Fears, Strategies, and other errata

It should have been no surprise to Henrik at all that young Master Harry Duffins rolled in through an open window, landing on the worn rug of his sitting room with only enough noise to alert the occupant that he’d, in fact, arrived. He was dressed in “street finest,” as Merri had once put it, the disreputable rags he typically wore when he needed to rejoin his mates in the Flit, but the blond hair, freckles, and grin were undeniably Harry.

“Oi,” he said by way of greeting. “I was to see yer alone, and not `enaged wif ovver persons over ovver mattuhs’.” It was an amusingly good reproduction of Merri’s accent, even if some of the words were mispronounced. “An’ since yer not, that I c’n see anyways, Merri says I should ‘and you this note…”

[[He’s patting down his pockets for it, if Henrik would care to speak… :)]]

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61 Comments

  1. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    “What have you been doing with yourself?” he asks, and manages to locate a packet of spore toffee to pass across the cluttered table. “Merri says that she has been teaching you to read, but I’ve scarcely seen you since we first met.”

  2. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    “Readin’, writin’, sums, manners — and on the fly, when I ain’t on the cobbles,” he shrugs, producing the rumpled envelope and trading it for the sweet. “Merri’s got all the tea leafs in the Flit these days askin’ after ‘er, crackers ‘n sharps ‘n mobsmen, raggedies ‘n coiners, all wantin’ ‘er t’ do ‘er ream flash pull. Wotcha, she’s a lady, she ain’t ‘avin’ none of it. And that swell Ross, `e’s gone above fer now, but ‘e’ll be back, sure as there’s carts t’ ‘orses…”

  3. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Henrik catches possibly half of that — every time he thinks that he has become quite the master of English, he encounters a dialect that he finds utterly impenetrable. “That’s … good,” he hazards, and seizes the envelope to open it. “Tea leafs?” he asks, as he scans the letter.

  4. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Harry nods, munching spore toffee rather happily. “Roight. Tea leafs. Thiefs,” he clarifies, licking his fingers.

    The note reads:

    Henrik,
    I’ve… I cannot leave Cl0ckw0rkings to come to you myself. It’s the nightmares again. I’m sorry, I only thought to nap a bit before going out to the theatre — dearest, you did say I should come to you, but I… fear… I cannot. Please if you cannot come, tell Harry so I may cast about for someone else.

    If you can come, please do so quickly. I… might not wish to drive them away after all, I am not certain…

    Forgive me. Come if you can.

    –Merri

  5. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    “Tell her I’ll come; you’ll arrive before I can,” says Henrik; he folds the paper and tucks it in his inner breast pocket. He writes a note for Theodor to explain where he’s gone, then pockets a bottle of laudanum and casts about for his boots. He doesn’t live particularly close to the Tower of Eyes district, but the way is doubtless shorter by rooftop.

  6. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    “Wotcha,” Harry agrees, shimmying back out the window. “I’ll ‘ang ’round ’til you bang the door, make sure she’s roight ‘n all.”

    And then he was gone.

    [[Um, don’t want to god-mode, so you’ll get Henrik to the house, yes?]

  7. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    He does indeed get to the house, as rapidly as the distance allows — and while he might insist that he doesn’t bang on the door, per se, he does knock very loudly and insistently, and he does breeze straight past Esther on his way in.

  8. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Which seems to be fine, Esther knows the signs by now. “She’s in her sitting room, Mr. Paulsen,” she calls out as Henrik blows past her, fastening the door closed behind him.

    It’s Harry who lets him through the door, as Merri paces the length of the room with a cup of tea clutched in her hands. Several empty bottles of laudanum are on the low table before the divan. For all their contents might have done — she looks haunted, hag-ridden, in the way all of them come to look in this place, eventually.

    The only other change from his last visit here is the lack of paperwork tacked to the walls — no mathematical equations, no Correspondence symbols. The drapes are drawn tightly closed, in fact anything that could remotely serve as a reflective surface is completely covered.

