The Damned

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 45 (v.1)

Submitted: November 12, 2013

Reads: 82

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Submitted: November 12, 2013

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45 

 Glencaer, Welsh Marches, Shropshire, 26th April 1231 

Isabel sank to the ground, marvelling that anyone could survive the pain which she was feeling. She couldn’t move. She just lay there, watching the shadows lengthening on the wooden floor. Time seemed to stand still, though the shadows grew, and the room darkened. As the gloom crept towards her, its goblin hands reaching for her legs, soft footsteps broke the ominous silence.

“Issy,” Katerina called. Her sister’s voice grew anxious as she registered her prone form lying in the dying light of the sun. She knelt down beside her. “Are you ill?”

Isabel couldn’t answer her. She couldn’t do anything. She wanted to lay there until she died. She revelled in the pain of her grief, because it reminded her of him. He wasn’t really gone because the memory of him still lingered, stabbing at her heart.

"What's wrong with you, Isabel?" 

"I don't want to be without him. I don't want to be alone." 

Katerina pulled her upright, the action unceremonious. Her dark eyes bored into Isabel's. "Don't be a fool, little sister. Learn to stand on your own two feet. You don't need a man at your side.You don't need a man to lean on. That was always mother's trouble. You must support yourself, Isabel, always." 

Isabel's head lolled, for their was no energy left inside of her. "I can't. We have always supported each other. I don't remember how to be apart from him." 

Her sister released her, backing away from her quickly as if she were malodorous or something else similarly unpleasant. Her dark eyes glittered in the firelight, as hard and cold as the jet which hung around her throat. “You have to get up now," she insisted. "We have a feast to attend.” 

"I'm sorry, Kat," Isabel whispered, her voice hoarse. "I'm so sorry that I've disappointed you." 

"Hush," her sister murmured, banding her arm around Isabel's waist and raising her to her feet. Katerina took her face in her hands, her fingertips brushing across Isabel's cheekbones in a soothing caress. "You can fix this, sister. Tristan need never know." 

Her breath caught in her throat. "I cannot bear to marry him." 

Katerina's hands slid into her curls, binding them together. "Do you love me, sister?" 

"Of course."

"I love you too, though you have been so very cruel to me. You risked our family, Issy. You chose a peasant's bastard over me. And yet I'm still here, still helping you. I am the only one left who loves you. So you will help me in return, won't you? You will grant me that much, at least, for you are still a Devereux, are you not?" 

"I am a Devereux," she said softly. "Always. Above all things, I am a Devereux." 

Her sister smiled slowly, her jewels sparkling in the glow of the fire. Her hand made a fist in the hair at Isabel's nape, pulling her closer. "Then you must serve our cause." 

Tears filled her eyes. She blinked rapidly, determined to keep them from falling, for she was a Devereux, after all. "As you wish, sister."

Katerina's mouth split into a wide grin, like an over-ripe cherry splitting in half to reveal the hard stone heart at its core. Her hands reached out greedily, stripping Isabel's unresponsive body, treating her like a life-sized doll. She saw only an object to play with, a gift to entice her ally. Isabel let her sister lace her into a clean gown, style her hair, drape her in gold and diamonds, whilst all the while her mind wandered to Conor, wondered what he was doing. Her sister worked quickly and fastidiously, her nimble hands twisting and teasing Isabel’s long tresses into place, layering jewels across her chest, sliding rings onto her slender fingers.

Finally, Katerina turned her to the mirror. Isabel looked at her reflection, backlit by the ethereal light of a dozen candles, and she did not know the woman who stared back at her from those cold, dead eyes.

“You scrubbed up surprisingly well,” her sister murmured. She wrapped her arms around Isabel, her slender body pressed to  her back, warm, almost comforting. Katerina's lips placed the lightest kiss on her cheek, her lips as soft as velvet. “Though you would be far prettier if you smiled. Melancholy is so unbecoming.” 

But melancholy was all that remained inside of her. All that was left in her broken heart was pain and sorrow, all of the sweetness and happiness having fallen through the cracks. Without him, she couldn't breathe, could barely think. Tears filled her eyes, coated her lashes. 

