Chapter 12A Chapter by Nicole
I think what draws my readers to Vayden is more than his sex appeal though; he's got that element of the unknown to him that gives us a femanine thrill of excitement. Total bad-boy syndrome.
I saw his eyelids flutter, his dark lashes moving slightly as he opened his mouth and drew in a deep breath of the cool air in his room. I heard it become regular, stuttering with pain as his brows began to twitch, consciousness returning to him slowly. I gripped the edge of the chair where I sat his bedside, in the same place since three hours ago when the doctor and Eran had left me, closing the door to this chamber and leaving me to stare into the face of a man I wasn’t sure I knew anymore. His room was dark and cavernous, the drapes drawn in all the rooms to keep out the oppressive sunlight. Draperies of thick, lavish fabrics could have been cobwebs hung suspended over doors and windows. It gave an ominous, dark mood that seemed to scream his name to the chilled, silent darkness. I had realized upon entering, I’d never been in his room before. His smell was everywhere. I could almost see him standing at his mirror, writing at his desk, staring out the huge set of nine bay windows around his bed that spanned from floor to ceiling.
Vayden’s weathered hands gripped at the sides of the bed, reeling against the pain that now was likely setting his nerves afire. It had been hidden away by sedatives and numbing agents, but a man couldn’t live on those forever. His body would have to learn to cope. That is what the doctor had told me. It would be horrible, but it would get better. It would get better; I clung desperately to those words.
He was soaked with sweat within minutes, his dark hair sticking to his forehead and cheeks as his labored breathing became louder and louder. It was the fever, the doctor had forewarned me it was often a side effect of some of the drugs they used to keep the poison at bay. The sheets of his bed became wet with sweat quickly and his hands worked at them, looking for something to grasp at and hang onto as the pain became more and more intolerable. I watched the veins on his neck and arms stand out, his hands fumbling around until the brushed across the thick bandaging that enwrapped nearly his entire torso, feeling it for a moment as if trying to discern whether or not he was alive.
That was when he cried out. It was weak and hoarse, at first, a loud groan of pain that made me yelp a little and shy away in surprise. He gasped then, his mouth open and his chest rising and falling swiftly beneath the white bandaging that were beginning to show traces of pink as the wound still seeped blood now and again. The doctor had told me this was something normal for this kind of wound and that I would have to change the bandages regularly. But no amount of warning could really prepare me, something Eran had known all along.
Another cry left his lips, this one a loud guttural yell that the entire estate might have heard. I was snapped all the way back in my chair, my eyes as big as dinner plates and my face drained of all color as I watched him laboring for breath. It was like watching him die, only this time I was sitting next to him rather than watching from the box in the arena.
His eyes opened suddenly, popping open wide to stare up at the ceiling as he kept making strange gasping, groaning noises with every quick breath. His hands shook for how hard he gripped the bed and sweat ran in rivers down his face and bare shoulders. He tried to move, his hands suddenly going to his left leg and finding it wrapped in bandaging so thickly that he wouldn’t be able to move it.
It all happened so quickly that I couldn’t have fathomed or even dreamed that he would try to stand. His head rolled over to look at me with a face twisted with rage and pain that made my soul freeze. I didn’t know the man who was lying there in the bed, racked with pain that would have killed anyone else. He was sitting up in an instant, trying to stand. I screamed as he crumbled to the floor into a weeping, trembling mass that yelled repeatedly words I couldn’t comprehend. It was violent. It was messy. He vomited on the floor, piles of thick black bile, before rolling onto his back and lying there screaming out in agony as loudly as his raw, hoarse throat would allow.
Eran seemed to appear out of nowhere, materializing from the air in a moment’s notice to pick me up from the chair like a child and take me from the room. I thought he had gone, he had given me a solemn farewell hours ago and I’d not heard a word from him since. But I was so thankful he was there, holding me against his chest as he carried me into the large lounge room, another part of Vayden’s private quarters, and set me down upon the couch gently. He didn’t say it out loud but I could see “I told you so” written all over his face. I was so shaken with fear and horror; I didn’t care and was miles away from being able to speak.
“Stay here, please.” He said softly, rising and going back into the bedroom to try to heave Vayden back up into the bed. He didn’t shut the door and so I heard every word and rustle as he, not a particularly robust or strong man, worked to get Vayden situated and more or less cleaned up.
“Where…?” Was the first discernable word Vayden croaked out that anyone could understand.
“Stay still.” Eran’s voice was not sympathetic as I heard him ring for servants to come and clean up the vomit on the floor, “You are in your private quarters in house De’Monia.”
There was silence for a moment, nothing but Vayden’s gasping breaths and moans of pain. I could feel the tension building, making the hair on my arms stand on end. “What…?” Was the next question and I shut my eyes tightly, biting my lip as I struggled to keep myself quiet.
