Possess Me Ch. 15bytitania123©
So sorry for the insufferable delay! The fates seemed to be conspiring against me. But, at long last, here is the reveal of Brynna's choice.
Thank you to all who voted and left comments for the last chapter. I always appreciate reading your thoughts on what I have written. So, please, feel more than welcome to continue.
Thank you for your continued support!
The sound of furious rain drops beating against the leather hood of his cloak filled his ears as he urged his horse forward. Dusk had come and gone, and he found himself weaving through the forest at a dangerous pace, following a path he knew well, even in the dark. It was not the misery of the early cold spring night, nor the discomfort of rain-laden clothing that spurred him forward, but the small glowing joy that he was riding home, to the woman he would marry.
Upon arriving in the familiar warmth of the stables, he unsaddled his horse and changed into clean clothes. Knowing he had arrived in time for dinner, he ran up the small hill to the castle, blocking the slashing rain from his eyes. The wind caused the door to fling open more dramatically than he had planned, and it whipped angry spits of rain into the warm room. There was a reaction from those seated about the long table as they quickly withdrew from the disruption, but when he had secured the door, they eased back into their former slouched silence.
Brom offered a mumbled apology before taking his seat. Once settled, his eyes drifted to the beautiful creature sitting on the other side of Ann. She looked up from her half-empty bowl of stew, her eyes happy to see him, but lacking the mirth and joy he had expected. He returned her small smile with a cocky one of his own, before accepting the steaming bowl Bea handed him.
"Thank you, Bea," he said before tearing off a piece of bread. He ate a few bites quickly, and as he chewed on the tough bread, looked up at those sitting in silence.
It hasn't been this quiet since before Brynna first arrived, he thought, noting the gloom that hung heavy on everyone's heads, bending them over their uneaten meal. But Brom gave little attention to the low affect of the others, his own bubbling joy all that filled his mind.
Before long, the diners, knowing they had no stomach for any food, slowly picked up their still-full dishes and took them back into the kitchen where they were scraped for the hogs. Brom continued on in the now silent solitude, munching eagerly at the extra bread left for him alone. When he was at last full, he sat back and leisurely stretched, before standing and taken his bowl into the kitchen.
Eleanor was entering as he handed his plate to Beth to be washed. "Bea," she spoke, "there is to be no dinner. The master is not hungry."
Brom's eyes flicked to Bea, who let out a weary sigh.
"I told you, did I not? It would happen. This is the second day. How long will it last?"
Brom looked back to Eleanor who only caught his gaze briefly before turning and leaving the way she had come. Sounds of strangled crying drew his eyes back to Bea. She held a rag up to her face, her heavy, fat shoulders shaking with her sobs. Beth moved to her side, placing a tentative hand upon her back.
"There, there Bea, all will be well. All will be well," she repeated, her own eyes filling with water, her voice straining in the frizzled air.
Brom, now removed from his own euphoria, stepped next to Mariah who was drying the dishes Beth had been washing. "What goes on here?" he asked in a whisper.
Her eyes moved up to his face, and for the first time he noticed the sadness that had been there before. It was some moments before she spoke, and when she did, she kept to the whisper, as if to speak of what happened was to tear open the wounds again.
"The mistress, well, she isn't here. The master was set to marry her, we were preparing for the wedding, but, I don't know, something happened and she left. They had a big row in the great hall as she was leaving. He wanted to stop her, but she left." She paused, her eyes glimmering a little more. "She isn't coming back."
Brom rocked back on his heels, his own mind stumbling at the thought of Brynna leaving, and even more, that he seemingly let her go. The mournful sounds of the kitchen brought him from his musings. Quickly, he took Mariah's hand and dragged her to a storage room. Walking between the carcasses of hanging meat, Brom led her to the farthest corner, and then, turning to her, clasped her face in his hands and met her mouth in a gentle sigh of contentment.
Mariah responded in kind, before he slid his arms around her and hugged her closely, a deep gratefulness that she was his to keep, that she would stay with him all the days of their lives.
She sighed into his neck. "I take it they approved, then?"
"Mmhm. And I have a few gifts for you. One is from your mother. The other is from me," he answered in her hair.
She smiled shyly at the thought of receiving gifts. "What are they?"
"Hm-mh," he murmured against her hair. "You have to wait." She frowned against the hard wall of his chest, before her face dissolved into pleasant contentment as his arms squeezed her more tightly against him. He wanted no thoughts of other things to come, of duties to perform or arrangements to be made. He simply wanted to hold her, to shut out the other things, at least for the night.