"Don't cry," her sister whispered, her cheek pressed to Isabel's. Her long, slender fingers wiped away her tears. So soft. So tender.

"Let me go home to Pompocali, Kat," Isabel pleaded, her voice carrying an aching note. "Take Tristan. He can be yours. All of this can be yours." 

Her sister's hands twisted in her hair, wrapping it too tightly around her fingers, forcing Isabel's face towards her. "You cannot do what I do." 

"I just want to go home." 

Her sister's lips drifted across her damp cheeks, kissing away her tears. "This is your home now." 

"It will never be home for me. Not if I have to share it with him." 

Katerina caught her wrist, savagely pulling her around. They stood face-to-face, her sister glaring down at her. "Don't complain to me. Isabel. I am giving you a chance, not punishing you. You risked everything, and I was the one who stopped you from losing it all. Now you must repay me. You know that we cannot survive alone. Father is dead, Will too, and it is I who stopped the wolves from stealing our brother's power. Do you understand the power that we possess, little sister? I will not lose it all for you. You are lucky that I did not rid our family of you, for you must have realised that, for as long as you live and love him, you are a danger to us. Instead, I have given you a castle, and betrothed you to one of the most powerful earls in the land. We are so very close to the throne, and this marriage may push us closer still. So serve me and be glad that you are not dead in a ditch somewhere. Serve me and be glad that I have made such a great match for you." 

Isabel bit down on her lower lip, trying to still the quivering which betrayed her weakness. "I can't. I simply can't. My knees will give way before I stand beside him and bind my life to his. My hands will ball into fists if he tries to place a ring upon my finger." 

Katerina cupped her face in her hands, her mouth brushing against Isabel's, as soft as a butterfly's wings. "You can. You come from a great family, Isabel Devereux. Our brother risked all for our advancement, and he paid for it with his life. You are lucky that he thought you worthy of fighting beside him. You are luckier still that I think the same. Don't be weak, little sister; rise to your calling. You were born to be a great woman - be one now." 

Isabel didn’t reply, too absorbed by the pain which washed over her in waves, threatening to drag her under. She knew that they would force her to marry Tristan and live a life apart from Conor, pretending that he had never existed. Pretending that she was happy, though she wanted nothing more than to sink to the bottom of the dark ocean of her despair.

But melancholy would ruin Katerina’s plans. “Please, Isabel, be happy. In a few years’ time you will thank me for this. You’ll realise that love is overrated, and you’ll be content with your lot. Don’t ruin this for us because of your foolish notion of love. Love fades, like everything else. In the end, all that you can hope for is power and prestige. We’re women – we can’t get it by ourselves, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t find ways around the problem. Marry well, and you can have everything you ever dreamed of: land, money, influence. Love dies, but our legacy will live forever. Don’t throw it all away for a peasant boy.”

Isabel nodded, too tired to fight anymore. The tears turned to ice on her cheeks.

Katerina gave that wonderful seductive chuckle, and kissed her on the forehead. “This will all be yours,” she said, marvelling at the impressive surroundings. She walked around the room, letting her fingers trail across the rough stone. “And the higher you climb, the more our power increases.” 

“Hugh’s power,” Isabel corrected.

“It’s all about how you use the hand life has dealt you, my darling. No man can rule by himself. Remember, little Is, that women are not entirely powerless; Eve ate of the apple because she desired to do so, but Adam ate of it because he desired her. You have a weapon between your legs. Learn to use it." 

Isabel laughed, the sound as cruel as her sister's eyes. She wanted to hurt Katerina. She wanted her beautiful sister to feel some of the pain which plagued her, the fear which ate at her insides, incessant, exhausting. “One day Hugh isn’t going to want you pulling his strings. He’s going to cut himself loose, and what will you do then?”

“I’ll marry,” Katerina said simply. 

“Who will want you? I fear you have left it too late, sister,” she sniped.

Katerina’s face creased for a moment, and then her enchanting laughter spilled forth. “I can have whoever I want. No man has ever been able to resist me.”

"We shall see, darling Kat. We shall see." 

