Sweet comfort, warmth.
Drifting and golden.
I didn’t question it and fought for a long time before I allowed my eyes to flick open, briefly at first, then more steadily.
I was not surprised at my surroundings, perhaps I should have been.
I was lying on a large bed, sumptuous sheets of pale gold, in a semi-circular room that could have been in Sepheal’s tower and of my own creation, only to the right of me the huge windows didn’t look out across mountains but over a still lake that stretched wide, and a landscape beyond that, resolving to hills with the last rays of a setting sun, large and flooding orange into the room.
It was most tranquil, most beautiful.
I was most tranquil within myself and when I looked at my wrists, they were perfect and entirely unblemished. They were bound not by thick rusting iron any longer, but with what appeared to be silver bracelets, a finger thick, rounded and made from something soft that flowed into an intricate weave, connecting my left wrist to my right with about two handspans worth of movement. The same arrangement appeared to be in place around my ankles and it was very comfortable, hardly noticeable.
I was wearing a white, long gown without sleeves which may have be silk or Serein, flowing, cool.
My thoughts were slow and steady, as was the beating of my heart.
Here, now, this was my new prison.
The prison he had worked so diligently on creating for me; why he had left me in the dark, all alone.
It was very well done and really remarkably well aligned to my various likes in such matters.
Eventually, I sat up to look around and when I did, a woman in a flat white mask with oval pieces of glass covering the eye holes, a hood and a long white garment that concealed her hands within the sleeves and her body within its folds, entered the room on bare feet and brought a tray with water and fruit. This she placed upon a table which had most obviously been grown rather than made by a conventional workman in its flowing lines and magic marble; it was vaguely rectangular and mirror smooth of surface yet all the edges were round. There were two benches either side of it, and it took me a moment to recognise that these were meant so you would lie on them to eat, not sit, although you could if you so desired.
The great windows were a part of the outside curvature of a circle.
This was the edge of a circle. I had no doubt that if I was to look at that window more closely, I would find it to be of some considerable thickness in spite of its brilliant transparency.
The woman in the mask did not speak with me.
She took the tray with her and withdrew to the other side, the inside curvature which was more acute and showed me that there was a further area to the centre of the circle. There were three doors there and two stools between them with a small square mirror above each; she took up her place on one of them and sat very upright, very still.
I got up and went carefully with small steps prescribed by the bindings on my ankles, across a soft, giving floor of an unknowable material that felt warm beneath my bare feet, to the table, looked at the goblet and touched it with my fingertip.
I had to smile.
It was soft, very similar really to what he had turned his armour into so the spikes wouldn’t hurt me.
The goblet looked like it was made from glass, but it would never shatter, nor could be used to make into shards or weapons to open your own veins or stab into your eyes.
The plate upon which the artfully arranged pieces of fruit were sitting too looked like a glass plate, and it too, was flexible in that way.
I turned around and looked for a washroom.
The bed floated in the middle of the odd shaped room, the centre piece of this cage. I was glad to see that he had thought to provide curtains of a lustrous gold material for with those huge windows overlooking the lake, you would burn to death in here when the sun was upon you.
Where the room segment ended, there was another door and I went to it and opened it.
It led into the next segment of what must have been rooms arranged like the spokes of a wheel, and this segment was a really beautiful washroom, complete with a big oblong indoor pool raised from the ground with mosaic steps all around and the windows here were oval, and multicoloured.
I looked at them and put my head to the side.
As I could no longer set coloured little fires to dance for me when I was bathing, he had provided an alternative solution; a poor second to be sure, but he had made an effort. It must have hurt his head to create all those vibrant colours that were set in an intricate pattern in the windows.
There was a waste disposal, a wash stand and a large mirror that covered the wall to the bedroom completely, doubling up everything in the room and making it look twice as big as it already was.
And all of it made with that special twist of his that made it just slightly giving to the touch yet strong and hard and keeping its shape to perfection.
I studied myself briefly in the mirror for a time.
The necklace was no longer around my throat and, with the bindings on my wrists and that clinging nightdress with its deep cleavage, what could quite easily pass for a pale slave girl fresh from Pertineri Market was looking back at me. I did not seek her eyes, shook my head and continued my explorations.
The next spoke in the wheel was a walk in closet that held sheets, towels and a number of garments that were all similar to the one I was wearing. They came in different colours but all the colours were pastels, soft hues that I would not have chosen for myself.
I didn’t even have to try to tear one of the sheets to know that it would be impossible to do so in the absence of serious magic.
Lucian was very thorough.
Of course, there must have been more rooms beyond but they were not accessible to me; I used the wash room to refresh myself, brush my hair and made my way back to the bedroom where the woman in the mask was still sitting her silent guard.
As I walked through on my tiptoes which I found helped with the restricting bindings, I noticed that one a small table on the other side of the bed sat the glacier bird, encased in a small glass dome and welded to the surface of the table.
It made me smile again.
Good as he was, he had not been able to find a way to soften that creation of his so it would not be usable for a missile, or to stab the slender beak deeply into a loved one’s throat or your own heart, for that matter.
I guess not even the Lord of Darkness can figure out how to soften up a time and space locked glacier yet keep it contained enough to stop it from unfolding into an all encompassing avalanche that would destroy and bury and tear apart his fantasy castle.
I sat down at the table by the window, looked out at the lake reflecting the sun and sky and drank the water, ate the fruit, carefully and conscientiously, in order as the slices came on the plate, one at a time.
This was here and now.
I was here and now.
There were views and windows, and there was softness, and I was still alive.
The dusk fell and mists rose from the lake. I saw some water birds flying and in the distance, some were swimming in a group, leaving marks of their passing streaked into the water.
Behind me, the woman in the mask lit a lamp and the reflection off the window and instant darkening of the scene caused me to flinch and start.
“I don’t want any light,” I said out loud, the first words that I had spoken here in this room.
In response, the light dimmed down to a small flicker and she placed it by her feet but did not extinguish it. As little light as there was, it was still enough to make it difficult to not see the reflections of the room, her, myself, and be able to see the misty lake instead which was my desire.
I sat and looked at the reflections and through them, and then the moon came.
It came from nowhere, silver light in the sky, diffused at first and then bursting out cleanly, not quite round and full yet but perfect nonetheless, and it lit up the lake and the mist and it was beautiful.
I heard a sound and turned my head in time to see Lucian coming in through the door, as disabled in his magic himself in this place as I was. He would have to come through the door, I thought. He would never just be able to appear.
He looked at the bed first and it took him a moment to find me, sitting still by the window; it was dark in the room.
For a time, he just stood there, then he snapped at the masked woman to bring more lamps and strode across to me.
I was sitting on the bench with my feet drawn up and looked up at him.
He looked quite strange in this light, in this place, on this night.
Behind him, three women in masks scampered and set oil lamps into small recesses in the walls and lit them. With every one that came to light, the lake receded behind me and the man became more revealed, and more familiar.
“How are you feeling?” he finally said quite hesitantly.
“Well, thank you,” I answered and bit off the last part of the sentence which would have been, “Thank you master,” for I saw no need or reason for sarcasm on this occasion.
“Have you eaten?” he asked and after a minute hesitation, went to sit on the other side of the table, placing his hands flat before him.
I found it easy to look into his pale eyes and answer truthfully, “I ate some fruit, some hours ago.”
“Would you dine with me?” he asked formally, and I found it amusing that he would go through this charade of requesting my compliance. I wondered briefly what he would do if I said no. Probably instruct those masked servants who had now withdrawn to not feed me for a week, then he would come back and ask the same question again.
“Yes, of course,” I answer him but I do not smile.
The window has now become a perfect mirror to the room. I notice this briefly before returning my attention to him; he has followed my glance and says, “Would you like the curtains to be closed?”
“Yes, I would.”
He gets up and opens the door to the left, I can hear him snap some instructions.
A masked woman – not the same who sat in the room all this time, this one is thinner, older – comes and begins to pull the heavy drapes across the windows. When she comes past the front of the table, I can see that there is a tiny strand of hair escaping between her flat mask and the hood she is wearing. It is an old brown mixed with generous quantities of grey. I smile and he says, “Are you satisfied with your new quarters?”
I look into his eyes again and answer softly, “They are very beautiful. You have worked hard and accomplished much.”
In response, his face stays entirely impassive but I clearly see his pupils dilating. He cannot control such things, not even he can. It is strange to see him yet not to feel him. I have become so accustomed to having him there, all the time, a part of my own thoughts even when we shielded, it is a bereavement to not have this anymore and there be such silence instead.
I straighten myself out and place my hands on the table, thus making the pretty manacles become apparent. He reaches across and takes the bracelet on either side, between his fingertips, and pulls on it. It widens easily and slips off my hand. I hold out the other one and he repeats it.
I stop myself from rubbing my wrists which are perfectly fine and do not show a single mark and instead, spread my arms out wide, then reach up and out.
The servant has finished with the curtains and is leaving.
Seriously, I say to him, “Lucian, I will be very bored here, beautiful as it is.”
He nods and says, “I will endeavour to provide you with entertainment – books and such. I was thinking of finding you some tutors, too.”
“Thank you,” I say and stretch my arms out again.
He watches me and we sit in silence until the servants come back with wine and many different kinds of food, all served in that resilient glass that isn’t glass.
I smell the wine cautiously but it seems pure enough; it is also served from the same decanter as is his. Impatiently, he waves the servants away and once again, we are alone.
I eat and he sits and drinks and watches me eat. All the food is made so you do not need a knife, or a spoon; the gravies can be scooped out with bread and the meat is cut to bite size.
Then he starts to tell me about Manoranta and what has happened. He tells me that Eddario and Camu will be wed in a few days time in Pertineri, and that Eddario will be proclaimed the High King.
I sigh and say without thinking, “I would have liked to see that.”
He throws me a glance but says nothing to that. I wonder if he, too, would have liked me by his side on this occasion rather than to be having to tell lies about my whereabouts.
I finish eating, wipe my hands and mouth and drink some wine as well.
There is a long silence, and eventually I say to him, “Do you not miss me?”
He raises both eyebrows and refills his glass, leans back on the bench and draws up one leg.
“I am here with you. How can I miss you?”
I look straight into his eyes and say, “Do you not miss feeling me? Having me with you?”
He half shakes his head and takes a time to make the wine swirl one way, then the other.
“No,” he says finally. “I don’t. It was always – most unnatural to me. It used to unbalance me.”
“Did it never delight you?”
He sighs deeply. “Delight is an imbalance as much as hatred is, or despair. Ecstasy is the greatest imbalance, and so, indeed, is love.”
I contemplate this and he is right. These things, these feelings, are an imbalance.
“May I ask you another question?”
“Of course, my lady.”
“What gives you the right to divest me of my magic?”
He smiles and drops his head, shakes it.
When he looks at me again, he seems sad and he says gently, “I have told you this before. I am your husband now. I am responsible for you, for your safety, for your life, and for all you do and all you are. I have considered my options with care, and you are simply too young and headstrong to be trusted to be sensible. In time, when you are a little older and more experienced, you will see the sense in that.”
“And will you ever let me go?”
He puts his wine glass down and reaches across the table, takes my hand and draws me across until he can kiss it. Then he looks up and says most sincerely, “You are mine, forever, my lady. You are everything to me.”
“Lucian,” I say in return, “forever is a very, very long time indeed. Perhaps you should be more cautious with such statements.”
He kisses my hand again and lets it go, smiles at me.
“There you are,” he says nearly lovingly. “You are already starting to make far more sense.”
He gets up and comes around the table, kneels down beside me and removes the shackles from my ankles. Then he strokes my calves and kisses my thighs.
I look down upon him, enjoy the sensations he is causing and think to myself that the time will come when I get to repay every single heartbeat of this monstrous injustice, of this attempted murder of who and what I am, and that with joy, I will take his illusions and use them to torture him in ways he could not begin to conceive.
Sepheal, watch out, I think as I receive him willingly into my body, guide his mouth to my breast and embrace him and stroke his hair.
Sepheal, you watch me.
You will learn things about torture that will make your hair stand on end.
By all the stars, by the sisters and all of creation, that is my pledge, that is my troth.