Possess Me Ch. 09bytitania123©
He struggled once more to open his eyes. "Brynna?" he questioned, looking for her. He saw a dark figure near his side. A muffled voice sounded in the dark.
"My lord, it is me, Eleanor."
"Brynna, where is Brynna?" he gasped, moving in an unorganized manner as if to sit up, to see.
"My lord, she is not here. She left, remember? She is gone," her voice cut through his haze.
The shredding of deep, tender places filled his chest with pain. He remembered it all.
Over the next days, Malik awaited the return of his health, realizing he had carried his will further than his body was able to go. She would not be found, not be safe, not be his if he died from his crazed and undisciplined pursuit. After two days he was able to sit and walk and by the end of a week was riding for a few hours at a time.
On the tenth day of his return, Malik was ready to ride out again. He understood the hardship on the keep to have Brom away from his hunting duties, and so decided to leave him behind. But he would take Saul and search once more. He strode out to the stables to find him.
Thom was carrying hay to one of the stalls and Brom was in the backroom stitching his riding saddle with leather thread. Saul was there, telling a humorous story as Brom worked. "Saul. Pack your things, we ride out at first light." His unceremoniously given instructions stopped everyone's actions and gained their full attention.
"To where, my lord?"
"We start with retracing our steps. I know we uncovered nothing at the large inn on the edge of the forest, but...it felt..." he couldn't disguise the silver hope that threaded through him and, so, stopped his speech. He had to find her, it was the only option. He had turned to walk back to the house, invigorated by the need to search.
"You mean to go back out? To look for her more?"
He stopped and slowly turned. "Yes."
"But, sir, we have searched thoroughly for her and found nothing beyond where she was pulled from the river. It has been five weeks now, my lord. It isn't possible to find her," Brom interjected.
"She is alive and she is out there, somewhere. It matters not how far I have to travel to bring her back, I will not stop until I have found her. And if you stand in my way, I-will-cut-you-down." His voice was hard and pinned the man with its power. He turned and stalked out, thundering all the way to his study.
In the morning a light snow trickled through the air, as Saul and his driving master thundered from the castle. Malik spoke little during their ride as he brooded quietly to himself. They quickly located the falls and started down the river, missing nothing, even in the deep snow.
The pace of the horses drawing the carriage never slowed, and in a few short hours, the driver pulled them to a stop. The driver bounded from his perch and opened the door only to instruct Brynna to wait there. He left without further explanation.
Brynna waited with growing interest. She heard gentle sounds of a sleepy village; the livestock of a local farmer, an old man coughing in the brisk air, soft, trilling laughter of a jolly woman. Brynna was drawn by the simplicity of these sounds, feeling longing to join the happy lives that moved day after day, little thought of the darker places of existence.
After what felt like a quarter of an hour, the man returned to help her out. She took an unsteady step out, stretching herself as she scanned her surroundings. Snow covered the ground for as far as her eyes could reach. They were stopped in front of a smallish inn on the edge of an even smaller village. Smoke from the few buildings collected above the shambly rooftops and hung quiet and unmoving in the cold air. She stood between the carriage she arrived in and an even larger, grander one.
Her driver introduced her to the second man standing with them. Brynna grew in slight alarm as he told her she was to now ride in the new man's carriage. He opened the door and she was ushered up and in. "Food for you there, miss," the new driver announced before closing the small door, shutting her up in the unfamiliar insides. She heard no words exchanged, but felt the slight sway of the wheeled box as he climbed into his seat. The four horses drawing her new transportation rushed off, pulling her to her next unknown destination.
Just as the man said, a large basket sat opposite her and was filled with food for her long journey, but she had no hunger or desire to eat. Though she felt tension through her limbs at the fear from an unknown future, she consoled herself with the knowledge this was all Josephine's arrangement, that she had thus far been safe and as evidenced by the food, was well cared for. She bit her lip as she looked out the glass-paned window.
Her eyes finally wandered over the many fine, luxurious details of the carriage. It could easily seat three across on either side, was cushioned in rich fabric, had finely etched wood paneling, and the glass that allowed the curtain to be drawn back, allowing in much-needed light. In viewing the opulence around her, Brynna grew in certainty that its owner must match Blackwood in wealth. Perhaps if he was also his equal in power, she could be safe, if only he would champion her cause and become her protector. Josephine had faith, perhaps she could allow herself just a little of its golden warmth. Perhaps.
