Chapter 13

What it asks so rarely spoken,
upon every failing hearts are broken,
aspire to grace to match such form,
then be for least human want forlorn,
no other nature could I ardently so adore,
and upon demands of this world so abhor,
I begin and end it seems always on this,
the glory and curse of all that is, feminine.

– Sylvia Grey, circa 135 E.R.

The Lady of the Tower

Styver 1st, 648 E.R.

Katrisha sat in an obscure corner of the castle ramparts, tucked into the crenulation, and largely out of view of prying eyes.  It was a cold evening, and though normally such things did not bother her, it made her all the more aware of a warmth that was missing.  The pang of that had a certain appropriateness that she clung to.

She thumbed slowly through a red leather bound book she had found on the highest shelf in Mercu’s private collection.  She had suspected what it was for some time.  The red leather, the way it had been pushed to the back of the shelf.  She had never sought it out in her time at Highvale.  Wren had been right in her estimation, you figure things out, and that could be part of the joy.  Yet past those hurdles, and facing ones far less clear cut or pleasant, temptation had finally won.

She brightened the light that hovered above the pages, but found she needed to look more closely to read the occasional small annotation, and lingered on the intricacy of other details.  She shifted her knees to prop the book up more comfortably.  The illustrations and diagrams of anatomy were fascinatingly detailed, and strangely elegant and appealing in spite of their clinical precision, and ocasional cross section.  She suddenly had words for things that Celia surely knew, but she had never pressed to have enumerated.  It bothered her how little she knew about a parts of her own body, and most of that had been taught to her by her first lover.

Lengthier bodies of text were a near flowing stream of consciousness regarding everything from the politics of patriarchies and matriarchies, to very detailed instructions on countless ways to please one’s lovers.  The whole thing was structured more like a journal than any other kind of text she had encountered.  Though it was clear it had been reworked into its current form at some point, edited, and clarified.  Even annotated.  How much of that had been done by the original author, and how much by later scribes was a curious consideration.   There were occasional reference marks to other works, some in unintelligible shorthand, others more plain.

Katrisha laughed at a passage regarding the natural failings of men, and how best to ‘fix their flawed, and malfunctioning anatomy,’ for both their own sake, and that of ‘any woman who might permit him into her bed.’  She flipped on, and tried to understand the obscure notation of several very complex spells.  She wondered if through all the times the book had been copied, if the spells had been corrupted by scribes who did not remotely understand what they were looking at.  Such as corruption of such details could matter.

Writing down spells was an awkward impractical process to begin with.  It was rarely employed as a serious exercise, as it was difficult to make another mage understand a spell without being able to observe in directly.  The descriptions, and structures described all seemed to make some sense, but numerous components were ambiguous, or outright unidentifiable.  As Katrisha flipped on however she found descriptions of many of the components in depth, and was amused and heartily inspired.  Sylvia had created mage spells that produced the living magic, not just the fun bits that were plainly called out, some of the methods described were obviously intended to create persistent healing effects, or other less frivolous results.

She baffled that she had never heard of any of it.  That she had not been proudly taught the useful underlying techniques by a man who bore the same last name.  That in all likelihood such nearly lost knowledge was there at her fingertips, recorded in plain sight, but forgotten.  She felt sure, for no better reason than the politics of the woman who had invented them.  She fumed.

Katrisha closed the book as she heard footsteps approaching, and leaned out of her refuge to see who was coming.  She grimaced at the sight of Charles.  She had found an obscure location in hopes of avoiding him, more than for fear of anyone at all noticing her choice of reading material.  Truthfully that might have been better concealed in her chamber, but she wanted the peace of being away from reminders of many things, or intrusion by even well meaning parties.

“Lovely night,” Charles said as he walked up to Katrisha’s hiding spot.

“Are you out in it only to harass me?” Katrisha sighed.

“It wounds me that you think so little of my presence,” Charles said with a courteous bow.  “Yet I must admit, these chance encounters of ours are indeed added incentive to walk the ramparts at night.  Not that the soothing sight of the moon and stars, are not reason enough.  Yet they pale in comparison to your fine countenance bathed in their gentle glow.”

“Ever the charmer.” Katrisha said snidely, and slipped from the crenulation onto the walkway of the rampart.  “You called the moon stupid once.”

