Part 1 - The Prisoner
I heard the heavy wooden door of my cell open, and felt the water my feet were dipping into move around before the door closed, indicating someone had entered the room. This timing was unusual. Although I had long lost track of the weeks (months?) I’d spent here, suspended to the ceiling by gold chains attached to my wrists, immobilized in front of a massive stone wall with a single sky opening slightly above the level of my head, I knew for a fact my captors never visited me at night.
Whoever had entered silently remained behind me. I didn’t even try to look above my shoulder — there was no point in me seeing their face, and I knew the very act of moving my head around to have become an excruciating effort thanks to prolongated immobility.
A few minutes passed; neither a word nor a movement was uttered. I was keenly aware of the person’s continued presence because of the gentle breeze their calm breath created in the room, but they didn’t seem interested in doing anything special. This was actually unexpectedly nerve-wracking for me, and I started wondering whether I should indulge into my curiosity and lift my head up to take a look at them. During my stay here, I had progressively grown accustomed to the presence people moving around me, attending to my vital needs, cleaning me, feeding me.
This mute presence, however, was something new. Nobody had ever spent time doing nothing in my room.
The water moved again. They were approaching me. I felt my shirt being lifted up, and a cold hand was pressed against my omoplate. I reflexively tensed, scared of what the person might be thinking of doing. The hand remained in place for a few seconds, and then it started sliding slowly against my skin. I realized with a mixture of surprise and disgust they were spreading some substance on my back.
“What are you doing?”
I hadn’t really used my voice in a while; although I’d meant to put some intonation in my question, I barely managed a weak whisper. Nevertheless, the person’s hand stopped moving, staying in place on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure whether they had understood my words, or they simply didn’t expect a reaction from me, but at the very least I felt they had acknowledged me as an living being by granting consequence to my action. That was already an impressive improvement, compared to my other captors.
A few seconds passed, and the hand resumed spreading the substance on my skin.
“What is your name?”
I blinked. What a warm voice. A warm and high-pitched voice. Apparently the person was female, and she understood me.
“Morgan,” I whispered after a short hesitation. I couldn’t think of a reason not to act cooperative with her, at least for now. She seemed different from the other wardens, more inclined toward acknowledging my existence as a person, and more importantly, her voice had that precious quality I had be missing since finding myself here. She sounded caring. I had no idea what the substance she was spreading on me was, but I had an intuition she wasn’t malevolent — and, either way, I had no means of preventing her from doing whatever she wanted to do with me.
She remained silent for a few more minutes, carrying on with her ministration. Eventually, she let my shirt fall back against my back, and came to face me, tranquilly entering my sight under the moonlight.
She looked way too young and way too delicate for this place. Her black treses, her lightly ornate dress, the transparent unguent pot in her left hand, her curious, innocent demeanor, none of these belonged in this cell of brutality.
“How long have you been locked up here?”
Her face was completely hidden beneath a hood, but I could feel her eyes slowly taking my shape in. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I had a feeling she was intimidated one way or another.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted after a pause. “I lost count of weeks a while ago.”
She remained silent for a while, and dipped her right hand in her pot while approaching me. She gently lifted my shirt, and started brushing the unguent on my torso.
“Are you not going to tell me what you’re doing to me?”
She didn’t react, visibly uninterested in explaining herself. I sighed softly and let her do her thing.
Eventually, she was done with my torso, and she let my shirt go, taking a step back as she did.
“Why are you here?”
I stared blankly at her. “I don’t know.”
Feeling her gaze’s pressure increasing, I lowered my eyes, not wanting to face adversity in this potential support.
“I really don’t know,” I insisted, my trembling whisper barely audible even to me. “I have no recollection of being captured, and I don’t think I’ve done anything to deserve being chained up here either.
She nodded, and dipped her hand in the pot once more. I shivered when she started massaging my right arm, surprised at their sensitivity. She just carried on, unfazed by my reaction.
“Where are you from?” she casually asked while depositing an extra layer of the unguent on my numb fingers.
“I’m from Paris.”
She tilted her head, and shifted to my left arm. I didn’t bother trying to suppress the shiver her hand sent through my spine — there was no point.
“Paris, France?” I attempted, expecting her to at least know be aware of the country.
She shrugged. “Never heard of the place.”
I frowned. Was that even possible?
She didn’t ask anything else for a while, finishing up with her work on my left hand before taking a few steps back.
“Do you want to get out of this place?”
