Talion stared at himself in the mirror. Or, more accurately, he stared at his edges; at the points where his outline and the Palace of Amber intersected.
He could, he thought, have played with the semantics of that. Found some obscure meaning in the harsh yet frayed lines of the clothes he had clung to for so long. The worn leather; the pauldron of some lost full-contact sportsman. Webbing and pouches and belts stuffed and hung with the tools of survival – clips of spare ammunition for a rifle he didn’t even carry, a length of tubing for transfusions, a battered military torch, lengths of paracord and… the list went on. He knew it intimately, from a lifetime of checking it every morning at waking, every evening when something like sleep found him. Boots worn to the sole, that were once police-issue; leathers too.
But, where once a haunting, ragged face in a halo of crazed hair surmounted the apparition, now there was… someone else.
The room around him seemed to shrink from the anachronism. From one side, a curtain of thin white cloth billowed. He could just see the bed, some ornate four-posted confection, and an alarming array of drawers, chests, and tables. Even a door to a whole other room. His apartments, chosen for him by Florimel. The window let onto a balcony that looked out over the sea; she knew he had been fascinated by that at first, at the sea breeze and salt tang. Even now the feel of the warm, briny air was like a conjuration from a dead age. But at the same time, it had become familiar. It was, he admitted, the feel of home.
Talion looked at himself, and sighed.
Breath held, he strode through the door, into his sitting room – that’s a hell of a thing, he thought – and opened the door. The corridor outside was empty, since he’d long scared off any offer of help from servants. Frowning, he cupped a hand to his mouth and called out “Can I get some…”
The first word had barely begun to bounce off stone and a veritable horde appeared at both ends of the corridor. Polite, rushing, insistent, the servants of the Palace seemed to… swarm, was the word that came to Talion’s mind. Within a moment, there was nearly a dozen men and women in the corridor. The bastards, he realised, had just been waiting.
“I need a…”
“Bath! Yes my Lord, water shall be drawn!” said one, and rushed off one way.
“Okay… I’d also like a…”
“Shave and a haircut, My Lord, and we have the best barber in the city right here and she will not be two shakes!” Another ran off.
“Um,” and Talion looked at his clothes, “a…”
“If sir is not a 32 long a shade over 18 inches across the shoulders I’ll eat my hat. What colours, my Lord?”
“Colours, shades, materials?”
Talion blinked, thought back to when he’d last had a purpose. “Leather and strong cotton, dark blues and blacks, silver highlights.” The servant blinked, and nodded rapidly, smiling like he’d just seen a small child successfully add up the sum of two and two.
“Very good, sir!” He tapped half the servants, and they exploded in all directions.
“Boots, of course, My Lord.” Another left, clomping down the corridor in a rather impressive pair herself.
“My, uh…” He held up his gun.
“A holster, sir? I’ll fetch one from the Armoury,” said a rather pointy and sharp edged man, as he marched down the hall.
“Make it… flexible!” Talion cried after him, and the servant tossed a jaunty salute before walking out of sight. Talion looked at the few servants remaining. “I’ll probably need a…”
“Sword, of course My Lord; it is the done thing.” The woman peered at him, took a step back, looked him up and done, and nodded. “Hmm. Yes… I think that will do…” She backed off a couple of steps and broke into a trot.
Talion watched her go. There was one young boy left behind, and Talion held up his hand to say…
“Wine, My Lord, of course. Thirsty business,” the scamp said, winking, touching his nose, and crossing his fingers all at the same time. Then he skipped out of sight.
Then all was quiet again. Talion realised his mouth was open, and he closed it. He turned around, closed his door, and was about to walk onto the balcony when the first knocks and cries for admittance began.
“Oh,” he said. “Fuck me.”
Talion stared at himself in the mirror. It had been a whirlwind. In some ways, it was just as… transformative as that first Whirlwind, long ago. Less sand, Talion allowed, and he did not miss the warboys; but the results were in many ways just as stark.
The man who looked back was clean-shaven. His hair was dark, cut short, and he marveled at the fact that it seemed to belong to a whole new man. If clothes, as they say, maketh, then it really was a new person staring back at him. He had a suspicion that at some point in the tailoring process Florimel must have been consulted; that, or she had used that sixth sense of hers when it came to matters of etiquette and personal expression that was, in many ways, her own personal Power. The cut and colours of Talion’s new wardrobe hinted at his past. Leather predominated: a dark, almost blue-black short coat was the upper layer, buttoned by small silver orbs. His fingers floated over them, and he could feel the slight embossing, a shield shape. A muslin shirt of a slightly lighter blue was underneath, with a simple banded collar, with more of those buttons. One of the servants – he couldn’t even remember which one – had tied an elaborate knot in the black kerchief about his throat; a knot that Talion knew he was going to forget. And he just knew he was going to be judged for it – by the servants, at least.
Form-fitting leather trews tucked into tall boots that had a turn-over at the top, but were still tightly laced. Some wit had even added spurs, and Talion knew he didn’t have the heart to ditch them. He was, after all, in for a penny, now.
Laying on the bed behind him was a set of lovely, supple leather gloves. Fine, yet tough enough to handle the wear of his new swords. They were not what he had expected, but then what had been recently? Most in the city and palace favoured longer blades, some straight, some curved, and with a dizzying array of hilts and pommels. Sitting amid a bundle of belts and sheathes next to the gloves was a pair of plain shortswords; wide-bladed, straight, about 20 inches long, and with a wide set of quillons, with a ring nestled on the leading edge between guard and blade. A brutal matched pair that suggested someone didn’t think much of Talion’s finesse.
He looked back to the mirror and hefted a holster in his hands. It was, as he had requested, versatile. With a few adjustments you could fit anything from a semi-automatic caseless to a muzzle-loading hand-cannon. At the moment Gun was somewhere in between – a hefty thing of iron and wood with a pepper-pot barrel that smelled of coarse powder and oil. Talion holstered it, tightened a strap, and then set it on his thigh, low enough that it was free of his coat and belts, high enough that it was an easy draw.
Turning around, he turned to the last piece, and this he knew Florimel must have had a hand in. It was another pauldron, made of finely tooled cuir bouilli. Like his buttons, it suggested a shield motif in four overlapping layers of almost wood-hard leather; and, like all the belts, straps, and gloves, it was tooled in simple, dark brown. Talion picked it up and turned back to the mirror. After buckling a few more straps, it sat perfectly on his right shoulder. Then he slid his new swords home in their sheaths, and let them hang at either hip. Lastly, he picked up an elegant knife, something a friend had given him, and he slung it from his belt at the small of his back, rigged for a horizontal draw beneath the short skirts of his coat.
The figure looking back at him from the mirror now was, Talion thought, a new man. But it was also the right man – he’d been gone too long.
He sighed, straightened his coat, and left the room.