Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rosemary, Chapter 15

Letha was content to lean drowsily against Cederic in the warm room, her bare feet hanging a few inches above the floor, but Cederic was not quite at ease. There wasn't a part of him that didn't ache from flying all day before the storm, but more than that, he felt certain there was more to the story than Letha was telling him.

“What did you tell Alona that you hadn’t told the others?” he asked.

“I told her everything."

“What’s everything?” he asked, nervously.

She fiddled with her end of her braid.

“What?” he asked, concerned now. “What did you tell her?”

Letha opened her mouth, closed it again. “I don’t know if I can tell you.”

“You absolutely will! You told her, after all.”

“Don’t snap at me!” cried Letha, looking up at him. “It’s not easy to talk about it!”

She took a deep breath, her cheeks on fire, and then plunged in. “I have no idea why you married me and you won’t tell me! You simply came along and took me out of the woods! You won’t tell me anything! And I’m your wife, but I don’t even know why!”

“This again?” he cried, in disbelief. “How many times must I tell you to leave that subject alone?"

“Am I your wife or your child?” countered Letha, dauntless. “I already know that you didn’t love me when you married me. You can’t have married me just because of the rosemary. I can’t think why you did.”

“What does it matter?” he growled. “We’re well married now.”

“I should know my own story.”

A miserable look passed over Cederic's face. He shifted her weight and stretched his legs out. “Well, damn it, you’re right, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. It wasn't because of the rosemary, though that herb was of my own planting, I'll have you know.

"The King has wanted my service. He's wanted it for... a long time. He tried to buy me with money, power, land, but I can't be bought. So he had Bartholomew, the Magus, make a spell. Towards the end of that summer I felt the spell reach me, a spell for me to fall in love with and marry his loathsome daughter.

"They must have determined together that if I were under her thumb, I would be more easily under theirs. Besides, she'd been making a play for me for years now, and she's just as bad as he is, when she doesn't get her way.

“I began to feel that damned insidious spell everywhere I turned. It crept into my dreams at night, so I started to think how to throw it off me for good. A spell, even a powerful one, can often be undone simply by reality, by the truth of what it tries to mimic.”

“I thought if I found a girl, any girl, and married her, the spell wouldn’t have anything to grab onto. I had never had any intention of getting married before, but I thought if I found a quiet girl it wouldn’t be so bad. You were the first likely girl I’d seen. The most beautiful, by far. And when I heard your name, I knew it was fated; you would silence the spell, and you did.

Cederic shifted uncomfortably. "I told myself at first that it was a charitable thing I was doing, taking some poor peasant girl out of drudgery and giving her a comfortable life and that would be enough. Only... Damn it, I began to be fond of you, and then I didn't want you to think that I'd..."

He looked down at her, but her face was turned away, he saw only the curve of her cheek, the hair that fell down over her ear in loose tangles. He brought his hand up and tucked the strand back.

“Are you crying?” he asked.

“No,” she said, but she didn't look up. "You should have told me from the beginning. I know you don't love me.”

"You say that now?" Cederic cried, suddenly furious.

"Don't be angry," whispered Letha.

"You hurt my pride! Didn’t I give you everything you asked me for? Didn’t I dress you in fine clothing? Didn’t I give you a horse, teach you to read and to write? Didn’t I give you the keys to my life and all my work? Didn’t I sleep in your bed every single night? What more do you want from me, woman? You tore my tower down, but still you sit here in my arms; does that mean nothing to you?"

Letha's eyes were shining, despite his anger. She threw her arms around his neck and pressed her cheek to his. "So you do love me," she whispered.

The wind hit the house with such force that the windows cracked.

“Stay here,” ordered Cederic, standing and putting her aside. “Don’t go near the windows.”


He turned, his eyes blazing. “Stay here!”

Closing the door behind him, he ran down the hall and down the stairs. He walked swiftly out the front door and into the storm.

The air was full of debris, dirt, rain, leaves, branches all caught in the frenzied wind with a great roaring. Behind him, the house creaked, strained as the wind pressed up against it.

Cederic lifted a hand to his face to try and shelter himself from the pelting rocks and dirt. Peering through the thick rain, he saw the figure of a man, blurring in and out of the dark. It was a simulacrum of thickly whirling leaves, with bones of branches.

“You’re far from home,” said Cederic, and though Cederic could not hear his own words, the Magus heard them.

“And you are far from your usual self,” the Magus replied. “I hope you enjoyed my warm hospitality; it was such a pleasure to have you.” Cederic heard the words, they came inside his head quiet and mocking.

Behind Cederic, all of the windows in the house shattered, all at once and the filthy wind was sucked in, tearing off drapes, rugs, furniture, funneling up the stairs and shaking at the roof, trying to tear it from the joints.

“You’ll have to allow me to return the favor some time,” said Cederic grimly.

He brought his fingers to his mouth and blew a curiously fluted sound that was lost immediately to the storm, but the wind heard. The shape of the wind flickered by the side of the house. Where there had been nothing but darkness, there was now the pale outline of a massive horse, as tall as the roof, mane and tail streaming back into the night.

Cederic called again, and the wind turned to him. The fury of the storm eased a little.

“I saw your wife,” said the Magus. “A pity I didn't know who she was at the time; I thought she was one of the chambermaids."

