SLAVES TO STARLIGHT
“Please, then just kill me now, I cannot bear it any longer,” he asked, looking up from where he sat at her feet.
Earlier. It seems much earlier.
“How was the weather today?” the Lady asked him.
“Just normal, a bit cloudy.”
“Tell me, you know it is important to me to hear it.”
“Yes,” he obeyed. “In the morning the sunrise came late and there was fog on the mountains. The fog had lifted by midday and there was snow on the distant mountain peaks. The clouds parted for a minute in the afternoon and there were brief rays of sun. But then the clouds returned, darker than before, it looked like it would rain, but it did not. The sunset was nothing special.”
‘Every sunset is special,” she corrected him harshly. “I miss those long autumn twilights, and the sun through the trees in the summer…”
“Forgive me, Lady. At least you still have the night, you still have the starlight.”
“We have nothing but starlight… We are literally starlight, The atoms of your body were formed from ancient exploding stars, All the energy in the food which sustains you comes from the photosynthesis of plants- from the light of our star. All matter, all of you, is light moving very slowly, all mass is energy and all energy comes from the stars.”
He gazed up at her adoringly. To him, it was as though she spoke with the wisdom of ages. To be in her presence when she spoke that way made all the suffering and sacrifice worthwhile.
“When you gaze up at me, all you see is light reflected from energy… Starlight,” she continued.
She treated him to a smile, and feasted on the power she held over him, how he melted under her radiance.
“Give me your hand,” she commanded.
He reached up foppishly, presenting his hand like a Victorian gentleman asking for a dance. She grasped his hand in her left hand and with her right she took a knife from her garter. It was a tiny pen knife set in ivory and the blade shone like the stars. She cut his little finger and placed it between her lips. She drank like a thirsty kitten.
To him, it felt exquisite. If it gave her much pleasure, she refused to show it.
The next day, he woke up exhausted. Partly because of loss of blood and partly because she had required him for half the night but he still had to wake at dawn to perform his duties on her estate.
He pulled on his clothes, washed his face with the cold water beside his bed, quickly brushed his hair and then left his cell for the kitchen. After a quick meal of black pudding, fried bread and ale, he got his tools and started work.
He worked until sunset. It rained all afternoon, so it was a long day. He returned, exhausted, to his cell, changed into dry clothes and waited to be summoned to the Lady.
He waited. He drank tea and ate a cold beef sandwich and waited. He tried to read a book, but his eyes hurt in the poor light of the cell. He waited, and the summons never came. Exhausted and miserable, he fell to sleep soon after midnight.
He dreamt of riding a horse in a meadow, the sky was full of stars, but if it was dark he could still see clearly. He came to a river, and he knew, without touching it, that the water was colder than ice. He followed the river upstream. The river led to a pond. The Lady was bathing in the water. It delighted him to see her that way. The horse was gone, or maybe he was the horse. He walked towards the pool and the Lady… suddenly another man appeared, naked, beside her, then another man, then another…
He woke in his cell, very much aware of how alone he was.
The next day was much the same, but he was less exhausted and it rained less. In the morning he trimmed the trees and rose bushes in her gardens. In the afternoon he did repairs on her stables, and the sight and smell of her horses made him uncomfortable but he could not quite remember why.
The evening was much the same as the last. Ceaseless, intolerable waiting. He tormented himself with questions. Why didn’t she summon him? Had he offended her? Was she angered by his dismissal of the sunset? He had been careful to watch the sunset carefully, to remember every shade of scarlet, the movement of every cloud. He had fantasized about composing a poem for her about the last twilight, but his education was minimal and he could not put the words together correctly. Had she forgotten him? There had been times when she had only summoned him to drink for a few minutes, and there had been one evening, months ago, when she had been too busy to summon him, but never two evenings in a row. Never. Maybe very late tonight… What could he do about it? Nothing.
He slept, and was constantly woken by nightmares, but he could not remember what they were about.
The following day he went through his day’s work like a very old man. His body was weak and every joint ached. His head was clouded like a drunkard, he could not stop thinking about her, but at the same time he could not focus on anything. Pictures and words and hazy feelings swept around his mind. What had he done wrong? What could he do to make it better? He replayed the last summons, every word they had spoken, again and again. Then he would remember his work, if he worked badly it might anger her, but he was too weak… He forced himself to work, although he knew the work was not good enough, he forced himself to eat and drink, but he tasted nothing.He avoided speech, even eye contact with other staff, that was easy enough, most of them avoided him. He felt like he had a terrible secret which he needed to hide from everyone, including himself.
Eventually, darkness came.
(The sunset had been brief, but beautiful, it had been orange and rose gold, with purple tints on the clouds.)
He lay in his bed. He could not relax enough to get comfortable, and yet struggled to keep his eyes open. After an hour, which felt like days, he was summoned.
He strode towards her chamber, struggling to hide his fatigue. He entered, bowed and knelt at her feet.
“You look terrible,” she said.
He nodded, so very grateful that she had noticed.
She looked down on him, searching for something that she could not find.
“Shall I tell you about the sunset?’ he asked.
“No, I know already. Give me your hand.”
She took his hand and cut his wrist (very carefully so that it did no serious damage) with her beautiful knife. As she drank, she looked away from him, at the stars outside the window. After a minute she was no longer thirsty, she released his arm.
‘You may go,” she commanded.
He looked down at his bleeding wrist, then up at the indifferent expression on her exquisitely beautiful face.
“Please no…I …” he began.
“Please…” he knew it was madness to speak, to think of disobeying, but he was too weak. He had waited for so long, to be dismissed so rapidly. What was wrong with him? He could not stop the flow of feeling, of emotion, of words -damn words- from his mouth. “Please let me stay a little longer, I have missed you… Please… I love you.”
“You think that you are in love, that is pathetic, like a rabbit loving a wolf… “ said the Lady. “What do you even know of love? Nothing it seems… Love is essentially both worthless and priceless, It can be given, taken and gathered up for free. It is like air or rain water. It is only the concept of possession of it which makes it rare and have any value. The fantasy of ownership. That is what people fight or starve for. What you work and beg for- nothing but an illusion of possession. Love, or money, can be given freely, but people are scared to. They hoard it, and that is why it is rare. That is why, for you, it is unobtainable.”
“Please, then just kill me now, I cannot bear it any longer,” he asked
‘You have misunderstood. That is not how this arrangement functions,” she dismissed him.