“Don’t make a melodrama out of it dearest. It’s not worth it for a molly-toy like you,” Malkar said, as sweetly as he ever said he loved me, as cheerfully as he had said they would be sharing me last night.
I felt my heart freeze.
He finished his breakfast and walked to my side of the table. He bent to kiss my forehead, one hand in my hair, the other on my neck.
“Why so still and quiet? Oh, dear. Did you think I meant all those things I said?” His grip tightened until I couldn’t take a full breath. “I thought a professional would be more clearheaded.” Malkar stood back up and let me go so quickly I rocked back in my chair.
“Now, Hestrand and I are going on a trip. We’ll be back in a week. Remember to study while I’m away while I’m away. I’ll know if you don’t. Goodbye, darling.”
I watched him leave, but didn’t dare to turn my head. I couldn’t see him leave, but he was only out of my sight for a moment before I hear the door close. I put my head in my hands. They shake a little.
It had been getting better. I’d finally started to talk right, to move right. Malkar hadn’t beaten me in weeks. If he wasn’t even bothering to lie anymore…I stayed hunched over until a maid came in to clear the table. I mumbled something about not feeling well and took it up to my room. There, I mechanically ate my cold eggs and thought.
Malkar was right. I did know better. The morning before the auction, the oldest whores had set all us kids down. There’d been more than usual, because of the fire. “Catching a man’s eye is easy, but don’t be fooled. You manage to make him really love you, they’ll be telling the tale for the next Great Septad. If he really leaves his wife for you, you’ll get to be a saint, with a shrine in every bedroom.”
I knew Malkar was too good to be true, but he’d caught me anyway. It was right in front of my face, but I was too stupid and desperate to see it over my gloating. I faked being too smart to fall for a trick, but once he’d bought me, I’d thought I might as well make the most of it. I’d been so glad not to be a whore. So glad I’d ignored that I still was.
He could have killed me in the dining room. Wouldn’t even have to strangle me, he’s a hocus, a blood-wizard, he could kill me anytime he wanted. He wouldn’t even break a sweat.
Malkar’s killed people before. I’d known the first time I saw him. After he started teaching me magic, I’d stopped worrying he was going to kill me. I thought he wouldn’t waste his time. But now I knew the magic he did. I had learned some spells are more powerful with wizard blood. With a wizard’s death.
I finished eating my eggs and added the unbuttered bread to the stash under my bed. I sat my phoenix-laced tea aside. I didn’t know where I’d be getting more.
I had to leave.
I spent the morning sneaking about the house. I’d never be graceful enough to be a thief, but I could steer clear of the furniture so my clumsiness wouldn’t betray me. And the servants were determined to ignore me unless they had no other choice. I didn’t know what they thought of me and I didn’t want to. It couldn’t be worse than the truth.
My spoils were a blanket and a scarf stolen from the laundry, and more bread and some cured meat from the kitchen.
I couldn’t bring myself to go in Malkar’s room. Not even to search for the phoenix. I stood shaking outside his room until a maid came down the hall. I scurried away like a mouse.
That afternoon, the phoenix started to wear off, but the withdrawal had set in. It felt like the Winter Fever. My bones ached. I took the smallest sip of my tea and tried to ignore it.
I did study. It distracted me, and Malkar had trained me too well.
Ironically, the first night I’d slept in this house, the only night I’d slept with Malkar, was also the only night I’d slept easily. The country was too quiet, and the few sounds strange. I’d never heard an owl or a coyote before.
That first night, I was sure that Malkar was better than Lorenzo. But Lorenzo had never lied to me. I knew exactly what I was to him.
I couldn’t stay, because Malkar would kill me.
But what will you do?- said an inner voice that sounds like Lorenzo, and like Malkar. Go back to Mélusine? You don’t even know where it is. And how do you think you’ll get back? Walking? You’ve never even walked across the Lower City in one stretch. You’ve barely left Simside and Pharohlight. It took two days to get here. It could take a month on foot. And what will you do when you get there? Hope Lorenzo hasn’t bought a new body for your bed? It’s been almost two years.
