In Serein


2-4-6 Angel Child

I lie in the soft cold moisture, pleasant on my hot skin, and I enjoy the sensation of it creeping through my borrowed clothes. I bring my hands up and stroke the fur of the great green animal that gives me such comfort this day, and I thank it so profoundly from the bottom of my heart that I cannot remember ever having been so released, so I lie until the benediction of all that, inside and outside, has swept beyond, leaving a tranquil, alien sea behind that laps so gently and so lovingly at the shores of me.

I turn on my back and laugh as the cloak tangles and traps and chokes me briefly before I can unclasp it and I look at the sky above, it fills my entire vision and there is no doubt that the clouds are dancing for me alone this day.

Not for me alone.

Lucian? Where are you?

I receive no answer but he is not too far away and he wants a time by himself.

It is strange. When I am distraught, I need him so much more than at any other time. I need to have another there and I need their comfort, or just their presence.

When he is distraught, he wants to be alone.

Look!

There! That cloud there, that’s a streaking horse, flat out and dissolving for it goes too fast to hold itself together. There, just behind, is a great king’s carriage and at the back, if you just screw up your lids a little, you can see the footmen holding on. Poor footmen! Right on your heels there comes a giant jug, complete with handle, and it stretches and will not pour out upon you, but instead will swallow you whole – there, nearly and ah! Too late for you, you’ve had your day and now together you become what might be a map of a kingdom or an island, what could it be?

Lucian?

He doesn’t hear me. He has gone deep inside something, very deep. But he still not far away. I wish he would accept my ministrations as I always hunger for his, not as a sign and sealed confession of a weakness, but as a one of mutual respect and kind regard.

I ask you, who would I cry to but a one that I would trust and feel they’d understand?

Did I ever cry to you, my love, when you hurt me and teased me so cruelly and smashed me against the walls of Tower Keep, day in day out, until I thought I was really going quite insane?

Oh I don’t know. Perhaps I did, in my own way. Perhaps I did.

I got up and stretched, leaving the sky blue cloak on the ground like a mirror to the sky above. Then I translocated.

Respectful of his stated desire to be alone, I land a way away from him and what I see astonishes me.

We are a little way further down the slope of the hill, out of the wind now, in a shallow place where a few trees grow precariously close to the edge. Shrubs and bushes rise behind them and cover the side of the hill on the left and sweeping around behind me.

It is such a beautiful day, such a beautifully calm place.

And there’s Lucian, and he is distraught.

I don’t know why it should astonish me.

I have seen him rave insanely.

I have seen him kill, I have seen him come, I have seen him cry even, and once, I nearly watched him die.

But I’ve never really seen him be distraught.

His hands are shaking and he is trying to control them and failing, rubbing one over the other, trying to hold them down and it makes no difference. He looks up sharply as he becomes aware of me and for a moment, stares at me like I was a perfect stranger, then and quite automatically, it seems, he puts his head back fractionally, slowly lowers his lids and when he opens them again, he has returned to the ice state.

With excruciating deliberation, he takes control of every aspect of his stance, his posture. His hands untangle, slide apart, and rest easily by his side, and he straightens all over.

“My lady,” he says evenly. “Are you well?”

I have to both sigh and smile, I cannot help it.

“I am more than well,” I answer. “I am overjoyed. All is well. Nothing that is of the past can ever matter again. I am more than well, indeed.”

For an instant, there is a flicker in his reserve, then he nods briefly in acknowledgement.

There is a silence, and from the shrubs I can hear rustlings and the short, high small sound of birds.

“Are you not pleased that it is your child I am carrying?” I ask him.

He shakes his head once, then again in a whole new negation.

“I don’t know how this can be,” he says with that even, entirely unemotional tone of voice I know so well. I used to resent it but I no longer do so. It is what he does to keep himself functioning when otherwise he would not. I cannot fault or judge him for it.

Slowly, I respond.

“It is possible it is my fault. When I restored you after the fire in Serein, I …” I sigh and try to find words to describe what had happened. “I did not quite replace what there was. I re-constructed what there should have been instead. It felt to be the right thing to be doing, at the time.” I am well aware that my voice is trailing off at the end of the sentence, with a half apology that is insincere for by all the sisters, by the creator himself, I swear I did not know myself why I had done it that way, and yet, in a way, I know now that I did. I know deep down I knew somehow I was doing absolutely, and did it most deliberately, to bring about exactly that what had now come to pass.

