Scars on the
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne
By Sarah Dove
I'm new to
I catch my breath, I catch my breath
In the middle of a dance with you
- Dave Dobbyn, 'Naked Flame'
When Allen was told, by a gardener who had climbed a tree in order to shout over the hedge walls, that his sister had been brought home, he tried to run out of the maze, but in his excitement managed to get lost. Which was foolish, because he knew exactly how the maze went, had learned the layout so he could help guests who might get lost beyond the point of amusement. There was some sort of rule about always turning left or always right or alternating, but he couldn't remember it. Eventually, he gave up and got out by climbing over and pushing through hedges, breaking a lot of twigs and acquiring a lot of greenery about his person.
He arrived back at the house in some disarray, and, he strongly suspected, a caterpillar in his hair. He could feel it moving about. Gaddes was waiting in the hall, looking gloomy and tired, two states quite untypical of Gaddes.
'You brought her home?' Allen asked.
'Yes, Boss,' Gaddes said, 'she's up in her room getting changed. She's absolutely fine.' He looked Allen up and down. 'What happened to you? You look like the Green Man.'
'Thank you so much,' Allen said, grabbing Gaddes's hand and pressing it. 'I don't know well, thank you.'
'You've, ah, you've got a caterpillar just here,' said Gaddes, reaching to pick it off.
'What?' said Allen, not really listening and already heading upstairs. 'Never mind, I'll get it later.' It was disconcerting, Gaddes felt, to see him so visibly flustered. Gaddes didn't consider the Boss a really vain man, but he did care about how he looked, especially his hair, and if he didn't mind a caterpillar crawling about in it, he must be seriously shaken up.
Allen reached the late Lady Schezar's room. The door was ajar, so he went straight in, and found Celena sitting in the large armchair by the window. She was wearing a dark green dress with a full skirt, and had even tied a pale green ribbon in her hair. She rose when he entered, and curtsied, not terribly well.
'I'm very sorry I upset you. It was thoughtless and inconsiderate to run away like that, and I promise I won't do it again. I'll try to be more like how you want me to be, but it really isn't easy for me.' It sounded like a prepared speech; she was visibly nervous.
'That's all right,' Allen murmured, 'that's all right.' He half-ran across the room to her and hugged her tightly. After a moment, she put her arms around him too. 'I didn't mean to drive you away. I thought I was doing the best thing for you.'
'I know you were only trying to be kind.'
'I lost you for so long, and then I found you and lost you again ' Words left him, and he simply held on to her for a minute, rocking slightly as though to comfort them both. 'I know it's stupid, but I thought Mother would be so angry with me!'
Celena managed a small laugh. 'She wouldn't be too happy with me either. Going off by myself.' There was another pause, more comfortable than the first. Celena stood still, and felt Allen's breathing, the warmth that came from him and the smell of his hair. He smelled like crushed greenery. She knew she smelled of soap, especially her hair. 'Can I tell you a few things, honestly? I sort of practised on Gaddes on the way back here. I don't think you understand a few things, which makes sense because only I really know about them, and I owe it to you to explain.'
'Of course,' said Allen. It pained him slightly that she was still going over this ground, but if he refused to listen who knew what she might do?
'Let's sit down.' Celena sat in the Story Chair, and Allen half-sat, half-leaned on one of the arms, and she began to talk.
Gaddes was seated on the steps in front of the house, finishing a glass of beer and generally feeling a lot better in the midday sunshine, when the messenger arrived. It's all go today. Exactly what we don't need.
'I have a message for Sir Allen Schezar and his sister the Lady Celena Schezar,' the messenger reported. He had not gotten off his horse, so he was looking down at Gaddes. That seemed rather calculated.
'Both of them? You can give it to me and I'll pass it on. They're busy.'
'The message is for Sir Allen and Lady Celena,' the messenger reiterated.
'And I'm telling you, they're busy. Is it urgent? Who's it from?'
'The Princesses Eries and Millerna,' the messenger said reluctantly. He obviously felt he was addressing a menial. Something of a stuffed shirt.
'Good old Ellie and Millie,' said Gaddes, who felt like annoying him. He stood up and held out his hand. 'Give.'
