That was the second time I had passed Chay on to another woman and it was harder this time around.
When I landed safely back in my quarters, virtue as intact as one could consider under the circumstances and with a most fascinating day behind me, I came to the conclusion that I should divest myself of Chay Catena for good. I really don’t know what it was about him, his charm, his lack of pretense or his good looks; a mixture of all of these or simply the fact that we went through what we went through together that dark winter at Headman’s Acre - whatever it was, he was a threat to my equilibrium and in a major way.
A part of me wanted to go and watch him with Delessa, see what they would get up to between themselves, what an experienced woman does to please a man; another part of me well knew that it would cause me all kinds of distress if I was to do so.
I took the scarf off and placed it on the bed, next to where Chay’s jacket was still lying, then took the remaining coins from my pocket and laid them on top. I took out my new stone and smiled at it as it sang me its little welcome. It was different from the one I had lost at the Northern Tower and my connection with it was not the same, not the same depth or emotional intensity, yet it was most pleasant to have such a friend again and I kissed it lovingly before placing it, too, on the scarf.
Then I removed the bird from between my breasts where its beak and tail had made red indentations and I sat on the bed then, looking at it.
I traced its patterns into itself and for the hundredth time marvelled at its genesis and its very existence. It was such an improbable thing in so many ways, and yet here it was.
Here it was.
If it could exist and be here in the hard, what else was possible?
I shook my head tiredly and found myself half smiling at the thought that even Lucian and I, being happy, might be in the realms of possibility.
Well that was saying something about my trust in us, wasn’t it.
I floated the bird to join the other items on the bed, stretched and set to taking the disguise off I had stolen earlier from Lota's quarters. Poor dear. She would die of shock if she knew I had worn her very best dress so carelessly, the dress she had saved up to buy material for since she had been 14.
I removed the dress, checked it over for any signs of dirt and wear and deleted all of these with great care. When I was quite sure that it was as pristine as it had been, I checked Lota’s little stall in which she slept with another housemaid, no fireplace, right under the rooftops, freezing in winter and unbearable in summer alike, just like my and Sef’s bedroom at home had been. Of course, the room was empty. It was still many, many hours before those two, bone weary and so tired they could hardly take their clothes off and fold them for the next morning, would stumble blindly through the creaking door.
I translocated easily, naked save for a short undergarment and made for the plain, rough chest that contained all Lota’s earthly belongings, undid the lock once more with a simple twist and folded the dress so it would rest back inside for that one afternoon in a tenday when Lota would step out, feeling like a queen, to giggle with the soldiers in the plaza, find a one to kiss or maybe more.
I would that I could change the world for all of us.
I would that Lota would never have to go back to her backbreaking labour that she just accepted, no, counted herself lucky to be allowed to do so she wouldn’t starve in the street.
I would that the nameless slave who just didn’t want to die would be the last to ever be like that, the last to ever to have to experience such a thing.
I would that all this senseless, aimless, hopeless suffering and hopelessness would cease altogether and it would somehow be possible to just – ah, I am being a child. Lucian would shake his head at me and chide me and he would be right to do so.
I stroked the dress and gave it my blessings and through it, to its owner when she would wear it again, closed the chest and locked it, and went back to my quarters.
Dusk was setting in, slowly, gently fading out the colours whilst itself, lighting up the sky with its wonderful display of bands and gradients. The spires of Pertineri sat sharp and black against it now; a beautiful sight from this window, this evening.
I took off my shoes and also the stockings, and then, as an afterthought, the undergarment too. It was nice to not have to wear anything at all.
I set a fire and wondered where he was, what he was doing.
I had wondered this at random intervals throughout the day, but there had also been times when I just plain forgot and was right in the moment, laughing with Chay or just being delighted and also, terribly appalled.
I was just wondering whether to order some food to pass the time when Lucian materialised by the door without prior warning.
I sometimes forget how tall he really is, what a physical presence he represents, or perhaps I don’t forget and there was something unusual about him this night?
He seemed sharper, more focussed, more alive than I remember him; his black clothes darker and his pale eyes brighter. There was an energy about him and a concentration that took me aback for a moment but also excited me instantly.
He looked around the room and then let his eyes fall fully on me, standing undressed by the window.
