Scars on the
A story inspired by The Vision of Escaflowne
By Sarah Dove
This chapter is dedicated to Helen, for various reasons, not including claustrophobia.
Celena regained consciousness almost immediately, for which she was thankful. Fainting on receiving bad news struck her as a little too girly. It was embarrassing enough that she had slumped over for a few seconds. These impressions came through only muzzily at first, as her main thought was a fervent wish that Allen would stop patting at her face and calling her name. It was annoying enough to bring her round.
'Stop it,' she said. 'I'm perfectly all right.' She sat up, managed not to sway when another ripple of dizziness went through her, and straightened her clothes.
'Does she require medical assistance?' asked King Aston, who, naturally enough, had not moved from his seat. A few courtiers seemed to have stepped forward but now looked uncertain about going further.
'I'm all right, thank you,' Celena said, quite loudly, before Allen could speak. 'I didn't have breakfast this morning.'
'On top of that, such a shock must have been too much for her,' Allen said. He gave the King a thoroughly odd look; it wanted to be a glare of pure indignation but it was modulated by an effort to look beseeching. 'Can't I ask you to reconsider, Your Majesty? Surely you can see that she is not fit for this. And the very suggestion is absurd. This is Celena Schezar. She and Dilandau Albatou are not the same person. I can vouch for her.'
'She's your sister,' King Aston said scornfully. 'Of course.'
'Why should I lie for Dilandau?' Allen said. It was almost a sputter; he was not only outraged, but flummoxed by the accusations. 'If I believed I was harbouring a war criminal, I would turn him in immediately! Dilandau is gone, Your Majesty. You and I have had our differences, but I don't believe I have done anything that would give you reason to believe that I would threaten the safety of Astoria with such an act of, of treachery.'
'My poor Sir Allen,' the King said, leaning forward confidentially. 'You don't understand. I'm not accusing the wretched girl of being Albatou. At the moment, at any rate. This case is unprecedented and of course it's very important that we be seen to do everything with great care and fairness. The people of Astoria need to see justice done.'
'A scapegoat?' Allen said. 'You're making a scapegoat of Dilandau?'
'The term "scapegoat" implies wrongfully accused innocence,' said the King dryly. 'I'm sure you would agree that Dilandau Albatou was a bona fide thug? Male fide might be a better term. Everything will be quite just. A preliminary hearing will be held to determine that Celena Schezar may be held responsible for these crimes.'
'That,' Celena thought. Not 'whether.'
'This isn't about revenge,' King Aston went on. 'It is about reparations. Retribution. These things are necessary before we can move on. We must clean the wound so that it can heal. And now,' he said, seeing that Allen was about to speak, 'I thank you for your attendance. Your sister will be made comfortable and secure here at the palace. You, Sir Allen, are free to go. You may engage a solicitor to speak in your sister's behalf, or whatever you please. This audience is at an end.'
Allen opened his mouth to protest, closed it, opened it slightly again and finally closed it with a snap. He picked up his sword, stood up, and bowed to the King.
'I understand, Your Majesty.' He turned to Celena, who was sitting at his feet in a small, stunned heap, and helped her to stand. 'Be very careful,' he murmured, bringing his face close to hers. 'It's best to cooperate at this stage. I will never let them hurt you, but for the moment it's best not to resist.' He kissed her on the cheek, then stepped back and turned away.
He's really going, Celena thought in disbelief. What does he think he can do? It isn't what I thought, but I'm surely going to die anyway. Preliminary hearing? He might as well have said show trial. The verdict has already been decided. And not once did that fat old man speak directly to me. He talked about ending my life and he didn't even say it to me.
'Goodbye, then,' she called after Allen. He turned back and looked at her gravely, gave her a little nod, then continued out of the room. Celena looked up at the pudgy king and gave him the dirty look she could tell her brother had been dying to give. He smiled back amiably.
'A fierce little cat,' he commented. 'Give her to the other little cat, to look after.'
Celena could not be bothered to wonder what that was supposed to mean. She felt rather numb. Somewhere inside was a dull, surly feeling of hate, but it was buffered by greyness. A courtier stepped forward, took her arm above the elbow, and walked her out of the throne room.
I got to really live for how many? Five, six days? Can I count today? I had good food, and company, I managed to have fun. I had exactly six kisses from Gaddes, or with Gaddes, because some of them I started. I never did quite work everything out. I suppose a lot of people don't do so well.
And then again, she thought as she was led along increasingly plain corridors to somewhere away from the splendid public rooms of the palace, quite a lot of people get married and have children and grow old having all sorts of interesting experiences. Compared to a lot of people, I really got ripped off. Yes, a lot of people do worse, but that doesn't make this good. It makes their experience even more pathetic.
'You're quiet,' said the courtier leading her. She was a tall, brown-haired woman with a large, unfortunate mole on her chin. She was otherwise quite handsome.
'Guilty,' said another lady, who had fallen into step behind them as they left the throne room. 'The guilty ones always go quiet.'
