When Sef had been tucked up in the wonderfully clean bed that made him look even smaller than he already was, all washed and combed and looking like a little angel in spite of the bruises, I turned to the fat old housekeeper woman who had hardly said a single word, “Thank you so much …” and had to stop because I didn’t rightfully know how to address her.
She flashed me the briefest of glances, pulled on the already perfectly flat top sheet one more time, then she straightened out with some difficulty. I could feel the pain in her back as though it was my own and I wondered why the master had not thought to heal her of this affliction. His healing was simply extraordinary and so was his magic. For the thousands time in the past few hours I truly cannot believe that I should be so lucky as to be here, and to be able to learn of such things.
He truly is a master of magic.
The fat woman has painfully picked up a towel from the floor and is making for the door when I snap out of my reverie. I run after her.
“Please wait,” I say and touch her on the arm. She withdraws from the touch but halts her limping progress and still she won’t look at me.
“Please tell me how I am to address you. I wish no disrespect,” I say and try to find her eyes with mine, bending my head here and there.
The old woman sighs deeply and finally, straightens and looks directly at me. Her eyes are a washed out blue and they have seen many things, many more than she would have words to talk about.
“I am Marani,” she says in a tired voice. “You can call me Marani. Everyone does.”
I can’t help but smile at her and hold out my hand and say, “Well Marani, I am Isca. And that’s my brother, Sef. And I really want to thank you for all your help at this late hour.”
A look of pain crosses the old woman’s face and she shakes her head, sighs and finally takes my hand in hers. It is dry, calloused to the extreme and her grip is gentle and warm.
She shakes her head again and without another word, leaves the room and a little while later, I hear the stairs creak slowly one by one.
Otherwise the house is silent.
Sef is sleeping sweetly and his breathing is normal, deep, just like that of a sleeping child in comfort should be. I sit by the side of his bed for a time, then decide I better check if the master has any instructions for me.
I leave the door ajar in case he should wake or have a bad dream, so I can hear his voice, and go down the stairs and back to the room where the remaining food is still on the table and the master is sitting in his chair, a glass of wine balanced on his stomach, legs long outstretched.
I carefully knock on the open door and receive a thought of permission to enter.
This room is just stone.
No carpets, no furnishings and no decorations. All there is the fire place, the table, the two chairs and a small wardrobe by the door, and that is all.
As I walk carefully towards the master, I can’t help but wonder why he would choose to live like this.
I stop and wait respectfully about two men’s length from him, clasp my hands behind my back and curtsey to him, keeping my head down and waiting for him to let me know what I should do next.
He says nothing but I can feel his attention on me like a physical touch and it makes me nervous, unsure. I know he is looking at me, testing me, reading me on a thousand different levels and there is nothing I can do to stop it from happening, just stand here and feel as though he was undressing me beyond undressing and touching a naked, shivering me.
At last, he says, “Do sit. Have some wine. It has been a long day for you.”
I move over to the other chair, giving him the widest possible birth. Sit down on the very edge and fold my hands in my lap to keep them still, then I remember he told me to drink more wine. I get up again and cautiously take the bottle which brings me within his reach, and the second glass which still contains a half measure.
I re-fill it and hastily retreat to the comparable safety of my chair and occupy myself with taking small sips. I try not to think of anything to do with him because he can read my mind as easily as I can name the colours of the rainbow and in amongst all of that, I cannot suppress the strong feeling that I am afraid of Master Lucian.
As in response, he sighs and sits up in the chair, leans forward and looks at me with those strange colourless eyes of his. He is holding his wine glass in both hands, balancing it between outstretched fingertips with the lightest of touches. He wears a strange ring that seems to spark light from it in random patterns.
“Isca,” he says very softly and there is something about him and the way he is addressing me that makes me even more nervous, instantly. He notices of course and sighs again, then continues in a more dispassionate way that makes it easier to listen to him, “There is no reason to be anything other than perfectly calm. I will teach you what you need to know. I appreciate that this – situation – is new and unusual for you at this moment, but you have great talent and you learn most swiftly. All is well.”
I don’t know why he confuses me so and sets me so on edge. His words are comforting enough yet there is something about him I distrust deeply even though I cannot place just how I would think that way. It is in some strange way as though he was playing with me, gentling me like you would a fell pony with a few choice pieces of fruit just before you jumped on it with a big rope that would turn it into a forsaken beast of burden from that moment forth and until the end of its miserable existence.
He places the wine glass on the floor before him and drops his head in his hands. I sense a profound tiredness from him, a feeling of defeat and drowning and of time so old that it had become harder than rock.
I am most unsure as what to do or think and look at the strange big old man with his white hair and black clothing and begin to wonder if I was so lucky to be here, after all. I couldn’t make him out nor did anything in this house make much sense.
Including the strange housekeeper, Marani.
I wished I could go somewhere away from him, get my stone out and have some rest. I would like to sleep with Sef, to keep him safe and guard him through what remained of this night.
Go then, he says tiredly into my mind and I am sure I can feel an underlying note of disappointment? Pain? Sadness? I can’t think anymore, this is too much for me as I am now. I need some rest and some distance from this man. I don’t like being around him in this uncertainty and so I rise, curtsey again and leave the room as quickly as I can, shutting the door behind me with a deep sigh of relief.
As I turn towards the bottom of the stairs, a light from the other side attracts my attention and even though I am tired, I peek around the corner and see there is the kitchen and from it come some sounds as though water was being splashed. It must be the old woman still at work. I wondered where the other servants were, this being really a very, very big house, the biggest I had ever been in.
I thought of going to try and speak with her again, but then decided to leave it to the morning and went to wash and snuggle up with Sef.
That and the stone kept the deep sense of discomfort and foreboding at bay for the time being.