Paved with Mirrors (Part 2 of 3)
Life was easy in the Omnion household, as easy as she’d been promised it would be, and Solshae was given all the trifles she’d been lead to expect: she was dressed in rich fabric, and she ate at the table with the family every day, selecting from a symphony of dishes, tasting new things.
“This is my daughter, Linithmailild. She will be your companion from now on. You will serve her and keep her company, talk to her, teach her.”
Lin was a rare beauty; all gold and silver, mixed in with a little touch of amber. The amber, Lin told her, came from a girl named Tofnin, who’d spent ten years with her before encountering a young merchant and heading away to be married. The red had been in her hair, and it’d captivated Lin, who’d stroked it with hesitant fingers, letting traces of the colour rub off on her – not in her pale gold hair, but along the edges of her cheeks, the pads of her fingers, along the lines of her neck.
“Do you think we’re monsters?” she asked Solshae.
“What? Why should I?”
“People do. Life-suckers, vampires, that kind of thing.”
Vampire. As Meli had said. “I don’t. You don’t hurt anyone.”
“And you don’t think you’ll die in my service”
“No. But you’ll change. You’ll become somebody different.”
“I’m not afraid of change.”
“You’ll see me in the mirror.”
“It’s stolen. Your beauty is real and earth-bound, it’s not an illusion, it’s not a reflection. It’s the real thing, it’s pure.”
Solshae had never thought of herself as beautiful before, but when Lin told her she was she found she could believe it. She could look at herself and see what Lin saw, she could appreciate the gold in her hair, the sky in her eyes; the roses in her cheeks. She could see things around her in new ways, see the textures of them, the depth of colour. And she could see that Linithmailild loved her.
It was surprising, strange. But it turned out that the Faceless could love quickly and deeply; almost at will. When Elignathios had presented her to Lin, Lin had chosen to love her, had chosen to adopt her as a kind of sister. And because she’d willed it, the bond had grown, as if psychic strings had reached out of her and dug spurs into Solshae, feeding affection and need through themselves until the flow went both ways and Solshae found herself loving Lin.
“But you must have loved Tofnin this way.”
“How could you ever part with her?”
“It was what she wanted.”
“And how could she leave you?”
“Because I let her go. Like all the others.”
“She left so much of herself behind in you, took parts of you away.”
“There’ll be one, one day, who’ll stay?’
“I don’t know yet.”
She grasped it: “The way you stayed for Elignathios.”
“Do you ever…?”
“Regret it? No. This is who I should be.”
“What was your name?”
She paused, either calling up the memory or deciding whether or not to reveal this. “I was called Dosni.” She said it as if the name pained her a little, as if it were foreign – Solshae sensed that she didn’t want to talk about it, so she let the past rest in the past.
In the present, there was the whole city of Adrios to explore. And when Lin discovered how new she was to the city, and how little of it she had seen, she made it a mission to broaden Solshae’s horizons. They were people of standing now, a nobility of sorts, and they could go where they pleased, go in style, go in fine carriages and expect that people would step aside for them as they passed through the streets, would bow and defer and use the term ‘lady’ when they asked about a price, or for directions.
Lin showed her all the markets she’d never been to, including those that floated on the river or above the city on cushions of spellcraft; she took her to the Grand Theatre; to the sand-studded Arena; showed her the great belching chimneys of the Furnaces; the Citadel of Sorcerers; the old, moss-grown circles where once criminals and deformed children had been sacrificed to a deity no-longer feared, barely remembered. Lin took her to where great statues and complex fountains reigned over mosaic cobblestones, where houses were magnificent and the people were stranger and more varied, more augmented, that she had ever realised. Her own part of the Adrios had been tiny in comparison.
And at nights they’d huddle in Lin’s bed, and read poetry together. Solshae was permitted pen and paper, given free reign to write her own compositions, and read them out to Lin. Sometimes she and Lin would write together, passing the pen between them every line, braiding a poem together between the two of them, knitting their minds just as they knit together the words into epics and love songs.
Solshae told Lin: “I want to be a poet. I want to perform.”
And Lin said to Soshae: “I want to have a child.”
Solshae asked her, “Aren’t we your children?”
“Yes. Yes. But it could be… a child born of my body, the way it was in the old ways.”
“Like a human baby?”
“Is it… even possible?”
“With a human man, perhaps.”
Solshae had been amongst them long enough now to know this: “It’d never be allowed.”
“I know. And yet, once it was done, the little soul growing already, there would be no undoing it, no going back.”
Solshae knew that there were indeed ways in which it might be undone, gone back on. And Lin, through her, should know as well. But it would not have been the way of the Faceless to call a midwife, or mix a poison. And so: “Are you seriously about this?”
“Yes. More than anything. I can’t even explain it, it feels so strange. Hundreds of years… but I do. I want a baby, made from my body and his. I want it so badly.”
