Edward Arlés Wakes Up

Jun 9, 2023

It was quite bright, and my back was propped up against cushions, leveling my gaze out over a room of high quality. I felt rather like I must be in a posh hotel, that sort of bed and breakfast you found scattered around the continent, filled with furniture from another age, inherited or purchased from antique dealers, flea markets.

Thick velvet curtains were drawn open over a tall window which afforded a view of a few trees, another otherwise a clear sky. The sun draped in and made it almost halfway to the bed. It must already have been mid-morning.

How could I have gotten to this stage in the day without stirring? Perhaps I’d been drinking the night before. At least that would explain how I’d arrived here without remembering. I involved myself in this thought for a while. Trying to use it as a point of reference to jog my mind back awake, but to no avail. There was a fog that clamped down around all my mental activity.

I had woken up here, but I couldn’t remember getting here. I couldn’t quite remember much of what I’d been doing the night before. I didn’t feel hung over, so maybe I hadn’t been out drinking after all.

I could feel very faintly the fading vestiges of a memory, like a dream, slipping between my fingers, of running somewhere. Towards from something very large and very dangerous. I recalled dimly that there had been something out of place about the mountains, but in that way that nothing ever seems entirely out of place in a dream, it had not struck me as important. But just these fragmented, rapidly evaporating images and nothing else.

In any case, the room was warm from the sun, and my mind seemed not to want to think too much about it. So I closed my eyes, and decided to believe that I had drunk too much, and made my way to this hotel, perhaps on a whim, and decided I’d stay here the night. Maybe I’d get a little extra sleep and then wander down to see if I could find a breakfast buffet. Or if it was too late for that, then look for a café nearby.

The idea came to me that I should have a smoke, so without much thinking I tried to reach over somewhere on the bedside table, where I felt their ought to be a tobacco pouch. But instead, I was surprised to find my right arm not moving at all. Looking down at myself for the first time since waking, I felt a sudden panic as I realized my arm was wrapped in bandages and held in place by a splint.

A broken arm? What had I been doing last night to wind up in this state? I was so caught up in this new worry it barely had registered with me when there was a light knock, and then the door was pushed open. A serving girl bustled through, holding a small tray and bucket. When she caught sight of me, sitting in bed looking at her blankly, her whole body froze, as though she’d not known I was in here.

Was she here to clean the room? Maybe there’d been a mix-up at the front desk. More possibly it was already well past the time I should have checked out. I was a little surprised by how young she was. She was dressed like one of the staff, albeit in a manner far more ornate than I thought necessary, but she could barely have been older than twelve. Perhaps she was the daughter of whoever ran this place?

“Master, you’re awake!” She said in a small voice, which for just an instant I thought held a trace of some foreign accent.

Who was this child, and what was with their particular manner of speech?

“Ah, pardon me-” I started, and was jolted by my own voice. It was not what I had been expecting. There was a certain timbre in my voice that sounded as foreign as the girl who had just spoken. Not mine. It sounded as though somebody else had spoken the words on my behalf. Had something happened to me?

“M-master?” The serving girl asked again.

I said nothing, still alarmed by the change in my voice, and stared at her dumbfounded. She in turn looked at me dumbfounded, and the two of us just stared silently at each other for a while.

“Uh…” I said, again shocked by just how high my voice sounded. “I’m awfully sorry to bother you, should I not be here?”

The serving girl’s face grew paler with each word I spoke. Was she really just not good with other people? She was just a child, so no doubt the sight of an unexpected stranger was putting her on edge.

“I really am awfully, awfully sorry, but I seem to have broken my arm. I think if you’re here about the room, I’ll be alright if you give me just a few moments-“

“M-master?” The girl cut off my rambling.

I wanted more than anything else tobacco and coffee. My thoughts were all ill-aligned and the things I wanted to say didn’t sound as though they were coming out right. This was probably making things worse. As loath as I was to do it, I needed to get up and see about my bill. Then I had to get out of here and figure out just what I’d been involved in last night.

The serving girl seemed to steel herself. “I-I’ll get word to the Lord and Lady immediately.” She curtsied, and backed out of the room, taking her cleaning things with her. Before she closed the door behind her, she stuck her head back in and added “p-please stay here.”

“Right,” I frowned at the door as it closed.

I still had no idea what was going on, but nothing about this situation felt right. Thinking I should at least get dressed, I tried to swing my legs over the edge of the bed but was immediately confronted by another problem.

My left leg was entirely immobile. Bound in the same manner as my arm. It seemed like unless I intended to crawl out the front door I was stuck for a while.

The cold hand of panic began to tighten around my throat again.

Another clatter from the door and in came a flustered man, panting as though he’d run the whole distance. He dashed over and imposed his broad frame over my bed.

He was well-dressed, or at least I guessed so. The precise fashion I could not pin down, but it was evident his clothes were expensive. They were not overly flamboyant, but bore the hallmarks of some kind of uniform. A military man? A feeling deep in my stomach told me that getting mixed up with the military would not be wise, and set gears spinning in the marsh of corrupted thoughts that was my mind at present.

“Edward! You’re awake!” Barked my visitor, staring at me in a sort of panic.

“Edward?” I couldn’t help looking at the fellow incredulously. There was no doubt this a mix-up. “Are you talking to me?”

