When time almost feels solid, as though it’s possible to heap up each second into a pile of minutes until those minutes become hours and those hours turn into days. Each second of our time together seemed special, precious. I wanted each of those seconds to be some shining jewel of a moment I could hoard in a treasure chest of memory.
I wanted to keep them all, each and every second, because I knew that one day I would be gone and Jemina would fade as all memories fade.
I could not stay.
I think Jemina understood that, even as we lay side by side watching the reflections of the sea on her ceiling and listening to the waves falling over themselves down on the shore below the village.
Hemington was the last place on the coast, the furthest from Sun City I’d ever run. The Endless Sea washed against the Sun Empire’s shores there. The tides of circumstance had washed me up there too.
I knew I was on the very edge of the Sun Empire because it didn’t rain all the time. In this part of the far south they even had what could be called a proper summer. Not the summer of the Summer Isles that I later got to know, but a time of the year when there was sunlight and blue skies and the sun felt warm on your skin.
Jemina was dark, much darker than my Sun City pallor.
I was pale even for the capital, from spending my time out ay nights under the moonlit clouds, skittering across the drizzle-soaked roofs and climbing in through windows.
I was a thief… that I’ll admit.
But I was never a murderer, nor an assassin. I stole valuables, but I took nothing ever as valuable as someone’s life.
I broke in through a window, swinging down from the rain-damp roof above. I did not see the body until I noticed I was standing in a pool of its blood. There was a low lamp on the bedside table. I picked it up and carried it over to the body.
I almost dropped the lamp in my haste to get out of there when I saw the familiar face.
I’d never been this close to the Duke before but I’d sneaked in, pretending to be a servant, at some of the society parties he graced with his presence. I was there to case the joint as we called it in the trade.
I suppose in his own way, so was the Duke, looking for valuables to tax in much the same way as I searched for those same valuables to steal. I suppose in some ways we were in the same business. Only I was more honest in my thievery.
I took the fact that he lay there with his throat slit and I was alive as some kind of proof of that.
Then feet thundered up the stairs and I ran for the window. A cloaked stranger lurking in the inn two streets away had whispered to me that this was a room full of valuables.
I thought it odd at the time. I’d thought that maybe she was an ex-servant with a grudge, or a maid to a master with wandering hands, or a scorned and discarded mistress.
I knew as I heard those guard’s feet on the stairs that I’d been set up.
So I ran.
I ran… and didn’t stop until Jemina stood in my path and ran out of reasons to run and found reasons to stay.
At least for a while.