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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 23 - Blink

The castle was larger and more splendid than Gigi could possibly have imagined. As the cart containing her and the huntsman moved relentlessly towards the building where she would learn her fate, she could not help but gawk at the pointed turrets --how many were there? There must be at least a hundred! and the sprawling magnificence that was Castle White.

She'd had no idea that Wendell was THIS rich. Why, the gatehouse they'd passed --perhaps two miles down the road! was nearly the size of her father's manor house. Everywhere she looked, she saw men, dangerous looking men, standing guard along the way. Wendell must have an army at his command. She tightened her lips. No wonder Lord Anthony wanted to marry his only child off to a man this rich, and obviously this powerful.

She wondered at this. Wendell had seemed so...shallow, disinterested. He hadn't seemed the type at all to be able to run such a powerful household. Well, maybe appearances were deceiving. Maybe she'd need to reassess the man she had no doubt she was about to be forced to marry.

The thought of her impending marriage cast a pall over her again. She didn't want Wendell. She never had. And she never would.

She wanted Wolf.

But she'd never have him. So, she thought, with the practicality that had marked her nature from childhood, perhaps I'd better make the best of the situation.

A drawbridge was lowering, and the huntsman turned around and grinned at her. "Journey's end," he said, and she noticed the huge knife in his hand. What? Surely he didn't mean to kill her, now that they were--

With one stroke he sliced through the ropes binding her hands. She fell backwards onto the floor of the cart, and heard a bark of mirthless laughter. "Doesn't do to have the chicken trussed too early," he hissed at her.

"Very funny, I'm sure!" she tossed back at him, as bravely as possible. But he had already turned back to the reins and was moving the cart across the drawbridge. It was pointless to try to jump out now. On both sides were men armed men, who looked like they'd as soon kill her as look at her. No, she had no choice but to follow this through to the end. Whatever that was.

~*~*~

...who...

...is...

...he?

Darkness. Blink. Filmy grey light. Blink. Darkness.

"...thief......mirrors......found..."

Blink. Headache. Vertigo.

"...'s awake."

Blink. Face through a gauze. Pale. Blink. Female. Blink. Clearer.

"Wha--" Throat hurts.

Face close, concerned eyes. Smile. Friend?

"Ssshhh. There now, don't move."

Good idea. "Okay." Head's on a pillow.

Soothing voice. Kind. "Are you feeling better?"

Better than what? "Think so."

"Good, good. I'm glad." Blink. She's beautiful. Does he know who she is? "And may I ask who you are?"

"I'm..." Wait -- heart thumping -- does he know who he is? Try again. "I'm..." She doesn't know you. YOU don't know you. This is bad.

"Shy, I see." Smile comes closer. Not as pretty a smile as he thought. "Tell me. What were you doing in that chamber?"

"I don't...chamber? Where?" Confusion, where was I, but more, WHO AM I??

"You know, my patience is not unlimited."

"It's not?"

"I am very angry at you, you know."

"You are?" He wrinkled his brow, trying to remember. "I'm sorry." The apology sprang to his lips. Instinctive behavior.

The woman came closer, and he could see her red hair coiled in a braid around her head, the pointed collar, the crown on her head.

Crown.

Definitely not good.

"Of course I'm angry. You've been naughty, haven't you? Breaking priceless objects. Grave robbing."

"I was?" He was totally confused. And totally taken aback when she raised her eyes above his head and two muscular brutes grabbed his arms and jerked him upright from the couch where he was reclining. "Ow!"

His muscles ached where he was being held, and someone was holding his head back by his hair, which brought stinging tears to his eyes in addition to the dizziness of being vertical so suddenly. The woman looked gravely distressed, but he was beginning to realize her expression didn't necessarily match her intent. But her voice was still gently soothing. Rather lulling, in fact.

"Gently, gently. Don't damage him. He's rather pretty."

"But, Your Majesty --" This voice was guttural and whiny and it set his teeth on edge.

