The terrible regret that had tormented me ever since I accidentally summoned up the Hellwind, which caused us to lose six of my siblings - seven if one counted Caliban - gave way to wrath. Anger rushed through me like a tidal wave beating against an unprotected shore.
Surely, there was no one in all the world as horrible as Erasmus! It seemed a cruel irony that Theophrastus, whom I loved so dearly, had been ripped from my grasp and carried away, while Erasmus, of all people, had been saved.
Erasmus clearly felt the same way about me.
"I saved whomever I could," Gregor replied gravelly. He nodded towards Mab and me, his silky black hair spilling over his crimson-clad shoulders. "Clearly the hand of Providence was upon us. Without Miranda, we would be lost. She is the only one who can see through the illusionary pleasure garden that lies over this Circle of Hell. It befuddles us whenever we are not touching her, leading us astray. Without her, we would have lost our way an hour ago."
"I like the pleasure garden," Erasmus grumbled. He released Mab's hand and gazed around at the alternate landscape. Mab quickly took the opportunity to use his free hand to adjust his hat and wipe his face with a monogrammed handkerchief.
Erasmus smiled and drew a deep breath, as if inhaling fresh garden air. "It's pleasant, with cool fountains and dancing girls wearing veils and harem outfits. The air smells like..." he sniffed again, "cherry petals."
I sighed, wishing that I, too, could experience that false utopia. I disliked volunteering to be fooled, but I was bone-weary and soul-tired. A few breaths of something that did not smell noxious - even if it was actually noxious - would have been a welcome relief.
But, it was not to be. I could not see the infernal illusions. I was not sure why, but I suspected that it had something to do with the two wings of emerald light - like impressionistic brushstrokes - that stretched from the shoulders of my enchanted tea gown. Perhaps, if I stripped off my emerald dress and donned a garment not steeped in protective enchantments, I, too, could have fallen prey to the deceits of Hell. But I was not about to pull off my gown in the midst of the prison for the torment of the overly lustful.
Besides, it was not in my nature to deliberately fool myself. I had not served Eurynome, the White Lady of Spiral Wisdom, for five hundred years, just to throw away all the wisdom I had learned for a few moments of relief.
The memory of my years as a Handmaiden to the Unicorn, and the reason for my having been demoted from those honored ranks, returned to me. A tear trickled down my cheek, but I could not free my hand to wipe it away.
Erasmus grabbed Mab again, smiling regretfully. "The real picture is far less rosy, of course. What appears to be a fountain is actually oozing sewage. The dancing girl is a giant, bloated spider dripping with poison." He pointed at another island where a creature such as he described hung upon a gigantic web. "As to the smell... " - he started to sniff the real air and coughed, nearly gagging, - "I will not even begin to elaborate."
"By Titania! Why a pleasure garden?" Mab scratched his eternal five-o'clock shadow with the hand that clasped Erasmus's. "It makes no sense!"
"Wish I knew," Erasmus responded wistfully.
"Ma'am," Mab pointed my hand at the horizon. "What's that?"
In the distance, a single point of light shone above the swamp waters. Unlike the steely gray bands amidst the lurid reds of the sky, it was pure and silvery, like starlight. A spark of hope stirred within me, as if I beheld some fragile and heavenly thing that gave wings to my heart.
"Beware," Mab growled. "Could be a trick."
"It is no trick," Gregor replied. "It is holy."
"How could there be something holy in Hell?" Erasmus scoffed, peering into the gloom. "It's a will-o-the-wisp, sent to lead us to our doom."
Excerpted from Prospero Regained by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Copyright © 2011 by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Excerpted by permission of Tor Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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