The Damned

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

Chapter 50 (v.1)

Submitted: November 22, 2013

Reads: 134

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Submitted: November 22, 2013

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50

 

Glencaer, Welsh Marches, Shropshire, 17th May 1231

 

Afterwards, Tristan lay on top of her, his heavy body crushing Isabel. His breath reeked of stale alcohol, and his face was red from his exertions. He rolled away from her as if she repelled him, his manner cold, his muscular back angled towards her. It was so different from the way it had been with Conor. There was nothing between them; no semblance of love, just a cold, hard distance. 


He threw her shift to her, the fine, gauzy material hanging in the air for a moment, floating down with the delicate, almost whimsical grace of a moth's wings fluttering in the moonlight. Strange, that something which had borne witness to her husband's savagery could appear so light and innocent. If she shrouded herself in its virginal whiteness would her appearance be as deceptive? 


Why did he hand it to her? Did he think that covering her nakedness would restore some civility to their encounter? A part of her wanted to be defiant, to throw it back at him so that he would see the marks on her body and be reminded of his savagery. Why cover the blood which stained her thighs? See what you have done, she wanted to ask him. Instead, she silently pulled it over her, for she knew that a man like Tristan would feel no remorse.


He passed her a damp cloth to wipe herself clean, as though it were possible to purify herself, to cleanse the stains he had left behind. She mutely wiped her pale thighs, for who would truly care if she left the scarlet to stain her ivory shift? Would Katerina cry to see it there? Would her mother or her brother? They would smile to see it, for she was victorious now, wasn't she? Everyone who had come to feast, to dance, or merely to watch, knew that the Devereuxs had snared themselves another prize. Their alliance was cemented; they were supported on all sides. All they would see was a scarlet proclamation of their success, vivid and undeniable. 


Hadn't her husband already shown them how greatly he valued her? All could see that she was his greatest prize. He had commanded the best musicians to attend their wedding and play for her. He had showered her with gifts before them all: a priceless pearl brooch, a pair of scented leather gloves, a new riding horse with a coat that gleamed like beaten gold. Look how much he loved her. He had only taken what was his. What could be wrong in that? 


She stared at the tapestry which hung on the pale wall as she scrubbed her bruised flesh. It was an exquisite piece. To be in that world, to be in any world but her own, would be heavenly. What could exist to ruin one's happiness in such a divine landscape? But she would surely find something to displease her, for she was not like they were. Those men and women were gods and goddesses. They understood victory as they lolled on their clouds. They were happy because the world belonged to them. Didn't that make her a goddess in her own right? She too should feel victorious. She too should be happy. She was where her father and her brother had wanted  her to be. She shared a bed with one of the greatest men in England, and had become one of the greatest women. She was a countess, and all knelt before her. 


But she could not smile, for her victory had cost too much: the man she had loved; her happiness; her freedom. Lastly, lastly, it had taken her choice. Those serene smiles belonged to men and women who had it all. Isabel had nothing anymore.


“That was the last time you will fight against me,” Tristan said quietly. “You are my wife and you will submit to me. Do you understand?” 


Isabel couldn’t answer him. Her body ached from his fevered exertions but she couldn’t submit to his will. Like a wild bird whose wings had been clipped, her body was broken but her spirit still yearned for the freedom of the skies. She dropped the cloth into its bowl of rosewater, watching as the liquid turned to crimson, then paled, diluted, turned to pink. Rage and defiance welled up within her. 


Even as she refused to answer, she knew that punishment was inevitable. But giving up would have been to give up on life, and that she couldn’t do. For all that she had loved and lost she could not change, for in doing so she would be admitting that none of it had been worth anything; in the end, fate’s design was always going to win through and she had never had any say in the matter. Isabel would fight till the last breath danced on her lips, till the last drop of her blood stained the ground, against everything her husband stood for. 


