To see Lucian’s physicality there, right there, in amongst that mess of blood that he never spilled, drawn, grey, deeply unconscious in the truest sense of the word, it fluttered me and it hurt me.
I sit and look at him, then extract myself from the blankets and kneel on the bed, looking down at him.
I remember many things about this one.
I remember many thoughts and feelings and other things that ran through my body and my mind and they were not emotions but they created and re-aligned portions of me in a wholly new and unbelievable way.
I remember pain.
I remember cessation of pain and the black angel’s wings that protected me when I was in hell.
I remember hatred. Pure hatred and the fire of my vengeance.
I remember swearing an oath to make him suffer.
I cannot make this one suffer.
He is suffering. Not in, he is in the process of suffering, or he is suffering a little or a lot, or he is suffering today and tomorrow, he may stop.
Not like that.
Suffering is what he is.
How long does this have to remain, how much longer still, and when can he finally, finally go home?
Is it still not enough?
Who is to know?
There was a time and place where I understood it, understood all of it and it made sense and it was bearable, no, not just bearable but joyful and right but wherever that is, whenever that is, it is not here today with me, and I look down at him and cry again, can’t help it, don’t seek to stop it, and my tears fall on his cheek as though I am crying for him, in his place again.
I thought often that that was what I was doing.
It’s probably true.
It doesn’t make sense and yet it does.
What can I do for you?
I can take my stone, there it is, half hidden behind a fold of the tapestry, a little darker than my previous friends and yet the ripples of light there on its skin are just as beautiful or perhaps even more so in their depth and resonance, I can take my friendly helper and hold it in both hands, sit back on my heels and call to it and overlaid with the image from my eyes I can see the patterns that faintly pulse towards him, wave upon wave, that enter into him and surround him and re-build his body yet again, oh and it so familiar, I have done this so many times I know all of it like the back alleys behind the houses where I played when I was a child, I know where everything is with my eyes closed and I don’t even need smell or hearing, I remember it everywhere, how many steps this way and that.
He breathes more easily and the grey has changed to skin once more, the tautness is leaving his face and being, gently, sweetly, and with such reverence I stroke his alignment into place a small piece at a time.
What can I do for you.
As though this is anything at all, as though this is something, anything, a fraction, or even beginning to be near to what you really need and what I cannot give you, what is not in my power to bestow and I break myself in wishing that I could, somehow, somehow, that if I was smart enough or knowledgeable enough, that if I had all the Sepheals of all time at my command and all the magic in the universe that could ever be, I could somehow ease you and help you and make this suffering stop.
And I can’t.
It is true and it is right and it dissolves me into a sadness so ancient and so cold, I must back away from it for it would undo me entirely.
I have failed.
I have failed all the time, at every step, and I went on failing regardless.
And now, the question arises is as to how I can possibly go on.
For now, here I kneel by your side and the stone is silent now and warm in my hands and I look at your shell and all that I thought I could ever know or understand about you has crumbled and has been destroyed.
I don’t know who you are. I will never know. And that is the worst of all.
There is a sound, then voices behind me and I turn slowly to see it is Chay and the Conna son, struggling in the doorway with one another.
“Chay!” I call and my voice is no more than a sob and I scramble to him, and he breaks free and comes to me and we embrace like drowning people would, clutching desperately at each other, tightening hands and arms that release and try and find another hold, a tighter one.
Chay, I am so sorry. I am so sorry, my love, my sweet little one, I am so sorry for what I’ve done to you. For using you so shamefully, for taking everything from you, for feeding on you at every turn of the way to shore myself up so I could go on with my failure bound illusions, for breaking you and trampling what you are so heedlessly. I am so sorry.
My lady. You know I would give you everything and it breaks my heart I cannot give you more. I wish I was more for you.
You are everything for me. Everything. I don’t deserve you or any of what you are. I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d do without you.
You are my bright angel.
My bright angel.
He starts to ease and cries in my hair as I cry on his shirt and it is a while before the utter consternation and scandalised thoughts of the many minds beyond begin to slowly creep into our shared awareness, standing as we are in profound embrace in the middle of the room.
Who are these people?
Don’t worry about them. I will send them away. I will drive them away with fire and sword.
