He walked into the cell ahead of the guards. No one was bleeding. I was encouraged. Then he raised his head to look at me, with more hatred than I'd ever seen in a person's face, even his, and my heart sank.
Before I could ask, one of the guards spoke up. "We thought it best to bind him, Lady."
"Did he resist?"
"No, but…he said he would kill you if we didn't."
He pulled away from them and strode over to me, his hands bound behind him. "Here I am, mistress," he spat the words at me. "Your slave for the night. Your plaything." He kept walking; I backed up. His disdain, his loathing, was a physical force. "Tell me what you want me to do." He backed me up, his body touching mine, until I tripped and fell. He dropped to his knees over me, and leaned down so his face was just inches away from mine. "I'm here for your pleasure, am I not? Is this not my purpose in life? To amuse you?" The guards pulled him off, and then the tall one helped me up.
The Spaniard was panting, breathing fire, sending me his hatred. "What would you have me do? Your friend instructed me well, I'm extremely entertaining……Why do you hesitate? Have you forgotten what you like?"
I lowered my head and let the fury wash over me like a caustic wave.
His voice, which had risen as he spoke, fell again to just above a whisper. "Take me now. You won't even need restraints." His face twisted, brutal and fierce, his lip curled. "You have these two to hold me. Do what ever you will. I am your slave." And then he snarled as he tried to shake off the guards.
I opened the jar of wine I brought, poured two cups. Found the knife in the bag with the fruit, and gestured to them. "Bring him here." The Spaniard looked at the knife, then up at me. He smiled scornfully as the guards pushed him to the table. "Is that for my clothing or my body? What part of me are you going to cut, mistress? And don't you think Proximo will notice?"
I told the guards to leave us. They hesitated. "I'll be fine. If I need help, I'll call for it."
"But he's near mad, I think, lady-"
I lost my patience. "Go, now, or I might gut you instead!" And I waved the knife at them.
The Spaniard turned to face me. "Proximo favors you." He moved toward me, pushing me with his body again, growling his words into my ear. "Will he let you take a piece of me to keep?"
"You idiot, turn around, I'm trying to cut your-"
"What piece did you like the best?" There was no reasoning with him. He pushed until I was backed up against the wall. I thrust my arms around his waist and sawed at the strap around his wrists.
It came loose quickly. He backed up a step and watched me as he hastily unwrapped what remained.
"That was a mistake." He grabbed the hand that still held the knife, and squeezed until I dropped it; his other hand circled my throat and pulled me close. "I could kill you."
I closed my eyes and said nothing. After a moment, he pushed me away.
It was a strange thing; I hated his rage and I loved it. My heart ached for him and his pain; but so did another part of my body. That part of me wanted his fury, wanted the power and the strength of it, wanted to be stranded in the maelstrom of his emotions. I wanted his hands on me in passion, in whatever form that might take. My heart wanted to soothe him.
I limped to the chair and sat down. He saw the cups of wine and swept them off the table.
"She won't bother you again." I said quietly.
I didn't have to see his sneer. "Do you think that matters to me? One bitch or another; you're all the same. Do you think I'm going to lie down for you this time just because it's you and not her?"
"There's one difference between Octavia and me."
"And what would that be?"
"Unless you kill me, I'm going to live to see the dawn."
He was silent for a long time.
"You killed her?"
"Not personally; and it's possible she's not quite dead yet; but I arranged it, yes. I said that I would if she crossed me in this matter, and so I must follow through. I have a certain standing in the community to maintain. "
"And if I kill you?"
"Then she and I will both be dead, and I'll be able to punish her a little more in hell."
It would be an exaggeration to say the news calmed him. He still paced, the muscles in his face worked, his hands clenched and unclenched. His glances at me were angry but questioning.
"You killed her," he said again.
I sighed. "No, she is dying as we speak, and I'm here with you."
"Because I couldn't think of a way to get her in the arena so you could do it. This was the next best thing."
"Do you expect me to thank you?"
"No, frankly I won't be surprised if you do kill me."
He came to stand over me. "Then why loose me, why send the guards away?"
I looked up and into his face. "What does it matter?"
There was really nothing more to speak of. What I had done, what Octavia had done, had been done, and there was no way to alter that.
After a time, he picked up the cups, and filled them again. He raised his.
"Wait," I said, and sighed. "Don't drink it." I rubbed my forehead-how to explain it to him? "I didn't know what state you would be in. I didn't know exactly….exactly how badly Octavia…..I didn't know if you would be…." I gave up trying to explain. "The wine is drugged."
"Don't be such an idiot, would I go to all this trouble to poison you? It's just a sleeping draught."
"Why not let me drink it?"