There is no possibility with a link, and he is too enmeshed inside his own thoughts to give me heed enough to be able to track that far into my thoughts.

“This cannot be,” he says and shakes his head again, as though the information has turned the sun black and the sky to falling fire. I would have hoped he would be happy and then I too, shake my head. I won’t tell him just yet that the child I am carrying will be his son, that he will grow up to be blond and tall like Lucian but that he will have my brown eyes.

He startles me with a sharp movement as he turns and strides towards me. He stops very close to me and looks down upon me from his great height. Even in the ice state, I love his eyes and I am rather sad that our son will have to make due with mine instead.

Seriously and deadly serious, he says quite quietly, “What am I to do?”

I know it is of no use to be doing this as he doesn’t feel it, but still, I put my hand on his arm and stroke it lightly.

“Nothing for now, my lord,” I say gently to him. “It is still a long time before – before the event. You will know what to do in time, I’m sure of it.”

He nods and turns his head to the landscape beyond the hillside. I resist to even imagine what he might be thinking, and I am glad of it for he surprises me with what he says next:

“Have you removed my immortality, too?”

“I don’t know,” I answer honestly and wait for his reaction, but he says nothing for a long while. I stand and look at him looking out at his father’s lands and find myself caressing his brow, his hair and his shoulder with my thoughts, stroking his back, seeking to remove some of the tension in his neck with loving fingers of ghost, stroking away darkness and soreness and dissolution from his shoulder blades, from his spine.

As in response, the ice begins to melt a little at a time, softening around the edges and I remember how he took me so gently to a place of calm in my own sorrows, such a short time ago, and I ease his melting and support his calm beyond the ice as best I know how yet without drowning him in an ocean of emotions he has no use for, nor can he find nourishment of any kind within its depths.

I know when he has come back when his shoulders drop and the link touches me again, so familiar and comforting and stabilising. I no longer resent the fact that he is indeed what orients me at all in this reality the Serein call the hard. They are right in their choice of words. It is hard to be here, indeed it is.

I am to be a father. I cannot comprehend that thought. I do not deserve such  …

Joy?

(The tiniest touch of sad amusement) Honour.

No man deserves it, I am sure, and only a few ever look upon it in that way (Memorance of my father beating my mother when he found out she was in whelp again, as he would call it – he tried to beat the baby out of her, but he failed and then he stopped trying and got drunk instead. It got me to wondering how many of us there would have been on the straw bed that night, and how many times he had succeeded in his desire to have one less mouth that needed stuffing with the bitterly earned food).

I cannot be anyone’s father. I can not comprehend that notion.

Marani’s daughter lived in your house. I know what you did to protect her from your moods.

(Darkness descending rapidly and powerfully) You cannot let me anywhere near the –

He can’t even think the word. Poor Lucian.

You never know. You might feel different about a child of your own?

(Sharply, forcefully) Isca. Wake up. If anyone knows it should be you. No more illusions. Not here. It is too dangerous.

And of course, he is right, and I do know. I have been there, I have lived through the rage, the insanity that befalls him when faced with children, and never more so than if they resemble himself just as he was and sat and stared at Sepheal’s recording device.

Hard and fast, he shatters my memory, thought and the link all at once.

“Don’t go there,” he says and behind his menace and threat, there is the desperation.

“Lucian,” I say and I say it not to the menace or threat, but to his desperation. “Lucian, you open your eyes. You know where we are and you damn well know why you are here. You cannot continue to try and kill your own self through the bodies of others. You cannot continue to hold up the illusion that you are an honourable man, just a soldier following his orders. Look!” I point to the rising hill behind us where nothing survives of what once there was, yet both of us see it as clearly as the day was bright –

The wide approach road, winding steadily  up the hill, beautifully paved and maintained by teams of village children who pulled weeds from the cracks of the stones, and from the low stone walls with their miniature turrets built from the same pale grey bedrock stones, finished and squared each one by patient masons, the hardest stone in all the kingdoms.