His fervour causes me to experience a smile amidst the sadness and the desperation of all that I don’t understand anymore. He would. He would run after them and they would flee, shrieking, down that pebbled drive and into the oblivion of the tree tunnel.
I love you, Chay.
I have always loved you, my lady.
I shook my head on his wet shirt and looked up at him. Our jointly red rimmed eyes met and we both smiled then.
Would you call me by my name, now? Truly, we have shared too much.
He closes his eyes and draws me closer again, kisses my forehead.
Yes – Isca. Isca.
We sigh simultaneously and release each other simultaneously. I am facing the door so I can see everyone staring at me and then dropping their eyes or looking away swiftly. I take Chay’s hand as he turns to stand by my side. He is still very weak and it is actually quite a feat for him to be standing at all, never mind to walk around.
“Sit down,” I say to him and guide him to the bed. I reach over and get the stone, and a little while later he breathes very deeply and moves his head on his neck, then opens his eyes and smiles at me, a true Chay smile, creator I love him so very much. I always did. From the very first moment I saw him on the doorstep with Ty in his shaking arms and snow in his beard.
I stroke his shoulder lovingly and bend to kiss his hair. In return he pulls me close and lays his head onto my stomach.
I turn my head to the onlookers and say, “You may all go now. Organise someone to prepare some food for us in the morning room. I am hungry.”
One by one, the faces in the doorframe recede and everyone walks out.
Cyno hesitates and I have to send him a firm, Later. I will talk to you later, before he finally and very reluctantly leaves. Then he shuts the door and there is just the three of us.
Me and my angels.
I sit next to Chay and he picks up my hand, brings it to his lips.
I lean my cheek to his shoulder and sigh.
“Do you think,” I say slowly, “do you think there’s any hope at all for any of us?”
He nuzzles in my hair and I can feel him smile.
“No, not a one,” he says and I have to smile as well. Oh but there are so many things, so many unconnected strands, dancing leaves in the storm. It doesn’t matter though. Chay is here. Lucian is here. We are together and all is going to be well at last.
“Are you going to wake him up?” he asks me, “Can you?”
I sigh and resist the impulse to turn and look at Lucian who lies behind our backs, silently present, sleeping and not watchful at all.
“I can but I won’t just yet. It is – very peaceful, where he is. It is a good place to be, an innocent place. You don’t want to leave there.”
Chay turns towards me and seeks to see my face, my eyes.
“You’re not going back there,” he asks and I can hear the fear rising.
“No, darling. That is of the past, as Lucian would say.”
He looks relieved but doesn’t trust me completely. I don’t blame him. I raved and ranted at him for many turns of the moon. I hit him and kicked him and screamed at him. How can he even be here?
As though he heard me, he said, smiling, “Love is a strange thing.”
Can you hear me?
He stopped smiling and concentrated which caused three small, perfectly vertical lines to be created between his brows. Yes, I can. You are much clearer than you used to be. Or I hear you better?
Perhaps it’s a little of both.
We smiled at each other again and then I sighed and said, “I want to get dressed. I want to go downstairs, I want to find out what is going on, re-align myself with this world, this life.”
Chay nodded and got up, stretching this way, then that.
“I feel fine – better than I have for a long time,” he said thoughtfully. “This healing stuff is good. I wish I could do it.”
I looked up at him with some surprise and then it occurred to me that there was no reason at all not to have a third magician joining into our crazy games. He’d been in them for a long time already, just a side kick or so we thought, and perhaps it was time he took his place in the greater scheme of things.
He even had requested a Sepheal ring from me by volition and taken to it as though it was his by all rights.
So I nodded and said to him, “I will teach you what I know. The rest will be up to you.”
He didn’t flinch back or any of the other reactions I had perhaps anticipated. Instead, he just nodded seriously.
“You are much changed, Chay,” I said and he dropped his head, rubbed across his neck hard with his hand and when he looked at me again, that famous smile was back.
“Some things never change, my lady. I mean, Isca.”
I caught a flash of what he meant and couldn’t help but laugh in return.
I got up too but didn’t dare go near him right at that moment. I grinned at him from where I was and said, “Go on. I am going to get dressed, somehow. Have a bath. I feel as though I’ve been sleeping in my clothes.”