    “Thank God you’re here,” Merri murmurs, voice shaking. “I’m either already mad and somehow have not ended up at the Royal Bethlehem, or perhaps I shall be — Harry darling, you may be on your way if you wish. I would not wish you to hear this.”

    “Oi, ain’t like I ain’t had ’em too, y’ know,” he tells her fiercely.

    “Harry, please!” There’s a note of panic in her voice and that, more than anything else, causes the boy to nod once, slowly.

    “Alrigh’,” he says, opening the door. “But yer after tellin’ Mr. Paulsen all of it, granny?”

    “Yes of course I will!”

    Harry pauses after opening the door, casting a significant look up at Henrik.

  9. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Henrik returns that look; if Harry means to speak, he’ll hear him, but if he doesn’t, Henrik will simply read take care into it.

  10. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    That seems sufficient. In the next heartbeat, the erstwhile urchin is gone.

    “I-It’s that damned bishop,” Merri gasps, almost before the door is closed. “It was all red, everything was red… dear God he took so long to die… how could I have poisoned him?” She concludes, whispering, actively horrified. “Poison, Henrik…. dear merciful God…”

  11. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    “It happened in a dream,” he says firmly, as though he means to close off all other possibilities. “We aren’t ourselves, in dreams; we’re knights, princesses, monks — you mustn’t think that it’s something you’ve done that’s spurred it, or something in your own character.”

  12. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    “God. I know. I know — but it seemed so very real… I could smell the taint in his sweat, hear the violent gurgling in his throat–!” She collapses on the divan, palms covering her face. “And before that, the mountain that tears itself apart, running to warn everyone… but we’re all under water already–! That beautiful fountain, the garden–!”

  13. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Henrik’s broad hands close over her shoulders; he has no notion at all of how to calm her, nor of how to direct her thoughts toward less painful channels. He can only hold her as the memories wrack her. “Darling! Darling — speak with me. Tell me why these dreams grieve you so.”

  14. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    “I– ” Still agitated and heedless of his hands, she arises and resumes pacing the room. “They are the same, night after night, they do not really ever change much… but they are not the nightmares I wish to see, if that makes any sense.”

    In her hands is the end of one of the ribbons of her gown, which she’s frantically wringing as if it were soaked in blood. “I — you told me of your impatience, why you indulge in theorizing about our communal nightmares, I want to help you, assist you as you’ve so often assisted me… but I cannot… the memories of light, Henrik! I stand before that mahogany mirror at the carnival and know, I know I cannot remember enough of the light to use it! If I could just… I’ve heard others speak of what may be found there, I would go there for you, and return with more facts for the speculations! But nothing I do can summon those nightmares to me, no matter what I do!”

  15. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    “Darling, stop. You’ll drive yourself mad for my sake, and I won’t have it –” He seizes her hands in his own; he is shaking, naked fear in every line of his face. “You must stop this.”

  16. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    “Henrik…” A whisper, a prayer.

    Nietzsche said it, that there is always some madness in love, and also that there is always a bit of reason in madness. Merri’s eyes implore him to understand her, even as her words begin tumbling over one another again.

    “You remember what Asher Wilsford said, about perhaps having dreamt so much of these matters it is somehow not possible to have more — as if there were some limit to the information we might derive from these deranged night-terrors — but what if he is right, dearest? What if… oh this is an old fear of mine, but what if I’ve missed something? Some vital clue, some turning I should have taken and didn’t? What if I can never now go back and reclaim all the memories of light I need — what if I must start over again?”

  17. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    “Start over … I can’t think what you mean.” If she’ll stand still enough to allow it, he’ll attempt to embrace her. “They’re dreams, my dear, and no more; how could you start over?”

    [It’s bed for me, at this stage; sleep well, when you do!]

  18. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Merri forces herself to stand quietly in his embrace, hands braced against his strong, broad chest. She requires herself to breathe, and breathe again, steadily, calmly. She wants him to understand her. She wants him to take this seriously — and why should he, when she’s raving like a madwoman?

