Inbetween: Chapter Forty Seven

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Of all the eventualities Ciel prepared for when she came to seek assistance with Siva, one that she never imagined was being a prisoner in all but name in the High Lord’s personal quarters. Once she entered this part of the fortress, she was slightly perplexed to discover that guards had been stationed at the exits to the wing and they would not permit her to pass. Getting past them would not be much of a difficulty if she wanted to force her way through but neutralizing the guards. She could not risk alienating her newfound allies at this point. Her options were severely limited.

Being caged in always made Ciel uneasy. While she had years of experience being tied to an employer and being told where to go, she was not accustomed to being trapped in one place without a reason being given. She knew coming to Siva with his eccentric reputation was a bit of a risk, but she had not anticipated being trapped in close quarters with him and his family. Prison had seemed like a possibility, and now she had to wonder if she would prefer a cell to the freedom to roam this entire wing of the fortress with no real understanding of what her status might be.

She supposed she had asked Siva to take her under his protection, and he obviously took his responsibility to protect his charges seriously. She only wished she was kept in the loop while she was being protected.

If someone would actually put her to use, she would at least understand why she was being kept here, but so far no one sought her out for the information she possessed.

On the first day of her captivity, Saras brought her cleaned clothes, ostensibly to return the outfit she had stolen to its rightful owner. She was given a room of her own, one that was more than adequate, but noticeably less opulent than the rooms kept by Siva. Every day since the first, a new outfit arrived for her to wear. She had to assume this was Saras’s doing, but she did not know why it was necessary for her to have so many different outfits when there was more than enough time for them to be cleaned once they were dirty and no one who might care would see her in this place.

Most days she did not see Siva at all. On the days she did see him, he never spoke to her about anything that allowed her to prove her use to him.

The first few days of her captivity were spent idly. Ciel had no idea what there was for her to do or what she was allowed to do. If she was a guest, she assumed that she was free to move about as she wished, but the guards blocking her way made her suspect she was something less than a guest and therefore did not have access to all areas of the wing.

Those early days she was mostly alone unless Saras decided to spend time with her, which she seemed to do primarily out of boredom. She brought her sumptuous clothes to wear, almost as though she wanted to dress Ciel up like a living doll. She seemed to enjoy the challenge of finding colors and patterns that she thought suited Ciel’s pale complexion and platinum blond hair. Ciel was not fond of being some pampered lady’s plaything, but she had nowhere to run and she had so little else to occupy her time that she almost found herself looking forward to Saras’s fashion experiments.

Most days she ate one meal with Siva and Saras. Breakfast was brought to her in her room every morning and the servants that were given the task of minding her learned soon enough that she did not desire much food outside of those two meals. As long as there was water available for her to make teas she was more than satisfied.

Finally, after several days of mind-numbing boredom, Saras appeared to notice her dissatisfaction with her current lot in life. As much as she thought she might appreciate a bit of time with nothing to do and no worries about the basic necessities of life, she discovered that she could not relax for even a day when she was not free to do as she pleased.

“You look like you’re not adjusting to a life of leisure,” Saras commented casually as she held up various necklaces with large gemstone pendants of varying shades of blue, claiming to need to determine which color matched her eyes in this dress.

Speaking was still a struggle for Ciel. Her habit of only using her voice when she laced it with magic proved quite deeply ingrained in her psyche. Saras and Siva both insisted that she speak rather than using gestures or writing to communicate so she found herself struggling to force the words to form on her tongue while balling all her magic in her diaphragm so not a trace of it reached her vocal cords and passed her lips.

“I’m not used to being idle. Wherever I go, someone finds a use for me.”

Saras smiled. A mischievous glint in her eye while she put away her necklaces with care made Ciel unsure of what might be waiting for her next.

“Since you want to be of use, I might have something for you to do. Tell me, are you good with your hands?”

Somehow Ciel doubted she was asking her about anything that she had any real skill with. Instead of answering she just stared steadily at Saras until she gave her a further explanation.

“Can you knit or embroider?” she asked with a frustrated sigh.

“I’ve never tried. I could learn.” Ciel was shocked to hear herself making such an offer. She did not know if she could learn, and she did not particularly want to learn. She was an assassin. Handicrafts were not in her wheelhouse and she did not particularly want to risk dropping her guard by engaging in busy work.

With her current situation appearing to stretch on into infinity before her, she resigned herself to finding some other purpose to her life. If Saras wanted to keep her hands busy, she supposed that it was better than idling away her time with nothing to do other than wonder if this would go on for much longer. She was making no progress in terms of proving herself to be of use to Siva or of gaining any sort of intelligence from him.

“Yes,” Saras replied slowly. “I suppose you can learn easily enough.” She rose to her feet. “Follow me.”

The cheerful tone of her voice put Ciel on edge. Something was not right here, but she had no choice but to follow.

Saras took her on a leisurely stroll through the wing and brought her to a door that was always closed but had decoration as ornate as the ones that adorned the door to Siva’s chambers.