He smiled, nodded and made his way from the room with bright and bouncing steps. I looked after him and then at the closed door and thought, I don’t know what is happening, or what’s going on, but this is right.
Chay has always been one of us.
A little while later, cautiously to the extreme, I peeped out of my door and then made my way swiftly to the room with the indoor pool when no-one was in sight or feel for a moment.
I sealed that door fully and breathed a sigh of relief.
Whilst I was sitting in the green blue, being stroked by the light, on the edge of the pool and waiting for it to fill with water it occurred to me how unlikely it was that the Serein children where here at Tower Keep. What had happened? Marani was dead, Reyna said. Had he killed her at last? Why were the children alive? And why weren’t they at Headman’s Acre?
I shook my head and slid off so I could properly test the temperature of the water. I cautiously put my hand in, then raised the temperature a little more, then, when it struck me from nowhere that I had given birth to a child.
By all the sisters!
I stood looking down at myself, the pale robe from the prison on my body still, my flat stomach.
I had been pregnant. I am pretty sure of that. I remember that.
Did I have the child? Did it die?
Instantly, her presence was with me, cloudy and insecure but there.
The child, I thought I had a child …
He is well, Lady Isca. He is right here, and a very vague, undefined picture I could hardly comprehend lay before me. I shook my head in annoyance and translocated without a thought straight to the source of the information.
A woman shrieked and a terrible crash set the baby in front of me, lying in what appeared to be a large drawer, crying in an instant.
A big fat blond baby. And a tiny little dark haired one that just lay silently. I didn’t need to stretch to know which one was mine.
He stood out like a flare on all levels simultaneously, burning so brightly, so strongly, so full of life it took my breath away and I had to take a step back.
Someone came to my side and I looked to see it was Reyna.
“How old is he?” I said in a weak voice.
“About three tenday,” she said and went to pick up the screaming child. I watched the girl in the dust brown dress and the long fine hair tied into a tail behind her neck hold the baby expertly and begin to rock it, whilst sending some diffuse gentling and making small noises. The baby subsided rapidly and the tightly scrunched up eyes from crying opened and found the face above it, which wasn’t mine.
There were scratching sounds and I turned to see that a strange woman was on her hands and knees, picking up the shards from more than one plate. She looked up and our eyes met.
I couldn’t help reading her thoroughly and for a moment there was a part of me that was appalled at what I learned about her, her reasons for being here and her dealings with my angels. With both of them. Something flashed from me to her and she started back in alarm, dropping the shards and backing away from me, curtseying and retreating all the way to the end of the kitchen near the range and close to the back door.
She was very pretty, dark eyed and dark haired but with fair skin, in great health and attractive enough to give even Lady Delessa a run for her money, for she was also young and had remarkable breasts. It was true that there was a part of me that wanted to warn her to stay away from my angels, or go further and just explode her where she stood, and I was surprised at myself that I could still both think and feel that way.
Ah Lucian, I thought. Ah Lucian, did you feel like this when you saw Chay? Pure jealousy and a feeling that you can’t compete somehow with this normality, with this vitality, with this kind of single level innocence?
You never know. We might destroy her between the three of us as successfully as you and I destroyed Chay and turned him into one of our own, and took his life for good and wrung whatever there may have been in the way of comfort and security right out of it.
Chay does not know this yet but he can no longer be assured of death nor even of suffering. He too will have the power to take the stars from the sky and end it all and how will he bear such responsibility? Will he fight again with Lucian and will they both destroy the universe when Lucian and I could only hope to destroy each other?
“Lady Isca?” Reyna said nervously and I blinked aware and heard her concern and fear for the woman who was shaking now, half doubled over and with tears falling from her eyes, one hand to her mouth and the other holding the handrail of the range.
I let out a deep sigh and turned back to the other problem that was making small gurgling noises and trying to grab at Reyna’s dress, up to the neck it was, and there was no entry.
The household arrangements seemed to be functioning well enough.
The child looked extremely well cared for and the kitchen was cleaner than Marani and I ever managed. There were pots on the range and bread in the oven. Cloths were strung up above the range to dry. It vaguely reminded me of my mother drying cloths for the babies. I disliked the thought and focussed myself on Reyna again.
