With her gone, no longer standing here in this light that turned her unbefitting clothes into a vicious purple and her face a mosaic, I felt at a loss for a moment.
How much, precisely, can you experience and understand without taking leave of your senses for good?
How much change was there to be faced, how many of these – feelings – I was battling like an army of dragons, had been battling with ever since she descended upon me? I had been calm, steady; I had known who I was.
Or thought I knew.
Either way, this derangement was at a point where I was no longer sure that I could control it at all.
Standing abandoned in the Abbey and trying to find a way to make myself take the requisite actions to meet Niccosia in the dungeons, I was becoming aware again how illusionary my attempts at control were now, as they in truth had always been.
Slowly, I turned towards the exit and made the effort to locate Niccosia. He was waiting in the ruined stairwells which descended to that level, desperately afraid that if I did not arrive soon, he would simply slide down a wall or go to sleep on his feet.
It amused me briefly and the amusement provided the impetus to scan the area I was to materialise with care before making the step-through. I landed lightly about a man’s length in front of Niccosia who was trying very hard not to sway nor lean against the support behind him, and a group of palace guards at ease distributed around the room. Everyone snapped to attention, and Niccosia gave me such a look of gratitude and you-have-come-to-my-rescue welcome that it caused my eyebrows to raise momentarily.
I said nothing to him but made straight for the stairs.
Straight down, we descended into a long passageway which was set with torches, here and there. The air was thick and stale. Ahead, I could feel the suffering like a great tree of wailing and moaning, extending its branches from its core until they quite fizzled out at some distance, and the roots extending all the way below my feet.
I turned with the passage way – mercifully it was high enough so I would not have to stoop – to the right, and there was the glass wall, and before it, pale faced palace guards at the edge of their forbearance. They stood to attention on my approach and endeavoured to melt into the sides of the passage way.
I walked up to the barrier and observed what lay in front of me.
There had been originally 12 men, 7 of whom were now dead, mostly by their own hand. The five who were still alive were out of their minds with terror, trapped as they were in plain sight with the corpses and their own excrement and cowardice, for all to see; with nothing but the thoughts of what I would do to them when the time came to keep themselves entertained.
Two in the corner never saw me, rocking on their knees, they were; two fell silent and backed up against the glass wall at their backs, and one fell to pleading. I silenced him reflexively.
Niccosia drew to my side, his tiredness quite forgotten as his memories of his own suffering in Trant’s dungeons and the loss of his men and his father roared into a form that took a on a life of its own and attached itself to those miserable creatures before us. I reached for my lady who was immediately responsive and attentive both.
Can you support me in this? It will take a considerable amount of energy to accomplish.
Of course, my lord. In all ways.
I sent her a note of acknowledgement and with an afterthought, gratitude too. Then it struck me that I was asking for a considerable energy expenditure from a woman who was with child, and the very notion nearly caused me to loose my balance.
I had seen such women carry loads, fight, wield swords, pull carts, lift grown men. They were not as fragile as common custom would hold them to be. I sent my concern to my lady and tasked her firmly to take charge of her own well being at all times, and with a smile, she agreed to submit to my wishes.
I did not believe her for one moment, of course, but it suited the purposes and circumstances to proceed regardless.
The glass barriers made an excellent natural confinement to the rift in time I was about to create. It was, in truth, the largest such project I had ever sought to undertake, but the principles were the same.
I felt her intimate and familiar touch around me, then behind me, and together we slowed time in the cell, then began to move it backwards against a massive resistance that was much like trying to walk up a sharp incline made of soft sand.
After a few moments, we simultaneously agreed that this was not the way to accomplish this task; although we had not yet exhausted ourselves, the levels of energy expenditure and their results were not such that there could be any hope of success.
I could feel her casting around as she would, dancing with a lightness and surety that I envied more than I would ever have her know, leaving me behind like you would a slow witted idiot that stumbles blindly in the dark. Still, in the name of our endeavour there was nothing to be gained by these thoughts so I waited and watched until she had started to weave a strange web of connection from ourselves to a power source I did not recognise at first, yet when she linked us into it, it was obviously the nexus of the Abbey.
