Possess Me Ch. 09

bytitania123©

She smiled, though a little reluctantly, and nodded her head. She took a spoonful of her soup and swallowed the cooling liquid down with the raging contents of her heart that seemed to say there was no living outside of his arms.

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Malik was somewhat distracted as the pair entered the village. Malik sent Saul to question the locals while he made his way to the inn. The first time they had arrived, Malik had been drawn to it. Though their search had uncovered nothing, he knew she had been there, and knew someone had to have seen her.

He handed his horse off to the stableman and entered the bar front. It was early evening and only a few sat around the room. "Good evening, my lord, what can I get you?"

"A pint." Malik sat down and looked around, spying who was there. A tossed a coin when the drink was served clinked on the wooden bar. Malik picked up the brown stein and took a slow sip. Wiping the froth from the corner of his mouth, he slowly turned, trying to decide where to excavate the buried trail.

Then his eyes lighted upon a bedraggled and grimy figure that looked as though he never moved from his dim little corner. The man was watching Blackwood over his mug angled to his mouth, a wiry, magical glint in his eyes. Malik nodded and, when the man returned the silent greeting, Malik stood and walked over to him. He greeted him before sitting.

"You look like you've traveled far, sir," the man slurred, finishing the contents of his mug.

"I have. I've come in search of someone who frequents this bar. Would you be such a person?"

"Oh, well now, I frequent it whenever I need a touch of the...reinforcement," he said lifting up his now empty stein.

"And it looks as though you need another." Malik made a motion for the barkeep. "You must have seen many things from your seat here over the years."

"Perhaps," he said as he hungrily waited for the barkeep to bring him another drink.

"And did you see anything about a month ago? A young woman perhaps? Reports of falling into a river?"

"No one like that's been round here," he said before he took a drowning gulp of his ale. "Then again, maybe I see'd something. Maybe I see'd a woman carried in with a well-bred lass and big man. Maybe I see'd you come with those two men and search up the stairs. Maybe I see'd the woman what was unconscious afore come down in great haste, as if to escape something."

During the haggard man's speech, Malik's body had grown increasingly tense, tightening in desperate hope. "And this woman," his voice ground out, "you saw where she went?"

"Maybe I did," he said, scratching his beard as if to remember.

Malik knew what the man required to stir his memory and was not the least reluctant to give it. He had already paid thousands for her, what were a few more coins from is purse? He reached for it and drew out two, the chinkering drawing his fast snatching fingers to lift the cold weight into his palm.

"Now, tell me what you know."

"She were a part of Goodchime's new little wife's party. It were his carriage the girl rode away in."

"Goodchime?" he whispered quietly to himself. "Stilwell Goodchime?"

The man was half way through his goblet. "That be the same," he said returning to his drink, his fingers happily toying with the coins.

Malik stood abruptly and walked a few steps before stopping and turning around. He looked at the ground as he spoke before heatedly eyeing the man. "The woman, she was...alright? Injured, I mean. Was she hurt?"

The drunk was quiet a moment, studying the powerful stranger. "Hmm, she ran like she weren't no good. Cried, too, I remember, ran to that man who helped her out to leave. Aye, I'd say she were hurt fierce like." The expression Malik wore revealed nothing. He gave only a curt nod and then left. <><><><><><><><><><><>

The days passed slowly by, and Vella quickly learned all she could about her new charge. When Vella discovered Brynna could not read, she gave her one of her perceptive looks and sat immediately at her desk to pen a letter. A response arrived that evening, declaring the tutor agreed to the offer and would arrive in the morning. Brynna was thankful to find something challenging to engage her mind in. As she was no longer a servant, but a pretty figure to sit idly upon cushions and smile, tension at the thought of doing nothing had entered her. But her mind found the lessons enthralling, even if his eyes flashed through her too many times in a day to count.

Over dinner one evening, Vella questioned Brynna further about her previous life. When Brynna mentioned she had been granted her wish to take care of their green room, Vella smiled and promised that she would introduce her to Karl who took care of their plants. Amongst the cobblestones at the back of the large home was a small plot of land that Karl raised their vegetables in. Not much property existed beyond the size of the home, but what there was, Karl used to the best of its function. It was decided that Brynna could help.