The perimeter wall, and its approach so green and perfect, strong and impressive, old, so old, with the huge circular corner towers above which bright flags were flying, the gold and black of Tremain colours largest amongst them, a huge silk banner with the family crest of swords and lions that was repeated on the breast plates and cloaks of the guards with their plumed helmets.

The deep feeling of pride, belonging and importance, a perfect centeredness and a unity with all and everything that moved or did not move, all of it was me on this summer day. The gates are wide open and I enter into the inner space and before me lie grazing beasts, and horses; servant women about their business of fetching and laughing, and beyond, my father’s castle, resplendent, prosperous, secure, forever.

Forever.

Lucian. What happened?

You know what happened.

Yes. I know what happened. But I really don’t think you do.

?

Do you remember when you told me, when we lay in the grass in the place of the horses, that you did not remember your father? And I showed you the memory of your first hunt, and how proud he was of you that you kept up on your little pony?

(Panic, reflexive backing up, intense fear)

Allow me to support you. Allow me to shore you up and to gentle you and give you the strength to look at it.

You are asking the impossible of me.

Lucian, don’t you see that you do know and you do remember? And that those things make you behave as you do, and that these things control you far beyond anything else that could ever be? That when you try to control yourself, that there is the limit to what you can achieve because you cannot help yourself, no more than I could have you touch me and I didn’t even know why, just because I was too afraid and it was too painful to remember?

My love, deeply and profoundly I entreat you. Let us go there together, let us see it all and set us both free from these demons that have haunted you and through you, are haunting me.

If you cannot do it for, or for me, then please, do it for your son.

My - son?

Your son.

(Total confusion of panic, sadness, grief of unbounded proportions, oh so much grief!)

Let it end here, my love. You are the most courageous man I know and you pride yourself on your endurance. I will be by your side as you were by mine. I will not judge and I will not comment. I beg of you, let in end here today. Here. In the rightful place.

(Soft whisper) When I came here, I thought it was holy ground.

And it is. That is what it is. Let us go and fight this battle.

(Desperate resignation, pain beyond pain, grief) I will do as you ask of me.

I take his hand and he follows me meekly, quietly, as we make our way to where the grass still reveals, underlying, where the approach road would have been six hundred years ago or more. Here and there, indeed, there are still lumps and humps of the side wall but I would not have needed those to mark our path because I know and feel and see and with every step up the hill we take, it is as though we are stepping back in time, further and further still, the road beginning to outline beneath our feet, taking on cohesion, now broken stones with fresh weeds springing amongst them, now the stones are mending and bonding, and the side walls arise, and above us, the turrets of the perimeter wall are beginning to rebuild as though an army of ghosts is hard at work to restore for us this day what once had been.

Lucian is shaking on all levels at once and I keep us both walking forward, in fact I slow my steps so he is right beside me rather than me nearly dragging him along. I slow more and at the same time, reach deeply within myself to find the right vibration of respectful support, the one that will not force him, nor take away his own powers of decision, just fill the gaps and voids where his own courage cannot help but falter. Steadily, he becomes a little calmer and it was all that was needed. When we start to walk again, we are walking in time, in step, up the winding road approach, linking tighter and tighter as we do so, and I can feel myself merging to him as we had done so many times before, yet today it is different, it is different.

The perimeter gate is open wide, we can see it as with every step we take the past becomes more and more real and we become less and less so, fading and phasing as we draw tighter and tighter into each other, now there is no longer four legs walking but just two and the last part of what is consciously me merges completely into the last vestiges of what was him, and I am new and walking, powerfully strong straight towards the gate, wearing a man’s red brown leather boots, grey green trousers, and I look down at my hands and they are perfectly correctly familiar. I stop and touch my hair, it is curly, springy, much stronger than I know it to be and I pull a strand to my eyes – I have light brown hair, and by my side, is a light and beautiful sword.

I am not sure who I am or what I am doing here but no-one challenges me as I walk through the gates, past the guards in their feathered helmets and black cloaks; it is as though I cannot be seen by human eyes.

