I have decided that she will be the lost Principessa of Montenegro, though I thought perhaps she might be the High Priestess of the Temple of Amon-Ra or the One Kissed by the Three Gods. Any of these would have suited her. Any one would have served to make her believe that she is singular.
Singular she is. She is marvelously singular, with long legs, long hair, all the things I presently desire. Her hair is red, an admirable color of red. I have had enough black haired ones, and blonde ones I am tired of this year.
She is the Principessa of Montenegro. She was taken from her true parents when she was a babe in arms, spirited away in the dark of night, wrapped in a blanket of embroidered cashmere edged with soft old lace. She was given to commoners for her own safekeeping. But it was never intended that she become one of the pedestrian beasts.
She does not believe me immediately. She wants to believe, however, and there are a million ways to convince someone who wants to be convinced. She tells me of a strange scar that has always puzzled her. Ah, I breathe, astonished. I press my hands together, and press them to my lips. Then you have the scar!
For was not the infant Principessa of Montenegro dropped by a clumsy retainer on the day of her christening? The retainer was tortured for hours. His agonized screams resounded against white marble and gold ormolu.
Do you remember his screams, Principessa? Do you remember them?
She does. They often like to remember the taste of a little blood.
They are so greedy, my pretend Goddesses, my rediscovered heiresses, my undisclosed treasures. They are so greedy and hungry. I give them the food that they have dreamed of. My golden ladder allows them to transcend their own triviality. I strip them of their gray shifts and garb them in scarlet and cobalt.
Hush, I tell her. You must not tell your mother we are leaving. This is a clandestine and dangerous adventure we undertake. You must trust me. You must trust me, my Lady.
And she does. They must trust me, because if they do not, the brilliant excitement I have launched into the air will vanish like a pricked soap-bubble. And the woman for whom I have spun the glistening illusion will be nothing again. A maid. A mother. A spinster. A wife.
This can go on for as long as I wish it to. I have amused myself with this game for weeks, for months. For years. I have only to keep engineering little adventures in the way to make her believe that there is something opposing us. Some dark and mysterious force, some great and ancient evil. The Dukes of the Obsidian Emperor. The Eunuchs of the Sultan of Shangri-La. The Revolutionary Armies of The Underworld. They are after us both, and she must cling tightly to me to keep from being swept away.
This time, with my red-haired Principessa, I do not intend to let it go on for weeks or even days. This night, I slip a paralyzing draught into her wine, for she does not yet trust me enough for what I intend to do to her. With time, she would have given herself to me willingly. But I want only this one night, for I am tired, and the game sometimes palls.
We are in a place far from the places she knows, a place where an ancient battle was fought between a knight in green armor and a brave peasant lad, armed only with a silver knife given to him by a mountain goddess who lived in realms of frost and cold. I watch her grow quieter and quieter as I tell the tale, quieter and stiller as the drug spreads through her limbs.
And then, I take everything I want to take from her. I take the astonishment in her eyes and whatever level of virginity she happens to possess (strangely, it is the women who are not virgins that believe most easily). I feast on whatever pleases me, for there is very little left that pleases me anymore.
When the knife flashes in her hand, I am astonished.
Villain! she hisses at me.
She is unsteady as she climbs up to kneel over me, her eyes dull with lassitude. I am stronger than she, but she has the knife at my throat. You have dared violate the Principessa of Montenegro. For that you must die.
She is magnificent. I breathe in her scent, her outrage, her fury. I press my throat against the knife. It is a kitchen knife, but in her hand it is a jeweled dirk of chased silver, a holy blade, enameled with the blood of traitors.
Principessa, I say, closing my eyes. One of them has finally remembered how the story is supposed to end.
My life is yours.