In Serein


3-I0-3 Last Night At Tower Keep

Not many women have loved me for more than a few hours. Only one loved me – loves me – and knows who I am. This one hasn’t any idea and loves me anyway.

Is she deluded?

Is it just that I am the best lover she ever had?

That, certainly, could have much bearing on the truth, which, as they tend to do, has many stratas, much depth. She is something that I am very unfamiliar with – she is grateful. Grateful for my attention, grateful for my touch, grateful to be allowed to be in my presence. I make a sincere attempt to please her without hurting her or inadvertently killing her with over-intensity and she cries in my arms as a result.

There is a possibility that she could have a child from this encounter and I am tempted to make sure that it will. She is considerably more robustly built than my lady and would possibly survive without my interventions; the thought that the child they called Sondra would have a bastard brother to fight with also amuses me somewhat. I had for a long time forgotten that I had once a brother, and have only wondered fleetingly since then what it might have been like to have shared a part of the burden.

I ask her how she would feel about such an occurrence and am quite unprepared for the floods of emotions. And so I allow it to happen. Well. It is a long time between conception and birth, many things can happen, misfortune, incident, sickness – it is a potentiality at this point, nothing more.

The room is deeply shielded by Isca's doing and I have to use quite a bit of gentling and eventually, a firm command to get her dressed again and back to preparing the evening meal. As she puts her shoes on and glances up at me I wonder if it might not be a kindness to extinguish her attachment to me in some way. This is the last time I will mate with her, and the last time she will ever see me can now be counted in single hours.

There is time for this should I choose to take such a course of action. I place my fingertips to my lips in a gesture of dismissal and farewell and she curtseys to me and leaves the room, radiantly happily, radiantly delighted and entirely unaware of her many futures.

I re-arrange my clothing and clean myself, then get the wine she brought me and standing, looking down at the governor’s wife and son, sleeping in exhaustion upon my chairs, I drink straight from the bottle. It has been many hours since last I ate and the wine fills me powerfully. The usual warning of lack of control arises and I laugh at it this night. I might get Chay down to the library room if he can extract himself from my lady for a couple of hours and drink him under the table. How many years has it been since I stumbled bleary eyed in the early dawn, sick to my stomach and my head pounding, to get on a horse and wish I’d never been born?

I ask the wrong questions. Not years. It’s always decades with me at least, and in this particular case, we’re not even talking centuries. Half a millennium. But by all hells, that is a damned long time. I have to shake my head and drink some more. Sometimes it feels like a thousand times more but here, tonight, it seems no more than – a summer perhaps, that’s all.

Just one summer.

All of it in the past. So much past and no more future. In a way, it is a profound relief. I extinguish the shielding and find that my lady is not coping well with it all. Her sadness hangs like a dark mist around the entire floor above, dripping through the very ceilings, it is that dense.

I cannot help her with that.

I’m not even supposed to. It seems that my task was to make her as unhappy as you can make a breathing, thinking, feeling being. Perhaps her unhappiness was what I had needed to finally have my fill. So that now the screaming of this woman here and of her child are no longer necessary. Slowly, I empty the bottle of its last drafts and look at them both again. There is nothing to be gained from their suffering. Even so far as that I am truly sorry that the virgin died as she did. I had not intended it.

There is, however, no point in such musings. I will get some more wine and take it up to my room, where my lady sits silently and sadly and where our friend Chay does not dare to intrude. He loves her but he is also afraid of her, too respectful of her by far. There are sides to her that need a firm hand, now and then, and such is the case on this occasion.

I disintegrate the empty bottle in my hand in a silent implosion, then bring the second to last of my specials wines to me. It doesn’t matter. I can replicate them easily enough and even if there were none left, I can manifest them, they are so much a part of my memories.

I translocate straight up to my room and land in darkness and silence. Outside, the wind has stilled and the rain is falling steadily now, true Merina style.

She is sitting on the bed, legs drawn up and crossed, and I go and lie across the bed in front of her, move up towards her and put my head in her lap. She sighs and then begins to stroke my hair, my face, her fingertips leaving little trails of sensations on my skin.

We exchange knowings without necessity for any speech, thought or picture and it is comfortable and very soothing indeed. Her core sadness is not as alien to me as it is to our young friend, nor is it disturbing. I am familiar with it at a deep level.

She does not want to think or talk about the future and I can understand that.

So we remain together and in silence until Chay cautiously edges in on us to wonder if we might be ready for the evening meal we ordered.

I sit up and am about to get off the bed when she moves swiftly over to me and holds on to me like she does when reality seems quite unreal and there is nowhere for her to be or go. I hold her as I do, focussing on my own steadiness to provide her with what she needs and I am happy to note that she fights her emotions successfully and does not cry on this occasion.

She calms swiftly, indeed, she is ready to release me before I am ready to release her. I hold her tightly and allow myself to marvel at the fact that I cannot hurt this one, not even by accident; I can lose control with her and she will mend herself and not even hold it against me. It is a possibility that up until this moment, I did not truly appreciate the gift of this. It wasn’t true that we were not allowed to play. We had played, oh indeed we did. And it isn’t true that I love you. What you are to me is beyond that. This is why it never made sense, why we could not understand it. There is something beyond love, something so intense, so enormous that there simply are no words, no concepts. It would leave you falling away from your very core and there would be nothing left at all.

She knows that too. She too knew it all along and it is only our illusions that kept it from emerging into the light of morning, a clear morning, blue and bright, air sharply defining the horizons, and the land before us, so alive that it dances.

I very carefully loosen my hold on her, very carefully take my lips away from her forehead; it is not so much an effort of will but a gentle unweaving of closeness that, if undertaken without heed, would cause a tearing pain neither of us need to experience at this time.

We move off the bed and I go to my wardrobe in the dark, taking from it one of the jackets. I need no light to button my shirt and put on the jacket, and she needs no light to stand, holding on to the bedpost with both arms wrapped about it, to watch me do it.

I pull the jacket into position unconsciously and become aware of me doing it only because of a small resonant recognition from her, then I step up to her and offer her my arm. She takes it graciously and I translocate us to the landing, so we may descend the last steps in physicality.

The hallway is brightly lit. I have to adjust as not to blink or narrow my eyes too much and she guides me for a few steps before I can see clearly again. In that time it became clear that everyone except us who resides in this house is assembled in the large dining room, an anxious waiting and an unbelieving waiting, for word has spread of our imminent departure.

To walk into that room that I had not used for a hundred years or more, to be faced with a cautious arrangement of tables in the centre and those children, to be here and sitting down to dinner with common soldiers and serving wenches, the fact that the cutlery is wrong and the silverware badly polished, all of this creates a momentary whirlpool of unsteadiness that passes swiftly when my lady looks up at me and smiles.

My love. Some things truly never change.

And yet they do, for here I am and I will sit at the head of the table, and I will accept it all and be able to accept it all for perfection at this moment, in this time. Chay is sitting in the first place to the left of the end of the table and he is holding the child; at our entrance he stands up and quite automatically, places the child in one arm, balanced on his hip. I might ask to hold the child later, a fancy that surprises me but only momentarily. My lady leads me forward and past the Serein children and my would-be assassin who does not seek my eye and indeed, is turned inward with his shoulders pulled in tight.

Isca stops before the right chair and lets go of my arm. She steps aside so I can take the chair and when I move it forward, she sits to it with perfection. It makes me smile and I feel her resonance.

The room is lit minimally in order to hide its many shortcomings and lack of decoration. Only on the centre of the table there are candle sized magicals with an orange yellow hue, quietly sitting just above the table cloth; there is a matching fire in the great fire place and as I walk to take my place to close the triangle formed by Chay and Isca, I am deeply struck by what I am seeing about me; it is reminiscent of an old painting that has faded and hued to this, it is like looking into the past rather than being in the present.

A bottle of wine awaits me and a clean glass; some effort was taken on my behalf.

I pour wine for my lady, for Chay and for myself and quietly re-create the wine so the bottle is full again when I place it back in its position in front of me. Both Isca and Chay notice and smile, and Chay says, “That is a useful thing. I could do with a drink, or two.”

I raise my glass to him and sincerely say, “Or three, or four. And the rest.”

Over the head of the child, the young soldier makes eye contact with me and for a moment, and perhaps the first time we have known each other, we are together, equal, understanding of each other - companions in drink.

Isca says, “I used to be a soldier, too. Can I join you two, in spite of outward appearances?”

“Be welcome,” I say and hold my glass out to her for a toast, then Chay reaches across and all three of us put our glasses together, then empty them in one deep draft which sets her to coughing.

By the time the three females who double as servants here are starting to bring in platters of foods, we are on our third glass each and I am beginning to feel slightly more at ease. A good thing I have a bottle head start. The other two are starting to giggle. Chay has passed the child along to the boy on his right, one of the Serein I have looked at perhaps three times in all the time I knew of their existence in consciousness. To hell with them. Further down the table is the governor’s wife with her son, utterly at a loss of what to think or what to do. It amuses me somewhat and I am thinking of addressing her directly when Guenta comes to give me the first share of meat and bread.

I smile at her and stroke her rear lightly which lights her up and causes her to blush all over. Chay and Isca start giggling at the same time and I wave a finger admonishingly at them.

Halfway through the meal, the single bottle of wine is still full and we are being treated to the tale of the child’s naming ceremony curteousy of Sir Catena, who does have a way of making simple situations sound quite preposterous in the re-telling. I find myself chuckling numerous times and laugh out loud when he describes his problems with coming up with a good statement.

“Good thing you didn’t give him a fish,” I say and find that so funny that I collapse on the table and nearly cry. Both from the left and from the right, my shoulders get a pounding as both of them punch me at the same time but I still cannot contain myself. A whole heap of big, flapping fish to cover us all. That truly is one of the best things I’ve ever heard.

When I have regained control, my lady sighs and sends me a somewhat unsteady message of purpose, of ordering affairs, and to be truthful, I don’t really care. Those bug eyed children should go somewhere, most notably far away, and take the bug eyed governor’s wife with them and that weasly little wet nurse.

Lucian, Isca says, we should really just tell them, and then they can go.

Tell them what, Chay comes in clumsily from somewhere outside ourselves.

I’m not sure. That we’re going in the morning? That we won’t be back? They’ll find out, soon enough.

I’ll do it, sends Isca and then hiccups badly which makes Chay laugh at her on all levels and I can’t help but join him.

Both of you are no good at all! Isca is trying hard to be serious, to be practical. She is, indeed, given to that character trait. You’re drunk, you are!

Good job you’re sober, says Chay and pushes his plate away so there’s room for him to put his arms on the table and lay his head on them, the first step towards falling asleep. I remember that posture very well.

Isca gets up with the aid of the table before her and the back of the chair and even so, staggers and nearly falls if I hadn’t reached up and steadied her. You can’t even stand, how are you going to give a meaningful speech?

I am always meaningful, she says in an attempt to be haughty which collapses entirely when she goes on to say, especially when I mean speechfully givens.

I know what we need, Chay dances in, we need someone who isn’t drunk to speak for us.

Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s have Sepheal. He’s never drunk.

Dah, says Isca and comes a step closer, puts an arm around my neck and half collapses across me, he doesn’t have to be drunk. He was mad and maked not a lot of sense whatever the weather.

Eddario, Chay says, Eddario is never drunk. He’s sooo boring, the Lord of Darkness is more fun!

I turn to him as swiftly as my condition allows and say most earnestly, The Lord of Darkness is all the fun there is.

This causes my lady to let herself fall entirely and I manage to catch her and pull her across so she sits on my lap. Whether the Dark of Lordness is fun is immam – immeri – doesn’t matter. Eddario is good. He can speak all nice and boooring once he gets going.

So the three of us, quite in agreement now, begin to consider Eddario of Niccosia, our great high king of boring sobriety, bastard son of randy old Solland, and as we do, a fuzzy outline begins to form on corner of the table, halfway between Chay and me/her who is lying in comfort against my chest.

Chay, still with his head on his arms, blinks and sends, He’s gonna fall off the table if we make him there. Yes, that is a point. So we turn ourselves a bit and the fuzzy smoke moves along until it is in front of the fireplace instead. This causes Chay to fall off his chair and we have to wait until he has re-mounted it and turned it after numerous failed attempts before we can make the shape take an outline. Who the hell are we calling, what are we doing?

Eddario. Eddario is gonna speak for us. Isca reminds me and I make an effort to think hard. The smoke thickens, darkens, wavers this way and that but in the end we get it together and a reasonable likeness of Niccosia stands before the fire place, nicely dressed in the blues of Solland.

I look down the table and everyone is staring at him in surprise. The Serein children recognise him but the rest of them are confused.

“That,” I say and they all jump at the sound of my voice, including me, so I clear my throat and try to say it more carefully, “that is Niccosia. He’s gonna speak for us this night.”

Yeah, Chay says into my mind, let’s get out of here. I’m tired.

Isca is already half asleep on my chest and I agree. With some difficulty, I link up with Catena and all three of us translocate unsteadily to my room, I’m lucky that I fall with her on the bed but Chay is further over to the left and falls to the floor from some height and just crashes down with a bang. I lay back and laugh and a little while later, he climbs up the bed and throws himself down by my side.

Put her in the middle, he says, I’m not sleeping here with you.

Oh, I send back to him, and here’s me thinking if I gave you enough wine, you’ll finally be mine.

Fuck off, old demon.

Ah come on you know you want me.

I didn’t bring it off straight enough and we both start giggling again. With some effort, I roll the girl over so she’s half on top of me and half on top of him. She sighs and smiles, eyes closed, and starts to stroke my face with the back of her hand.

Automatically, I put my arm around her waist and my hand contacts with Chay’s who is doing exactly the same from his side at the same time. It causes a strange shock of awareness and sobers me somewhat. I look to him and in the darkness, we link up, lightly at first and with an imprecision that is easy and relaxed, then deeper.

Let’s please her, he says and mirrors my thoughts entirely. I move sideways so she is on the bed between us and turn towards her. Across her in the dark, I know he is doing the same because he and I are not exactly who we are but one overmind, temporarily contained in two bodies.

She is so responsive, always has been, and I didn’t appreciate it fully, taking for a sign of weakness what in fact is a blessing on many levels, an indication that she is in partnership with her physicality, a state of being that I never truly could achieve nor understand as I am beginning to do this night, eased as I am by Chay’s being, softened and released of my own pre-set, ingrained modes of thought and action.

I find myself struggling only briefly against the unclarity of my thought, aided by the wine, by her open invitation and by the other who is feeling, sensing so strongly that I am being quite overwhelmed within all of us.

I have no recollection of what I did, nor what was done to me, with me, through me. I have a sense of a spinning fire storm at one point, orange, yellow and white in spiralling strands, and I remember ...

No.

It is dawn.

It is time to go.

I am entangled with limbs. I cannot move without disturbing, waking these others and I do not wish to do so. I wish to be by myself for a time, somewhere cold and clean, somewhere bracing and clear.

I need to clear my mind.

Cautiously, I attempt a phasing relocation that will de-mesh me unnoticed, fade me away slowly, secretly.

It takes considerable steadiness and force of concentration but I have not a moment’s concern that I will not be able to entirely rely on my faculties to perform for me as they always have and regardless of external circumstances.

External circumstances such as a deep shaking that is somewhere inside my very core and by needs has been contained and walled around as not to transmit through my body.

Circumstances such as the intense agony in my head that creates bursts of bright pain on each heart beat.

I fade away and as I do so, for me the others fade away as though what colour and definition there had once been is becoming erased, a desert wind laying finest sand across an old mosaic, old runes filling first, gentle veils that cover and cover on until there is nothing, just whiteness all around, not a trace remaining, not the slightest hint or clue to an unwary traveller’s eyes or feet that anything at all exists below the threshold of his knowing.

The white desert winds are blowing, so softly, so imperceptibly and the fine white sands are shifting and begin to reveal an outline that promises there might be something there for you to see, for me to know and with perfect smoothness I phase into the morning on the other side of the kingdoms, well known this location to me now in many ways; I phase into the time just before dawn when the sky is threatening with the brightness to come but yet, it is still contained within its perfect shades of grey, soothing, softening and cool.

To stand here, on the giving grass in the silence, is soothing.

The air is moist on my bare skin and moves just fractionally.

I cannot recall a time I stood undressed on a hilltop at sunrise.

I wish for rain to clean me and to wash away the residues of the others, and I wish for a rain of shadow to extinguish their traces upon me and within me so that I could be whole again. If I was to raise my hand before my eyes, I would be able to see most clearly coloured bright and lit from deep inside their very own existence their patterns on my fingertips, in the palm of my hands, on my wrists.

The horizon is brightening perceptibly across the valley that still lies in darkness. The ridges beyond are painted cleanly now but when the sun rises, they will disappear in a frightful burst of pain and I will disappear too from this my space of silence, this my space of sanctuary, which is and never was a place but a time, this time, this time here right before the sunset forces the life afresh.

It is the end of all I am to me.

The Serein knew this well enough.

What burned me up was not their light but having to leave me behind, and so rightfully, it could not help but destroy me. That was the meaning of the binding beyond death. Perhaps not so much a sentence but an act of benediction, a gesture of gratitude for the service rendered, and it had been long.

It had been long and it had been hard.

But that hard was easy if only I’d known.

I find that my body shivers lightly, a predictable response to the circumstances of temperature. I would have told it sternly to stop in the past; today, I sit back and observe without judgement.

Today.

Dare I think that it is too much to ask of me?

Dare I consider the possibility that I cannot – overcome, whatever the term may be, I cannot think clearly.

Dare I consider the possibility that I am afraid?

I shake my head and find I have to start walking, a most unusual sensation of ground beneath my bare feet, deceptively soft and yet there is the possibility of hidden stones, shards, thorns and they may easily penetrate my skin and make me hesitate my footfalls.

I stop beside a section of the inner castle walls, at a level where the stables used to be. The top layer of stones is rounded, eroded. Lichen grows in concentric circles where it may, old lichen, one layer over another. I reach out to touch the wall but this serves no purpose.

My being here serves no purpose.

My being terrified of – of everything, of not being able to do it right, to complete the task, to make a mistake, to not be able to be that strength she takes me for, she relies upon me to be for her, and indeed, it is a terror. There is no other concept to describe it.

I simply do not know if I can face this challenge at all, never mind bravely, squarely on, head held high and breathing with regularity, in total control and acting smoothly from within, all aligned within myself, an irresistible force that can indeed, take the stars from the sky.

What if I should falter?

What if at the last moment, I find finally revealed that I am not strong enough, that I am NOT ENOUGH?

The thought takes my breath away and I cannot think any further, cannot go any further for it is entirely futile, entirely irrelevant.

What has been, has been.

What is done, is done.

And what will be, is now to come.