In the wide sweeping grass arc that rivers the castle and the perimeter, there is some activity here and there. Children are running alongside one who is proudly mounted on a small white pony and waves a wooden toy sword. I stand and look at this, and there is a strange sensation in my heart that I cannot quite describe. I track them as they make their way to the western wings of the castle and wonder why I am here and what I am doing here.

I walk up towards the castle gates with easy, ranging strides, my dark brown cloak flying out behind me in the sweet breeze of this perfect summer’s day. I step aside for a group of soldiers trotting out and they, too, pass me as though I did not exist at all.

The walls of the castle are astonishingly thick, half a man’s length at least, and the great doors are wide open. As I walk through the archway that echoes my steps, the bright sunlight is replaced by cool shadow and the courtyard of the castle lies before me, the shadows of its own existence black and dark, and the high brightness where it has not covered the cobble stones, the well, the provisions, the horses, the stables, the steps, the laughing maids walking with baskets and provisions, the fowl and two large carriages, underneath one a very old dog lies sleeping.

A sound catches my attention.

It is the resonant laugh of a woman that echoes from a terrace up above my head and a shiver runs through my spine. I seek a way to find the source of the laughter and soon, I make my way up a set of stone stairs, old and utterly solid, taking two steps at a time.

There is a kind of external platform and open walkway that leads to numerous doors and apartments, and leaning against the waist high wall that protects the users of that walkway from falling into the courtyard, stands a woman who is laughing with a young girl, their resemblance so stunning that they must have been mother and daughter.

Both are honey blond and very fair, dressed in finest linen of pale beige and white. The mother’s hair is gathered at the top of her head and held in place with a band of pearls, her long neck clear and sweeping without adornment of any kind. The girl, whose head reaches to her mother’s chest, is holding up a broken doll. Her hair, wavy and strong, reaches down her back and flows like a river when she shakes her head to her mother’s laughter.

I walk closer to them, utterly fascinated by their careless beauty and their grace.

I halt about two strides from them when the mother raises her head and looks directly at me; straight into my eyes with hers of deepest blue, then the girl turns and she, too looks at me, seriously and straight.

Her eyes are grey instead of blue.

I stand transfixed and do not know what to say to them both, nor how they could know that I am here at all.

The mother flicks her lids and shakes her head, passes a hand before her eyes.

I hear her voice, close up, and it sets up a deep trembling inside me that I cannot source nor understand.

Her voice.

“I had the strangest notion there was someone there, just for a moment.”

The girl turns away from me and looks at her mother with a puzzled expression and replies, “Yes, mama, I saw him too. A soldier with brown curly hair and a brown cloak.”

The woman’s beautiful eyes widen and she says rapidly and in a whisper, “Hush now, Careya, truly, there was nothing there. Just a trick of the light.”

The girl seems to want to argue but eventually, she drops her head and sighs.

“Yes, mama,” she says but from the corner of her eye, glances at me again. I raise a hand in greeting, and she looks away, fast, then sneaks another glance.

I smile at her.

Shyly, she smiles back.

Her mother pushes herself off the balcony and in leaving, says, “Get washed. Dinner will be served in a short while.” She walks within a hairsbreadth of me but never sees me standing there, again. She has decided not to see me this day.

The girl and I watch her progress along the walkway, watch the shadows of the uprights darken and brighten her, until she is met by two older women who curtsey to her and all three disappear into a doorway and from our sight.

Carefully, I come across and stand beside the girl, a step away as not to frighten her, and lean myself against the wall, much like her mother had done, then I turn and, leaning on my elbows, look down on the castle and its occupants, on this perfect summer’s day.

Beside me, the little girl whispers, “Are you a ghost?”

I consider and come to the conclusion that I must be.

“I think so,” I say to her and am very surprised at the sound of my own voice, somehow neither as high nor as low as I must remember it to have once been.

The girl turns towards the wall and stands right by my side, copying my stance but she has to stretch her arms across the wall instead. Her fingers play with the back edge. They are fine, and long.

“I didn’t think that ghosts could talk,” she says quietly in the direction of the courtyard, and then, after a short silence, “What are you doing here?”

“I don’t know,” I say and there is a very strange sadness that comes from within me when I say the words.