The lord froze up, and licked his dry lips, and looked at the lady, who was troubled by the same panicked expression.

“Edward?” The man spoke, as though he weren’t quite sure himself.

I took a moment to chose my words carefully. “Listen, I think we’d better to settle this one before we go any further; do you and I know one another?”

The man blinked at me, his mouth stuck open, and eyebrows knitting together in the middle of his brow as the color drained from his face. But also, I suppose since my eyes were so closely locked on his face, a small dash of relief. His shoulders sagged just a fraction, as some stress he’d been holding on to fell away. I had no idea why he should act so, but seeing his reaction, I felt a clamp tighten somewhere in my mind.

What was going on here? Who were these people, and what role was I playing in this farce?

I was going to ask for his name when there was a flurry of skirts as a woman, as well-dressed as the lord, entered the room. As soon as my eyes found her, I felt that uneasiness in my stomach grew deeper, and found myself unable to look elsewhere.

It was not because she was beautiful, though it would hard to find a rival for her appearance. Rather, because from the top of her forehead, from under an ornate headpiece, there extruded a long pointed horn.

I sat in bed staring at the woman, I presume the lady of the house, my mouth hung open.

The horn was thin and pointed, and easily seven inches if I’d been asked to guess. It did not seem quite smooth, but somewhat gnarled and twisted, into a thin point, the color of a sapling branch.

Putting aside the horn, she was a chimera. Her overall appearance seemed entirely at odds with itself. Her hair was light silver, but her skin a dark olive brown. Her features long and majestic, and she carried herself with a presence that seemed almost to push me back into my mattress.

“What on earth…” I breathed, and looked between my guests.

Perhaps misreading my expression, the woman finally spoke. “Master Edward, we are of course distraught that you experienced such an awful accident while staying with us. As you can see, Lenn has been overcome with emotion ever since.”

“Lenn?”

Admittedly late in the game, I realized that there was in fact a third person who had come into the room. Concealed almost entirely in the billowing dress of the lady. A small girl, I’d guess even younger than the maid, with eyes wet and red as though from crying. She peered out at me occasionally with a horrified expression, as though I were a talking ghost.

My eyes darted from the child to the woman she clung to. Though not as pronounced, the child too had a long horn protruding from her forehead. Were they related? I shook my head to move along my train of thought forward.

“I’m sorry madam, I have no idea who you are talking about. More importantly, who are you people, and how did I come to be here in such a wretched condition?”

“Master Edward?” The woman prompted me again, and took a sashaying step toward me. I cannot say what it was exactly, outside the vision of that horn weaving towards me, or perhaps that her eyes shone and changed colors as she approached, but this woman left on me a grave and unshakable impression. Without thinking, I pushed myself backward in bed.

She paused in her advance, and narrowed her eyes at me. “Master Edward,” she said once more. “Are you alright?”

“Who,” I said as calmly as I could, “is this Edward fellow you keep talking about? My name isn’t Edward, it’s…”

Wait now… Wait a moment. I pursed my lips, and scowled at the bedsheets. I searched through my memory, frantically pulling at half remembered ideas and events, then discarding them almost as quickly. A party, perhaps, or was it a formal banquet? I had been there, I was certain, but what had I been doing there again? Travel, endless hours on trains, and countless hotels. What had I been doing again?

My mouth felt dry, and I ran my tongue over my lips. Lots of tobacco, lots of coffee, alcohol in excess. With other people, who were they again? Nameless faces, met just once, then forgotten.

The mountains in the distance, not quite looking right, and rain which was not quite rain. My body trembled to recall just those few moments, and I felt my mind recoil, like a child pulling its hand from a hot plate.

“Who am I again?” I murmured.

The lord and lady exchanged troubled glances, then the man stepped closer, face grave.

“Edward, are you-“

The women held up one hand, silencing the man. Her fingers, I did not fail to realize, ended not with fingernails, but came down to points, as though they too were made from the same material as the horn on her head.

“Malthius. The cleric mentioned that the injury he sustained to his head might… Leave some mark on the boy.”

Hesitantly, I reached up, and gingery probed at my head. By touch, I made out a thick bandage.

“Yes, of course.” The man, Malthius, smiled at me sadly. “Don’t worry Edward, I’m sure things are confusing. After your accident, we called a cleric. He healed you as best he could, but he mentioned that you may be out of sorts for a while after you awake.”

“Yes, Master Edward,” the woman spoke, somehow even closer than before. Those eyes of hers, whose color spun like mercury between silver and lilac, pinned me in place. “Your accident was most unfortunate, but now you must be patient. Before long things will be well again. Until then, you must not exert yourself overly. Be still. Do not move from this bed. To rest. Allow your body to rest.”

I looked between the two of them, the lord and lady, and then down at the child, who still regarded me with that same expression of terror as before.

“A mirror,” I said after some small deliberation. “Fetch me a mirror.”

“A mirror?” Malthius looked at me askew, but apparently deciding to humor me, walked to a nearby dresser and took from the drawer a small hand mirror. He brought it over, and with the greatest dread, I took it with my working hand, and held up the looking glass.

I did not remember what my face should look like. Not really. But neither did I recognize that face which looked back at me.