There were two amongst us sad lot that day who did not sink into blackness at our approach to the grey house. One was Cyno who cared for nothing but to be somewhere close to Isca or what remained of her, the other was Guenta, the big breasted, lively woman who had ran in the opposite direction when I asked for hired help to go to Tower Keep. In the opposite direction from everyone else.
She wanted to serve Lord Demon.
I asked her about that when Ricco slapped the cart horse into the semblance of a forward motion and we were on the road once more.
She smiled and said she had served him before but wouldn’t go on to any further details.
Now I cannot get how there can be anyone alive who would serve him in any way whatsoever and smile about afterwards. But then, there’s many things I don’t get anymore. I don’t get him. I don’t get me for still being here, for going on with this.
I never did get her in any shape or form.
Man. What were we doing. Somewhere in the back of my mind there’s the thought that I’m taking us to him so he’ll put us out of our misery once and for all. That he’ll turn us to dust and make an end.
Something broke inside me at some time when she was screaming senselessly, such pain, such sounds as I didn’t think a woman – a human being could produce. Something broke and I don’t know anymore, I don’t feel anymore.
I tried to get a feeling for Ty and there was nothing there.
When Tremain came back, I tried to get a feeling for him, and there was just nothing.
I’ve never not felt nothing at all. Can’t say it is a bad place to be, just a dead place. I’m on the horse here, sworn to continue guarding her, but I’m not.
I’m a ghost.
I know he’s watching us from halfway between the village and that grey house.
I can feel him, smell him. But what I can’t is hate him anymore.
He comes from the house when we are nearly up the drive and stands looking at us.
I dismount and look up at the windows, wondering which one may be the one behind which she lays and how she fares. Ricco draws up beside me. He doesn’t move and like all of us, we just wait for what he has in store for us, what his orders for us are, his plans and his designs for we have none of our own.
He says nothing and turns, walks away from the main entrance and around the side of the house which is where the round tower is attached that gives the place its name.
I look to the others and wonder if he instructed any of them. Reyna gets off the cart and makes straight for the entrance, I guess he must have spoken to her mind.
The woman Guenta scrambles after her and so does Cyno.
Jilean, Taray and Vona remain motionless, silent as they always are these days unless someone makes the effort to ask them a direct question or give them an instruction. Ricco stares at the house and there are tears in his eyes which he is trying very manfully not to cry.
I sigh and tell him to help me find stabling for the horses, tell the children to go around the back and stay in the kitchen until further notice.
Ricco and I find the stables. They’re long unused, damp, mouldy straw, dirty. Can’t put the horses in there, sorry beasts though they are. So I hobble them instead and let them loose on the grassed area that lies between the house and the road and we just put the tack on the back of the cart.
I look at the boy. He has grown but the months in the lands of the strange orange people have given him a tight, hard look which does not sit well with one so young. I wonder whether to say something to him, try and get some promise of behaving himself around Tremain, but I can’t find the words and it is too much of an effort so I walk by him and leave him leaning against the stable door, watching the hobbled horses grazing and not watching them at all.
I go round the back and find the kids in the kitchen, bunched up in the corner closest to the exit door on three stools but find no sign of either Reyna or Guenta.
I go upstairs and from the room where I discovered the women on my first visit, there are sounds of a kind and I cautiously look around the corner.
Isca is lying on a huge bed beneath a most ornate and ostentatious tapestry of many colours, golden weaves on a blood red background.
Reyna is sitting by her side, holding her hand and looks up when she sees me in the doorway.
“How is she?” I ask her.
The girl shakes her head a bit and says so quietly that I can hardly hear her, “I don’t think she is here at all.”
She wasn’t with us for at least a month before she died in that damned prison of his. She just went somewhere and left her body behind and that stopped working after a time as well. When it finally died and her heart stopped beating, I broke down and cried, not because she was dead but because I feared that he would bring her back yet again.
And of course, he did.
Only this time, he couldn’t catch what was hers.
It had escaped him, good and well.
He had tried to wall it in, chain it up, surround it with magic barriers but she still had found a way to be free. I didn’t get it until this moment, looking down at her pale breathing corpse, that she had escaped him. Escaped all of us who were pulling on her, this way and that. Yeah, me too. I’d been pulling on her, not as cruel as he did and not as effective, but had I his kind of magic, what would I have done to possess her? I shake my head and go in then, sit next to Reyna and just hold my head in both hands. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to go there again. I’ve got to try and get it through my thick skull that she is better off wherever she is than all of us who are still here in these prisons of our makings, and of his.
But the fact is that I am selfish. I’m a selfish idiot and I want to see her, speak with her, see her smile, feel her, know that she’s there, love her, hear her voice. And if I could, I’d bring her back too and never mind what she wants or what she needs.
I’m no better than he is.
And I damned well know he’s gonna try and bring her back, and I’ll help him anyway I can. The creator forgive me for it, if he can.