 

… 

 

All eyes were on Isabel as she descended the wooden staircase, and took her place on the dais beside her fiancé. The news of their impending wedding had spread rapidly, and everyone was desperate to see their future mistress, to see that such an alliance were truly coming to pass. Their awe was intoxicating, welcome. It was something she had wanted for the longest time. Only Conor had ever had the power to tear her birth-right from her grasping hands. If she couldn't have him, she would see that she had everybody else. No one else would ever have the power to leave without her command.

Yet it meant less to her than she had dreamed that it would. Once such power had been all that she desired. Now, it was a shadow in a darkened room, a comfort she clung to when she was denied the sight her eyes truly hungered for. Her days would never be brighter than this,  now. There would be no sunshine anymore. She must live as one who was half-blind, her eyes never truly seeing the beauty of her world, for when he had left her, all of the light had fled with him.

 Tristan waited for her, resplendent in a suit of scarlet, his handsome face eyeing her avariciously. Seated together, they must have made a stunning pair for them all to exclaim so. She supposed it was the colours that did it, so rich and dramatic, her deep purple gown contrasting wonderfully with his red velvet, transforming them into a matching pair of bright, colourful butterflies amongst a sea of drab moths. Her hair was worn long and loose in the style of a virgin, seed pearls adorning her soft tresses; his hands were heavy with a fortune in diamonds and sapphires. Both so decadent. So ostentatious. Even alone, she must have been a beautiful sight for him to look at her so hungrily. But her loveliness was nothing to her, for with every step she took Isabel felt like she was leaving her only love behind. Every move closer to Tristan was a move away from Conor. They sat regally, looking over the heads of those below them, exalted and adored. Yet she cared nothing for their eyes upon her. Their myriad compliments meant naught to her, for what did beauty matter when it hadn’t been enough to keep the man she loved by her side?

Hugh sat to the right of her handsome husband to be, enthralled by his tales of hunting and jousting. Tristan represented everything the boy wanted to be: he was strong, brave, superior. They laughed callously together at the novel methods they had used to punish their serfs, finding hilarity in their cruelty, cut from the same mould. But no laughter fell from her own lips. She felt no merriment inside of her, only distaste and revulsion. And in that moment, she knew that he had changed her fundamentally. She could never be one of them now. The man she loved had ruined her. 

Lady Linota sat at the other side of Hugh, smiling benevolently at the pair of them, so blind when it came to her son. She couldn’t see his brutality. But Isabel's eyes had been opened, and what she had seen and learnt could not be forgotten. It changed the way she looked at Linota. She had beautified her, but now she saw her goddess' imperfections. The dowager countess looked older, smaller. She had grown thick of body, pale and puffy of face. Isabel saw the spoilt, petulant twist to her lips, the avarice and cunning in her eyes. And she could not reconcile the woman before her with the ethereal vision of sweetness and purity who had welcomed her with open arms and smiling mouth. There was only greed and rot inside of the she-devil beside her. 

Linota belonged in that room, amongst their pantheon of devils. The hell  they had created was beautiful indeed, so decadent, a shrine to their avarice. The torches shimmered brightly against the hammered metal of the wall sconces, bathing the room in golden light, illuminating their treasures, glorifying their greed. It was brilliant and bright and enticing, yet there was darkness in that great hall. Isabel could see it in the lovely, cruel eyes of Tristan, who looked at her so lasciviously. It was there, too, in the dark twin gazes of her brother and sister, the hunger for power brightening their stares. They watched her closely, their beautiful faces warning her to play their game like a good little girl. They had their father's face and his dark eyes, as Will had. His ambition, too. The other siblings all took after their mother, with light eyes and delicate features, but not those two. They were Devereux through and through. 

“It is good to eat such fine food in good company,” Tristan murmured, his gaze resting on her breasts. He squeezed her knee lightly, raising his piercing eyes to her face. “You look beautiful, Lady Isabel,” he said softly. 

"It is fine food," she acceded, yet every dish seemed flavoured with her sadness. She could stomach none of it. It lay on her plate untouched. She raised her goblet to her lips, and greedily sipped the strong wine, glaring at Katerina across the rim. 

