“Oh, my lord, what have they done to you?”
Gavin knew that voice. He opened his eye, tried to turn, but he was bound to a table, arms extended, nothing beneath them, as if on a raft over an ocean that was no longer there. His tongue was thick and parched, and a bandage covered his left eye.
Marissia came hovering into view above him. She put her hand over her mouth in horror.
“Wa… water,” Gavin rasped.
But the first thing she did was unbind his arms and legs. Marissia had been his room slave for more than a decade. She knew how he hated to be bound, how even the encumbrance of blankets twisted around his legs in bed made him panic and flail. Marissia, here? But where was here?
He remembered now. He must be at Amalu and Adini’s, the chirurgeons on Big Jasper. He must have been panicking, delirious. It had all been nightmares. Marissia was here. Everything was going to be fine.
Karris had pulled him out of the hippodrome where they’d put out his eye, and he must have come down with a fever. He’d only dreamed he was in that blue hell he’d made for his brother. He’d only dreamed that his father knew everything. Fever dreams. Impossible dreams.
Oh, thank Orholam.
Marissia put a wet cloth in his mouth, and he sucked weakly. She wet it again and repeated theprocess, until he motioned that he’d had enough. She wiped the crusted spit from the corners of his mouth.
Only then did he try to speak. “Marissia, where’s Karris?”
“Your lady wife is safe, my lord. She’s been made the White.” It was oddly formal for Marissia, but Gavin hadn’t yet sorted out the blurred boundaries between his room slave and his new wife. Doubtless Marissia was upset that he had married, and who knew how Karris had been treating her? With Gavin’s absence, he was lucky Marissia was even still employed in his household. A more jealous wife would have sold off the room slave who’d been so close to her husband.
But Gavin didn’t have time to worry about a slave’s feelings with all the problems facing him.
“The White?” he asked. “You didn’t just say…”
“Orea Pullawr has passed into the light, my lord. My lady Karris Guile has ascended to serve as thenew White.”
“I thought that old crone was going to live forever,” Gavin said. But he felt an intense surge of pride at his wife’s accomplishment. The White!
In retrospect, though, maybe Orea had been preparing Karris for that all along.
Orholam’s balls, the other families were going to lose their minds. Andross Guile as Promachos, Karris Guile as the White, and Gavin Guile as the Prism?
Well, that brought up a host of other problems. But Gavin was back, and with Karris beside him, there were few things he– ” Marissia, is there something odd about the sound in here?”
“My lord.” There was a dread monotone to her voice.
With difficulty, Gavin sat up. His bed was the kind of palanquin on which nobles were carried when injured, with drapes on all sides for privacy, but small and light so that slaves could navigate corners and narrow streets.
A wall was not far behind Marissia. It curved.
“Oh, Marissia, no.”
That gray wall curved like a teardrop or a squashed ball. Gavin tore back the palanquin’s other curtains. Everywhere, the one curving wall, sparkling quietly with inner light. Gavin couldn’t see theblue of it, but he could see all he needed to know from that winking crystalline luxin. He was in theblue hell. His gaoler had somehow brought Marissia here to care for Gavin’s wounds. To keep him alive. For punishment.
“How are you here?” he asked.
“I was kidnapped. By Order assassins who were contracted by your father.”
“My lord, I have secrets I would tell you. I don’t know how long I have.”
“You expect them to kill you.” He could see it in the tight calm of her face, like an improperly tanned hide stretched too far over a drum.
“I was allowed to see my kidnappers’ faces. And High Lord Guile’s. Your father brought me here himself. Alone.”
Gavin’s arm shook from the mere effort of holding himself seated. He fell back on the palanquin. “Of course he did,” he said. “He couldn’t let anyone know about this place. But someone had to care for me. And he guessed that you would know about these cells after so many years with me, so he accomplished numerous tasks at once. That’s my father. May Orholam damn him.”
It was very much Andross Guile to discard the slave after she’d served her purpose, too.
He wouldn’t even guess that Gavin would be put out by it. To Andross, he wasn’t murdering Gavin’s lover; he was destroying a piece of Gavin’s property. Gavin could always buy another room slave, one prettier and younger, even. This one had to be more than thirty years old, after all.
He could see on her face that she knew it too. “I don’t know how much time we have, my lord. Please don’t. My courage is leaking away by the moment. Please treat me like a scout or a captain in your armies, so I can think of myself as a warrior, because I can’t bear…” Her throat clenched as she lost her words to fear, the thief.
Gavin hesitated, and then gathered himself. “Water. The cup this time.” He didn’t try to sit up. With a trembling hand, she gave him water. He took it, clumsily, with his left hand missing the third and fourth fingers.
“Report,” he said when he was done, and though he lay on his back, his voice was all command.
“What I have to say is quite sensitive, my lord. What do we do about eavesdroppers?”
He thought about it. “If my father brought you here, it means he isn’t trusting even his closest spies to know about this place. So he would have to be eavesdropping himself. He knows I may sleep for another few days, so I doubt he’d gamble his time that way. Just sitting here, waiting for me to wake, doing nothing else while he doubtless needs to do much? No. Speaking is a risk, but it’s a risk I’ll take.”
She took a deep breath, bracing herself. She looked away from his eye. “I am–that is, I was Orea Pullawr’s spy mistress.”
Gavin felt like he’d been punched in the gut.
“At first, I just met with a few of her contacts, but I did well. She kept expanding my role until, in thelast few years when she was losing mobility, I took over everything.”
Gavin couldn’t look at her. He stared straight up. Furious, he tore off the palanquin’s roof. Marissia fell silent.
The action left him exhausted, aware again of how sick he’d been. He could only stare up–up theanus of the blue hell, from which bread was shat down to the poor souls within. He would be eating Andross Guile’s shit for as long as he chose to live. “And how exactly did that fit with our arrangement, Marissia?”
“I did my best to make it fit, my lord.”
He half laughed. “You did your best?”
“I never betrayed you.”
“What did she have over you? I was here! You’re mine!” he spat. “What could she threaten you with that I could not protect you from? I’m nothing now, but I was… I was indomitable. Do you not remember what I did for you? Do you not remember the Seaborns?”
“I remember, my l–”
“People think I killed that young asshole in a rage as a wild overreaction because he’d damaged my property. I did it so no one would ever harass you again. I killed a man and ended up having to kill his entire family–for you. For a slave. And for that–for that!–I get no loyalty? From you who shared my chambers and my bed. From you, whom I trusted more than I trusted even my own mother.”
“My lord…” She was weakening, losing whatever courage she’d gathered to tell him this.
“What did you tell the White?” he asked, voice dangerous.
“I told her nothing that we hadn’t agreed on. I swear. I swear.”
Marissia had been the White’s gift to Gavin. A young, pretty, smart virgin to be his room slave, untainted by the politics of Big Jasper or loyalties to any other family, she’d been shipped directly from the Floating City. She was a rich gift indeed, and an unusual one. She had a passing resemblance–more pronounced in those early years–to Karris. The White had obviously thought Gavin had a type.
As a young, single Prism, he could have easily had many room slaves. Wealthy subjects were always giving gifts, looking for favor, and looking to place spies near him.
A procession of room slaves wouldn’t have been problem if not for one thing.
The food chute to his brother’s prison was in his own room. Regardless of whether a room slave’s duties were purely sexual or as more of a chief slave, as Marissia had been, a room slave was inone’s room constantly. So rather than trust that a hundred searching eyes would all miss one hidden secret, Gavin had decided to turn one enemy to his own side. He’d been certain that theyoung Marissia had been ordered by the White to spy on him. But who was the White to command more loyalty than Gavin in his proud prime?
The White had asked him to kindly give the girl a few weeks to adjust to her life. It would be bewildering for a young slave from the reaches of the Seven Satrapies to adjust to life here, she said. Give her time.
With his mother’s guidance, Gavin had gone further than that. He had plotted how to take full possession of his newest acquisition as a general might plot a military campaign. He had seduced her as if she were a princess. It was not a hard labor, and not entirely a deceitful one, either. He’d been immediately attracted to Marissia’s obvious intelligence, beauty, and–no less important to theyoung arrogant man he’d been–her desire to please.
In that first year when Karris had left and he’d been so heartbroken and believed he would never see her again, Gavin had even thought that he was in love with Marissia.
As if one could love a slave the way one loves a woman.
Such a thing was the kind of scandal of which there were songs and stories. An entire sequence of comedies was devoted to the dullard Old Giles, the henpecked lord who left his wife for his slave, left all his lands and titles to marry her, and had adventures as he cluelessly attempted the very basic labors of farmers, or millers, or thatchers, or bakers, always failing and always then having to try another occupation in the next story. Usually in another city. Usually because his lady wife had shown up at his place of business.
Other tales of masters and slaves in love were darker and not sung much in front of lords or ladies. Those were tales of the too-pretty room slave whose jealous mistress sold her off to the silver mines, or the brothels, or murdered her outright. Like every good gift, beauty was a blessing for therich, but sometimes a curse for the poor.
The frisson of danger for a lord, who might be mocked by his friends for being an Old Giles, didn’t compare to what a room slave had to feel, fearing on the one hand to please her master too little, and fearing on the other hand to be seen pleasing him too much.
Gavin had decided many times that instead of love-love, he loved Marissia as a master loves a favored hound. You could love a hound. A hound could love you. But loving a hound as one loves a woman? Disgusting. Unnatural. Perverse.
Whatever his few qualms, he had won over Marissia’s heart along with his ownership of her body, and eventually, when he was sure she cared for him more than anything in the world, he’d confronted her with evidence of her spying for the White, as if he felt betrayed by what he knew had been the point all along.
It had, of course, been unfair. Really, how could Marissia have said no to the White herself–her owner–when she hadn’t yet even met Gavin? But his scheme had worked. After shaming and terrifying her, Gavin had made his accommodation: Marissia would continue to spy for the White, but she would ask Gavin what she could share first. There would be certain secrets the White could never know.
And then, by degrees, Gavin had let her learn secrets and false secrets, always watching the White to see what she knew, always testing Marissia’s faithfulness. And faithful she had been, until Gavin had even trusted her with the bread. He hadn’t told her it was for his brother below, but she’d understood it was some awful secret, and that Orea had never learned of it.
And now the White, Orea Pullawr, was dead, and she hadn’t used whatever Marissia had told her to destroy him. So what kind of betrayal was this?
“Marissia,” Gavin said. “Why would you do this? What loyalty did you owe her?”
Marissia straightened her back, and looked him in the eye. “My name is Marissia Pullawr. The White was my grandmother. You were my assignment. I was never a slave.”