Inside the house, everyone was assembled in the sitting room and Camu was the centre of attraction.
I stood in the doorway and looked at her, flushed, waving her hands and smiling nervously as the children pelted her with questions about the Duke of Solland and received the answers loud and clear, whether she chose to answer them or not.
I noted the light fading gently. There wasn’t much time left.
“Camu, a word,” I said and waited until she had joined me and together, we went back to the library room.
I let her enter first, closed the door behind us and tracked her.
She was terrified.
I soothed her and stabilised her and then said, “He is as I promised he would be?”
“Lady Isca,” she said in return, “I am afraid. I am afraid that I …”
I nodded because I thought I knew exactly what she was afraid of. Her introduction to the subject of men in general had been the worst possible, and if my experiences where anything to go by which had been nowhere near as dramatic and terrifying as hers, and I hadn’t even been a virgin …
“I will do what I can for you,” I said gently. “And for what its worth, Eddario will be excruciatingly careful with you, in all ways. He would rather disembowel himself than frighten or hurt you. I am sure of that.”
She shook her head rapidly and tears started to well up in her eyes. “No, it isn’t that, I’m afraid that I can’t please him as I should,” and with horror, I caught a flash from her about Thoran of Thelein, who had called her a useless piece of dead meat and beaten her for it.
I didn’t know what else to do then but I took her into a link with me and I shared a memory of one of the first times Lucian and I had actually managed to lay together without him hurting me, one of the first times I really got the idea that it was all as the creator had designed it to be and your body knows just what to do and how to do it if you just give it a chance.
I remembered those sensations and as I did, Camu experienced an entire non-understanding and was at a loss as what to do with what I was sending her, so I sighed and merged us closer, taking great care to have the information flow one way only for I most surely did not need to have her memories added to my collection. I merged us closer and closer still until she became me, finding my own rhythm in response to Lucian’s, allowing myself to relax into all the sensations and letting them take hold on me, letting my mind fall away and become these sensations, these feelings, these rushing energies entirely.
The small blond girl came from the link with eyes wide and mouth open, entirely speechless.
I came from the link breathing far deeper than usual and it took me a while to collect myself enough to touch her gently on the arm and smile re-assuringly.
“Think of it as a new start,” I said. “Give yourself a chance, some time. It does get better after a while,” and there, I couldn’t help but break out into a big smile that answered her questions on the topic of my experiences before she had a chance to ask them.
We sat for a moment, silently with our respective thoughts, until she said, “Lady Isca, I am in your debt.”
It cringed me to hear those words.
“No, no, Camu. We are all in yours. You are a most brave young woman and you have survived this far, through more than many a hardened soldier would. You have proven your worth and your honour, a hundred times over, under the most difficult of circumstances. What kingdom was ever thus lucky to have such a one for their queen?”
She looked at me with her wonderful grey eyes and answered, “I would learn everything I can about the things you do. There is such need for your skills. Such need.”
Automatically, a link between us sprang into being; a synchronisation that was quite unlike the contacts I would usually make, this was a natural affair that could happen between people at any time but virtually never ever did. It touched me to the point of tears and it made her more real to me than most of the people I knew existed.
I got up and stood before her, took both her hands into mine.
“Perhaps, Princess Camaruna, perhaps if we work together, we can make a change.” And my own thought stood loud and clear beyond the spoken word, For all the ones like us.
A soft tapping snapped us out of the moment and I released her hands, straightened and send the word to enter.
The door opened and Chay stuck his head around the corner.
“Lady Isca, it is high time we went back,” he said in a whisper to me and I smiled at him.
I turned to Camu and she, too, was smiling. The new High Queen.
Things were finally going according to plan.
I left her in the relative privacy of the study and joined Chay in the hallway. The children were there, too, and I focussed in on Cyno, the smallest of the boys.
He drew back in shock as I looked steadily on him and considered him in all ways.
He had not filled out to the same extent as the other children had; he was still skin and bones beneath his light grey shirt and simple drawstring trousers.