'Shall I scream?' Celena asked rudely. 'Would that make me innocent?' The woman behind her darted forward and pinched her spitefully. Celena was so startled that she only gasped.
'I don't have to take that from a little trollop like you, whatever you are,' the rearward lady said. 'Keep a civil tongue in your head while you're here.' Celena drew herself up and gave her the most withering look she could muster. Old cow.
'Come on,' said the first woman, pulling her on before she could speak her mind. They reached an ordinary wooden door, painted pale blue like the others in that corridor. It was an ordinary corridor, with a few pictures on the walls, not the best ones for showing off with, but quite nice ones. The door did not have heavy bolts or a little barred window or anything you would expect from a cell door. The spiteful woman opened the door and led them through into a respectable bedroom. It did not have any windows, but was well lit by lamps. There was a desk, an armchair, a small fireplace, and quite a large bed with a dark red eiderdown. There was even a set of shelves, containing books, and another picture hung over the fireplace, of a ship at sea. Polished seashells had been placed on the mantelpiece as decorations.
'This will be your room,' the brown-haired lady said, much to Celena's surprise. 'You will not leave it without permission, and you will always be supervised. There is a bathroom attached, so you do not need to go anywhere. You may have visitors provided they make an appointment with me or Lady Erima and their visit is approved. Your letters will be read before they are sent and any letters you receive will be read before they are passed on to you. I am telling you these conditions so that you may know you are being fairly dealt with.'
That was an interesting way of looking at it, Celena thought. Now that they were in the room, Brown-hair let go of her arm and stood back.
'Lady Erima is the one who pinched me?' Celena asked, refraining from rubbing the sore spot until such time as they left.
'Yes, and I am Lady Kerell.'
'Will you two be "supervising" me?'
'No. You will have a maid who will perform that duty. She will be here soon, and then we can leave.' Both women evidently considered this a disagreeable assignment, although Lady Erima appeared to be getting a certain amount of satisfaction from Celena's obvious discomfiture. They folded their hands and looked at her primly. Celena stood still where she was, in the middle of the room, and wondered what came next. In answer, the door opened and a small, furry face looked in. It was a half-cat girl, with straight golden hair in two braided loops at the sides of her head.
'Is this the right room?' the cat girl asked timidly. She stepped the rest of the way in. She was dressed in more or less the same way as the court ladies, if less richly, and with a small apron on. 'Mrs Howden told me to come.'
'This is your maid,' said Lady Erima, more or less ignoring the maid herself. 'She has been instructed in her duties. Please be aware that she will report all your activities to myself, Lady Kerell or Mrs Howden the housekeeper. That will be all.' With that, the two court ladies turned and swished out of the room, closing the door behind them. Celena and the cat maid looked at each other. An uncomfortable moment of silence stretched out like toffee.
'Who were those old bitches?' Celena said eventually. If that was offensive, good. She felt pretty offensive. The cat girl started and blushed.
'They're well, their husbands are very important.' She smoothed down her apron with pawlike hands. She seemed very nervous.
'M-hm,' Celena said brusquely. She put her hands on her hips and looked around at the room. There was the door to the bathroom; that other door must be a closet. It was a good deal smaller than her mother's room, but there was room to swing a cat.
'And who are you?' she asked the only cat available.
'My name is Aruetta,' the cat girl said. 'I, er, I work here. I was a gift from the Zaibach Empire. When I was a baby.'
'Aruetta's a nice name,' Celena said, taking pity on someone so obviously hopeless. She felt less afraid already. Though she should probably keep in mind the possibility that Aruetta was acting hopeless in order to bring her guard down.
'I think it means skylark,' Aruetta said. 'It's Fanelian. I was born there.'
'Oh, so we have nothing in common after all,' Celena said. She stalked over to the bed and flopped down on her back, with her hands behind her head and her ankles crossed. Being jaunty helped her to feel confident. 'How long do they expect to keep me here?'
'I don't really know,' Aruetta admitted, looking embarrassed. 'I only heard about this today.' She took a hesitant step closer to the bed, and the expression on her face changed, grew a little bolder. 'Is your brother Allen Schezar?'
'Yes,' Celena replied offhandedly. 'There aren't a lot of Schezars hopping about. As far as I know we're the only ones.'
'Oh,' said Aruetta, 'oh.' She began to smile, and covered her mouth with her hands, although her eyes still smiled. 'He's lovely. He really is. He always smiles at me when he sees me. Once he gave me a flower, just like that. He was in the garden waiting to see the Princess and I walked by on a message and he was twirling a flower in his hand and he just gave it to me and smiled.'
She's got a screaming crush on him, Celena realised. Is this what Gaddes was talking about? Without even trying?
'I hope Millerna wasn't annoyed that she didn't get a flower,' she said.
'Oh, it wasn't Princess Millerna,' Aruetta said quickly.