“Perhaps,” she says and turns to look at me very closely, very fully, “Perhaps you are an angel.”

For some reason, that thought makes me want to cry. But I am a soldier. I don’t cry. Instead I ask her, “Why do you think that?”

She smiles brightly at me. “You are beautiful, just like an angel. Not all scary and horrible like an old ghost.”

She smiles brightly at me.

“You are the angel,” I tell her and it is true, that is what she is.

“Why are you so sad?” she asks with concern and reaches to touch my arm, but all her hand meets is a certain weight in the air, a certain resistance.  I have no real body here. No substance.

“I don’t know,” I say to her and make an effort to not be sad, but as soon as I look at her even for a moment, I cannot help it coming back.

A noise from below and to our right makes us both turn our head, and it is a rider approaching fast, the hooves of the horse amplified manifold as he comes crashing through the tunnel and it echoes like the cracks of many whips.

There is shouting, and milling, and more shouting, and in response, the girl’s – Careya’s mother and her women appear, as do many others, forming a balcony theatre audience to the events in the courtyard below.

There are many soldiers now, and one arrives below, cloakless and very fair haired, dressed in sombre dark, a big man for whom the people make space, make way as he strides across the courtyard to the messenger on his lathered horse.

“Who is that?” I ask in wonderment and fascination as my eyes are glued to him and I start to churn from the very centre of my being.

“Why that’s my father!” Careya exclaims and looks at me in astonishment, letting go off the wall and facing me squarely on, “The Lord Lucian Tremain – who can you be that you don’t know my father?”

I cannot take my eyes of the Lord Tremain. There is something so – familiar – about his movements, his bearing.

He is listening with intent to the messenger, and now he turns and lifts his face in the direction of us, finding his wife on the balcony for a moment, before gesturing and walking back fast to the main hall, followed by many of the soldiers and older men like a train follows a bride. Others take the messenger of his horse and others still lead it away.

I am beginning to have a resonance idea of what is happening here, a vague foreknowledge and a foreboding too.

I too, release the wall and turn my attention to the girl in front of me. Behind her, I can see a woman approaching rapidly. There is not much time left.

I say to her, “You are an angel, Careya. Your body is not what makes that so, it is what is not of your body. That is the angel in you which will rise on wings of brilliant light when your life is done.”

The girl stares at me and I am not sure if she understands me. The serving woman in blue touches her on the arm, talks to her urgently. The girl doesn’t listen and still looks to me.

“Did you come all the way from the clouds to tell me that?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “It is important you should remember.”

She nods and now the serving woman has her by the upper arm, pulling her away.

I watch her being pulled toward a throng of people, servants and attending ladies, in the centre is Careya’s mother looking very pale and contained. The girl never takes her eyes of me and I smile and wave farewell, then I jump up on the wall and down into the courtyard without hesitation.

I visit the great hall and listen to the Lord Tremain hold his war council in an atmosphere of disbelief and desperate time pressure, and later, I watch him ride forth, in full armour and resplendent in his gold chest plates and swirling black cloak.

As the afternoon wears on, I watch the troops encircle the castle, and breach the walls with ease for there are but few defenders within, too far spread and too wide; it is most apparent that the occupants of this place never expected to have war brought to them this day.

In the fading light, surrounded by the bodies of his most trusted lieutenants and fifty soldiers or more, Lord Tremain is struck down by a dozen swords at once, then beheaded on the forecourt of his castle and his head stuck upon a soldier’s lance for parade. The soldiers set fires to the castle itself; many fires, for this is a mission of destruction and not one of change of ownership. As night falls, the castle burns brightly and the soldiers kill everyone, fast or slow, taking their sport wherever they would, without hindrance or hesitations or orders from their headmen to show restraint.

I move amongst all of this with sorrow and with wonderment.

There are moments of utmost brutality, and moments of high honour; moments of love and friendship and moments of bestiality of a degree that beasts themselves would shudder and turn their backs and declare they have nothing in common with ones such as this.

I find it difficult to understand how all of these are human.