Exhaustion born of immobility crept upon her, coupled with the stress of her earlier crying, her head was beginning to pound so she lay down, resting her eyes, easing the driving pain in her head. She wanted to see his face as she lay there, to hear his rich voice and feel his strong hands stroke soothingly down her back. She could feel the beat of his name with her thudding heart. If only he hadn't. If only...
Brynna awoke when the jostling carriage pulled to a stop. Her eyes drifted open, taking in the dimmed interior. They focused on the weave of the untouched basket across from her. Her consciousness emerged, reminding her she had been traveling, that she was alone and headed for destinations unknown. She slowly pushed herself to sitting and looked out the window. She blinked once, then twice, as her eyes took in the glories around her.
The coachman opened the opposite door. Stepping down, she saw cobbled stones beneath her feet. She could hear the dulled clattering of horses' hooves and lively talking all around, the sounds filling the falling dusk. She stood staring, with mouth agape, breathless at the marvelous, unimaginable beauty of the city. She turned slowly, taking in the long street they were stopped at the end of. People on horses rode by conversing, several carriages filled the snow-covered, cobbled lanes, various couples stood smiling and walking in and out of what appeared to be shops.
It took the stunned girl a moment to see a severe looking man had descended the white, stone steps she stood at the bottom of, waiting for her to turn and acknowledge him. The driver of the carriage had disappeared with the team, leaving her alone with the new stranger. When she heard someone clear his throat, Brynna turned in surprise. She felt immediate embarrassment and then fear, still quit ignorant of where she was and who she was to meet.
"This way, miss," his gravelly voice bade. He turned without her acknowledgment, but she followed obediently all the same, still too shocked and uncertain to stay by herself for long. They ascended to a large set of doors that were ornately carved from a dark wood. The pair opened as he approached and warmth spilled out to greet her, pulling her invitingly in.
A woman dressed in a plain brown shift with a gray overdress shut the doors behind them. Brynna felt the small rising of her nerves, trilling up and up in soft excitement. The building they had entered was clearly a grand home, replete with smooth-stone walls and floors. Throughout the great entrance was a series of tall, white stone pillars. Expensive tapestries, silver and carvings hung on the walls. Where her former home had been powerful and full of ages of history, this one was sleek and opulent, exuding the storied sophistication of the cities.
The sharp heels of the austere man clicked and echoed on the floor as they traveled briskly through the hall and entered a large, richly decorated room that stood open to their left. He ushered her silently in and turned facing her, his outstretched hand indicating she was to sit on the delicate settee. Brynna stared at him mutely, not immediately understanding. When she did, she smiled sheepishly and sat. She looked back at him to listen for instructions, but he had already turned and begun walking sharply out.
Brynna slowly looked around, taking in all she could, mesmerized by riches and style she never could have dreamed existed. She then noticed her own state, her simple dress, wrinkled from sleep and covered in snow. She quickly began dusting herself and then ran her fingers through her hair. The door to the room opened, her fingers pausing in their duty. A round woman, well advanced in years, entered swiftly, appearing to Brynna to glide rather than walk. Her graying hair was pulled severely back and covered in a small hat with delicate lace lying over top.
Brynna rose, uncertain who the lady was and what she was supposed to do. The corpulent woman came to stand directly in front of Brynna and coldly surveyed her, starting at the dirty hem of her skirt and stopped at the mess of hair on top of her head. Finally, her clear blue eyes dropped to Brynna's slightly worried ones.
A quiet, tense moment passed before the woman's face softened into a smile, though her eyes continued to hold an incisive gleam. "So, you are the mystery girl my young niece pulled from the river? How very charming."
"Yes, ma'am," Brynna replied, subdued by the shock of the turn of events.
"My name is Vella DeWal, and you are Brynna, no?"
"That is correct, ma'am."
