The night was quiet until a stray night bird made a few noises somewhere in the marshy brush. I could hear every movement it made: each rustle of a feather, and even the sound of its tiny feet skittering across the dirt once, then twice before taking wing. A breeze crept across my face, easing its fingers into my hair and cooling the sweat against my scalp until a chill ran across my head from front to back and I rolled over to stare up into the sky.
For a long time I laid there, gussied like a pig, wondering if he would come out for me, or if I could somehow loose myself on my own. I don’t know how long I was there, but it was all in the same night, so it couldn’t have been a tremendous span. I did grow thirsty and bored with only the lifeless yam for company, so eventually I began to devise a plan for freedom. I rolled to my side and hoisted myself up with much difficulty since my ankles were tied, then hopped to the side of the tower. It stuck out a bit more than the other sides, even though there were no true corners, but I supposed it would work as well as anything else near at hand for friction. Then I began to file the ropes behind my back (binding my wrists) with the rock of the tower in hopes that it would gradually wear the rope thin. It wasn’t a very good plan, but it was all I had. My choices were limited, consisting of such things as rolling into the marsh or getting stung by a lot of ants. Bound extremities make for a lowly existence.
After a while I got tired, very tired, and while I did want to be free of my bonds, I knew they would be there in the morning if I were to decide to lean against the tower and shut my eyes for a while. So that’s what I did. I fell asleep sitting beside the tower, although I kept seeing yam monsters and blue-haired mages and shiny floors as my overworked mind jerked to and fro between consciousness and slumber. In time, though, I did fall into a deep sleep.
I awoke in a comfortable bed, appointed like a cloud. Beneath my head was a down pillow, and all around me was a great white down blanket so soft I was struck with the sudden inclination never to move again. Above me the ceiling was made of fitted stone and polished crossbeams, and through the window came bright white sunlight, gregarious and swallowing. I sighed and shifted, settling myself more fully into my surroundings, and prepared to sleep again.
Right then there was a ringing nearby, cacophonous in its insistence that I regard it. I rose, and walked to the table where it rung, and I discovered a creation of very curious workmanship that must have been the product of gnomes. I picked it up and shook it, then hit it from various angles until it stopped ringing. Once docile, I placed it back on the table and looked around. It was a small room, but a large room by my standards. The walls were stone, but it was a comfortable room as a rug warmed the floor and the furniture was well situated, made of a rich hue of wood. Nearby was a washbasin, but I realized I was cleaner than I could ever remember being, and I had never before laid eyes upon the pale linen nightclothes I was wearing. As my mind began to wonder where my other clothes could be, I discovered a mirror on the wall and was compelled to approach it.
As I said before, I had never looked in a mirror, besides the hazy view that can be seen in a puddle or a barrel of water, and so this was one of my greatest moments of self-discovery as I beheld myself for the first time. I did not look at all like I had supposed, and in fact was perhaps enamored by what I saw. My hair was auburn in hue, like the color polished wood teases into from time to time when sojourning out of brown, and it had not curls, but waves, as it was short but long enough to fall in locks across my forehead. My complexion was somewhat fair but held the mark of a life in the sun; I had a smattering of light freckles across my nose and cheeks, as well as a glowing tan like the toasted tops of bread just fresh from the oven. I was young-looking and rosy, as I saw proof of in the tightness of my skin, the fullness of my red mouth, and the angle of my earthy brow. My brown eyes were what I had been told, but now I knew the full truth of it. They were brown, but a rich, deep brown that spoke of warmth and depth, and had a fertile brown-ness to them that I had rarely seen. They were not like the brown I had been surrounded by for all of my life. They were beautiful and compelling. Yes, I was indeed enamored with myself.
I touched my jawline with my fingertips, watching and tracing its delicate angle in a joining of sight and touch I could not pull away from. On reaching my ear, my fingers traced downward, along the tendon I had never seen that moved diagonally across the side of my neck until it ended at my clavicle, in a hollow I at once found fascinating. I stopped but stayed still, mesmerized by the mirror until I was broken out of my thoughts by the sound of a bird slamming into the window.
I had been so lost that the sound forced a gasp from me, and as I turned to watch the bird fall from the window to unseen grounds below, I noticed a note was on the table beside the previously ringing contraption. Crossing the room, I took it in my hand. The script was odd, using triangles for A’s and three lines for E’s, but it was readable once I got used to it. I wondered how he knew I could read, for not many could.
ONCE YOU WAKE, I EXPECT YOU DOWNSTAIRS FORTHWITH.