“Daevian tried to kill you. He had a concealed weapon.” Again, Eran’s tone wasn’t exactly comforting or emphatic, “The medics were able to negate the poison he laced the weapons with. But the damage is bad. They were able to repair the hole in your chest, but the blows to your leg were more severe and it took them days to make it such that you wouldn’t lose your leg altogether. For that you should be grateful. But the doctor has made his resolution that you may never walk again, much less ride or run.”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to hurt Eran, some way or somehow, for being so cold. For telling Vayden that news so suddenly and without any kind of sympathy. But hearing it told that way to someone Eran had named as a friend shocked and frightened me such that I couldn’t move from where he’d put me.
Vayden’s reaction was delayed, probably from a similar state. But I couldn’t imagine what was going through his mind. I didn’t want to. His life was falling away beneath him, even as I listened. He would never walk the halls again, never dance, never run, never ride Lhun again. Tears rolled down my face and dripped from chin and I clapped a hand over my mouth to keep from sobbing aloud. He was watching himself fall. I saw him falling too, far out of my reach and I shut my eyes tightly. There was nothing anyone could do.
“Get out…” he snarled suddenly, the sound of his voice truly demonic, “Get the hell out…” He swallowed, attempting to sit up or move about as the bed creaked a little under his weight, “I said get the hell out!!”
Days passed. I didn’t go back in Vayden’s room and Eran didn’t leave the estate. He was afraid that Vayden would get his hands on me, I knew, and I had to admit that I felt a genuine surge of terror whenever Vayden’s hollow, monstrous eyes fell upon me. But that, thankfully, wasn’t very often. Three days passed and Vayden didn’t move from the bed. He didn’t speak. He didn’t eat unless Eran forced him, which was a messy and horrible ordeal to watch. The medication made him bearable, it slowed his words and fogged his brain enough that he wasn’t awake enough to shout at anyone or lob curses and threats in my direction. To my own shame, I avoided going in to see him at all costs. Eran seemed more than willing to take up on the jobs I had been assigned, keeping me out of harm’s way suited him perfectly fine.
But on the fourth day, I had compiled enough courage to go in again. It wasn’t until my hand hit the doorknob of his bedchamber and I heard him panting heavily within that I realized I wasn’t ready. But it was too late.
Vayden sat upon the floor, one hand clutching the chair at his desk in a failed attempt to stand up. He was frantic for breath, sweat soaking through his white linen shirt as the veins stood out in his neck and his arms trembled. The shadows were draped across him, black lengths of his anguish that he had begun draping himself in and forbidden anyone to open the draperies on his windows. It was horribly dark and smelled strongly of old blood and sweat, so much that I gagged slightly as I lingered on the threshold just inside the room.
“What do you want?!” He roared, attempting to stand again and crumbling back onto the floor. He glared at me over his shoulder, black hair sticking to his sweat-soaked forehead as eyes like dark sapphires sent loathing stares at the unwanted spectator in his doorway.
I couldn’t think or speak, watching in writhe like that in a state that was truly pathetic. It took all my strength not to cry again, something that probably wouldn’t have lessened his anger. He had made it clear that he didn’t want pity.
It was too much. I couldn’t stop myself as I moved towards him in a few tentative steps, stopping short and pausing to look down at him. “I…I’m so sorry.” It wasn’t a good thing to say, but it was all I could make myself speak aloud. I reached a hand down towards him, “Please, Vayden, get back in the bed. You’ll reopen your wounds.”
Vayden flinched away as I threatened to touch him, “Get away…” His voice was weaker, not so full of fury now. It was weary, as if he’d been at this for a long time. I could see the fatigue in his face, despite the fact that his body trembled and his eyes swerved slightly. He would be unconscious soon after being made to lie down again. The trouble would be getting him to that state.
He weaved terribly and fell backwards onto the floor as he breathed heavily and groaned with every choking attempt to speak. A moment later he was up again, gripping one of the elegantly carved posts of his bed and using it as leverage to heave himself to his feet. He took a step forward and cursed the heavens and divines with a feral yell as the pain nearly made him collapse again. Another step ended similarly and he faltered, falling onto his side to grip his leg and shout curses to anything his mind could reach for. “Why…? W-why are you here..? I don’t want to h-hear apologies…none of that w-worthless s**t. I want the truth...Why the hell are you here? You don't love m-me...you never did. Y-you’re a liar..!!" His tone was absolutely venomous.
That hurt. It surprised and wounded me and I knew instantly that I was sobbing. “What?! What are you talking about?! I’ve been here, waiting…waiting for you!!” My voice caught and gasped in frantic sobs as I stood where his horrible words had stopped me.
