He didn’t have a name at the start. His master called him Willy-love, but that was just a pet name. His weaker self used to have a name, but his master said that it didn’t exist any more. His weaker self was Williams.
Any other man would have gone mad. There was a reason why telepaths were told that going in people’s mind was dangerous. People like to think of themselves as the center of their world, and everything circling around them. His weaker self was young, and it was no longer alone in it’s mind. His weaker self was locked away in it’s little space. His master said that he wasn’t supposed to think about his weaker self, and he obeyed – for the most part.
The first time that he started really thinking was two years after he was made. He wasn’t, you see, real. He was a secondary personality. Another ‘I’ in Williams – no, his weaker self – in his weaker self’s mind. He was the one in charge. The stronger one. The loyal one that served his master. He didn’t have a name.
He had all the advantages. He was in front, he was stronger, and he could do anything he wanted. His mind was his playground, and his weaker self hid from him in fear. He assumed that he was all powerful inside his head, but he didn’t know. After all, he gave up all power to his master.
It was two years after he was made. He was ten, or at least the body was and he felt like he was ten. It was after his yearly visit to his master. His family thought that his master was just a family friend. A safe political ally who wanted to teach the little child once named Williams. That was the year that Lady Elizabeth visited his master. She was thin and serpentine – her hair was blonde with brown roots, and she trailed a hand along his arm and declared him pretty. His weaker self feared her. She ordered him to take his shirt off and she watched him. Her eyes were the sort that devoured.
But he wasn’t there anymore. He was home again with his family, and he was in the baths. The windows were open, and the spring birds outside were singing. He was following his master’s orders at the time – like any loyal servant should. He was trying to push his brother away. Trying to move into his own room, and trying to pass as a nobleman’s son who wanted nothing more to do with his little brother. His little weakling brother who believed in kindness and goodness and love. There wasn’t any love in the world. Everything has a price.
And he was sitting in the bathroom looking at a rapidly cooling bathtub full of water and trying to force his hands to unbutton his shirt. All he was hearing was Liz’s laughter in his memories.
And his brother walked in – white shirt all crisp and starched, blond hair, blue eyes – a little angel boy. A weakling. And for the first time in two years, Williams – no, his weaker self – woke up, and struggled for control. To be in front. And his grasp of the mind faltered, and he let his weaker self in control.
Then – he was terrified. It was like watching a wall leap up between you and the world. He couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t run. The world slipped away, and he was alone in the darkness of his mind, and wandering the narrow space that his master had given him. He was trapped. It was suffocating. It wasn’t like he needed to breathe, but it was like he was caught between one breath and the next. There was a dim outline of the patterns of his mind – a room really, but he didn’t want that. He wanted out.
It was only natural that his mind tried to interpret what he could sense. He could see a barren little room with a door, and the manacles on his wrists marked with his master’s name. He rocked back and forth and tried to hear anything, or feel anything real.
And his weaker self talked with little Trevvie. His weaker self told Trevvie not to trust him. Not to be close to him. To never be alone with him. Or his master. That was, after all, how he came to be. His weaker self went alone to his master’s house, and his master honored him with his control. Or at least that’s what he believed then.
His weaker self staggered out of the bathroom apparently done with his foolish warnings. Then, just when he was getting frantic, he felt his weaker self hand control back. He was standing in the hall, and he heard his weaker self say, “It’s like that for me.” The darkness. Being trapped.
His weaker self didn’t talk to him much. There was the crying, of course, but that didn’t surprise him. The screaming was annoying, but his weaker self was too stubborn to realize that if he didn’t fight it wouldn’t hurt.
It was weak of him to let his weaker self see sometimes, but he did. He discovered one summer that his weaker self loved chocolate, and he’d horde little quiet moments to nibble whatever little bit he could get. It was weak to want his weaker self to be – well – happy, but he wanted . . . wanted something that he had no name for. Maybe it was self defense, really. After all, if his weaker self went insane, he couldn’t serve his master.
When his master found out that he was letting his weaker self see, he was punished.
Part of it was his master’s fault. His master and Lady Elizabeth loved reactions and it was only natural that he turned his curiosity onto his weaker self. Sometimes he tried to read books just to see if he could get his weaker self to respond in that soft scratchy voice. Sometimes it was just this warm feeling of Williams – no - this warm feeling of his weaker self waking up a little and listening intently, hardly daring to breathe for fear that he’d stop. Sometimes his weaker self ignored him, sullen and silent.