I stared at her. Had this question been asked by anyone else among the people I’d met here, I wouldn’t even have given it a second thought before labeling it a joke — I didn’t know their reasons, but my captors clearly didn’t have any inclination toward releasing me, ever. Her, though… She didn’t belong in this place, and she didn’t appear to have much interest for pleasantry.
“I can get you out of here,” she calmly stated, carefully watching for a reaction. She didn’t get any — her assertion had caught me off-guard and induced such a violent shock in my mind I had essentially stopped responding to the external world altogether.
A few awkward minutes passed, and I realized she had kneeled in front of me in the water and was lathering her unguent on my inner thighs. I squirmed slightly, both to inform her of my return to present reality and because I was embarrassed by the premise. She simply carried on with her ministration.
“Sorry about the silence,” I apologized, unsure whether that was needed but feeling I might as well be extra cautious given the circumstances.
She looked like she was finished with my legs; she slowly stood up, directly facing me. Although I still couldn’t see them, I had a feeling her eyes were fixated on mine.
“You have not answered me yet. Do you want me to get you out?”
For some reason, her insistence made me realize I didn’t know her motives. I didn’t want to throw myself from one frying pan to another.
“What’s in it for you?”
She tilted her head slightly. “That is a very good question,” she admitted, taking a short step back. “I am in great need of a servant. I was hoping you would agree to become my servant in exchange for my getting you out of this cell.”
I looked at her, puzzled. “A servant? Isn’t that a little vague? What would you use me for?”
She silently looked aside. I was starting to get used to this pattern of passive question avoidance, but she actually broke it this time, positively surprising me.
“Although our predicaments may not look alike, I am actually very much a prisoner myself,” she started. “I may be able to walk this castle’s hallways freely, but it is the castle itself that I want to leave.”
She knelt and rinsed her hand in the water, before closing her pot’s lid.
She had just called this place a castle — a largely discredited concept in our era of guns and drones. On its own, the word probably wouldn’t have caught my attention, but her old-school speech patterns and her ignorance of Paris, let alone France were starting to provoke a tickling sensation at the back of my mind.
Until now, I had assumed I was being detained in some obscure part of Europe, but was that really the case?
“Alone,” she carried on, standing back up, “I am unable to breach these walls… but with you as my servant, leaving this place is feasible.”
I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea. Considering the state I was in, there was no way I’d be able to fight anyone off (and I had never been particularly strong to begin with). There was no way she wasn’t aware of my current weakness.
She seemed to notice my confusion, and reformulated.
“I want you to be my familiar.”
Although I certainly appreciated her effort at making herself clear, this wasn’t really helping me understand her request. Her familiar? What did she mean by that?
One thing was becoming clearer by the minute: one way or another, our cultures were worlds apart. Although our languages were compatible and allowed us to communicate with each other, our vocabularies, postulates, assumptions and common sense had nothing in common. As a matter of fact, I was starting to realize she wouldn’t have been out of place in a fantasy video game.
She calmly stood in front of me, visibly waiting for my response. I didn’t know what to say. Asking about familiars to try and determine exactly what she expected from me seemed like the sensible thing to do, but I wasn’t sure her offer would stand if I admitted my ignorance and she might be my only chance to get out of here. The stakes were far too great in either direction.
I heard a soft sigh escape her lips.
“I do not need your answer immediately,” she stated. “I know this is a lot to take in in a very short amount of time. Would you like me to come back tomorrow? You can make your decision then.”
I looked down, nodding slowly. I was scared of asking her about familiars, scared of scaring her away or more generally losing the unexplainable interest she seemed to have for me. At the same time, I knew I very much couldn’t take this decision in the state I was in. I needed more data.
One more day in this cell didn’t mean much to me at this point, and I might be able to ask her for some explanations tomorrow in a new, fresh conversation.
“In that case, I shall take my leave,” she said, bowing down to express what I assumed to be gratitude for this talk. I would have reciprocated, but my gold restraints wouldn’t let me.
“See you tomorrow, then… and thanks.”
She headed for the door, passing behind me; I realized I still didn’t know what the unguent she had spread on my body was. Wasn’t I going to get in trouble with the wardens if they found out about her visit?
“It is a health cream,” she finally explained from the door’s threshold before opening it. “It will regenerate your tissues over the rest of the night. Hopefully this dose will give suffice for now.”
“Thanks,” I nodded after a short pause. I hadn’t expected her to answer this question.
She then exited the water and closed the door, leaving me to ponder her offer.