Jason of Argyll, fully dressed even on the hottest day of the season, sat quietly reading the paper as the Palace Staff moved about him, quietly and studiously executing the tasks laid out by him at dawn’s first light. The schedule was complex but fixed, the staff assigned carefully according to talent as much as experience in specific duties. The Argyll had distinguished himself amongst staff and gentry alike as both a highly effective executive administrator and as a fine judge of where best to use the various people in his employ. As such, his requests and instructions went unquestioned.
This morning was not unusual, and all had been running smoothly until the young lady assigned tea service to Her Majesty’s apartments, a young local named Vicky, came back in tears. She was visibly shaken about having been bodily dismissed by Moiraine, who was apparently in some fit of pique over her condition. Shaking his head and chiding Vicky mildly, he sent the girl to her room for the morning, to hopefully pull herself together for the afternoon.
Thinking better of sending another in her stead, Jason set his paper aside and rose to prepare the tray himself, removing the items spoiled in the scurry from the Regent’s apartments. He boiled a fresh pot of tea using his own mixture of leaves which he knew Her Majesty favoured, and left the original for the staff to enjoy. He assigned one of the other girls, a Euroboran lady called Cathy, to take some up to Vicky.
Jason won the respect and loyalty from the staff as much from his poise and bearing as from his record of proven efficiency. It was known that he was the First Son of House Argyll, but the staff were used to serving under foreign nobility. This was an instituted position, used to test the mettle of young nobles in service of the Sacred Realm, and as such, no noble was given more respect than was his due. Jason brought with him a certain magnetism and natural charm, and at a towering height of six foot five inches, a certain imposing physicality that few could ignore. His habit of wearing the servant’s garb of his homeland, the very suits worn by the housekeepers of his own household, made him a most striking man. And yet, he was known for his fair-mindedness and his willingness to take on tasks that others were unsure of. He lead by example in all things, and inspired all who worked under him, regardless of age or disposition.
And so it was that, at the somewhat unseemly hour of ten-of-the-morning on Saturnusday, Jason of Argyll, Her Majesty’s appointed head of the Household of Londonis, found himself approaching Her Majesty’s Regal Apartments with breakfast and tea, his own paper resting on the trolley.
He did not do so carelessly. He was well aware that she was not at all well, having fallen ill early the previous evening and summoned Her Royal Physician during the night. As such, upon being passed through by a Palace Guard, Jason cautiously entered the grand bedchamber. The four-poster bed and other rich wood furnishings were all but invisible in the faintly-lit room.
He steeled himself for another onslaught of her wicked temper, but found her small frame beneath the dim outline of light on her duvet. She was fast asleep, the sounds of laboured breathing and the shifting of feet from beneath her downy cocoon, but no assaults came, verbal or otherwise. It seemed incredible to him that she could have gotten out of bed, much less to have thrown a woman the size of young Vicky from the room. He made a note to question Vicky at greater length later in the day. Carefully wheeling the trolley to the sitting table by the window, he decided against drawing the curtains wide, and instead turned to leave quietly before the Regent awoke.
He managed to get as far as the chamber door before hearing Moiraine thrashing and moaning in her sleep. He froze in his steps, hoping she would settle back into whatever rest her ailing body would grant her. Soon her thrashing subsided, but as he reached for the door, he heard a groan from the bed. A voice struggled to speak clearly, as if clawing its way out of the ground. Before he could turn the knob to leave, she finally called to him, ‘Jason… is that you? Pour some tea and bring it to me, there’s a good man.’
Dutifully fumbling back through the dark room, he again resisted the urge to pull back the drapes, and instead went about carefully fetching his ailing Regent her morning tea. The sound of a music box gently chimed near the bed; an eerie, haunting song both familiar and unlike anything he’d ever heard. He could almost hear the words in his head, but they eluded him.