“I see the way you two are together. Oh he takes such good care of you, doesn’t he?” He was talking about Eran as he shot his poisonous words at me. They stung and I took a step back, wanting to flee from the room. It wasn’t true. I didn’t have any feelings for Eran. But trying to convince an insane person of anything is in it itself insane. “You lying W***E!” Vayden shouted suddenly, slamming an angry fist onto the floor that rattled the nightstand nearby. He choked then, breaking down into a frantic sob as he pounded the floor again with his fist and hid his face in his hands, “Just get out…GET OUT!”
After a moment of not hearing my footsteps retreat, he lifted his head up and met my eyes with tears pouring down his face. “Why do you look at me like that? Like I’m repulsive?! Is that it?! Do you find me disgusting now?! Now that I finally realize that you were using me?! And now Eran…that foolish ignorant boy, you’ll do the same to him now, am I right? He’s far richer than me, isn’t he?” He snarled a bit, recoiling back into the shadows as he toiled upon the floor, attempting to stand but failing at every effort. “Just kill me then. I never asked anyone…to save me. Do it!!” He stood then and lunged forward, only managing a few feet before he collapsed but he managed to grab my arm and drag me down to the floor with him. He snatched one of my hands in a firm, unforgiving grip and pressed it to his fore head, staring into her eyes with nothing short of madness, “Kill me!! Do it!! I cannot live like this; you know it as well as I do!!”
I screamed in pain, whimpering and sobbing under the pressure of his grip. I knew it would bruise, but now I was afraid he would break my arm or my wrist. “Vayden! Stop it!! You’re hurting me!”
“Vayden!” A barking voice broke over us and I watched through blurred, teary vision as Eran pushed a needle into Vayden’s shoulder and pumped into some of the sedative the doctor had given us back into his veins. He would most likely be unable to recall what he had done exactly. With arms sprawled and body wet with sweat, he lay piteously upon his back with his mouth open slightly. The man who had been so compelling, darkly handsome, and viciously passionate was now reduced to this. It hardly seemed real. It hardly seemed possible. I couldn’t make myself believe that this was real.
Vayden’s eyes dimmed, something silent but grievously morbid sinking into their blue depths before they rolled back into his skull and the pain sung him to a silent sleep. He fell limp onto his back, utterly motionless, his grip finally easing on my arm such that I could get free and crawl desperately away to the other side of the room.
Eran stood, his face creased with the lines of stress and lack of sleep. He was breathing heavy and I didn’t have to see his eyes to know that he was near the end of his rope with this. He would be taking me from house De’Monia soon if things didn’t change. All men had their breaking point, and I was seeing Eran reach his just as I had looked into Vayden’s eyes and saw his as well.
“He’s lost his mind.” Eran’s voice was very quiet as he stood, staring down at him with nothing but deep, dark thoughts clouding his eyes. “He is beyond our help. There is nothing more we can do. I cannot have my sister go to this man, not knowing that he would lay a hand upon a woman to harm her.”
“Eran.” My voice shook as I cried quietly, sitting in the corner of the room on the floor with my bruised arm clutched to my breast. “We can’t just…”
His eyes snapped to me, serious in ways I couldn’t defy, and he began towards me to pick me up from the floor again and carry me from the room. “One week, Caerwyn, and then I am taking you to my estate and you will stay there. If the two lords of this castle are going to hell, they are not taking you with them.”
My head rested against his shoulder as he carried me, my eyes falling shut until I felt him move to set me down again. We were in my room. I felt my bed beneath me as he sat me on the edge and pulled a chair up to the bedside to begin inspecting my arm with gentle, smooth fingers.
I flinched as he struck a place that hurt, sucking my bottom lip into my mouth and looking away.
“I love you, Caerwyn. You know this.” He said suddenly, not looking up from where he turned my arm over, checking it over thoroughly to make sure nothing was broken. “I want you to marry me. But I know you will never forgive yourself if you do not go to him now and see him through this to whatever end awaits him.” His beautiful oak brown eyes were so focused, so serious, and for a moment I couldn’t think of any reason I would refuse his offer. “But I cannot marry a woman who does not know herself. Anyone can look into your eyes and see that you are lost, just as lost as Vayden is now. The unfortunate thing is, I cannot be the one to rescue you from this. All I can do is keep you safe. Keep him from hurting you. Do you understand?”
I swallowed hard and nodded slightly, unable to think of anything that I might say that I wouldn’t end up regretting later. I whimpered again as his fingers probed into a spot that hurt.
“I do not like the idea of you being close to him. But it cannot be helped. You have to do this or you will not grow.” He sighed, holding onto my hand as he looked back up into my face from where he sat in the chair. “But you don’t have to be afraid. I will protect you. Okay?”
I nodded slightly, sitting stupidly on the edge of my bed with my hand in his in a way that proved some of Vayden’s rambling insanity was correct. Eran did want me. I felt like a w***e. But I didn’t have the mental resilience to stop it. My venomous tongue, for once, was weak.