"You are a pitiful excuse for a man, Tristan. My brother was ten times the lord that you are. Do you think that he would ever have needed to act as you have done? I am a Devereux, and I do not bow my head to such as you," she seethed.


Tristan rolled onto his stomach and faced her, an arm to either side of her, trapping the gauzy material of her shift beneath him. "Be very careful, wife. You may have started the day as a Devereux, but you are a FitzAlan now, and you will yield to me before the night is through."


"You might be my husband, but you will never be my lord and master. You do not command me. Are you really fool enough to think that a Devereux would yield to you? You are a single jewel in the crown of our empire, remember? Now remind me; what riches do the FitzAlans claim but I? You may have more land and men than my brother, but do you have more than all of my family combined? More than Hugh and Oliver and Robert together? Be clever, Tristan. Realise that you need me far more than I need you."


He clenched his fist, grazing it gently along her jawline in a gesture that promised violence. "I need your family, wife. I need you only long enough to give me a FitzAlan-Devereux heir. Think on that. You are a broodmare, and once you have fulfilled your purpose you will have no more value to your kin. I will - I have men and armies. Now think who your brother will value the most: you or I?"


"You think that I will let you burden me with a child?" she retorted. "If my womb quickens, I will find some way to put your little heir out of its misery, Tristan, I swear it!"


"By Christ, you Devereux bitch, you have gone too far!," he roared, striking her back-handed across the face. 


Isabel welcomed the sting of the blow as it spread across her cheek, for she had seen the fright in his eyes as he had hit her. He truly thought that she would never give him his heir. He thought that she could ruin him. "You unman yourself," she scorned him. 


Tristan laughed. "A man is entitled to beat his wife, Lady FitzAlan."


He stalked from the bed and slowly picked up his hunting whip, switching it from hand to hand. She remembered the marks on Conor's back. Had he screamed as the lash had bitten into his flesh? She had looked at those marks, sickened by the thought of his pain. She had imagined every blow. They had been one then, but he was always the braver half. He had been so strong. He hadn't cried out. She knew that he hadn't. But she had seen the agony on his face. He had been dead white, doubled over.


She picked up her golden goblet, feigning louche unhurriedness, as if he did not intimidate her at all. She took a deep swallow, studying her husband over the sparkling rim. "Is that truly necessary?"


He gave her an icy stare. "Are you learning to do as you are told?"


She wanted to spit in his face, but she held her tongue. There was something more precious than herself to protect. Something that she could not allow him to damage for the sake of her pride. "Stop, please. I have been foolish. Forgive me."


"Silence, Lady FitzAlan. Undress or I will rip off your clothes."


Isabel slowly pulled the shift over her head. She saw him eyeing her breasts, her flat stomach, before he turned his head away, almost as if he were offended. "I warn you now, Tristan, that there will come a day when you are going to be the helpless one, and I will hold the whip in my hand," she said quietly. "Do this, and I will find some way to punish you. Hurt me, and I will hurt you."


Her husband smiled, confident that there would never come a day when she was in control of his fate. "Still a fool, I see. Well, I must teach you better. Turn around, Lady FitzAlan."


The whip hissed through the air, biting into the tender flesh of her back. Isabel fell to her knees beside the bed, burying her face in the embroidered coverlet, trying to stifle the screams which threatened to escape. She curled into a ball, trying to protect the most vulnerable part of her. Her fists clenched the fine, expensive material. The crimson velvet spilled through her fingers, and she imagined that it was his blood, that it was his flesh that her hands tightened around. Like a mad man, he lashed her, blow after blow, until the hunting crop snapped in half. The pain was like fire, searing her skin. When the whip broke, she thought that it was over. Dared to hope that her torment had ended.


But she was a fool to believe that it was done. Tristan lurched across to her and pulled her to her feet, shoving her backwards towards the bed. Isabel struck him back with the full force of all her misery and her fear. The sound of the blow was a sharp crack.The edge of one of her rings caught the corner of his eye. Her husband gasped and recoiled, cupping his face, and then lowered his hand and looked at the blood on his fingers. 