Unsure how he managed to pour the tea without spilling, he turned to bring it to her, but came to a full stop. There before him, luminescent even in the dim light, was Regina Morgaine, whom he had once known as Gwenna Greenlawn. She looked of alabaster and silk, moving gracefully and unselfconsciously. Her nightshift clung to her skin, as a sheen of perspiration lightly matted her hair and glistened on her almost glowing skin. Carefully averting his gaze in deference to her immodesty, he distinctly heard her chuckle throatily.
“Jason,” she purred gaily, “do you find my appearance displeasing?”
“No, Your Majesty,” he blurted nervously. “It’s just that… if Your Grace would permit me to fetch your robe.”
Again she laughed, an unmistakable air of flirtation in her voice as she drew closer, her pale skin reflecting light dimly onto his jacket and the tea cup and saucer. She carefully retrieved the tea from his trembling hands.
’We can’t have you spilling this all over the lovely Trojan carpets now, can we? Perhaps you’d like to pour one for yourself.”
Smiling seductively and moving her hips in a way he had never witnessed before, she carefully placed the cup and saucer back on the table. She brushed against him as if they were intimate friends, and gently cooed, “or perhaps you’d like something else to relax and soothe you, hmmn?”
Stammering, he tried to move past her to fetch her robe and protect whatever shred of dignity he had left. Suddenly, her arm flew up and she stroked his face with the back of her right hand. He froze in his tracks, unable to move, and everything in the room seemed to become more vivid.
The room seemed much brighter than it had, as if the curtains had fallen wide open. The glow on Moiraine’s soft skin fairly shone, as if bathed in some sort of ghost light. Her clothing seemed utterly transparent to him now; she knowingly studied his growing tension and excitement. The music box was singing as if right behind his ear, the tune hauntingly familiar, yet just beyond his grasp.
“I’m hungry, Jason,” she pouted playfully, “have you brought me anything to eat?”
He just opened his mouth when she placed her hands behind his neck and pulled his mouth down to hers. He could not resist her, as if he were soft clay in her hands. His objections and apologies crumpled like dried leaves and blew away. The music exploded in his head.
As she pressed herself to him, a brilliant white light rose between them. Beneath her soft skin, he noticed movement, but not of muscle or bone. Her eyes grew wide, brilliant, deep. So dark. He felt himself slipping into her gaze. His body spasmed, even as he was transported with ecstasy at the touch of her delicate, playful hands, gliding over his body and removing his coat.
For a time, he experienced many strange things. Doors opening and closing, kisses stolen and in flesh and fire. He imagined himself in her arms, her bed, her soul. And then, he stood alone in a great hollow of an enormous tree, the Bright Lady coming before him and taking him to her bosom. He imagined a stream of white water rushing as he floated down, the waters teeming with life of every size, shape and colour brushing against his bare skin. He imagined lying in a sylvan glade, and of running through the fields of the Hebrides, of days spent with his mistress, the enchanting war-maiden assigned to guard him on his tour of his father’s lands. He dreamed of sinking into her eyes, her mouth, her sex. He dreamed and slept peacefully for a brief eternity, his lost love at last requited.
The next words he heard were the dulcet tones of Moiraine’s voice gently instructing him to return to his duties.
“Speak not a word of our breakfast together, my beautiful Jason, my lovely, loyal Argonaut.”
He dressed mechanically and fetched the tea tray, knowing she would not be needing it further.
He felt irreal as he slipped out into the hall with the service cart ahead of him. The Palace Guard, who had not once interfered with him during the course of his duties, had a strangely knowing look on his face. As Jason studied the man’s expression, he suddenly thought he could make out shapes moving below the surface of the Guard’s near-translucent skin, somewhat like eels moving below the surface of cloudy water.
Shuddering, he dismissed the thought and shook his head. He looked again to see the guard watching him passively, no more signs of shifting below the skin.
But Jason could still hear His Majesty’s music box as if it was nearby…
…and continued to hear it throughout the remaining days of his life.
© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle