KAMI WATCHED ROOK return from nothingness to become flesh again. He was naked, his clothes having fallen to the floor. Kami called for her chambermaid and watched as the young woman helped him dress.
Rook was a rugged man, thick and scarred. He was handless, like her, like all the Essanti. His ears were deformed from frostbite. His cheeks and chin held uneven bristles from a coarse and graying beard. He preferred his well-worn monk’s robe to the fine colors of the court. Baths weren’t unknown to him, but he made a game of avoiding the attendants Avestine attached to him.
Kami had once relished the taste of his flesh and the urgency of his cock. She winced at a memory of his violence and marveled at the man who knew her in a way no other man ever had. She smiled to herself, recalling the blissful immersion when the girl she had been dissolved into the riot of life he hated so much. “Do you remember the cave, Rook? Seeing you now makes me feel hungry all over.”
Rook sent the chambermaid away, waiting for her to close the door before saying, “That was a lifetime ago, Kami. There was a moment when . . .” He shook his head. “I’m not who I was.”
“How can you enter the realm of the dead?” she asked. “You lost the god years ago. She got you drunk and used some whore and she showed us. We saw your child. Then she hid the boy away in the Demon Quarter.”
“So we understand each other,” said Rook.
“I don’t understand anything, least of all you. You’re free. You can go anywhere, have anything.”
“That isn’t freedom.”
“You can’t be free and serve her.”
Rook shook his head again. “You’re not even being honest with yourself. You keep returning to her. Why don’t you run off to the Demonforest and stay? You need her, don’t you? Why do you suppose that is?”
“Step-by-step. One day I won’t come back.”
“She sent the gods from the world, but strange things have happened in the years since we came to the Ice Quarter. Demons have come to the world and the gods won’t damn well leave. It’s important she not learn of her failure. She must believe she’s in control. We can’t let her know.”
Kami wondered at Rook, surprised by his desire to maintain this lie. Not that he refused to lie. He and Kami shared many over the years. A life with Avestine required lies, but Kami had hidden her ability only to protect Veris; certainly Avestine would become more aggressive in her management of the boy if she had questions about his powers.
“Why lie? Wouldn’t you prefer she accommodate you, that she quit ordering you about?” Rook didn’t respond, so Kami added, “Are you worried about her?”
She expected a derisive response, but Rook clenched his jaw. “Sometimes I forget you truly love her,” she said. She remembered a time when tender passions tormented her, too. The presence of Avestine seemed to ignite only physical and aggressive passions in her now. She had left more docile desires somewhere in the Trade Quarter.
“You can be unbearably cold,” said Rook. “It’s the god that moves in you. There are those who believe the Wild is passion incarnate, that men have tepid souls, but the Wild has no heart. You never had a woman’s gentle soul, but whatever you were has been consumed by a ravenous beast.”
A feeling swelled in Kami’s chest that she had not felt for a very long time. She couldn’t breathe for a moment. “Your god has transformed you into something quite beautiful, Rook. At least I can still appreciate that. Sometimes I forget, but now I remember. I remember poetry. And music, too.”
“You sang and played a lyre.”
“I wonder why.”
Copyright © 2021 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.