The intrusive spread of Tristan's fingers moved to her thigh, tentatively exploring the forbidden territory. She jerked her leg away quickly, sorely tempted to stab him with the eating knife which rested beside her hand. He smiled at Isabel wolfishly, shrugging his shoulders good-naturedly, though his eyes were hard. She sensed that he relished the challenge of dominating her, for their relationship was a game that he was determined to win. Though the torches still glimmered against the hammered metal of the wall sconces, the room seemed to darken. 

As the meal progressed, Isabel’s muscles began to ache with the effort of holding herself as far away from Tristan’s groping hands as possible. She, who had been famed for her flirtatiousness, who had been promised to him all her life, was completely indifferent to his attempts at seduction. He was unused to being spurned. She saw that his pride had been wounded, but she no longer had it in her to care. His ardour cooled, his attitude growing cold, and all that she felt was relief.

Tristan's fine brows drew together in a scowl. He squared his shoulders. "Is this what I have given my oath for? A scowling maid and a life of disapproving glares?" 

She gave him an icy stare. "I will do my duty, my lord." 

"Your duty by whom? Me? Or your Devereux kin?" 

Their eyes met and held, and it was like enemies facing each other on a battlefield. Tristan looked away first.

He gave her a side-long glance from his beautiful eyes. "You may be a Devereux now, and that may give you some small power over me. But when we are married, I will be your lord and master, and I will command you. If I order you to smile and be happy for me, then you will smile and be happy. If I order you to love me, you will love me." 

"And you would think yourself all powerful for such a petty ability... my lord?" 

"Yes, Lady Isabel, I would." 

He beckoned to his page for another cup of wine. He was drinking heavily, but the wine only seemed to make him more beautiful. His pale skin was flushed, and his eyes had a bright, feverish heat to them as he looked down over the hall. Eyes of burning ice, Isabel thought, with a shiver of foreboding.

The page who approached was a child still, no older than twelve or thirteen. His hands shook beneath the weight of Tristan's gaze. The decanter of wine shivered, trembled, a drop of blood red wine spilling, falling, staining the floor.

 Tristan leapt up, furious. “How dare you waste the wine that I pay for? Do I matter nothing to you? For you clearly think that you can be careless with my possessions.  I am your lord and master, and you will respect me.” 

“Yes, milord” the child stuttered. 

“Yes, you think that you can be careless with my possessions?” 

“No, that’s not what I meant…” 

“How dare you be so impertinent?” Tristan roared.

He began beating the boy around the head, his face alight with excitement. Violence had always had that effect on him. Hugh watched the brutal spectacle, fascinated by the older man’s display of mastery. Blood poured from the young boy’s nose and mouth, yet no-one stepped forward to stop him. How could they? He owned them all. The musicians still played. The jugglers still juggled. A fool lurched about the hall on stilts, whilst another chased the serving girls on a broomstick horse. They laughed, all of them, though it was a joyless laughter, the sort that sounded as if it could turn to sobbing in half a heartbeat. They pretended that they could not see the blood that dripped, so red and raw. 

“Stop,” Isabel cried. Something inside of her snapped. The instinct of self-preservation, perhaps. She no longer cared for her own safety. It didn’t matter if she offended him. There was nothing he could do to her which would be worse than what she had already suffered. She pushed her chair back and ran over to the grisly tableau, forcibly restraining Tristan’s arm from landing another punch on the boy’s broken face.

“How dare you? I am your lord and master, and shall soon be your husband. You will obey me,” he growled, pulling his arm from her grasp. His cheeks were flushed, his eyes glazed. His words slurred together. 

"Leave him," she commanded. 

She heard the scrape of a chair as Linota pushed herself to her feet. "Isabel, my dear, you always were too tender-hearted," she said, reaching for her. 

Isabel shrugged her away. "I told you to leave him." 

Linota's face changed. It was as if the sun had gone behind a cloud. "Have you taken leave of your senses?" she snarled. "How dare you command my son?" 

"How dare your son hurt an innocent child?" 

