(Originally published in SDO Fantasy 2004)
Crowds of tourists streamed past Edith as she stood sweating under the hot
July sun wondering just how long she was going to have to stand there
wearing what amounted to a pair of ridiculous purple pajamas. The pajamas
in public were bad enough; now the artist wanted her to pose, too.
“Lean forward, please,” he said through his thick handlebar moustache, the
words twisted nearly past recognition by his Slavic accent. At least she
thought it was Slavic. “Put even more anger in the eyes. Such beautiful
eyes, they sparkle so in the sunlight.”
How did the Slav know she was angry? Probably it was obvious. Richard and his bizarre fetishes. He would hang this sketch in their bedroom, along with the others. This one wasn’t as bad as the ones they’d had done in Nova Scotia, but still it was degrading. Almost as degrading as what Richard had… Edith pushed the thought forcibly from her mind.
Why did she put up with it? With Richard and his…? Except that she knew
perfectly well why she put up with it. The veil Richard had convinced her
to wear for the Slav’s sketch covered up at least two painful reasons why.
“It’s amazing,” Richard said, circling her. “You actually look dangerous in
that get-up. If I didn’t know you…” He broke off into a laugh, because, Edith knew,
he did know her.
Edith knew herself, too, and her anger turned into another all too familiar
emotion that made her feel sick to her stomach. She hated that feeling.
Not only did it make her feel sick, it made her want to —
“Whoa,” Richard said, as next to him the Slav chuckled.
“What?” Edith asked.
The blood had vanished from Richard’s face. “What you just did with the
Edith looked at the curved daggers in her hands. They felt good, if a
little light. What had she done, she wondered? She had a vague sensory
memory of having moved her arms rapidly in some complicated pattern.
But that was absurd.
“Finished,” the Slav said. “Would you like to see my picture?”
Edith nodded, and the Slav turned his easel toward her.
The shock of recognition was instant, and left the woman who had been Edith
breathless. She looked from Richard to the Slav. Who was not, of course,
anything even remotely resembling a Slav.
Richard stared at the two of them, oblivious. “Take off the costume,” he
told Edith. “We’re done here.”
The man who was not a Slav executed a stately bow. “I know what he’s done
to you, Your Highness,” he said. “I can kill him, if you like.”
The woman who had been Edith wondered how many times she had wished for just that.
“No,” she said, speaking the same language her liegeman had just used. “You awoke me for a reason, I take it?”
“It’s time. Your realm needs you.”
Her Highness sighed. “Then Richard is right. We’re done here.”
Her liegeman nodded, ever so slightly. He didn’t understand. A lifetime of
death and disappointment had made a stone of his heart. He couldn’t see
that more death wouldn’t make things right.
Neither with Richard, nor her realm.