The messenger sniffed, but handed over a cream-coloured envelope with a heavy royal seal on it. 'I don't know what it says,' he said, 'I haven't opened it,' with the implication but you might.
'Much obliged,' said Gaddes briskly. 'Run along, now.' They employed some complete twits at the palace. The messenger gave him a dirty look, turned his horse around and left. Gaddes resumed his seat, drank the last of the beer and looked at the envelope for a while, tracing the pattern in the seal with a forefinger, before getting to his feet and heading back into the house. The door to Celena's room was half-open, but he tapped at it with one knuckle before entering anyway. The two of them were sharing the chair by the window, looking like a tableau of filial love.
'Message from the palace,' Gaddes announced, 'and it's addressed to both of you.' He walked over to the chair and held out the envelope.
'I'll take it,' said Allen, rising. He broke the seal and turned away to read the letter. Gaddes felt a tug on his sleeve and found that Celena was trying to get his attention unobtrusively. He bent down towards her and she whispered,
'I'm sorry about what I did before. About the bird's mess. It must have been pretty disgusting for you. It was just a silly joke.'
'Worse things have hit me in the face,' he said, smiling. 'And besides, good luck for me, right?'
'Do you believe in those superstitions?' she asked, not critically, just curiously.
'Not for a second,' he said firmly, with a grin. 'I'm like you. I make my own luck.'
'Blast,' said Allen softly. They both turned towards him.
'What's wrong, Boss?' said Gaddes, at the same time as Celena asked 'What's the matter?'
'Oh, it's nothing serious,' he said quickly. 'But do you feel up to visiting the palace, Celena? We've both been invited to dinner. We really shouldn't say no.'
Celena suddenly felt afraid. To leave this house, with people she knew, if only slightly, and go into the city, the very palace, where everyone would be watching and judging her it was not an appealing prospect. But she would have to do something like this sooner or later, and she did not want to let Allen down again, if she could help it.
'All right,' she said bravely. 'What should I wear?'
'First things first,' said Gaddes. 'How many meals have you missed?' She started to count on her fingers. 'If you have to count, it's too many,' he said. 'Personally, I could eat a bull.'
'Of course, of course,' Allen said. 'Lunch first. I'll explain court table manners to you over the meal, Celena. It will be good practice.'
Later that afternoon, Celena was brushing her hair at her mother's dressing table, trying to work out if there was anything she could do with it. She had eaten an enormous lunch and felt rather stuffed but much more cheerful. She thought she could get through a palace dinner without too much embarrassment as long as she watched what she said and remembered to work in from the outside with the cutlery. In from the outside, in from the outside. There was a tap at the door.
It was Gaddes with a large, flat, white box. 'This was just delivered for you,' he said. 'I've brought it up in my new role as messenger boy around here. Your brother ordered it as soon as you came home, and this is pretty good timing.'
'What is it?' Celena asked, getting up. Her skirt got hooked up on the edge of the chair and she had to yank it loose. 'I really, really hate long skirts.'
'You might not be too pleased with this, then,' Gaddes said. He put the box down on the bed and cut the strings with a pocket-knife, then stood back to let Celena take off the lid. She lifted it gingerly, and laid it beside the base of the box. Inside were smooth layers of white tissue paper. She folded them back, and uncovered a brand new, very fashionable dress. It had great puffed sleeves, a long pleated skirt, a broad, snowy white, sprigged collar. Folded over its bodice was a pair of long dove-grey gloves.
'It's for me to wear?'
'No, just to look at. Of course to wear. Do you like it?'
Celena lifted up the dress, the skirt unfolding from the box, turned it around and held it against her. 'I don't know. Do you?'
'I don't know much about women's clothes, but I'd say it's pretty.' Celena looked hard at the dress and appeared to reach a decision. 'Wait there.' She ran into the bathroom and shut the door. A minute later, she emerged, wearing the new dress, which bagged oddly at the front. When she turned around, it became clear why. The back was unfastened.
'I can't manage the hooks and eyes,' she said, 'they're too little. Can you do me up at the back there, please?'
