work than me; he had devoted considerable amounts of effort to learning the finer points when I had been studying Sepheal’s crystals and the doorway problems and knew exactly what to do. It was an unusual experience for him to be the operator and me the one to lend the power once he had laid down the course of action; it was quite challenging and intense for I had to be perfectly aware of when to push and when to hold back, instant response being of the essence. After a while, I lost touch as to what we were actually doing and just fell into pure pattern work which had no reward beyond itself, and by the time he send me a huge sigh of relief and the declaration that we had finished, the water I was drifting in had become very cold and I was shivering and tired.

I got out of the pool quickly and wrapped myself in two of the big towels and went across to get a visual impression of what we had been working so hard to establish.

I stuck my towel covered head around the doorframe and the very first thing I saw had me gasp in amazement.

There, above the dark and empty fireplace, straight across from the door, sat the two Tadara swords, shimmering blue black in their custom made holders, right where they belonged and as though nothing had ever happened.

Lucian was sitting on the bed, playing with a silver bracelet and looked from me to the swords and smiled.

“How on earth did you do that?” I asked him, truly astonished.

He got up from the bed and walked across, touched the wall and send me the information – here, it was easy, I turned a small section of the wall back in time until the Tadara re-appeared. Then, I took that and brought it forward, meshed it where the now was and look – here they are!

He took one of the swords off the holder, transferred it to the other hand and held it out, hilt first to me.

I untangled a hand and took the sword, tracing into its patterns. There was a slight strangeness about it, a tiny oddness in its resonance, yet it felt real enough and solid through and through. I tapped it against the upright of the bed and it vibrated all the way through into my fingers, wrist, arm and shoulder.

I shook my head and said, “That is truly extraordinary, Lucian.”

He smiled and came to take the sword from me, returned it lovingly to its holder and gave it a small caressing touch. I glanced around the room. All was as it once had been, the rug perfect or even perhaps better than it had been, the carved chests restored and carefully stacked. I did not need to look at the closed wardrobe door to know that his clothes would be inside, perfectly aligned and perfectly the same in cut, be they shirts, jackets or trousers.

The only thing that was blatantly missing was the red tapestry, and I was sorry for that.

“What could have happened to it, I wonder?” I asked him and sat down on the bed, starting to rub my hair beneath the towel.

Lucian shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps we can find it. If we cannot, we can soon bring it back from the past, if necessary.”

“Hm,” I said, the towel covering my face and enjoying what amounted to scratching my head all over under the guise of drying my hair which I could have done far more easily by magic. “This is a strange talent, for sure. I wonder how far it can be extended.”

“Oh,” said Lucian and sat down next to me, “I think it is just a matter of adding more power for larger endeavours.” He fell silent for a moment as the repercussions of the idea began to become apparent.

I could bring Malme back from the dead.

The thought shuddered me although, indeed, I thought we could.

You could have your brother back.

Lucian, stop it. This is – beyond – beyond – well, beyond something that one should not  think beyond.

How so, my lady?

It doesn’t seem right, that’s all.

Unnoticed, my hands had slowed down and just rested on my head now, then I pulled the towel away and looked at him.

He was obviously tired, but there was still a restlessness about him, an unusual eagerness to do which I found somewhat disconcerting. As I watched him, he reached over to the bedside table and picked up the silver bracelet he had been playing with when I came in. He held it up to me and said, “Tell me about this.”

I did not want to take it for the memory came instantly and at once.

There it was, brand new and bright, and sitting on the soft brown arm of a highborn lady, big square links with a centre piece of an oval each, exquisitely crafted and showing around its 12 components the ancient tale of how Sondra, a great hero, vanquished the ones who had betrayed his father, even though they had transformed themselves into monsters and creatures of all kinds, and one had become the ocean.

As the bracelet, the woman wearing it is exquisite. She is tall and raven haired, her eyes are black and sparkle beneath the longest of lashes. She has the most amazing sweep of neck into soft shoulders and a regal bearing that adds delight to her virginial beauty and innocence. I am utterly entranced by her movements and her voice and loath to take her for I know I will destroy her, yet I cannot leave her be for another to have in my place. She knows well she pleases me and plays for my affections in her inexperienced way, and I sit at the banquet all night and hardly take my eyes off her.

Malme is by my side. He is well aware of my predilections yet never speaks about them or gives the slightest indication of his disapproval. When the wine has made  us slow and the night is so old it is about to die amidst the grey skies just beyond the feasting tent, he leans across to me and says, “Cia, my friend. Take her bracelet and leave her be. That way, she can be with you forever, just as she was this night, and never will become a corpse or shrivelled half corpse of a crone.”

