In which Valarien discovers that the games people play
When the two torturers returned, Vayadir brought with him some more food for Valarien.
"And make sure 'e gets it all," growled Sterkvarl, as the smaller man carried it across. "It's not fer the likes o' thee."
Vayadir muttered something under his breath which, fortunately for him, Sterkvarl didn't hear. It seemed that Zervan was now trying to tempt the wizard in a different way, for the food sent down might have come from his own table. There was wine, too - a delicate white wine, probably a Volasnian Chardonnay, for the fish; a spicy-smelling Lascan Cabernet and lastly, a rich black Muscat as an accompaniment to the sweetmeats. The quality of both food and wine was excellent but Valarien was thankful that the quantity was small. His body would otherwise have rebelled against such richness after so long a period on the edge of starvation.
Vayadir brought more food later on before he and Sterkvarl gave up their grisly business and left their prisoners to uneasy sleep - if sleep they could . . . Valarien could, having managed to summon up a little magical assistance. His sleep was deep and dreamless and healing, but it could not prevent him waking up to hell again - and a hangover.
Vayadir was taking food to some of the other prisoners, so the wizard took the opportunity to test the recovery of his magical powers against the sphere again. It was better, but still beyond his strength. He was contemplating an elemental transmutation spell when Vayadir appeared beside him.
"Oh dear," he said, "are we 'ungry then? An' I 'aven't got anythin' for ya today. Ain't that a shame? I tell ya what. 'Cause I likes yer, I'll gi' ya a drop to drink - just outta the kindness of me 'eart. 'Ow's that?"
Valarien couldn't say he was overjoyed, but accepted what was going.
"This is your big day today, fella," the little man went on gloatingly with a sadistic grin. "Today, we gets to play a little game, you an' me. It's called pilliwinks. Knows it, does ya?"
Valarien didn't, but knew for certain that he wasn't going to like it. Vayadir went off happily to fetch the appropriate implements, but after a lot of rattling and clanking, came back empty handed. Cries of pain from somewhere nearby enabled him to locate the pilliwinks.
"Oh dear," he remarked consolingly, "Sterkvarl seems to be using 'em at the moment, but never mind, eh. There's plenty more fings we can play, like this." He leaned casually on the wooden bar that operated the rack's mechanism. Valarien winced in pain.
"Ya liked that, di'n't ya? I could tell. Shall I do it again?"
The wizard shook his head.
"Well, if you don't wants to play any more, all you 'as ta do is say, 'Yes', - meanin' 'Yes, I will be a good boy, an' serve my lord an' master, Archduke Zervan of Sharestan.' But just 'Yes' will do fer now. We wouldn't want ta make it too 'ard for ya, nah would we? So what's it ta be, eh? Yes, you wants to serve our master - or no, you wants ta play a bit longer first - go on, say 'No'."
Valarien said nothing.
"Well, that's as good as a 'no' to me," said his tormentor, and leaned on the bar again. The wizard moaned with the pain as his joints resisted the pressure.
"You're gettin' the 'ang of this, aren't ya? I can tell. You doesn't want ta stop now, does ya - now that yer enjoyin' it, like?"
Valarien gritted his teeth and said nothing. Beads of sweat, fighting for living space, coalesced to coat his body with a glistening film of moisture. Vayadir grinned. He was enjoying himself immensely.
" 'Ere comes the big one, fella. You're gonna love this . . . "
Valarien screamed. It was the same scream of agony and despair he had heard yesterday, only now it came from his own mouth. Vayadir maintained the tension, and asked again if he would submit.
"Damn you to hell first," he whispered.
"Ooh, language! Well, I can see you're gettin' bored wiv this game, so let's play another one, eh?"
Abruptly, he released the bar and Valarien's joints snapped back into place, complaining fiercely. Vayadir went away and came back with a slim cane.
"Let's play bastinado. It'll bring tears to yer eyes will this one," he said, and whacked the cane hard across the soles of the wizard's feet. Valarien found the observation painfully accurate.
"We can play this one a long time - unless you're goin' ta be a spoilsport, an' say 'Yes'. . . ?"
Valarien bit his lip to stop himself from giving in. Vayadir thwacked his feet again, harder, and the wizard tasted blood.
"Stop that this instant!" came an imperious voice from the top of the stairs.
"My lady?" enquired Vayadir.
"I said, stop. My father told me about your latest prey, and I've come down specially to see him. Now go away, and take Sterkvarl with you."
Vayadir looked disappointed. He shrugged.
"Very good, my lady," he said.
The new arrival waited until the two had gone before approaching the rack. Valarien had closed his eyes, his face a picture of pain. The lady looked over the sad, emaciated form. She had been sent to do a job, and she would do it to the best of her ability - which was considerable - but when she saw the object of her commission, she was touched, and resolved to do it with kindness also.
She laid her hand on his brow. He did not react, although he found its coolness pleasant. She stroked his forehead then, and massaged his temples. He opened his eyes, and beheld a beautiful damozel. Zervans daughter was tall and slender with a cascade of glossy, black hair tumbling over her shoulders. Her skin had a translucent paleness and her large dark eyes held a glint of deepest blue.
The wizard stared at her entranced in a manner not unlike that of Kai when confronted with something with which he was not familiar. He suddenly became acutely aware of his nakedness. A deep flush spread across his features, and he closed his eyes, ostrich-like, as though to draw a curtain between himself and her.
"You poor thing," she said softly. "I have brought something to give a little relief."