'Shouldn't you get a maid or someone?' Gaddes was not embarrassed, but conscious of a certain impropriety in the situation.
'But you're here. Go on. Do me a favour, please?' She backed up to him and stood still expectantly. He shrugged, and started with the bottom hooks.
'Why do they want to make getting dressed so complicated, anyway?' he asked.
'Oh, it's to do with being a lady, I suppose,' she said. 'Ladies can't do anything by themselves. It's all about helplessness.'
'Sounds like fun,' Gaddes said with a small grimace. He was finding the hooks and eyes quite fiddly himself. Besides, being close to Celena was a little distracting. He had been afraid of that. She shifted a little, disturbed the air, and he smelled soap and some kind of dried flowers. What am I thinking? There were small flowers embroidered on her camisole, white on white.
'You're taking a long time back there.'
'It's difficult for gentlemen as well.'
'Do you consider yourself a gentleman?'
'Good for you.' There was a pause. Gaddes thought he had worked out the trick with the hooks and eyes; you had to sort of bend the material back behind the eyes so you had a clear shot at slipping the hooks through. He was up to the middle of the back now.
'It's quite tight,' Celena said. 'I suppose that's the fashion.'
'Princess Millerna herself won't be better dressed.'
'What's she like?'
'She's a nice girl. Brave, too. I saw her save the Boss' life once.'
'Really? How?' Celena tried to imagine in what sort of adventurous context a princess might manage to rescue a knight.
'She operated on him after he was injured in that river battle a while ago. Just before the fall of Freid. When you meet her you might get the impression that she's a bit of an airhead, but don't be fooled. She's smart as paint. Studying to be a doctor as well as a princess.' The last hook met with the last eye, he patted the back of the dress flat and said 'There, you're done up.' Celena did not turn round.
'I mean, I'm not afraid of blood, but it's never nice to see the inside of a living person. I was meant to be assisting her, and I was standing there holding his shoulders in case the anaesthetic didn't take, thinking holy crap what if it doesn't, and she was calm as anything. She passed out afterwards, but she never faltered during. It was the first operation she'd ever done!'
'Is she in love with him?' Celena asked. She wasn't sure why she suspected this.
'Yes, I think so. That's the Boss for you. He charms women, even when he's not trying to. But when he is trying, look out.'
Celena twirled round. 'I'll just have to try and charm some men, won't I? Uphold the family reputation.'
Gaddes chuckled. 'You don't want the family reputation. The Boss is respected by the smart ones, but the rest of them like to despise him ... you know how people do when they know someone's better than them? They despise him for being chivalrous. Things like that, because their chivalry is just good manners and knowing who their great-great-grandfather was, not the real thing. As for the rest of the family well, people felt sorry for your mother, but frankly, they thought your father was mad.'
'Oh,' said Celena, crestfallen.
'Look, don't waste time feeling bad about that. Start your own reputation.'
'I'll have to try. I could practise on you.' She smiled shyly. It was a very calculated smile, but Gaddes couldn't help smiling back.
'Sorry. I'm immune to charm. I had a course of vaccinations as a child.'
'What's your weak point?' The smile broadened.
'Crazy girls who beat me in fights get me every time.' Before he could think about it and find a reason why not, he leaned forward and kissed her. She was a little clumsy in returning the kiss, but who cared? Her lips were soft, she was warm in his arms, and it really didn't matter if they did this. No-one had to know. It would all be all right somehow.
Celena put her arms around Gaddes's neck and wondered how long you could acceptably prolong a kiss. She wanted this to go on for as long as possible. I must be doing something right at last. And I like him so much! The kiss lasted only a few seconds before Gaddes drew back. 'You mustn't tell anyone I did that. We could get into a lot of trouble.'
'I just don't think your brother could deal with this as well ' She stopped him with another quick kiss, and felt quite pleased with herself for managing that.
'I mean why would I tell anyone?'
'Good point. Good point.' Another kiss, more of an exploration. Where does she think this is going? How innocent is she? I shouldn't assume too much
He's big and strong and lovely and I think he's mine if I want him. They broke off, a little breathlessly, and Gaddes said 'We're stopping now.'
