The Damned

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

Chapter 46 (v.1)

Submitted: November 12, 2013

Reads: 165

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Submitted: November 12, 2013

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46 

Glencaer, Welsh Marches, Shropshire, 17th May 1231

The summer sun shone through the window as Isabel awoke, warming her face. She didn’t want to open her eyes. For as long as they remained shut she could pretend that it had all been a bad dream. The nightmare she was living would disappear, the early morning light subduing her dark imaginings.

A wave of nausea hit her, forcing her to open her eyes and face reality. But though it had so easily defeated her, she refused to give in to her body’s urge to vomit. She lay in her bed resolutely, her hair shining in the light spilling from the high window.  If she could hold it off just a moment longer, she could go back to sleep and escape life’s horrors, pretend that she didn’t understand its significance.

Isabel was supposed to be happy, but she couldn’t stand the thought of being with anyone but Conor. Her stomach turned at the thought of Tristan’s hands on her body, the same hands which had been covered by the boy’s blood; of his lips on hers.

Katerina came unceremoniously into the maid’s dormitory, deserted apart from the two of them. Everybody else was busy preparing for the day’s celebrations, waiting in delighted anticipation to see their new mistress wed to their master. Dappled sunlight kissed her sister's tawny hair and her golden skin.  She looked at Isabel levelly with her beautiful, dark eyes. "You are still committed to our cause, sister?"

She chose not to reply, for there could only be one response. One small word of assent. So she met the question with a question, one whose answer was less clear. “Why are you doing this to me?” Her voice was emotionless. She was resigned to her fate, simple curiosity prompting her question. 

Strange it was, to consider that Katerina, her betrayer, was her only ally now. Her mother and brother were indifferent to her.  Linota had come to despise her. Tristan hated her. When Isabel spoke, the dowager countess smiled at Tristan as if it were pitiable that he was going to have to endure such a fool for the rest of his life. Her face was warm with humour, and sometimes he laughed shortly. She always looked at her son like a lioness looked at her cub; with fierce ownership. He was everything to her, and Isabel knew that she would do anything for him. Isabel she had bought for him, with her silken tongue and her cunning, and through Isabel all the power of the Devereuxs. They endured her only because she was the price exacted for their alliance.

Katerina seated herself, her legs elegantly crossed, and began to twist the ring she wore in place of a wedding band, a token of their brother's eternal love for her. “It was our father’s idea, this marriage, but Will desired it just as strongly. He thought that you would be happy here.” 

“But he would never have forced me into it.” 

Her sister's lips thinned. “Will wanted the same as I do; to see our family rise. We are always inclined to think well of the dead. In some ways, they’re lucky. No one holds them to account for their actions. We all think that it’s unfair when they’re not here to defend themselves. But he would have done the same thing. You cannot damn my actions and pardon him in the same breath." 

“You're wrong, Kat. I knew our brother better than anyone. He told me that he would never have forced me to do something against my will, and I believed him.” 

“You don’t know a person until you have seen the darkest corner of their heart. You only saw the good in Will. He would have done anything to make our father proud, have gone to any lengths to see our star ascend. You’re deluded if you think otherwise.” 

Isabel felt a thickening in her throat. Her eyes burned. She wanted to weep for the loss of the brother who would have saved her, and cry and rage at the hardness of a world which took all the people that she loved from her, one after another. But she would not let her sister see such weakness. “You still haven’t answered my question. What’s in this for you, Kat? You’re not going to reap the benefits of your victory. All of the power will be Hugh’s. You will have nothing for yourself.” 

Katerina's hands tightened on the arms of the chair. "I do not believe in love, Issy. I’ve seen what love does to women. I have seen for myself that it cannot last. I will never be like our mother. But family is forever. If I help Hugh, I help all of us. Hate me if you want, but I’m doing this because I care about our brother. The chances he has will never be available to me, but I can make sure that he makes the most of them.” 

“You want to live through him?” 