Cautiously, I sent him a welcome and a greeting.
He said or sent nothing in return, just remained standing by the door, staring at me.
I can’t help but think that if I had the Lady Delessa’s skills and knowings, I could melt him like she had melted Chay in an instant, but I don’t and he is making me nervous; in response, I find myself crossing my hands before my breasts and looking down.
He walks across the room and stands right up close to me and I can feel the vibrating energy from him right through and into my bones. He does this damned thing where he puts his hand under my chin to raise it and I allow him to do it, although resentfully.
Our eyes meet and I am riveted by him.
He lets go off my chin, and at the same time, leans down and kisses me on the lips. Automatically, I respond by opening my mouth a little, inviting him in. He kisses me urgently, deeply and I expect him to put his arms around me but he does not and I can’t seem to will myself to get closer to him either, although the deep wanting in my body I have been struggling with all day already rushes through me without warning or heed.
He moves away from me and I want him so much, I’m nearly fainting.
“Sit on the chair,” he says and his voice is dark, resonant.
I comply without even thinking about it.
“Spread your legs.”
He comes closer, leans over me from the side and touches me. I gasp as the touch turns into a bolt of lightning that travels all around my body. I breathe rapidly and try to find his eyes.
“You are such a goddamn good for nothing little whore,” he says softly, takes his hand back and wipes it on the arm of the chair.
“I could be anyone. Anyone at all.”
I really don’t remember what happened then. I can’t think how I felt, must have felt, or what went on. I remember coming back to awareness a while later, the sky is dark outside and the fire is in the hearth and I am lying naked in the chair.
Something catches my attention.
On the arm of the chair sits the ring that flashes lightning.
Chay Catena speaks.
I was dozing off, sitting guard on that slave, when I could have been warmly and snugly tucked up in bed somewhere, after what had been an evening that was more than what you would call exciting.
I was just somewhere between waking and dreaming when I heard her screaming into my head, ChayChayChayChay. I thought I was going crazy, trying to get up, trying to make it through the door, falling over my new sword, flashes of lightning in my eyes and her screaming in my ears. I nearly fell down the stairs and called for Delessa at the top of my voice who came running as did all the servants in the place.
By the time Delessa had picked me up off the floor, Lady Isca’s screaming had become a long drawn out wail I could at least talk and think over to a degree.
She didn’t know where Lady Isca was staying but knew a servant who did and we ran through the streets, half undressed and across to the palace in the darkness, asking everywhere for Lota and finally being directed to an officer’s mess at the north side of the compound. I banged on the door and demanded to know if Lady Isca was staying and she was, I shoved the youngster bodily up the stairs because he couldn’t go fast enough and then I had to kick the door in because it wouldn’t budge.
The reason for this was that a wardrobe had fallen across it and it took all three of us to push and shove so we could get in.
The room was a total disaster zone, shards of furniture and upturned wood everywhere, and in the middle of it, stark naked, the Lady Isca, wailing and moaning and scratching at the floor.
Delessa chased out the youngster and found a torn curtain to cover my lady with, and I picked her up and held her in my arms and she came to enough to start talking with her mouth and into my head all at the same time but none of it made any sense, she was totally hysterical.
That was when Delessa stepped in and hit her across the face, hard, again and again. I wanted to stop her but couldn’t let go off Lady Isca either and it must be said, it worked for after about five slaps Delessa’s hand just froze in midair as though she’d hit an invisible wall and Lady Isca opened her eyes and moved her hands to her face.
“What happened? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” I knew I asked too many questions of her in her state but I was scared and so worried about her, I thought I would have a heart attack.
Delessa got up and shouted down the stairs and a bit later, the youngster came with wine.
We put it in the glass and Delessa held it up to her lips so she could drink it. She drank the whole lot and then another and by that time, she had calmed down enough so she could speak and make some sense.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry with anyone in my entire life. I didn’t think I could be that angry. I hadn’t even been that angry at Trant and his hordes for killing my best friend as I was right there at that fucking bastard calling my lady a whore and turning her into such a state of distress.
Who did he think he was to have any right to treat her like that?