For a time, Mariah stayed, allowing the ribbon of their stolen moment to wrap dreamily around them. But the time came when she knew they could no longer escape those other things, and eventually pulled from him, allowing him to kiss her once more, and then turned slowly and walked from the quiet of their stolen space.
His own mind would not stray long from the unsettling events that had transpired in his short absence. To think the bastard had planned to marry her, only to relinquish her. And that she left? Brom did not know which was the more surprising aspect of the ordeal. After mulling over what he knew, he decided it was not enough, and could not quiet the itching part of his brain that demanded more. Pushing away from the wall, he set off to find someone who would know all.
She was sitting at the spartan desk, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes entranced by the single, bright flame of the candle. The otherwise dark room faded into nothingness, as if nothing else in the world mattered. Eleanor looked up after a moment, as Brom stood silently in the narrow door of her little office. His broad form blocked most of the residual light from the hall's few sconces. His face was black, other than a line or two traced in the faintest light.
"Your business went well?" she asked, knowingly avoiding the topic he came to discuss.
"Yes. We will marry in her village in a month's time."
Eleanor only nodded at the information, not commenting on its vagueness. She knew why he stood in her doorway, understood what thoughts he most likely had. But she ventured no information, but waited until asked for it.
"She's gone, then?"
"That is correct."
Silence punctuated each of their exchanges, the dark empty of the castle filling the space between their words.
"He let her leave?"
"Yes." Though with no little amount of difficulty.
"He was to marry her?"
"Did she want to leave?"
"It was her choice, she was not forced."
"Ah, but did she want to go?" he asked, catching her cryptic wording.
Eleanor paused before answering. "I am not to know. She did not confide in me."
"Yesterday morning. The Goodchimes took her away, back to Tamlin, to live with her father. He sent the horse with her as well."
Didn't want the reminder around, huh? "She did not return with Lady Goodchime?"
"It was her wish to return to her father's. I believe she is concerned for him."
Brom stood a moment mulling over all he had heard. "And how does he?"
Here she remained silent longer than necessary, her reluctance to speak about the master's private well-being holding back her tongue. She decided to keep to the facts, to the blatant observable. "He has not eaten these past two days. He stays in his study, not sleeping, not working, not eating. Not."
"He will recover?"
"Again, I am not to know. But if one were forced to speculate..."
The silence, disturbed by their words, pushed back at them, filling in the abandoned space.
Brom turned to leave, but paused only for a moment, his eyes focusing on a flickering flame at the end of the darkened hall. "She will return?" He could feel the beating of his heart in the vein in his neck as he waited.
"I would not trust to hope."
He nodded once before walking back towards the kitchens. After kissing Mariah goodnight once more, finding a tenuous sort of comfort in her embrace, he gathered Thom from in front of the fire in the great hall where he sat with Ann, and together the two ran back through the rain to the shelter of their stable.
The rain eventually stopped, and the clouds that had filled the sky the past day moved on, leaving behind the bright moon. As the evening hours slipped away, the inhabitants of the castle retired, slipping into sleep the moon-lit darkness brought.
All, save one.
Malik stood before the fire, his eyes blazing like the harsh flames. The entirety of his being was tightly knotted. He warred with himself, holding back his crazed need to ignore his promise and bring her back regardless of her desire, to keep her and claim her, slave or not, wife or no. She belonged to him and he foolishly let her leave.
Fool! Damn fool! he cursed himself, his fists clenching against the stone mantle.
Why did he let her leave?
I didn't think she would actually go. I thought...it was only a test, that she only wanted to know she was free...not actually be free.
He closed his eyes and recounted each look of her eyes overlaid with a shadow of sadness, her mouth quiet in an unhappy line. It was there. The truth of her plan was there, and yet, with each passing breath, though she moved further from him, he chose to believe she would stop the charade and stay. He hoped she would reward him for giving her the power to choose, even though he had prayed her only choice would be him. But each moment passed away, and her course did not alter.
He wrestled against his roaring need to make her stay, to disallow thoughts and plans of leaving. When she made to actually depart, to step into the coach and allow herself to be carried away, his restraint snapped and he gave into his desperation. He stood quickly between her and the door she meant to pass through, blocking her further progress.
Malik recalled her eyes, those of fire that had burnt him when he first met her, when she first stood against him and made his authority a mockery. He saw that fire rekindled, but it now burned something more everlasting than his pride.
