The Lady wakes to a puzzle.
LeBlanc swam upsward through clouds and dragonflies, lazily propelling her way to consciousness. She was reluctant to leave the weightless realm of her contented musing for the harsher world of thought. She lingered at that balanced place just below the surface of waking, spinning slowly, feeling the pleasant caress of her dreams, creating again and again the events of the evening and night.
He had stayed with her until the second moon had risen, then had quietly left but not before bestowing a final kiss on her lips and on the heart etched just beneath her collar bones. The touch had not fully wakened her from her sleep and she was not entirely sure what had been real and what imagined. He had not spoken at all during their final embraces. There had been a strangely dreaming quality to the encounter. Were it not for certain physical evidence, sho would have thought all that happened had just been another of the liaisons with the statue.
Finally she could delay no longer and opened her eyes. Fugitive rays of sun crept throught the curtains and and defined themselves in the dust motes swirling in the lemon light.
LeBlanc stretched, trying to preserve the memory of his body touching hers. The machina parts had been oddly provocative and she resolved next time to have more lamps lighted so that she could see as well as feel the totality of him.
He had shielded the view of his damaged body from her, not permitting her the explorations he reserved for himself. He had admired and caressed every part of her; she had only her sense of touch to define him.
Why was he so reluctant to share fully, she wondered. Did he fear she would be repelled or would no longer want him if she saw what horrors Sin had inflicted? Did he think she was that shallow? How could he doubt she would love him and find him desirable under all circumstances? A thought slipped unwelcomed into her mind. Did he conceal himself from his other lovers? How many were there and did he trust them more?
She fixed her gaze on the vitrine, glimmering in the shadowy light. The statue was facing her as usual but there was something subtlety different about it. a piece of paper was crumpled in the hand which held the cane.
Not bothering with a robe, LeBlanc leapt from the bed and scurried to the case. She opened the door and carefully teased the note from beneath the rigid fingers. Nervously, she smoother out the creases. Scrawled across the rectangle were the words: 'Pleased with your choice?'
She pressed the note against her breast as though she could in that way feel the touch of the hand which had written it. She had not been fully awake when Nooj had left. All she could be certain of was that he had left sometime after the rising of the second moon. He must have drawn the curtains as he went because she could clearly remember the shifting light slipping through the window and casting kaliedoscopic patterns across the bed and its occupants.
Suddenly, she was seized with a frisson of horror. Nooj had left her with kisses and no farewells. She desparately tried to recall what he had done after he had made his way toward the door. It was all trapped in the unreliable web of her dreams. When would he have had time and opportunity to write the note, open the vitrine and place the note in the hand of the statue? Who had written that note? Who had asked her another question? Who always demanded answers from her?
She was as certain as she could be that it had been the living Nooj who had shared her bed and whose tongue had met hers in the time of the two moons. But, after that .... ?
Shivers shook her from head to toe and she hurried back to her bed, burrowing under the covers and hiding from the gaze of the object which stood in the case. What had she set loose?
She remembered what the not-yet-real Nooj had called her just the day before. "A shallow, vulgar, needy wreck of a woman, no longer human, nothing but an endless appetite." Tears sprang from her eyes in spite of her efforts to stop them. The merciless accusation echoed in her head. She compared them to what the new note said. The four words could be read at laeast two ways: as an affectionate remark or as a scathing reproach. How was she to tell which was the correct reading? Who had written the note? Which lover was speaking to her though this message?
A mutter of conversation reached her from the door when only the heavy draperies separated her rfoom from the stair landing.
"Who's there?" She pushed her touseled head from under the quilts.
"You OK, boss?" Ormi shouted from beyond the door frame. "You ready for some breakfast?"
LeBlanc looked at the clock on her dresser. Ten already? "Just a minute," she called out as she buttoned on a dressing gown and hastitly re-ordeered the bed. Her private life was just that - private, but she saw no point in courting gossip amongst her staff.
"Come in." She arranged the coverlet over her knees, ready to accept the tray Ormi would be carrying.
"Here you are, bosss. I brought an extra muffin just in case you're hungry." He blushed a deep cerise and stared fixedly over her head.
"Thank you, Ormi. You may go now. ... Oh, get the information about that spiritualist - you know that consultant who left his card a few weeks ago. Put it on my desk."
The houseman drew himself up as far as his body shape would allow, saluted and took his leave, pulling open the window curtains as he passed by.
LeBlanc took a deep thirsty swallow of her tea. The ordinary routines of the day had steadied her and she could think more coherently about the past several hours.
The immediate concern was with the undeniably living Nooj, her Noojie. Would he return this night or would she have to send for him each time? Should she summon him again so soon? Perhaps there would be a message from him during the day. Last night's taste had only whetted her appetite and she briefly plotted ways to persuade him to move into the chateau before abandoning that idea for the moment. If she played her role properly, he could be lured later.
Then it hit her, as though a fiend had barreled into her belly, knocking all the wind out of her body. He might never come again! She remembered how much he had always hated being manipulated and made to do things he had not chosen. What if he saw last night in that light? No! He would come when she waved the chance of more spheres at him; he always did. She settled back and made her heart slow its frenetic pounding. He wouldn't be able to resist but just to make sure, she had better offer him two spheres this time. Just to make sure.