“I have power,” he told me. “Power beyond your imagination. I can turn it from day to night.” The snap of fingers rang in my ears, and suddenly every candle in the room went out. The light beyond the windows was gone, as black as a starless night. I let out a whimper in the pitch dark and moved back until I was against the wall. But when he spoke again, he was just as close, having followed me forward as if he could see plainly in the dark.
“Bright soul, why must you make this difficult?”
In his nearness, I felt his words on my cheek. A scream immobilized in my throat as I was overcome by the surprising scent of rain and honeysuckle. That was not what a monster should smell like. How was he hiding the reek of sulfur and decay? Was he somehow altering my mind and senses? I let out a moan of despair.
This time when he spoke, he sounded a few steps away.
“Sleep.” He, himself, sounded exhausted.
What was happening? Did he truly want me to sleep?
“I can’t see a thing,” I told him.
A golden glow shone from beside the bed—a small candle.
“Go on,” my invisible husband said.
I glanced inanely around for him before moving hesitantly over, removing my shoes. When I got to the bed, I let my hands sink into the softness of the blanket. A small sigh escaped me. The material was more luxurious than anything we had, and we had the best man could make.
I turned, placing my back to the bed and crossing my arms instinctually. “Are you…leaving?”
That was not good. Across from me I heard him sniff, and I wondered if he was smelling my fear again. When I made no move to get in the bed, he spoke.
“What are you waiting for?”
“Please,” I said boldly. “Just tell me what you want from me.”
“I seek you, all of you, readily given.”
“Then…” I swallowed hard. “Perhaps you should give me space tonight.”
He chuckled, a sound of disbelief, again surprising me by sounding amazed that I would not want him. Perhaps I was reading him wrong, but I couldn’t help the impression I got, that this creature was accustomed to getting what he wanted from women without any fuss. But how could that be possible? Maybe in the realm of Olympus the godly creatures revered the power of this monster, not caring if they were torn to shreds in the process, but he knew nothing of humans.
“I won’t be able to sleep with you near.”
“I stay,” he told me. “That is not negotiable.”
Gods, no. He would be here all night. I would never rest.
“Where will you—” I cut myself off from asking where he’d sleep, and he chuckled again.
“I will not join you in the bed until you invite me, wife.”
He was deranged. Delusional. I nearly laughed until I found his breath warm against my cheek again, the sweet and natural smell dizzying my senses. I clutched the downy blankets beneath my hands.
“And I promise you this…” His voice lowered. “You will invite me.”
BODY, NOT SOUL
I woke bleary-eyed from exhaustion, soft light spilling through the windows and filling the room with a loveliness that contrasted how I felt. Then I remembered where I was and sat up with a jolt, my heart like a rusted hammer against stone.
I made it through the first night unscathed! But how?
I did not invite him into the bed, obviously, and he never laid a paw on me, but his self-assuredness set me on edge. There was nothing he could do or say that would ever make me invite him. So why the confidence? What did he know that I didn’t, and why couldn’t he tell me? What was he planning? I did not enjoy the mystery of it.
Knowing he was in the room with me last night kept me awake far too long. And since I slept fully clothed, the skin under my breasts was tender from the bunching of material, and my shoulder ached from where the pin of my stola dug into me. I would have to work out a way to change into my comfortable nightclothes without his invisible eyes all over me.
I peered around the room.
“Hello?” No response. “H-husband?” Again, nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to call him Leodes. I associated that name with someone special. Someone who didn’t cause me to smell like rotting onions. Was my marital beast staying silent to trick me? Hoping I would undress in front of him? Well, that wasn’t happening. To be honest, I didn’t sense anything nearby. Even invisible, he gave off a presence that was difficult to ignore. Still, I felt on edge and wondered if I’d ever be able to relax again.