“Come, you need to sleep. Believe it or not, it is very late.” He rose to place the chair back at my desk and drew the curtains in my room. My stomach swam a little to think that he might try to come to bed with me, but I knew that Eran’s conviction as a gentleman wouldn’t let him do such a thing. He drew back the blankets on my bed and tucked me in, running affectionate fingers through my hair and bending to press his lips to my forehead. I was glad he didn’t try to kiss my lips again, I would have been too weak and overwhelmed to resist.
“Tomorrow, we start anew.” He said with fatigue in his pleasantly calm voice, walking to the door and pausing to look back at me over his shoulder. “One week, if nothing changes, then you are coming to my estate. Am I understood?”
I was so close to sleep already, fatigue and mental weariness dragging me down long before I could even respond. It took all my last remaining bit of focus to nod slowly. It satisfied him because I heard the door click shut and the sleeping house fell quiet once again.
I awoke long before the sun rose and haunted the hallways of house De’Monia wearing the same pale blue dress I’d worn for the past several days, my mind renewed with a few hours of rest under my belt. I had to find myself somehow. Mine and Vayden’s lives depended on it. Somewhere, probably in those weeks worrying about his return, my sense of self had cracked and I had lost my fire. The same fire that had kept me alive and thriving so far.
Back in my room I laid out a new change of clothes, a drab gray dress with green sleeves and trim around the base of the skirt that was coarser and more suitable for working than anything else I’d be provided. This would, after all, take some work. I washed my hair in a basin of water, tying it up out of the way and making my way back to Vayden’s room just as a few of the handservants were beginning about their daily chores. They looked surprised, but I ignored their gawking stares as I went into Vayden’s chambers and shut the door.
Vayden was asleep, still heavily drugged into slumber by the medications where he lay on his back, the blankets twisted and wound around him. It stank something awful, since he wouldn’t allow anyone to touch him or move him to change the bed sheets or bathe him. That would have to change. I went to the windows, those enormous nine windows that covered the wall behind his bed, and began pulling back the thick draperies to let the first splashes of golden sunlight bloom across the shadowed room. My heart hammered and my hands shook; I was afraid, but I only had a week to prove to myself and to Eran that this wasn’t in vain.
Vayden growled something indiscernible but most certainly unfriendly at the shining of the light across the bed, snarling and squinting his eyes as the sun’s warmth touched his pale, hallow face. His eyes were sunken with large purple circles under his eyes and he was losing weight rapidly, mostly because he refused to eat most of the food that was brought unless Eran forced it on him. The handservants weren’t bold enough to do such a thing.
“Get away from me. Why are you here? You’re wasting your time. Get out.” His words were hoarse, slow, and cracked as he licked his lips to attempt to make them smoother. They weren’t nearly as intimidating as he might have wished they were. But he could do nothing for it. He was helpless and weak and he glared away from the sun’s light. “Close the damn curtains.”
“No.” I said with as much resolve as I could muster, standing at the bedside and looking down at his pitiful, reeking state and struggling to keep my expression indifferent. “I’m not playing that game with you any more, Vayden. This has gone on long enough.”
He stank horribly, sweat, body odor, and stale vomit coming strongly from his skin and sheets as he lay, though he couldn’t smell it himself and refused to believe there was anything wrong with his current condition. Stubborn and absolutely out of his mind, he glared up at me through squinting eyes. “Close the damn curtains!” He tried again, with a little more anger in his tone.
“I said no, Vayden.” I countered, feeling a little more resolute this time as I began walking around the room, opening the door to the bathroom to open the windows in there. “The sunlight doesn’t hurt you. You haven’t eaten, you just lie in here and it’s going to stop, starting with a bath. You absolutely reek. After that you are going to eat something while they change your bed sheets. Then you can have some of the pain medication the doctor prepared for you.” I spoke from the doorway of the bathroom before going back in to begin drawing hot water into the large marble tub. I poured in the herbal salts, some that the doctor had said would relax the healing muscles and make moving around easier for him and also help to keep the wounds clean.
Back in the bedroom, I began laying out new clean bandages to rewrap his chest and leg once I had him clean and back in the bed. I could feel him thinking, even without looking at his face. Scheming and planning something. I turned as the door leading into his chambers from the hall opened and a handservant entered, setting a tray of food on the desk and smiling at me with kind, sympathetic eyes, before turning and leaving again. They thought I was crazy for trying. Maybe I was.
Vayden’s thundering growl drew my attention again. “How the hell do you expect me to walk to the bathroom?! I can’t walk two feet without vomiting!” He banged a fist on his bedside table, sending the lamp upon it tottering dangerously close to the edge. “I don’t want your help. Get out. I don’t want anyone’s help, unless you mean to kill me. Then you can do it and leave. I know you’d like that. Then you and Eran will live happily ever after.” His grinned a bit, though there was nothing friendly about it, and sneered away to escort the handservant to the door with a hollowing stare. As if he hoped she might suffer illness from it. “I’m not moving. Just leave me. I want nothing more of you.”
