Her dismay reached me in the Tower and rocked me so deeply that I fell forward into the reading shelves and caused a cascade of manuscripts across the floor.
She was on her way here.
I could feel her fear, her pain, her anger and her resolve as she ascended the steps and without knocking walked straight onto the walkway, focussing in on me immediately and experiencing a moment of heart stopping terror at my sight.
I had not expected it would hurt me as deeply as it did.
She came down the stairs, forcing steadiness and resolve in her stride and halted before me, giving that ridiculous curtsey I had never seen before last night in all the time we’d spent together, raised her eyes to me and said in a trembling voice, “Master Lucian, I cannot be your apprentice. I must leave here with my brother immediately.”
Her brown hair was very long. It still wasn’t as long as this, not even two years after I had it cut to make her less attractive to me, to lessen the chances of killing her accidentally.
She was so perfect, so young.
So untainted of my own cynicism, the weight of my own darkness, so clear and so wonderfully powerful in her own right.
So breathtakingly unique.
So very beautiful.
I remember her in my arms, I remember her tastes, the feel of her skin against mine.
She steps back further from me and says, urgently, “I must leave here. I have no choice.”
The sentence focuses me back on this present and I say to her, “There are always choices, if only you know and understand.”
She flinches at the very sound of my voice and raises her head fractionally. There is no trace of love or admiration for me about her, no desire for me, no matter how distorted or how disguised.
“There is nothing you can say to make me change my mind,” she says, clearly and is pushing this towards me with raw power at the same time.
I truly cannot control myself and I must step towards her swiftly, catch her in my arms.
She goes utterly rigid and is full of shock, of fear, bending away as far as her spine will allow and her hands are flat on my upper arms, locking and bracing against me.
I loosen her muscles, place one hand beneath her neck, my arm around her waist and draw her to me, putting her head against my chest and dropping mine to kiss her hair. She makes small strangled noises and starts to fight against my hold in earnest now. I relax all of her body so she has no control and I am holding her full weight to prevent her from falling.
Isca. My one and only love. Sweet, courageous, wonderful Isca. I kiss her neck, her lips and seek a physical response I can amplify and build to have her know the firestorms we used to have between us, but there is nothing there. No connection. Only revulsion and disgust, terror, anger, and the will to fight me until her very last breath.
I hold her close and close my eyes, lean my cheek against her temple.
Ah my love.
My one and only true love.
Here is my chance to show you how much I love you, at last.
I am glad the moment has come and I was right.
I was right that you should never have loved me.
I was right that you should never have been anywhere near me, for me to taint and destroy your clear and perfect self.
With tremendous gentleness and without regret, I restore the functioning of her body in time with releasing her physically so that she can stand and balance by herself when I let her go.
She fair shoots away from me and wipes hard at her neck with one hand, spits with her lips. Her eyes are enormous, full of fear and hatred and disgust.
I have that seen that look in women’s eyes a thousand times or more, and to see it in hers is the strangest sense of homecoming. I sigh deeply and feel myself relaxing all over fully and profoundly.
I smile and say, “You are free to go. Take your brother. But before you do so, let me show you one more thing.”
She shakes her head rapidly and keeps backing up towards the stairs and the door.
“I want nothing that is yours,” she says.
I would have liked to have shown her how to touch patterns. But then, she would probably work it out all by herself. I never had anything of value to give to her and what I did give to her, despoiled her and gave her torture and unknowable pain.
So I nod and turn my back on her yet I still track her totally as she runs from the tower, calls to Marani in the kitchen and tells her I said that she could go and I go to Marani’s mind and give permission to use the pony cart to take her back to her village or wherever it was the girl would want to go.
She was strong.
She was young and she was beautiful and I knew that she could stand in rags by the side of the road and she would assemble a court for herself in no time at all.
She could heal and when she smiled, she smiled for you alone in all the kingdoms.
The world was hers.
I gave her a silent blessing, quietly from afar so that she would never know it and could not reject it in consciousness and drifted from myself, away from myself and into a silent space where I could be in mind, aside of time and where it was dark and friendly quiet.
I thought about what had happened, what I had seen.
I briefly considered playing it differently, mistreating her as I had and do everything the same, or have my older self do it, and to intervene at some point further on – perhaps not sending her away from the monastery, but then, we would not have been in the tower and none of what transpired there would have ever come to pass. Perhaps I should intervene before our foolish decision to ride unarmed right into Pertineri Palace and the consequences which ensued from that.
Yet had we done no such thing, there would have never been so many things that I would not give up for all eternity and the stars themselves wrapped into one.
What had been, had been.
I drifted unknowingly then for what seemed a long slow time and finally returned to my body, at Tower Keep, in this the oldest of the times and yet the youngest, too, where she is not a beautiful virgin with a passion for justice any longer, for I have long poisoned her, beaten her purity from her, smashed her to pieces and now, she is nothing but a drifting awareness not unlike a grove of trees would be, or the whisperings of the grasslands.