The Many Mirrors of Love
Lucy turned. The slowest tinkling mists of windchime; incense and umber musk.
She was undressing behind her lace portioning, in her many-mirrored changeroom, the thin divide of a lace screen between her and her outer chambers. She wore swan earrings, the ones that streamed down her hair in rain-crystal threads, made of shattered diamond, worn when she first met the Ringmaster. The room was lit only by the merest flicker of candle and the glow of a swan-shaped brazier. The partitioning was wrought in gold-leaf peacocks, and the candles seemed to cast the peacock-shadows, the delicate whorls and curls, into a ballet of shadows upon gold walls.
From the corner of her eye, the veil of her languorous daze, she caught sight of a silvered mannequin in sumptuous costume. Strange, now. She had never seen it before.
"Is it you…?"
She touched the mannequin: its silver cape, Egyptian headdress, robes, scepter. It was a costume set for a queen, like one jewel from the necklace of her ever-stranger life. But where had she seen this before? The eyeless mannequin smiled coyly in return.
She must wear this: must slink its airy fabrics through her thirsting touch, must caress it over her milky flesh. Lucy strung the pieces on, one by one, while the peacock-shadows soared overhead, like nursery nightlights. And when she finished, she fell to the floor in a paroxysm of emotion: fleeting, elusive, raw. Did she know?
She had seen this costume before, in so many photos and adverts and illustrations from the past. How well it fit her, how divinely so, as though each seam had been customized to breathe and live against her body. She slid her fingers down her pale cheeks and rosebud lips and violet-dashed eyes; she dashed about the marbled floor. This was Celeste's costume, the costume she wore to her death.
And the Ringmaster waited outside. Waiting for Celeste.
Her heart fell, into heaven, into sky.
With a force not quite hers, Lucy stepped past the partitioning. Candlelight ebbed softly in a halo, flickering, undulating, as they pulsed along the looming mirrors. A rich fog of musk and mist blurred the candles.
She wore, upon her midnight hair, a glittering headdress of diamond-and-amethyst with cascading veils that parted to reveal her face. She wore a silver cape, embroidered in hieroglyphs and curlicues, fastened with a golden brooch in the shape of a phoenix. She wore a necklace of silver snake-curlicues embossed in jade. And she carried the marble scepter at an angle.
Her hair was a free entity, flowing down her back and winding like foliage. She was like an ancient priestess from an alien world, a fantasy goddess from some bold painting: transmutable, yet fragile.
"Am I beautiful?" she whispered, the voice in her throat strange and foreign.
"Look in the mirror, Lucy."
She turned, slowly, but there was no need, because there were so many of them in this room, so many candles in their scintillating, burning surfaces. She turned in surprise, to each and every one of them arrayed in a circle, all jeering and mocking her. She saw seven versions of herself: seven reflections of a masked maiden. Was she bride, in a glorious wedding gown (silver), or a corpse in funeral shroud, (the costume Celeste wore to her death)?
"You've come, now," her voice broke. "You've come-"
He was behind her. His gaze melted into her.
She was in his arms; roughly, and then gently.
He undid the golden brooch. The cape tumbled down, a meteor shower flowing past her limbs, past her narrow hips and shoulders and small, pointed breasts – she was, after all, young, a rare flower on the cusp of blooming – but not completely full. She wore the glittering suit of near-translucent mermaid scales, and she was beautiful: girl, yet woman, slender, yet muscular.
She closed her eyes, breathed.
He took her hands.
He slid his fingers over hers, lightly, lithely, tracing the worn ridges, cupping the florid wrists, whispering ghostly over the fingers themselves. He paused as he explored the geography of her palms: the soft undulating crooks of young flesh, the hard calluses formed by vigour. She dared to stifle a stirring moan. His virtuoso's fingers playing along the colour organ of her senses. His hair fell like a curtain over her shoulder, black as midnight.
"Did you think I wouldn't?" he said, his lips stirring against her cheek, the curve of her temple. "Did you think, a moment, that I would forget…?"
She opened her brilliant, tear-stained eyes, now a quivering shade of mauve.
"Did you think I could ever… lose you?"
"Look at me."
"You, kiss me, then," she said.
Was he angry? His eyes so clear.
He climbed up the bed of her cheek and to the moist corners of her lips, kissed away the stains of tears that lay like dew over newly-petaled flower. He smoothed over the incurve of her waist, the shapely yet strong boughs of her arms. She kept her hands free, empty, as she stood still and submissive to his will. How her heart pounded in anticipation for her to give herself away, for him to give her wings.
All she needed was this one kiss- to tumble down this ribbon-silk of love and not give a care for the world – no harness, no safety net, no earth-
Her lips parted to meet his. He climbed into her mouth and claimed it, his tongue salty but sweet against hers, mingled in breath, in tears. She forgot to breathe in her unquenchable ocean. She entwined in him, he in her; he drinking with ardour the milk and honey of her mouth… Her head arching back, further, further, till she could fall and die in ecstasy. He kissed her breasts.
She spiraled to the floor, taking him with her.
"Take me, for I am love's."
He kissed her shoulders, the nape of her stem-like neck. She moaned a little as he bit its narrow frame and caressed its milky skin, slow, deliberate. She opened her eyes, amidst the gold and umbra, to watch the crown of his curly head as he moved over her limbs, to her virginal place, and she gasped as he penetrated her, her desire maddening beyond control. Then the paroxysm took her and shook the walls, the candles, the scintillating gaze of her vision, and merged the world, the skies, into one white light of interstellar ecstasy.
You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones…
She cried, once, her scream cutting through the silent symphony of night. His fulfillment burst within her, like the sun of an ancient deity. A rising sun. And the world fell from her – stars, wine, blood, into the deep abyss of annihilation, and in this dying she became Celeste, the Ringmaster's love.
"You are so beautiful," he spoke, ethereal, as the lights began to dim in the horizon of her thoughts, fading, fading. "The candlelight reflects off your skin in the sweetest way, and your hair is like an aerial artist's silk. You are a book filled with secrets, a tender violin waiting to be played. You are beautiful. And I will play upon you the most exquisite melody of pleasure and pain. Would you like that?"
She felt, for the first time in days, a burning fear: tears.
He entered her again and she tossed her head back, weeping, exploding in pain or triumph. And as soon as it seemed too much, he stopped and kissed the tears from her eyes. She lay her head against his breast, elated.
Far off, the seven mirrors glimmered with their own secret knowing. As though they knew something about Celeste, about love, that she never did. Is this all a dream? A chapter in the grand masquerade of life? Or would it merely disappear at the stroke of midnight; like a sweet reverie dissipating at a prince's unwanted kiss?
He cupped her head and held it against his breast, no longer in passion, but in memory.
"I love you, Lucy."
She whispered, "You have claimed me."
"Indeed." It was so simple, so certain, as surely as the sun rose at dawn and the moon wept at night. This part was true. "You are mine, my bride."
And the world slow, sleepy, as he rocked her in his arms, back and forth, till her eyes closed in the gentle murmur of candlelight.