He read a book on tactics. There was a general called Robin Fire-hair who served her king. The king ordered her to ignore the signs that the dretch were gathering again. She was loyal, but she still watched the signs. He thought that it was disloyal in a way, to ignore the king, but she was trying to serve her master better so it was all right. Robin was right that the dretch were gathering, but she had too few troops to fight them. The king sent her to a pass that she feared was an ambush, and she went.
His weaker self whispered, “She’s like you. Loyal, and foolish.” He growled at his weaker self and kept reading – and found out that at the pass, Robin’s troops were destroyed. Robin barely escaped with her life. The king then sent her out again to fight, and she died. He put the book back and didn’t read any more.
He thought often. Being a nobleman’s heir meant that you had lots of time to sit and look alive. Not talking, not reading, not doing anything but being alive and male and the heir. He thought about what the rest of his head was like. Minds – minds were described as being like rooms in the books he read. Objects being symbols. Lady Elizabeth preferred Williams – his weaker self because he screamed better. So, she would push him into the back, and pull his weaker self into control.
And he’s wait, patiently, for her to let him free again. He’d prowl through his mind waiting, and hoping that Lady Elizabeth would not damage his weaker self much. His master hadn’t given him a lot of control. He couldn’t summon clothes, or furniture. He wasn’t even supposed to go past his door into the room where his master punished his weaker self. His room, to his mind, was like a narrow little afterthought. His weaker self hated it. He could feel his weaker self batting at the foundations – trying to tear it down. Not that he could. Not that anyone save a mind mage could.
He assumed that he had a richly appointed room, since he was the loyal one, but he didn’t see any luxuries in his room. He didn’t bother trying to look over his own space when he had his master’s orders to serve. Maybe his weaker self’s room was more barren then his own.
And time passed.
He’d sit back in the quiet of his mind and watch his weaker self read tax surveys and foreign astronomy with the same fascination. He always complained that it was boring, and his weaker self snapped back something about him being an idiot. Not that he ever admitted that he welcomed the chance to sleep – or that he liked the books on swords and blacksmithing. They both read books on tactics, and occasionally he’d softly pipe up with a comment. He thought that serving was more important then what you did, and his weaker self always said that it was better to protect what you cared about.
His master should have destroyed his weaker self. Trevvie was the one he wanted to protect, and no spell or order could change that fact without destroying his weaker self’s memories. His master thought Trevvie was no danger, but Trevvie was a shining beacon in his weaker self’s memories. A cause. A hopeless cause.
One night they talked about a romance book that Williams – his weaker self, had read. Williams believed in nobility and love of causes and ideals. Of a beautiful woman – or man, that would live to help you and you would live to help them. That you’d go out and improve the world. He wasn’t sure that something so – good existed.
And there was the books on the Mainland. There was books with strange alphabets and scrolls in his master’s library. Williams read a book on Midoranian legends. He remembered it even now. The texture of the leather on the cover – the slightly brittle edges of the pages. Williams traced the curve of the letters not touching the fragile pages, and he read.
There was a legend of an anti-hero type of person. Someone who’d hurt you as much as help you. His name meant shadow, or death, or lie – a sort of a shady doubled figure in the back of the room. And he stared at the name, “Kageashira,” and then he disobeyed his master.
He said, “That’s me.”
Williams jumped a little and blinked.
Kage swallowed, “That’s my name.”
And then he fell silent again.
Later, he found out about Kageashira’s mentioned in other legends. One was a loyal follower of a prince – maybe even a lover. There were legends about everything leaving you save your shadow. One was an anti-hero. One was a whispered person that no one talked about – or maybe they were all the same. He tried to deny it all. It didn’t make sense to him that a person could be many things at once. After all, he served his master. That was his – his everything. How could he be more then that?
And why did he want to be more then that?
He hid that memory of the sunlight and the books and the curving lines of his name in the back of his mind. Something private enough that not even his master would see it easily. Kage was his name. A title. A true name. It wasn’t treachery. Not really. His master wouldn’t care. It was all right to hide it.
Sometimes, Williams called him Kage in his mind. He’d comfort Williams sometimes, when things were bad. Williams would – all in their mind – touch Kage’s neck, and whisper that Kage was so lucky to not have a symbol of his master’s hold.