    “No. They have sequence, I know you’ve seen this. it does not always seem logical, but they always come in some kind of order.” No Merri. No panic. Calmly. Calmly. “One does not dream of the Beleaguered King until one has stood at the base of the tolling clock, fought the enemies in the forest, &c. In the fire dreams, one does not see the mountain explode first — first it is the fire fountain, the burning library, the burning… children… the burning river. I fear that somehow I’ve missed something in the sequences about the mirrors, where one’s reflection becomes more real than oneself. That is where the memories of light are to be found. And I have not dreamt of them in…. days. Weeks, perhaps.

    “But I could go to the Royal Bethlehem,” she finally says, listening to his steady heartbeat. “Have all my memories of the nightmares erased from my mind. I could then start over — there is truly nothing else here to occupy me, after all. What better purpose could I serve, at this juncture? Do you not see it, my love?”

    Despite her efforts, her voice is not entirely calm. She sounds too much as if she’s trying to be calm, and it’s maddening, in its way — but it’s the best she can do.

  19. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 5:50 am

    “You propose,” he begins, incredulously, “To drive yourself mad, until you must be committed to a madhouse and treated — and, once treated, to drive yourself mad again on the faint chance that you might only once remember a particular dream of light? Darling … surely you can’t think that this is the best purpose for you? You see how the nightmares agitate you; can you really be proposing that you be healed, only to drive yourself mad again?” There is a particular lilt to the word mad, a strained-to-breaking sound in his voice. He is remembering Annelise sitting upon her bed at the house by the seashore, her eyes vacant as they tracked him about the room. At times she would break into helpless laughter, or a gale of words as promiscuously scattered as autumn leaves — if she is listening to his heart, Merri will hear it racing.

  20. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 9:19 am

    She presses her forehead into his chest, as if she would still his heart against it. “It will just be be the once…. There is a mirror at the carnival that… takes one to the Royal Bethlehem, if one is plagued with nightmares at all. I have… used it once before.”

    Merri is not afraid of this — her first and only experience at the RBH wasn’t unpleasant at all. Just… damned odd. “If it happens as it did last time, I shall have the nightmares again, after I leave. The sequences merely begin all over again. Next time, if I am right, I shall not ever allow myself to turn away from a dream that leaves one with a memory of that rotting, succulent light. And then I shall brave the Mirror Marches for you. Bring you something new to ponder, while you wait for Theodor.

    “But you think this is a bad idea, don’t you.”

  21. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    “The last woman who offered her mind to assuage my curiosity, lost it,” he says shortly. “I will do all in my power to prevent you, if I can.”

  22. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Annelise…

    I am not Annelise.

    Merri sags against him. “I’ve been there before, you know.” I’ve been mad before. It… was not dangerous. A lizard sleeping in my mouth… In a short time, sanity returns. I’ll wake up here in my bed as if nothing at all had happened.”

  23. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    “And then you’ll go straight back to the nightmares and the laudanum, back to that squat little tent where the mirrors are kept; God, how can you think I’d approve of this idea?” He is shaking her; he doesn’t even realize that he’s shaking her.

  24. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    “Not back — to the tent –!” She’s trying to speak, trying to still his arms. “–Just nightmares — and laudanum — to Henrik please!

    Unable to think with him shaking her so, Merri pulls herself away from him, pushing back a lock of hair that has been shaken free of its pins. “I… need to be clear,” she pants, straightening, trying to summon her dignity with only marginal success. “Just nightmares and laudanum. For the memories of light. Like everyone else. Until I can look into the mahogany mirror and find out where it takes me. Does it truly sound so insane?”

  25. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    He lets her go, and as soon as his hands are empty they close into fists at his sides. “Yes,” he answers, although he would have done what she proposes without a second thought. For all he speaks of calculated risk, he is more careless of his own safety than he would ever admit. “I won’t allow it, Merri; you must promise me you won’t go through with it.”

  26. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    “You will not… allow…?”

