So Close

You're in my arms
And all the world is calm
The music playing on for only two
So close together
And when I'm with you
So close to feeling alive...

So close
And still so far...

--- "So Close" by Jon Mclaughlin

Tangled sheets. Heat. Heat from him, from another body lying by his. The red canopy above him.

He looks to the side.

She is there.

She's in his world.

Her lips are swollen, her hair is loose. Dark brown, almost black. It spreads across his pillows like ink. Even though she is sleeping, he touches it. Runs his finger down a stray strand. Follows it to the edge and then beyond. Falls off the edge. He is still too mesmerised by her to notice he is tracing a shadow.

It is soft. His finger moves up once more. The silky black feels soft under his skin.

He wakes her.

Sleep will not release her. She lingers there. Soaks in it, not smiling but content.

He wants to see her face again. Once more. Just once. He sits up, slowly, slowly, don't disturb her. He leans over. His shadow stretches across her body. The lamp behind flickers in the breeze. The servants had left a window open. Summer wallows on the wind.

She opens her eyes.

He knows that he could drown in those brown eyes. He could die, staring into them and death would be welcomed. They warm. They flame. Every emotion is written in them. She cannot hide from him.

He knows she is honest. Straight and honourable… and honest

Warm muscles ache. He stretches up his hand. Strokes away the hair from her forehead. She smiles then. Smiling at the action. Smiling at the tenderness. He smiles too. A little disbelieving, a little confused. Was he ever tender? He could not remember.

She changes him. He loves her for that. He loves her. He loves her.

The tawny head lowers. Hair falls forward with gravity. It tickles his cheek and she strokes it away. Tender, tender.

She rises a little. Her lips come close to his. Tantalisingly close and he is tempted, so tempted.

"I love you."

It whispers out. Lighter than air. Lighter than thought. Her accent is different. Not unpleasant but foreign. He notices soft vowels, no sharpness. The words flow out like water.

Drowning, again.

His lips come closer. No space between them. Nothing. He forgets his duty. He forgets his bride. All he sees is her. All there is is the need for her, the passion she creates with every move. Every turn of her head and neck and shoulders.

"I'll always love you…" She says. Whispers. Sighs. She welcomes him. Her arms are reaching up. He can feel the warmth around his shoulders, his waist. He leans over her and breathes her name…


He didn't know her name.

Green eyes flew open. Sleep was gone. Like a dunking of cold water, reality washes over him.

He didn't know her name.

He was in love with a nameless woman.

Marius Semeon Ortiz sat up in his great bed, in his fine room, in his beautiful home and wondered about the name of the mystery woman.

But was she a woman? Her face was still young, older before its time perhaps. Thin, hollow-cheeked. He'd seen faces like that before. On slave marches, on frontier villages. It meant starvation. At one point in her life, she had been without food, without shelter, without a home. Someone had taken her food from her. Forced her to starve.

Uncontrollable anger swept through his limbs. A killing rage surged through sleepy muscles. Instinctively, his body, trained and honed from countless battles, tightened and woke. He was ready to kill. He would kill. He would kill the man who had starved her. He would slit his throat and watch the blood bubble up as he fought for life. And he would smile as that man died.

Red sheets flew back. He slid out of his bed, padded barefoot across the floor. The nip of the breeze sent goosebumps across his skin. The servants had left the window open. He smiled. So that part was real after all. Not just a dream.

The lights of the Mastery glittered below him. The young Commander rested his forearms on the cool stone and stared out at his home. Tomorrow, the marriage caravans would make their way down the great streets of the Mastery. They would pass through the slave quarters, the Middle Ring, the High Domain. Already he could see slaves carrying torches down the route. They were marking out the corners for the few guards that Master had ordered for the bride's protection. Not that she would need protection. The caravans would be completely safe. His bride would be completely safe.

The lady with the dark eyes… yes, she would be safe too.

And the next day, she would come to his home. She would live under his roof. He could speak with her. Touch her. Share smiles. Hear her laugh.

Learn her name.

He nodded. Fresh hope filled him. After tomorrow, he would have a chance. No. He would have more than a chance. He would have time.

Time to learn. Time to speak. Time to gain her love. He knew he would. He believed in it.

When their time came, he would know her name.