There was the painful resonance to him of my little brother, Sef, who had died, most likely of a broken heart when I left him to a world he had no way of defending himself against.
I had never understood my mother in her dealings with him.
I remember clearly, although I must have been small, very small, that Sef was crying all the time. My mother did nothing about that and I kept waiting and hoping that she would, because his thin wails cut me. They cut me. I would go outside and rather sit in the rain beneath a shelter of bushes and draw my arms out of the holes of my shift and wrap them around my hot nakedness inside and curl up into a small ball rather than to have to listen to Sef’s crying.
I don’t know when it was that it occurred to me that I could do something. That I had the power to stop that child from crying.
I think it might have been a time when my father had kicked the crib and the baby fell to the floor and then he set about beating my mother which always took a good long time and then he would push and shove her up the stairs for the rest of the old story.
I looked at the baby on the floor and knew full well no-one was going to come to his aid for hours, if not until the morning. So I picked up the little body and it was stone cold. Sef was so cold. I thought perhaps if he was warmer, he would stop his endless crying and I stuffed him under my own clothes to warm him up. He did stop crying and fell asleep and that was the beginning of me trying different things with him. Warm always helped. Always. Food helped, too, and walking about with him.
It might have been the first time that I thought I had the power to make a change. To make a difference. That what I did could matter in some way.
I feel a nudge on my arm and fall back into the now, and Cyno staring at me with his huge green inhuman eyes, and Chay at my side, tall and radiant, urging me to come along.
Soon, Cyno, I said to him. Soon. I will come and talk with you and undo your unhappiness. It is not, has never been, that I don’t like you. I like you too well and it causes me pain. I will heal this pain and we can be friends.
The flaring of starburst hope inside the small child nearly broke my defenses and I turned to Chay with a vengeance, took hold of his upper arm and allowed him to lead me from the house.
Marani was crestfallen because I had entirely ignored her; Demma was sobbing in the kitchen.
I shouldn’t go. I needed to stay longer, do for them what I could do, only I could do and no-one else.
Chay is holding the door open for me and I step over the threshold and down the three steps that lead to the mosaic floor.
Beneath his arm, Reyna ducks out as well and calls me urgently, mind to mind, Lady Isca, wait. Just a moment of your time.
I turn to face the Serein princess who has grown considerably and now reaches nearly to my shoulder.
What is it?
“Lady, we really need to get going,” Chay says as he steps down towards us, looks to the sky and flinches with the water falling into his face.
“Just a moment, Chay.”
Lady Isca, it is a problem with Ricco. He is waiting for his brother and is getting ever more distressed. I have not told him that the dark – Lord Tremain has ended him and he can never return. I have told the others to remain silent but I seek advice as how to proceed from here.
Standing here, looking down at the girl’s serious face and feeling her pain and fear for Ricco as though it was my own, I truly didn’t know what to say to her.
Damn it, Lucian.
Why couldn’t you find someone else to feed on? Why Matus? What were you doing anyway that caused such an energy expenditure to become necessary?
I shake my head.
You will have to tell him the truth, Reyna. I can’t see what else can be done.
The girl, whose brown hair was now turning streaks of black and in other places, collected silvery drops of water, looked frightened.
I don’t know what will happen if I do.
No, I replied. I don’t know either. But what’s done, is done. At least he will know. And he can stop waiting.
He will be very hurt.
Yes. I sigh and shake my head again. What’s done is done, Reyna.
She nods slowly and out loud, she says, “Thank you, Lady Isca.”
“Good luck. And let me know if you need help,” I say and turn my back on her deliberately, hold out my hand to Chay which he takes readily and cautiously both, and we make our way back to the entrance hall of my quarters in Manoranta.
As soon as my feet touch the goldenwood floor, my head explodes with Lucian’s voice.
I’ve been waiting for you! It is high time, beyond high time, what did I tell you!
I responded, automatically, with a flash of anger.