It may have been the wine, and I am sure it must have been the wine, but I got up and went to her and whilst she looked at me and smiled and giggled, carefully undid the bracelet and slipped it into my pocket. Then I went outside into the new dawn and had a horse brought to me, and I rode ahead to the first outpost where I waited for Malme and the others to catch up.

We never mentioned it and I never saw her again. But always, I kept the bracelet on my travels.

The memory complete, it faded and there was the room again and the bracelet, in his open palm. My feet were cold and I brought them up beneath me and the towel.

Why show me this? To have me know that I cannot compare to her great beauty?

Ah. But this was just the first act. Watch the rest of the play.

He bend and laid the bracelet carefully on the floor. It began to shift vaguely and move, seemed to become brighter and brighter still, then it lost cohesion and turned slowly into a puddle of liquid metal that eroded before my eyes, turned to what seemed grey rock and then fell apart until each part exploded in the tiniest of rippling starbursts and was gone entirely.

He relaxed then and a great wave of tiredness washed from him to me.

Perhaps you are right. Perhaps there are things that are of the past and must remain there, in their context. Even if we tried to bring them back, their time had been and gone. Her time has been and gone, and I have now instead of visions and illusions a woman right here beside me who is more to me than any. It will soon be night yet I am tired now. Will you lie with me and keep me company?

I will lie with you, my lord. Beneath a tapestry of red or blue, or even under alien lights, it matters not.

He smiled and pushed himself off the bed to get undressed, whilst I exchanged the cover of the towels for the cover of the blankets – plain white linen, as was usual in this house and I was grateful that he had deleted Thoran’s fancy velvet. The bed was cool against me and I longed for him to join me so that I might share a little of his heat.

Lucian carefully placed his clothes, one item at a time, over a chair by the side of the wardrobe. I watched him reveal his body and move it with such ease and marvelled how it failed to show so utterly in the flesh all that which had befallen him in his long life. To all intents, he should not be so smooth, nor should his limbs be straight or his muscles ripple as he stretched and bent.

Was there a single bone in his body that hand not been broken at one time or the other? Had he not lost his hands three times or more in that short space I knew of him? Was there a single inch of skin or flesh that had not been flailed, peeled, sliced, stabbed or burned at one time or the other? Where did the injuries go, where were the scars that he must bear as surely as I bear my own somewhere, inside myself and they don’t show but that can never mean they are not there?

He walked across the room, lightly on his feet and slipped into the bed beside me, in one move right up against me and sweeping me up in a deep embrace of warmth and comfort. I placed my cold feet on his calves and he did not object just laid his head against my shoulder, letting the tiredness take him, letting the bed support him fully and letting my presence be a comfort.

Within moments, he was fast asleep and snoring lightly, leaving me to lie against his hot body, my breasts aching badly for his mouth and all of my skin on red alert and tingling. I breathed deeply and waited until the desire for him began to recede steadily, and the ache in my stomach began to resolve; then I joined him lightly and let his deep waves of exhausted sleep take me down as well.

We slept all through the evening, the night and halfway into the next day and when I finally awoke fully, I was still tired, a deep, grey tiredness that weighs your shoulders and makes your legs tremble with the effort of nothing, and your head hollow and tight.

The light from the window was far too bright and I put my arm across my eyes with a groan. The man to whom I had dedicated my life lightly pinched my nipple and said in a cheery voice that was far too loud for my liking, “Come now, it is late, and high time we were on our way.”

I groaned again and blinked painfully into the light and his face. He was fully dressed and sitting at the edge of the bed, looking totally focussed, freshly washed, immaculate in perfect black and bursting with energy.

It was too much. I rolled over and turned my back on him, away from the window and drew the sheets high over my shoulders.

He emanated a mixture of amusement and frustration for a moment, then swiftly left the room, closing the door quite softly behind him. I sighed with gratitude and stretched out long beneath the sheets, grateful for the reprieve, and lay for a while unthinkingly until my bladder seriously demanded I take action or the consequences. Very reluctantly, I slid from the bed and made my way through the cold to the washroom, then back under the covers as quickly as I could to catch the heat remaining there.

Now this was blissful. I lay and drifted in comfort until I could feel him approach once more and kept my eyes closed as he made quite a deal of coming into the room.

He noted my half attention.

The cook ran away. I brought you some food, and water.

This put the sounds into context but I had no intention of opening my eyes quite yet. It was simply too nice just to lie here and be warm, be sleepy. Water was not what I wanted right now.

Lucian was amused.

If I was your group leader, I would whip you to your feet. Where is your discipline?