I’m no better than he is.
The room around me spins and I’m falling on my back into long wet grass.
For a moment I don’t know where I am then I see him sitting on some kind of ruined stair thing and we’re in the gardens of the house, looking back on it, I recognise the kitchen wall and entrance.
I get up and try and brush the wetness of the seat of my pants. I slowly turn and look at him. For some reason I can’t begin to understand his face is becoming as familiar to me as my own in a shaving glass.
He looks like shit.
I know he’s thousands of years old or whatever but damn, today he really looks it somehow. He’s got his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands the same as I was before he pulled me out here. Then he raises his head up and looks at me with those inhuman eyes of his that have no colour at all and he says, “Catena, what am I to do?”
I guess I should be surprised or amazed or shocked or something to hear him say that but I’m not. I know he doesn’t know what to do, any more than any of us. We’re always waiting for her to tell us what to do next, to do something and then we do something in return.
I hear myself sigh.
“Bring her back, Tremain,” I hear myself say. It’s my voice alright and I know I said it but I didn’t say that and I don’t know who did.
“I don’t know how,” he says and there is such damned desperation there, I can feel it touching my own like a string quivering in response to the right note being struck by another instrument across the distance.
I don’t understand. He brought her back after the fire and she was alright, why can’t he do the same again?
“It isn’t as it is supposed to be,” he says.
I don’t understand.
“I can’t change it. Any of it,” he says and sighs, gets up and just stands on the broken step, looking up at the house. When I don’t say anything because I don’t know what he’s talking about, he comes down and stands right opposite me. I have to put my head back to look at him. I dislike that about him. He’s so damned big.
“Time, Catena,” he says seriously, intensely. “I can’t change time. I can’t take her back further than this – state – she’s in. I tried and it isn’t as it’s supposed to be. This – this here, this is how it is supposed to be. It cannot be any other way.”
I shake my head. He’s not making sense. “Why can’t it be another way?”
He turns away from me and takes a couple of strides towards the house, stops, turns around and makes a gesture with his hand that trails a grey green wisp of smoke. I stare at his hand. She used to do that, I saw her do that a few times. What does that mean?
“Perhaps I’m insane, Catena,” he says, “and I am. I am insane but when I try to change time there is a – barrier, a something, that – makes me know I shouldn’t, can’t do it. I can’t explain it. I don’t understand it.”
She would know, I think and he throws his head back and laughs. It is not a pleasant sound and my stomach hurts.
“Oh yes,” he says, more bitterly than I’ve ever thought he could be, “oh yes, of course. Why don’t we travel to the centre of the web, you and I, and ask her how to repair the stone? She’ll know. She’ll tell us how to repair her own self again!”
He closes his eyes and hits his temple with his fist, hard enough to set my teeth on edge.
He is crazy. I’ve always thought it but now I know it. Tremain is a lunatic.
He stops hitting himself and looks straight at me. Into my head he says, You’re right. I am. There is no denying it any more. I am insane. I don’t think I used to be before I met her but I can’t know that any more with any degree of certainty either. Just be warned. You would be well advised to leave today, no, to leave now. The last time I enlisted the aid of another to help save her they died in the process.
I shake my head and think right back at him, I can’t leave and you know that. I can’t leave because there’s a barrier, there is a something in me too that makes me know I have to stay with her, with you even, and I can’t explain it either. It’s just the way it is, always has been.
He nods slowly and his shoulders drop in resignation.
What are we to do?
I sincerely don’t know. I know nothing of these things, it is all beyond me. I don’t know what to say to him or to think at him. I am useless. I always have been. I am nothing.
You are here, Catena.
Even that I’m not so sure of anymore.
He laughs again and says aloud, “Welcome to the country of insanity, Catena. I told you before, didn’t I. I said she fucks you with her body and with her mind, damn it, with her very soul. She’s fucked us both.”
I don’t know about that. You’ve fucked her well enough. You created this, Tremain. You drove her insane. You locked her up, you broke her heart. You broke her mind and if you want it that way, her very soul. Why?
I expect him on some level to be angry with me, to lash out at me but he doesn’t. He just stands there, staring down at his own hand and he says, “I don’t know why. I thought I did but it was nothing but delusion. I thought I could contain her, and then I thought I could be free of her. I was wrong.”
From somewhere, into my head floated her voice and I remembered what she’d said to me that night when felt something I had never felt before, and I got my cloak for no reason and I found her freezing on Ty’s grave, when I knew for the first time that I would die for her if she just asked, there, in that dark night, she had said,
"It is the hardest thing of all, the one thing that will show if you have the one true courage. To know that you have failed, that your best efforts have been defeated, to not be able to stand it, to not be able to go on and yet to go on nonetheless."
Tremain reels back as though I hit him in the face. It takes him a moment to recover, then he says clearly, “I am failing this test.” And before I have a chance to think about a response, he has disappeared.