“I want him to have everything I can’t. We’re women, and so we’re born without the chance to ever truly be happy. I want people to remember me, but that will never happen. Yet if people remember our family, they remember us all. We will never be forgotten. We all benefit if our family prospers.” 

“You want me to believe that you’re being selfless?” 

She laughed, her dark eyes boring into Isabel. “No, I will always look after myself first. If we rise high enough, I will be able to have any man I want. I may only be a woman, but if I marry well then I will have some power in my own right.” 

“Of course.”  Isabel understood; as always, Katerina was thinking only of herself. "You have chosen to sacrifice me for your own gain. How well you must love me, my darling." 

Katerina glared at her. “If you won’t do this for your sister, then do it for Will. Honour his wishes, and help us all.” 

Isabel almost laughed at her sister's brazen manipulation. “My chance at happiness has been destroyed, and nothing could increase my despair. The worst thing imaginable has already happened to me. If my marriage is what you desire, then you shall have your wish, for there is no point in us both being unhappy. But know that in forcing me to do this you will have lost a sister.”

Katerina looked at her solemnly, unperturbed by the finality in her voice. “We are two halves of one whole. You are my sister, my body and my blood, and however much you hate me now, you will forgive me for this. You may be the better half, but you will never be able to turn your back on me, for you will come to see that we are more alike than you think.” 

“I am nothing like you, Kat, but I do want you to be happy, whatever happiness means to you.”

“Well, then, you had better get dressed,” Katerina said, pulling Isabel from the bed with an impish grin on her face. She threw back the bedclothes, and grabbed Isabel’s hands to pull her up. Another wave of nausea stole over her, and it took all of her strength not to heave. But Katerina was oblivious to her suffering, spinning her in mad circles around the room, delighting in their act of wild abandon.

She finally threw herself onto the bed, exhausted, forcing Isabel down beside her. “Thank you,” she said, in a rare moment of feeling. “I do want you to be content, you know. I truly think that this will make you happy, in the long run. You’re so caught up in some illusion of love that you can’t see what’s best for you. You will survive this, for you are not like Licia and mother. We are two of a kind, you and I. You will come to realise that you want what I want, and you’ll thank me for setting you on the right path.”

Katerina had a knack of making the world appear as she wanted it to be. She could so easily fool herself into believing that she was doing this for her. In truth, she was thinking only of herself. But in spite of her faults, she was still her sister, and Isabel loved her. In that respect, she had been right. There was nothing she could do that would make her truly hate her.

The moment passed all too quickly, and with her magical laugh Katerina stood up, eyeing her critically. “Now, let’s make you beautiful.”

Her sister's hands darted as quickly as small birds, teasing her hair into place. Though she felt weak and sick, Isabel's skin glowed with health and her hair shone, falling in soft curls to her waist. Katerina worked fastidiously, never making a mistake. Isabel wanted to shout and rage and run from the room, but her sister's will was irresistible. She stood still and silent and obedient, watching Katerina from cold eyes. She knew that she would never escape them, that she was powerless to resist their demands.

Acceptance had not come easily. She hated it. She hated feeling helpless. Isabel had threatened, but her siblings had listened to her threats with stony faces and deaf ears. She had commanded them not to betray her, but her commands had been ignored. She had invoked Katerina's mercy, and her mother's, appealing to the natural sympathy of one woman for another, but her sister had long ago set aside her womanhood, and her mother was only a ghost now. She had tried charming her brother, speaking to him meekly, but he was not swayed. She had promised them her forgiveness, but her dark-eyed siblings had only laughed at her. Now it seemed that her resistance had simply exhausted her. She was broken, no longer able to rally.

Except in her prayers. She had prayed. Oh, how she had prayed! She had prayed for relief, for deliverance, for Conor. But most of all she prayed for Tristan's death. In silence, down on her knees, she prayed for him to suffer a terrible, painful end. She prayed until her knees were raw and bloody, until her tongue felt so thick and heavy that she was like to choke on it. All the prayers she had learnt as a girl came back to her as she knelt in her ivory tower. She made up new ones, too. Darker ones. 