'Really? It surely wasn't Eries?' She gave him a maze, which is a bit of a strange present, but she seemed like a bit of a strange woman.
'It was Princess Marlene,' Aruetta explained, almost apologetically. 'It was a few years ago.'
Celena thought about that. 'What did he do? Work his way through in order of age?' There were always rumours about Allen Schezar being something of a ladykiller, but in the few days she had spent with him he just hadn't seemed like the type. It was another face of her brother to consider.
'I don't believe he and Princess Eries were ever close,' Aruetta said. She had gone back to looking worried. 'I probably shouldn't've said any of that.'
'Oh, that's all right. I don't mind.'
'No, it's not, you see I have to report everything we say, and if I tell them I said that I could get into awful trouble.'
'But surely the point of the reports is to show if I said anything incriminating. Couldn't you just leave out anything silly you said?'
'I suppose so,' Aruetta said hesitantly. 'It's the first time I've had to do something like this.'
'Either they don't think very highly of me at all,' Celena commented, 'or you are a clever liar and really an expert in espionage.'
'Oh all right,' said Aruetta, relaxing slightly, 'I have done a little of this sort of thing, but never on a case this major. Sorry if I laid it on a bit thick. I really do like your brother. But if it's true what they say about you I wouldn't give tuppence for your chances.'
'Nor would I,' Celena said gloomily. 'Whatever tuppence is.'
'Not a political case, anyway,' said Aruetta, still thinking about her career as a spy. 'Usually ladies get me to spy on their husbands, see if they're having affairs, which, to be honest, they usually are. Or the other way around. I'm small and quiet, you know, and people don't notice I'm around if I don't want them to. I'm good at the listening in, but not always so good at the acting innocent.' There was certainly no air of shyness about her now.
'What am I supposed to do for clothes?' Celena asked, changing the subject. 'I've only got the dress I'm wearing.'
'It looks twenty years old,' Aruetta said. 'No-one wears boofy petticoats like that these days. I didn't think the Schezars were so poor.'
'We're not!' Celena protested, although when she thought about it, she had no idea whether Allen really had much more than his house and possessions. But he wouldn't have talked about getting more staff if he couldn't afford it. 'I've only been home a few days and there wasn't time to get me new clothes so I've been wearing my mother's things.' I had big petticoats on under my dress last night. I wondered why no-one else had such a full skirt. Why on earth did no-one tell me it wasn't the style? And why do I care?
'Well, I'm sure everything you need will be provided,' Aruetta assured her. 'Now, I understand you had a bit of a funny turn earlier, and said you hadn't had breakfast. Someone should be along soon with some food for you.'
'I don't want it,' Celena said. 'I want to go back to bed. I don't think I'm well.' She felt perfectly all right, but it might be helpful to cultivate an impression of weakness. She sat up, took off her shoes and crept into bed fully dressed. Aruetta made an impatient 'tsk' sort of noise.
'You'll be far too hot like that,' she said. She was quite right; under the thick eiderdown, in a heavy dress with many petticoats, Celena could tell that she would soon feel stifled. She was suddenly aware that she was horribly thirsty. She kicked off the eiderdown and went into the bathroom for a drink of water.
'I think you're fine,' Aruetta said, leaning against the doorjamb and watching her. 'Shall we both stop fooling about? I'm not going to be nasty to you. There's nothing whatever in it for me, and unlike some grand ladies I could mention, I don't get any enjoyment out of seeing people squirm. In fact, it's in my interest to be good to you, so that when you're found innocent and set free you'll tell your brother how nice I am and he'll sweep me up and marry me.' She smiled. 'Joke.'
'Just the part about Allen marrying you, I hope,' Celena said.
'Of course,' Aruetta said soothingly. There was a knock at the bedroom door and she went to answer it. Celena looked around the bathroom. It was plain and clean and agreeable. The only way she was suffering was through strangeness. She could hear Aruetta speaking to someone in the corridor. The tone of their voices was normal and friendly. It wasn't like prison. The whole thing had a covering of comfort and niceness that made the thought of what it really meant hard to get to, but when you got down there it was horrifying.
These people, these same nice people who put seashells on mantelpieces and have crushes on handsome knights, could kill me. They want to. She pulled the ribbon out of her hair and let the curls fall round her face. Aruetta closed the door and called to her, 'Your food's here.'
It was not really breakfast; more of a light meal for any time of day. There was a bowl of chicken soup and a small bread roll.
'There now,' said Aruetta as Celena ate, 'you won't starve.' She sat down in the armchair, took some knitting out of her skirt pocket, and resumed work on a red sock. It was a rather old-womanish thing to do; she only looked about Celena's age. Celena watched her narrowly as she chewed her bread.
'Boss! Wait! Over here!' Gaddes spotted Allen on the street in front of the palace, looking lost. 'I've found him,' he said over his shoulder to the others, and led the way to Allen, who was walking slowly away from them. Allen did not seem to notice them approaching, and Gaddes had to tap him on the shoulder before he turned around.