After two weeks of slowly regained strength and thought, Brynna began to emerge from the charred, withdrawn shell that the outer world saw. She was able to follow conversations, and remember things she was told. She began to smile without prompting, and very little of her pleasant demeanor was forced.

It was evening before the fire as Vella did her needle work while Brynna picked through the words in a book her tutor had given her. Vella spoke into their content silence. "Brynna, as my young ward, I have decided that you shall join me out into society."

Brynna's brows grew knitted together. "Society? Where are we to go?"

Vella smiled at her rather simple understanding of the word. "I mean to say that you shall become a lady of society. Whenever I attend a social engagement, you will accompany me. I know it must be something of a shock for you, but truly, the only way to be free of your past is to develop into something new. And with that said, I want you to retire to bed, for the rest of the week will require all of your energy, beginning in the morning; I have the dressmaker coming for you and then you will have dancing lessons in the afternoon. Now, to bed with you."

Brynna was too stunned to argue, her mind barely registering all the many things that she should be afraid of. She could only numbly nod and stand with a delicate curtsy. Once in her room, she sat before the mirror of her dressing table, slowly unpinning her hair.

Move forward. Become something new. She brushed the thick locks out before dropping the brush to stare in forlorn silence at herself. She saw it flicker there in her eyes, saw that small hidden part of herself that she had refused to acknowledge. It was the part of her that did not want to move forward, that did not want a new home, or new friends. It was the aching part of her looking back at the burning destruction, all the while believing she could put it out and repair the damage. It was the part of her that hoped he would not allow her to leave, hope that he would find her. The part that longed to see him, to smell him, to reach out and touch him with her hands, her lips.

It was the part of her that would never die.

But allowing that part of her to live was the very thing that killed her daily. It had to be buried, to be excised and buried far from her. She knew that she would be living a half-life. She would convince herself she did not want to reach for him in her bed, that she looked forward to the hours of her day, instead of dreading each passing minute. That life could be good, even if it was not complete. That her body would go on walking and breathing, though her soul would wither into the clear.

Brynna picked up the sharp, jeweled-handled dagger that sat as pretty decoration on the table. The cleanness of the blade gleaming powerfully in the candlelight. She held it up, inspecting it slowly, turning it to witness all the razor edges, noting the delicate glint from the blue gems. If she could not do this thing, cut from her that which dragged her down, then rending her flesh would be the only solution. If I do not act as though I want to live, then why go on breathing? Why stay on this plane, bound in misery? If I cannot place him behind me...I cannot live forward. She watched it more, gliding a finger up the cold metal of the blade. Once it cuts and wounds, can it heal?

Her pain-heavy mind knew. I do not wish to die. She breathed in and sat the knife down. Tomorrow would be the rest of her life.

Brynna was in no way prepared for the great barrage of excitement that accompanies a young woman entering society. She was needed for measurements and to choose designs and fabrics and to stand perfectly still as garments were cut and sewn all around her. She had to learn several dances, which were more subdued than the ones from her village and required great attention to form and decorum. Her writing and reading lessons continued unabated, though they seemed to provide her with small windows of escape in which she could find peace from the excitement.

As her new home was in the capitol city, Vella told her there were both obligations and invitations to not only attend court and all its many banquets, but balls and parties as well. As the first engagement approached, Brynna grew more nervous with each passing hour.

Her dress was decided upon. It was a fine silk under dress with wide sleeves. Though it was winter, the neck line was wide, falling just past the curve of her shoulders. Though the dressmaker and Vella had both agreed that the deep blue was the loveliest on her, Brynna had adamantly refused the color, her infrequently used stubbornness winning out. In the end, they decided upon an black overdress that was topped by an intricate silver and black brocade overdress, which tightly wrapped her chest and flowed down the front and back, but left the sides open to revel the black underneath.