    That does straighten her spine, her chin following that upward movement as if gravity had shifted beneath her feet. “I beg your pardon, but I fail to see how you are in any position to allow me anything. Pray explain the flaws in my plan as you see them, point out the dangers that may exist if you can, express your concerns as my friend, my lover — but you are not my husband, nor even my fiance, Henrik. By what right do you think to allow or deny me?”

  27. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    “You can’t know what you’ll find,” he says through gritted teeth, soft as a whisper. “God — Annelise was so sure that she would be safe; she said she’d let spirits speak through her dozens of times — I couldn’t protect her, Merri, and if I could simply have told her to stop — and if she had listened to me –“

  28. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Merri stares at him, one moment wishing to take him into her arms and comfort him and in the next, wishing she could kick him. The wild vacillation between the two states causes her to shake nearly as hard as he had just been shaking her.

    “Henrik… it’s just the Royal Bethlehem. We’re all in and out of the place all the time, here. I’ve been there. So has Narciso, and even Theodor! We all came back. We don’t stay there permanently — unlike your sister, the madness we invoke through nightmare is temporary, only!”

  29. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    “And the Mirror Marches? What of them?”

  30. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    She blinks, taken aback. “What of them? Mr. Weismuller has been there and back, so has Cassius, I believe it was. There may be new knowledge there, or perhaps not. We won’t know until one of us goes. Would you not go, if our positions were reversed?”

  31. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    He takes in a breath through his nostrils, checking himself before he shouts at her again. When at last he can permit himself to speak, his manner is more sober. “If anything were to happen to you, I would blame myself — you are the woman I love, and I must protect you. What I would do for myself is immaterial; you are not myself.”

  32. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    “Then come with me, if you must.”

    For a moment, Merri looks surprised that she’s actually said this, or perhaps that she’s actually said it aloud. Then reason catches up with intuition, and she looks at him sharply. “Why haven’t you gone already? You’re observant and intelligent enough, certainly. Your latest work on the Correspondence has been nothing short of brilliant. What is holding you back?”

  33. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    “I can’t remember the light,” he admits. “Or only traces of it. At times, I dream of fire … but for weeks nearly all of my dreams have been of darkness and rain. I am grateful for the rain, of course, and for the dreams of the sea breeze on my face” although the seaside had not restored Annelise’s mind to her “but I simply cannot remember the light.”

  34. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Merri nods in understanding. “I wish I could help you. I want to be of service to you somehow, but it seems I cannot. All I can manage to summon are nightmares of poison and murder, and nothing new in them at all. Pathetic, isn’t it?”

    She starts to reclaim her teacup, then changes her mind and heads to the sideboard, retrieving a bottle of wine from it. “You may join me if you wish, though I know you do not care for spirits.” She waves the bottle at him half-heartedtly. “Or the tea in the pot there should still be hot. It seems we’re going to have something of a long night head of us, after all, if I’m to unburden myself enough to sleep without more laudanum tonight.”

  35. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    “Speak to me, then,” he answers. He knows that he ought to take tea, and so he does, although he wishes to drain her bottle. “I’ll be calm. I promise you that.”

  36. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    “I am sorry I upset you. I genuinely thought the plan was a good one. Forgive me,” she murmurs, pouring the blood-coloured vintage into a large glass, then lacing it generously with laudanum. “I had not intended to grieve you so.”

  37. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    “Nor had I intended to answer you as I did.” He takes his tea unsweetened, and yet he stirs the liquid out of habit for a moment before he realizes. “Your plan is … sound, I suppose. If I were to examine it without sentiment colouring my vision, it might even seem quite rational. I ought to have answered you rationally, but –“

  38. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    “–but my state was such that it frightened you, I suspect.”

    Her hands are still trembling, but it’s somewhat less noticeable now. Merri kicks off her house-slippers and curls up on the divan, inviting him to join her. “Had I come to you with it when I was not so irrational, it would not have frightened you so.”