I curled up tightly beneath my blankets. I could suck my way onto wagons. I could work the street myself. Fuck, I could learn a trade, work in the factories. I could even do magic, until the Mirador found me.
I started to laugh. I was fucked anyway I looked. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe, and then I cried until I fall asleep.
The next morning, there was a letter at breakfast. They’d been delayed and wouldn’t be back for another week. I relaxed for the first time in- I don’t even know how long. Malkar had left before, and he always came back when he said he would. I had another day or two to be over the worst of the withdrawal, and be long gone by the time Malkar came back.
That night, I woke with my hands held above my head. Malkar was above me, tying my wrists to the headboard.
Of course. I should have known.
“I missed you too much darling. Did you have fun while I was away?”
I sobbed and turned my head away. Satisfied with my bound wrists, he pushed my legs apart. He barely prepared me before entering me, pushing me down. I couldn’t catch my breath. “Now darling, why do you look so unhappy? Did you have any plans for my absence?”
I stayed silent, my eyes screwed shut.
Malkar grabbed my head hard enough to bruise and pulled my face to his. “Look at me when I talk to you.” I didn’t move. “Very well,” Malkar said, “if you refuse to cooperate, you can. I’ll wait you out.”
I heard nothing, not even my own breath. My eyes flew open, and I saw nothing. I screamed, and I didn’t know if Malkar couldn’t hear me, or just ignored me.
I only knew what I could feel. I knew he is pushed my lower body up until most of my weight is on my already sore shoulders and upper back. I knew I fought him, as I hadn’t fought since Keeper.
He fucked me until I was too tired to fight, and then he fucked me harder. I felt him come inside me. Then he kissed my forehead, released me, and got off the bed.
And now I don’t know anything.
I don’t know how long it’s been. I wish I had drunk the last of my phoenix laced tea before bed. I wish I hadn’t bothered trying. I’d thought dying in a field was better than dying a prisoner, but I’d never had a chance. Malkar had planned this, I knew it as I knew nothing else but the ache in my bones, the dryness of my eyes, the soreness of my muscles. I feel my tears and sweat dry. I feel his come cool. I feel my heart breaking. I am a fool.
I don’t know if Malkar is still in my room, or if he leaves, or if there are others watching me. At first I try to be strong, lie still and quit. But I am weak. I start to cry again, start to beg.
Please I’ll be good.
I’ll stay, I won’t try to run away again.
I can’t take this.
Please keeper, I’ll drown.
Which possibility is worse? That I can’t be heard, or that he doesn’t care?
I try to beg the gods and saints, but I know no prayers.
I try to think past my fear. He knows, he knows, he knows I wanted to run away.
Did he plan it? He gave me a chance just after his betrayal, of course he planned it. But why now?
And then it comes to me. Of course he’s stopped lying. He doesn’t have to. He hasn’t had to beat me for weeks. I’m obedient. I talk correctly, I move correctly. I think in the right accent. Even most of my begging was in the right accent. He has me completely. Why would he need to lie to keep me close? Why would he need to kill me?
Felix, Methony’s son, Felix of Simside and Pharohlight, is dead. I helped kill him myself.
I stop begging. I give up.
The first thing I heard is Malkar.
“What do you say now, darling.”
The first thing I saw was blinding light, and his shadowed face above mine.
The first thing I said was “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry you tried to run, or sorry you got caught? I’ll know if you lie.”
“Sorry for everything.” Sorry for everything, starting with trying to catch your eye at the Shining Tiger. “I’ll never do it again. I’m yours, Malkar.” The truest thing I’ve ever said.
“Good boy.” He sealed my apology, my surrender with a kiss.
Suddenly, I remembered a line from a story Joline told me a lifetime ago: ‘the princess was trapped, a fate worse than death.’
But what did you know Joline? You’re dead, and I wanted to live.