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Chapter 1 : The Toll of Time & Torment
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Wind whipped violently through the skeletal trees, their branches reaching toward the heavens like claws. Furious dark clouds littered the sky, blocking out all traces of the moon and stars. A down-pouring of rain drummed against the roof, harsh and unrelenting.
I sat in a chair by the window, starring out into the darkness. The raindrops formed unique patterns on the glass, and I reached out and absently traced them with my finger. The letter “H” stood out from the rest, and I felt the tears prickling my eyes.
He was gone, I would never see him again. His handsome face would never light up. Those twinkling blue eyes would never shine with wonder. I could not run my fingers through his dark curls, nor hear the sound of his laughter reverberating in the halls.
He would not see his daughter grow into a beautiful woman, or be there to give her away at her wedding. She would grow up without remembering his face or kind heart. His paintings would fade, as would all the memories, until his features were just a blur of time and torment.
I didn’t bother to turn my head as the bedroom door opened. “Row? The babe is crying. Do you want me to tend her?” a thick woman with a mass of red curls asked.
My hands shook, and tears welled in my eyes. I did not respond to her. She came over and wrapped me in her warm embrace.
“I am so sorry about Hedyn. But Helena still needs you,” she whispered softly.
I nodded my head and focused on the floor. Helga released me and left the room. I heard another door open, and Helena stopped crying. Helga made gentle sounds, her voice soothing.
I leaned back on the chair, trying to get comfortable. I had not slept in our marriage bed, and would never sleep in it again without him. The memories were too strong, his scent even stronger. Musky and masculine, lingering on the blankets and pillows, just like his memory.
“How could this happen?” I yelled, dropping to my knees in despair. My façade of control melted away, stripped by tears of grief. Sobs wracked my body, making it impossible for me to breath. He was truly gone from this world.
I tried my best to forget that day, but nothing kept it at bay. His fellow troops and guardsmen rode past the gates, their banners held high. I looked out, eager to be wrapped in my husband’s arms. I failed to notice that the banners were not of triumph, but the sigil of death.
The memory is a hazy whirlwind, one I barely remember, yet see so clearly in my head. I listened to the story of how he had died bravely on the battlefield, fighting for his family and country. They presented me with his sword, which only served as a reminder of my loss. His body lay in a caravan on the outskirts of our property, ready to be sent to the next life.
Deep crimson stains covered his mail, right above where his heart would beat. His cloak and tunic were dusted with dirt and debris. His tousled curls blew in the faint breeze. If I looked at him in just the right way, it appeared as though his chest rose and fell with the breath that it no longer held.
“How could you leave me Hedyn?” I cried, unable to understand. “Helena, our sweet Helena will never know her father! I cannot live without you.”
The wind picked up outside, as if in response to my anguish. The castle creaked and moaned around me, and I almost felt Hedyn’s presence. There was nothing I would not do to hold him again.
The fire blazed, chasing away the damp chill of the room. Helena sat with her dollhouse, playing out a normal family with both a mother and father.
“Are you alright Rowena?” Helga asked.
“Yes, of course. Just thinking…” I trailed off, not wanting to admit I was still wallowing in the past.
“I know it has been almost three years, but maybe you should tutor again to keep your mind busy.”
I nodded and looked into the depths of the fire. Even after all this time, I still saw his face everywhere. I cried myself to sleep more often than not, my wounds simply wouldn’t heal. They festered and oozed, draining the life from me until there was nothing left. I walked around in a daze, letting life pass me by. I no longer painted, sang, nor read.
In fact, a year after his death I had thrown all of my books and portraits into the fireplace in a rage. It had almost been a relief, I finally thought I was starting to feel again after remaining uncomfortably numb for so long.
“The children always loved you. The wand maker’s boys still ask after you.”
“They were great boys.”
“They’ve turned into handsome young men. And talented. And the Baron wishes for you to tutor his eldest.”
Helga sighed with frustration. “You need to do something. You torture yourself by staying shut up in doors. What will you do when it is time for Helena to learn about magic?”
My brows furrowed together in thought, and I tuned out the rest of Helga’s chatter. I knew she was right, but couldn’t bring myself to admit it. The seed, however, had been planted, and an idea took root in the back of my mind, even if I refused to acknowledge it.
I gasped and shot up in my bed, feeling the sharp poke of straw on my bottom. The dream had seemed so real, as though I could reach out and touch it.
A large hog, covered in colored warts chased me from my bed and through a dark and forbidden forest. I ran for miles, passing a jewel colored lake, until I could run no longer. My legs gave way beneath me, and I crumpled to the ground. The hog came toward me, but instead of attacking, it sniffed me gently with its moist snout. He nudged my arm, urging me to uncover my face. I lifted my head, and saw wisdom and compassion in the animal’s eyes. He circled me, around and around and around, until I became giddy and dizzy with laughter.
I tried to stand and nearly fell over. We were no longer in the dark forest, but a grand castle, with faint echoes of laughter all around us. Bright lanterns hung on the walls, and grand portraits and tapestries covered the corridor. The two of us walked toward the sounds and down a staircase.
When I placed my foot on the last step, the stairs shifted beneath us, and rotated to a different corridor. The pig looked up at me, and I swore he smiled.
There was nowhere to go except through the grand door before us. My stomach churned and anxiety flamed in my chest. “Come along pig,” I said quietly, reaching for the handle.
The room was completely empty, save for an ornate floor-length mirror. My hands trembled, and I could feel my heart pounding. The pig stopped and sat on his haunches, refusing to go any further.
As I approached the mirror I saw my reflection, before time and torment had taken its toll. My image faded before me, replaced by a tall and handsome man, with thick black hair and piercing blue eyes.
“Hedyn,” I gasped, tears falling freely. “How can this be?”
“I live on through you and Helena, my love, even if you do not see it,” his husky voice remained unchanged, sounding like music to my ears.
“I cannot believe it is you. I miss you terribly,” I cried as I reached out and touched the smooth glass.
His fingers reached toward me, and for the briefest of moments I could feel the flush of his skin on my own. “As do I. But do not fear, we will be together again one day.”
I continued to cry, unable to control myself like a proper lady should.
“Row, you need to listen to me. We both know you were meant for far greater things than dwelling on the past. It is time to let go and embrace your destiny.”
“You’ll know. You have always known. Go now, and worry not for me. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I whispered, as the room swirled and faded from my vision.
Back in my bed, my cheeks were wet and my fingers still tingled where I felt his touch. I lifted them to my lips and kissed his memory away, knowing that I would always treasure him.
The sunlight peered into my window, illuminating the room with warmth and radiance. For the first time in years, I felt happy to be alive, and looked forward to what the future would bring.
Author's Notes:Written for Prompt Two, Event Three in the 2014 House Cup, about a character overcoming adversity and darkness.
I would've liked to elaborate on Rowena and Hedyn's relationship further, but the word limit would not permit it.
I'd also like to apologize for how prim and proper the writing is in the piece, but I sort of imagine that's how Rowena would think and speak, given the time period.
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