It had something to do with taking from him his power to choose-again. I didn't understand it well enough myself to explain it to him. I shrugged.
"So why am I here?"
I had feared he would ask that. I knew the answer, foolish as it was. It was my selfish desire to see him, to reassure myself he was unharmed, to comfort if he would let me, to explain (that might be impossible to do, but the desire was there), to hear his voice, perhaps to touch him….But I could never say what was in my heart. There could be only hot humiliation in store for me if I dared; I was too much the realist to think any different.
And I thought of the Beauty's owner, wailing in the stands, after letting her urges rule her, letting her infatuation send them both misery.
And then I remembered how she looked before the match, so blissful, overflowing with joy. I think I have never felt the way she looked.
Her stupidity had killed her lover….but I wasn't stupid.
"I could buy you from Proximo."
Yes, I was-stupid, that is. Where had that come from?? How could I have said that? I waited for him to laugh. That was certainly the reaction I deserved.
He didn't laugh. "Why?"
"Well, for one thing, I wouldn't have to come here again. My house is a bit more comfortable than this-"
He interrupted me. "And my duties?"
I ignored that. "You would give me your word that you wouldn't leave, and then the you could be free of the grounds as well as the house-"
He interrupted me again. "I would leave."
I stopped my babbling.
"I would leave you if I could. I couldn't stay. You know that." His voice was almost gentle.
"You could," I said stubbornly.
I didn't have to ask him why. But myself, now there I did ask why. Why, why, why had I started this? I knew better. I had schooled hope from my mind years ago; why had I let it sneak in now? It never caused anything but grief. It had been a fleeting, ephemeral dream but apparently powerful, and the sorrow of its death threatened to overwhelm me.
I picked up the cup of wine nearest to me and threw the contents at him. Then the cup. The contents missed his face, but the cup hit him just under his eye; he didn't try to deflect it. I looked around for something else. The knife was on the table, so I threw it too. It nicked his arm as he warded it away from his face. The jar was too heavy for me.
"I'll have the guards take me back." Again in that deep and gentle voice.
"No," I said through clenched teeth. "I want you to stay." The bag of fruit was not much good as a weapon, but I threw it anyway. He caught it and laid it on the floor. I stood up and looked wildly about me, but there was nothing else to throw. Anything, anything to avoid being swamped by this terrible grief-I took the steps over to him, and hit him as hard as I could. He stood and I hit him again. The third time he caught my wrist before the blow landed, and drew me closer.
I knew I couldn't stand it if he touched me now, I would break apart. I pulled on my arm, the only usable limb I had. I couldn't hit him with the left. If I could have supported my weight on my left leg, I could have kicked him with my right, but that was impossible.
"Dammit, I wish I could kick you."
"Stop….hush…." His big hand went round the back of my head and held me still.
"Let me go!" It was too late; I was undone. Even as I said the words through clenched teeth, they turned to sobs. I'm sure he would have held me and comforted me; I wanted to let him. I wanted to be held in his arms even if just for this. But oh, my ancestors, I had humiliated myself beyond the point of bearing. No one had seen me with tears on my face since the last bone-setting I had endured. I struggled to be free.
He tilted my face up to see into my eyes. "Be still," he said. "Be calm." I snuffled and wiped my nose with my left hand. His arm went around my waist, the other palm on my cheek. And I found, after a little, I was calm.
"You can let me go." My voice was smaller than I would have liked. Possibly because I actually didn't want him to let me go at all.
He was still gazing into my eyes. "Have I now taken something from you?" He smoothed a strand of hair away from my face. "How did I do that?"
"…I don't know."
All I did know just at that moment, was that this would never happen again-standing together, his arm around me of his own will-never again. And another impulse, much like the one that had gotten me into this situation, took me.
"Give me something back."
I didn't have to tell him what I wanted. He likely could see it in my face. He tilted his head and considered; he wiped something off my lip with his thumb. And then he gave me what I wanted.
Again, I knew this would be the only time this would happen; this would be the only one. I wrapped my good arm around his neck and made the kiss last as long as possible. I didn't care that it was done out of pity; I didn't care that I appeared too eager. Even after I realized I was making strange little noises into his mouth, I found I didn't care about that either. Every second was important, every bit of this needed to be stored in my memory, I knew that; but I couldn't manage it. I was lost in the feeling of his lips, the brush of his short whiskers against my face, his taste…..
When he stopped the kiss, he brushed my hair back, and gave me another kiss on the forehead. I lay my head on his shoulder, buried my nose in his neck, drew in his scent.
I saw Proximo standing just on the other side of the barred door, watching. And I didn't care about that either. He turned to the guard standing next to him, gave him a shove, and walked away.
part 1 part 2 part3 part4 part 5 part 6
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