Ciel knew this door did not lead to Saras’s rooms, but she opened the door and entered without knocking or even hesitating. Curiosity spurred Ciel to follow after her. Something about this particular turn of events seemed odd to her. She needed to know what brought about this sudden change in Saras’s plans for her. Certainly, such a small complaint from her was not enough to encourage someone with Saras’s personality to abandon what she wanted to do to accommodate another person’s needs or desires.

Saras had proven in just a few short days that she was a very selfish woman, but she had such a way about her that made it hard to begrudge her any of her whims. So far, Ciel found herself falling into the trap of going along with her wishes over and over again. Part of the problem was that her personality made it hard to say no to her, but another aspect of it was certainly that Ciel did not feel that she was in a place where she could say no to her hostess. Her status here was still too tenuous for her to feel comfortable saying no even if she felt like she should deny a request.

Even though the room was unused, as far as Ciel knew—no one ever came or went from this room while she was out in the corridor—Saras knocked softly on the door before opening it an entering. One elegant arm reached back out through the doorway and waved for her to enter the room as well.

Inside the room was strikingly dark and the air was very still and hard to breathe. Ciel blinked slowly to get her eyes to adjust to the very dim candlelight that barely sufficed to make it better than complete darkness with all the shadows the dim light threw.

Her eyes would not fully adjust to such poor lighting, but she managed to see enough to follow Saras who either knew the layout by heart or had a much better ability to adapt to different lighting than Ciel.

At first, she could not tell where she was being taken, but then her eyes finally managed to catch a focal point and the rest of the scene seemed to fall into place. There was a large, brocade-covered bed against the wall. Sitting up on the bed, looking more like a young child due to the massive size of surrounding bed, was a young woman. She smiled up at Saras, which only made her look more tired.

Saras took the woman’s hand in hers and gave it a reassuring pat before turning to look at Ciel. “Gorane, I’ve brought you some company. She’ll help you with your crafts if you feel well enough to work on them. If you just want to sit quietly, I’m sure she’d be more than happy to sit here quietly.” She said the last part with an excessively sweet smile aimed squarely at Ciel.

She had to wonder what exactly Saras had in mind for her here. So far none of the tasks she mentioned sounded particularly difficult, but they weren’t going to do much to keep her entertained either. She dared not ask questions now. Saras dragging her here only served to cement the feeling that she was not in control of her own fate in this place.

Gorane smiled up at Saras. The adoration on her face was apparent. “Thank you, dear. I have been feeling quite lonely the past few weeks.”

Saras gave Gorane’s hand another reassuring pat before leaving her side to take Ciel aside. In a hushed voice, she hastily and belatedly explained the situation to Ciel.

“As you can see, Gorane is with child. It has been a difficult time for her so Siva and I have made sure that she has complete rest and comfort so she can focus all of her energy on having a safe delivery when her time comes.”

Ciel found that she had some of her questions answered by that hasty explanation, but now a few more took their place. She dared not ask Saras at this point. She seemed to be pawning her off on someone that was unable to refuse her company and Ciel could not figure out who was more ill-used in this case.

“Now, Lady Jey will be expecting me to join her for a poetry reading any minute now. Have fun, you two.”

She returned to the bed and leaned over to place a kiss on Gorane’s cheek before sweeping out of the room. As soon as the door closed behind Saras, the light seemed to drain out of the room entirely. She stood still, seemingly cloaked in the darkness and forgotten for a moment before Gorane sighed and spoke up.

“It seems Saras has pawned us off on one another and she neglected to tell me your name.”

Ciel bowed slightly on reflex and spoke her name against all her instincts.

“Well, Ciel, would you say you are your own woman or an agent of my beloved spouses?”

She moved closer to the bed, feeling as though this conversation would be safer if she spoke softly. “I am my own woman, but I do owe a debt of gratitude to High Lord Siva for offering me sanctuary.”

“Interesting. Since you’ve been offered sanctuary with us, you’re as much my guest as theirs so I will trust you to be discreet. Push back those curtains behind you and throw open the windows.”

Ciel did as she was told and felt immediate relief as the natural light and fresh air poured into the room. Gorane appeared to be in better spirits too. When she next spoke her voice seemed lighter.

“Pull up a chair. My dearest Saras and Siva mean well, but their idea of care for me is more than a little excessive. This will be our first child, but I thought I would be the most nervous since all of the messy, painful parts are my responsibility.”

Ciel obediently drew a chair up close to the side of the bed. Now that she could more clearly see Gorane she realized she was small, but certainly not young enough to be considered a child. Curly brown hair framed her pale face and nearly reached her shoulders. By far her most prominent feature at the moment was her belly which appeared almost comically large on her petite frame.

She flashed a devious smile as she pulled a novel out from under her pillow. “Since you’ll have to stay for at least a few hours to satisfy Saras’s desire to keep me entertained, I’ll read to you. I’ll even start at the beginning so you know who’s who.”

It was not at all what Ciel expected when she was brought here, but she had to admit there were worse ways for her to spend her day. Since it kept both herself and Gorane from being bored to tears it would not possibly be a bad thing.

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