Sunday, February 3, 2013

Rosemary, Chapter 14

When Cederic finally did come, it was as a relief. He closed the door behind him and leaned back against it. Letha stood near the windows; they faced each other across the room. Cederic’s normally pale face was whipped red by the wind, his hair disheveled.
“You unlocked the door,” he said quietly.
“Yes." Her voice was so soft he hardly heard it. She put a hand flat on her stomach.
“Why?” he whispered, leaning forward slightly. “Why would you do that? Do you have any idea what that cost me?”
Her breath caught, but she forced herself to speak. “I think so, a little."
“A little?” he asked, anger building up in him. “You caught me out in the open, stripped me bare before my enemy. I was the puppet of the man I hate the most, helpless, dangling at the end of his string for weeks on end, because of you!”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Sorry!” he cried. “You’re sorry! Didn’t I tell you never to open the locked door? Didn’t I tell you that it was vitally important to me? My very life was bound up in those things!”
Tears were pouring down her face, but she made no move to brush them away. “Yes,” she said, “You told me.”
Cederic pushed himself from the door. He covered the distance between them in two strides and took her by the shoulders. His face was alive with anger.

“Why did you do it?” he demanded, his voice rising, his grey eyes narrowed and blazing with a fierce, cold energy.
“Cederic,” she cried, cowering away from him. “Cederic, I’m sorry. I wish to God I had never done it.”

He spun away from her and strode back and forth across the room, trying to get his anger under control. Letha waited, her arms wrapped tightly around herself.
Cederic put his hand on the bed post and leaned against it. All the fire had gone out of his face; he was drawn with exhaustion.
“I’m sorry, Letha. I shouldn't have frightened you like that. But I don’t understand." He looked at her almost helplessly. “I don’t understand what would make you open that door. Why would you go against me like that?”

Letha took half a step toward her, lifting her hands. “I didn’t know what it would do to you. I just wanted…I wanted to see you, to know more about you.” Her voice faltered as she spoke.
“What?” he whispered. “Letha…Why would you…? Did you think I was up there? You knew I was away from the house that day.”
“Yes, I knew, but… I thought maybe, I would understand you better, be closer to you.”
He stepped closer, searching her face. “Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know, Cederic! I was just hoping…”

Letha looked miserable, standing before the window seat with her shoulders bowed forward, trying to find an answer for him. The last of Cederic's anger drained away. He took her by the elbow and led her over to the chair by the fireplace.
“Sit down, you’re shaking,” he said, frowning.
There was a soft knock on the door.
“Come,” called Cederic, turning.
“Well, this is a fine kettle of fish you’ve brought with you and no doubt,” said Peter’s housekeeper, a stout woman with salt and pepper hair.
She carried a covered tray. She put it on the footstool and stood, brushing some hair out of her eyes. “Will you need anything else then?”
“No,” said Cederic. “Tell Peter I'll be down soon.”
When she had left, Cederic lifted the cover, revealing roast chicken legs and a loaf of brown bread, a small pot of butter and boiled carrots. He glanced at Letha.

"Are you hungry? he asked.
There were so many different sensations running though Letha that she did not hear the question at first. Now that the worst was over, Cederic's easy carriage, decisive movements and heavy, expensive clothing, all so familiar to her, put everything else out of her mind. Despite all this, it was hard for her to believe that he actually stood in front of her.
“Letha. Are you hungry?”
“I don't know,” she whispered.
He broke a piece off the loaf, smeared butter on it and handed it up to her. It was still hot to the touch.
Something hit the house, the great timbers that held its weight up shuddered with the blow.
Cederic lifted his head. “He’s coming.”
“The King’s Magus?” asked Letha softly.
He looked up at her in sudden amazement. “How do you know that? How did you even know I was in the castle?”
It was the first time Letha had ever seen amazement written so clearly on his face; it made him look much younger. Letha had a glimpse of what he must have looked like as a small, unquenchably curious boy. His expression changed as the wind came again.
“Wait,” he said, lifting a hand. “I'll walk the perimeter with our good host. Then we’ll talk.”
He closed the door after him. Another gust of wind rattled the house. Letha took a bite of bread, carefully chewed and swallowed, holding it with both hands, her eyes on the window.
She could see only her own reflection, a pale shadow of herself staring back. Just beyond it, she got the impression of a tangle of leaves. A face appeared in the leaves, right behind the glass, a white face. It recognized her.
Letha leaped out of the chair and ran to the other side of the fireplace. She was there, standing by the mantel, when Cederic returned.
“It will hold, for a little while longer; just enough time for you to tell me what happened.”

He came to her, lifted her in his arms and settled them on the chair. Undone by this unexpected intimacy, Letha wound her arms around his neck and held on tight. He smelled of wind and wood smoke.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Cederic," she whispered.

“Just tell me why you did it," he asked softly.
Letha sat up as straight as circumstances allowed, preparing to make a full confession. “Marta came to me, to clear the dishes. And she said, that you were so happy since I came, but perhaps I wasn’t doing all I could for you. She said maybe you gave me the keys so that I could use them, that it was kind of a test, a test in reverse.”
Cederic looked at her in disbelief and anger. “Why didn't you tell me this the first time I asked you the question? Didn't you think that might be relevant; that it might, in fact, be the answer?"

