Chay Catena speaks.
I was making my way back to the Lady’s rooms as quick as I could hobble. Every bone in my body was twisted and I hurt all over. Damned Solland wouldn’t let me go, demanded to know what was going on but eventually got it that I wasn’t going to tell him and that I had important business elsewhere.
I don’t know why I was driven so to get back. I just had to go see her, make sure she was alright.
I turned the corner and froze in my boots.
The house was on fire and there were people everywhere, milling crazily, trying to organise themselves to make a chain to throw water at it but that was all too late now.
I had to push through to get close enough and found Delessa, bleeding and crying, tended by a serving woman and a couple of soldiers.
“Where is she?” I yell at her, “what has happened?”
“Inside,” she says and her eyes are wild, “she is inside and so is he.”
“She jumped from a window,” says a soldiers but I run to the house, the door is open and black smoke is pouring from it, rushing upwards. The top of the stairs are filled with flames, dripping like water down the steps and to the hallway below.
I think I see a movement and I hold my breath and with shouting at my back, run into the hallway and up the stairs and I see an arm and I pull it and goddamn, it is Tremain himself, heavy as fuck and he is on fire. I have to close my eyes because of the heat and the biting smoke and just drag, feel him tumbling down the stairs behind me and then there are others, leading me out, many arms, many voices.
But I can think of only one thing.
My lady is burning in that building.
I am not prepared for the feeling and I go down on my knees, try to rub my eyes, try to see again.
When I can, its just in time to see the first section of the roof fall, twisting burning bright, causing those nearby to draw back.
Where is Tremain?
I’ve heard them say that he can raise the dead, that he restored Trant so he could torture him again.
If he can live, then so can she.
I half crawl and half run to where a knot of people stand, soldiers mostly in many states of undress and push my way through and there he is, stretched out long on the ground, smoking still where they’ve put out the fires.
Now he really looks like a demon.
Black all over, all of him, everywhere. Cracks that show red in the black.
“Damn you Tremain!” I shout at him, “Are you alive?”
“Live, damn you, you demon bastard! What does it take for you to live?”
There is nothing for a moment, and then I see his black hand twitch, shudder, and then raise. He reaches out to me and automatically, I make to take his hand.
Like a whisper, in my mind his voice, Not you Catena. Bring me another.
Another? Another what? What does he mean?
I nearly missed it this time because it felt so far away:
Food. Restoration. Life ...
And dim as I am, I understand then what he means. And I feel sick. It’s true then what they say about him. He does feed on people to keep alive.
I back up and get away from him, into a soldier behind me who snarls at me.
That is it, then.
I will not feed him, not even for my lady.
This is the end of the road for that old demon and in a way, it is the end of the road for me.
I look to the burning house and the smoke makes my eyes water.
Oh my lady. May the creator hold you tight and make you happy.
None of us could.
I stand there and stare at the building and so I miss the field medic and Solland with his entourage pushing through and I only become aware of them when the medic is already on his knees and reaching towards Tremains face.
I swing around and shout, “No! Don’t touch him!” and try to get in the way, but it’s too late.
The instant the medic’s hand contacts with Tremain’s burned lids a spasm seems to go through him and in less time than it takes me to hobble across the two strides distance to try and push him away, the medic has become nothing but dry dust and my hand sweeps right through it and I fall to the ground at Solland’s feet.
I turn over in time to see a strange blue light beginning to emanate from Tremain’s body that pulses in flashes, blue then fading to green and back again and when the light recedes, he rises, perfectly restored save for his clothing which is crackling, charred and torn, standing straight and tall.
Total silence save for the fire sounds.
Everyone moves backward and away from him, apart from Solland who stands like he has turned into a statue.
Tremain rolls his head on his shoulders, flexes his shoulders and stretches his fingers. Then he turns and looks to me. His eyes are nothing but windows behind which a fierce light is shining in his skull and into my head he says, loud and clear, I will remember this night.
I stare right back at him. Perhaps I should be afraid but I am not. Perhaps I should fear for my life, but I do not.
Out loud, I say, “Can you bring the Lady Isca back?” and to my surprise, he sighs deeply and shakes his head, looks like a man after a long battle once more and not the demon he so truly is and says, “That is the contract.”
Instead of disappearing as he usually does, he turns and starts walking.
People move out of his way as though he was twenty paces wide and I see Solland snapping out of it and following him like a dog, and I must go too for I must know if he really can do something about this, if he can really bring her back when she has burned to ashes now and there is nothing left of her at all.
They are walking too fast for me and I cannot keep up, the pain in my leg and hip is excruciating. Even as I think it, it just disappears into nothing and I nearly fall with the surprise of it.
Was that you, Tremain? I ask strongly in my head but I receive no answer.
What does it matter. I can walk again and so I run a few steps until I’m side by side with Solland. He doesn’t seem to notice me and has eyes for Tremain alone. I look at him again and wonder what his father was like, and where he was now. And exactly what Tremain had thought of to do to him when he found out. It caused a shudder and I did the same as Solland then, just following him where he led us through the sparsely lit corridors and yards of Pertineri Palace.
Soon enough, I recognised that walkway she had used to make me disappear and then we are out and through in a garden, where a strange kind of circular building lies.
Tremain enters it and lights flare up from nowhere as he does so; Solland and I both stop at the threshold in the open door and I guess we’re not sure if we are welcome here.
Tremain walks around the circle outline that is set in stones on the floor, all the way around, slowly and steadily with his eyes to the ground.
Niccosia, stand here, he says into both our heads at the same time, indicating a place that is marked in red and blue swirls. Obediently and without a second’s hesitation, Solland goes there and stands looking at Tremain, nearly to attention in his stiffness.
Catena, over here, he says and I find myself already halfway across the floor before I start resenting the idea and resisting it.
I can feel a flash of anger from him and tense myself, then out loud he says, “I need help to bring her back. Living help.”
I don’t know what he means by that or how he thinks I of all people in the world can help with that, but I go then and stand in my spot. It is a purple swirl set off with an orange which reminds me of my ring for a second.
Solland and I watch him walk around a pattern in the floor that is marked in gold and black. He seems to have some misgivings about it but finally goes to stand inside it, turns and faces us.
We have something in common, he sends us dryly and it takes me a moment to realise that he must mean that we are all in love with the Lady Isca. I can’t help but look at Solland then, I would have never guessed it, nor even that a one such as him would be the kind to even think that way.
But what do I know about people.
And even less about his kind.
Concentrate, Tremain says fiercely. Close your eyes and concentrate on your colours, that’s all you need to do.
I close my eyes and immediately, swirling purple and orange like a waking dream is all I can see. It makes me nauseous but I am going to try my best for Lady Isca and so I look at it and even try to brighten it up a little, make it stronger. The colours flare and at the same time, a pain shoots through my left hand from where the ring is on my finger.
Steady, Catena, keep it steady, Tremain admonishes me. I tell you when I need you to power up.
Power up? Me? What is he talking about?
I shake my head and just go back to looking at the colours.
There is a strange feeling, a trembling in the floor or so it seems, and my colours begin to fade away.
More, Catena, keep it steady, he says.
I try to bring back the colours as they were and try and remember exactly what they looked like and it works, it is like mist you have to strain to look through to make them clearer again.
They fade out again and I keep battling the mist, forcing myself to see the orange and the purple, commanding it to stay steady and to keep as it was against the pulling away of brightness and this is hard, very hard. I am breathing hard and I am sweating, my heart is thundering and I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.
I throw myself at the colours and they explode into a brightness like the rising sun for an instance before I find myself gasping on the cold floor of the round building, on my hands and knees and when I look up, there lies Lady Isca, perfect, dressed in dark green and for a moment I think she is dead but then I see her chest rising and falling minutely, have to blink my eyes to look again to make sure and yes, he’s done it. He’s brought her back and she is alive.
Tremain is on his knees and he looks like I feel.
About a hundred years old, sweating and absolutely exhausted.
Solland is out cold or he may be dead, he is sprawled face down and doesn’t move at all.
I let myself fall to the floor and roll on my back, nice and cold and hard. My head hurts and my heart is racing.
So for a time, there we are, all of us in our own pains and exhaustions and it is Tremain who is the first to get it together enough to be able to get up and go to her.
I roll on my stomach so I can see what he’s doing.
He is picking her off the floor and lifting her as though she didn’t weigh a thing. He looks around, shakes his head then walks heavily across to where there are the benches all around the outsides of the room. He sits down with her, arranges himself around her, puts her head so it is supported on his chest.
Keep guard, Catena, he sends me and a second later, his head has fallen onto hers and he is asleep.