'Why?' Celena looked dismayed.
'Because because we shouldn't try for too much too soon, and because hell, you're young.'
'Not that young.'
'Eight years younger than me. I was already eight years old when you were born.'
'And that makes you not want to kiss me?'
'No, it just makes me worry about wanting to kiss you.'
She looked into his eyes, very seriously, which completely ruined his good resolution, so that when they heard footsteps coming along the corridor outside they had to jump apart and try to look innocent and uninvolved. They would not have had a hope of pulling this off, so it was lucky that the footsteps continued past the door and faded away.
'I'm leaving now,' Gaddes said. 'Definitely. Excuse me.'
'But come back, won't you?'
'Won't I!' He kissed her once more, on the cheek, and went out. Celena waited a few moments, hoping he would come back, hoping she'd been able to exert that kind of enchantment, however she was doing it; she had no idea. Things are happening. A real girl's life is happening for me, and I like it. I can do this. She looked down at herself in the new dress. He likes me in this. Celena spun around, to watch the skirt flare out, then wrap around her, then flare out again as she twirled in the opposite direction. Soon it would be time to go to the palace.
Gaddes spent the rest of the afternoon supervising maintenance on the Crusade and Scherazade. Now that he knew he was falling, illogically, he tried to scramble back into a normal state, giving orders, solving problems, and found it went ill with his growing tendency to fall into little wine-and-roses dreams.
'What?' said Rideth, who had just given him a report on the condition of the Crusade's propellers.
'Pardon?' said Gaddes. He realised he had no idea what Rideth had been talking about. Property?
'What are you looking at?' Rideth said, glancing over his shoulder. 'You were just staring past me with a goofy smile on your face.'
'I, um, I think I'm a little tired,' Gaddes said vaguely. 'Keep up the good work, Rideth,' and he walked away.
'Wait, what do you want us to do about the cracked starboard blade? It won't hold together much longer,' Rideth called after him. Gaddes turned back questioningly, as though he had not expected Rideth to say anything.
'Can you fix it?'
'No. I said we can't fix it.'
'So replace it.'
'We haven't got the equipment here. That's why we can't fix it!'
'Order stuff. Go into the city, requisition it from the shipyards. I don't know, do I have to tell you everything?' He wandered off.
'What's wrong with him today?' Rideth asked Baile, who was gloomily inspecting the cracked propeller and poking at it with his foot from time to time, in case that fixed it.
'Oh, he's not-in-love with the Boss' sister,' Baile said. 'You know how he gets. Remember last year?'
'It seems worse than that,' Rideth said, doubtfully. 'So was that rumour true? I didn't believe it.'
'No, that one wasn't true, this one I'm starting now is,' Baile said, and grinned.
When the Schezars' carriage came rattling back up the drive, late in a balmy evening, Gaddes was in the library, not really reading a child's book of pirate stories which he had picked up at random. Written on the flyleaf in big, scratchy pencil letters was 'This Book Belongs to Allen Crusade Schezar the VIIIth so HANDS OFF,' with a skull-and-crossbones drawn beneath, and, in smaller letters, 'This Means You Celena.' He was definitely not waiting for Celena to come home, which must have been why he got up so hurriedly when he heard the carriage outside.
Then he sat down again and read two more pages of the book before getting back up and strolling out of the library very casually to see what he could see. There was a light in the parlour, and he looked in. Allen was sitting in front of the empty fireplace, with his owl perched on the high back of the chair. Gaddes realised he hadn't seen the owl around in the last few days. It came and went, but never went away for good. It had always seemed to him not so much a pet as a friend that dropped in from time to time.
'How did it go?' he asked.
'Pardon?' said Allen, looking up.
'How did the dinner go? What did Celena do?' Gaddes looked anxious.
'She didn't do anything. I mean, she did everything right. I was proud of her.'
'Of course you were,' Celena said smugly, walking in behind Gaddes. 'I used the right forks, I didn't spill anything, I didn't say anything awful ... well, I didn't say much at all, which I guess helped.'
