It is still my wish to be able to serve my Master better in this regard and I would respectfully again submit that the temporary removal of her journal would allow a skilled locksmith to open the journal without damaging it and a better copy of her secret writings to be taken, so allowing the matter to be settled. This could easily be done when the Doctor is elsewhere in the palace or better still elsewhere in the city, or even when she is taking one of her frequent baths, which tend to be prolonged (it was during one of her baths that I procured for my Master one of the Doctor's scalpels from her medicine bag, which has now been delivered. I would add that I was careful to do this immediately after a visit to the Poor Hospital, so that someone there would be suspected). However, I do of course bow to my Master's superior judgment in this regard.
The Doctor frowned at me. "You're shaking," she said. And indeed I was, for the sudden appearance of the torturer's assistant had been undeniably unsettling. The Doctor glanced past me towards the door to the surgery, which I had left open so that Unoure might be able to hear our voices and so perhaps be dissuaded from any mischief he might be contemplating. "Who's that?" she asked.
"Who's what, mistress?" I asked, watching her close the cap of the ink well.
"I heard somebody cough."
"Oh, that is Unoure, the questioner's assistant, mistress. He's come to fetch you."
"To go where?"
"To the hidden chamber. Master Nolieti has sent for you."
She looked at me without speaking for a moment. "The chief torturer," she said evenly, and nodded. "Am I in trouble, Oelph?" she asked, laying one arm across the thick hide cover of her journal, as if looking to provide, or gain, protection.
"Oh no," I told her. "You're to bring your bag. And medicines." I glanced round at the door to the surgery, edged with light from the living room. A cough came from that direction, a cough that sounded like the sort of cough one makes when one wants to remind somebody that one is waiting impatiently. "I think it's urgent," I whispered.
"Hmm. Do you think chief torturer Nolieti has a cold?" the Doctor asked, rising from her chair and pulling on her long jacket, which had been hanging on the back of the seat.
I helped her on with her black jacket. "No, mistress, I think there is probably somebody being put to the question who is, umm, unwell."
"I see," she said, stamping her feet into her boots and then straightening. I was struck again by the Doctor's physical presence, as I often am. She is tall for a woman, though not exceptionally so, and while for a female she is broad at the shoulder I have seen fish-wives and net-women who look more powerful. No, what seems most singular about her, I think, is her carriage, the way she comports herself.
I have been afforded tantalising half-glimpses of her -- after one of her many baths -- in a thin shift with the light behind her, stepping in a coil of powdered, scented air from one room to another, her arms raised to secure a towel about her long, damp red hair, and I have watched her during grand court occasions when she has worn a formal gown and danced as lightly and delicately -- and with as demure an expression -- as any expensively tutored season-maiden, and I freely confess that I have found myself drawn to her in a physical sense just as any man (youthful or not) might be to a woman of such healthy and generous good looks. Yet at the same time there is something about her deportment which I -- and I suspect most other males -- find off-putting, and even slightly threatening. A certain immodest forthrightness in her bearing is the cause of this, perhaps, plus the suspicion that while she pays flawless lip service to the facts of life which dictate the accepted and patent preeminence of the male, she does so with a sort of unwarranted humour, producing in us males the unsettlingly contrary feeling that she is indulging us.
Copyright © 2000 by Iain M. Banks
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