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I shifted and swayed, uncertainty tightly wound around tendon and ligament, which in turn failed to power muscle and shift bone. The enervation was thorough. Candide, and his fool smile, relented to reality. I cultivated my own garden at the expense of everything else. Given the circumstances, it was as appropriate as it could have been.
The fruits harvested from this labor were not very sweet but were necessary. It was clear that I required more rest but it was a matter of probity that I import my consideration unto her. As if engaging in a razzia, I sailed towards my target, feeling that any less enthusiasm would doom the venture. I would not carry my prize back to the slave markets of Tripoli, but I would carry her to a more dignified position and grant her true respite.
Marisa wore a contented expression, a sharp contrast to her awkward positioning on the bed. She did not stir as I moved about, looking altogether too complacent to bother with anything but her rest. It was a queer display. Simultaneously, it was one that I understood only too well. Unbidden, another smile formed on my lips. A half-forgotten memory pushed its way to the fore of my mind.
On a large bed, a bed that was indeed similar in a multitude of ways. It was there… late in the evenings, after a full day of wandering, of roaming the grounds and keeping busy in the fashion others expected. After romp, study and all the other tasks. It was then and it was there, on my bed. Even before I snuffed the light for the evening, he already staked claim to his portion of the bed. My feelings be damned. When I retired, I would have to accommodate his whims instead of the other way around.
Mother… she found the behavior an amusing proof of our bond. Father, however, felt it was undignified to host him in my bed. If it were up to him, he would not allow him to even enter the house. And though Father tried to instruct the servants to do everything in their power to keep him out, my companion was determined and stubborn. He would snarl and act ill-tempered when confronted with either threat or bribe. To him, all that was important was to share my company. And he did, for most of his days, even when…
I winced, feeling a cold and sharp pain somewhere in the back of my head.
When recalled from the depths of my mind, the name produced a frisson. My heart pounded faster and for a second it seemed that it would explode. Instead, a tired sigh worked its way from the depths of my body, as if it was a forgone conclusion. I looked at Marisa again and relaxed, finding the association with the willful and impertinent hound at once melancholic. Despite it all, I felt like laughing. If I had stopped to reflect earlier, I would have found that our acquainting had followed a pattern familiar to those bygone days. She followed faithfully when coaxed, but was not afraid to project her own strong personality at others. She had come rather short of barking at the staff, like Diogenes sometimes did, but I suspected that was out of deference to myself more than lack of inspiration.
I did not even register the energy expenditure required as I held her in my arms. Being fatigued was an academic concern as hers was a weight I carried gladly. I offered her the same tenderness I would to my childhood companion. Whether she felt my intent in her sleep or simply was too tired to care, she nonetheless barely stirred as I moved her gently around the bed. I let her head rest on a pillow and her body on the correct axis. It was a mild evening, so I covered her gingerly with a single sheet before withdrawing back to my own spot. She became more human than hound as a result. It was then that I allowed myself to surrender.
With the endeavor successfully carried out, I desisted from further strain. Thin beads of sweat had formed on my brow and threatened to roll down the sides of my face. My breath came heavy through my throat to the extent that it gave me pause from thinking about anything extraneous. Letting my body calm itself down was all I cared to do. Any and all ambition was subsumed into the artificial premise I had set for myself – that rest was the most important thing I could do at that moment.
[This focus, this momentary whimsy, approached outright flippancy. So it seemed after possessing an appreciation for how more pieces of the whole come together. A sometime source of regret, I found. Opportunity presented itself twice in a single day and twice I ignored it. Further reflection at those junctures may have led to drastically different outcomes. So I say, so I chastise and so I try to convince myself even now. Because I must. As I set ink to paper now, inserting this message long after the other words on this page, my chest cannot help but tighten at the day’s recollection. Do I write this seeking exculpation for what follows hence and my role in shaping the situation? Or am I as Faust, conceited, and wish to simply to show that despite the alternatives there really was never any other path? I tire myself with these half-thoughts, these ramblings which yield no clarity. In this ornery state, all I wish for is peace and to remove all doubt.]
At some point I must have fallen asleep. The room was darker, the moon hidden behind clouds outside. The ceiling in my room was becoming a familiar sight. As irrational as it seemed to me, even then, it somehow helped convince me that I was still alive. More so than my heartbeat or my breathing. “Constancy comes from faith,” were words that escaped my lips. It was something I had heard before. Though where I had heard it, I could not say.
“So you are awake, good,” observed a nearly muted voice. I turned my head and narrowed my eyes at the dark figure standing beside my bed. She hesitated before speaking, looking for some sort of sign of recognition. I said nothing, figuring circumstances were exceptional if I was needed in the middle of the night. “I thought it best to bring the light in once you were awake. I didn’t wish to startle.”
I watched her retreat to the bedroom door and produce from the other side a lamp. “What do you need?” I asked, stopping before unnecessarily adding, ”that couldn’t wait until morning?”
“My apologies,” Sylvia reflectively touched the bridge of her spectacles with her free hand, fidgeting as it were. “I was told to summon you, posthaste.”
“And who am I to see?” I asked tersely, not appreciating the circuitous answer. It was then that I looked to the other side of the bed. The would-be canid was nowhere to be found. Creases in the mattress and a head-sized depression on a pillow were all the lingering bits of evidence that she had ever been there.
The maid was apologetic and meandered further, “I realize that a summons in the middle of the night is inconvenient and I wouldn’t dream of wanting to inconvenience you-”
“It’s a simple question,” I said, sitting up and getting out of bed, “the only ill-will you’ll find I have is if I’m not told who expects me and why.”
The maid nodded silently. She answered as she laid out my clothes for me, preempting my next move, “the chief maid asked me to rouse you and escort you for an audience.”
Her voice was flat, perhaps as if she were attempting to suppress her own emotions. I realized then that she, too, had been roused in the middle of the night. Her usually fastidiously-worn uniform looked slightly creased in place. This imperfection may have occurred due to haste, nervousness or a combination thereof. But I was not really interested in further speculation. Given the circumstances, her work hours were not an appropriate subject to ruminate upon. “What of my companion?” I asked.
“Companion?” she did not seem to understand the question as she turned away to let me put on trousers.
“You know, the girl I was with during the day,” I said, noting that I once again felt limber enough to move around at a decent pace.
“She remained by your side after...” her voice trailed, surely due to her uncertainty of what words to use. Sensing my impatience, she forwent the rest of the sentence, instead concluding, “no one kept track of her whereabouts once you were put to rest, my apologies.”
“I see,” I nodded, closing the last button and finally becoming presentable. Whatever residual fatigue I may have had was cast aside by inexplicable excitement. I checked myself in the mirror, noting that, superficially, I looked no worse for the wear. “I am ready.”
“I shall lead the way,” the maid nodded again, ushering me through the door. The corridors were brightly lit, with nearly every lamp and fixture hosting a a source of light. I could not help but feel that this display was for my benefit.
I did not wish to engage in idle chitchat, but it dawned upon me that some basic questions had not been answered. With the corridors long and empty, the art grand but of secondary concern, the logical thing would be to talk and prepare myself.
 Could she say what this audience would entail? And the sudden urgency?
 Would she share her account on what happened during lunch?
 Most importantly, had Chloé or her mistress asked after me?