'You perked up quite a lot toward the end of the evening,' Allen observed. 'It wasn't a problem, but I don't think you're used to vino. In future, drink it a little more slowly.'
'Well, I made everyone laugh,' Celena said. 'Not at me, either. And I think the Princesses liked me. The only disappointing thing was the dancing afterwards, I don't know any of the dances. I just had to watch. But I think I worked out how it goes. Come on, Allen, we'll show Gaddes.' She hauled on her brother's arm; he kept his seat.
'I can't,' he said, 'I'm tired.'
'Meanie,' Celena complained.
'Show him yourself.' Allen was smiling. He had spent a good part of the evening in a state of mortal fear lest something dreadful happen, and now that it was over and everything had turned out fine, he felt happy but rather wrung out. He had not really had a chance to talk to Millerna, but a few looks had passed between them that made him feel very hopeful. It might not be time to move yet, but it was good to know that he probably could.
'I will, then. Come on, Gaddes, I take your hand, like this, and put this hand on your shoulder ... now, you put this hand here on my back.' Gaddes was placed in the awkward situation of being allowed to do something he very much wanted to, but trying not to look as though he was enjoying it too much.
'You've got it reversed,' Allen pointed out. 'It should be his right hand there.' Celena stuck her tongue out at him. There were roses in her cheeks, and her eyes were brighter than usual.
'And off we go,' she said, and started to dance. Gaddes tried first to lead, then just to follow what she was doing.
'You know I don't know court dancing either, right?' he asked as they narrowly missed knocking over a small table. 'Country dances, yes, this fancy stuff, no.'
'Good, because we're doing it terribly badly,' Celena said breathlessly. 'It's still fun. Do you think you could dip me?'
'Sort of tip me over. It looks good.'
'Don't try it,' said Allen, who was watching them with quiet amusement. 'At this rate you'll drop her.'
'Heaven forbid,' said Gaddes. 'So what else went on?'
'Oh, there was a singer, and very good food, and some people who didn't dance played cards, but I didn't know the games either. I just wanted to watch.'
'We'll make a court lady of you yet,' said Allen, as the roughly circular path the dancers were following took them behind his high-backed chair, and Celena tried to kiss Gaddes quickly and secretly, and got him on the chin because he didn't realise what she was doing in time. He returned the kiss to her mouth, a little guiltily. Then they were round the chair and back in Allen's line of sight. The owl clacked its beak at them.
'What's your owl's name?' Celena asked innocently. Gaddes stared at her, trying to decide on exactly what level she was operating at the moment.
'Well, in the beginning I called him Natal, but I don't really call him by name any more,' Allen said. 'I found him as a chick who'd fallen out of his nest in the swamp, and looked after him. Now, well, he doesn't really need looking after any more, and I think he spends time with me just for old times' sake.' He scratched the owl's breast-feathers and it shuffled its feet and bobbed its head at his hand. 'Don't you, Natal? See, he doesn't know his name.'
'Lucky Natal,' said Celena. 'Or lucky Owl. We really need some music for this. Whistle, Allen.'
'Oh, that's not fair,' Allen protested.
'He can't whistle,' Celena told Gaddes. 'He never could. He used to try for hours and the best he could do was a sort of tweet. Ten years he's frittered away and he still hasn't learned to whistle.'
'Some people just can't!' Allen said. They were both smiling, just teasing. It was the first time Gaddes had seen them behave like a normal brother and sister together.
'I can whistle like a nightingale,' said Celena, and produced a quite complex warble to prove it. 'And wiggle my ears.' She was clearly enjoying showing off; it was rather sweet.
'Go on, then,' said Gaddes.
'They're not moving.'
Celena frowned, and stopped dancing. 'What about now?' Gaddes looked carefully at the ear nearest him.
'Nothing, I'm afraid.'
'That's strange,' she began, 'I always used to I mean ' She stopped, looking confused and unhappy.
'If it was something you did when you were a little girl, perhaps you've just forgotten how,' Gaddes said comfortingly.
'It wasn't,' Celena said.
'Excuse me,' said Celena, letting go of his hand and stepping back. 'I should probably go to bed, it's late.' She had evidently stopped enjoying herself. Both men looked at her with some concern.