As the night wears on, orange golden glowing from the giant fire that is consuming everything not of bedrock, corpses, wood and parchment; the feeble remnants of the raped serving women, some still alive; the bedding and the homespun clothing; the Tremain flags and tapestries bearing the swords and lions in gold and black; the harvest stores and all there is to eat, greedily feeding on itself and then slowly dying down to cinders and to ashes, the fury of the screams and the fury of the rage wears itself out similarly, and when the dawn comes, so beautiful in its perfect shades of gentle pinks and deepest orange fading into blue, the new day looks upon the soldiers packing up, clearing their weapons, tending to their own dead and ill, here and there a fight over an item of value, and on the other side of the valley, the command tents of the army that was brought to destroy a castle guarded by a handful of men.

I see that there are some of the unfortunate inmates of the castle left alive.

The blond woman and her daughter, for one, their clothes blackened, their hair dishevelled and no longer bearing any jewellery, their hands bound behind them, are held standing under the armed guard of six men, so many not to keep them from escaping but to keep them both intact enough to see the morning light.

They are taken into the burned out castle and I lose sight of them.

There is another prisoner, a blond boy of perhaps five or six years of age, obviously terrified and out of his mind with the events that have befallen him. I recognise him as the one who was riding the pony when I first arrived, and the strong resemblance strikes me at once – he must be a son to the fallen Lord Tremain.

I follow his movements, or rather, his transportations around the camp although I do not know why. It seems important that I should, and so I watch him being thrown into a well and made all manner of sports of, and finally he is carried into the burned out castle, presumably to be re-united with his mother and sister.

I follow into the blackened, hot, still smouldering ruins of the castle.

Before me, a large, hefty red faced soldier carries the naked boy under his arm like he was a sack of grain. I see his thick shoulders and neck before me as I descend silently and unnoticed behind them into the darkness of the cellars of the castle, the only place the fire left untouched, thick heavy stone walls dripping with eternal moisture in spite of the heat that had raged above.

We enter a dimly torch lit area beyond a long corridor, smoke thick beneath the vaulted high ceiling in swirling black shrouds.

The woman and her daughter are chained to the wall with long, loose chains manacled to their wrists, which gives them some semblance of movement but they cannot reach each other.

There is a man, short and gaunt, his eyes dancing with expectation and two others, who stand silently and composed near a forge fire that burns near the centre of the square space into which the boy is now carried, and set before the gaunt man. He cannot stand up so the soldier is instructed to keep him upright.

I observe and wonder why it should be that the gaunt man is trying to make this child give the orders to have his mother and sister raped, for the boy doesn’t even understand what he is talking about, but he understands well enough that there is terrible danger and that he must contain himself as best he can.

I observe and listen to the boy’s screams as the gaunt man himself applies a branding iron to him repeatedly, and the screams of the women as they watch.

The boy faints twice, and twice he is restored with liberal dousings of water from a large bucket that has its resting place at the side of the forge. He is out of his mind with fear and pain and when the gaunt man asks him again to give the order and brings the glowing white yellow iron close to the boys face, he starts to scream the words the gaunt man had wanted him to speak all along.

Both women are raped where they stand in the chains by the two silent attendants who accomplish their tasks on order with efficiency and little if no emotion. The boy faints twice more, and is restored, twice more.

These processes and many more unfold through time as I stand and watch and listen and learn. I cannot understand any of this, least of all the gaunt man’s decision when the two women are finally put to death, to not kill the boy also who is no longer fainting nor even trembling, but silent and white.

The gaunt man takes the silent boy and has him move closely to where the corpses of the two women lay against the wall, their arms slightly raised by the binding chains and he tells him things. The boy does not respond, not even with a flicker of his lids when he man pushes him into the corpse of his mother. I think he must be satisfied for he motions the soldier to take the child and he is carried away.

I follow him out into the beautiful midday of perfect gold and blue and lose sight of him when he is first slung face down across a horse, then the soldier mounts and rides through the blackened, breached walls and picks up a gallop across to the broken perimeter wall, out and beyond.

I too, begin to walk towards the perimeter wall then, across the bright emerald grass where here and there, stones are lying that the fire has thrown here, and small pieces of wood, and things that might have been small pieces of men.

