Hope can be a terrible thing. When all logic tells you that something is not possible, and when the whole world around you proclaims that something is gone and will never come again, hope is the tiny voice that tells you it will, that nothing is ever truly lost or impossible. Hope was the thing that kept me clinging to Lothar in the back of my mind. It was the reason I could never truly let go of him.
But perhaps it was hope that brought him back to me. Now I know that it can also be a wonderful thing.
Magic is one of those things that can be so easy to take for granted. It is all around us and inside us. It is how the world works; it makes the sun rise and fall. However, it was only very recently that I came to understand the magic in me. I discovered it in a book when I decided to do a bit of light reading before bed. As much as I did not want to believe her, the Witch Queen was right.
Captivation is a power that mainly affects women, although it is passed down through men. When the vessel of this magic uses it, they are typically unaware of doing so. The recipient will often experience an intense feeling of love for the Captivator, that may even drive them into madness. In the most extreme cases, an unwitting victim may become consumed with that person, and will change their personality to better suit them to their "beloved."
The magic can inspire the most selfless devotion from even the most selfish person. The only thing that matters now is the beloved, and assuring their happiness.
But like most magic, it comes with a price. The effects of this power peak at the point of sexual intercourse. After this event, each time the Captivator makes love to the Captivated, the magic wears thinner. If the act is repeated often enough, the magic will wear off entirely, and the Captivated will become who they were before, with no lingering feelings of devotion.
It will be as though they are strangers once again.
This is how I know that what I have with Lothar is real. Each time we make love, that love only grows stronger. It was strong enough to break the spell that Ivaine had on him, and it keeps him coming back to me.
I wrap myself around him and climb his body like a ladder. My daughter is asleep in the next room and my husband will not return for a while. Lothar breathes into my ear, "Corynne. Corynne, my beautiful..." He no longer says, "Corynne, my only."
But I am his, and even though he is still with her, he is mine. As our bodies meld once again, I wonder how I was ever able to live without this.
It was hope.
Markius returns in the evening. I prepare dinner and we make small talk at the table. I keep myself closed to him, but it now occurs to me that he does not even notice. The friendship we forged happened when he was under my spell, and now that it has worn off, he really is like a stranger to me.
"I'm going to stay in tonight, if that is all right," he says.
My eyes widen in my obvious shock. "What? Really?"
Suspicious, I ask, "What has brought this on?" Does he know something?
"I feel like I should be home more often, so I invited my boys over for a few games of cards."
"Of course that's all right, honey," I say perhaps too sweetly.
"As a matter of fact, I have plans tonight as well. I hope you have a good time."
Markius can have his indulgences, and I will have mine.
"Thank you for agreeing to watch her on such a short notice," I tell Keiry. "Donya just adores you."
"You are welcome," she says, "but I have to ask something."
"What is going on with you?"
"What do you--"
"You can't fool me, Corynne, we've known each other far too long. You're up to something. Where are you really going? Where have you been going when Donya stays with me?"
I feel the blush rise in my face. Sheepishly, I answer, "I have an engagement with the king."
Keiry's mouth drops open and she gapes at me. "You can't be serious."
My silence is enough of an answer.
"Corynne, what is wrong with you? Seriously, what in Jyaell's name possessed you to think this was a good idea?" Just before the answer can form on my lips, she says, "And don't you dare say love! If Ivaine finds out about this--"
"We're being careful," I say as I sit Donya down on the floor. Keiry sighs in vexation.
"Look," I say. "I know you don't approve, and if you don't want to watch Donya, I understand. I could pay you if you want. I never meant to drag you into this."
"The problem isn't that I don't approve--even though I don't. The problem is that Ivaine will kill you. She can do it, too, and she will. I love watching Donya and I'd never ask you to pay me for it. She's family and so are you. That's why I'm so worried about you."
I turn around and walk out the door. Donya cries after me.
"Mama! Mama stay."
"I'll be careful," I call back to Keiry. "I promise."
Should I be worried? When he holds me this close, the heat of his body as intense and entrancing as the fire burning behind us, I know no fear. And although I am aware that this is foolishness, I do not care.
"Corynne, my beautiful..."
He puts his lips to my neck and am lost with him, in this reality that is entirely ours.
"I don't know how I ever could have lost you," he says. "I must have completely lost my mind."
"Never mind that now," I tell him. "You've found me."
"So I have." He tilts me backward and I gasp in surprise as he pushes himself into me.
And oh, to be found is the greatest feeling I have ever known. Unconquerable, he'd said. I will never doubt it again.
"I love you," I say. "And I will never stop. Ever."
Once again, he sweeps me away in kisses. Never again, I tell myself. Nothing is going to come between us now. Nothing except...
"My king, your wife is home. She is coming upstairs."
The chambermaid's words interrupt our passion like an icy gust of air that snuffs a flame. There is no time to dress or to search for my gatekey, which has been strewn somewhere across the room.
I climb out the window and down the vines of ivy on the side of the castle wall. Behind me, Lothar scrambles to hide my clothes. On my belly, I creep through the courtyard to avoid detection.
That was much too close.
I thought we were being careful. Lothar and I have always been careful. How could something like this happen?
Perhaps it is nothing. Women miss their menstrual all the time, especially when stress is involved. Clandestine affairs with kings can be stressful. But then, clandestine affairs with kings can also lead to something else. I consult my mother's book for an answer.
There is a potion that can tell me what I need to know. I just have to boil a bit of my urine and a bit of my hair.
Then I add a few other ingredients from my stockpile. I will know that the answer is yes if the smoke turns...