In the Land of Nevers
Far away, in a land called the Nevers, a woman and her eunuch contemplated a precious ball of glass in an upper room.
The room, situated above a shabby shop whose sign, freshly painted and neatly lettered APOTHECARY, was in daylight at stark contrast with this unmarked anonymous section of town. Despite the recent attentions, that sign had not been securely fastened and now banged against the postern in a howling wind.
Inside, sounds did not register. Night noises were plentiful here: the scurry of rats, the cries of children and cats — often times indistinguishable in their hunger– the stealthy tread of footsteps generally followed by surprised screams. None of it mattered, nor would it ever, to the occupants of the room.
In her efforts to study the globe’s revelations, the woman, a dark sensuous beauty, lay belly down on the large round table which supported it, peering with an inscrutable intent. Images were moving inside the ball, a man clad in black with silvered hair detained a brown- robed man; then, abruptly, the brown robed man turned on his heel, limping out of the room. Rizla tapped the glass again.
The tappings disturbed her companion’s concentration, and now he turned his attention from the globe to the woman. He was an enormously fat eunuch with slitted eyes and folds of skin. His head was shaved, his cheeks smooth, and his girth contained by a loose tunic of indigo. He’d been cut since the age of twelve, but that didn’t prevent the slow rise of admiration when he watched his mistress. A feral nature lurked beneath the beautiful face, he conceded, as he always did, a twisted spirit clothed in magnificent skin.
He’d been with her longer than three spans of his natural lifetime and knew her nature, knew her flawless body as well for, like a pet, she was fond of stroking and approved of his surprisingly firm hands. A fluid leopardess, he thought suddenly, reminded of the beast they’d seen on one of their warmer journeys, held in stasis before the kill.
The figures disappeared from the glass, leaving it cloudy as a winter sky. The calm was only temporary, for within seconds, the globe was suffused with a garish yellow liquid, which sprang up like a fountain from inside a dark room. The liquid dripped over the sides of a vat, puddling on a stone floor where it bubbled and roiled. The first time the man had seen the fluid, he’d been reminded of rotten egg yolks and swore he could smell them.
Rizla had laughed at this.
Now, she sighed and slid from the table; he knew she was relishing the smoothness of the polished wood against her skin. She was clothed in a diaphanous material which left little to the imagination; actually, there was no imagination involved as the gown, cut with slits and plunges, revealed her legs, her belly, her breasts. She was not cold, for the room was hung with palls of silk and thick rugs as fine as tapestries covered the floor. Dozens of candles of competing scents and sizes filled the room, but none of the flames wavered. Here was no touch of the wind.
“What are your thoughts?” Rizla the Red Witch, favored priestess of the Tuel, asked her servant, Suga.
Suga grunted before replying, “Elymas is a fool.”
“We knew that,” she snapped.
The folds of Suga’s eyes widened ever so slightly. He would have to be careful. It was not good to anger her when she was like this.