As I walk through the breach where the main entrance gate had once been, and start down the grey cobbled winding approach road, I feel a strange sensation of dissolving slightly, more and more with each step I take, more and more, until I am a white swirling mist from which a woman’s brown pointed boots emerge and legs, clad in blue, and an awareness arises of me as me and beside me, him, me and him, I know who I am, I know who he is and I know where we just were and what we just did.

Beside me, the outline of a tall man in black begins to stabilise and his patterns emerge more clearly and for a second I am confused because I saw this man be beheaded only such a short time ago, before I remember and centre enough just in time to put my arms around him and push with my mind to stop him from falling.

The perfect mid summers day has been replaced by a late afternoon on a green hilltop, the sky still blue and white with racing clouds but already at its very outside edges banding into darker shades, the sun is still yellow yet well on its way to the night horizon.

The castle is gone.

Lucian steadies in my arms and his mind has a remarkable clarity.

Gently, I let him go, step back and look up at him.

He seems very tired, older. Yet he is calm and I don’t think I expected him to be. I thought he’d be on his knees, retching with his uncried tears again or perhaps raging and denying any of these events ever took place at all and that he had never been any other than what he presented to the world for all these many years.

He turns and looks back at where the perimeter wall should have stood, did stand for us.

I am breathing shallowly and await his response.

Gently, into my mind he says, I had forgotten.

I know you did, my love.

I think I didn’t want to remember.

Yes.

That – boy. He held out well.

I caught my breath in surprise and utter astonishment before I had a chance to suppress this emotion.

Tiredly, he sent, He did what he could. He tried. And he failed.

Carefully, I responded. I don’t think he could not not have failed, under the circumstances.

(Acknowledgement) Indeed.

I badly wanted to ask him a hundred questions, of how he felt about it all, how it had made a difference, what it was like to remember his mother and speak with his sister – and oh! How he had loved her, no, worshipped her. What it was like to see his father again. And most of all, if he could now find it in his heart to forgive the boy.

He picked up the last trail of my thoughts.

Forgive him? Of course not. What he did was unforgivable. Yet …

Yet what?

It was understandable.

Lucian sighed deeply and switched from the link to ordinary speech.

“We must return to Pertineri. We have – I have to prepare for Trant’s execution.”

I was surprised. “But he’s already dead?”

Lucian straightened and with that, his usual self returned. Succinctly, he said, “He will rise again, especially for that occasion.” After a short hesitation, he added, “As will Thoran of Thelein, should he have tried to escape me in a similar fashion.”

The mention of the man’s name caused my stomach to twist and he noticed and put a heavy hand on my shoulder.

“We will have our justice, my lady. I will see to it that we will.”

I wasn’t sure I understood or even shared his sentiments on the subject but was not going to contradict him.

Instead, I sought his eyes and simply said, “Yes, Lucian.”

He drew me towards him in a one armed embrace and kissed the top of my head.

My lady. We must by needs wed as soon as possible.

I laughed and stroked his face with my fingertips.

People will start to talk!

But he was entirely serious.

There must be no doubt as to your child’s heritance.

But Lucian – there is no doubt as to our child’s heritance! You can read the patterns for yourself. There can be no doubt whatsoever.

He shook his head at me and turned me physically, placing an arm around my shoulder and starting to walk me back up the hill, cutting across the invisible roadway now and straight across the grass, You have much to learn about the ways of the world.

And with all my heart, I wished that I did not, and that I did not have to ever, ever really become what people had been calling me mistakenly. I could never be “a lady”. I was not and I could never be. Lord Tremain would have to join the many throughout the ages who had their children fathered by a serving girl they had taken for their wives.

A snort close to my ear startled me out of that run of thoughts and he said dryly, “It seems there is much that I need to learn, as well. I’ve experienced much but never servants cackling behind my back at my foolish old man’s ways.”

I smiled to myself. “Do you think you might survive such ignominy?”

He shook his head again and I could feel him smile a full smile then. “I can only do my best to try and take it with composure.”

We had reached the plateau on the top of the hill and were just walking along. I wished deeply from the bottom of my heart that we could walk on a little longer, just communicate amongst ourselves, and not have to go back to Pertineri and all those minds and eyes I had such a hard time in coping with. The soldiers. How many of them had watched, had been told? Everyone would know about Thelein, and Conna too. I felt a tightness all around my back and in my mouth until Lucian said, “Do you think you might survive such ignominy?”

