Her shoulders felt stiff. She opened her eyes. She was still in the carriage, but now it was sitting still and mostly surrounded by trees. Her arms were tied to the carriage frame on either side. She couldn’t see her legs below the knee, but they felt bound as well.
She began to pull as hard as she could, then tried sudden jerks on the ropes. They remained tight.
She heard movement, and looked over to her right to see the driver climbing into the carriage. He sat down in the seat facing her.
“Who... who are you?” she stammered.
“You have no need to know my name.”
The voice sounded different, but the words were familiar. It was exactly what the stranger in the tavern had said when she’d met him to discuss his job offer.
“All right, Mister No-Name. What do you want?”
Lirya tensed as she realized that she’d repeated her exact reply from that conversation. If this was the man who’d hired her to swap Rylaris’ tiara for an enchanted forgery, he might now realize that she’d guessed it.
Habits died hard. She’d always had a feeling that her tongue would be the death of her one of these days.
The man smiled. “You’re even smarter than I’d heard. It’s a pity you weren’t quite smart enough to make your way in and out of Rylaris’ rooms.”
He knows that I know. “It’s a pity I wasn’t smart enough to tell you to offer your job to the pit demons, you mean.” I don’t think my mouth can get me into any worse trouble than I am already.
“Really, there’s no need for hostility. I am here to help you.”
Lirya flexed her shoulders. “You have a strange way of showing it. What kind of spell did you cast on me?”
He grinned a bit ruefully. “A sorcerer’s life would be much easier if magic worked as easily as it does in the stories. That was just a bauble with a clever little cantrip to help the wine along.”
“And whatever else you put in the wine. I thought it tasted a bit odd.”
The driver nodded. “It was necessary. I need you to listen, so that you’ll understand what I’m about to do. I require some cooperation from you before I can proceed.”
“Then you might as well forget it,” Lirya spat.
“Oh, it won’t matter if you fight it. All I need is to spark a bit of doubt within your mind.”
The stranger looked her in the eye and continued. “You see, I know what has happened to you. You were captured in Rylaris’ rooms with the duplicate tiara—”
“No.” She paused a beat as the man looked a bit annoyed at the interruption. “I didn’t get caught until I was on the way out.”
“You got that far, at least. Good for you. In any case, you were taken and given over to Rylaris’ sorceress Malyenne for interrogation. She persuaded you to tell everything you knew, which was nothing, really.”
He paused, and looked Lirya in the eye. “Somewhere along the way, she took a fancy to you, and decided that you would become her latest toy.”
Lirya scowled as he continued, “That’s all you are to her, you know. A toy. She cast a charm on you, to make you feel trust and friendship and love for her. It’s all an illusion, a lie, a fraud just like a street huckster’s rigged game.”
“No!” She didn’t want to listen to this.
“Yes, Lirya. You think you love her, and that she loves you—”
“She does love me!”
The man sighed. “Did you ever make love with a woman before you met Malyenne?”
“Just answer my question, Lirya. You need to realize the truth before I can free you. What about men?”
“What about them?”
“I believe you know what I mean. Did you make love with men before?”
“You see how she twisted your mind?” He reached under the seat and held up an iron circlet. “Now that you recognize that, I can restore you to your old self.”
He held the band over her head. She strained as far as she could, tilting herself away.
“Is that what you did when Malyenne bewitched you? It didn’t stop her from enslaving you, and it won’t stop me from freeing you.”
Lirya felt the iron headband settle into place. The man smiled and said, “Hello, Lirya. My name is Makorin.”
Suddenly, the world seemed to spin. She remembered everything that had happened over the past two weeks as if it were a fever dream. The news that Rylaris had pardoned her seemed like an absurd jest; surely the crime of stealing her tiara and placing a magical trap couldn’t really have been forgiven so easily. Night after night entwined in another woman’s embrace flashed through her mind like some perverse fantasy. Why was she imagining herself kissing and fondling and pleasing a woman, when she had always lusted after men?
She shook her head. It was all terribly confusing. Where did she belong? Which of those two lives she remembered was really hers?
Lirya took a deep slow breath, and another, and another.
She opened her eyes. The world made sense now. Her path was clear.
“I... understand.” she finally muttered. She blinked, and blinked again. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Makorin replied.
Lirya looked him up and down. “You didn’t go to all this trouble out of the goodness of your heart, though. You want something, right?”
“I think that, now, we both want the same thing—revenge on that witch.” He reached into his pocket and held up a small vial. “You just need to see her one last time, and act as if nothing unusual has happened. It should be easy enough for you to slip this into her wine and catch her unawares.”
“I see.” Lirya grinned widely, almost a feral snarl. “That bitch will pay for what she did to me.”
She paused. “But, right now, there’s something else I want. Something she would have taken away from me forever.”
Makorin looked puzzled. Lirya licked her lips. As her tongue made a second circuit, the man’s eyes widened in sudden realization. He leered, and leaned forward to kiss her hungrily.
At last, he pulled away. Lirya caught her breath. “Ohhh, yes,” she sighed. Then, she flexed her right arm. “Just get me out of these ropes. Please. It... it reminds me of what she did to me. I don’t want to think about that.”
With a few tugs on the knot, he freed her right arm. She bent her elbow a few times, then started fumbling at the fastenings of her bodice.
He glanced at her and leered. “I’ll be glad to help you with that!” he chuckled, and then unknotted the cord holding her left wrist.
She flexed her left arm, and fumbled some more at her garment. “Now my legs.” She strained, pulling her knees apart as far as her bonds would allow. “I need a man between my legs to help me forget those... things... she made me do.”
Makorin knelt down, awkwardly wedging himself into the space between the seats and tugging at the ropes around Lirya’s legs. Finally, Lirya felt them loosen and fall away.
“There... all finished.” Makorin said, as he began scrambling to get up.
Lirya joined both hands and slammed them into the back of his head, pounding it into the front edge of the seat. He groaned once, and slumped.
“Yes, you are,” she told the unconscious figure.