"Scream as much as you like," he had said that first night, when Hecate herself had seem so close at heel in those low hills of southern Italy, "No one will attend to it."
But she had not screamed, even that first night - had been strangely still and quiet as she always was, round, dark eyes the color of the sea at night, her neck bent like the curve of shaped greenwood as her hair came down, a great darkwood curtain. Now her stillness was a matter of course, something that was expected, something that identified her as easily as her small shape and the pattern her feet left on the stone after she had gone out into the morning dew. It was consistency, a regularity that she whimpered rarely, even when tracks of cooling wax had left long limestone-wanderings over her back, melted cast and fill that would leave traceries of pale crimson in arabesque lines long after the wax itself had been peeled away.
She was still even now, with one wrist carefully bound by thin hemp cord to an iron ring on the wall meant to hold the fat wax of a candle, knees even as her shoulders, leaned on the pallet as if genuflecting, her head tilted off axis, her temple against the cool stone that might have been warm, had the candlering actually been called to serve its purpose. Her hair was pushed over one shoulder, so that the slim firewrought lines of the wax could be read as plainly as the iron traceries in the stained glass windows of the cathedral at the summit of the hill.
"Why is it," he asked, his back to her as he stood looking into the dark at the cool edge of the heavy lead glass window, "That you come to me?"
This led her to shift suddenly, head strained to look over her shoulder doe swift, the candles in the room, half a hundred points of low, flickering light - because he could not abide by oil lamps - and a dozen shadows cast on the stone behind her, the blurr-shift of other women she had been or might be.
"Perdono, Signore," she began softly, then shook her head as if to correct herself, sending a spill of brown hair down her back, "I thought that - Voi, Vos, you," here she stumbled several times through the vulgar and into the classical before finally settling, "Desired my presence. Please excuse my - "
"That," he said heavily, like iron filing settling through dust, "Is not what I asked you." He turned from the water-streaked window suddenly to look at her, hands folded behind his back.
"You will forgive," she answered, bowing her head slightly, "I thought that - "
"That is not what I asked you," he repeated, moving so that he blocked a swath of the wan light that bathed the room dim-alabaster only in the corners, "This is not the realm of the pious."
One of her greenwood thin eyebrows raised, "Would this not be, Holy Father - " she cut herself off even as his eyes shifted back to her like a knife kept to cull sheep, "What I meant was, perhaps it is not for me to question who are the pious and who are not."
"Then you sin without regret or remorse," was his answer as he moved to sit in a solid chair, carved from one elder piece of oak. He turned his back to her again and considered his desk.
"I live, Signore," she corrected, then again shook her head, "Dominus."
He turned his head slightly at this, but then again focused on the missives laid out over the marble top of the great desk, "Life is but sin. The more that is lived, the more man moves into damnation."
"This I do not believe," she answered, turning against her wrist so that her back was against the cool stone, "For all the creatures of the world are God's, and they live as they must, and although it rains, the sun also shines, and winter must always turn back to spring just as autumn must turn into winter. These things are all beautiful in God's sight. If the birth of a child is not wonderful, if the life of a man is not beautiful, then why did God send the Son to the Blessed Virgin?"
"Man is not a dog," he reminded, now only partially interested in their conversation.
"No," she admitted, leaning her cheek against her shoulder, "Dogs have never burnt each other at the stake."
He turned sharply to look at her, one eyebrow an impassive line, "Do you know what separates you from the heretics that are burned at the top of the hill in the square?"
She looked at him calmly, still as water deep, and shook her head, "No, I do not know."
"Nothing," he said, and laid his hand on her head, heavy with the weight of a thousand theological texts that neither of them had read.
"If you have said it," she admitted quietly, "Then it is so, although I love my God as devoutly as I can."
"It is fear then, that brings you here," he said definitively, and made as if to move away, but she inclined her head slightly and looked him in the face, as she often did after the bells of compline had rung and the candles had been lit.
"I am not afraid of you, Signore," her eyes dropped to the polished wood of the floor, "Master. I cannot fear you. I do not know how."
His eyes narrowed, "A simple lesson to be taught." It was perhaps, a warning.
"A difficult lesson to learn, then," she answered quietly, as if it were a truth she could not deny, even if it then made other things much more difficult.
"If it is not fear, if you do not fear death, if you do not fear punishment, then why is it that you are always here?"
She was silent for some time, then finally answered, "I cannot concieve of another place to be."
"It is default," he said, a touch of venom under his voice.
"It is identity," she corrected suddenly, shifting so that she caught the end of his robe between her fingers, elbow bitten by linen as she dove on her belly to catch, still strung against the wall, "If I am to be damned for this, then it was not something that was ever made in my nature to fight. God never intended for his creatures to fight their natures."
"You speak as if you have seen the face of God," he laughed shortly, bitterly, and she thought of a jar meant to hold milk or honey shattered purposefully against the floor.
Her eyes were slow as they climbed his collarbone to his face, quiet and fleeting like snowflakes never meant to melt, "The only face I know is yours, Dominus."
He tugged once and sharply on the cord bound to the candlering and it snapped cleanly between his fingers.
"So," he said, "It shall ever be."