"Do as I say, troll."

Troll? He knew what a troll was. Oh dear. But the pressure lessened and his hair was released. He started to speak before they grabbed it again. "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to do... whatever you think I did."

"I do appreciate your apology, though it doesn't really go far enough, does it?" She strolled around the room, and his eyes tracked her. "When my men came to collect the mirrors, what did they find, but an uninvited guest, a clumsy guest, who broke an irreplaceable glass."

Mirror... The mirrors were parallel, facing each other, moving towards each other, reflecting into each other, and he was trapped, the room airless, and... Blink. The image flashed through him and was gone. He stood panting. Why couldn't he remember?

"And to add insult to injury, what do we find in your hand, but this lovely silver ring!" She held out her hand, revealing a filigree ring in her palm. "You were very bad to take this from her."

Her? "I'll give it back to her. I'll apologize." Damned if he could remember who "her" was!

But the red-haired woman was shaking her head sadly. "Oh, dear. I'm afraid that won't be possible. There's nothing left of her now. She's gone to dust. Just a pile of dust, alas."

He was horrified. "I didn't kill her, did I?" Whatever they were talking about, whoever she was, whoever HE was, he didn't like the idea that he could be a killer.

The woman smiled, her eyes crinkling up at the corners. "You sly thing, of course you did! Well, I should say you helped her on her way --she's been nearly dead for years! Decades, really. She was my mentor, you know. Almost a mother to me, but, in time, all things must pass. All people, too. We must move on." She shrugged. "You know, in a way, you did me a favor."

He said nothing, because he couldn't figure out what to say to that.

"That's why I didn't have you killed immediately. I wanted to know the sort of person who would do me such a kindness." She leaned in close, looking up at him, as if she were studying his face. "I can always have you killed later!" At his blanching face she laughed a little, merrily, then walked over to an elaborate chair and sank into it with a satisfied smile. "I've been tied to her for so many years obligations can be terribly boring. And now you've freed me from her! Why, just the other day I dropped in on her, on my way home from well, shall we say an extended visit in the south --and I asked her when I could take the mirrors with me. She refused, can you imagine? After everything I've done for her, wasting years of my life in that dreadful --" She stopped, her eyes becoming shrewd. "Wait that's where I know you from. You were a prisoner --"

I'm a criminal???

"--Yes, yes... you're that wolf I was going to use to catch the dog!"

I'M A WOLF???!!!!! He knew about wolves; he WAS one? That hardly seemed likely!

She stood again, coming towards him. "Let him go." The hands disappeared but he heard grumbling behind him. "You'll be pleased to hear I caught him without you. Now, as I recall, you were going to give me your will."

Give her his will? What was she talking about? Wait... he had a sense memory of a buzzing in his head. No! He didn't quite know what it was, but he knew he didn't like it. Don't let her do that "Yes, Your Majesty," he blurted out, before she could do anything to him, "I already have. I... I heard your voice in my head and I had to come to you." His mind raced, inventing, and came up with something else. "The ring was my gift to you."

"Really." Her face was neutral for a moment and he feared she knew he was feeding her a line. But then she smiled, eager, it appeared, to believe the flattery. "How very sweet. I do believe I like you. I am never wrong about people. I knew you were something out of the ordinary." She put out one hand, one gloved hand, and his legs knew what to do, even if his head didn't, and he knelt and kissed the ring, the silver ring that she had placed on her index finger. As he took her hand he felt the glove and in his mind a splinter, an image...

--her servant, loyal servant, she strokes his hair, running her fingers, her gloved fingers, through his tail, now you are mine, now you belong to me--

And then it was gone. He shivered, the feel of the glove still on his lips, his tail...

TAIL?

That would take some getting used to. But she was speaking again.

"--and Burly, you are dismissed. Go relieve the guards at Wendell's chamber."

"Yes, Your Immensity."

"Blabberwort, Bluebell--help with the mirrors,"

"Yes, Your Scariness."