'What happened?' Gaddes asked. The crew of the Crusade had not been allowed to go with the Schezars into the city; they had waited long enough not to be noticed following and then set out with all speed. If the Boss was having trouble, they would be with him.
'We have serious problems, Gaddes,' Allen said. 'They want to punish Celena for Dilandau's crimes.'
Gaddes felt a little sick. 'They can't.'
'They can and will, if we don't stop them.'
'How?' Gaddes asked. 'What do you want to do? We couldn't storm the palace but I'm sure we could make a raid late at night. We could get her out, take her away somewhere '
'Not like that,' Allen said. 'Don't even talk about it here. I've got to think. Perhaps I could defend her. They want to make it a public trial, you see. Show justice at work. The only advantage we have there is that it will be equally visible if they try anything underhanded.'
A woman with a basket of bread elbowed past them. 'Excuse me,' she said irritably, in that special way that is code for 'get the hell out of my road.'
'Let's go and get a drink,' Gaddes said. 'Something to eat, too. We can make a plan. We can't stand around here.'
The men found a pub and went in. It was a dim and smoky sort of place, with tables set in booths. The tall backs of the wooden settles separated groups of customers. By unspoken agreement, the crew went to the bar, while Allen and Gaddes sat down in a booth.
'I can't believe it's all gone so wrong,' Allen said quietly. 'I knew there could be problems, but well, you remember I was afraid some of the men might take matters into their own hands? That was the worst I envisioned, unofficial bad behaviour. I never thought it would come down from the highest level. I don't know why I suppose I thought the worst was over.'
Gaddes watched him, silently. He just couldn't think of anything to say. He wondered if he could possibly be more worried than Allen. Every minute he was fighting down an impulse to run into the palace and start breaking heads until they gave up Celena. Of course he wouldn't do it; he wasn't stupid. It was just a visceral response to knowing she was in trouble.
'So,' said Allen, taking a deep breath and steepling his hands in front of him, 'let's take stock. My sister is in royal custody, about to stand trial for crimes she did not commit but for which she is likely to be punished as severely as the law allows. I don't know when the preliminary hearing will be held, but I assume they'll do it soon, and quickly. We need a solicitor, a very good one. I can't defend her, I don't know enough about the law. Foolishly, I always thought it was enough just to try to be good. The only way to fight them effectively is on their own terms. And so we're stuck.' He opened his hands and held them out, white-gloved palms upward, to show the range of their options: zilch.
'Did I hear you aright?' said a deep voice from behind Allen. 'Do you once again find yourself in a situation from which only I can extricate you?' Over the back of the settle, like a bespectacled sunrise, appeared the face of Dryden Fassa. He placed his chin on the top edge so that he looked like a disembodied head, and smiled genially at Gaddes. Allen refused to turn round. He bowed his head, folded his hands and rested his chin on them.
'I thought you went away,' he said, in the sort of tone usually reserved for remarks like 'Why can't you stay dead?'
'I go away, I come back,' Dryden said cheerfully. 'Things are more difficult out there than I had anticipated. I'm getting in more supplies, making arrangements for deliveries, that sort of thing. I never intended to be a hermit, just a merchant.'
'So what makes you think you can help me?' Allen asked, still with his back to Dryden. 'I want a lawyer, not a salesman.'
'They're such similar things,' Dryden said. 'One sells one's client to the jury. Or the judge as the case might be. I have many skills. Why don't you give me a try?'
'Because you're not a lawyer!' Allen said impatiently.
'My degree says I am,' Dryden said. 'A relic of my misspent youth. Naturally I repented bitterly almost as soon as I graduated, but it's the sort of thing that stays with a man, however hard he might try to expunge the mark through rambunctious living and the pursuit of arcane knowledge.'
To Gaddes's utter amazement, Allen looked up at him and silently mouthed 'Pillock,' then flicked his eyes upward to denote Dryden. It was very unlike him, but Gaddes supposed he was at the end of his tether. It was odd, how different sorts of pressure took you differently.
'Boss,' he said tentatively, 'maybe we should give him a chance.' He felt disloyal for saying it, but anything that might help Celena was okay with him. 'We couldn't have managed without him before.'
'Hear, hear!' said Dryden. 'I've heard bits and pieces about this business, and I can tell you I'm on your side. Or Celena's, rather. I'm against capital punishment on principle, anyway.'
'How can you have heard about it?' Allen cried. 'They only just told me!'
'I do speak to my own father from time to time, and he tends to be in the know about whatever the King has cooking,' Dryden said calmly. 'And if all else fails, I'll use my connections in a completely unprincipled and disgraceful manner. I'm perfect for the job. Besides, I want a project.'
'What happened to helping the common people?' Allen asked.
'Oh, I'm still on that. But I'm a very egalitarian helper. You being nobility doesn't put me off at all. And this has caught my fancy. Go on. Gaddes wants you to say yes, don't you Gaddes?'