I carefully explored the room in more detail, opening both of the two doors. One was a lavatory and bath so lavish and clean it sparkled. The other was a closet twice as large as mine at home, with stolas of every style and color, more bright and vivid than I’d ever seen. Each had pins, broaches, and clasps made of gleaming gems, and fine stitching of gold and silver. These were more fashionable than what I’d wear on a special royal occasion. Nothing in the closet was what I’d consider normal, daily attire. These garments were fit for the goddess Venus, a thought that soured my stomach. I couldn’t wear these.
I jumped, startled when the door to my room opened and a tray flitted through the air, setting down gently on a table. My heart thumped until the kind voice from last night’s meal spoke.
“Your morning meal, Princess Psyche.”
“Thank you,” I said, then rushed on before she could leave. “What is your name?”
She cleared her throat daintily and said, “I am Renae, but I’m only a servant, Highness.”
“Renae. Why can’t I see you?”
A short pause passed, then, “I have been spelled, madam. If you cannot lay eyes on the Lord of this home, you cannot lay eyes on anyone.”
“Says who?” I tried to keep my voice light.
“Says He, your husband, madam. But even he has rules upon him.”
“Rules from whom? A master?”
“Not…necessarily. I can say no more.” I heard the hesitancy and guilt in her tone. “I must go. Do you require anything more?”
“Wait.” The thought of being left alone gave me a jolt of worry. “What am I to do?”
“You may do whatever you like, Highness. Walk the property. Explore the palace. You are safe here.”
“Safe from all but my husband?” It slipped out, and I heard an intake of her breath.
“I can say nothing, Mistress,” she whispered. “I will be in the kitchens. If you need anything at all, ring your bell and someone will be ‘round to serve you.”
Her feet made heavy sounds against the marble floors as she left, like the clacking of wooden shoes. When the door clicked shut, I was overcome with a rush of complete aloneness.
I leaned my palms against the table and fought the welling emotions. I had to be strong. This entire elaborate ruse was no doubt meant to lure me into a sense of safety, and I had to remain on guard. As much as I didn’t want to eat anything in this strange place, it was imperative to keep up my strength. So, I sat, took a deep breath, and lifted the lid on my breakfast.
My stomach applauded with a gurgle as the scent of fresh, warm flatbread hit my nose, followed by eggs, peeled tomatoes, and greens.
Like last night, everything was perfectly seasoned with pinches of coarse sea salt. I decided if the food was poisoned, it would be a preferable method of death.
But alas, I failed to die, and was left wondering what would happen next. I was here as a punishment; therefore, it was only a matter of time before the horrors began. I could not allow myself to get comfortable. This was not home and never would be.
I paced the room, so tense that my neck felt like a thickly knotted rope, and an ache threatened to split my skull. I finally stopped and stared from the window at the extensive gardens. How I longed to be out there. If only the thought of walking through the substantial palace didn’t terrify me. But it was more than fear holding me back. The idea of walking the grounds was like saying I felt comfortable. That I was making myself at home, which was what he wanted. If I gave him that, I was one step closer to fulfilling whatever master plan he had—the plan to trust him.
In my infinite stubbornness, I refused to show any level of comfort. I would not lounge on the divan or hum a merry tune. I would not ring Renae for tea. I would not search for a book of philosophy or poetic ministrations to muse over. I would pace this room, silent and expressionless.
So, I did.
Gods, what a bore.
Perhaps this boredom was part of the plan to bend my mind to his will. I had to remain alert. To my shame, a soft knock at the door had me jumping and grasping at my chest, breathing far too hard than the moment warranted.
The door opened slowly, and a gorgeous tea set on a tray came forth, setting itself on the table without a sound other than the wooden footsteps of Renae.
“Yes, please,” I said, wishing I hadn’t sounded so earnest, but I’d been pacing for what felt like hours.
A copper pot with vines for the handle lifted into the air and poured steaming liquid into a cup, perfectly steeped. She added the exact amount of honey and milk that I would have given myself.
“There you are,” she said. “Anything else, High One?”
I took a sip and accidentally smiled at the delicious perfection. “How did you know this is how I take my tea?”