She was using it as a tool to channel energy. After all these years of trying to work out the uses of the damn building, there she was, simply plugging herself into it as though it was an umbilical chord. I was still grimly fighting with my resentment of this when a surge of power when through me that was quite unprecedented, both in strength as well as in flavour. I forgot about everything as I returned to the time flow, and the resistance had not a chance in hell against me this time. I simply took the flow and swept it up and in a circle, turning it upon itself, further and further, until I felt a sharp stabbing sensation.
Lucian! Stop it! You’re going too far with it again, you need to back up. You’ve erased the whole thing! There was something extremely addictive about this pattern and I knew this in consciousness. I wanted to turn it back until there was nothing left but today, that was not the object of the exercise. I called to her.
Will you steer this for me? I get lost in the flow.
She came to me, her presence fragrant and of summer fields, passing me, taking the lead on it, and I let myself fall into the flow once more, sweeping it up once more but following her guiding star, first this way, then that.
She called me out of it and truly, it was a difficult thing to remove myself from the flow and return to my body.
I opened my eyes to find Trant staring at me straight through the glass with his crazy eyes, Niccosia nearly weeping with pure horror and the soldier’s running feet already receding to small multiple echoes in the corridor behind us .I turned to the new Duke of Solland.
Would you do your magic on Niccosia? This was the one step too far.
(acknowledgement, joy at being of use, at being asked)
As I looked at the young man in front of me, his deathly green hue began to lift, his staring eyes came into focus and his body posture relaxed and straightened. I could quite fancy I could see her blue and green pouring into the man from all directions at once.
He stared beyond me at Trant and his newly re-surrected courtiers, and said in a whisper, “You have raised the dead.”
I turned back towards the men in the glass cage and smiled. “Indeed. I have.” I said and it must be said that it gave me a measure of satisfaction. Thelein hovered in the background.
My memory overlaid a vision from the cage with the metal claw coming towards me for the hundreds time with a vision of him standing over me. I had to shut my eyes briefly and contain myself.
Niccosia was still in shock, in spite of my lady’s efforts. I spoke to him.
“There is nothing unholy or strange about this procedure. It is a question of reversing the flow of time. As far as those are concerned, it is still the morning after the palace fell. That is who they are. Not ghosts, nor apparitions, nor even walking dead. They’re the same miserable sons of bitches they were a couple of days ago.”
He glanced at me, swallowed rapidly but could not take his eyes of the men, clean and pretty in their many colours of rich velvets as they were.
“I had no idea you could …” he broke off and shook his head, could not stop shaking his head, and he was thinking about his father now, and his best friend, and beginning to wonder if …
“No, Niccosia,” I said, and was quite irritated that my voice sounded nearly friendly for a moment. I resisted the urge to clear my throat and went on in a more appropriate fashion, “These men are out of time. I have resurrected them only to kill them officially once more. It is appropriate to leave the past where it belongs.”
He blinked a number of times and nodded eventually, but did not say anything. I briefly and accidentally touched his deep grief for his father, unacknowledged though he may have been by him until the very end, his loss and his experience of standing alone with no-one on whose strength you can rely. There was no resonance within me of any kind to these feelings, only a vaguely uncomfortable sense of emptiness.
I left it where it was and called to my lady once more.
The soldiers have run away in terror. Can we control them all without incident?
She thought it would be easy with the support of the Abbey structures, then noted my resistance to that idea and suggested we try it on our own at first.
I was aware that my objections were not rational.
Like the tower, or her stone – I must replace that somehow, find her a new one, somewhere, she was in love with that damned thing before I blew it to oblivion – the Abbey was a tool to be used. There was no good reason not to wish to have any part of it. Yet there was no doubt that I deeply disliked having anything to do with it at all.
We linked once more, and it was easy to take these men’s minds. The only one who put up a good show of resistance was Trant himself, a coiled snake-mind with a ferocity that nearly matched mine, although very different in structure and purpose. He had, however, no hope to match the combination of the Lord and Lady Tremain in harness and a short while later, the glass barrier turned to water and dissolved. With jerking limbs that struck a renewed terror of grand proportions into Niccosia’s heart, they walked in rows of three, tightly packed, down the corridor.