"By God, you have gone too far!" He stared at her in shocked fascination, immobile, back-footed. His hands dropped to his sides as if it were over. "Did you strike me?"


"I..."


The blow, when it came, surprised her, the force of it seemingly inhuman. It knocked her back onto the bed. He came at her again, his body pinning hers down. His passion was once more ignited, but this time he did not hunger for her body, but for her blood. His eyes were glazed, unseeing. She saw that he would not be beaten. The rage inside had consumed him, pushing him beyond all reason. He would hurt her until she broke, no matter the consequences 


At first she fought back, kicking him, raking him with her nails, drawing blood. It was not bravery which goaded her, but the purest instinct of self-preservation. But he was faster. So much stronger. He pinioned her arms beneath his knees, rendering her powerless. As he sat astride her, hitting her face over and over and over again, there was nothing she could do to protect herself. She could feel the flesh parting beneath his fists, feel the blood dripping down her face, but she was powerless to stop him. She wanted to fight back, but her strength was comparable to a bird fighting against the raging tempest which so easily tossed it from side to side.


Isabel was scared, scared for herself, and scared for the child that she knew she carried within her – Conor’s child. 


And all the while they laughed and danced below them. 


I will not scream, Isabel had promised herself. But she broke that vow, over and over and over again. She started to scream, and once she had begun she couldn’t stop. The pain was so huge that she felt small and weak and helpless inside of it, a child whimpering in the darkness. Was it her pain, or that of the child that cowered in the blackness of her womb, the child who God had charged her with protecting? How could he have expected her to bring this baby into the world? She, who was powerless. She needed help. She needed him. Every scream was a plea for him to save her. Conor, she called, her own shriek echoing in her ears. Conor, come back to me.


"Silence," Tristan roared, his wine-sodden breath sobbing in and out of his lungs.


But still she screamed. He could beat her body into submission, but nothing would silence the awful cries which rent forth, bubbling up from somewhere deep within, a place of pain and darkness. I'm sorry, she told the  child inside, for every scream was a death knell for her baby. I'm sorry, she told Conor, as her shrieks killed a little part of him. 


"Silence," he bellowed, rewarding her with a belting whack against the right side of her skull. 


Blessed darkness welcomed her into its warm embrace.


When her eyelids fluttered open, she was wrapped in thick wool and floating. She could not seem to move, but that did not matter. For a time she dreamed that Conor was with her, tending her with gentle hands. Her baby was in her arms, tiny and perfect and unharmed. She smiled, closed her eyes, slept.


Her second waking was not so sweet. Isabel drifted into reality, hurting all over, her head splitting with pain. Below her, the most beautiful music was playing, soft and enchanting. People were laughing. If she lived to be a hundred, she knew that she would never forget the sweet melody as their laughter softly overlaid the notes. The music was made all the louder by her own silence. The familiar accompaniment of her breathing was gone. Her breath seemed to catch in her lungs, trapped, mute. Was she dead? A part of her wished to die, to spare her from living another day as his wife. Even hell could not hurt so much.


Isabel lay there for hours afterwards, her blood staining the white sheets as it dripped. She could hear Tristan’s roaring laughter in the hall beneath the bed where she lay bleeding. Her crimson blood stained his cruel hands and all the while he laughed, high on the thrill of his own violence. She wanted to stay in her bed forever, and never again awake. Each breath she drew was agony, but she did not cry. Not then. It would have hurt too much. 


She drifted between dreams and reality, the pain stopping her from falling into the blessed darkness of sleep. A red light throbbed behind her eyes as images of Conor danced in her mind. Her hands caressed her stomach, the skin still firm and taut, and she realised that she had loved it, the child which had grown inside of her, for in it had smouldered the embers of the roaring passion which had existed between them, the last vestiges of her love for him. If it had only had the chance to be born - if she had only protected it from her husband - then no one could have taken Conor from her again. He might have abandoned her, but their child had been part of him and part of her, and it would have been bound to her forever, undeniable evidence of their love. Perhaps one day she would cry for the baby she had lost, when crying didn't hurt so much. For now, she clung to the knowledge that it was still inside of her. She could still feel it there. She must pretend that it was only sleeping. 