Gaddes, shrugging, admitted that he did. 'I don't know any other lawyers, and what I've seen of him so far impresses me.'
'Fine,' said Allen. 'Whatever.' He slid out of the booth and stood up to face Dryden, who merely swivelled on his chin so as to point his face towards him. He was kneeling up on the seat of his bench. 'But if you let me down,' Allen said, 'I'll forget every reason I have to be grateful to you, and you'll have to face me man to man.'
'You don't have to be so dramatic about it,' said Dryden, 'but I understand. And I agree.' He held out his hand and they shook on the deal. Gaddes let out a breath he hadn't realised he was holding.
'Righto,' Dryden went on, 'Lawschool Library for me. Observe with what diligence and energy I get right on the job. Your sister has nothing to fear. I'd quite like to meet her, too, if I can ... I'll have to make arrangements about that.'
'You can try,' said Allen, 'but I doubt you'll succeed.'
'You said royal custody?' Dryden asked. 'That was the phrase they used?'
'Well, that's different from under arrest or imprisoned. She'll be allowed visitors, in fact she'll be kept in most ways in a manner befitting her social station. I hope you weren't imagining her in a dank little cell with straw in her hair crying herself to sleep.'
Gaddes, who had been afraid of something exactly like this, relaxed a little more. Maybe the whole thing was somehow reasonable after all.
'There's a precedent for that, at any rate,' Dryden went on. 'Last century, for example, Lord Ruthern was kept in the greatest comfort and luxury right up until they hanged, drew and quartered him. It wasn't very nice, but then by all accounts he wasn't a very nice man. I seem to recall something about a lot of dead female servants on his estate. Anyway, worry not.' He got off his bench, pulled a large pack out from under the table, shouldered it, and with a polite nod to the two men, went off to the bar to pay his bill.
'Did I do right, Gaddes?' Allen asked, watching him go.
'I think you did as right as you could, Boss,' Gaddes said. 'I'll tell the guys.'
Celena turned a page of the book she was trying to read. It was called Elena and it was a rather fat novel about a virtuous young woman who generally behaved in an exemplary fashion under the most severe tribulations. She was finding it very heavy going. All the books on the shelf seemed to be of a similarly improving nature. At least it was beginning to look as though Elena might die at the end of the story, which was something to look forward to. She wondered if the choice of books had been subtly calculated to drive her mad or make her despair. She looked up from where she sat on the bed to Aruetta, still industriously knitting. The red sock was more of a stocking now.
'Can I send for visitors, if I want someone in particular?' she asked. Aruetta looked up.
'You can send a message. I'll need to see it, and so will the Ladies.'
'Suppose I wanted to see my brother?'
'I don't see that that would be a problem.' Aruetta looked thoughtful. 'You're not just trying to butter me up, are you? Letting me see him?'
'Heavens, no.' There was another quiet spell. The sock grew half an inch longer, and Elena repelled the advances of a pompous and dissolute young gentleman who thought he could have his wicked way with her. Celena wondered why he bothered. Elena would obviously be no fun whatever. Besides being completely frigid she had a tendency to quote religious texts in the middle of normal conversation, and to exclaim to her enemies 'I shall pray for you, poor wicked soul!' Celena sighed, put down the book and said,
'I want to go to the lavatory. Do you have to supervise me for that?'
'No,' said Aruetta, 'there are limits to my curiosity. Go ahead.'
Celena went into the bathroom and shut the door firmly behind her. Another stupid thing about big skirts, she reflected, was how you had to bundle them up when you wanted to do a simple thing like go to the loo. Probably whoever designed them had not realised that ladies had to do that sort of thing too. And you had to keep holding on to them with one arm while you got up, and wiped
Aruetta heard a thump from the bathroom, as though something had hit the floor hard. She put down her knitting and sprang up, and at the same moment heard Celena's voice, high-pitched with panic, cry
'Help! Help me! Aruetta, where are you? I'm ... I'm sick ... I ... someone help me! Allen! Jajuka!'
'You're blocking the door,' Aruetta exclaimed, shoving at it. 'Get out of the way!' The obstacle cleared, and she burst into the bathroom to find Celena huddled on the floor a little way from the door, her arms folded over her head, breathing rapidly, almost wheezing.
'What on earth is wrong?' Aruetta demanded, forcing the girl's head up.
'I want Jajuka!' Celena said, a little hysterically. 'He'll look after me.'
'I'm here to look after you,' Aruetta reminded her. 'What's the matter with you?'
'I'm dying,' Celena said. 'This body is breaking down. I'm haemorrhaging. You don't need to execute me, I'm going to bleed to death!' She began to cry in earnest.
'Where? Aruetta asked. 'Where are you bleeding? Show me.'
'I'm not going to sh-show you, it's private.'
'You don't mean Celena, are you bleeding from, um, between your legs?'
'Y-yes.' Celena looked at her fearfully. 'The soup was poisoned. You did this to me. Is it working faster than you expected or something?'
