The Zalethi was not pleased – a most regrettable situation that seemed to worsen with every hour. First she had to let go of that beautiful girl in lieu of her far inferior sister… then this.
“Stay with me,” she hushed, focusing on stabilizing the makeshift glass bed where the ancient Loukomon rested. Her servants moved around the two of them like busy working bees, taking care of his skin, his clothes and his ailing health. “Just for a little more.”
Thesanthei gave her a soft smile, trying to pass this all off like a minor annoyance. But she had just seen him stumble and fall on the marble floor, his cane clattering useless away as he coughed dark and clotted blood.
Her hand reached for his wrist, caressing it with the strength of a feather.
She felt the dying skin beneath, his bones and his flesh, eaten through by the chalk-illness like a black taint ate through a healthy fruit. On the outside, their cares had still managed to make him look somewhat healthy, but she could feel that underneath it, his organs were busy dying.
He might still have…
She stopped. She did not feel like concretizing that thought.
“What a regrettable conundrum,” he chuckled, his voice dusty. “Here you should be taking care of the Dominion and are stuck here with me, all because I wasn’t able to stand up by myself. Most… ah… most embarrassing. I hope this will not show up in my end of the year report…”
She chuckled, even if her chest felt as cold and constricted as grinding ice.
“I will get the dinner cancelled. It is more important to spend a few more minutes together.”
“Oh, Twelve Above, you are so melodramatic,” he scoffed, weakly waving his hand. His fingers were starting to look powder-white around their tips, another surefire sign the malady was about to claim him for good. “I could very much enjoy a dinner. In fact, it would be better for my health and spending it all alone in a white room with your nosy physicians who never seem to find my butthole.”
“If I have twelve days or twelve years… or twelve hours, I do not know. A man’s time is not his own, and its length does not depend on his desires. But if I can choose how to come to the embrace of the sunless lands, then I would prefer it to be as a Loukomon and as an old man still with his faculties intact. Rather than as cocoon of white sheets and whiter lies.”
Beneath her mask, she frowned. She really did not understand him, but they surely saw life and time from two very different perspectives.
With everyone and everything else, it was easy to dismiss their ideas as the meaningless bubbling of a lesser mind, scattered between stimuli and fears. But she had long-since decided to lift Thesanthei to a higher rank… and that meant accepting that his thoughts might have a dignity just on their own.
Why did she want to listen to his counsel after all? Only to rebuke it when it meant the most to him?
She lifted her gaze to spot a Daimon walking by and she took that as a sign. Someone she used to know would call her a lousy friend if she did not respect Thesanthei’s desires in this moment.
“So be it,” she sighed. “You will sit at the table. Next to me, in fact. My servants will take care of you for the time being, though. I will procure you a change of clothes and you will get a seat next to me.”
“Oh my,” he grinned. “The Twelve truly have the best sense of humour. They deny me a seat next to eleven old stooges too worried with the shape of their own hides to hold a sensible thought, and am rewarded with one more pleasant dinner next to the Herald? Maybe I should fall to the floor more often…” he began to chuckle, but his breath quickly turned to a rasp and he leaned forward, rattled by coughs. “Speaking… ah… speaking of which, I suppose your new slavegirl will follow us at dinner as well?”
Not the best thing to think about at the moment, but yes, she was supposed to. In her haste and her foul mood she had just left her to the cares of one of her Daimons. A simple perceptive pulse sent through the windows of the Birdcage saw her together with the others, though.
Nives might take good care of her.
“Sending her straight to the Birdcage like your most prized possession,” Thesanthei mused. “Now that is another thing you don’t see every day. The girl look stricken with fear and sorrow. But I did like something lurking just behind her gaze.”
She wondered what that might be.
She could believe Thesanthei’s thoughts to have value and meaning. But this other one? She was nothing more than a variation on an endless theme.
“I will be happy to be proven wrong,” she murmured. Then with a flick of her wrist, the glass bed began to shift away from her. “I will lead you to the care of the physicians for the time being. Can I trust you to behave?”
“Tell them to keep their fingers off where they don’t belong and there will be no fuss.”
“At this point… very well. I will see you soon, Child.”
He nodded, resting his head at last on the pillow. The moment he was out of sight, she perceived his breath turning shallow and his expression giving way to a much harsher mask of weariness.
He was always putting up an effort next to her.
She was doing the same for him.
She would miss their time together.
And speaking of time together, she turned to greet another person who had been pulled up from the depths of the castle. Lathie couldn’t have been more different from the old Loukomon, youth still shining bright on his face. He bowed at her presence.
“You have been quick,” she mused.
“I hope so.”
“Any news?” What could she hope for?
“Nothing out of the ordinary. The pattern is still too confused to make up.”
She thought once more about Thesanthei’s words. About how the world did not follow the desires of one man.
They surely did not follow hers either. And not for lack of trying.
“You will still tell me more about it after dinner. Now please go prepare those documents we talked about. I will have a few choice words with the Loukomon of Velzna during our meeting.”