Light footsteps sounded on the stairs, accompanied by the whispering harmony of a gown brushing across the wooden floor. Then someone was kneeling over her. "Will?" she croaked, almost choking on the blood that filled her mouth. Who else would save her, if not her brother? His eyes stared back at her, dark and full of pain. But it was not his face, but his twin's. It was Katerina who came to her, her achievement evident on her face, triumph lighting up her eyes. 


Katerina was unflinching as she stared at Isabel’s battered face, her gaze cold and emotionless. She came towards her, pulling the covers roughly away from her naked body, so that Isabel was exposed and vulnerable beneath her sister’s searching stare. She saw what Katerina saw: the purple and blue bloom of bruises across the stomach that had held such precious cargo; the bracelet of fingernail-marks around her thighs; the blood which stained her fingers, showing them both that she had fought back. She saw a flash of pain in the eyes of that dark siren as she looked at her bruised and bloody body, though it was quickly hidden. She sat beside Isabel and gently turned her face towards her, studying the battered façade beneath her connoisseur's gaze. “You’ll heal,” she said finally. "You will still be beautiful."


And then, wrapping the stained sheets like swaddling around Isabel, Katerina pulled her into her arms and held her in her embrace. Isabel's ribs screamed in protest, but still she clung to her sister. The tears came then, hurting her all the more, falling in a seemingly endless torrent. They did not speak. There was no need for words. Her sister never questioned her, nor tried to silence her. She just held her. 


When, exhausted, Isabel fell back against the pillows, her sister tucked her in as if she were a child. “Katerina…” 


Her sister slowly reached out and touched her swollen face. Their eyes met, and Isabel saw her tears reflected in that dark, Devereux gaze, Katerina's pain finally escaping it's well-guarded prison. Still, she remained silent, her tears saying all that needed to be said. She nodded softly, understanding.


Isabel took her hand. "What a fool I once was. When I was a little girl, I believed that father loved me. Then he arranged for me to be raised here at Glencaer, and I began to doubt his affection. I could not see why he must send me away if he loved me as I thought. That was clever. But not clever enough. I wanted to please him. I was always eager then for praise. And in the beginning, I loved it here. I loved my lessons and I loved my brother. I even loved Linota, when I sat on her knee and she read to me. I loved that she plaited my hair and sang songs and kissed me on the cheek. I loved the long, summer evenings. I never imagined that it would come to this. I never imagined that our great ambition would cost Will's life and mine."


"Isabel..."


"Is it worth it, Kat? Is any of this struggle worth the cost?"


"Look at what we have achieved!"


Isabel shook her head. "How can I help you now? I have failed you, Kat. I could not give you what you so easily asked for, what I should have been able to so easily give. I ruined myself on the day that I dreamed of more. Any other would have been content."


"You have never failed me. It is I who failed you. Of course you wanted more; you are a Devereux, after all."


"More means different things to you and I."


"We are not so different still. Have I not also fought the life they would have me lead? Do you think that I would have submitted to him any more willingly than you, Is?"


"But you were so much cleverer than I! You fought with so much more skill. No one knew how valiantly you battled for your freedom. You won your war, Kat, but I am defeated."


Her sister shook her head, placing her hand on top of Isabel's. "There is something that you must have. Something that should belong to you. Something that you need." She slowly slid a ring from her finger and placed it on Isabel's. Sapphires glittered in the firelight, nestled in beds of golden roses, the blooms half-open. A signet ring, she saw, with an elegantly carved 'D', the stems of the flowers twined sinuously around the letter. "Will had it made for me, so that, if ever I married and we were parted, I would always remember that I was a Devereux above all, whatever the rest of the world believed me to be."


"Thank you," she whispered, biting her bloodied lip.


"This is what you are," Katerina said. "And no one can ever take that away from you. And if your husband forgets for a second time, then know that your Devereux kin will not. You need a son, Is, that is all. Give us a Devereux heir, and what need do we have of him?"


She took both of her sister's hands between hers, pressing their foreheads together. Their clasped fists trembled as her body shivered. "Do you promise that you will save me?"


Katerina nodded, raising their entwined fingers to her lips. "I swear it on our brother's immortal soul," she vowed, her breath hot as it whispered across Isabel's ravaged flesh. 


"He would never let me down."


"No, he would not, so dry your eyes, my little Devereux." She gently took Isabel’s face between her hands, staring into her eyes with an impassioned ferocity. “No one in this family cries, Issy. Whatever happens, we never cry,” she reminded her, pressing their foreheads together. She did not speak the words in remonstration, Isabel understood; they were a reminder of her strength, a plea never to let herself be defeated. 


"No one in this family cries," she agreed, "and no one in this family is broken."


 


...


 


Again, that night, Isabel dreamed of death, as she lay beside her sleeping husband. But, this night, another came to comfort her before the golden-haired man lifted her into his strong arms. It was a Devereux woman, with silver eyes and red hair. She was lovely, as they all were. Her dark curls tumbled down around her slender shoulders. Her skin was as light as cream, her eyes as pale as moonlight, her lips the colour of wine. 


Isabel lay broken and bleeding on the floor, feeling blood dribbling from a cut lip. One eye was swelling shut and each breath she drew was agony. The golden-haired angel knelt beside her, weeping crimson tears. There was grass beneath her aching bones, the scent of honeysuckle and flowering currents in the air. She lay in the garden of Elfhame. The woman sat beside the ruined fountain, singing the sweetest song, her voice pure and melodic. 


"There, in a castle majestical, 


A lady with face beautiful,


Smiling, happy and damned and fair,


Dances and tosses her raven hair,


Eyes of silver look and long,


As a boy emerges from the throng,


He is your joy, your sorrow, your heart,


But blood of your blood will tear you apart."


Conor danced as she sang, a dark-haired siren, lithe and lovely, twirling in his arms. There was an inherent grace in their movements, the lady's skirt flaring out, swirling enchantingly around her beloved's long legs. Their footsteps beat and thumped on the damp ground, in time with the woman's song. They were the only music. The loveliest music. They laughed together, spinning around Isabel's broken body with light, easy steps as the golden-haired man crouched over her, shielding her from their heedless feet. 


The woman fell silent, and Conor and the dark-haired siren sank to the ground, her head nestled on his chest as they stared at the stars, whispering endearments to one another.


The Devereux woman approached Isabel on light feet. She leaned towards her, taking her hand, gently raising her. She found that she could stand. That she walked again. Together they paraded through the garden of Elfhame, the golden-haired man trailing behind them like a divine sentinel. 


They sat beside the ruined fountain, the stone bench hard and cold against the back of Isabel's  thighs as she watched the lovers spilling silken endearments from their cruel tongues. Her kinswoman folded her hands in her lap, her delicate fingers arranging her skirt so that it fell to the floor in a graceful drape. 


Isabel placed her head on the other's shoulder, and the tactile, sensual creature shivered at her touch. She breathed deeply, inhaling the innocent scent of her. The enchantress smelled of honeysuckle, fragrant and sweet, slightly cloying. "Who is she, sister?" Isabel murmured.


The woman cupped her face in one hand, tilting Isabel's gaze upwards to lock with hers. "Sister. Yes. She is your sister. You will know betrayal at the hands of your silver-eyed sister, Isabel Devereux.”


"Which one?"


Her silver eyes widened, exquisitely surprised. Her parted lips placed a gentle, pitying kiss on Isabel's cheek. "The one that he loves, of course."


 


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