The Damned

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

Chapter 48 (v.1)

Submitted: November 15, 2013

Reads: 73

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Submitted: November 15, 2013

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48

 

Ikerrin, Tipperary, Ireland, 17th May 1231

 

Concessa regarded Conor warily from the corner of her eye, her lips pursed with disapproval. The face that had once been so familiar had changed over the years, transforming the wild-haired little girl he remembered into an exotic beauty. But she was not the only one to have changed. Not the only thing which was different. 

When he had left Glencaer, he had returned with them to Ireland, once again engulfed by the life his mother had tried to save him from. But he didn’t belong with them anymore, and he knew that it broke her heart to see that her sacrifice had been in vain.

The land had been as wild as he remembered, but Tipperary was unfamiliar to him. He wanted to see his family as he had last seen them, but all of that was gone now: it was not only the setting which was different, but the people. The ones he had loved most - his grandfather, the wolves – were missing, along with the easy camaraderie and the sense of belonging. On the day he had left, he had known their faces better than his own, but now they were as strange to him as this place which had never been his. He had looked for home, but he knew now that Isabel’s arms were the walls of his castle, her smile the fire which roared in his hearth. He would never belong anywhere other than by her side. 

It had been nearing sunset when they had reached the camp at Tipperary. The brightly painted caravans had stretched out before him, extending into the distance. There were more of them than he remembered. He recalled a smaller, more intimate band of brothers, not the sprawling vastness of the site his people – his mother’s people – had marked as their own. In his dreams, he had visited them so many times, but there had only been his uncles and his cousins, his mother and his brother, grandfather and the wolves. Faelan was gone, his grandfather dead, the wolves accompanying him to his grave. Sometimes he could still hear the howling of the wolves as the men dragged him from his mother’s side, but they were silent now. In their place was a vast sea of people who regarded him from dark, hostile eyes, their mistrustful gazes more frightening than the white wolf’s stare. They had watched with stranger’s eyes as Conor came home at last.

“Aunt Aoife,” Concessa called, disappearing into his mother’s caravan.

Conor staggered and fell to the floor. His shirt was ripped to the shoulder and caked in dirt, his hair was matted with vomit, and blood stained his face. Whether it was his or someone else’s he couldn’t recall. But it was pleasant here. A gentle wind blew through his tangled locks, as soft and fragrant as Isabel's fingers. He could smell roses. Isabel had always smelled of roses. He would stay here awhile. He didn't want to ever move.

Cadhla came down the steps of his caravan, regarding him from indigo eyes, a legacy of their grandfather. He spat on the floor, but made no move to help Conor up. His wife appeared behind him and his cousin turned to her, forgetting Conor. What was her name? He couldn't remember now. It didn't seem to matter anymore. Nothing did. 

Cadhla wrapped his arms around the woman, placing a lingering kiss on her lips. All Conor wanted was to hold Isabel as he held her. The pain of his loss was crippling. He didn’t want to wake up each morning. Everything reminded him of her. He ached to hold his love in his arms again. Every face in the crowd made him think of her: this woman had her nose, that one her mouth. But no-one could compare to Isabel.

It was not because he hadn't tried to find one who would. Every night he tried. Every night he sought solace in the arms of one who looked like her. Or one who looked nothing like her. It made no difference. For every face became hers. The ache in his body was for her - no one else. Every touch, every caress, made him long for his lovely Isabel. Every time his body trembled, collapsed, against another, he wanted to weep for his betrayal. 

His mouth was hers, still. He had never shared kisses with any other. Even before, the maids who had taught him the art of lovemaking had never felt the brush of his lips against theirs. Mouths were funny things. They left you open, vulnerable. One wrong word and you betrayed yourself. One foolish admission of love and you gave another the power to hurt you. You placed your heart, that fickle little organ, into their greedy hands. They could crush it, if they wanted. Feel the blood trickle through their fingers. She was the only one he had ever trusted with his weaknesses. 

His heart, too. That was hers. Always. 

It seemed that he forgot sometimes. That was no accident. He wanted to forget her, forced himself to.  He stayed in bed all day, and drank all night, crawling home from the tavern as dawn broke. His memory of the night would be non-existent, though there would be blood on his hands and the vile taste of sick in his mouth. The smell of the whores was upon him, too; a sickly-sweet, cloying perfume. But in the morning he forget them, and still he remembered her. Even at the height of his inebriation, when his mind was clouded by the ale he had imbibed, it was her name he called as he came inside of them. She was inescapable. Unforgettable.