For a moment, Letha leaned away from him, intimidated. Then she put her head up and glared right back at him, breathlessly.
“That's not the real answer. It doesn’t matter what she said, because I turned the key. I knew better and I did it anyway."
That was the last response Cederic had expected from her. It took him a moment to adjust to it. “I see,” he said softly.
“Very well,” said Letha, composing herself again. “So I unlocked the door and I saw your… your relics.”
His eyebrows went up at this word, but he said nothing.
“Then the tower came down. I spent the night, hoping you would come back.”
“I couldn’t. I was trapped as soon as the tower came down.”
“I know. I knew that in the morning, so I went into the woods.”
“Into the woods?”
“Yes, into the woods. And I met Alona.”
“You met Alona? You got into Alona’s woods?” he asked, his eyes searching her face. “Do you know how long it took me to find my way in there?”
“No, I don’t know,” said Letha curtly. “Because you never told me anything about yourself or your life. I had no idea who you were.”
Cederic almost laughed from sheer amazement. “Well, I… Oh for god’s sake, woman, we’ll never get to the end at this rate. Go on. So you got into the Weaver’s Wood.”
“Yes, I was there and she took me in. Then she asked me what was the matter and I told her the whole story. And this is from her, by the way,” she added, and gave him a smack upside the head.

“What the hell!” cried Cederic, helplessly, his eyes wide.

 “That’s from her,” Letha said serenely. “After I told her my story, she said she would send me to Sol Invictus.”
“You did not,” said Cederic, his voice low and resonant, forgetting about the whack for the moment.
“I did. I rode with the swans to the house of Sol Invictus and I spoke to him. He was very nice.”
“Very nice,” repeated a stunned Cederic. “He was very nice. Do you know that you spoke with a god?”
“Yes, a merry god. He says, by the way, that next time he won’t lose.”
“Heaven help me,” said Cederic, faint.
“He hadn’t seen you, so he had me ride Delphinus across the sea to his sister, Selene.”
Cederic swallowed. “Just how many gods did you speak to up there?”
“Well, I don’t know if Delphinus is a god, but he spoke, so that would make…four.”
“Four,” said Cederic simply. “Four.” He heaved a great sigh, then looked up curiously. “What did Delphinus say to you?”
“He said if sweet Letha brought him a carrot, he would eat it.” Letha looked at Cederic’s face. “I think he was just flattering me,” she added.
“Oh,” he replied, when he could speak. “Naturally. Of course. And then?”
“Selene didn’t know where you were either, but Aeolus came, and he went to look for us, and it was he that found you in the king’s castle.”
“Ah,” said Cederic, taking a deep breath. “I see.”
“So, he carried me down and then he showed me how to open one of the nuts…”
“They gave you a gift?” He held her shoulders tightly.
“They did, they gave me nuts, well, not Delphinus...”
“God’s teeth,” breathed Cederic. “Tell me you have them still. Do you know what I could do with those things?”
“No,” said Letha, starting to get concerned. “No, for Aeolus told me to use them to bait the Princess. I cracked them all open, they had clothes in them…”
“Oh!” groaned Cederic, releasing her. He put his face in his hands. “Oh god.”
“What is wrong?” asked Letha, anxious. “Did I do wrong? It worked.”
"Do you know how long I’ve tried to get one, just one of those things, and you!” he cried, taking his hands from his face. “You cracked them for dresses!"
“For you!” she retorted, alarmed. “I cracked them for you!”
Cederic, with great effort, managed to pull himself together. “Right,” he breathed. “I’m sorry. Of course you did. Oh god...”
“Well,” she said, a bit uncertain still and watching his face closely, “I took the first thing to the Princess and she bought it from me. Then I took the second thing to her and she said I should stay in the castle.
“That must have been quite the garment."
“Oh, it was. They were all beautiful. With the last nut, I told her that in payment, I wanted to see you. She took me. You weren't yourself, but I held the rosemary close to you... I thought the Princess was going to tear my eyes out...”
“Odious woman.”
“Yes," Letha agreed. "That’s all of my story. But, how did we get here? I can't seem to remember that part."
“I carried you.”

She caught the amusement that was flickering in his eyes. “What?”
“I carried you as a mouse, which, frankly, is an animal form that no longer suits you at all.”
“I remember now,” she said in wonder. “I remember being a mouse.”
“Did you like it?” asked Cederic, watching her face.

She nodded and looked at him. Their eyes met; they each took the other’s measure.
“You’ve grown up,” said Cederic at last. The quiet admiration in his voice was tingled, just a bit, with regret.
“Maybe,” said Letha looking down and smoothing her skirt over her knees.
“You accomplished more in a few weeks than some mages manage in a whole life time.”
“Well, only because people were kind to me,” said Letha, practical. “Not at all because of anything I knew. Usually it was because I was your wife and I think they liked you.”
“I doubt it was quite that simple."
“They all sent you their greetings.”
“Did they? I didn’t know, you hadn’t hit me again."
She laughed, and at the sound of it, something loosened in her, something that had been bound up tight for days on end, ever since putting the key in the lock. She took a deep breath of the good air.