It was my turn to shake my head and smile. I snuggled into his shoulder and brought my arm about his waist, hugging him briefly. “My lord, I promise you that I will try and take it with honour, if you will.”

He send me a thought of appreciation and solidarity, and we walked on some more. I was acutely aware that he was doing it for my sake and that here was a coiled impatience residing behind a far drawn shielding.

“Be at ease,” he said gently, lengthening his stride fractionally and tightened his arm around my shoulder briefly. “There is a balance point at which your desire to be here and walk and mine to return to Pertineri will cross naturally, and then we will go. Until then, let us walk around the inside of the wall. I have not been here in so many years, and not all the memories are - …”

So we walked across and through the deep, giving grass, soaking our riding boots through and we talked about things that we both knew had happened here, and there, and over there! Lucian was entirely calm until we came to a place which was probably the furthest of the corner towers from the castle itself, as the perimeter wall followed the shape of the hill and was not at all regular or symmetrical. Here, he closed down and walked on fast, cutting across at an angle and I had to keep myself in the tightest of checks to not laugh out loud, for the kinds of children’s games he did remember he once played there would have caused him much mortification to have to hold in consciousness. When we had cleared that memory zone, he relaxed once more and we walked on in companionable silence, each thinking their own thoughts in privacy then.

We had completed about three quarters of a full circuit when what he had so rightfully predicted came to pass. Whatever time I had needed to rest here in this solitude with him had been fulfilled and I felt ready for us to now return. He knew this too, and, glancing back at the sun that was noticeably lower in the sky, invited me to do the transition back to Pertineri, and more specifically, to Pertineri Abbey itself.

I took us so rapidly through the doorways via the grasslands that, had someone stood there and watched, they would have seen but the vaguest flickerings of shadow black and blue and to both of us, it seemed that we stepped straight through to stand in the cool of the Abbey that I had never seen in consciousness, but that was as familiar to me as looking at my own wrists nonetheless.

Here, the evening sun, noticeably lower and already turning into red, was bursting through the coloured window panes with a vengeance, splitting up into strange shades of blood, and orange, and brown that lay in pools on the wondrous floor.

It truly was so good to be able to see these things with my own eyes and to take them into my own mind in my own way. I sometimes hardly recognised scenes and objects; Lucian’s colourless views and too-sharp outlines that emphasised details beyond the whole of a thing were simply not what I saw here today, nor were his experiences of being in the presence of such things as this enchanted place anything at all like mine – they were as different from one another as what we tasted when each ate an identical slice of golden fruit.

He simply did not realise the intense magic of this building.

Oh, to be sure, he was aware of it on some level and it held a far away fascination for him too, and a call to return here, but he did not truly understand the depth, nor the intensity, of what these ancient craftsmen had created.

I was in deep awe.

The metals here were custom created, forged and shaped to exactly match the resonance of lines that came from the very depth of the earth itself and flowed like conductors, morphed within in infinite subdivisions to receive the lines that came down from the sky, linking and bridging them in a way that was profound and inexplicable.

Lucian had rightfully deducted that there wasn’t a single thing in the original structure of the building, nor its decorations, that was not perfectly designed to capture and weave together truly all there was into a nexus.

It was simply too much information, just to stand here and whilst I was still contemplating how to begin to approach understanding the nature and purpose of this creation in time and space, Lucian nudged me gently on the shoulder.

“Isca, there’s work to be done – here, in hard, if you will,” and there was even a small smile attached to using that expression. “I would be most grateful if you were to be by my side tonight?”

I snapped out of my revelry and focussed on him, the window lights painting his white hair and pale skin a flowing, deep red on one side and then falling into shadow. I wish I could paint this moment, these colours and I said, “My lord, of course I will. I will return to our quarters and get dressed? And you will call on me when you want me?”

He stood gazing at me for a time and I could clearly feel his reluctance to let me go. It pleased me deeply and profoundly, yet I knew he had appointments to keep and things to do, so I placed a small kiss on my fingertips, transferred it to his lips, and translocated myself back into the officer’s quarters.