He was broken, but he knew that she would be alright. He clung to that. It was as he had told her. It seemed an eternity ago, now. "Do you know what I think?" he had asked her.

"What do you think?" she had said, sitting up. She had pulled her knees up, wrapped her arms around her legs. Her hands had looked beautiful in her great, long sleeves. Her hair, her glorious hair, had fallen down around her shoulders in a way that he had never forgotten.

"I think I need you much more than you need me."

It had been true. For a day, a single day, she had fought for him. She had wanted him. But her desire to run away had been a stalling tactic, nothing more. She would have remembered what she wanted later, when he had promised to stay beside her. She would have come to her senses. Her body had been warm and pliable as he had held her in his arms, her embrace needy. For once, she had held nothing back. That would have changed, though. She would have reverted back to her cold, calculating self, so hungry for power and her family's approval. He had never been enough for her. Nothing he did was ever enough for her. Nothing. Why should that have changed in a day? 

He could have laughed at the folly of his dreams. Why was he surprised that his soul was mortally wounded? It had been like falling in love with fire; he had always known that he would get burnt. She had engulfed him, incinerated him, immolated his soul. He had wanted her to swallow him whole. But he had known that she would burn him, char his flesh, and spit him back out.

 His mother's face loomed over him as she crouched down beside him. “Where you have been?” she asked, her tone coloured with disapproval. "You're soaked to the skin, Conor."

It was raining, he realised. The wind was blowing, making the drizzle slant sideways as it fell. He was wet. Soaked to the skin, like she said. The ashes in the fire pits hissed, spitting like angry snakes, as they grew cold and damp. The sound irritated him almost as much as his mother's cloying tenderness. 

“Does it matter?”

“You have to stop doing this to yourself,” she reprimanded.

“Why?”

“Because I won’t let you throw your life away.”

“I’m perfectly happy with my life. If this is how I want to live, then how dare you tell me it’s wrong?” he snapped.

“Because it’s not what you want, not really. You have to accept that you can’t have her, and move on. Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, but you can’t just give up.”

“You did. Don’t pretend you’re happy, living like this. If you’d followed your own advice, you’d have left here long ago.”

“I did, once, but this is the only life I have ever known. Your father tried to change me, but it was too late for me. You, however, are young and free, with your whole life ahead of you. You should be living it.”

“I can’t. Not without Isabel.” 

“You chose to leave her,” his mother said bluntly. 

“Because I love her. You gave me no choice.”

“You stupid, stupid boy.” His mother’s voice was sad. “I sacrificed everything for you, and you’re going to throw it all away for her. I won’t let you do it.”

"It's not your burden, mother, it's mine."

"Your burdens are mine, Conor."

He staggered to his feet. “Get out of my way.” His voice was threatening, the drink-addled state of his brain causing him to be sharp with her. 

His mother stood in front of him, placing her hands on either side of his face, the set of her jaw and shoulders betraying a mulish determination. “You have to forget about her.”

“I can’t.” Anguish resonated in his voice, his despair overwhelming him. 

“Yes, you can,” she said firmly.

“Being away from her hurts too much.”

“My poor baby,” she murmured, drawing him into her arms. When had she gotten so small? She was like a delicate baby bird in his strong embrace, but the fire still danced in her eyes, her physical frailty disguising her inner strength. “How dare she do this to you?” she seethed. "How dare she break you?"

Conor threw her away from him then. “Don’t talk about her like that. It wasn't Isabel that sent me away. She wanted me to stay. She's the only one who never walked away from me. It was Isabel who was there for me when you abandoned me. It was Isabel that put me back together. So how dare you condemn her? You’re the one who should feel ashamed, mother, selling your own son to the highest bidder.”

His mother slapped him hard across his face. “You know the sacrifices I made for you. I explained it all to you. I wept in your arms. You know that there wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t think about you, didn’t wonder where you were and who you were with. Don't lash out at me because you're hurting. I'm trying to help you.”

Conor stared at her, his face hard with anger. “And now you dare to condemn me for making the same sacrifices. You couldn’t have loved me so much if you got over your heartache so easily.” 

His mother stepped towards him, tentatively touching his face where a vivid red mark had sprung up. "I'm sorry, Conor. So sorry."

“Don’t touch me,” he snarled, pushing her away from him. 