  39. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    “I cannot bear to see you like that,” he replies. If she will permit it, he will set cup and saucer aside to stroke her hair. He does not wish to disturb the careful pins, and so his touch is almost painfully delicate. “But you wished to speak of dreams of murder. Of the man with the tattoo that you know: You must kill this man in order to live.”

  40. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Merri nods, sighing and removing the rest of the pins from her hair. In truth, his touch is soothing, it encourages her to unburden herself. “I think what bothers me most is that… I rather realize that it’s a nightmare, when I walk into that room. I see the one-eyed bishop, and his tattoo, and something in me is immediately alert, but I cannot stop myself. That terrifies me more than anything, that I could be… possessed, or controlled, to that degree. That some outside agency uses me like a puppet, or a pawn I suppose. Without my consent.”

    She frowns a moment. “Or did I give consent at some point of which I am unaware? Did I consent to be taken over, to be used without conscience in some way, just because I came here? That is so utterly horrifying, Henrik. That prospect is what will keep me awake long into the nights, hoping that by staying awake, I will not be used for murder…”

  41. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    “Darling — those are not your dreams. Of course you would feel as though you have lost all control; you have been plucked from your own dreams and placed into nightmares that we all share. How could you retain any but the most basic control, and still share your dreams with anyone? No, it is positive, beyond doubt: These dreams have been imposed upon us by some outside force, whether consciously or unconsciously.” He cards his fingers through her long, soft hair. “You are blameless.”

  42. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    A deep, shuddering breath. “There truly are times I would never sleep, rather than submit to that. I hate feeling powerless, out of control. It’s bad enough that I feel it so often in waking life. To submit to it in dreams… it’s as if I never get any relief from it!”

  43. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    At once, comprehension dawns. “I understand, now,” he says. “This — this mad idea of the Royal Bethlehem and the Mirror Marches — you wish to have control over your nightmares. You wish to banish or solicit them as you will, and to know what will come. God, it all makes sense!”

    • cl0ckw0rks said,

      August 25, 2010 at 6:32 pm

      The relief from her at his epiphany is palpable. “Yes, exactly. Precisely. And — God have mercy on me — it likely is quite mad to continue to insist I can control any of this. Any `control’ I might find is probably going to be illusory, at best.”

      Merri sips her wine thoughtfully. “But the proposition is so seductive, Henrik. I cannot put it from me, even now.”

  44. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 25, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    When he kisses her, it is in part to taste the wine on her lips. “Go, then. Go, with my blessing. If it will bring you peace … then go to the Royal Bethlehem and the Mirror Marches.”

  45. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 25, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    She searches his eyes for a long moment after that — is he serious, is he merely patronizing? — but no, he is serious after all, in that tender way he has after understanding has cleared away tension and strife.

    “It will be the carnival first, then,” she tells him quietly, caressing his face. “And likely some weeks before I could regain even the memories of light I’ll have lost, let alone gain the rest of what I need. I won’t go to the Mirror Marches without letting you know, however. Oh goodness, some one of us will likely get there before I do, anyway.”

  46. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 26, 2010 at 6:58 am

    He presses her hand to his cheek; his own hand is cool. He hasn’t yet touched his tea. “Would you rather I followed you there?”

  47. Merri said,

    August 26, 2010 at 8:25 am

    “But you cannot remember the light, either. How would you get behind the mirror?”

  48. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    “By the same means that you propose.”

  49. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 26, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Merri laughs — too close to madness still, but there is something in it of her old gaiety. “Do you suppose the manager would let us share a room? Henrik, have you been to the Royal Bethlehem?”

  50. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    “Only once,” he answers. “I should hate to return on purpose.”

  51. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 26, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    “Then do not, darling. I should not wish it for you either.”

    His sobriety sobers her and jangles unnervingly, when juxtaposed against her excitable, emotional state. She sips from her glass, and then again, more deeply, to dull the uproar.

    “I should not wish it for me except I do not know what else can be done, and I feel I should do something… Even the Beleaguered King and the Red-Handed Queen have their tasks. But I do not.”

