This is from a pre-publication draft of After the Ruin. It was the original opening of chapter 6 but got replaced by a quite different scene for a minor continuity reason. I like the scene in the book, which is much livelier and full of music and magic, but I like too the quietness of this one.
Marwy Ninek led Assiolo through the warren of rooms behind the hall. Most were storerooms filled with remnants of former days, forgotten traces of the generations. At the end of a passage she stopped before an oaken door. Behind it was a short passageway ending in a stone staircase twisting upwards out of sight and, close by, on the left, another door. She opened it to show a little, whitewashed room with a bench against one wall and a hearth in another and a window looking out across the court.
‘You need a place, Assiolo, for your herbals and your simples. Will this do? It’s close by the gardens and the well.’
‘It will do me very well, love,’ he said, surprised, ‘but it’s a fair way from my chamber.’
Close by to yours, he thought, but kept his silence. Never but the once had he passed her door. In the beginning, after he had returned from Eulana and she was still a-feared, he had waited for her to come to him; even now, though they were every night together, they lay always in his narrow bed in the room that once had been the piper’s.
She laughed and, catching at his hand, led him up the stair to where a third door waited.
The key turned easily in the iron lock. Marwy Ninek stepped inside to open the shutters of one great window, then the other, and the winter sunlight flooded across the floor, conjuring her red shawl suddenly to crimson. Assiolo stood at the threshold and looked into a room larger and finer than many in Felluria, its walls panelled in oak to the height of a man’s head, the plaster above traced across with a pattern of green leaves and golden apples. The paint had faded a little over the years, the plaster flaked in points away, but what had been left behind was lovely.
He asked, ‘What is this chamber?’
Marwy Ninek’s voice halted as it always did when she spoke of the long past. ‘When the men rebuilt Felluria there were those believed one day there’d be a king again in Eulana. Hope dies slowly, but even so such thoughts are long forgotten. Now only the room remains.’
He turned her ring upon his finger. The king beneath the bone bare tree. Hairs pricked upon his neck but there were words should not be spoken, even here, even now. And yet, he thought, she’s lived a long time and can see the patterns in the world. Unbidden, memories rose: the dead king on the riverbank, his own hands wet with blood, an end and a beginning.
She said, trailing a fingertip through the dust upon the sill, ‘I thought perhaps that we could share it.’ Her breath hung like smoke in the still, chill air. ‘There’s space enough for two.’
Assiolo came to stand beside her. From the window, he could see his garden. Bare earth beneath bare trees and hoar frost flowering on the branches, conjuring a frozen echo of spring. Mindful of her past, he said, ‘There is a lock upon the door.’
Marwy Ninek laid the key down upon the windowsill and turned to him. Her smile started in her eyes. ‘I know full well that I am safe with you, in darkness as in light, whether the door be locked or no.’
In her face Assiolo could see all he had ever hoped for and his heart soared into the winter sunlight. ‘Sweetheart,’ he said, drawing her close, ‘I am as many things as any other man but that much is true, forever and for always.’