As he looked at me then, eyes suspended in surprise, I saw for the first time upon his face an emotion bordering on paternal pride. And as much as I hated the man, I would be lying if I claimed to have felt no happiness at having put it there.
“You surpass expectations, son!”
Son! A profound title for so little a word—one he rarely used with Jacque, much less myself. I smiled in delight.
“I did not think you capable! Perhaps I have underestimated your ability.” He leaned over his desk towards me. “Did he mention anything else? A location perhaps?”
The lie came with ease. “No. Just the invitation. He said he would speak to his father—”
“And Xavier would speak to me. Of course.” He fell back in his chair and sat there in concentration, the letters on his desk all but forgotten. Wisps of white smoke hung in the air between us: perhaps he sought to read the future from their movements.
I waited thus in silence for five minutes, then ten, unsure if I had been dismissed, and just as I made to leave the room he stirred into speech.
“Do you know how to ride a horse?” He gazed still into the smoke.
“No, Luthor has not yet taught me.”
“Have him start. Midsummer is three months away—I will not have the Lachliez name besmirched, least of all by your shortcomings. Live on the beasts if you must but do not fail me in this.”
He looked at me in expectation but of what I did not know.
“Do you understand?” he said, enunciating each word as one would to an invalide.
“Good. Begin your lessons tomorrow. I shall speak to Luthor regarding the manner of their instruction. I fear his hand grows soft in your tutelage. The Dubois family leaves at daybreak and I have much to attend to before their departure. You may leave.” And without another word or another glance, he resumed his examination of the letters before him. Another had already been thrown into the hearth before I remembered my place and left the study.
Daybreak: what a cruel cut the rising sun delivered to me in that moment! I must have known that Arden would leave but for it to be so soon that we could not share even a proper goodbye! I stumbled down the tower’s stairs in a stupor. I think it likely Dagger made a witty remark as I reached the bottom but I do not remember it. As with a somnambulist’s reverie, my waking mind paid no notice to its surroundings and I next found myself in my chambers, lying on my bed. The marble ceiling, which rose high above me, became then the underside of my coffin’s lid and within its lines, which before held the childish banalities of a duck’s outline or a mountain’s shadow, I saw only Arden: the curl of his hair, the line of his jaw, the point of his chin. I slept ill that night.
Let us stop there for the day. Perhaps a lesser man could pen the entirety of his life in a single sitting; it is not so with me. I confess I had expected to dislike this entire enterprise (after all, who could enjoy writing their own eulogy?) but with each passing minute I come to find it less disagreeable. A smile flashes across my face with the fond remembrances, a tear with the moments of loss. And as I turn from one page to the next, as I transmute my rainbow blood into the black ink for this pen, my mind awakens and its calcification, that abhorrent response to captivity’s claws, begins to reverse. How wondrous it feels to think again!
My only despair rises from that vision of the hangman’s noose, which draws closer and grows larger with each breath. I fear not death— its embrace I have come to know too well in recent years for such a thought—but the impossibility of the task its promise leaves before me. A month they have given me! Difficult decisions lie ahead—I can no more explain my particular set of circumstances than escape the tunnels of this gaol in thirty days. Which events do I prune, which do I preserve? I agonize for history, and the millions who will one day read these words (I maintain no false humility, which I find more detestable than the most venal braggadocio).
As for the other matter (I speak now of escape), it appears an impossibility. The barbarians hold me underground, alone. Outside of these pages I am lost to the world.
Sleep comes to me now; how fascinating that it assails a man even in the most desperate of situations—and does so ever in victory. But just as I begin to pass into its kingdom, I awaken to hear the echoes of footsteps drawing closer. The jailor? What cause has he to visit me at this hour?