The night of the banquet arrived and Brynna sat in front of her mirror, breathing deeply, attempting to squelch her rising fear. Margaret finished pinning the last strand of hair just as Vella entered her room. "Brynna, my dear, you look absolutely breathtaking. Though I still contend the blue would have been perfect on you." She patted her affectionately on the shoulders and then left Brynna to her thoughts flickering with the candlelight.

They arrived at the large home of the hosts for the party. It was much like Vella's, large, made of smooth white stone. The front was lined with large, tall pillars that held the front edifice , which loomed in imposing stature. Music spilled out onto the candle-lit stairs. Brynna stood against the carriage, barely noticing as Vella ascended before her. Her heart thudded wildly; how had she ever agreed to this? Though she walked shrouded in a thick, billowing cloak that hid her form from the world, she felt exposed, unsafe.

Once inside and their robes shed, they entered the grand hall that was quickly filling with finely dressed people. Musicians were playing their various stringed instruments and servants were setting food on a large table. Brynna felt her insides tightening at the swirling activity. She straightened her back and walked stiffly behind Vella.

Throughout the night, the blur of faces rotated in and out of the small circle she stood in. She waited as pleasantly as she could, greeting the men and woman as she had been instructed. Several of the young men smiled broadly and held her hand longer than the others. Many stayed to talk and even asked for a dance.

With Vella's firm encouragement, Brynna accepted four offers. The first was with a short, older man who laughed whenever he spoke, giving off a high-pitched trilling giggle. The sound of his voice set Brynna on edge, but she forced a smile until the music finished. The second offer came from a burly man with a ruddy beard. He was quite handsome, but less refined than many of the other men. He spoke little, which put Brynna at ease.

The third man was tall and well-muscled. His dark blonde hair hung just below his ears and moved enticingly as they danced about. His light blue eyes sparkled when he smiled at her. He asked many questions about her, some she was more reluctant to answer than others. He laughed only when appropriate and made comments Brynna knew she was to laugh at in return. She gave a throaty chuckle once, to which he responded with an increasingly charming smile. He was young like her, perhaps only a year or two older and sweetly handsome. He escorted her back to Vella and engaged the two in conversation until the fourth man arrived.

He too was handsome, though older, and was every bit gentleman as he met with her over and over on the dancing floor. When the evening was over, the four men had requested to visit Brynna over the coming week. Vella agreed and all decided upon different times. Brynna then realized that all these men were potential suitors and something sickly turned in her stomach.

In the darkness during the ride home, Brynna watched the lit candles in the houses as they passed, heard the muffled clomp of the horse's hooves in the snow, smelled the smoke of the many quiet, sleeping houses. The architecture in the capitol was far more grand than she could have imagined. Most buildings were three stories tall, with white walls and dark brown support beams framing the many joints of the houses. Some form eckses with empty flower boxes in the windows. A few buildings were of visible stone, and most had windows cut through the roofs.

"Well, my dear girl, I would say tonight was a huge success. Not only were you beautiful and well-mannered, you were the new item, drawing many eyes. I had not imagined that I would need to turn away so many men. Tell me what you thought of the four I chose? They are all wealthy land owners. Two are even titled, well will be titled once his father dies. They have the highest reputations, are known for their kindness and are generally considered to be from some of the strongest families around."

Brynna sat, quiet and uncertain. "Do you mean, that I should marry one of them?"

"If they should so choose to offer you a hand, yes, that would be ideal, would it not?" Her calculating eyes hidden in the dark.

"Ma'am, I-" she was afraid to begin, to say what she felt. She was afraid that Vella would view her as ungrateful or disobedient. Disobedient. Her heart beat forcefully, her breathing increasing.Was she to begin a new life, or not? Would she trade one domineering master for another? Who would she accept as a husband? And she knew she wanted no other.

Clenching her fists, she fought on, knowing she could not be persuaded to live otherwise. "Ma'am, I thank you for all you have done for me. However, I do not believe I am ready to marry-"

"Ready, dear girl? You are twenty-one, are you not? That is beyond ready."

"My age is not what I refer to. But rather my heart. I cannot trust another, not now."

"You trust me, do you not?"

"I have learned to do so, yes."

