58 ~ Hope

Lady Hope Exsil Vis eased herself out of her lord’s bed and stole out of the room, heading to her own, private bedroom.

It had been a difficult five days. Her previous bruises still showed, and she had fresh ones marring her golden-toned skin. She ached all over, but in a sleepy, satisfied way. It disgusted her.

Her lord had not been pleased when he’d discovered her deception. That was what had kept her from supper on Anala’s first night there. The make-up she’d used to save face (she almost laughed at the phrase, but her ribs were cracked again) in front of her eldest daughter had prevented her from saving Anala from her lord.

Drugged and held captive by one’s own father. Hope supposed it was a bit better than being murdered by one’s parents – a story that dotted the long history of the Exsil Vis family. A history she knew too damned well.

A bath was in order. She turned on the hot taps and waited for the water to fill her giant tub. The smell had never bothered her, though she’d heard from outsiders that the water here was putrid. She was Vocan, born and bred.

Born, at least, and maybe half-bred. The other half, she wasn’t sure – she knew it was Magi, but beyond that she didn’t know much. She wished Corinus was still alive, so she could talk to him, as she’d done so often when she and Charity had lived in the wilds of Voco, on the edges of Deadwood. It was because of Corinus that she and her sister had survived at all when they’d been cast out of the palace, accused of something they’d never practised.

Their mother, source of their non-human heritage, had not been so lucky, for all that her sole crime had been failing to age as she should have. Hope could still smell her flesh burning as she writhed in her final bonds, a staked sacrifice to superstition and fear.

Ah, well. It was all in the past. And that I cannot change. She grimaced as she lowered her injured body into the tub.

The future, now…the future she still had influence over. She was glad she had chosen Lares to be her spy – his undying loyalty and steadfast love of her would be of great use in this situation, as it had been in so many others.

She cared for him, as much as she could. She’d long passed the point where she’d let emotions override practicality, however.

She was glad, too, that she still had enough influence in Harbourtown to make sure it had been Merry who’d taken Anala across the water. The man maintained an avuncular affection for Anala, although it’d been twenty-seven years since he’d last seen Hope’s daughter. He’d kept abreast of Anala’s life, either through what Tenea told him in her frequent letters or what filtered back to Harbourtown in gossip.

As much as Hope had been kept abreast of Anala’s life for nigh on three decades, it was not because of a brilliant spy network, as Lares assumed. He alone was her entire spy network. No, Hope read the world through dreams, not her own but the dreams of other people.

That was her power – reading and influencing others through their dreams. Her Magi heritage had given her that and an unnaturally long life – but not much else that Hope could see.

It was through careful use of her gift and innate caution that she had managed to keep the second, more powerful part of it hidden from Maurice. As he saw no benefit in reading dreams, he had not used her for her gift.

That was the strangest part of their relationship, for Maurice was not an impractical man. Hope had expected him to kill her after she’d birthed Miranda, for she was sure he wanted her only for the powers she might give to children of her womb. Instead he had married her and, while he’d not been faithful to her, he’d nonetheless been as good a husband as his nature permitted. God knew that most of the time she was happy with him, and he was good in bed–when he was in a good mood.

Or even a bad mood, she admitted, adjusting her position in the tub. It was her familial legacy – human, not Magi – to relish bedroom violence, either giving or receiving. She preferred to receive; he to give. They were perfectly paired.

Most days she was at peace with what she was – undoubtedly a strong minded woman and independent to a fault, for had he not said upon his taking of her that he “liked a woman with spirit”? But most of the time she was unable to do anything but offer up token resistance. Even the first time, which had been far from consensual.

Days like today…all she felt was disgust. Your daughter lies drugged in her suite, in terrible danger, and you spend your evenings screaming in pleasure as your lord whips you senseless. Some mother you are!

Truly, she feared for her daughters, for Anala more so than Miranda. Maurice loved them only for their usefulness to him – why else had he asked for Anala in exchange for that bitch Isidora? A deal Hope was glad those bellicas had refused. Why else was Anala trapped here now?

She had to free her daughter. She knew this. She also knew she’d be giving up her last chance in doing so.

That was fine. She had never taken any of the opportunities to leave presented to her. She had been tempted, but she was Vocan – this place was home to her, and the only way she could make sure it stayed homelike was by staying at her lord’s side. She’d made peace with their complicated relationship too many times to count and she was sure she could do it forever. She was sure she could never leave him.

It wasn’t love. Not quite. But it wasn’t hate. She’d never been able to figure out what it was, except mutual need. She was the only woman strong enough to give Maurice what he desired in the bedroom, and the only woman strong enough to challenge his intellect. As long as she stayed with him, she would not be killed by an angry mob. She was well over eight decades and still had not aged a day beyond an apparent twenty-five or twenty-six. That was a power she could well have done without.

But then I would not have lived to birth my beautiful, lovely Anala. She stared at the old and dirty tile work in her bathroom. My lovely Anala whom I somehow have to get out of the palace.

For that was the one kink in her plan. Anala was still under the influence of the drug, though she’d fought it admirably for a while. It had been hopeless, though. It was a drug specially formulated against Magi, as Hope should know, for it had been tested extensively on her.

She’d had some success in making Anala lucid again through the bellica’s dreams. When Anala woke up, however, Hope’s influence would be lost and she would succumb to the drug again. It was terribly frustrating.

She’d try again tonight. Now she had to prepare her two allies, so that when the time came there would be no hesitation – for hesitation could cost Anala’s life. That was something Hope could not bear.

Settling into a relaxed posture, she closed her eyes and prepared to make a dream-self to contact Captain Merry. It was a little-used facet of her dream powers, for it was very difficult to do. Most likely this one would drain her, but it had to be done. She could sleep out the day.

Anala had to be safe, and Lares with her – for Hope knew that Lares would protect her darling daughter. Hope would die in peace if she knew they’d made it safely to Athering. As safe as one could be in Athering.

And some day…she can come and claim her birthright.

Not now. Not tonight. Not while Maurice still lived. Some day.

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