She was wondering what I would say when I found out that they had named the child without my permission.
“What name did you give him,” I asked and was astonished when she thought and then said, “Sondra.”
It was Chay’s idea.
I thought about it for a time from the melee of memories the word evoked in thoughts and pictures, in voices and in music.
Chay had chosen and so that would be alright. I don’t know what Lucian would think or say but I was glad they had defied tradition. One Lucian Tremain was too much by far for this mangled plane.
I translocated back to the pool room and sighed with relief at its emptiness and its bluey greenness. And its silence. I put a shielding around the whole room, then strengthened it to cover all I knew to cover, then added on whatever I didn’t know as well for good measure and that thought produced a noticeable shift in the energy of the room as well as a slight drop in temperature.
I stripped from the prison gown and stepped into the sparkling water.
The physicality rejoiced on too many levels at once.
My cognition failed to follow suit and I spend a time trying to re-mesh myself with the physicality, to regain a sense of balance from which a sense of direction may grow; perhaps even a continuation or a clarity or both.
I was only partially successful but enough to find a mutual deliverance in sliding around in the water and washing death and darkness from my hair, feeling the embrace of warmth over my face, the pressure in my ears and nose when I dived under completely, and then I set to touching my breasts and my stomach, oversensitive and unusual, unpleasant at first before a certain submission occurred and it was more bearable then.
It was truly inconceivable that I should have produced that big baby downstairs.
It is strange.
I look to love for it, and find only a base compassion that I would have with all of creaturedom. It feels like it has a fate of its own and that this fate is nothing to do with me, that my part in its journey had been fulfilled and there need not be any more to be done about it.
I wondered how Lucian felt about his son.
I wouldn’t know. I never understood him in the slightest and from this moment on will never attempt again to move his course and caution. It didn’t matter, anyway.
I got out of the bath, dried myself and wondered how I might be dressed and what could be done. On the floor, the prison garment was both unseemly and had long outstayed its timeframe. I took a minute pleasure in disintegrating it in a flash.
Then, I set a doorway transfer to the Abbey in Pertineri and located straight through to the Lady Delessa’s private rooms.
She was in bed with a fat man with a rounded face, and they weren’t sleeping. He saw me first and startled, mouth open and then she turned around. The fact that I wasn’t wearing any clothes either made the situation more fair, I thought, so I just waved at them both and made for her dressing room and the closet that contained all the clothes a hundred women could ever need.
I picked some soft undergarments, a night blue dress with silver trimmings that reminded me vaguely of the Solland colours and slipped inside, changed it and sealed it, shrunk the hem a little and found some matching shoes. Then, I took a few cloaks and a few more dresses and other items that might prove of use including a soft hair brush and was back in Lucian’s bedroom at Tower Keep faster than you could speak my name, even if you left the Lady Tremain part quite out of it.
I spend a time to try a few things with my hair and in the end, settled on that piled up arrangement I had learned to do before. I looked into the mirror and regretted that Lucian’s necklace had gone astray. I remember having it in the dungeon, it was cold in the nights on my skin but he must have taken it off before he imprisoned me in that place by the lake.
Should I ever find out just where that was, I would raise a burning mountain to swallow it all and re-decorate the landscape with a pleasing flow of lava that would cool to a dark grey and stretch as far as the eye would see. I would return every so often to make sure that nothing, but nothing could ever grow there again and might investigate a spell that would hold until the end of days.
I looked at myself in the mirror and shook my head. There was no merit in such thoughts, such emotions. They were of the past. All and everything was now of the past and essentially meaningless. No, entirely meaningless. None of that could be erased, and none of it brought back.
There was only now, and then the next now after that.
I left the washroom, looked briefly at the resting Lucian. I locked the door behind me, not with that crude construction someone – Chay, it holds his imprints – had manufactured for safe keeping but with the requisite twist of the copper fitments.
Then I went to the morning room.
In the entrance hall I found the Conna son standing, matching me to near perfection in his Solland uniform. He stared up at me when I came down the stairs and I entered him a little so that I would know his purposes and presuppositions.