It wasn’t hard, but she stumbled and fell to the ground. Her body erupted into a racking fit of coughing, her small frame heaving with the force of it. When she took her hand away from her mouth, her lips were stained with blood. 

Conor ran to her, crouching down beside his mother in the dirt. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I never meant to hurt you.” 

He began to cry then, not just for what he had done but for everything that he had left behind. His mother cradled him in her arms, rocking backwards and forwards as she sang him a lullaby, her presence calming him. They stayed there until he had no more tears left to cry.

When his eyes were dry, his mother took Conor’s face in her hands and kissed him gently on the forehead. “I want you to leave now,” she said.

“Please, don’t make me go. Don’t send me away again. It was an accident,” he choked. 

“I’m so proud of you, my darling boy. You have turned into such a wonderful man. But I can’t let you stay here. There’s a whole world waiting for you out there, yours to command. It would be selfish of me to keep you here for myself, and it would mean that everything I did for you had all been in vain. Please, if you love me, you will leave me. It’s been so wonderful to have you back, but I’m returning you to the world now, for you are the greatest gift I have to offer.”

“I don’t want to leave you. Not again. Not so soon after finding you.”

"We both know that you don't belong here, Con," she murmured. "What is there here for you now?"

And she was right. He saw it too. He twisted, turned, trying to look everywhere at once, hoping for a glimpse of a wolf, for a caravan painted with a mark that he knew, for a face he recognised from his childhood. All he saw was strangers. He stared at an old man skinning a rabbit on the steps of his caravan, but it wasn't his grandfather. He saw Concessa looking out at him from the shadowed doorway of her home, but her eyes was wary, not friendly and laughing as they had once been. He frightened her now, this strange man who had once been her cousin. Beneath a tree, four wolves lay sprawled together in a heap, but they were not his grandfather's wolves. Cadhla glared at him when he met his eyes. Conor gazed at the sprawling lines of caravans, their colours bright against the grey sky. Through the haze of rain, the landscape was blurred, not so very different to all of the other places that they had been. But it wasn't home. Not anymore.

"There's you."

“I’m dying, my darling.” His mother’s face was composed, no hint of fear in her eyes. 

Conor pushed himself away from her, his face a picture of abject horror. “No, you’re not, you can’t be. I’ve waited such a long time to be with you again, you can’t leave me. I love you, mother. I need you.”

The sweetest, most tender love warmed her eyes, lending her lovely face a gentle tranquillity. "It feels like I have waited a lifetime to hear those words again."

"Don't go."

"I don’t want to my sweet. Do you think that I would choose to be separated from you again?"

“If you don't want to die, then you must fight this. Fight for me,” he begged. "You owe me that much, surely."

“Sometimes you have to know when it is time to give up gracefully. If it is my time, then so be it.” 

Conor shook his head in furious negation, unwilling to accept what she was saying. He had already lost Isabel; he couldn’t lose her as well. He was too shocked for tears. What she was saying was too awful to imagine. They had been apart for such a long time, but he had always known that his mother was out there, and that one day she would come for him. Her words were so final. How could he imagine a world without her in it? She was his mother, his life-giver and his protector. He needed her. 

“That’s why you have to go now,” she said softly. 

“No.” His words were forceful. “I’ll be with you till the very end. I won’t let you give up.”

“I don’t want you to have those memories of me. I want you to leave me whilst I’m still alright. Before the illness withers my bones and I can’t even go to the toilet by myself. This is how I need you to remember me. So that’s why you’re going to leave in the morning, and you’re not going to look back. All you will remember is that I loved you, and that I was so very proud of you. You’ll go out there and you’ll live your life. That’s all I ask of you.” Tears glistened in her gentle eyes.

“Mother…”

She placed a soft finger on his lips to silence him, and kissed his forehead gently. “Shhh, we still have today.”

He knew that he couldn't refuse her. He could beg and plead with her to let him stay, but she was obstinate. To see his weakness would only hurt her more. It would tear him apart to leave her, but what son could refuse his mother her dying wish? She had forfeited so much for him, and even now, when death approached, she was willing to sacrifice the simple comfort of having her son nearby for the sake of his sanity. He could not describe the love he felt for her, for it was on a scale so grand, and the magnitude was so great, that mere words could never suffice.