'Rubbish,' said Aruetta. 'There's nothing wrong with you. It's your monthlies. Everyone gets them. Every girl, anyway.'
'My ... do you mean a menstrual period?'
'I suppose so. You bleed for a few days each month. It's normal.'
'Oh God. Oh my God.' Celena lowered her head, covering her face with her hands. 'I knew it would happen. I knew about it, I shouldn't have but when I saw the blood I didn't think of that. I hate seeing my own blood. God, I didn't know it would be like that. It sneaks up on you. It didn't even hurt.'
'Lucky you,' said Aruetta. 'I get belly-aches something chronic.' She looked at Celena, still hunched on the floor and weeping, with relief now. She put an arm around her shoulders. 'Come on. You're all right. I know you had a fright, but it's over. I'll help you get cleaned up and sorted out. You'll get used to it. Believe me, you don't meet a lot of women who can't deal with seeing blood.' She was being so kind now that it made Celena cry harder. Aruetta tore off a strip of toilet paper and gave it to her to wipe her eyes. 'Try to calm down,' she said. 'If you're not feeling well, you'll only make it worse by upsetting yourself.'
Celena realised that Aruetta now thought her claim earlier to be feeling ill had been the truth. In the middle of tears, she thought about this quite coolly. It could be useful. Even if she could only use it once a month. But then, how many months was she likely to be here? While she thought this over, she sniffed and gulped and dried her face. Aruetta went to the bathroom cupboard and came back with a thick white cotton pad and some sort of belt arrangement. Celena had the horrible feeling that it was going to be the brassière all over again.
I'm imprisoned. My body is imprisoned, bound up in elastic and hooks and eyes, arrangements for stopping leaks, holding up dead weight, compensating for weakness. And they've put this prison in a prison, a nice comfortable prison with a picture on the wall. It's like being in a cabin in the very middle of a ship, no sense of what's out there.
Lying on her stomach on the bed, Elena open in front of her, Celena realised that she did not know what time of day it was. There were no windows, and no clock. She was not sure how many hours had passed; did not know what time it had been when she had had to leave Allen's house. She sought that inner sense of time that told her when to wake up, and found it confused. That's breaking down too. I could stay up all night and not know it. In laboratory trials it was found that when you remove cues like changing light and watches, the human body clock settles into a diurnal rhythm with a period slightly longer than that of a real day. The patterns of the real world are not the ones we naturally adopt. And they've removed me from the real world.
Of course, the settling into a new pattern isn't all that happens to people who lose their sense of time. There's paranoia, panic attacks, disorientation, disturbed sleep, depression would they know about that here? Or are they just being nasty on instinct?
Come on now, she told herself sternly, it's only the first day. You could ask for a clock. You mustn't assume these people are cunning fiends because one of them pinched you. Aruetta seems like a nice person.
Perhaps I'm supposed to start trusting her and then they'll work on me that way. At least I was paranoid already. I'm used to it.
Another hot, wet blot of blood left her body. She was aware of it every time it happened, although Aruetta said that after a while she would stop noticing. And it was humiliating every time it happened, like wetting her pants when she was a child. When she had first become Dilandau, he went through a period of bed-wetting. It was distressing for him in any case, because he could not remember anything like that happening to him before, but it was made worse by the fact that the method his trainers chose to break him of it was to announce it loudly to the other boys whenever it happened, and to force him to wash his sheets himself while everyone watched.
'How are you ever going to be leader if you're so weak?' someone had said to him. Celena could often remember exactly what someone had said to Dilandau, but not who had said it. None of the trainers ever stayed with them long, anyway. They were not supposed to get attached to individual ones. The only constant figures were the sorcerers, sombre and awesome in their black cloaks, supervising without coming near, and somewhere, like God on a cloud, Lord Dornkirk watched everything they did.
More than anything, Dilandau wanted to be the leader, to show that he was the best, that he was strong, that nothing could hurt him. He fought for control of his body, sometimes staying awake all night to make sure nothing happened. Gradually, through sheer will, he overcame the problem. Not much was said about it when it became clear that he had stopped, although someone said 'That's good to see' and someone else murmured 'Mind you don't start again, now.' But he felt the victory within himself, over himself, and it was something to stand up on.
Dilandau loved his own body, once he had made it understand what he required from it, and saw to it that it obeyed him exactly. He thought of the Dragonslayers sometimes as an extension of this personal power, like extra hands. Strictness was necessary, and sometimes they let him down in a way that he never did to himself. He was the only one he could rely on absolutely, the best and strongest, in control. He did not think anyone remembered the shameful mornings when he had been turned out of bed to clean up his mess. He commanded perfect respect. He was in control.
And now, Celena thought, this body goes off half-cocked doing things I haven't even thought of. I can make it work, but I can't trust it. There were times when a male body wasn't exactly reliable either, but you could think of that another way, an excess of virile spirits, maybe, you could make it seem good, not like this. She wondered whether she should turn a page, but since she hadn't done that for, oh, it could be twenty minutes, it wasn't really worth trying to keep up the pretence of reading. She was well past caring what happened to Elena anyway. The cat girl was still calmly knitting in the armchair.