“Elignathios won’t like it.”
“That’s why I need you to help me.”
Lin had a man in mind already. And she confessed that he was the second such man she had considered, the other having grown to middle age, to marriage, and now to his dotage. She had been thinking about it for all those years. And now this one. It would have been considered indelicate for her to talk to him directly, or unchaperoned. But he was a frequent visitor to some of the entertainments Lin took them to; he was of merchant rank – wealthy enough, but not on a level with Lin and her family. And human. Short-lived and freckled, dark-haired and with green-grey eyes.
Lin stood with Solshae on the bridge and pointed him out as he strode about the market looking for bargains; she would position herself to sit close to him sometimes when they went to the theatre. A smile or a nod might be permitted and be no cause for scandal. He might stand aside to let her pass, offer a solicitous hand, and the same to Solshae.
“This is all? Well, you can’t be in love from this?”
“Can I not?” Lin raised one pointed, painted eyebrow.
“You do love differently, I know, but you’ve barely said two words to him. There’s no trace of him mixed into your skin.”
“Ah, well, I don’t mean that I’m in love. But I’ve researched him and I have watched him. Those are the eyes I want my child to have.”
And Lin, having lived centuries of privilege, would have what she desired.
In the meantime, Solshae felt safe. She was accepted into her new environment, into this family as a kind of surrogate daughter, into the neighbourhood, and the city. And she noticed these small changes in herself: that her skin took on a silverish hue in certain kinds of light, and she marked new lines on the back of her hands, a tightening and crinkling of her chin. She’d been told that she would be changed. And she’d seen now the depths of change that other Faceless adoptees underwent. She’d seen withering and merging, she’d seen deformities that were somehow still lovely.
She understood, after all, that for this life there was a price.
And feeling safe, feeling as if she’d succeeded and conquered, she wrote to her family:
Dear Mama and Papa, Dearest Rithny,
I have made it to Adrios unharmed and in good health. And I have stumbled across good fortune. I serve in the household of a noble family, in an honourable position as the companion to the daughter of that household. See for yourselves how my penmanship has blossomed. Be assured that I travel in the best circles, eat the best foods, and I am dressed in lace and velvet when I go outdoors.
And outdoors: it was worth the harsh wilderness, and the danger, to live inside these walls, to see the sights. There are more kinds of people here than you could ever dream about, there are peoples I thought were only fairytales, and peoples I have never heard of and would not have had the imagination to think up.
I will send you money when I can, but for now please have these silks that are courtesy of my Adrios family. Please know that I can make a place for you here in this city should you risk the journey. I have ridden on a unicorn, and watched the birth of a phoenix – a bird with wings of fire and a body of molten gold – and these are just the everyday threads of what it means to live in Adrios.
I hope you are all kept well and safe, be assured that I indeed am.
She gave it to a messenger – one who travelled the secret ways and could avoid the tangled scrub and thorns beyond – along with six of Lin’s silver coins. Coins she parted with without so much as a thought. “There is nothing that matters more than family. You must write to them whenever you can.”
“Aren’t you jealous at all?”
“Why should I be?”
“That I have them, when you are my family.”
“Why should a person have only one family? Where is it written?”
“It just… is.”
“Because it was said so once? Nonsense. There’s no such thing as too much family. Write to them all you wish. Every day if it pleases you.”
But there was one she didn’t see every day. Solshae realised she had gone weeks, perhaps a couple of months, since the last, brief time she’d gone to see Meli.
Ashamed, she took a thick cloak, and went out into the charcoal darkness at once. She knew she’d find Meli walking home from the mill. She cornered her as she would have turned off to her boarding room, just a few doors down from where Solshae had lived once too.
“Solshae!” She ran with her basket, catching Solshae in an embrace.
“I’m sorry… I should have come earlier.”
“It’s no matter. Are you all right?”
“You are… you’re…” she reached to touch Solshae’s cheek. “You’ve changed, you have. You’re different.”
And it was different. That old bond, forged over only months, had been superseded by another, more quickly formed, and running deeper, in more colours. She didn’t want it to be so, but she couldn’t deny what she felt, and she knew Meli sensed it too.
As the snow came, so too did the flyers and the posters, the rumours, of the WinterHeart ball. There would be nothing finer, grander, brighter, more expensive or more important. Anyone of any signifncance would be there, and others who’d wealth or excuse enough to find a way through the door.
“And we, of course,” said Lin, “are a presence there every year. Both of us will have a new dress. Yours will be just as fine as mine, since you are as family as I am.”
Solshae giggled, she couldn’t help it. These months against centuries.
“Ah, but I mean it,” and Lin dropped her voice to a low whisper, “and I mean this as well: you will have your night as a performing poet. And I will have a few hours in which to conceive my child.”
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work