Yet God proved as deaf as her Devereux kin. Isabel gave Him all the words that she had in her, to no avail. She gave those words to her siblings, as well. She also gave Him one thing that she would never give to them; her tears. It was only God who saw her weep and wail. Her pain was hers and hers alone. She would give her family everything but her broken sobs, for they must never see that they had ruined her.

Isabel's weakness reviled her. In the darkness of the night, when it seemed that the world would be black forever, she reminded herself that she would not always be helpless. She would learn the lesson her sister had sought to teach her, and she would turn it against her. Isabel had been born and bred to be secondary to her, the true beauty of the family. She had always followed behind her. But no longer. Soon she would be a countess, and Katerina would be naught but the sister of an earl. Isabel would seize some of her husband's power for herself, and when she did Katerina would be at her mercy. Isabel would teach her what it felt like to be weak.

"You are ready, little Is," her sister murmured. 

She looked at herself in the mirror, her gaze cold and calculating, drinking in every detail of her appearance. Her dress was stunning and ostentatious, crafted from rich, heavy, blue brocade. The decadence of her attire told all the world how valuable she was. And the fit told them that she was beautiful and young and fertile, a fitting consort for the handsome earl. The bodice was snug, accentuating her tiny waist, and patterned with intricate beading. The low cut design emphasised her high , firm breasts, her ivory skin spilling over the top in a comely fashion, enticing them all to lustful hunger. The full skirt flared around her, skimming over the ground as she moved. In diamonds and finery she would enchant him. Her jewelled armour alone would provoke him to desire. He would see nothing but her worth, as Katerina had wanted. He would not see the broken heart beneath, so damaged and worn, smashed into a thousand pieces. Her pain was hidden, locked inside the elaborate, expensive walls of a Pandora's box, the stunning veneer blinding her betrothed to all of the rot and ugliness inside. 

Isabel laughed, the sound cold and hard and piercing. "Will he desire me now, Kat? Will he forget that he despises me?" 

"He doesn't despise you." 

"He loves me not." 

"And whose fault is that, sweet sister?" 

"Why, it is mine own, of course."

Venom laced her words, hiding the sadness and the weakness. Yet the melancholy was still there, inside of her. Isabel wanted to smile and laugh. She wanted to go to her wedding gladly. But Conor was gone. He had abandoned her to her captivity and in doing so offered her to the very man he had sworn to protect her from. There could be no joy in their union, whether she willed it or not. 

 Katerina appraised her with a critical eye, smoothing Isabel's hair and gown with delicate fingers. She stood back slowly, gazing at her appreciatively. “You look beautiful,” she murmured.

"I look exactly as you wished me to." 

Her sister pulled her into a tight embrace, the slender length of her frame unfamiliar to Isabel, the gesture surprising her. She wanted to be angry with her, but Isabel's arms wrapped around her automatically, and she found comfort in the warmth of her touch, consolation. “I love you,” Katerina murmured. 

"And I must love you, or else I would never have consented to this madness." 

They descended the stairs together, hand-clasped. Her family waited for them, their gazes admiring. Their words were complementary, and Isabel found their familiar presence reassuring. Being around them made the pain in her heart abate, for although they were not perfect, she knew that they loved her. That, at the very least, she was worth something to them.

“Ready?” Hugh said, as he extended his arm to her. He was removed from the affair, untouched by emotion. Unless something involved violence and bloodshed her brother quickly lost interest.

Isabel hesitated momentarily, her conviction wavering. She felt Katerina behind her. “Remember who you are. Do not be afraid of them.”

She looked at her family’s expectant gazes. She hated and despised all three of them, almost as much as she hated and despised the man that they would wed her to. But even as she hated them, she loved them, her betrayers. When she felt as if everything else in her life had been taken from her, she still had them. She would do anything for them. She nodded her assent, and took the arm Hugh proffered, letting him lead her towards her death, a willing lamb to the slaughter. 


© Copyright 2019 Jordana J Sacks. All rights reserved.

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