Beside the first horse was now a second one and to Cederic's other side stood two others. They towered over him, the storm blowing through them. Cederic threw out his hand and the beasts plunged toward the simulacrum, heads tossing, screaming through the storm. Cederic was thrown onto his face by the passage of the wind. The false image of the Magus broke apart and spun up into the dark.

There was a long, high shriek and then a deafening silence. All the debris fell out of the air, a sudden rain of stones and winter bare branches, leaves and soil. One branch caught Cederic, who had thrown up his arms too late, it hit him half across the head, leaving him dazed.

The clouds were dissolving as rapidly as smoke in a windy day, leaving larger and larger patches of stars. The moon was revealed, low over the hills, huge and golden.

“Cederic!” called Peter.


He stood and put his hand to his face. It came away smeared with blood. Peter picked his way across the cluttered lawn, holding a lantern up in one hand.

“Ye gods,” he said.

“Peter, I’m damned sorry about your house. I’ll fix it in the morning."

“I couldn't hold him at the last, he broke though. Come inside, though most of the outside is also there, at present.”

They made a lurching progress into the house and surveyed the damage. Cederic went bounding up the stairs, in the grip of sudden fear. He flung open the door. The glass had exploded inward, leaving glittering shards of starlight all over the floor. The fire had gone out in the fireplace and the room smelled faintly of smoke and dirt.

“Letha!” he cried.

"Oh Cederic! I'm here." Letha appeared from the shadows of the corner as she stood in relief. She began to make her slow way across the room in her bare feet. Cederic met her, the glass crunching under his boots, and swung her up off the floor.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

“No. I was hiding behind the bed. The wind began to pull me up, but I held on and then everything dropped.”

She touched his face and he winced. "What happened?" she whispered.

"Oh, some damned stupid branch. I have to get this dirt off me, and then, by all the gods, I must sleep. Maybe the kitchen's in better shape."
Letha woke at dawn to the sound of rain. It was pattering on the roof and on the windowsills, running over them to drip on the wooden floor in lovely, dulcet tapping. There was the sound of water running off the roof and gurgling along the wooden gutters that lined it.
When she raised her head, she was shocked to see Cederic still lay beside her. He lay face down in the pillow, his near arm flung up over his face. His hand lay palm up, fingers curved loosely. There were bits of leaves still caught in his thick hair, and smudges of dirt down his arm. He was more thin than she had ever seen him, his backbone was sunk deep into the curve of his back, and she could see the faint line of his ribs.
She grew alarmed at how still he lay and put her ear to his back. She heard the muffled thud of his heart and was satisfied. She got out of bed, careful not to wake him.
Letha pulled on her smock and began, as silently as possible, to pick up glass. The night before they had been too exhausted to do any cleaning, but now she couldn’t stand leaving everything in such shambles. She had made quite a little pile of glass on a scrap of rug before Cederic woke.
He stirred and propped himself on his elbow. “What in the name of god are you doing?”
“Picking up.”
A warm and lazy tone crept into his voice. He stretched his hand out to her. “Leave that, and come here.”
“I shouldn’t just leave it like this,” said Letha, standing, nervous.
“Letha. You are absolutely not going to clean this room. Now, come here."
“But…” she stalled, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She looked toward the door. “But I should go help in the kitchen…”
“You’ll do no such thing,” said Cederic slowly, his hand falling. “What’s come over you? Why won’t you come to me?”
“Cederic, it’s hours past dawn,” she burst out, blushing.
“And…?” prompted Cederic.
“It wouldn’t be modest,” she whispered.
“Modest?” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“In the day. It wouldn’t be right.”
Cederic laughed.

“It’s not funny, Cederic,” protested Letha.
“I see that. Look, I promise we'll just talk. To start with. Just come here and sit.”

Letha inched closer and perched on the foot of the bed.

Cederic sat back against the headboard and crossed his arms. “You’re going to tell me a story."
“I am?”
“You are. You’re going to tell me the first story, of the garden of Eden.”
She blushed, knowing he had led her into a little trap. “Well…I don’t know it very well.”
“Then just tell me, what had God told them never to do?"
“Eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil,” replied Letha, pleased to know the answer.
“Anything else?”
“So their one requirement from God was not to eat a particular fruit. Nothing about times of the day.” His eyes sparkled.
“That doesn’t count, because that’s in the garden of Eden. That was only at the very beginning, when everything was perfect.”
“Oh, I see. Very well. Do you know what you said as part of your vows the night you married me?”
“It was in Latin, as you very well know,” she said, cross.
“So it was. Allow me to translate. You said to me, “With my body, I thee worship.”
“That's not never in those vows,” she gasped.
“They are, and you said that to me. I said the same to you. It cannot have failed to escape your notice, dear wife, just how well I’ve kept my side of the bargain. Furthermore, I feel the need to point out that it was not said, “With my body, I thee worship only at night, modestly.”
“Cederic…” She was miserable. “Are those words really in the vows?”
“They are.”
“Then it’s not a sin…what we do?” she whispered.
“Letha,” he said, shaken. “Of course it’s not. You’re my wife. How could it be? When we get home, remind me turn that priest into something that's actually useful. A sheep, maybe. Now enough of this nonsense. You come here right now.”
She came to him.