“A child may be ignorant,” Charles offered.

“As if you are any less a child now,” Katrisha countered.

“Older than you, dear lady,” he rebutted.

Katrisha stewed a moment.  He had her on that point, though she felt a mere matter of time was far from the point.  Though she was not entirely sure mature was the right word either, and with that delay and uncertainty stilled her tongue.  He was a year her elder, and it had started to show in height.  For one brief moment in their lives she had been by perhaps a half inch taller, but that had passed.

“What deep troubles lay behind those lovely green eyes,” Charles mused.  “I have often wondered, yet till now I have been too polite to ask.  It seemed improper, rude, yet I must admit at long last curiosity has gotten the better of me.  Do forgive my impertinence.”

“Hardly the worst of your transgressions.” Katrisha laughed irritably.

“Do tell me what other ways I have offended, that I might have a chance to rectify my mistakes,” Charles pressed kindly.

“I fear your worst crimes are but an accident of  birth,” Katrisha grumbled, “and no I do not mean that you were born at all.”

“Then what unfortunate mark has been bestowed upon me, that so offends you good Lady?”

“I am no great fan of your father, I must admit,” Katrisha said firmly.  “I do not begrudge him his beliefs, even if I do not agree with them, but his need to force them upon others, I find intolerable.”

“He is a dour sort,” Charles permitted, his own frustration with his father bleeding through, even as Katrisha was certain there was still an act in play.  “Yet am I to be punished simply to have been sired by him?”

“You are to be rewarded far more so,” Katrisha cut back.  “The consequences of your birth come with privilege, and a title that you shall one day inherit.  Though which, as I understand it is up to you.  So many choices, and yet you persist.”

“Yet they earn me the ire of such a lovely charming creature, of great coming importance,” Charles said feigning far more sadness than Katrisha could tell he really felt.  There was something real there though.  Something he was drawing upon to put on his clever persona.   He was charming, and undeniably handsome.  The very model of everything the son of a proud and prominent knight or duke should be.

“Small prices,” Katrisha said with a shrug.  She was more than a little bothered to realize the question of her attractions was more open than she had imagined.  She was quite annoyed that it did not seem she even really needed to like the young man to notice that.

“All things are relative, dear Lady,” Charles said with a half smile.  “A thing worth little to one, might be priceless to another.  My father, he has this old urn, it is a little worn in spots, and there is a side he keeps faced to the wall that shows terrible sun fading.  Yet he paid more for it that I think at all seemly, has been offered several times what he paid by a few, and quietly laughed at by others.”

“Are you really comparing me to an old piece of pottery?”  Katrisha laughed with ill humor, too bewildered by the tact to take offense.  “I fear your charm has finally failed you completely.”

“I simply use an analogy,” Charles said firmly.  “Some may see you as damaged goods.  A wild child who ran off to slay a dragon, and nearly died.  Who fell ill, and resided for a time with…‘undesirables.’  Whose hair has become strange, and peculiar.”

“Do you think you are actually helping your case?” Katrisha snapped.

“I have said what some might see, what my infuriating father, surely sees,” Charles said feigning a wounded expression.  “What I see is a woman of great beauty, astounding intellect, and power I can not imagine.  With the sheer gall to fight a dragon, naked by all disbelieving accounts.  A woman who makes no apologies for stepping on the carefully placed toes of those who seek offense at every turn.  Even, if I fear, she seeks offense at my every word.”

“Better,” Katrisha huffed, only partly satisfied.

“I see a woman who I can not help but be enthralled by,” Charles said as he stepped closer.  “I see a woman who should not be alone, with only a few old men as allies in this cruel world.”

“I am not alone,” Katrisha stated stiff lipped, and held up her hand.  “This is a ring of betrothal to the one I love.”

“I was unaware,” Charles said with some surprise.  “I had not even noticed a ring on our prior meetings.”

“It has been there nearly a month,” Katrisha protested, though it felt an exaggeration.

“Who is so fortunate as to have won your heart?” Charles asked, putting up a fascinating act that seemed intended to portray thinly veiled dejection.  At least Katrisha convinced herself it was just an act, she was relatively certain, even if doubt crept in.