"I must admit, my niece's letter was very intriguing. She is quite convinced that you are in grave danger. Come, why do you not tell me what led to your...misfortune." She touched Brynna on the shoulder gently to guide her to sit back upon the settee. She sat opposite her, tall and stately, with all the grace the world could afford.
Brynna looked at her as though she was possibly trapped, her lower lip between her teeth, her worried eyes darting from the grand lady to the darkening window behind her. Vella sat patiently, a commanding smile waiting on her face. After a time, the woman spoke. "My child, you are here at my niece's mercy and my sufferance. All we wish is to help you. However, I am afraid I cannot do so if I do not know the whole of you history."
She had kept hidden the depth of the wound she carried, the place of its violation into her body, the blood that poured from it. But she felt no better for it. She held no hope, she believed in no restitution of peace, pride, or happiness. His assault had left her stunned, and she knew she could not hold the pain silently any longer.
Brynna looked down at her folded hands, her breathing slowing and deepening, a gray feeling of inevitability washing over her. Her words came out measured in her low, husky voice, pulled and painful. "My father, he became indebted to a man, a cruel man. He..." her teeth seized her quivering lip. "To free my father of his great debt, the man gave me a choice; live as his slave to command and rule over or see my father die by his sword. I had no choice, really; I would have done anything to save my father, but then again, he knew that. Eventually, he...pressed his advantage over me, forcing me to give in to his desires, which, as turned out, became my own." Her face began to flame as she thought of her wanton, impure behavior. She wrestled with herself, not knowing how to say all that had transpired, to hear the sounds of those words that meant those things, but failed completely to encompass all that it was.
"I thought myself in love," she said simply. "But I was a fool to believe that man could love anything. He didn't love me. He only wanted to break me, to crush me beneath the heel of his boot. You see, it had all been some evil scheme. From the very beginning, he tricked my father in to taking his money, lending him more and more until he was so far in debt he could never repay the sum. It had been his plan all along, that I should belong to him, that he should be dominating lord over me, though I know not why.
"When I discovered what he had done, I stood against him, denying him his right over me. He became enraged and..." here she stopped, a clenching of her heart, a sealing of her throat, a blurring of her vision converging to make the telling difficult. "I thought that was the worst of it, but when he brought back the women, I stopped, all of me stopped. My head stopped thinking, my lungs stopped breathing, my heart stopped beating," she whispered. "Somehow, I really do not remember, I found myself cold beyond death, walking though unfamiliar woods. I had left, escaped, and I realized I was free, if only from the gates of his keep. I knew I could not return, so continued with only the purpose to walk him out of my life. The river slowed me down. I suppose I was still not thinking clearly because I tried to traverse it. He found me then, and so I let myself go and fell over the falls. Lady Josephine found me, saved me."
Her narration stopped as weight of her enormous loss pressed down upon her. "How could I have been so stupid? So naïve as to believe...I wanted to believe there was a reason, there was a purpose to his behavior." Fat, hot salt water dropped on her clasping hands. She wrung them, pulling tighter and tighter in stilted, frantic agony. "Why?" she questioned in breaking voice. "Why did he choose me, go to such enormous expense? What did he hope to gain? Why did he hate me so? Why?" she looked into the tender face of the older lady before burying hers into her hands. She sobbed violently, her shoulders quaking desperately. When she felt another settle beside her, a warm hand at her back, rubbing to her shoulders, she turned into the comfort offered.
Vella held the tormented girl, somewhat discomforted by her own emotional response to her. Though she was not an unkind or unfeeling lady, she had lived a long life with very little attachment to others. Her husband had passed away when she was only thirty-five, had no children and kept her social engagements to serve primarily as a means to remain in power. She was unaccustomed to the pain of others, and even more so to joining in sympathetically.
She patted Brynna on the back when her cries lessened. Eventually Brynna pulled away and sat mutely, completely drained, and patted her cheeks dry. Vella quietly regarded her, her narrow eyes indicating the quickly churning of her thoughts. She breathed in deeply and sat a little straighter. "Brynna, I want you to listen to me, and listen well. What you have been through, all the pain and humiliation you have suffered, I know must be overwhelming, as though the entirety of the world has been torn from your chest." She paused to gather her thoughts.