Aruetta cast off her stitches and looked at the long red stocking with great satisfaction. 'All done!' she said.
'What are you knitting stockings for anyway?' Celena asked. 'You must have furry legs. You won't get cold.'
'I do, though,' said Aruetta. 'I feel the cold dreadfully. You're lucky being down here on the ground floor. My bedroom is up in the attics and it's freezing on a winter morning.'
'But hot air rises,' Celena said. 'All the heat from the palace ought to collect up there.'
'I don't know about that,' Aruetta said. 'I just know I wake up cold. These are bedsocks.'
'What time is it?' Celena asked abruptly. Aruetta opened what had appeared to be a large locket on a chain around her neck. It was really a small watch. She looked at the face and after the kind of pause that tells you a person is not good at telling the time, announced 'It's about half past two in the afternoon.'
'Have you heard of a thing called lunch?' asked Celena. 'Or were you just not going to tell me so I would get confused?'
'I thought since you weren't feeling well I would wait until you said you were hungry to order anything,' Aruetta said placidly. 'Would you like something?'
'Not right now,' Celena said, because in fact she was not hungry. 'I want to write a letter.'
'All right,' said Aruetta, vacating the chair for her. 'There should be ink and paper and everything you need in the desk.'
Celena found writing a little difficult, not because she did not know how, but because somehow Dilandau's handwriting did not come naturally to her any more, but nor did the round-handed print she had used when learning to write as a little girl. She supposed she needed to develop her own style. In the meantime she wrote plainly but clearly, and without much personality.
'Dear Allen,' she wrote, 'this is to let you know that I am well and not being badly treated. I want to talk with you. Please come as soon as you can. I have various concerns that we need to discuss.'
'Do you always talk to your brother that way?' Aruetta asked, reading over her shoulder. 'It reads like a business letter.'
'You could wait until I've finished to read it,' Celena said crossly. 'You're putting me off, snooping like that.'
'Are you going to mention me?' Aruetta inquired. 'I wonder if he remembers me.'
'Aruetta says hi,' Celena wrote. 'She's this cat girl they've put in charge of me who has a huge crush on you. Stay away from her if at all possible because I fear for your virtue.'
'Oh, now that's not very kind,' said Aruetta. 'I'm not planning to jump him. I don't think I could, a strong man like that. He could wrestle me off and pin me down ' A dreamy look spread over her countenance.
'Eur,' said Celena. 'Do you think about things like that a lot?'
'It passes the time while knitting,' Aruetta pointed out. 'Don't you have anyone you dream about?' For some reason the phrase made Celena feel uncomfortable.
'I don't remember my dreams,' she said coldly.
'Daydream, I mean. Someone special. You haven't had much time to find one, I suppose.'
'No there is someone I think of.'
'You don't know him.'
'Then it can't do any harm to tell me. Go on, what's his name?'
Celena hesitated. 'Gaddes.'
Aruetta beamed. 'You looked all coy when you said that. It was so cute.'
'I did not!'
'Oh, you did so. Next you should put, "incidentally I must tell you that I am wildly in love with a man called Gaddes and the mention of his name makes me blush."'
'Well, that's not true.'
'It is. You went all pink when I said it.'
'Stop it!' Celena put her hands over her traitor cheeks.
'Ah, the miracle of girl talk,' Aruetta said smugly. 'I've got you behaving like a nearly normal person.'
'What, blushing like an idiot and telling you all my private business?' Celena turned back to her letter, trying to think cool, un-pink thoughts. 'Don't worry,' she wrote, 'I am just teasing. I am trying to keep my spirits up but everything is very strange and it would be good to see you. You need to make an appointment with Lady Erima or Lady Kerell. I miss you. Love, Celena.'
'Pee Ess,' said Aruetta, 'Bring Gaddes.'
'Oh, stop it.' Celena blotted the letter and put it in an envelope.
'Now do a love letter to Gaddes.'
'No! I don't know how, anyway. Look how badly I write a normal letter to my brother!'
'That's a point. And I don't think the Ladies would let a missive steaming with passion get out of the palace.'
'I am not steaming with passion.'
'Here's how your letter would go,' Aruetta declared, striking an oratorical pose. 'Dear Gaddes, this is to let you know that... I am in love with you and think you are absolutely gorgeous. I want... to sleep with you. Please don't come too soon. There are various positions that we need to ' She was cut off by Celena picking up the ball of red worsted from the floor and throwing it into her face.
'Cut it out,' Celena protested, but she was half laughing. 'You have such a dirty mind!'
'I think I hit a nerve there!' Aruetta said, triumphantly.
'It doesn't have to be all about sex, you know,' Celena said primly.
'No, but it's an interesting way to start off. Consider your brother. I don't really know him, but I fancy him like mad. You can't call that love, but it could turn into it given a chance.'