“It is not your concern,” Katrisha said turning and looking out into the night.

“Forgive my prying then,” Charles said kindly.  “I thought it no offense to ask the name of the one you love.  Most are not secretive of their betrothed.  It seems, strange to me, to be ashamed of one you have taken up such a pledge with.”

“I’m not ashamed of her,” Katrisha snapped, turning back angrily, and then cringing as she realized what she had said.

“I see,” Charles said shrewdly.  “Cautious then, you will permit instead, as such a union is viewed poorly by many.”

“And they may rot in the abyss for all I care,” Katrisha cursed exasperatedly.  “You with them if I hear a word of this has been breathed within these walls.”

“I would not betray you, dear Lady,” Charles said again putting on a grand show of being wounded.  “I understand now your need for secrecy, and I can guess at more…complicated details.  Your love was that girl of the Sisterhood, who returned with you, and then left quite suddenly some time back.  What was her name…” he said trying to recall.

Katrisha eyed him coldly.  “Her name is Celia,” she said cutting him off, “if it’s any business of yours.”

“Then I am correct,” Charles said with a sad, oddly comforting expression.  “It must hurt to be so far from the one you love.”

“Very much,” Katrisha found herself admitting aloud, against her better judgement.  Yet there was something relieving about saying it to Charles, that he, of all people seemed accepting.  Yet she did not trust it.

“And to have lost your sister to the wilds just last year,” Charles said kindly, stepping closer again.  “You should not be alone,” he repeated his old argument, with a soft conciliatory tone, “even if I can only be a friend to you, you should have that.”

Katrisha laughed half heartedly.  “I can see in your eyes, you still want more than that,” she chided him without much fire.

“Am I to be blamed for finding you alluring,” he said somberly.  “Does this truly so besmirch the genuine nature of my offer?”

“You are to be blamed for what I suspect is in your head,” Katrisha pushed back, stepping towards him more aggressively than his so far cautious moves.  “You, who have been raised with an idea of what the Sisterhood is.  You think of them all as wanton women who lay with whoever they please.  Some, are…” Katrisha choked slightly on her words, “and there is nothing wrong in it.  Some though marry, and live as faithfully as husband and wife.”

“Or wife and wife,” Charles added in a tone that did not sound mocking, but Katrisha had her doubts.  “Yet I sense something of hesitation in your words.  Please tell me you do not doubt the faithfulness of your Celia?”

“Never,” Katrisha said through gritted teeth, but not without having hesitated.

“Yet, still there is something else?” Charles prodded, his tone kind, his persistence agitating.  “I am here to listen, if you wish.”

“She loves me too much, I think.”  Katrisha laughed nervously, and looked away.  Ready to leave it at that.

“How so?” Charles said goading her on, seeing that he had his foot in the door.

She gave him a fierce look.  “You are not the only one to say I should not be alone,” Katrisha said with some hesitation, folding her arms across her chest.  She wasn’t at all happy with herself.  She had already confided such to far better people, yet she hadn’t been satisfied with their answers.  “It’s…foolishness.  I love her.  What need have I for another?”

“Your love is a wise woman.  Wiser than my father, than his doctrines of ascension,” Charles added, and for a moment she believed there was no act in his words, even if she still believed he was using the truth to his own ends.  “As you say, some, those who have not found a love they can take into their heart, and be content, seek the affections of many.  They still have the need to feel loved, desired, the flesh has wants, the heart is treacherous in many ways, and must be reassured of its own worth.”

Katrisha was certain that he was quoting, or at least paraphrasing from something he had read, but she could not place the words.  Still they were working, his cleverness had all but torn down the last of her defenses, as he stood far too close for her comfort, in part by her own doing.

“What we sacrifice for love, makes that loves stronger,” she argued defensively.

“That which wounds us, no matter the long run, leaves us weakened for tomorrow,” Charles said with a kind determination that still seemed practiced.  “I have heard of the plans for you.  This Kingdom needs strength, not a coming court mage mired in a broken heart.  Let me ease your pain, that you might shine with all of your glory.  You have her permission it seems, and my heartfelt offer surely.”

