Foxwood Hall, Yorkshire, 14th December 1537
Thomas opened the door to his chamber to find her standing there, staring into the fire. Her dark angel waited by the window, head resting on the damp panes. Thomas weaved drunkenly, his mind reacting slowly. He leaned against the door frame and laughed, the sound bubbling up from the depths of his soul, black and bitter. The coarse wood was rough on his bare elbow, and his knuckles dug into his forehead. He needed the pain to be there, to ground him. He laughed for a long time.
He had waited in his room for months on end, becoming a virtual recluse. His writing became feverish, her face filling every line, every story centring on her. The servants learned to avoid him, as if the illness which plagued his mind was contagious.
And still she had not come. He would hear her laughter in the corridor, run to the door, and throw it open - only to find the passageway deserted. He would see her chestnut mane disappearing around a corner, her red skirts flying as she danced before him, her ghost taunting him.
He had begun to drink heavily, chasing the illusive spectre. Money became worthless. He lost fortunes on card games, trying to provoke some feeling inside - anything to lure his soul into returning to the broken shell which it had abandoned, to fill the gaping hole which she had left behind. His body began to deteriorate, weakened by lack of food, lack of sleep, lack of her.
The months had turned to years. His writing stopped, his quill stilled by the all-encompassing despair which pervaded his soul.
Isabel turned around to greet him, leaving her back exposed to the fire. He walked forwards, slowly, purposefully, still laughing, until he stood before her, only a foot separating them. It would have been so easy to close the distance, to pull her into a welcoming embrace. But he didn't. He placed his hands on her shoulders, the action slow and deliberate, and pushed against her, all of the strength he possessed focused on hurting her. He wanted to drive her into the fire, to see her burn, watch the waxen complexion melt in the heat of the flames; to destroy her as completely as she had destroyed him.
Thomas' attempts were futile, her body strong and resistant. He sank to the floor, exhausted, the maniacal cackling turning into wrenching sobs. Isabel sank down beside him, her thin arms wrapping themselves around his wasted frame as he turned and buried his face in her silken hair, the familiar perfume of her body evidence that she was really there. They remained there for a long time, his tears wetting her soft curls. The cruel tyrant who had stolen her from him stayed by the window, face impassive, as if he were so absorbed in the scene outside that he was oblivious to the performance playing out behind him.
When Thomas' sobs subsided, Isabel gently raised him from the floor, her long skirts billowing as she stood up. Tenderly she walked him to the bed, holding him close as she used one arm to pull back the covers. She removed his clothes herself, undressing him and putting on his nightgown. He did not help her, remaining unresponsive and impassive, a life-size doll, inanimate and wooden. She pressed gently on his shoulders until his weakened body collapsed under the pressure, forcing him to sit mutely on the side of the bed. Her long hair fell across her face as she gently picked up his legs and swung them into the bed. He fell back on the pillows as she pulled the covers up to his shoulders. She leant down, kissing him chastely on the forehead.
"Why are you here?" Thomas' voice sounded dull and uninterested, though there was a subtle note of accusation lacing his words, undermining his blasé attitude. In truth, his heart was warmed by the sight of her, though he would not admit such weakness to the woman he loved, the same woman who had abandoned him.
"I tried to save you, but you're dying, Thomas. I had to say goodbye."
He heard the words as if they were spoken from far away, too exhausted to react. He opened his mouth, a denial forming on his lips. He couldn't be dying - death was too final. It had never been his intention.
Isabel raised a hand to silence him. "Rest now, my love," she soothed. "I'll be here when you awake. We have all the time in the world to talk."
He closed his eyes obediently, entranced by her presence.
When Thomas awoke it was evening again. The sky outside of his window was grey, the blanket of the night not yet fully descended. Isabel and the dark angel sat in chairs before the fire, their heads inclined conspiratorially towards each other. Their voices were low and fast as they conversed. The curls of her demon lover quivered as he shook his head in furious negation, his face pained. He placed one of his alabaster hands across his eyes, as if to shield himself from the tirade which sprang from Isabel's lips, her words too quick and quiet for Thomas to hear. She stood up furiously, her long black gown flaring out as she pushed the chair back so violently that it overturned.
Thomas winced at the sudden loud noise, the crash reverberating through his skull. The pain in his head made him acutely aware of the dryness in his mouth - a dryness which begged to be sated. His hand groped blindly beside him, searching for the decanter of wine which was always there; the constant friend which had helped him through the long months. He pulled it onto the bed, his hand shaking. Transferring the decanter into his other hand, he let his arm drop to the floor, searching for the golden goblet which he knew to be there, jewel encrusted, stained by his own brand of blood; the red liquid which had sustained him during her absence. It lay on its side, rolling slightly as his fingers reached out to it, as if trying to evade his grasp, begging him to stop. Another inch and he had it. He snaked his arm across the bed towards him, the action draining him and forcing him to rest a moment in order to regain what little remained of his strength. Trembling, he lifted the decanter with one hand, using the other to anchor the base of the goblet to the bed. The red liquid dripped onto the white linen below, staining it; a blood-tear staining an alabaster cheek. He raised the cup slowly to his lips, pausing for a second as the brim made contact, savouring the release it promised.
Isabel was beside him then, her eyes beseeching. "Please," she whispered, her fingers overlaying his on the delicate golden stem.
Thomas dropped his gaze as their eyes locked, weakly trying to tip the goblet. He yearned for the red nectar it possessed.
She did not resist, but her long fingers remained, resting gently on top of his. "Whatever I do," she said softly, "your blood will be on my hands." Her eyes looked old suddenly, old and tired. "But I will not be your executioner," she resolved. She half-turned on the bed, her eyes seeking those of her companion, who refused to meet her gaze.
Isabel rose gracefully, walking slowly across the room until she stood before her seated lover. Except for the whisper of cloth against cloth, she made no sound as she moved. She sank to the ground before him, the funereal black of her gown spreading around her, an omen of death. She placed one elegant white hand on the knee of his black velvet breeches. The other she rested on his cheek, using her thumb to gently caress the ivory skin; white on white.
He couldn't avoid her eyes any longer, and he raised his gaze to meet hers. His lovely face was smeared with anguish, as if she were asking him to walk on burning coals. "Do you hate me that much?" he said, his dark eyes glimmering with emotion.
She nodded slowly, her face cold and determined.
Scarlet tears scorched his alabaster skin, but his face became set, and he nodded curtly; he would do as she asked. "I promised you anything your heart desired, and so you shall have your wish, my love. But you must know that it is the one who delivers the sentence whom he will come to hate, not the headsman. He will name you a monster forevermore. Would you condemn yourself thus?"
At the back of Thomas' mind a forgotten spectre screamed, the shadow of fear, but his tired brain was too numb to hear it.
Isabel kissed the man's lips, long and lingering, and then each cheek in turn, his tears staining her mouth crimson. Her pink tongue licked languorously at the red liquid, the action slow and sensuous. She closed her eyes, savouring the taste. When she opened them, they burned with a feverish excitement.
Isabel danced across the room, crouching beside Thomas' bed so that their eyes were level. Her hand reached for his, her touch cold. "Many years ago, Conor took my life, so now I am to have yours," she said fervently. "He will give me your life because he stole mine from me."
Thomas' face remained impassive, his mind too numb to be afraid.
"It won't be for you as it was for me - you'll have a choice," she resolved. "But first, you must understand, for I could not bear for you to think that this is a simple act of revenge, some petty way of settling an old score. It's time to finish my story."