"Think very carefully on what you're saying, Lady Isabel," Linota warned her.

"Isabel," Katerina hissed. "Apologise. Now." 

Isabel turned slowly, her long gown swirling around her. The whole hall watched her with large, fearful eyes, warning her to stop, but rage and defiance welled up within her. "No." 

Tristan lurched over to her and struck her back-handed across the face. "I will not marry her," he raged. "There will be no marriage between Devereux and FitzAlan." 

Isabel welcomed the sting of the  blow as it spread across her cheek, for it unmanned him before them all. "Then I thank you for freeing me." 

Linota looked daggers at her. She placed a hand on her son's cheek, though he still quivered with rage. She tenderly brushed a strand of silken hair away from his forehead. "My poor boy. The failing is mine. The girl has had no guidance, Tristan. Creatures that grow up in the wilderness turn out wild. You must take her in hand and mend my failings." 

"Must?" he growled. 

His mother wrapped her arms around him, and he pressed himself to her, his body growing still. She gently stroked his hair. "Must," she insisted.

"As you command, lady mother." He bowed to her stiffly, and stormed from the room, leaving Isabel and Linota standing alone in front of the dais, all eyes on them. Hugh’s face was still fascinated, engrossed by the scene which had just played out before him, and the remnants of the older man’s violence. Isabel’s mother, as ever, looked into the distance absently, as if she was completely oblivious to the events which had just unfolded before her.

Katerina, however, was fuming. Venom burned in her eyes. As Isabel leaned down to help the boy stand up, his face still terrified, her sister approached her from behind. Placing her lips against Isabel’s ear, she hissed an angry admonishment. "Your attempt at sabotage was futile, my little Devereux. I will not let your dramatics ruin everything." 

"So the great lords have spoken, and I must pay for their gains with my blood," she said disgustedly.

Katerina seized her wrist, raking her with her nails, painting her porcelain skin scarlet. "You will marry him, if I have to drag you down the aisle myself.” She stormed from the room, not bothering to excuse herself. 

Sensing all eyes upon her, Isabel was unsure of how to conduct herself. Everyone was frozen, waiting for her next move. She had to break the awful silence. She returned to her seat, taking care to hold her head high and walk slowly. She would not pretend to be ashamed of her actions. What Tristan had done was wrong, and it should not just be swept under the carpet. Whoever he was, he could not abuse a child and escape from the situation unscathed. It wasn’t right. She signalled to the musicians to begin playing again, sinking gratefully into her seat. Conversation resumed, and she was once more left alone with her grief.

She took care not to excuse herself too quickly, not wanting to seem as if her fiancé’s wrath had intimidated her. The other diners acknowledged their deference as she swept past, and though they could not make it too obvious, she could tell that they admired her conduct. Some subtly nodded their approval, and she smiled at those who did. Her future husband might hate her, but the respect of those good, honest people was worth far more to Isabel than the happiness of her intemperate husband-to-be. 

She walked into the dormitory unceremoniously, expecting to find it deserted, for all of the other maids still danced and dined in the great hall. 

“Shit.”

Tristan, she knew. She recognised his voice instantly. She spun around. Two dim forms lay on her bed, their naked bodies still tangled together.

The throaty laugh which sounded in the quiet of the room identified the smaller figure as her sister. "Have you come to join us, little sister?" 

"You're welcome to each other," Isabel hissed. "May both your souls be damned." 

She turned on her heel and strode from the room, faster and faster, until she was running, tears blurring her vision. She did not cry for them and their betrayal; she cried for Conor. She cried for her own grief and loss, not what they had done to her. It was only his betrayal that had the power to hurt her. Conor had left her unprotected, and that was unforgivable. The only man she could ever love had abandoned her. He had left her at their mercy, knowing that they wanted to chain her to the violent, chauvinistic tyrant who, even now, was fucking her own sister. That hurt her more than anything else could. 

As she curled into a ball, sobbing, her stomach heaved and the heavy stench of vomit filled the air, staining her beautiful gown. It was ruined, just like everything else. She looked at her soiled hands, and she saw that love was truly poison.


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