Early that afternoon, Topaz carried Lord Andreas' things out to the car, and climbed into the passenger seat next to him. He wasn't sure where the clothes, track pants and T-shirt and sweatshirt and underwear, had come from, but the clothes he'd had on before were probably unsalvageable; the running shoes were his own old ones, and they certainly looked to be on their last gasp. But it was better than nothing.
They drove for more than half an hour, while Lord Andreas alternately asked Topaz questions about his skills—could he read? cook?—and told him about his own calling, analysis and interpretation of mage laws, which meant that other mages came to him when they were unsure what a law meant or how it applied.
Home turned out to be a huge house in the country.
“We have the ground floor,” Lord Andreas said. “My sister Phyllida and her sensitive Zephyr live upstairs. Zephyr does all the cooking, he's become rather good at it. Breakfast and supper you'll go upstairs to get for us. For lunch we're on our own.”
Topaz, of course, carried everything inside, to Lord Andreas' bedroom as directed.
“We can unpack later. First I want to check for phone messages. You can explore, if you like, so you'll have some idea where everything is.”
“Yes, my Lord.” It sounded like an offer, but it wasn't. He wondered which of these rooms was the one where Veritas had died, though it didn't bother him. Sensitives died, that was simply reality. Lila's mother and his own had both died while he and Lila were present; compared to that, the scene of a death three months ago was nothing.
The ground floor made a large apartment, though not too large for two. Master bedroom with its own bathroom. What appeared to be a guest room. Main bath. Living room, with a door he unbolted and peeked through, to find a flight of stairs up and a second door at the top, closed. Kitchen, with a door which turned out to lead to the basement, though he was too uneasy to go down. All centred loosely around a hallway that ran to the front door. Everything looked expensive, much of it old. He finally found Lord Andreas again in a wood-panelled room at the back of the house, mid-sized and comfortable-looking, two walls lined with books, a large desk against a third.
“Done exploring?” Lord Andreas asked indulgently.
“I think I know where all the rooms are now, at least, my Lord.”
“Good.” He waved to the loveseat across the room, standing a couple of feet out from one of the walls of books. “Have a seat. Once I'm finished returning these calls, we'll go put everything away and then see about lunch.”
Silently, Topaz settled himself on the loveseat, to wait however long it took.
Having nothing to do except sit and think was bad, but it could have been much worse, so he closed his eyes and tried hard not to see Lila in his mind.
* * *
Still drained from the hunt, and with the constant nerve-wracking presence of a mage in arm's length he dared not flinch from, Topaz was already worn out by the time they'd made a simple lunch of canned soup and tuna sandwiches. Washing the dishes took only a few minutes; while he did, Lord Andreas picked up the cordless phone from the wall and tapped a single button.
After a brief pause, he said, “Hi, I'm home. Yes, I thought Zephyr would hear the car, even if you didn't. Want to come down and see my new companion?”
Check out your new pet, you mean, Topaz thought wearily. Oh, now what?
“Leave those to dry,” Lord Andreas said. “Come to the living room.”
Obediently, Topaz followed him back down the hall.
The door he'd noticed, that had the stairs behind it, opened to let, well, someone through—Topaz had a confused impression of complex geometrical designs in a chaotic tangle, overlaying a human shape. Whoever that was, they held the door aside for a woman, one dressed in neat grey slacks and a pale rose short-sleeved blouse, her body language screaming confidence and self-care so strongly that would have told him what she was even without instinct recognizing her as a mage.
“Phyllida, Topaz,” Lord Andreas said. “Topaz, my sister Phyllida. And her sensitive Zephyr.”
At a loss for what to say, Topaz kept his eyes down and settled for, “My Lady.”
“Welcome to the house,” Lady Phyllida said, and somewhere under her brisk precisely-articulated words Topaz heard something like kindness—though one could be kind to a dog, without seeing it as anything but property. “Zephyr, come here.”
The one holding the door stepped forward immediately. Topaz dared raise his eyes just a little, decided that it was just a man, probably older than him, whose entire skin was covered with a repeating pattern of multi-sided interlocking shapes in shades of grey and green. If those were tattoos—and they must be, right?—it must have taken years to complete. Eyes respectfully low, he still looked attentive and alert.