"That is what it is to risk love. Love only holds worth because it is ourselves we sell for it. Surely, if the having causes great happiness, then the loss of it will bring about devastation. The inherent nature of valuing something enough to love means it will hurt to lose. But that pain is not enough to stop us, even though we pray that it might. There is life in you still, and it pushes you forward to survive. You cannot stop even though the pain may feel like it is the end, for it is not. You must stand up and dust yourself clean and decide to walk forward. You are alive, and you must live."
She stroked her cheek reassuringly, wiping the few new tears that had sprung and fell. "Now," she said authoritatively, "I have written to Josephine that I would take you in as my ward. You will no longer serve as maid, but as an adoptive daughter of sorts. As I had no children of my own, I have very few lives to rightfully meddle in, and you are an orphan in great need. If you wish, you may stay here, and I will protect so long as you wish to remain. What say you?"
Brynna was overwhelmed by the incredible offer of placement. Even under her previous master she had been a servant, required to work for her keep. She could only smile in relief that Josephine had been so right in the choosing of her new home. "Yes, thank you, ma'am," she whispered, more fresh tears filling her eyes.
"Very well. Oh, but one thing, my child. This man, he must have been quite powerful and rich, enough to ensnare your father into great debt. Tell me, who is he? If I am to protect you, it is best I know who from."
Brynna's eyes fell to her lap. She stated it as fact, and nothing more. "Blackwood. His name is Malik Blackwood." She lifted her eyes, a wall entombing great pain the only thing visible.
Vella sat with a mute face that Brynna registered as shock, but it was quickly gone as the heavy lady abruptly stood and reached over for a silver bell on a small table and rang it loudly. A door opened and a woman stepped in. "Please see that Brynna has a bath and is then taken to bed."
"Yes, ma'am," the woman replied.
Vella helped Brynna to her feet and wished her a good night's sleep. Brynna followed the young maid to the bathing room near the kitchens. She helped her disrobe and step into the hot water. Baths had always been a sacred time for Brynna, the water transforming into warm arms, holding her safe and centered, inspiring her understanding and ideas. But in the new metal tub, bathed with unfamiliar soap, so far away from her home, the bath was nothing more than water, removing nothing but dirt, giving nothing more than a fresh scent.
Once clean, the girl attending her brought in a cream-colored shift to sleep in. It was made from yards of soft, pleating fabric and graced her ankles as she walked. She was brought to a chamber where a fire had been lit. The bed was delicate and ornate, but not the powerful monstrosity her bed had been. The maid pulled back the deep coverlets and then pulled them around her when she settled beneath them. So much had transpired to move her so far away from him, from those she knew, from her home she had made. Fleeting smells and visions of her green room passed through her mind. Images of the feel of the wooden benches beneath them as they moved together, counterpoint for the other's pleasure. The emptiness of the stolen pleasure the last things she felt before she succumbed to sleep.
In the morning, a maid awoke her. The woman introduced herself as Margaret. She helped Brynna dress in a simple, but richly made shift with a thick overdress. The soft creams and greens of the gown reminded her of a spring still far off. Her hair was plaited and pinned intricately atop her head. She was then escorted to a dining room and seat near the end of a table. Two places held a dish of a steaming creamed soup, and breads and meats sat around them.
Brynna sat and waited only a moment before the doors opened again and Vella entered, gliding in her most charming fashion. The chair was pulled for her and she sat down, allowing the butler to fuss over her. When she was ready to eat, she turned to Brynna who sat to her right and smiled.
"Good morning, child. How fare you today?"
"You slept well, I trust?"
"Yes, thank you."
Vella smiled and continued eating. When she noticed Brynna did little more than push her food about, she sat her own spoon down and cleared her throat. "Brynna, do you recall what we discussed last night? That you must force yourself to live, even though you do not feel as though you can?" Her bold eyebrow arched in meaningful question.
Brynna contemplated the purpose of living. She had been wounded to the point she thought she would die. But she did not, as Vella had pointed out. She had even run, escaped for freedom's sake. What would be the product of it all if she behaved as Vella accused, as though she were flesh wandering the earth, waiting for death. Her first action had been to run for life, and she knew she could not stop running until she found it.