Break the Gilded Cage Ch. 01byElenia26©
Julian knocked on the door of his friend's study. He had arrived only two hours before in the city, and had done some shopping before he came here. Samuel, his friend's butler, had greeted him, taken his things, and set him up in a guest room. And now he was finally at his friend's study door.
The door opened, and there stood his old friend James Roenall. "Julian! I didn't expect you here so quickly! Welcome, my old friend. Please, come in, have a seat."
"It's good to see you, James. Thank you for the invite. I'm glad you sent it, I was passing through anyway." James ushered him in and over to the couch.
"Would you like a glass of wine, my boy?"
Julian considered, then nodded. " A glass of that Satin Midnight, if you have it."
Julian sat back on the couch and wondered why his old friend had called him here. Important business, he had said. But now that Julian was finally here in James' study he seemed to be hesitant.
He examined his friend. It was amazing sometimes when you thought about it. Here was James, whose hair had gone salt and pepper. His beard even had streaks of gray in it. His back was no longer as straight as it used to be. And here was Julian, tall and blond and green-eyed as ever, all due to one rejuvenation potion, which had literally taken years off Julian. The difference in them had gotten so extreme that James had taken to calling Julian "my boy" even though they were close to the same age.
James interrupted his thoughts. "You are probably wondering why I've brought you here."
Julian grinned. "Actually, the thought had crossed my mind. I just thought you wanted to sit and have a drink."
James chuckled. "No, not at all, my friend. I have called you here today to impose upon our long friendship. I need you to do me a favor. Are you willing to hear me out?"
Julian sat up. "Well, for you, there's not a lot I wouldn't do. Please, continue."
James sat on the couch as well. "Very well. Thank you. I need to fill you in on some background information, first. This story I am about to tell you is about my beloved only sister. When we were young we thought differently about the world, you know? The boys ruled our little world, and girls did what they were told. I recall you were rather enamored with her, were you not?"
Julian half-smiled. "Ah, yes. She was beautiful. You haven't mentioned her in years. I stopped asking."
"I never talked about her much, and you'll see why. It is a long and painful story. There were five of us boys. My sister was the youngest. I think you know our mother had died young. Our sister cleaned up after us, cooked us dinner, made peace amongst us when our father was working. She was the best sister a boy could have had. Unfortunately we didn't realize it at the time.
"When she was eighteen, an offer of marriage came for her. My mother had an arranged marriage, and she had been happy, so of course we thought it would be the best thing for her. It was no surprise, as my sister had a sweet face and a fair turn about her. The boys were already responding, and my father thought it prudent to marry her off. We didn't ask her wishes, simply agreed to the marriage and told her the news. She reacted with calm equanimity.
"Her suitor was a high-born caliph. My father had visited his court and if he thought about it at all he probably thought his one and only daughter would be pleased with such a highborn prince as her husband.
"The wedding took place with all due pomp and circumstance. A few months went by, and then my father wished me to visit his daughter in her new home.
"I was welcomed and made an honored guest. For two days, however, I was not allowed to see my sister. Finally I grew insistent and they complied.
"When they brought her to me I had no way of recognizing her, for she was in full veils. She spoke to me, and it was the same voice I recognized. I reached out to lift her veil – and Julian, my own sister flinched at my touch. I, who had never in my life hurt her.
"I spoke to her softly, and reminded her that it was James here. I was finally able to lift the veil and the sight stunned me. My beautiful sister had both of her eyes blackened. Her lip was puffy and bleeding. There were other bruises on her face, too, older and somewhat fading. But the worst was the animal fear in her eyes. The soft, trusting look was gone and now there was nothing but a liquid wariness."
Here James had to pause, pulling out a handkerchief and mopping his eyes with it. "I'm sorry old chap. The thought of her face still disturbs me to this day."
He breathed deeply, then continued.
"With much cajoling and affection I managed to get some information out of her. Yes, her husband beat her. She tried to comfort me – can you imagine that, her comforting me - telling me it wasn't that often, that I had just come at a bad time. He only took her to his bed about once a month, she said – he had three other wives and several concubines.
"We had not been totally innocent. We had known of the concubines but had not been informed of the other wives. We had assumed he would settle down once he was married. I ranted and raved. I swore vengeance. She let me and did nothing, save watch me with huge sorrowful eyes and made sure I didn't leave the room.
"When I finally calmed a little, I asked her what she wanted me to do. Her answer stunned me.
"She asked me to do nothing. To leave her husband alone, brute though he might be. For if I were to do the things I asked I would certainly be killed. I argued with her, of course, and it went back and forth until she confessed something. She was pregnant, and she didn't want her child to be born a bastard."
James swallowed his wine. "I was convinced by her and did nothing. I hugged her, and kissed her, and after a few days finally went home. You must understand, in those days what a man did with his wife was his business. Who was I to interfere? How I wish I had.
"From then on, whenever any of us tried to meet with her, we were gently turned away. But shortly after that, I began receiving letters, written in her own handwriting, saying she was well and the pregnancy was progressing. She said her husband beat all of his wives for the first couple of months, but he had stopped now. I allowed her letters to lull me into security.
"Six months letter we received a letter saying our sister had miscarried and died. We were allowed to attend her funeral. My heart broke as I lowered my sweet sister into the ground, Julian. Where was that sweet happy girl that had lived in our house only one year ago? And I knew we had been most negligent in our responsibilities.
"That was sixteen years ago.
"Care for another drink before I continue my story, Julian?" Julian shook his head with a start. He had been so involved in the story he hadn't realized how much time had gone by. His glass was indeed empty, and there was silence while James refilled it. The two men sat for a moment.
"Didn't you wonder what had happened?" Julian asked.
"Of course we did. But what could we do? She was in a different kingdom, one where the laws were different, the rules were different, the very air she breathed was different. But she is not the true focus of my story.
"It has come to my attention through an old friend that the child we thought was lost was not lost, rather hidden from us. The child is now eighteen and she is female. She is due to be wed to a man much like the caliph, cruel, much older than her."
Julian was startled to see tears in the other man's eyes. "I failed my sister, Julian. I can't fail her daughter as well. And now we come to the favor. I am persona non grata in my brother-in-law's court. My hands are completely tied. Will you go and try to free my niece from her fate?"
Julian started. "You want me to...how am I supposed to do that?'
"I know it sounds difficult, my old friend. But I have reason to think you may have a chance.
"Your family is an old one, and well-known. If you entreat him to not do such a thing, he may listen to you. Also, you are known in the outside world. He will fear your influence. He is trading heavily with outside cities now, and needs respect and a good reputation.
"Please, my friend. The girl is innocent and I cannot let the same thing happen to my dear niece. I ask you only to try. You will not be completely alone. The man who told me she is alive is her tutor, and sympathizes with us. He will help however he can."
Julian sighed. He had always been a sucker for sob stories. What his friend said about his reputation was also true, although he tried not to capitalize on it too much. He hesitated a moment longer, saw the genuine anguish in his friend's eyes, and nodded. "Very well. For you, my old friend, I will go and do the best I can."
"Thank you, Julian. I must admit that it is partly to assuage an old man's guilt as well as help this poor innocent girl. Perhaps I can reconcile with my niece."