Later, when he actually saw William’s area in his mind, he understood. Williams had a collar, in his mind of course, around his neck that chained him to the wall. A symbol. Beyond Williams’ area was the untouched areas of Williams’ mind – it didn’t surprise Kage that it looked like a library. Kage couldn’t go there though. Neither could Williams.
Kage never told Williams that he too was marked by Yonathen. Never told Williams that Yonathen had given him two shackles on his wrists. All that Williams knew was that there was no collar. Yonathen had been cocky when he marked Kage. Kage could brush his fingers against his master’s name etched into the metal of his shackles. It wasn’t like anyone would see it save him. No mind mage would find Kage in Williams mind unless if Yonathen let them in – or if they wanted to kill Kage. He was ordered to try to kill anyone that tried to enter Williams’ mind. He always said he would. He didn’t want to die.
He was Williams’ enemy. Someone to hate. Someone to stand up against. Williams was his weaker self. The one that he was stronger then. The one who he pushed aside so he was in charge. It was a simple relationship. It kept Williams alive. He’d trade off with Williams sending himself to the darkness, or returning Williams to his proper place, and he’d say, “You hate me, right?”
And Williams always said yes.
Kage would drag Williams to the room of punishments, and he’d sneer the way that his master wanted him to. He arched into Lady Elizabeth’s touch, and he knelt when his master ordered him too. And when things were quiet, he’d hand Williams back his book, and then retreat to the quiet of his room.
He thought a lot. He had time to during the war. Paperwork was mostly mindless, and dealing with the Lothmarian captain amounted to tactical suggestions interspersed with choking down bad wine and talking about women. Liz visited him almost every night, and he thought. He thought about how he was going to keep Williams sane. And – after a while, he came to a conclusion. His master, Duke Yonathen, was shooting himself in the foot. If Duke Yonathen kept hurting Williams, Williams would be insane, suicidal, or dead. And that hurt Kage’s ability to serve. So – Kage had to do what it took to preserve Williams.
And it seemed that to preserve Williams, he’d have to leave his master. It was a painful realization. In more ways then one – disobeying his master hurt. Kage started to take over for Williams. To take things that were aimed at Williams to protect him. It wasn’t that hard, really. Williams wasn’t strong enough to stop him, and the pain wasn’t that bad. So Kage would sneer up at Lady Elizabeth, and encourage her to finish what she started. He’d accept his master’s anger. He’d take the blame.
And to his amazement, Williams awkwardly shielded him as well.
Then, one day, Kage said his familiar phrase, “You hate me, right?”
And Williams said, “No.”
Kage just stopped in the doorway and his expression must have been as stunned as he felt, because he saw the flickers of first confusion, and then a slow realization on Williams’ face.
“I mean,” he added, “I hated you for years, but not right now. You’re helping me.”
Kage swallowed, “I want to get you out. Away from the Duke. Alive.”
Williams looked up at him, “I – I don’t think I can manage alive.”
He stepped back closer again, and wrapped his arms around Williams, “You’ll get out alive. I swear.”
Williams hesitated and then wrapped his arms around him. The touch was gentle, and almost – comforting. Another one of those impossible things. Too good. Kage could feel Williams’ hand brushing along his hair and then his soft voice saying, “We’ll get out.”
Kage blinked, “You’re going to just destroy me as soon as you’re free.”
Williams hesitated, and then his hand brushed that one spot behind Kage’s ear that made him purr, “No. I won’t.”
And Kage purred and leaned against Williams. He didn’t believe that he’d live. He was certain that he wouldn’t, really. The Duke told him that if anyone tried to take him away – it wouldn’t work. The shackles meant that he belonged to his master – and written in the metal was Duke Yonathen’s name. Remove the shackles, and he faded away slowly. In anger, once, his master took one of the shackles off. He remembered just curling up and feeling the life bleed from him, and Williams’ worried voice calling out to him.
The only way he could be free of Duke Yonathen was if he could get a new master, and who would take a pitiful servant like him? He was willing to do anything for them so that he could live. He was weak like that. But – still, no one would take him as a servant. So, Kage quietly prepared himself for Williams’ freedom, and his death.
He was wrong once that Williams didn't hate him. He didn't expect to be wrong again.