Before I knew it, I was out of there and running across the compound, shouting to soldiers if they’d seen the fuck or if they knew where Solland was. If anyone could tell me where to find him, he would.
Solland found me before I got to him, alerted by his guards that there was a madman about.
He was trying to calm me down, find out what was going on, and I just flipped and started yelling for Tremain, turning on the spot and screaming at the sky, come out you bastard, you fucking coward, come out and show your face you miserable fucking excuse for a demon!
I’m sure Solland would have had me knocked down by his soldiers if Tremain hadn’t appeared right there and then.
He’d heard me alright.
By the creator but how I wanted to wipe that arrogant fucking smirk off his face for good! I was so angry I could hardly get the sword from the scabbard, and I was yelling at him, next thing I know there’s this weird shift to hot and then cold again and we’re no longer in the courtyard outside Solland’s quarters but somewhere, in a ruin or something, and there’s just him and me.
I don’t care about his tricks this night.
I don’t give a shit if he turns me into a rat or whatever these fucks do amongst themselves, I’m gonna tell him some home truths and then I’m gonna cut his head off.
You bastard! You don’t deserve to even be in the same room, in the same world, breathing the same air as she does! How dare you treat her like that! How dare you call her a whore! That is the finest goddamn woman who ever lived and for how much you’ve hurt her, I’m going to take your head and toss to the dogs!
I try to go for him and he just stands there and I can’t touch him, it's that same invisible wall again that stopped Delessa from hitting her. I throw myself against it and it’s rock solid, I can’t get through.
I scream at him to fucking well stop hiding and to face me like a man, and he taunts me and says do I want more than my nose to be broken this time but I don’t care. I don’t care. No-one treats her like that, no-one. Not as long as I have a breath in my body.
Did you enjoy fucking her? he asks, did she come good for you as well? Poor bastard, he says to me, she’s got you wrapped round her finger just like the rest of us, Solland, me, you, the creator alone knows how many others, she does that you know. She fucks you with her body and her mind and you go crazy for her.
I shake my head and try to keep my anger focussed in the right places. Never has she fucked Solland. Not in a million years. I’d rather cut off my own head than believe that.
He laughs at me, that fucking demon, and says, not that Solland, his father, she was fucking his father and he stops laughing and starts shouting, whilst I was in Trant’s cage, trying to live for her, she was fucking Solland for pleasure. Every night, every single night whilst they cut me to ribbons and he’s serious, he’s not playing any mind games, he’s as fuck angry as I am at him only he’s angry at her.
I don’t know what to do, I hate him and I want to kill him still and I get it how angry he is and I get it why he called her a whore and I get it why he told her to get lost.
I can’t know what to do or what to think now and we both just stand there, I don’t know if he feels like an idiot for coming out with it like he did, but I feel like an idiot for coming after him like I did.
He must have heard that and says, She does that to you. She fucks you with her body and with her mind and you go crazy.
I shake my head. No. I won’t let him just change my mind with my tricks. There’s some truth here and there’s some lies.
Ah, lies, he says. She knows all about those. She’s good at lies.
She has never lied to me, I can’t help but saying right back and there he comes towards me, before I know it he has the sword knocked out of my hand and lifts me clear off the floor, starts shaking me like I was a little kid and he shouts right into my face, you’re too fucking stupid to know if she does or doesn’t, I can read her mind and she can lie to me, what makes you think you know anything about her, she is made of lies, nothing but lies, lies lies LIES! and I fly through the air and land luckily in some soft wet grass.
Man, but he is strong. I have no hope in hell against him in this state, even without any kind of magic.
He comes over to me and I think, shit, he’s going to kill me now but he stops and stands again like he does and just looks at me.
Soldier, he says, you’re an idiot but honourable. And I don’t hold it against you that you love her as you do. You can have her if you think you can ever have her. Take her. Fuck her some more. Do what you want with her.
Then he shakes his head and says, take care of her as though he didn’t want to say it and I get it that he is more in love with her than I ever thought. Man. You wouldn’t think it. This old demon bastard is crazy about my lady.
Don’t push it, soldier, he says into my head and that’s setting my teeth shattering with the coldness behind it.
I can’t talk but I think at him, I’ve never fucked her. She loves you.
