Last night was bad. Chastity’s wife woke her with urgent hisses in a language that Chastity didn’t understand but is beginning to recognise as Antiochian. Chastity let herself be led out through the house, hand clasped tight, slipping silent as her wife who carried a sword in her free hand and watched every dark corner and alcove. Chastity ensured the guards stayed clear. Then they came out under the trees, and the smell of night-orchids and damp earth, and Chastity’s wife looked around confused, then embarrassed, and let Chastity led her back to bed.
Chastity wipes condensation from the tall bathroom mirror. It takes a while. Then she stands back beside her wife and points at her wife’s reflection.
“This is you.”
Chastity’s wife stares at herself, like studying a map of a strange land. The scars aren’t confined to her face. Nor are the tattoos anymore: one in Urthish script coiling down her side from shoulder to knee. Her name, in mirror-writing so that it reads clearly on her reflection.
She points to one scar on her stomach, frowns, “That was Yannis Three-Fingers. He gained his freedom too – we got drunk together once – but he didn’t know what to do outside the arena. He was hung, I think.”
A memory, new to Chastity and lucid. Chastity rests an arm around her wife’s shoulders.
Her wife stares at herself in the mirror, “This is me.”
“Will I ever have my first mate back?” Cortez walks through the garden beside Chastity.
“She is broken. She has been broken several times before, and pieced some semblance of herself back together out of necessity, but fragile. Now, we will help her to do it properly. It will take time.”
“And she is married to you. Whenever Keats was noticed by the ladies, he – she – always evaded their attention. Does she… like ladies?”
“I don’t think she knows herself. But marriage and sex are not the same thing. We may take lovers,” Chastity’s smile suggests it might not be that simple, though it could as easily be to tease him.
“Are there subjects I should avoid?”
“No. Just be patient with her,” Chastity glances up.
Then someone is beside them. They’d dropped from the tree, but so suddenly and quietly that they seem instead to rise out of the grass. Unadorned blue cloak that, in crouching, had fanned out and now pulls in; black hair; katana held by its sheath in one hand.
“Mal?!?” but it isn’t. The hair is dyed, the face scarred and tattooed. Even the eyes are wrong: now amber. “Keats!”
Chastity addresses her wife calmly, “Who are you today?”
“Lady Patience Keats Decados.”
“Good. Then shall I look after that?” Chastity holds out her hand, and Patience passes her the katana: it’s Mal’s. To Cortez, “I’ll leave her in your care.”
“Do you have news?” Patience demands as soon as Chastity turns away.
“No. I am sorry.”
Patience stares at Cortez. She’d never seen him among trees before, always in ships or spaceports or cities. He is out of context. She’s still for a moment, tense, processing the transposition. Then she grins, hugs him, picks him up and spins. That’s new.
“Patience Decados?” when he is set down.
“All the other names were tangled.”
“There is nothing left for me in the Justinians. Only bitterness. Hemlock,” she says the name as if testing it out, “joined the Decados on his marriage and renounced his Justinian claim. Though sooner or later someone will notice that the marriage documents all say Tigerlily. And it simplified my illegitimate inheritance. I’m sure cousin Suki will do a better job than my father when he dies.”
“And your eyes –” Cortez touches her cheek.
“I can see colour again!” Patience beams, “Though that waistcoat looked better in monochrome.”
“I always liked the blue,” wistful, “I thought they were beautiful.”
“Dead men’s eyes,” Patience frowns, “I considered green, but no-one else had amber eyes. When I look in the mirror, I see myself,” all stated plainly, undisturbed, as if normal people had trouble with their own reflection.
“What has become of Keats?”
“Hemlock,” she pauses, struggles, “was a lie. Tigerlily-on-Antioch was a delusion, sort-of, though she’s still part of me. Keats is part of me too, maybe the biggest part. You can call me that if you want: it won’t trigger a seizure,” a slight smile. She’s teasing him, which seems a good sign, or perhaps a fleeting moment of lucidity. Remembering something, she pulls a ring from her pocket: the nose-ring she’d worn since Antioch, “Can you look after this for me please?”
“Of course,” he pockets it.
They walk under the trees, old friends chatting. She slips her hand in his. It’s warm and callused. While it surprises him, it seems to please her to have that contact. It’s a while before he realises that it’s her left hand so her right is free to draw – she wears Keats’ knives – and she knows where he is without looking.