A storm wandered across the plains of La Mancha, lashing the fields with drenching rain, scouring the land with howling winds. According to Diego, the storms had been getting worse since the Prussians had begun to occupy Granada, but he’d never been able to offer an answer as to why this should be. Had the Medicis conjured up alchemical winds to harass their adversaries with rain and thunder? Had the great iron dragons that the Prussians brought with them somehow dragged along the weather from their notoriously stormy homeland? Perhaps the Prussians had called on their Pagan gods to rile up the weather, or the God of the Christians had grown angry with Spain’s Cabal and was engaged in a Pyrrhic attempt to punish the last nation loyal to Him. Diego didn’t seem to know, or care, and had little proof to offer but his dogged insistence that there had never been storms like this when he was a child. The fact that he was the same age as Marisol, and only a year older than Rachel, did not impact on his certainty whatsoever.
Whatever the reason for it, the storm made it impossible to do much of anything around the estate, and so Rachel and Marisol sat in the stables and listened to the pouring rain as it drummed on the roof, and turned the grassy fields to mud. It was a gray, dark day, but one that was strangely soothing. It was the sort of storm that was a genuine pleasure to be out of, to watch from the safety of a warm shelter.
“How does it work? The state of mind.”
“It’s called the Mind of the Ten Rooms,” said Rachel. “Have you ever heard of that?”
“It’s a secret, I’m not supposed to tell anyone about it.”
Rachel chewed on her lip. “I can tell you, if you want, though.”
“Good. Close your eyes. This is supposed to keep your head clear, but you can also use it to remember things. First, imagine that you’re at the foot of a tall tower. There’s a wooden door in front of you. You have to really see it in your mind. It’s wood with iron bands, and there’s no grass on the ground, it smells like dirt. Open the door. The room behind it has violet tapestries on the walls. There are tall windows, and you can see the moon. There’s a black pedestal in the center of the room, with nothing on it. There are three doors. Take the door on the right. You come into a water garden. You have to really see the plants in it. Can you see them?”
“There are wild roses, and violets, and pansies. The middle of the room is a small pool. There is a pedestal made out of the stump of an old oak tree. There’s a door ahead of you, and a door to your left.”
This continued on for several minutes, with Rachel narrating in detail each of the ten rooms, taking Marisol on a tour of an imaginary tower that, in addition to its moonlit foyer and its water garden, included a library, a solarium (which Rachel explained was like a garden, but with the ceiling open to the sun), a smithy with walls from which hung knives and swords and axes, a balcony that was open to a vivid blue sky, a secret room with a black door.
“What’s in that room?” Marisol asked.
“You’re not supposed to go in there,” said Rachel.
“What? Why not? It’s my tower.”
“I don’t know,” said Rachel. “You’re just not supposed to.”
After the secret room was a warm black bedroom, whose walls were hung with black and silver tapestries, and after that another garden, this one with gray marble walls and suffused with pearly gray sunlight. The tenth room was a second balcony, from which Marisol could look down and see all the other ten rooms. It had a stair that led into a white cloud that hid the sun.
“You have to go into the cloud.”
“Why? What’s in it?”
“Nothing. It’s a cloud. So it’s just white and empty. When you step off the top stair, you don’t fall, you just float.”
“Inside the cloud.”
“Yes. Are you doing it?”
“Yes,” said Marisol. “I think so.” She tried to imagine that she’d stepped off of a stone staircase and was now floating in a cloud. Were clouds warm, or cold? Did they feel like linen? Smoke? “No.”
Rachel laughed. “You need to practice it. Every day when you wake up, imagine that you’re walking through the ten rooms, and then go up into the cloud and float there for a while. Once you get good at it, you can use it to remember things. If you have to remember…I don’t know. If the Maestro sends you to market to pick up some things—“
“Ugh,” said Marisol, grimacing at just the thought of it.
“You can imagine each one on one of the pedestals in one of the rooms. There’s a sack of flour on the first pedestal, a stack of paper on the pedestal in the water-garden—“
“Why would you put paper in the water garden?”
“It doesn’t matter where—“
“You should put it in the library,” said Marisol. “That’s the best place for paper.”
“It’s my list, I’ll put it in the water-garden if I want to.”
“It’s the Maestro’s list, and he’ll be mad at you if you get his paper wet.”
“There’s no–!” Rachel held up her hands in surrender. “Fine.”
That night, while she lay in the rancid hay in the dark stables, Marisol remembered her fight with the man with the red right hand. Each moment was clear and vivid as a painting in her eye. She took each moment and placed them in the rooms of her imaginary tower.
First, the moment where the man dropped his knife. This she set at the door. Then her first cut, in the moonlit foyer, which the man had barely been able to parry. A second cut in the water garden, and a third in the library.
The fourth cut came in the solarium high towards the crown of the man’s head, his eyes quirked in a kind of lazy confusion.
At the first balcony, their swords tangled and twisted together. In the smithy, the swords sprang apart, and she felt a hot line across her cheek again. She left the black room with the secret door alone. In the bedroom with the black curtains she tripped and fell on the man’s knife..
Eight steps. There was one room left. In the pearly grey garden, she imagined the broken, bloody corpse of her enemy, sprawled on the ground.
These eight steps should would remember ever night. They would remain etched in her mind forever, so that when she found the man with the red right hand again, she would be ready for him.
Marisol could not bring herself to take the last stair and float in the cloud, but instead stayed in that garden until she feel asleep.