My eyes caught the way his own gaze lingered on the bowl of broth that steamed and filled the room with a tantalizing fragrance. He licked his lips and swallowed; he was hungry. Food was a powerful motivator. It was a good sign. Though his mind seemed to have surrendered to the idea of death, his body craved sustenance and so therefore life. At least that is what I sincerely hoped.
I heard the door open again, puffing an irritated sigh at another interruption to my crash-course intervention, until I saw Eran step into the sitting room and stare at me through the doorway. His expression was surprised and curious, but careful as he crossed the threshold into Vayden’s room and looked between us and down at what I was doing. His expression hardened with resolve as he crossed his arms over his chest, “What can I do?”
I felt my tension ease and I couldn’t help but let out a soft sigh of relief. “Help me carry him to the bath.”
“What about his clothes?”
“Leave them, they reek as well. I’ll take them off while he’s in the tub.” I was all business, stripping back Vayden’s blankets. He really wasn’t wearing much in the way of clothes anyway. A pair of cotton pants and probably underwear of some sort, I could handle that myself.
Eran didn’t seem to approve. His brows furrowed and he looked up at me through falling gold bangs, “That is, um, maybe I should be the one that bathes him.”
I wafted a hand at him as I peeled the sheets back, trying not to gag at the smell that filled the room. “I’m a big girl, Eran, I can handle it. I need for you to see that the handservants bring up fresh bedding and get it changed before I’m finished.”
The whole time Vayden was growling threats and insults beneath his breath, like a feral dog being cornered. But he was helpless to defy us. His limbs were still heavy and numb from the sedative, something I’d been counting on if I had to move him myself.
“Fine.” Eran wasn’t pleased but gave me a tight-lipped word of agreement and moved forward to pick up Vayden’s upper torso and lift him from the bed. Vayden was heavy, even despite all the weight he’d lost. He wasn’t a small man, after all. I carried his legs and felt my face turn beet red at the effort. It seemed like the bathroom was miles away and Vayden snarled and writhed in our grip, not at all helping our cause, but when we finally reached him, I set his legs down gently into the swirling warm water. Eran was less delicate and the last few inches he let Vayden go to land with a splash and thunk in the water. The splash sent steaming water washing over the sides of his large, lavish marble tub and he stared at me with lidless hatred.
His bathroom, as large as his bedroom all on its own, hosted a large tub of milky white marble that was lined on three sides by tall green plants. Steps led down from the front of the garden tub, carpeted with animal fur rugs that ran about the room to the long counter and sink and also to the toilet.
“You put me in here…with my damn clothes on?! What the hell is wrong with you?” He began to struggle then, attempting to stand and hoist himself out of the tub. “I’ll call for my father!” Vayden howled in fury. He hurled curses at me and Eran for several long minutes, sloshing angrily in the water but unable to get a grip on anything in the slick marble tub. “You thankless little witch!” He growled, glaring up at me with nothing but his shoulders and head sticking up out of the steaming greenish water. His quick, furious breathing made his nostrils flare and he sat in fuming silence.
“Are you sure you can handle it from here?” Eran said, standing back and crossing his arms again. He made a point to look at me squarely, as if trying to ignore that Vayden was in the room at all.
“Yes. Thank you.” I bowed my head to him, an abbreviated curtsy, and shut the bathroom door behind him as he went about to do the things I’d asked. He was worried, I knew, and he wouldn’t go out of earshot of my screams if anything went wrong. It was a small bit of comfort.
“Don’t you dare hurt me again, Vayden De’Monia.” I said as I looked down at him where he sat in the tub, completely helpless to my demands unless I got within reach of his iron-gripping hands. “I’m going to take your clothes off and wash you. If you hurt me, I will leave and I will never come back. Do you understand?”
He didn’t say anything but his gaze shifted, glaring away across the room as if attempting to take on Eran’s approach and ignore my presence altogether. I took it as an unspoken affirmative and stepped closer.
I sat on the edge of the tub, rolling my sleeves up to my elbows and reaching into the water to begin sliding his cotton pants off his legs slowly, being mindful of his wound and not to snag on his bandages. “I’m here to help you.” I whispered, not even sure if he could even hear me. It didn’t matter. I needed to say it. “I know you don’t like needing anyone, not being able to do things yourself in your own way, feeling helpless. But regardless, I need you. I won’t let you kill yourself.” I breathed a trembling sigh and slid off his underwear, something I’d done before but under much different circumstances. It made my eyes sting with tears; I missed those circumstances.