Lady Phyllida laid a hand on his upper chest, and Topaz saw a small shiver run through him. “For the next few days, so you can help Topaz adjust, you have your voice.” She ran a hand over his hair affectionately.
“Thank you, my Lady,” he said softly.
“Off you go. I'll be here.”
Zephyr inclined his head, and gestured towards the hall; Topaz hesitated until Lord Andreas said, “It's all right, go with Zephyr. There are things I imagine he can explain better than I can, and there are things I need to do.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
Back in the kitchen, Zephyr stopped him with a hand on his shoulder; as soon as he turned, grey-and-green-patterned arms wrapped around him in a tight hug.
“First days are worst,” Zephyr said quietly. “It gets better. Less confusing. Less scary.”
Automatic response, already so on edge, was to pull away, but sensitives by nature and culture relied heavily on connections and contact, and there was nothing threatening in the touch of another sensitive. If anything, it was an immense comfort to lean against Zephyr and feel, at least for the moment, like someone might actually still see him as a person.
“How can belonging to someone get better?” he whispered, not really expecting an answer.
“It does. Not hungry or homeless. Not watching behind always. No dangerous or nasty jobs. My Lady, your Lord, not cruel like some. Veritas loved Lord Andreas very much.”
The tremble in the low voice on Veritas' name made Topaz look up. “He was your friend.”
“Yes. Very close. He helped me at first.” A tear glittered in one eye, slid down a patterned cheek.
“What...” Topaz stopped, unsure whether he was getting into something personal.
“What did she mean about having your voice back?”
“My Lady hates distractions. She likes everything quiet. It's a small shapechange. I'm used to it. It doesn't bother me now.”
But the last word suggested that at some point, it had. Topaz shivered and closed his eyes. Lady Elena had gone into the ability of mages to alter a sensitive's form at sometimes gruesome length: anything they chose, restricted only by the sensitive's mass. Fundamental biological laws might mean a form wasn't able to sustain life, in which case the sensitive died, but from her descriptions, that was sometimes not a quick occurrence.
“Look at me,” Zephyr said, freeing one hand to tilt his chin up gently. “Listen to me. The first time will terrify you. So will the second. It gets less scary. Remember. Most mages will do nothing to hurt or harm their sensitives. Most mages want to keep us alive and intact. Mages are people, some good, some bad, most between. Even the hunters are different. Lady Victoria and Lord Faisal are less cruel than Lady Elena and Lord Brock.” Topaz flinched at the latter pair of names. “Most mages are thoughtless but not heartless. They do not question but also do not like to see us miserable. They need us for magic. They have limited power alone. They need us many other ways. Lord Andreas needs even more than most. He does not move around easily. He needs you for that. You would be no use broken or dead. You will have no choice but he will keep you safe. In that and everything else. It is not right, but it is how things are. There is nowhere to go and no way to fight. We are luckier than many, I promise. I know it doesn't feel like it now. It will.” He smiled, gave Topaz a fleeting kiss. “They do not need us every minute, and I'm always upstairs.”
“You must've been awfully lonely lately.” His mind shied away from most of that, but tucked it aside to think about later. The parallel of a dog kept coming back to him: you might want it to be safe and healthy and enjoy seeing it happy, but that wouldn't stop you from making decisions for it. The difference being, the dog didn't understand and couldn't survive any other way.
“Yes. I would still rather no sensitive ever went through what you have and will in the next few days. I think every sensitive, even if they love their own mage, feels that way. But there is nothing we can do except help each other when we can.” Zephyr released him. “If we keep them happy with meals and clean clothes and a clean home, we get more leeway and more free time. Veritas did most laundry like I do most cooking. Let's do a proper tour. Starting downstairs in the laundry room.”
Topaz nodded and went with him to the door downwards.
“They cannot,” Zephyr added, even more quietly, on the stairs, “make any change to your mind. What you think and what you feel are your own always. What you cannot escape, you can still decide how to see.”
With a lot to think about, as though he really needed more, and not at all sure whether to feel reassured or more frightened, Topaz tried to concentrate on Zephyr showing him where things were and how the semi-divided household typically functioned.
<-- Back Next -->