He hits me with something and I roll across the grass a good half dozen times and feel as though I’ve just been trampled by a herd of horses.
Fine. I don’t know what I’m doing telling the old fuck that anyway. With him out of the picture, she will be mine, at least for a short time. The thought trembles me through and through and there’s a knowing there that I can’t ever make her happy. I’m not enough. I can’t read her mind or push people around with invisible walls. I don’t understand her and I don’t know what she’s talking about. With me, she would be miserable too, as miserable as she was at Headman’s Acre when we thought she would die of misery and there wasn’t a damned thing any of us could do about it.
You still listening, old demon? I ask inside my head and I can feel him there, cold and nasty. You better go and do what you will with her, beat the crap out of her or tie her up so she can’t sleep with any more Sollands, but you leave her and she’s gonna lay down and die. She is crazy about you.
Whatever else she did, she is crazy about you.
Then I think, she likes old men and start to laugh in spite of the pain 'cause Solland’s dad must have been a good old age, good going for him to keep it up with her every night for I don’t know how long and the next thing I know, there’s that heat thing again and I’m back in the courtyard, by myself, on the ground, and soldiers rush towards me.
Delessa was an angel.
She smacked me and shouted at me, and pushed me to the floor.
“Get a hold of yourself and stop snivelling,” she shouted right into my face, “He’s not worth it, none of them are, come on, do you think you’re the first and only to be lying there feeling sorry for yourself?”
She got through to me where no amount of kindness would have done.
Slowly, she got through to me and I began to collect the pieces of myself together and find a frame to put them in.
There were many missing.
There were others that I did not want to touch, nor ever want to look at again, not now and not ever.
She gave me a blanket, and then, she gave me a dress.
“Put this on,” she said, “For the sister’s sake, this spectacle is bad enough as it is, let’s not make it any worse.”
I put it on and even managed to mend it together at the back, then she combed my hair for me.
I can’t remember anyone ever doing such a thing. Perhaps my mother did when I was small but I truly don’t remember. I keep looking at Delessa and in the light from the fire that still stands, the small lines in her face are invisible and she is as beautiful as one of the sisters herself must be.
By the time she is done, I am ready to repair the room. I have the stone come to me from beneath the upturned, broken bed and it helps me and it calms me and I am glad it came to me this day. I don’t think I could have done it alone.
Delessa stands in silence as I undo the damage I must have done and I don’t remember doing.
I don’t think it was him.
If it had been him, the whole of this side of the palace would be no more.
He gets into his rage and can’t stop until everything has gone or he is gone, whichever comes first.
In the process, I find the bird and then the lightning ring and it needs more slaps and yells from my guardian angel to bring me back to some semblance of clarity.
She sits me down in the newly restored chair by the fire, the same one he made me sit in, the same one he wiped his hand on and then, I simply give in and descend into the blue ice state.
Clarity and brilliance.
Total non-concern and perfect composure.
Delessa doesn’t like it and it frightens her.
I no longer regard her as beautiful and everything is just as is, with no more judgements to be made and perfect acceptance.
She startles badly when Lucian Tremain makes his instant entrance.
I look to him and consider that he is the major cause of my disturbed states of existence. That to remove him from this plane and any other, permanently, would be a satisfactory solution to the patterns that have become chaotic and so deranged, they are threatening systems survival on the far out levels of which I am aware from here.
It would indeed be so if you could remain here and continue, he informs me. Consider the matter over time.
I consider the matter over time and this is hard to do from here for here, there is only here and here is all and everything.
That exactly is where the problem lies with this state. You can not remain indefinitely. You will return and pay the price.
I consider the matter with all available evidence at my disposal.
There is much evidence both from my own neurology and from the add-on memory I received from him.
It is clear that there is a temporal aspect that is not accessible from here and which precludes a judgement in totality.
It is a paradox. To ensure systems survival, I must remain here. But the system cannot survive if I do for here I am in no position to know what the system needs to survive.
System survival is paramount.
I must remain.
System survival is paramount.
I must return.
I note that he is re-arranging some of the chaos in the outer layers and it seems a satisfactory solution to the paradox. I join in the endeavour and at some point, the loop breaks down and system survival is best served by return.
Therefore, I return.