I followed them up and into the daylight, and so they made their way through the building and out to the walkway towards the Abbey. The procession caused quite an impact on those who saw it.
Niccosia followed a good distance behind as I/she trouped them through the gardens and into the Abbey and had them sit down on the lower row of benches, facing the double throne. We removed all abilites to move their bodies and set them into a straight-backed sitting position with their hands folded in their laps, like well trained brothers.
Set thus, we could release our hold and it was interesting to see how their eyes flashed left and right and some of them burst into sweat but not one of them could so much as do a thing about their own breathing.
I was satisfied and thanked my lady most graciously once more.
Her reply was a silver laughter.
I rotated my shoulders and rubbed my hands, most satisfied with our work to this point. I turned to Niccosia which caused him to take an involuntary step back. He was afraid of me now as they all had been, throughout the ages, and whatever ideas he had had of using me to replace his dead sire, had well and truly expired in the corridor beneath the throne room.
It was just as well.
There was no chance now that he would fall asleep at the judgement tonight.
I nearly smiled when I told him, “We are ready for the judgement. Have those assembled who need to be here within the hour. Have them bring their women folk. And have the guild representatives come along, too. I want to make sure the news of what transpires here tonight will spread across the kingdoms faster than a forest fire.”
He nodded rapidly, nearly ran off but stopped himself to give me a full out, most strenous salute, then walked away after his dismissal as fast as a soldier can go without appearing to be running. I was about to take my leave as well when it occurred to me that I would like to look upon Trant again, and upon Thelein.
I walked up the steps and after a moment’s consideration, sat myself in one of the thrones which allowed me a good view of the 12 men, all in a row, breathing in perfect unison, all staring at me, some with fear, some with hatred. Strangely, it was Thelein that I found myself staring back at.
I had truly changed the man. Cutting off his hand and having him be powerless to stop holding it on that ride had changed him from a sly manipulator into someone who could hate with a passion and a vengeance, two emotions he had not known before we met.
One could say, it was a change for the better.
Even now, he was not interested in thinking his way out of this, nor manipulating me.
He simply wanted to tear me limb from limb in person, taking a month or so to accomplish this.
The fires of rage burned most brightly in him and he even thought to think of what he had done with my woman in this moment of powerlessness before me.
He wasn’t afraid any longer. I contemplated my feelings and thoughts towards him.
What he had done to my lady was unthinkable, yet not only had I seen it done a thousand times, I myself had done it a thousand times, and a thousand times worse.
I was also only too well aware that no matter what torture I would put him through, it would not in the slightest alleviate my lady’s pain and suffering at his hands – or to be more precise, at his hand, claw and prick. It occurred to me to leave his judgement in the matter to her. In a sense, it was her business with him, and not mine. I had forfeited the right to act on her behalf when I had been absent in her moment of need. In her moments. Plural. When had I ever been there when she needed me? Was I forever doomed to lie around and have her ride to my rescue? Creator, is there not a single thing going to be left for me to hold on to, not a single purpose I can proudly call my own?
I shifted my eyes to Trant who was insanely furious that I was not giving him my best attention by preference or right, even in death or torture.
He had done rather well for himself, madman that he was. He had taken over a kingdom from nowhere, no birth nor ranking nor any pretense of having any right other than that of the sword to be in command, taken over the council and then taken Pertineri itself from an old man who had nothing to put against Trant’s insane ambitions and restless, sleepless passions for domination, both of self and by extension, of the others around him. They were already dead.
This was a charade as truly as if we were presenting wooden effigies for the burning.
It didn’t matter anymore. What was done, was done.
I couldn’t find any reason to look at them any longer and I left them there, walked to the entrance and forcefully commanded a headman’s group of palace guards under threat of life to come to the Abbey. They arrived in double time with their lances swinging like oars in a boat with many rowers and formed a good cordon around the entrance and two more took their station at the path approach. I was sincerely glad that I did not have to take sloppy salutes and sloppy responses to my orders any longer.
Raising Trant from the dead had done wonders to restore my reputation and esteem to its rightful place, and I had no doubt at all that it would come in as useful as it had always done in the days that were to follow.
I walked in the garden, keeping a track on the setting sun.
I should begin to give some thought to my attire for this evening’s performance.