"Then it is settled. I know what is good for you, and I will help you through. Believe you me, a husband to care for you is exactly what you need, and I mean to find you the perfect one. Now, if you do as I say, eventually, your heart will mend." Her voice softened at the promise. Brynna bit her lip and closed her eyes at the passing lights. She sighed, hoping that her trust was not misplaced. Nothing further about Vella's plan was discussed, and Brynna braced herself for the blow to come.

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Blackwood was greeted formally and shown to Goodchime's study. He waited only five minutes before the young lord entered. "Blackwood, to what do I owe this honor?" he asked as he came in, indicating to the guest to have a seat.

"I will be brief, Goodchime, I am here because someone special in my employ was lost in the river. I have good reason to believe she was rescued by your benevolent bride and brought here."

Stilwell watched the cold expression of a man who was only of a few years more than himself, and yet seemed infinitely older. If he had known the battered woman his Josephine had rescued from the freezing river and begged to shelter had in any way been associated with Lord Malik Blackwood, he would have resolutely denied her and sent the woman back to him without delay. As it was, the girl had disappeared and Josephine refused to disclose where.

"I am sorry to disappoint you, Blackwood, but the woman left here after she recovered, and I know not where she went." Malik made no movement, but the energy radiating off him became almost palpable.

"Might I speak with your wife?"

Stilwell sat straighter, stealing himself against the power. "I am afraid that is not possible. Any questions you have for my wife, you may ask me."

"And yet, I have a feeling that you do not know everything your wife does. For my purposes, it is best I speak with her. Immediately."

The two men sat staring defiantly at the other, neither with the intention of negotiating or compromising in any way. But Blackwood was not to be denied. After a minute of uncomfortable silence, Stilwell relented, but only conditionally.

"Very well, perhaps I can allow it, with the understanding that I shall remain and when I deem it time, the conversation shall come to an end. Clear."

"It is all that I ask," Blackwood said agreeably, though with no improvement of mood.

Stilwell gave a pause to stare studiously at the imposing visitor before rising to gather his wife. "Come, my dear. There is a very important man here that requests to speak with you."

Josephine cocked her pretty head curiously. "Is there? Who is it, my lord?"

"Blackwood. He is a lord south of here, in the great forest. Very powerful. He claims Brynna, the girl you rescued belonged to him, and he wants her back."

"Does he?" her voice quivered ever-so slightly, her head ducking to look at the needle-point in her hands. "And what would he know of me? I have nothing to say that you do not know," she tried to say dismissingly.

"As I told him, but he would not be satisfied without questioning you. I will stay with you, of course, my dear. Come with me so we can be done with it. If I were given the chance to speculate, I would say there is much more between the two of them than a runaway servant," he said half to himself as he took her by the arm to lead her down the stairs and to his study.

"Blackwood, may I introduce you to my wife, Lady Josephine Goodchime. My lady, this is Lord Malik Blackwood." The two exchange proper greeting before sitting opposite one another.

"My husband tells me you are looking for a missing servant," her voice said smoothly.

"Indeed I am, my lady. I am led to believe you saved her life. For that, I thank you. I owe you a large debt."

"Do you, sir? What I gathered from her, she was not wanted. Was quite hurt by it, and so fled," her voice grew in rancor.

The open hostility was not lost on Malik, and he was not the least surprised that Brynna was able to secure the affections and protections of those around her. And it was this bright young thing's desire to proudly protect, just as Brynna, that he would exploit to discover what her husband could not. "It was a misunderstanding that led her to leave. I wish to rectify the situation. And, upon learning that you rescued her, I came to bring her back home, and yet I find that you lost her."

"I did no such thing."

"She is gone, and without your knowledge where, is she not? She is lost in the world, alone, and unprotected, all because you could not care for you."

"She is not lost, she is perfectly safe," she defended.

"You have no way of knowing that."

"Yes I do, I know exactly where she is at!" But quickly realized her blunder and slapped her hand over her mouth. Stilwell, gaining in agitation at the exchange between his bride and the powerful lord was stunned to hear her confession that she had known all along where the girl had gone.

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