  52. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 26, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    “No task except your assignation with the Bishop.” He shudders slightly. “I used a knife. There was more blood than I could have imagined.”

  53. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 27, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Merri sighs, nods, disconsolate, unsettled. “We all must murder the bishop, it seems. And it does no good to wonder what it might mean, if anything, because they’re not even our dreams.”

    Should she risk the Royal Bethlehem? There is no guarantee that she won’t lose more than she might gain. There is no guarantee there is anything to gain in it. “It strikes me as unutterably silly to continue– no. Wait. There is perhaps one other thing I have not… pursued as far as I might.”

    With that she stands and swiftly moves to her bedchamber door, disappearing through it for a few moments, then returning with something heavy in her hand. Henrik likely recognizes it as one of the counterfeit heads of John the Baptist. She’s holding it by the “hair,” or whatever passes for it.

    “It occurs to me,” she continues, as if she hadn’t the gruesome thing with her at all, “that I’ve stopped pursuing the dreams associated with this. With the hunger. With Mr. Eaten’s name. I loathe that hunger for what it does to us, but perhaps a stay at the RBH would be hasty, under the circumstances.”

    Merri punctuates her sentence by plopping the thing down onto the table, staring at it thoughtfully.

  54. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 27, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    He examines it, absently stroking the hair of the replica. He feels an unaccountable urge to pick it up and kiss those waxen lips. “Would you explain your theory? I know very little of these heads. What do they have to do with the Royal Bethlehem?”

  55. Merri said,

    August 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    “Nothing,” she admits, then quickly adds, “of which I am aware. But there are nightmares associated with this thing, and Mr. Eaten’s name, which I do not have anymore, since I remedied that hunger. Perhaps I should steel myself to it, endure it, and see where it takes me.

    “I’ve heard,” she drawls, “that if one kisses it, it has an extraordinary effect on the mind. One fellow at Court last month began wooing it as a lover, taking it to dinner and concerts. He was sent to the tomb colonies until he got over it, I understand. The scandal took quite awhile to die down.”

  56. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 28, 2010 at 4:34 am

    He licks his lips. “Did any scandal accrue, when we fought? I was nearly sure we went unseen, or mostly unseen … but at the time, I really could not bring myself to care.” He has learned nothing new about the name, but neither has he lost the desire to find it. Like everyone else, Henrik has learned to manage his hunger rather than let it best him.

  57. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Merri opens her mouth to reply, then obviously pauses to reconsider. “Never enough to signify,” she finally says. “Why do you ask this now?”

  58. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    “I haven’t entirely lost my own hunger,” he answers, and his voice is very small. “I’ve grown used to having it with me; it’s almost a confederate, a partner. I might feel a greater absence if I lost it.”

  59. cl0ckw0rks said,

    August 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    She gazes at him for a long moment. The second time she contracted the hunger, she lived with it for weeks. When she did rid herself of it, she remembered feeling a brief sense of loss, one quickly pushed away, ignored, then forgotten.

    The third and most recent time was just before that tempestuous, bloody sparring bout. Sickened by her behaviour and what she perceived to be her own weakness, she had searched the city until she found a roasted chestnut vendor, her bruised and bloody condition drawing disgusted stares from passers-by. It had taken two packets to make the gnawing in her stomach stop. The gnawing in her heart had not been so easily assuaged.

    Resolved, she reaches for the shawl she’d carelessly discarded earlier and covers the ghastly piece of exotica, then resumes her seat upon the divan. Their talk has steadied her again; having a way to go forward that doesn’t involve the Royal Bethlehem has steadied her even more. Enough so that as she picks up her wineglass, she is able to ask, “Is something about it troubling you, dearest?” and not sound as if she is about to rattle apart.

  60. Henrik Paulsen said,

    August 28, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    “It troubles me, how little I’m troubled by it. I’ve learned to practise moderation; my dreams are …” He studies his tea, then takes a sip. “My dreams are not as bad as they might be. It’s been some time since I’ve had any dream that might be considered truly new.”


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