He didn’t look at me the entire time, avoiding my face as if he hated every fiber of my being, as I scrubbed him from head to toe and washed his hair. I couldn’t deny the intimacy the moment had for me. I was touching his skin, that familiar rough, warm skin. I could smell his old, familiar smell coming back. It made my heart ache and I wanted so badly to kiss him. To rest my head against his back. But I didn’t dare touch him like that, no matter how much the longing for it rocked my soul. I was afraid of him. Afraid of what he might do to me if I got so close. This wasn’t the Vayden I loved…and I didn’t know how to bring that person back.
Before I could stop and change my train of thought, before I could fight them back, tears were streaming down my face again and I felt my lip begin to tremble. I tried not to look at him, but it was hard, even though he didn’t look back. He didn’t know how much I was suffering. How this was killing me. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what would have happened to me if he had died. Where I would go, what I would do. Eran would want me, but I could never be with him. I couldn’t even look at him or his sister without thinking about Vayden and living that way, with Vayden’s face haunting me for the rest of my days, I’d have gone mad.
I heard his stomach growl suddenly, very loudly. It made me smile a little as I began rinsing him of the suds. “It smells good doesn’t it? I haven’t eaten yet either. Would it be okay if I ate in here with you this morning?”
He didn’t answer me and sat, staring down into the water where his hands floated just beneath the surface. I couldn’t even imagine what he was thinking. What I would be thinking if I were him. The Tournament had been his one opportunity of escape from a life that was filled with silent suffering. The engagement to a woman that was his half sister, the son of a father who hardly knew he existed, a mother who had been his protector now long dead and gone. His mask that he had spent all his life hiding behind had been stripped away. He must have felt like it was all falling apart. I didn’t see how badly it was wounding him. I didn’t see how deeply he was caving in upon himself. How much he probably needed my touch, my kiss, my comfort then. I will always hate that I didn’t see. That I didn’t know. That I let him slip through my fingers.
“I’m cold.” He said suddenly in a weak, small voice.
I looked at his face, noticing how pale it was and how his hands and shoulders had started trembling. “The water is warm. You’re fever must be high.” I thought aloud, reaching to put a hand on his forehead. He was burning up. The fever had spiked again and I reached to pull the drain in the tub. I took up two large white towels and wrapped him in them as the water drained out, ruffling up his hair and drying it as best I could. “Can you stand if I help you? I can’t carry you but you can lean on me and I’ll help you back to the bed.”
He didn’t say anything but bobbed his head up and down. It was like seeing him revert back to some sort of childlike state. It was scary in ways I couldn’t describe. I looped his arm over my shoulder and set my jaw as I strained, lifting him up to a standing position with him helping me along as much as he could. He was weak. I could feel it in his muscles. They weren’t as solid and rippling as I remembered, though his skin did all but burn mine at the contact. He was sitting up in the bed, his leg propped up on a pillow with the clean, fresh-smelling sheets laid out neatly and perfectly as I’d asked with new covers on the pillows and fresh blankets set out so that I could lay them across him once he was ready. I fished through the huge armoires in his room for a set of loose-fitting night clothes that I could get him into easily. Armed with a pair of soft cotton pants and a button down nightshirt, I helped him dress and tucked him back into the blankets, propping him up on several pillows to begin feeding him. With the bowl of soup cradled in my lap and my chair pulled up close to his bedside, and waited and watched his expression as he stared lethargically across the room as if he were thinking very deeply.
“Vayden. I…here. Eat this. You need to eat something.” I sat the bowl gently into his lap and waited, offering the spoon to him. He didn’t take it but he did stare at it for a long quiet time. “Vayden, please. Don’t you realize what this is doing to me? Don’t you care? I feel like…Gods, I feel like you don’t want me here anymore. I didn’t realize that your loving me was only conditional to whether or not you could walk. Maybe your love was, but mine isn’t. I don’t care if you can walk, talk, see, or wipe your own butt.” My tongue carried me off into a splurge before I could stop myself and I sat up straight suddenly, looking away and tucking some of my blonde hair behind my ear as it fell from where I’d tied it up. “I’m sorry. I guess I’m babbling. I do that.”
“You don’t babble. Stop lying to me like I’m a stranger.” He flicked his eyes away, a hint of the sharp defiance that had been his visage returning enough to catch my interest. I looked down at my hands in my lap, knitted together in a nervous knot. He grunted, biting back curses as he strove to sit up further in the bed, leaning back on the pillows to prop himself up a bit. “You don’t know me…you never did.” That remark was sharp, double edged, and he shot me a lethal glare that made my insides tremble. Dashingly dark brows were knotted into a scowl, an expression that was terrifyingly and fiercely handsome. “Go back to your quarters and forget this foolishness. This is vain and you and I both know it, all we are waiting for is for you to admit it to yourself. I’d rather not waste that much time and I’m certain you could find more entertaining men to occupy yourself with. You already have, as I’ve seen.”