Katrisha hesitated, and did not pull away as Charles reached for her cheek, and brushed it tenderly.  It wasn’t the same as Celia’s touch, his hand was rougher, yet it was still soothing.  She did not stop him as he took the last step towards her, and looked into her eyes, seeking permission.  A tiny voice at the back of her mind screamed, but she did not heed it, as he leaned into her, and kissed her softly.

It was a pale imitation.  Which was not to besmirch the boy’s obvious talent – that perhaps should have told her he had practice – but it was enough to waver her resolve.  Briefly she returned his kiss, for just a single moment she didn’t care what schemes worked at the back of his mind.  She believed he desired her, being desired felt good, and she let herself return that in kind.  Until finally the screaming of her wiser self overwhelmed her, and with trembling hands she pushed him away.

“No,” she said firmly, unable to bring forth anything more clever.  “No,” she repeated more angrily.  For a moment her rage bubbled, at him, at herself, at the world, she couldn’t even tell.  A part of her wanted to throw him from the rampart for making her betray her love.  She ran away in tears.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Styver 7th, 648 E.R.

Dearest Celia,

I have been through confusion, frustration, anger, and now guilt over your words.  Such that I have avoided writing of them till now.  I couldn’t imagine how you could suggest such a thing, and then matters took a strange turn.  I was on the rampart where we last kissed, when to my annoyance Charles appeared.  He was complimentary as always of late, cordial, kind.  I for my part finally simply told him flatly that my heart belonged to another.  His words were clever then, and he wrested from my grasp your identity that I had not meant to give.  I would swear that the boy’s tongue is made of pure silver that he even managed to get me to admit to my confusion over your words in our correspondence.

He then had the nerve, the gall to offer me himself as a companion in such capacity.  I laughed at him then, told him that of course he would make such an offer, as a man, or might I better say a boy.  Yet then again his silver tongue worked its magic, reminding me that he was a man set to inherit position, a place of importance in the court.  He spun a convincing tale of how he would risk all of this to be near me, even if he could not truly have me as his own.

Convincing I say, but I was not fooled.  I saw his clever words for what they were, but I was flattered, charmed nonetheless.  There was an appeal to him close to me, I will not deny, and in that moment of hesitation he stole a kiss.  Though I let him linger for a moment, let myself, in my shock, and the pleasantness of it, return it. I fear I nearly pushed him from the rampart when I came to my senses.

What ever permissions you have given me…they were not ones I had given myself.  Though I cut his advances short, it troubles me, that moment of hesitation.  It felt like a betrayal, if not of you, of my own heart.  Oh dearest Celia please, give me peace in my troubled thoughts, tell me that you truly could love me so, even if my desires should wander.

I hold the hand bearing your ring to my heart as I write these words, and struggle not to cry.  I must offer you the same, as you have offered me, if there is a chance for joy, take it.  Take it, and do not imagine it could ever lower you in my boundless esteem.

Your confused,
guilt stricken love,

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Styver 30th, 648  E.R.

Dearest Katrisha,

Do not feel guilt that you responded in kind to a genuine impulse of passion.  It is a credit to your charm that you inspire such desire in others, even as you rebuff them, time and again.  I was myself – after all – hopelessly smitten with you through no intent of your own.

I will not tell you to accept this boy.  You do write of him as troublesome, so I leave it to you if his charms outweigh his agitations.  I will implore you only to take what you can from this life.  Even with the gift, we are not immortal, and have but a glimmer of time to enjoy what we are granted.  Do not squander it on sorrowful sacrifices, that only serve to wound us both.

Know that I shall hold you forever dearly in my heart.  Offer me the same, and it is enough, it is our agreement, the promise of our union.  Whatever else is, is.  Believe this, know it in your heart, for it is true.  That I am yours, and you are mine, in absolute honesty, with no secrets, without jealousy between us, and the last of who we are always laid bare.  For all at once, it heartens and hurts me, that I feel the same.  That even with every assurance from you, what little would it matter without the permission of my own heart, to seek such comfort.

Your truest friend always,
your lover fates willing,

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

Laeur 12th, 649 E.R.

Katrisha flicked her wrist, and a blue light illuminated the dusty storage room she had ducked into.  She felt incredibly stupid.  She tried to convince herself the situation was not really happening.  That she was not actually hiding – incredibly ineffectively at that – from a mere boy.  The absurdity was enough to make her knock her head with the book she was carrying.  She had faced down a dragon, in the dead of night, wearing little more than the day she was born, and she was hiding, in a storage room, from Charles.  Harmless, if painfully aggravating Charles.  It was absurd.