He turned and watched them go, three misshapen, hideous trolls. One seemed to be a female. She looked frightening. But the woman in front of him frightened him more. The tallest troll turned and went out a door, while the others -- the others walked over to a greenish mirror and walked through it.

"What is...what is --" He could hardly get the words out, so he just pointed at where they'd disappeared.

"Oh, that." The woman shrugged. "That's just a little short cut back to the chamber. That's how we got you here." She simpered at him again, her eyes dancing. He was wary, but tried not to let it show. "I hope you didn't hurt yourself too badly on the broken glass. I bandaged your hand myself."

He looked at his hands. The left one had a silk scarf wrapped around it with a faint line of blood visible through it. The scarf smelled of the woman. "Thank you."

"It's just a little cut. One must be careful around glass. I do hope you haven't given yourself seven years' bad luck."

There's a comforting thought.

"Now... what am I to do with you?"

"I... don't know, Your..." crown, crown ...Highness." He didn't really have any idea what to do. What he could do. What he SHOULD do right now.

"Perhaps a footman... no, maybe in the kitchens. Would you like that?"

He was hungry. Kitchens meant food. "Yes, Your Highness."

"Very well. Come with me then -- do you have a name?"

Name... /splinter/ --stop the wolf, you're just wolf now, no other name -- "Just 'wolf.'"

She wrinkled her brow a little. He thought she was quite beautiful. And quite terrifying. "That's rather obvious, but, well. Come. Perhaps I can find some use for you, wolf. I can tell you will serve me well."

"Oh, yes, I'll serve you. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, I'm your wolf, no doubt about it."

He was babbling, letting the words say themselves, as if he'd said them before, but at the same time he felt relief. At least I have a purpose, now.

She led him through the corridors of a vast palace, and his mouth dropped open from the splendor that surrounded him. He had no memory of anything, but doubted a criminal like himself had ever seen such a place before. Everywhere they went, servants bowed to the woman and called her "Your Majesty." She was a queen, no doubt about it, and she was interested in him!

They passed through a chamber and a golden-colored dog came bounding up to them to be stroked, wagging its tail fervently. He was aware of his own tail, now, and more painfully aware of not acting like the dog in front of him. Tail or not, he felt like a man, and didn't like the implied stigma of being related to a canine. He frowned. He supposed he'd heard of human wolves before, and had an inkling that they were somehow less than men.

The woman greeted the dog warmly, scratching it so that one leg went off at a rapid twitch. She laughed, a low, musical sound. "Funny, isn't he? He was briefly not a dog at all, but now he's back, just a happy fellow, aren't you, boy?" At her companion's obvious confusion, she smiled. "The prince was much more compliant than I expected. Didn't need to worry, as it turned out." She caught his expression. "I know. You haven't any idea what I'm talking about, have you?"

"Not really."

"Well, it doesn't matter. Everything is on the road to success now. I just need you to help me a little."

"As you wish, Your Majesty."

"Because I can change my mind at any time and have you killed." Her hand was on the dog's tail, and she pulled it, making him yelp. "You do understand."

He blinked at her and nodded mutely.

"Good. Come the kitchens are just over here."

As they turned towards a staircase, a slight commotion made them turn their heads. Two guards were coming towards them, a small woman between them. Not much more than a girl, really, dressed in ragged gypsy clothes. Behind them a man in a floppy hat had stopped to speak to a footman. The small procession stopped a few feet from the queen.

"The Lady Virginia, Your Majesty."

"Very good. I'll deal with her shortly. Take her to the throne room."

The guards nodded as one and turned with the girl to head in another direction. The girl swiveled, staring, her mouth open, and she made a little sound, somewhere between a sigh and a sob. She looked at the queen's new servant, her eyes lighting up, her demeanor softening.

He looked at her. Right at her, his expression unchanging.

"Come, wolf."

"Yes, Your Majesty." And he turned and was gone.

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