I just send back a long, drawn out hmmmmmmm of comfort and sensual relaxation, and stretched luxuriously under the blankets.

He received it with a sharp intake of breath and a little while later, I felt him sit down on the bed; then his hand, hard, dry and warm, touched the side of my neck. It set up a tingle that spread right around my body and I fed it right back to him, causing a rush of sensation in return, and he set to struggling to control himself. Naturally.

Join me for a while, I send him languidly.

It is day. It is time to get going.

Oh lay down your soldier’s discipline and exchange it for another kind of duty.

(Confusion, astonishment, then amusement) Ah so it is my duty to be pleasing you?

Of course. Your first duty, at all times. If I was your group leader, I would whip you from your clothes. Where is your discipline, Lord Lucian?

He laughed out loud at that and leaned down to kiss my shoulder, a deliciousness, hot and wet that I would wish would go across the whole of me and take me in. He tracked me tightly and laid a butterfly touch on my breast that caused me to raise my chest and hips towards his hand all at the same time and give a small sighlike moan.

Cruelly then, he withdrew his mouth and hand and sat back, hands resting relaxed on his thighs, and I had to open my eyes and look at him.

“I am not yet pleased, my lord,” I told him and he bit his lower lip briefly to contain a smile and dropped his head.

“Perhaps I need instructions in my duties,” he said.

Don’t be cruel with me, Lucian. You feel what I feel. Please us both this morning.

What would you have me do?

Well you could start by removing your jacket, and your shirt.

And my boots and trousers?

Yes, those too.

He complied with excruciating slowness and spend an extraordinary time folding and arranging his clothes in a tidy pile on the chest. Then he stood to attention in all ways which made me giggle.

Awaiting your orders, my lady.

Come here to me, before I translocate you myself!

He smiled and got into the bed, lay on his back, straight and true with his arms by his side, eyes to the ceiling.

I touched his hot arm and shoulder and his chest, my palms and fingertips greedy for his skin then leaned across him, kissing his stomach, lower and lower, my hands now stroking his thighs, his hips, and he began to tremble and his hips made small movements over which he had no control.

So I stopped and slid upwards, along his long body until I was on a level with him, looking down.

How much do you want me, Lucian?

He did not answer but his mouth opened a small way, involuntarily.

Slowly, I pulled my knee across his hip and pushed myself against his thigh, making sure not to touch his penis by accident.

How much do you want me, Lucian?

He was trembling hard now and against his will, his hands came up and around me, fingers flexing and digging into my neck and back and he pulled me across on top of him. Slowly, I allowed first one leg, then the other to slide to either side of him, my desire for him now so painful and intense that I was at the edges of my control, and raised my hips to just rub myself against him.

How much do you want me, Isca?

I don’t know if or why this competition, but I was tired of it. To lose it was to win the kingdom and I answered him,

More than anyone or anything I have ever known.

Some time later, after I had screamed for him and come for him and he had worshipped me to the extreme, we lay across the bed, hot and delicious, and I was suckling on his little finger for comfort whilst he was playing with my breast in an absentminded fashion.

What are you thinking of, my love?

I am wondering where to build the castle in which I can wall you in to keep you for myself forever, he replied languidly.

That is a strange idea. But how can I take my lovers, if you were to wall me in?

He turned over quite sharply to look at me closely as well as reaching to my mind.

Why do you wish my jealousy?

I smiled and cupped his neck, so strong, so wide.

Your jealousy is one thing that I need to hear and touch and feel.

What might the others be?

Oh – let me see now. A dragon slaying, here and there. The head of a vanquished enemy in a basket. Your attention and perhaps a gift when least I had expected to receive it.

He laughed lightly. That is not asking for too much. But what of my lovers?

Your lovers?

Well yes. I would have a serving girl, perhaps a slave or two,  for interest and for variety.

It was my turn to bite my lip and track him to a place where he was laughing in delight.

Your jealousy is a delight to me, you are quite right.

It is a strange pain, is it not?

Yes. His amusement stopped instantly as he looked down at me. It is indeed.

I stroked his neck in re-assurance.

Now me, I need the dragon slaying and the gifts. What would you need of me?

He became thoughtful and intense.

I would need you to not doubt me. To trust in me. And to have eyes for me alone.

The latter is more easily promised. But I promise I shall try for the others with the very best I have to give.

He kissed me gently and said, “No man could ask for more.”

For a while, we lay in silence and comfort, until he said, “I will wed you at the Abbey in Pertineri, before this time of year comes round again.”

There were a great many things behind that statement that I did not wish to enter into and destroy the moment so I just send acknowledgement.