The day passed and I found I couldn’t be in the house. I didn’t want to see Eran. I didn’t want to talk or listen to anyone tell me what to do anymore. My world that had been so fragile was cracked and splintered, raining down upon me like shards of crystal. Not with all the time my life had to offer and all my best efforts could I piece it all back together. My attempts were just making it worse and getting myself cut up and wounded in the process.
I sat in the gardens, hidden amongst the roses and entwined arms of thorns. I felt safer there. I felt invisible and insignificant, clutching a little piece of paper with words scribbled on it in a spidery, elegant hand that I had held many times. A hand that had touched me in places and in ways no one else had. I read his letter over and over again. I held it against my breast. I cried and prayed to the dead gods to bring him back. To fix what I couldn’t. But the sunlight began to fade behind the mountains and dusk grew thick around me. I was hoarse and exhausted, my eyes swollen and puffy as I finally stood and emerged from the thorns back into the reality I knew would kill me. I moved silently through the halls of the buildings, not knowing where I was or why I was there. I had nowhere to go. I had no direction. My feet left me at the door of the Duchess’s chambers, closed off by order of the Duke who didn’t leave his room either. The doors themselves were large and beautiful, a little trim of gold painted ivy patterns around the frames and delicate handles of glistening gold-leafed bronze. I touched them, feeling a thrill of exhilaration that I stood on the brink of something forbidden. I didn’t care if I was discovered, banished, or whatever else the Duke could do to me. His son had already done his worst.
I opened one of the doors, pleased to find that it swung in easily and silently and I was able to slip in soundlessly and close it behind me. The room was dark and large, a beautiful little lounge area with only vague inclinations of grand, expensive furnishings all about. It smelled old and dusty, the air was stagnant and stale, but there was still a faint odor of perfume in the air.
There was a large desk in the corner, carved from dark cherrywood and so beautifully polished that it alone was probably worth twice what my father made in three years of work. I found myself standing before it, looking down at the many drawers of all shapes and sizes it held. Vayden had said he found a letter in his mother chambers. One that had been from Lady SinFaye to his father. If she had one incriminating letter, I wondered if there was more. Certainly there would be. I sat down in the elegant little matching chair that accompanied the desk and began going through the drawers as quickly and silently as I could. I found little notes here and there, appointments and dates to remember. But I didn’t find anything relevant to my quest until struck the center drawer and found it to be locked tight. It was a long, slender drawer with a keyhole in the front and I narrowed my eyes upon it, reaching to pull one of the pins from my hair to begin picking at the lock.
I’d never picked a lock in my life and it took me nearly an hour before I finally heart the soft clink that I’d worked so hard for. By then my brow was wet with sweat and the sudden success made my hands tremble. I slid the drawer open, peering inside at the neatly arranged rows of papers. On the far right corner was a thick stack of envelopes, some yellow and some white, all bound together with a dark red piece of ribbon. My breath caught in my throat as I reached to slide them from the drawer, taking one into my hands to squint at it through the gloom. My heart pattered and stopped, off and on, as I saw the name Ermoina SinFaye written upon it and every other envelope in the stack. Before I could think I had stashed the little stack of letters down the front of my shirt and slid the drawer shut, slipping back through the room and out into the hall with my hands shaking and sweaty.
I was ascending the stairs back up to my room when I heard Eran’s voice approaching, asking after me to one of the handservants. I ducked away into the shadows of the hallways, waiting until he had gone before I stole away to my room and locked the door.
There were fifteen letters in all, some short and other pages upon pages of writing in a tiny, coiled script like little evergreen shoots on the pages. I sat on my bed, spreading the letters out in order of their dates, lit a candle on my nightstand, and began to read.
The first one made my jaw drop. Apparently the Lady SinFaye was good friends with the Duchess, even before the two were married to the men that were thought to be such great allies. Lady SinFaye’s thoughts were frantic and jumbled, as if she had a hard time making her pen keep up with her thoughts. But the lines, “I thought that I would be most pained to see you married unhappily to a man you do not love, but I find that I am happy that you are so taken with the little boy the Duke has given you. He is a darling child. It is upon him, your Duke, that I write. You know of my affections for your Duke and how I would never wish ill upon you or seek to wound you. But your Duke has come to me at night, bringing with him promises of love and passion that is been gone from my own marriage since I, like you, was arranged to be with a man I did not know or love. Forgive me, my dearest friend, for I am the weaker of us two. I did bed with him. Please do not think ill of me, I am a humbled being and am at your mercy. Love me still, I pray. For I will always love you.”
The letters changed in mood to reassured and almost joyous, the Lady SinFaye seeming content and happy with her ongoing affair with the Duke and the Duchess, by how her friend reacted, seemed indifferent to the adultery. It was puzzling, but then I couldn’t fathom what being married to a stranger would have been like. Then came the roses.