Part of him recognised that there was cowardice in his acquiescence. It was strange that one so familiar with loss could still feel it so strongly. But he could. He had seen death too many times before. He could not see it again. He could not see the life fade from her eyes. Another loss would send him mad. Death and loss and pain; would he ever know a day when their grasping hands did not reach for him? They had taken his heart, subdued it, broken it. What more could they take from him?

"They could take your life," Concessa murmured, her hand on his shoulder. So still and silent, his little hunter. "Don’t waste the chance I have given you, Con. Don't go running back to the girl."

His mother caught his hand. "Remember our warning. Take it with you. Promise me."

"I promise."

 

?

 

Isabel’s face was stained with tears as she said her vows, knowing that every word bound her more closely to a man that she despised. In his ignorance, Tristan believed that they were tears of joy, or maybe he just didn’t care. For surely any man who saw his bride crying tears of sadness at their union would not wish to pursue such a marriage? But they were hard times, with no place for love or sentiment. Her husband needed an heir and he needed allies. She was simply the human sacrifice required to consecrate the whole affair.

As they left the church, Tristan’s hand on top of hers, his grip was strong and cruel, compressing the delicate spider-web of bones in the crushing maw of his grip. Isabel hated the slim golden band which adorned her finger, for everything it was and everything it represented; physical evidence of his ownership. And how she hated him! The way he leered as her creamy breasts spilled over the low cut bodice, how he crushed her body against his just because he could.  

All through the day, as they feasted, Isabel trembled with dread at the thought of what was to come. She didn’t want his hands on her skin, touching her and caressing her. The knowledge that she no longer owned her own body was abhorrent to her; what had been hers was now her husband’s. Her body was no longer inviolate; it was his to do with it as he willed. She had no say in how it was used. No-one would be there to stop his cruel machinations. And they would be cruel. He would seek to punish her for the hold she had over him. She could not bring herself to look at his divine face, but she felt his eyes upon her, his stare constant, taunting.

The music was loud in Isabel’s ears, the laughter louder yet as people drank the wine which so freely flowed. Everyone in the room, save for her, was happy, happy for her and happy for him. They were blind to her tears, deaf to her sobs. She was alone in a sea of people, their hollow laughter swallowing her whole in its unfeeling maw. 

They cheered lewdly as Tristan took her hand to lead her to their bedchamber, his mother’s face joyful and happy, as though she were oblivious to his true nature. But Isabel saw the cruelty in her eyes, even if they did not. Linota grabbed her son's wrist as he stood, her fingers biting into his flesh, leaving pale imprints on his skin. "Remember what I said, Tristan; she’s had no guidance, and creatures that grow up in the wilderness turn out wild. Take her in hand,” she murmured.

His beautiful eyes glittered. A slow smile curved his lip.s "I have no desire to tame her, mother. I want her to fight. A man must have some sport." 

His mother's grip relaxed. Her fingers softened, slowly trailed down his wrist, across his palm, until she held his hand in hers. She raised their entwined fists to her lips, placed them on her chest, between the heaving swell of her bosom. "Who do you love most in the world?"

He caught Linota close and kissed her forehead. "You, mother. The answer will always be you."

Conor, Linota. The answer will always be Conor.

Katerina’s dark gaze held Isabel's as they ascended the stairs, watching her as a hunter watched a hare approaching the snare he had laid; with trepidation and excitement, knowing that the deed was almost done. What happened that night would change the course of their lives forever - there was no going back from it. Her only hope had lain in not conceiving, in seeking an annulment. But her husband would have his heir. 

Isabel tripped as Tristan half-dragged her up the stairs behind him, legs trembling. Not once did he reach down to steady her, nor whisper reassurances in her ear. He shoved her before him as they neared the top, and she imagined how sweet it would be to slam an elbow into his face and send him careening down the spiral stairs. If God was good, he might crash into Linota and take her down with him, felling them both in a single, simple act.

He pushed her through the door as they reached the top, into the great chamber where her marriage would be consummated. Isabel gazed at the magnificent bed with its clean linen sheets and its delicately embroidered covers, at the painted chests and rich brocade hangings, and she knew that they were sights she would never forget. She looked at all of her things, so carefully laid out beside his: ivory combs, pots of sweet-smelling unguents, her jewels and trinket boxes. So that was how it must be, one beside the other, bound together, always. Perfumed smoke twirled from a small brazier burning frankincense and bark. The smell was rich, delicious... nauseating. All of the beauty and opulence of her surroundings only served to reinforce the ugliness of what was going to happen here.