Please, his deep quivered, silently pleading. He knew his erratic blinking staved off tears of his pain, but he cared not as he stood tremulously, his destruction and salvation awaiting either side of her decision. He stood before her, attempting to subdue her into submission with menacing power, with desperate longing, with anything that would compel her to never leave him. His being was inextricably intertwined with this woman and she was now trying to leave him, taking his soul with her.
"Damn fool!" he shouted and pounded the stone with his fist, regretting nothing, even as sharp pain shattered through his knuckles and up his arm. He brought his fist to his mouth, his body tense with pain beyond his bloodied flesh.
I will not do it. I will not live without her. He turned and strode to the door. He would not sleep another night without her by his side, eat another meal in which he could not look upon her face, reach out and not feel her body. He intended full well to bring her back, and nothing, not even her 'no' would stop him.
Malik stood in his dark room, the light of a fire lit several hours earlier almost a memory, casting hints of shadow around the space. Throwing two revitalizing logs on it, a warning voice spoke in his head.
But if she sends me away? Rejects me again?
Malik shuddered at the thought of the pain and then at the violence that would doubtless take him over. True, he could overpower her, force her, but something deep inside revolted against seeing her being forced to be with him. Not only would the act be criminal, but her required presence would lack the power her free choice would have.
And he could feel it inside, the needs that seemed to conflict each other. He turned and looked about, a stretching and crushing storm brewing in his chest. He turned several times, thinking, needing a plan, lost without direction.
His gaze searching, he saw his bed, and her naked form upon it. His heart burned. Turning away, he sat on the chaise before the fire, his face falling into his hands as his elbows rested upon his knees. But then he felt her breath upon his neck. Looking up, he saw her crawling up the chaise to him, her fingers on his jaw, in his hair. Her lips sliding past his ear to lick and bite his neck gingerly.
It was too much. With a growl of anguish, Malik stood and went to his wardrobe, throwing articles of clothing into the satchel. Though it was the deep of the night hour, Malik would not stay a moment longer in the keep that clung to her memory. He tore a determined path to the stables to saddle Aeris. As he was quickly pulling the leather straps through, the room glowed brighter with a torch.
Brom emerged from the back hall that led to his quarters. Malik turned silently, his black gaze cutting through the blinding light. He noted the short sword in Brom's hand, before turning back to finish saddling his horse.
Brom set the torch in the sconce bracketed on a supporting beam. He stood, watching the master of the keep. There were no words to fill the silence, though he wanted to know, wanted to ask, and wanted to say. Within moments, Blackwood had finished strapping the tack upon the horse, as well as his satchel, and was leading Aeris away. Brom stood in the large opening of the stable, listening to the retreating hooves as they thundered away into the dark.
Furious and discontent, Malik fled into the night, the full, bright moon dappling the trodden road with its white light through the trees overhead. The midnight air chilled his body despite his thick cloak, but it mattered not. Malik's mind was a cacophonous stir of wordless fury, swirling chaotically without promise of rest. He rode through the night, not even stopping to satisfy hunger.
It was late in the morning when an exhausted Aeris trotted against cobble stone, the lathered sweat staining his black coat in marbled white. Malik, too, was drained beyond description, and barely sat erect as he passed through the busy streets of the capital. Stopping in his stables, Malik slid tired from the horse, passing the reins to a surprised stableman and entered his home. Malik passed silently through these more modern halls, ignoring the white faces of girls that popped their heads around corners to confirm the master had truly arrived.
A year ago, before he brought a slave into his keep in the black woods, Malik kept a manservant, Renard, with him wherever he went. But as he had determined to assign those duties to Brynna, Renard stayed in the capital and was made useful for other jobs. As Malik now returned without his slave, the man was again elevated to the duty of attending to the master. He handed over his cloak and asked for wine to be brought to him. He stood at his desk, his mind holding on to the last vestiges of his control. A servant scuttled in to start a fire, and before long another brought the requested wine. She poured a goblet full, setting it before him on the desk and then retreated hastily. The other woman who had built the fire stood and followed her companion's actions, leaving the dragon's lair quickly.
The sounds of the heavy carriage upon the mucky road were beginning to disappear before she turned to regard her destination. Brynna stood looking at the short little path to the rickety cottage, acutely aware that no joy accompanied the sight before her. Winter's breath had left dead weeds and grass lying about, their decaying bodies brown and gray, limp in destitution. She could see the corpses of tall flowers, now broken at mid stem, stiff and dried. Winter had not been kind to the little yard, and no work had yet been put in to rectify its cadaverous state and bring about the lively new.
Breathing deep fortification, she stepped through the crumbling stone wall's threshold, and marched determined to the front door, dragging her large trunk behind her. