The grasslands were on the verge of dusk.
I must admit it was my favourite time to be here. This place was always deeply alien and set apart from everywhere else I had known in all my travels but there was something about the very vastness of the horizons which soothed me in the strangest way.
On my last visit, I had replaced the pathetic structure erected by the slaves here with a more suitable building in black to shield my comings and goings from the villager’s eyes. I had made it square – I don’t know why, perhaps a joke on the roundness of their huts and the sweeping hillsides all around, a statement of otherness.
It was made from square black slabs which encased the circle but had no roof and there were two gaps in the sides facing away from the village where the horses could be brought in and out with ease.
A way to the right of the village sat a similar but larger structure made from the same uncompromising blue black marble-like slabs which contained my wife’s dependents.
I had not had either the time or the inclination to create anything but a strictly utilitarian holding arrangement and it pleased me much in its structural simplicity.
A square each for each of them to be in a separate cell and a walkway in the middle. No windows and a single entrance door. There was no need for anything else.
I translocated straight into the prison building and into a chaos of distress which I silenced reflexively. I set some lights and walked through to the cell across the top end where Catena was chained to the wall.
I hadn’t been able to curtail myself and I smiled at my own petty impulses.
It is true I had been wanting to see him in chains for as long as I had known of his existence.
It is true that I liked to see him thus disabled and in the absolute, complete and perfect position of a one that clearly had been on the losing side.
It is even true that it occurred to me to practice some of my old skills on him. It had been a long time, indeed. A part of me was intrigued enough by him to want to know just how he would conduct himself when faced with the ultimate challenges to his physicality, his will, his condition.
I made the glass wall that lay between me and him disappear. Unlike the women and children, there was no entrance door to his cell and the slaves would not be able to reach him to feed or water him.
He was for me alone.
He looked up at me and went through the usual routines of trying anger, strength and what have you; how many had endeavoured to go through this charade of uprightness before me over the centuries?
I raised a block from the ground directly opposite him and sat down on it, crossed my legs and looked at him very closely.
He was so very ordinary.
This – peasant, common, low born little bastard had nothing.
No birth, no style, no education. His body was ordinary enough, rather short of stature, reasonably well built, one of those who would turn soft and flabby in middle age.
I stared at him and tried to understand why she would love such a one.
I stared at him and tried to understand why she would desire such a one.
And I couldn’t understand it at all.
Until the thought struck me that it was the one thing he possessed that I did not have any longer.
He was young.
As young as she was.
He had the mind of a child, the emotions of a child.
This one was young and I was old.
“What now, you old demon? Come to gloat some more?”
Even his voice was young. Even though he tried to speak gruffly, his very voice was bright and young.
I closed my eyes briefly and centred within myself.
I tried to recall why I had come but it escaped me. I stood up and fixed him, entered him and engaged myself with him on every level, deeply and profoundly. He resisted for less than half a heartbeat until I was everywhere and could encompass all that he was, all that he had been, all that he could ever be.
I flowed through his mind, his memories, his passions and his decisions.
I saw the world through his mind, a world unlike any I had ever seen, a world of chance and unpredictability, a world of challenge and excitement, a world where the only moment that could ever be is now and now is the totality.
I saw Isca, but did not see her but feel her, taste her, smell her and sense her all at the same time with a passion that was entirely unfamiliar to me and so disconcerting that I had to sever the link to retain my balance.
He said something but I did not hear him.
There was a certain injustice here.
The girl – woman, my wife, indeed – she.
She had given me many things. In her various illusions, she had given me the keys to all the possible kingdoms. She had healed me and safeguarded me in many ways, and it is true that I owe her a great debt.
Now I am no longer bound by such considerations, I still consider it my duty to attempt to make the last months of her life as pleasant as can be expected under the circumstances.
I know her well and her addiction to desire and fulfillment. I shake my head as I remember her heat and animal passions and how she could not control them at all. There were still many turns to go before her condition would disable her and I would not visit her again.
I would give her this man as her farewell present. He would help her pass the time and amuse her, no doubt. He would keep her states of mind at a balance, most likely in a way that I would never be able to do.
I went to him and melted both chains, re-set them behind his back and took him by the upper arm. He struggled briefly but I gave it no heed, took us through the doorways and out onto the island.
I would have to acquire another two dozen guards and increase the failsafe systems. He fought well enough if given the chance. I walked him through the outer perimeter fence made of thick magical glass and into the building itself, doors on opposing sides of the building, three surrounds deep, with guarding doors at the right angles each. The inner core of rooms and the central garden to which she had not yet been allowed access lay within a clear space of two men’s length that was covered in deep gravel on marble so that each footstep produced a loud noise that reverberated off the walls.
Catena looked around himself but did not resist me as I shoved him in through the door of her sleeping quarters.
I ordered the female slaves to withdraw and from now on, food would be delivered only in the pre-arranged way through the one way chute on the outside of the three guarding circles.
They would be completely isolated within.
And they could play at happy families and make an illusion of companionship between them.
For a moment, I considered watching them but it was unnecessary.
I left the island without a backward glance that day.