She tipped a phial of pungent liquid into his mouth. His eyes opened wide as he swallowed and prayed it was not the same as the restorative he himself was wont to administer. He was relieved to find that its effects were relaxing rather than invigorating. His eyes flicked up to her face again and he found she was regarding him with an amused smile. A dimple peeped at the corner of her mouth as he blushed again and looked away. He felt warm now and a little sleepy. The lady was saying something to him, which he did not seem able to take in.
"Avalarien," she breathed in his ear, "harmi Perizada. Ayshchovri mi, hoir gorv dograa-igh."
"Mm? Pardon? I didn't quite catch that . . . "
The lady smiled enigmatically.
"Perhaps, . . . Perhaps not," she murmured.
She drew her fingers gently down the side of his face, and continued down his neck and chest, lingering a little over the sensitive nipples. Another part of him, unconstrained, twitched. The dimple appeared again. Her fingers moved smoothly on down his body, but forbore to linger over the principal source of his embarrassment. They slid down to his feet. He winced.
"Poor dear," she said simply. "Now I have your measure, I will ease your pain . . . Afian, eemeekh."
She blew gently on his feet, and a warm breeze seemed to blow away the pain.
"Thank you, lady," he said gratefully.
"Perizada," she corrected him. "My name is Perizada."
"Pretty. Thank you Perizada. You are kind, but I shall not - um - change my mind - even for you. I see what you are about, but it will not work. I am an elf. We do not mix with humans in - um - that way."
"No? My mother was an elf . . . "
"She . . . died - some months ago. That is why we left Sharestan."
"I'm sorry. I hope she did not - um - suffer."
"Oh yes. She suffered." Perizada bowed her head. "Humans have a great capacity for cruelty."
"So I've noticed," said Valarien wryly.
"I must go, - but I will speak to my father."
She fled up the stairs. For the rest of the day, Valarien was left in peace - if such it can be called when those around you are audibly suffering - and sustenance was provided.
On the morning of his third day, not that he was counting, Perizada returned.
"I came to see how you are. Have they left you alone?"
"Yes - thank you - but please don't come down here again."
"It is not right that you should - um - see me - or anyone - like this "
"Well, perhaps I won't for much longer. Drink this. It'll relax you, then maybe you won't mind so much."
It was another draught of the potion she had brought the day before. It was warm and comforting, and she was saying something to him, but he didn't know what it was.
"Avalarien, harmi Perizada. Ayshchovri mi," she whispered again. "Hoir gorv dokhria."
Then she kissed his forehead, and the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. The latter, she was surprised to find, were quite clean. He had not set foot on the ground since he had left Laurenna nearly a fortnight ago. With each kiss, he shivered slightly. He was not entirely sure why, for there was nothing overtly sensual about it.
She left him then, and the rest of the day passed much as the previous one. He found himself thinking about Perizada more and more - wondering about her - wondering what she was up to. He couldn't believe her visits were entirely benevolent, though it appeared that she meant him no harm at least. Perhaps she would come again tomorrow. There were things he wanted to ask her. He couldn't think what, right now, but he must find out Something . . .
He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate, and a vision of her face swam before him. It was a beautiful face, both gentle and sad. He remembered she had lost her mother recently, and longed to comfort her. He forgot to test the recovery of his magical energy.
When Perizada returned the next day, he was looking for her coming - as well as he could. He was longing to see her again, almost afraid she would not come - had forgotten him. He had not slept much, and when he had, he dreamed of her.
She came at last, and he gave her an adoring smile. She smiled back and his heart leapt. He hardly noticed the potion as it slipped down though he welcomed the glowing feeling it gave him.
"Avalarien," she murmured, "harmi Perizada. Ayshchovri mi. Hoir gorv - " she hesitated, " - doharn."
She spread out the fingers of both hands and ran them slowly down his body, from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. Before, her touch had been deliciously cool. Now it set him aflame, leaving his skin tingling, and his body and mind feeling completely drained and empty. Gently, he slipped from consciousness and slept. Perizada regarded him for a long time. His face was peaceful now. The lines of pain had faded. How different from the first time she had looked upon him . . .
Zervan came to join his daughter.
"Is it done?"
"Yes, father. When he wakes, he will obey me - not willingly perhaps, at first. We must go gently with him until the enchantment is fully grown and set. While it is still fresh, strong emotion can break the spell, so do not anger him."
"I know. Your mother used the same spell on me, many years ago . . . I broke it."
"Oh!" she said in a small voice.
She looked up at her father in concern, digesting what he had said.
"You look troubled, Peri. What is the matter?"
"If you broke the spell - all those years ago - then - you really did love her? And she never knew?"
"I think she may have suspected, but no, she never knew for sure. At first, I didn't realize I had been ensorcelled - then the spell broke, and I hadn't the heart to tell her. I thought it would upset her if she thought she'd failed - and I didn't want to lose her . . . Afterwards, it seemed irrelevant. I loved her, and she loved me. Then that - that rabble took her . . . And ever since, I have wished to heaven I had spoken."
The expression on his face was set and grim.
"Poor father - poor mother," she sighed. "I begin to see now, what drives you so. Don't worry. We shall return - and he will help us. Just don't try to go too far too soon - please."
Zervan looked at her enquiringly.
"You want him, don't you?"
She gave him a shy smile.
"Well, he is mine already, but yes, I want him to stay that way."
"Then I will be patient for your sake."