He gave me an indefinable glance and slid out from under me. It was a bereavement to feel him go, even though I was glad when he brought the tray with the bread and meat and water and placed it on the bed so we could eat.

I drank greedily, ate hungrily and felt wonderful that morning.

A marked absence of minds created a much needed space of silence.

I thought of the cook who had run away sometime during the night and couldn’t help but smile. I did not really blame him.

Lucian must have heard my thought for he said, “We will retrieve Marani on this expedition.”

I’m not sure if I had forgotten or just repressed the idea about him accompanying me to Headman’s Acre but the piece of meat I was about to swallow got stuck in my throat and I set to coughing.

When I had contained myself I looked at him very seriously and said, “Lucian, now, you cannot go with me.”

He looked at me in surprise. “What do you mean?”

I shook my head. “There is a house full of children there. You remember them, I trust?”

He rose from the bed and began to get dressed, starting with his white shirt. It was amusing in a way to see him like this, so perfectly normal in all ways, as any man would be who got out of bed in the morning.

Without looking at me, he replied, “I had not intended to go inside.”

“Oh,” I said, unbalanced.

“I would escort you there and then go on to the Keep at Ural to gather some much needed information. Most of what I know about the structure of the Kingdom is about a hundred years out of date, and the contents of that Thelein bastard’s head were not worthy of tight inspection. He’s lied so much he doesn’t know himself what truth is of his making.” He sat down on the bed and began to get into his trousers.

“I also need at least a few men for various purposes. Is a day and a night long enough for your visit, for that is how long I expect to take with my affairs and the added travel?”

“Yes, that’s – plentiful,” I said, still shocked by his utter calmness and rationality.

He had buttoned his trousers and now slipped his boots on.

“I will place an order for the horses, then. Unless there is something else you wish to be doing first?”

“No, that’s all – just fine,” I said and watched him shrug into his jacket and button it up with military precision. “I will be dressed in a moment.”

He finished with the last button that sat across his throat, straightened and turned to me with a smile.

“Take your time. We can leave within the hour.”

I nodded and watched him stride easily across the room to the wardrobe. From it, he produced a simple leather holster that went around his waist. He adjusted it with movements born out of consummate practice. He took one of the black cloaks, one with luxurious gold fastenings and placed it across his shoulders, clipping the fastener into place. Next, he found a pair of black leather gloves with long sleeves and slipped his hands inside. They were finely made and fitted to perfection, a skin beyond his skin. He pulled them up tight each and flexed fist to hand a couple of times each, movements so rehearsed, so detached, so many times repeated that he was performing them without being aware of them in the slightest.

Then he closed the wardrobe door and took the first sword from the wall and inserted it into the holder, then the other, drew his elbows back and lightly touched each hilt with care, before letting the cloak cover them both.

He looked – impressive. Yet he did not seek my eye or take any notice of his transformation from man to soldier; as though I had been forgotten, he simply strode from the room, the cloak flowing behind him like water.

I shook my head and sighed. I had not yet found the measure of this man.

I took my time getting washed and dressed; I knew well I needed neither sword nor cloak but it would have been rather nice to have had one of the Tadara given to me to carry, nonetheless. I tried one of the other cloaks; it was light and actually very nice to feel about me, although it was way too long and trailed on the floor. I briefly wondered if he would mind if I shortened it, then decided that he probably would not, so I shrunk the pattern of the entire garment until it befitted me perfectly. The clasp of this cloak was a dull silver and I thought to turn it to gold, but that would not have matched the bright silver of the necklace I was wearing and which sat warm and as though it had been there forever, tightly around my throat. I checked out the pattern of the metal in the necklace and was quite surprised how complex and involved Lucian had made this – it would take a while to read and understand, never mind to be able to replicate it perfectly, so I settled for brightening up the silver clasp and removing the dirt and age from the surface layers instead.

I went to the wash room to find the mirror and was well pleased with the cloak and its effect. For all anyone could know, I was wearing a very ladylike dress beneath it rather than a mind dyed Serein robe.

I was still looking at myself in the mirror, wondering who on earth this stern looking woman was when inside I really didn’t feel much different than when Marani had shaved my hair and put me into sackcloth, tied with a rough string that trailed down from my waist and bare dirty feet sticking out from under it, when Lucian send me a gentle nudge to tell me that the horses had arrived and all was ready to go.

I smiled and caught myself smile in reflection.

“Well,” I said to the woman in the mirror, “at least he doesn’t shout at us to COME anymore.” She smiled back in full understanding and I turned and left to start the ride to my home village once again.