The other women surrounded her now. Sophia nodded with approval as she looked around. "You can make yourself a very pleasant chamber here, Is. All will be well, my darling."

"Are you trying to convince me or yourself?" Isabel snapped.

Her golden-haired sister recoiled for a second but swiftly rallied. "You must give your husband a chance at least. You must try to be happy here. Come now. Drink some of this hot wine and let me help you disrobe."

Isabel stared at the wall in sullen silence as her sister stepped behind her and began to unlace her wedding gown. She was a perfect confection of gluttonous decadence, from her gilded slippers to the brocaded garter ties edged with pearls. Her veil was the finest, most opaque linen embroidered with sapphires, secured to her head with a crown of golden flowers. She wanted to rip all of the magnificent wealth from her body, and throw it back at them. She would set fire to it all, and dance amongst the ashes, whooping with delight because she was free of it all. If only she could.

Tristan stood across from her, surrounded by a crowd of rowdy companions. The sight of him, so divinely beautiful, so perfectly angelic, sickened her. He wore nothing but a plain white shirt and his blue hose now. She prayed that he would not remove his clothes, for she did not want to see any body but Conor's.

"Stop," her husband commanded, staggering towards her. "I will undress my bride myself."

Linota clapped her hands, the smile on her face set like stone. "You heard my son," she said. "Out. All of you out."

"The blessing, first," Sophia said tightly.

"Very well," Linota acceded, her hand on her son's shoulder, holding him back. "The blessing."

"We need no blessing. If you wish this marriage to be fruitful, then you need only leave us in this room together. Out. Now," her husband commanded.

Tristan's men smiled and sniggered, jostling each other out of the room good-naturedly. Her family left more slowly. Sophia and Felicia were the last of her party to go. Sophia looked back at her with a parting glance of encouragement, the smile still patched onto her face.

The priest lingered too, shaking his head. "This is blasphemy, my lord. God can never look favourably upon a union which he has not blessed."

Tristan walked toward him slowly, drawing himself up to his full height. "Get. Out."

"My lord..."

"Out," he shrieked, grabbing the old man's shoulders and shoving him from the room.

He half-turned, glancing at Isabel over his shoulder. He slowly closed the door, bolted it, ramming the bar home. He stalked over to her, stood, stared in silence. In hunger.

Isabel raised her goblet to her lips, drawing a deep draft of wine down her throat. She looked at him properly for the first time that day, staring at him over the rim of her cup. His hair fell to his shoulders in a shining tumble of ringlets. Those eyes stared back at her, so brilliantly blue that it hurt to meet his gaze. The man had the looks of a fallen angel, and he stood before her now, waiting to drag her to hell.

His brows drew together in a scowl. He slowly took the cup from her hand and set it to one side. "Now," he said, breathing swiftly, "let me see what I have given my oath for."

"Tristan, please..."

"You will yield to me, little Devereux," he commanded, his forefinger gently tracing the line of her cheek. He pushed her back against the wall and began kissing her, his hips grinding against hers.

Isabel felt his hardness through the fine linen of his braies. The sinuous, masculine feel of his body against hers sickened her. "Tristan..."

He looked her up and down with leisurely thoroughness. His hands reached out, greedily fondling her breasts. "I'm going to get you with child. That's what you want, isn't it? That's what your precious Devereuxs need?" 

"Tristan, stop..."

"Silence." He pushed her onto the bed without ceremony, his eyes hungry. He fell down on top of her, pushing her back against the pillows. His mouth covered hers, his lips and tongue fierce. He grabbed her skirts, pushing them roughly around her waist. 

Isabel felt his fingers groping her, brushing across her pubic hair. She stiffened involuntarily, her heart racing. But she did not cry out. She didn't scream. For in a castle full of people, she knew that she was trapped. No-one would come to her rescue now.

"Open your legs,"  he demanded.

"Go to hell," she spat. She struggled violently beneath him, bucking and writhing as she tried to push her husband away from her. She dug her nails into his broad back, clawed at his face. She knew that it was futile, but she couldn’t submit to Tristan, couldn’t willingly let him do this to her, for in so doing she would be condoning his actions. Fear danced its rapid staccato steps across her heart. Terror constricted her throat, as if his strong hands surrounded her slender neck. Wordlessly, he grabbed her wrists in one large hand, pushing them above her head. With his knees, he pinioned her legs to the bed…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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