'Do you feel all right?' Allen asked.
'Oh, yes. I'm just tired. You know. Thank you, Gaddes, I'm glad I got to have one dance tonight.' She went to Allen and kissed him goodnight, on the forehead, before leaving the room quickly. The owl left Allen's shoulder in a flurry and fluttered to a perch in the corner.
'That was strange,' said Allen. 'Do you think '
'Probably,' said Gaddes. They exchanged troubled glances.
'And she was so happy just a minute before,' Allen said. 'You can see what I mean, can't you? The sooner she realises that she needs to put it all behind her, the sooner she can be really contented. She talked to me earlier I think I have you to thank for that, as well. She's still a very confused young girl.' He fell silent for a moment, and Gaddes shifted uneasily. 'It's kind of you to befriend her,' Allen went on. 'Of course I want her to come to me with her worries, but if she feels she cannot, it's good that there is someone we can both trust.' Gaddes said nothing, and Allen took this for silent assent.
'And at least the dinner party showed that she can cope in public. Celena may be accepted after all.'
An anonymous room in the palace, dimly lit. Anonymous men, with shadowy faces. Here and there, the end of a cigar glowed for a moment. Eventually, someone chose to speak.
'She's alive and well, then. Apparently stable.'
'The reversion could well be permanent.'
'Which is not ideal for our purposes.'
A brooding silence. This was the sort of meeting which, officially, no-one attended.
'Nevertheless.' That was always a safe thing to say. Let someone bolder pick it up.
'Nevertheless, we must move?' Now that someone had been the first to say it, the rest of the room relaxed very slightly.
'Before she becomes accepted. I'm sorry to say that after a performance like tonight's, she could even become popular in a minor way.'
'They are a good-looking family.'
'That has always been the problem. Too attractive. Too romantic. We do not need a fairy-tale damsel in addition to a crusading knight.'
'It won't be difficult. People will be easily reminded.'
'And we do, after all, have truth on our side.'
'We do, of course.'
Celena lay on her bed. She had not undressed yet, because she did not think she would be able to sleep. That wasn't me. It was him. But I thought of it as me. I can't pick and choose, say yes I'll have Dilandau's good qualities, and what a sterling ability ear-wiggling is, and disown the rest. Either he's me or he's not. Or I'm not. Why can't I do it any more? Surely it's nothing to do with what sex you are? He taught himself to do that when he was seven years old he got bored in lectures and working on little projects like that was a way of staying entertained. I was sure I could still do it I was, he was proud of being able to do that. It was a little thing a pretty normal thing
She'd been dancing over what she'd thought was solid ground, and suddenly the swamp had heaved and the crust had broken and she'd realised that still, nothing was stable. At the same time, she could still feel the ghost of the pressure of Gaddes's hand on her back, the warmth of his mouth on hers. That was something to hold onto. That was really hers.
After some wrestling with the hooks and eyes, she hung the fashionable dress carefully in the wardrobe, a new neighbour for her mother's old gowns, and got into her nightgown in a subdued mood. Nestling into the soft, puffy pillows, she tried to think of nothing, and so hasten sleep. Instead, she thought of Gaddes, smiling eyes, warm hands, secret kisses, and found herself more awake than before. There was no-one at her back now.
Eventually, the darkness opened its jaws and swallowed her up for another night.
'Are you Celena Schezar?'
Celena opened her eyes, blinked stickily, realised there was an unfamiliar man bending over her. He was in the uniform of a royal guard. His face was blank and unfriendly.
'You Celena Schezar?' he repeated, impatiently.
'Yes, I ' she began, sitting up. There were three other guards in her room. What? Allen burst in, wearing his nightshirt over his trousers. He had obviously been startled out of bed and pulled them on in an effort not to look foolish.
'What is the meaning of this? You can't just walk into my house and attack my sister! Get out!' he said, in tight, clipped tones of anger.
'We've done nothing to your sister, sir, and we're here on orders,' the guard by Celena's bed said coolly. 'There's no need for any unpleasantness.'