On days when he intended to come and bed with her, the Duke would bring one of his Duchess’s red roses with him as a “token” from his wife to her friend. It was a lie, of course, and he instructed Lady SinFaye that if she was alone and available to put the rose in a crystal vase in her window so that he would know it was safe to sneak in. If the rose wasn’t there, he knew that Lady SinFaye was with her husband. It was a cruel game of deception and the further I read on, the more the mood of her letters changed again. The Duke was becoming progressively angry, obsessive, and violent with her. She feared her husband discovering them as the Duke became less conspicuous, knowing that she would most certainly be exiled at the very least for such betrayal. She was scared. Not just of being found out, but now of him. My stomach churned nervously to read her hurried, panicked words.
At last there came the pregnancy.
“My dearest friend, my news is grave and my heart, soul, and life are in the hands of your greater wisdom. I am with child and am certain that it is not my husband’s, but your Duke’s. The gods have cursed me for my lust and now will undo me.”
The next letter read the resolution after the Duchess’s reply. “I appreciate your kind understanding, gracious heart and respect your wisdom as I have always. My husband now knows of the baby and believes it to be his. But oh, the loathing gods seek to foil me. Your Duke and my husband now seek to make our children comrades if it be a boy, and predestined if it be a girl. May the mercies hear my plea, that this be a boy. If it does prove to be a girl the shame of my dear child, to marry your son that is her half brother, would be my shame ten times over as a foolish mother.”
I read long into the night, filing through all the letters until I came across the last one, the final date, written when the Lady SinFaye had already come under the fever that would take her life and given birth to Lirrah who was still very small. My hands shook as I held the letter up to the light, reading the curly little letters and feeling my lips part in shock and realization that rocked the foundations of my life.
“Forgive if my mind does skew, today is one of the days where I feel I am ready to lie down and sleep until I can no more. I miss your visits and your encouraging words, but I would not dream of risking your health or your dear son’s to sate my loneliness. I cannot express my distress at having you both gone away from me in these days that are so trying to my mind. You have been my greatest comfort. I cannot express my relief and curiosity to hear that you have found one of the snow maidens of the north who has a daughter suitable to be a partner for your son. If all goes as you plan and he does fall in love with that lovely little girl, instead of my dear Lirrah, then perhaps he will be of that same resilience and defiance as you and break away from the expectations of his father to please his own heart. We can only pray. I am writing a letter to your Duke as well. It is time he knew that he has a daughter at House SinFaye who, by her father’s design, is now betrothed to her brother. Do not fear for me in this, I am certain he will not expose what we have done for it would be his shame as well, to have betrayed my husband as his ally. My friend, you are my comfort and love. Think kindly of me as I do of you and send all my love to your dear little Vayden. Keep my precious Lirrah kindly in your heart as well, for she has become my jewel and pride as a mother with so little to love in this house where I live.”
I couldn’t read anymore. I sat back and stared across the letters with my face tight in an expression of frustration. It was all so tangled. So utterly entwined. A snow maiden of the north? I’d not heard that terminology before. Could she really be referring to my mother? It was the Duchess, after all, that had found me and my mother and she has spoken alone with her about my future. The possibilities made my head spin and my stomach swirl with anxiety. If my mother was some sort of noble, why on earth did she marry a shoe cobbler? Why hadn’t she told anyone who she was?
I folded the letters up neatly and quickly, wrapping them again in the little bit of red ribbon and sliding them into my desk drawer, next to my red leather book. I would relay the words from the letters to my book later, just in case something became of them. Morning was just beginning to break, the horizon turning a dull shade of lavender that revealed deeper purple shadows of the distant mountains. I bathed as quickly as a could, braiding my hair like a long corn silk rope down my back, and dressed for another day of battle in another gown of coarse, drab gray fabric.
But something was wrong in the air this morning. Maybe it was a small little twinge of strange mountain cold that made the wind stab at my chest as I opened my window. Maybe it was the enormous black thunderheads that were rolling across the prairie land on a growling approach. I was preparing myself for the psychological warfare with Vayden, unaware that he had been awake long ago. Today was different, in ways I hadn’t yet realized. There would be no forced meals, no bath, no torments designed to force him to walk.
My eyes drifted down to the ground, admiring at the roses as was my daily ritual. There, among the thorns and cracked, entangled vines, I saw a very familiar leg. I screamed. Looking up, I could see that one of Vayden’s bedroom windows was open. He was on the third floor, a stern ways from the ground and more than enough to wound a healthy man, much less kill a man in Vayden’s condition. That, I knew, had been his design. He had tried to kill himself. I screamed again. I had to grip the windowsill to keep myself standing, screaming frantically until handservants along with Eran rushed in to see what had happened.
© 2010 Nicole
Added on December 3, 2010
Last Updated on December 3, 2010
House of Roses
Wichita Falls, TX
AboutA Numerical Overview: 1) I am physically incapable of keeping any plant alive. I have killed two bonsai trees and a cactus so far as well as the few potted plants I've bought from walmart over seve.. more..