So Teitnl is his name, I mused, at once tossing the letter aside and searching for something suitable to wear. A brief search of the room revealed a wardrobe, in which there were a number of coats far finer than anything I had ever touched, much less worn. I wondered if these were actually supposed to be for me, with the brief fear that I would overstep bounds and make someone angry by wearing clothes that did not belong to me. I realized, however, that I couldn’t go downstairs in nightclothes, and nothing else was forthcoming, so these clothes it would be. I quickly chose one made of fine wool in pale gray, added some trousers of charcoal, and a pale linen shirt to wear beneath. The clothes fit me as if a tailor had made them for me and me only and I felt as if I had become someone else. It made me embarrassed but it felt good, too, as if I were suddenly worth more than I’d ever realized and was painfully conscious of it. Another bird flew into the windowpane, this one with more force, and so I pulled on some black boots that came just below my knee and ran out the door.
The hallway stretched in either direction, the floor being a polished dark wood like the one I saw before during the first time I met the illusionist. I searched for the stairs, spied them at the end of the hallway and made for them, but on the way I noticed doors to either side of me, some open, some closed. I wondered what an illusionist would keep in rooms besides the ones used for obvious things, like sleeping or reading, and in fact wondered so acutely that I couldn’t stop myself from investigating the first open door I came to.
I poked my head around the corner of the doorframe and there I saw a room like any other room. It could have been mine, although it was different in ways like the shape of furniture and the color of bedcovering. The only large difference was that as soon as I stepped inside, about ten birds slammed into the windowpane, and I remembered my charge.
Instead of dallying any longer, I ran down the stairs, which curved in a long, wide slope down to a main room which couldn’t possibly have fit inside that skinny tower I had seen all of my life. There was a vast chandelier in the middle of it, sparkling and beautiful. The walls were covered mostly in mirrors, and I watched myself in them as I walked by. Through a large arch I came to a hallway with a red and golden carpet lining its length. There were doors to either side of it, four or six, I never counted, and at the end was a glass door leading to outside. The difference was “outside” wasn’t a marsh. It was beautiful, forested, and green, with a river, a fountain, and numerous flowers. I couldn’t smell it, but I anticipated that it smelled wonderful, and thus began to make for that door.
On my way, I noticed a sign in Teitnl’s large script posted upon a wooden door to my right.
I immediately went inside. Opening the door, I saw Teitnl sitting at a breakfasting table, his muffin scarcely touched, and his tea taken with copious amounts of lemon. He sat very neatly, perfectly even, and his coat, though different in small details, was the same color of magnificent blue and just as beautifully made as the last one I saw him wearing. His eyes were cast downward in the act of occupying himself with his breakfast, although he didn’t appear to be very interested in it. As I entered he didn’t move except for his eyes, which shifted in a balletic manner to regard me, and his eyebrows, which pinched together with miniscule precision.
“You’re late,” he said. I blinked.
He closed his eyes for a moment, soothing a rising dragon, I suppose, although I wasn’t sure why he would be so angry this morning. He took a deep breath and then let it out, opening his eyes to look at a sealed letter that lay on the table next to a number of lemon rinds.
“Take that to Lord Orthridge in Midvale Hollow.”
“Yes, well…,” I began, having no idea who Lord Orthridge was or where Midvale Hollow was.
“Use that,” he said, pointing to a small, multicolored piece of silk folded on the table. I looked at the silk and felt very useless as he took another slice of lemon and began squeezing it into his tea. I crossed the room and picked up the letter, then the silk. It was smooth, light, and almost without substance in my hand. Colors played all across the fabric of it in a pattern I had never seen but found fascinating.
“How do I use this?”
“Sneeze into it.”
“Sneeze into it?”
“What did I just tell you?”
“To sneeze into it.”
“Don’t make me repeat myself!”
He ate another lemon slice, forgoing the tea altogether. I winced, looking at the silk, which seemed to be a handkerchief, and didn’t know how sneezing into a handkerchief was going to deliver a letter to Lord Orthridge in Midvale Hollow. I stared at it for a while, and then looked at the illusionist and asked the question foremost on my mind.
“But… what if I don’t feel like sneezing?”
He glared at me and his slender body was imposing as he stood, so much so that I stepped back, although I still held the handkerchief in my fist. I didn’t know what would happen, but I didn’t have long to wonder, for he gave me a dry look and snapped his fingers.
Once again I found myself outside, tied hand and foot, and leaning against the tower. Dirt was everywhere, and it had become morning in the meantime. Nothing had changed at all.