'Well, what the devil do you want?' Allen asked. Even in these circumstances he managed to sound commanding. The guard looked uncomfortable.
'She's being taken into royal custody,' he said, and showed a piece of paper. Celena glimpsed the word 'warrant' written at the head of it. Allen looked at the paper with contempt.
'What on earth for?'
'I wasn't told, sir. You could inquire at the palace.'
'I certainly shall.'
'Come on, miss, get up,' the guard said to Celena. She pulled the bedclothes up higher.
'Allen, you're not going to let them take me, are you?'
'Of course not. This is some sort of stupid mistake. If my sister must come to the palace, she must, but she'll do so in her own time and in a respectable way. You will kindly wait outside and let us get dressed and ready, and then I will accompany her.'
'And how, sir, do we know you won't take the opportunity to cut and run?' the guard asked.
'You have my word as a knight,' Allen said bitterly.
The guard looked him up and down. 'I suppose that's enough,' he said eventually. He turned to go. 'Come on, men. We'll give them half an hour.' The royal guards trooped out of the bedroom. Allen sank down to sit on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands.
'Allen?' Celena said. He didn't reply. 'Allen!' she repeated, growing frightened. 'What's going to happen?'
'I don't know,' he said at last, and turned to take her hand. 'Whatever comes, I'll look after you. Now, you'd better get up. If they say half an hour, that's all they'll give us. That's my girl.' He patted her hand, then left in a hurry. Celena sat in the middle of her mother's bed, the sheets tangled around her. She realised, as her back grew cold, that she had had another night sweat. Her nightgown was sticking to her clammily. I can't get up. I can't deal with this.
Somehow, thinking that she could not cope made her able to do so. It was as if acknowledging the hopelessness of the situation lessened it in some way. She crept out of bed, washed and dressed ... back into one of her mother's dresses, which more and more seemed to her to be haunted by the lady who had once worn them. The collars of some still bore faint traces of her face powder. This sense of Mother's presence could be comforting, but at other times felt wrong, as though Celena were in disguise as her mother and would be found out. Wearing someone else's clothes all the time was just strange. Putting on Allen's had only gotten her into trouble. She had exactly one dress of her own and that, she supposed, was party best.
Buttoning a pair of dark brown boots, Celena found herself wondering what had become of Dilandau's clothes. She could not clearly recall much that had happened after changing back on the battlefield; she remembered Jajuka's voice telling her what to do, and somehow managing to do it, then falling into Allen's arms, but she had been exhausted and confused and somewhat feverish (perhaps that explained the mental image of a luminous white dragon she recalled? A hallucination?), and details such as what had happened to the clothes she had on at the time eluded her. She had had the black leather suit and red armour on when she made the change. She had woken up in her mother's bed in a white nightgown. Inbetween was anyone's guess. Probably Allen had disposed of them somewhere.
What would I do if I could get those clothes back, anyway? Wear them again? Everyone would be horrified. And I don't want to wear black leather. Or that tacky gold tiara thing. Dilandau enjoyed it, it made him feel dangerous and gorgeous, but I don't think I'm that kind of girl. Celena brushed her hair in front of the mirror while thinking these gloomy thoughts. She took hold of a curl that hung over her forehead and pulled it down straight. It came half-way down her cheek. Why is it growing so fast? Dilandau had always worn his hair longish at the front, but the back had been cropped. On Celena, the ends were now past her collar. Soon there would be enough for the kind of pigtails she could just remember wearing as a very little child.
Celena released the curl and watched it spring back. She brushed all her hair back from her forehead and tied a blue ribbon around her head like a headband. The bow on top of her head looked childish, but it was the only way she could think of to keep it out of her eyes at the moment. Little wisps and tendrils still sprang out at her hairline and around her temples.
Allen opened the door. 'Are you ready to go?'
'I suppose so.' She got up from the dressing table, holding her skirt out of harm's way this time.
'You look very nice,' Allen said, standing back to let her out of the room first. 'Now, don't worry about this. I have no idea why the King would want to place you in custody, except perhaps to protect you. We all understand your situation here, but other people might not be as sympathetic, and perhaps he's concerned about that.'