'I suppose so,' Celena said. Does that mean Gaddes doesn't really love me yet? I don't suppose I really love him, if it comes to that. But how do you know when you love someone? Do you feel different all the time?
'A Knight of Heaven? I just bet he is!' said Aruetta, and grinned. 'Knight, night. It's a pun. Tee hee?'
'It's a horrible pun. And seriously, Aruetta, I don't like to hear you talking that way about my brother.'
'Are you really concerned about his virtue? I think you're wasting your time there.'
'It's just very weird to think of him that way.' Celena paused. 'It's as though there are about half a dozen Allens. Allen-when-we-were-children, and Allen-Dilandau-fought, and Allen-taking-care-of-me, Allen-with-his-crew, Allen-with-the-king, Allen-chasing-princesses ... and I've got to get used to all of them.'
'Everyone's like that,' Aruetta said. 'Why, you've had at least three Aruettas today already. I've been an innocent scatterbrain and a sensible nurse and a dirty little girl. And I've seen a few different Serenas.'
'You'd think that having been two different people for real it wouldn't surprise me so much in other people.'
'Everyone puts on different faces,' Aruetta said. 'It's like dressing for the occasion.' She bounced the ball of yarn from one paw to the other. 'If you've got the letter how you want to send it, pass it over. I'll call for lunch and get it taken off for clearance at the same time.' She took the letter from Celena's hand and leaned over to a speaking-tube in the wall. She raised its cover and said loudly 'Hello, hello, Celena Schezar's room, please send a page.'
'That's handy,' Celena said.
'Yes, but you can't use it,' Aruetta said. 'The man who takes speaking-tube messages is specially trained to recognise voices. He knows mine but he won't act on any message coming out of our tube in any other voice.'
'I could imitate your voice,' Celena suggested.
'I don't think you could. Yours is a lot lower than mine. And if he's in any doubt, he'll ask me to miaow. Can you miaow?'
Celena tried it. 'Miaow.'
'Not at all convincing, I'm afraid,' said Aruetta. 'Which takes a weight off my mind.'
'Now we wait.'
The afternoon and evening dragged by. Aruetta was quite good conversation when she did not revert to the subject of Allen, which she did all too often. Celena continued to read Elena in fits and starts, more to get the damn' thing out of the way than anything else. There was nothing much else to do, and nowhere at all to go, unless she went into the bathroom, turned around and walked back into the bedroom, which got old very quickly. Eventually Elena reformed the pompous randy gentleman and they got married. Celena, disgusted, composed an alternate ending in which the gentleman proposed and Elena turned him down on the grounds that she had been sleeping with his cousin (who Celena had just made up) for the last six months and was probably pregnant, and even if she wasn't she thought he'd be rather a disappointment after his cousin. The gentleman went mad with jealousy and ran her through with a marlinspike, then took poison and died in frothing agony. The cousin inherited all his wealth and set up a brothel. There, that was nice and sinful, an excellent antidote to all that piety.
'I really, really hate this book,' she announced on finally closing it and ramming it back on the shelf.
'Me too. It's one of Lady Kerell's favourites. I was her chambermaid for a while and I used to have to read it aloud to her while she sewed. Again and again. She liked to have Elena at least eight times a year. She probably put it there to make you reform or repent or something.' Aruetta snapped open her little watch and added, 'It's seven in the evening now, just to keep you posted. I'd suggest dinner, a bath and early to bed.'
'How am I ever going to fill in tomorrow?' Celena asked woefully. 'I can't bear to read another of those books. I can't go anywhere. I wish they'd hurry up and have the trial. Or maybe this'll work in my favour, I'll go mad and be found not guilty by reason of insanity.'
'I'll try to bring you some different books tomorrow,' Aruetta promised. 'What sort do you like?'
'I really don't know. The last book I enjoyed reading was The Boy's Book of Pirate Lore and I think the real fun of that was knowing my brother didn't want me to read it.'
Aruetta looked puzzled.
'It was years ago, and he didn't like me touching his stuff. Especially that book, because at the time he was dead set on becoming a pirate when he grew up.'
'Thank you,' said Aruetta, 'you've given me a great new wodge of daydream material. Allen the pirate king! He'll have to wear a shirt open to the waist for that, it's practically compulsory.'
'Damn,' said Celena. 'Hang on. How are you going to bring me books? Aren't you supposed to watch me every minute?'
'I'll get someone else to keep an eye on you for a few minutes while I pop out,' Aruetta said. 'And by the way, I'll be sleeping here. The bed's big enough for two for a reason.'
'I don't snore, nor do I scratch in my sleep.'
'I don't understand what they're trying to do,' Celena complained. 'Some things seem calculated to break my spirit and other times they seem to be going easy on me. It's never consistent. And I want to get out of this bloody room!'
'Think about that,' said Aruetta mildly, as she went to the speaking tube to call for dinner.
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