Keep guard, Catena.
From whom or what?
As though anyone in the entire kingdom would dare enter here, as though anyone ever from now would dare be anywhere in the same room with you unless they were dragged?
When I first heard about her and Tremain, I asked around.
I heard such tales about him as you would not want to even think about.
Then she told me other things and when I met him, he seemed human enough. When I fought him, he seemed human enough.
But he wasn’t human. Perhaps there was a time when he had been, or perhaps there were parts of him that still remembered and those were who spoke in such anger about her adultery, or who decided that he didn’t want to take my life to restore his own. But those were not who he was. If she thought that, then she was deluding herself.
I put my head down on my folded arms and considered going to check if Solland was still alive.
Ah well. If he was, that was good and if he wasn’t, there would be nothing I could do about it.
I wanted to sleep, badly.
Keep guard, Catena.
I will stay awake and keep guard.
Sometime later, Solland is shaking me. He looks like shit, bloodshot eyes and greyer than a three day corpse. He’s on the floor as well, on his hands and knees.
I am stiff as a board and have to start laughing.
It is just as well that no-one would come and see us here.
A fine picture we would make, the Lord of Darkness, the Regent of the Kingdoms and the Regent’s Champion!
Tremain is snoring.
I am flat on my back and laughing like an idiot although my head hurts.
And Solland starts to cry.
Man. You never know how someone will respond to exhaustion and battle fatigue.
You learn something new every day.
I stop myself from crawling away from him and turn over to face him instead.
“Come on, man,” I say awkwardly, “it’s all over. Everything under control.”
Solland is banging his forehead on the floor and his hands are clenched tight.
Between gasps he says, “He brought back Trant. He brought back all those rats in Trant’s pack. Now he’s brought her back. Why did he leave my father?”
Oh man oh man.
I let myself fall on my back and rub my eyes.
Solland, my man, I think you well enough know the answer to that.
I think you know it well enough.
To keep him talking and to stop him banging his head which is causing me pain just by listening to it, I say, “Did Tremain kill your father?”
It does the trick.
He stops and looks at me, wide eyed. He has a big bruise on the forehead but he didn’t draw blood.
“No,” he says and shakes his head, “no, my father died in the fight to get out of the dungeon. But he could have brought him back. He should have brought him back.”
I shake my head as well and say, “Would you have?”
His wide eyed stare becomes unfocussed and he blinks, again and then again. It causes more tears to fall and I find it most uncomfortable to witness this but I keep my face steady.
“I guess not,” he finally says with a long sigh and looks across to where Tremain is sleeping, wrapped around the frail woman in green.
We say nothing for a long time and Solland wipes his face and his nose with his sleeve. That’s the second time today I’ve seen a titled one do this and it makes me both uncomfortable as well as a bit glad. They are human, just like the rest of us. Even Tremain, in his own way. It’s a scary thought. Even demons go mad with jealousy.
I wondered what the hell had happened in that house.
I wondered which one of them had set it on fire.
They must have really been going at it to have let it get that far.
Solland says, “Have you and the Lady Isca …”
He pushes it through his mouth as though it hurts through clenched teeth.
I shake my head, too tired of all the games and remember what she said to me at Headman’s Acre, “She wouldn’t take me, for all my efforts.”
He sighs and rolls on his back as well then, crosses his arms under his head. We lie side by side in silence, thinking our own thing for a time, then he slowly gets up, painfully.
“We ride for Manoranta in the morning. Whenever that is. I got to get things ready.”
I wonder if I will be included in this and Solland says, “The Regent’s Champion must surely be present. You are a part of the court. Have you a horse?”
I shake my head and follow his painful example of getting my legs underneath me.
“I came by magic.”
We stand looking at each other for a time and eventually, Solland holds out his arm to me.
I take it and we exchange the soldier’s handshake.
“I will have your horse ready when they are,” he says, looking over his shoulder at the sleeping couple on the bench. “Will you remain here until he wakes up?”
I nod and Solland makes for the door, opens it softly and slides out, closing it very quietly behind himself.
I am pretty sure he will be the new high king, Malme’s line or no.
And I’m thinking that he’ll probably do a good job of it. He’s a man who will always try to do his best and what more can you ask for?
Then I go and find a seat by the door, put up my feet, draw my sword so it looks as though I’m making an effort at being a guard and let myself drift.