'Shyeah, right,' Celena said.
'I beg your pardon?' Allen looked alarmed.
'I've run out of luck,' Celena said grimly. 'I'm surprised you were allowed to keep me as long as you were. He probably wants to give me over to the sorcerers to study. Find out how I work, how I changed. They'll dissect me eventually.' Voicing this thought seemed to make it more true, and cold fear settled in around her heart. I don't want to die. I wanted to live, and find out what it's like to have a real life. Be a real person.
'Over my dead body,' Allen said firmly. 'That's not the way we do things here. Perhaps in Zaibach, but not here. Anatomical studies are only carried out on the bodies of people who gave their consent before dying of natural causes. Princess Millerna explained the system to me once. Or condemned men after execution.' He caught her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. 'Show no fear.' He gave her one of his brief, sweet smiles, and led her downstairs and out to the carriage waiting in the drive.
Celena stood beside Allen in the antechamber of King Aston's throne room. The four guards had stuck by them all the way there, and been joined by four more. She felt small and dowdy and weak, and fought to remind herself that she did not have to feel that way. I am Sir Allen Schezar's sister, and Leon and Encia Schezar's daughter. She made herself stand up straight, and held her head erect. And stealthily, guiltily, like someone dipping into a hoard of money being saved for another purpose, she drew on a little, a very little of Dilandau's pride. His voice spoke softly in her mind.
I burned Fanelia. I humbled Freid. I am not afraid of these people. I'm just using a little now, because I really need it, Celena told herself. I won't do it again. Just retreating to a position of strength. See, I'm not being like Dilandau. That wasn't ever his style.
A herald opened the tall doors to the throne room and ushered them through, announcing them by name. King Aston was a small, fat figure huddled on his throne, with a blanket covering his lap. It was a regal-looking blanket but it was clearly there because he was not feeling well. The King's face was pasty and mottled, and he looked tired. His feet were up on a stool. Perhaps the old goat isn't as strong as he gave out, Allen thought, mildly taken aback by his own disrespect. Outwardly, at least, he remembered his manners, setting his sword on the ground beside him and dropping to one knee. Beside him, Celena, perhaps overawed and forgetting herself, dropped into the kneeling bow taught to the Dragonslayers.
Oops. Really should have curtsied. Perhaps they'll just think I don't know how? She hastily got up on one knee in an effort to make it look as though she was copying Allen and had gotten it slightly wrong. Allen kept his head bowed but cast his eyes sideways at her, trying to warn her. King Aston had not been at the dinner party last night; that had been a pleasant occasion hosted by the Princesses, made gay by Millerna's presence. A weight seemed to have been lifted from her since her husband left her, and despite the difficult times in Asturia she was cheerful and busy. Celena had made a good impression on her, but had not had a chance to do so on her father.
Celena risked a look up from under her eyebrows. The King was looking at them both as though they were an interesting type of insect. He cleared his throat to speak, but this turned into a hoarse, rattling cough, the careful unwilling cough of someone whose throat is already sore from coughing, and he had to be given a glass of water by an attendant before he could continue.
'Sir Allen Schezar,' he said, 'we summoned your sister to be taken into royal custody. What is your reason for not only not surrendering her immediately, but accompanying her into our presence?'
'Concern for her happiness and well-being, Your Majesty,' Allen said in a neutral tone. 'My sister has been unwell and I did not wish to place her in a distressing situation without a familiar companion to care for her.'
'Unwell. An interesting term for it,' said the King. 'Your sister will not be distressed. She will be treated with the greatest courtesy and consideration. Rooms will be made available for her use for the duration.'
'The duration of what?' Allen said, a little more sharply than perhaps he had intended.
'Of her trial,' King Aston said, and turned his attention away from Allen as completely as if Allen were a candle that had been blown out. He looked down at Celena. 'The individual known as Celena Schezar is to be placed on trial for her life in the matter of the war crimes of Dilandau Albatou.'
Celena heard Allen gasp. She saw a tiny smile lift one corner of the King's mouth. Then sense left her, and it seemed that the floor rose up and hit her quite hard.
Back to the Scars On the Heart page