‘It is about desire,’ she said.
‘Ah, desire.’ I replied. ‘Desire and I parted company a long time ago. We are strangers now.’
She knelt up on the low divan, edging closer to me. Her hands carved shapes into the air between us. I saw a vision grow out of the stillness. A faraway place I did not know. It looked hot there. Strange creatures lurched across vast expanses of sand. Men were riding them. A long line of stumbling walkers followed behind the beasts, all chained together.
‘It looks hot,’ I said.
‘I come from there.’
I looked at her. Her skin was dark. Her hair was darker and her eyes were darker still. ‘A long way away?’
She nodded. ‘I had no choice.’ She pointed to the line of chained people following the riders on the strange animals.
I didn’t say anything.
Some say slavery is wrong. Others have made a good living from it. Blenka, one of my old comrades on the North Wall had been a slaver once. He’d once asked me, ‘Well, what would you do with captives? Kill them all, or sell them? Which is worse?’
I didn’t have an answer. I’d been a captive a few times, but I’d never been dead, at least not in this life. So I had no way of knowing.
I looked at her. ‘Someone, a slaver, once asked me which I thought was worse: death or slavery.’
She turned from the vision she’d created. ‘Which did you think?’
‘I do not know.’
‘Slavery is worse.’
‘How do you know?’
‘I tried death once,’ she said, waving the vision away from between us. ‘It was better than this.’
I sat up, edging closer to her. ‘What is it like?’
She looked at me. ‘My death will be different to yours. We have different gods.’
‘Do the gods matter then?’ I’d never had much time for gods. Less time, it often seemed, than they had for me, anyway.
‘Not really. But your idea of the life after does. And that is often dependent on the gods you follow. As I said it is about desire.’
‘Desire for what?’
‘Desire for sex, for riches, desire for death and desire for the life that is to come. It is all desire.’
‘I am too old for desire,’ I said. It is true. These days my bones ache worse than my old wounds throb, and I have many old wounds.
‘Is there nothing you want?’ She raised her hands again, ready to conjure my desires out of the air around us.
I shook my head. ‘There was a time when I wanted everything. I spent most of my life trying to get it. Only to find it all slips away too easily.’ I’d been rich. I’d been poor. Captive and free. I’d stood in the smoking ruins of my estate over the graves of those I’d loved. I’d tried drowning myself in drink and dying in war. I’d been a bastard to everyone and a saint to some.
I touched her hand. It was cool, soft. ‘I do desire something,’ I said lying down.
‘Oh, yes?’ She raised her hand to the clasp of her robe.
‘Not that,’ I said. I took her hand.
As I closed my eyes, I placed her cool soft hand on my brow. ‘That is all I desire,’ I said.