What was even the point?  He’d seen her.  She hadn’t even done a particularly convincing job of pretending that room was where she was headed to begin with.  He surely knew as well as her that it was largely unused, overflow storage for the hoarded miscellania of generations that had lived in those halls.  All she had done in trying so desperately to avoid him, was give him the satisfaction of power over her.

She was furious, blindingly angry with herself, and at him.  He had kissed her, she had let him…she had kissed him back…however briefly.  She wanted to kill him for it, for making her betray what she felt for Celia.  What ever reassurance, even encouragement she had been offered.

Her blood boiled over a gentle knock at the door behind her, but she refused to let him win, to let him have such power, to pretend to any extent that she was not there.  

“Yes?” she said, turned, and yanked open the door.

“Are you lost?” Charles asked in a kind tone Katrisha did not accept as genuine.  

Lost, how absurd, even insulting.  She knew that castle like the back of her hand.  She had lived there nearly as long as him, and left far more rarely.  She rejected saying any of this.  “No, just looking for something I thought was stored in here,” Katrisha lied.  “I seem to have been mistaken.”

“Perhaps I could be of assistance,” Charles said with a convincing smile.  “What is it you seek?”

“Nothing you would know about,” Katrisha shrugged, and tried to figure out how to get past him.  Charles had positioned himself in such a perfect way as to block the door without being overtly imposing.  Not that he had any hope of seeming imposing to her, even if he tried.  That much was settled.

“Humor me,” Charles pressed, and leaned against the doorframe nonchalantly.  “I would love to find some way to make up to you for the prior evening.  I was, out of line.  I misread the situation…though I do wonder how poorly?”

Katrisha tried very hard to hold her temper, and to formulate an effective exit.  “Just a chest of unsorted books.  It was being moved here some time ago, until the contents were discovered.  It was supposed to be delivered to the library, but does not seem to have been.”  The story was half true.  A found, and then lost again chest of old books had been misplaced not that long before, in spite of explicit directions on its intended destination.

“Ah, alas, I must admit you are correct, dear lady,” Charles offered in a marvelous performance of upbeat disappointment.  “I do in fact have no knowledge of these events.  I wish I knew more of your mysterious chest, but it seems I will be of no help after all.”

“Are you ever?” Katrisha asked coldly.

“Sadly – to you – it seems I am not,” Charles offered with a melancholy tone.

“Wait…did you just…” Katrisha said as she ran over his words, still looking for some way to get him out of her way, without either pushing past him, or giving him the satisfaction of asking him to move.  “Did you just express an interest in my, ‘mysterious chest?’”  She was torn whether to slap him, roll her eyes, or even be oddly amused.

Most options hinged on whether he had done it intentionally.  She had almost missed it, almost let him get away with it.  Then again she was less than certain if he had meant it in such a way.  Those, like so many things had seemed delayed by her health, and anxious to catch up in the wake of her illness.  It had been something of an annoyance at times, others quite the opposite.  Particularly under the gentle touch of Celia.  That added its own layer of conflict as Charles measured moment of silence stretched out.

“I suppose I did,” Charles said in a matter of fact tone.  He hid his grin well, but it was there.  “It does seem like a lot of trouble to get to.”

Katrisha thought many unkind things of Charles, but completely oblivious, or utterly ineffective at word play were not on that list.  His delicate dodge, without clearly denying, or admitting his intent, with the undertone of humor, settled it.

“You are insufferable,” Katrisha said with far less anger than she intended.

“For you I suffer greatly,” Charles offered coyly.

“Because of you, I suffer greatly,” Katrisha stressed.

“How tragically contrary to my intentions,” Charles replied playfully.

“Oh yes, and those intentions are?” Katrisha sneered.  “You are as crafty, and half as clever tongued as Mercu, but without any of his whimsy, or even a shred of genuine honesty in you.”

“You besmirch me,” Charles said flatly, “and yet compliment me.  To be compared to Mercu’s artful dialogue, however unfavorably, and yet to be defamed as dishonest.”

“Then prove me wrong,” Katrisha said.  “No clever words, no games.  Tell me what it is you want.  I will know if you are trying to mislead me.  I was raised on Mercu’s stories, they are as good an education in deception as years watching the court.  I have both.”

“Boldly?” Charles asked, “Plainly?” he added, but Katrisha gave him nothing more.  “Very well.”  He pursed his lips hesitantly a moment.  “I want you,” he said.  “To know the nature of the strange wild woman that walks the castle.  You fascinate me, tempt me, you are barely more than a girl, as I a boy, and yet you move like a woman and a soldier.  You speak with all the eloquence of a bard, and clearly possess the intellect of a scholar.  You are forbidden, defiant, obstinate to my every approach, dangerous in ways I do and do not comprehend, and it all, infuriatingly, is only more alluring.  I was asked once, and you heard my answer, but I will say it again, all the more surely.  I find I might just favor a lion, to a mouse.”

Katrisha had watched Charles’ face with every word.  He had held something back, something crucial, but every word seemed honest enough.  She was sure of it.  This didn’t make her any more comfortable, any more happy with her circumstances.  She rolled her options over in her head, she let herself consider the unthinkable.  She had Celia’s permission – her request even – that she seek the comfort of others.  The thought made her slightly ill, but it also had other effects that were at least a bit stronger.

Charles was everything a young heir to a knight, or duke proper should be.  Impeccably groomed, fit, tall, and fine featured.  Though he was ill equipped to beat her in a fight, he was even skilled in combat such as that could impress her.  It made her want to scream that he had such power, keeping her ever on the defensive in her efforts to be rid of him.  When to that moment, even the night on the wall, when she had left herself too open, he had done little so very wrong.  Nothing to get himself chastised for, in any official fashion.

He was arrogant, possessed of attitudes and opinions that she had no patience for – or at least, he had been.  It had been years since he had said anything to truly offended her, and she struggled to remember what even the last thing had been.  As little as she had obliged the idea of him courting her, it seemed he had genuinely been doing so.

She suddenly found herself insulted that no other nobles son had tried.  Charles had said it, had clearly laid out that for any number of reasons she was forbidden.  She considered his cleverness with that.  He made himself look just a little the rebel, just defiant enough to the status quo that chafed at her every day.  She believed it intentional, subtle, well placed, and yet it worked.  It raised him in her esteem.  Not because it had necessarily given the desired impression, but because she had caught it, and found the art of it intriguing.

Katrisha became all too aware of the passage of time as she stood there, riddling over Charles response.  She grew angry again, feeling as though she was letting him win.  She shook her head ever so slightly in frustration, and sighed irritably with the antic.  Almost without further thought she came to a decision.  She set the book she was holding aside, took a breath, then forcefully grabbed the troublesome young man by the collar in a fashion that startled him in a most pleasing fashion for her tastes.

Katrisha yanked him from the hallway without ceremony, and threw closed the door behind them.  “You want to know me?” she asked rhetorically, and released Charles into an open pathway in the packed room.  Katrisha waved a new orb of light into being, which she let drift off her fingertips for punctuation.  “You want to know what it is to be in my confidence, my esteem?” she said stepping towards him pointedly.  She enjoyed the uncertain look on his face, and his sudden lack of clever words.  It made him even more attractive to her, to some amusement, and annoyance.  Seeing that she could render the clever boy speechless stoked her ego far more than his attentions to her in the first place.

“That night, when you cornered me on the ramparts…” Katrisha mused.  “I was reading a very particular book.  I find myself curious if it is one you know of, let alone have read.  I think there are many thing about it that might have lead you to it, if you knew.  All the more I have little doubt many would have offended your proud petty male mind.”

“What book would this be?” Charles said trying to sound simply curious, and hide the slight fear in his voice.  He worried that perhaps he might have finally pushed a notoriously temperamental young mage too far.  He’d done it before, and while he was older, and larger than the boy he had once been, she was all the more powerful herself.  She had fought a dragon, and lived – however narrowly – to tell the tale.  He had proven rather to his frustration that he could not beat her in a fight, and while he was unarmed, in no meaningful way was she.

“Let us see if you can guess,” Katrisha said laying her fingertips on his chest, and toying with a ruffle there, her gaze turning up slowly to meet his again.  “Your day might get very much better if you can guess. ‘Men,’” she began pointedly, “‘are fickle creatures, prone to wandering fancy, and faulty methods in pursuing their lusts.’”  She paused stepping very close to Charles.  “‘They are not without merit, not fully a loss, but truly it seems the lesser gender.  Many, trained properly, given the right motivation, are adequate playthings, and some, perhaps, even worthy of the same respect granted a women.  Oddly though, most are overly content with the role of plaything, given the choice.’”

“I do not know the quote,” Charles swallowed, “but were I to wager a guess, I would say that is the work of Sylvia Grey, and likely from the Red Book.”

“Very good,” Katrisha said, and leaned against Charles.  She brought her lips close to his ear.   “Now what, I must ask,” she added with a pause, considering how she felt about the position, about having him close, “would lead a proper Clarion’s son to so readily identify that work.  Even if you have revealed yourself to be other than proper.  I still have not identified the source of your own words that night.”

“It is also from the Red Book,” Charles answered.  “Perhaps not the same version you have read.  Her writings were prolific, they have been compiled into many tomes of similar description.  Some more revered, or reviled than others.  I dare say the copy I found was quite tame.”

“To your disappointment, I suspect,” Katrisha pulled back slightly.

“If I sought the work, as you imply.  I had expectations.  A railing rhetoric against the chafing ways of prudish men.  A critique of the systems of power dominant in every age we have record of.  Even harsh things to say of the Empress herself.  Did you know, Sylvia did not approve of her ascension as a dragon?”

“I did not,” Katrisha said shrewdly.

“She viewed it as an escalation, that what it would cause was worse.  It would seem she was right in the end, on that count at very least.”

“What has lead you to learn so much about a woman as hated as any, in the eyes of your father and his faith?”

“I’ve an admiration for women of power,” Charles offered, as he transitioned to a new kind of nervous, “short of the Empress, she is perhaps the most influential woman in all of history.”

“Hmm,” Katrisha said pressing up against Charles, somewhat menacingly.  He took a half step back into a stack of boxes.  “More influential than Aria of the early Magi?”

“In a modern sense,” Charles partly corrected himself in an almost shaky voice, “how much of the Maji, or their practices were Aria’s doing, and how much her husband was responsible for are matters open for debatable.  With scattered unclear records, and after nearly a thousand years, it is not even certain if Aria was one, or two women.  The providence of Sylvia’s work is beyond any dispute.”

“Well, aren’t you well informed,” Katrisha laughed, and relented in her imposing manner for just a moment to look him in the eye.  “We’ve discussed before the matter of what you have been taught, it seems you have made progress.  Did you draw such conclusions on your own?”

“In a sense,” Charles laughed slightly, trying to calm himself, “it is the end result of research on the topic, that you did inspire.”

“Honest,” Katrisha smiled, “yet unexpected.  Perhaps you might be more than a plaything yet.  But don’t get your hopes up,” she said plainly, and kissed him before he could hope to protest.  The kiss was pleasant, as before, but this time Katrisha did not end it, did not push away even as a tiny part of her mind still decried the act.  She quieted the dissenting fragment of herself by analyzing, even as the rest of her quickly was giving way to enjoyment.

Everything was a direct comparison to her experiences with Celia.  His lips were not as soft, nor as smooth.  He apparently had facial hair enough to shave, as she could feel the hint of stubble.  His body was firm and toned pressed against hers, where Celia’s had been soft and inviting.  Every little thing she felt seemed just a bit less to her liking, and yet, still plainly to her liking.  There was a clear response, something animal in her found him pleasant, even if her higher sensibilities were unimpressed.  More than anything though, a part of her liked the power.  Liked that how little she cared for him let her impose upon him, and he, if his claims were true, might just like that.

“You know that I have had a lover with the gift,” Katrisha said as she broke the kiss, and ran her fingers across the ruffles of his shirt.  She let him feel just a taste of what that meant, and smiled as any illusion of equity in their positions he might still have clung to melted away.  There was a deliciousness to witnessing that, an utter vindication of seeing him vulnerable.  “I could not guess what you could offer to compare,” she said in mock sadness, “but I am ever so curious to watch you try.”

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