The door swung open with a fury and her momentum carried her swiftly out of the cage. It was a dash of luck that her flailing hands struck the hard edge of the floor to which she now clung. The edges of the last plank dug into her calloused palms but she’d learned to ignore pain in almost every situation. This was merely an inconvenience at the moment, no need to panic.
She surveyed the distance between her dangling feet and the sandy beach below, “Perhaps I should have waited after all,” she mumbled through clenched teeth.
Unsure of the day or time, she counted back to her last clear thoughts. It was like any other assignment she’d been asked to carry out – discover, distract, destroy. Discovery was easy. The brown gray stacked stones of the castle rose from the Earth and shone brightly in the sun, there was no attempt to hide or even cower against a hillside. This stronghold stood proudly and bare-chested, without so much as a moat to protect its walls and gates, just as he did.
She found him sitting in the study, his tanned fingers sliding methodically along the pages of a book. He knew she was there, so she spoke as if she was expected.
“Do you leave all of your guests standing for hours on end at the door?” she said, folding her arms across her partially bare chest.
His fingers stopped and his head did not move but his eyes cut across the room to survey her. He stood up and took one slow step toward her, his cloak falling quietly from the chair to the floor. He held his palms face up and out toward her and started to speak.
“I am terribly sorry; I must have been absorbed in my reading. Do accept my sincerest apology.”
He spoke in a deep and smooth voice that rushed over her like a raging river; she certainly felt like her head was underwater. She wanted to respond by capturing his gaze but her eyes were transfixed on his chest that appeared to be chiseled from the finest stone. She willed her hands to stay close to her sides lest they reach out and trace the deep lines set into his skin.
“Your apology is duly accepted,” she stammered a bit but set her jaw tightly as she refocused on the assignment.
Silence strolled into the room and filled up the space between them for what felt like days. It made her twitch, but he appeared to revel in it. A half smile crept onto his lips.
“So tell me, what brings you to me? Are you a scholar? a trader? messenger .. a .. slave?” he spoke again in smooth waves. The utterance of “slave” snapped her back into focus and she raised cool eyes to meet his.
“None of those,” she said sternly. “I am on a spiritual journey and I’ve found myself a little off course. If you could entertain a visitor for the evening I would be thankful and indebted.”
“A spiritual journey you say? I’m intrigued. I’ve never had a visitor, much less a traveling spirit seeker, but you are welcome to all the comforts I have to offer,” he said with a smattering of mockery in his voice before once again the smooth river rose from his chest, “Are you weary from your journey, or shall I show you around the place?”
She tipped her head a tiny bit, unfolded her arms and stretched her tawny limbs out before her. “Thank you for the offer; I would be pleased to accompany you.”
It was at this point her thoughts started to blur into a fog. Their footsteps fell rhythmically on the stone walkway winding through the garden. Fountains splashed and fragrance swept over her while she marveled not at the blooms, but at the brown hair that spilled over his shoulders. He knew the names of every plant and every exotic stone, and he had a story for every one.
There are gaps from there to where they were last, standing out on the southern facing wall looking over the churn of the ocean. There they stood talking quietly about the sea, how the foam pools against the crags in the rocky shore, how the kelp dances seductively in the tides and sea birds defy the laws of gravity. She drank his words until she was drunk and light headed, she remembered his hands following the edges of her body and lifting her up to what she then assumed would be his bed chamber.
Her mind left her, her eyes closed and her breathing slowed. She wanted him to take her to the far away places to gather stones and clip flowers. Then she heard the bright clank. She wanted to recover her senses, but she was too far gone and she drifted into a deep sleep.
She awoke in a panic, not on the wide berth of his bed, but on the cold floor of a cage.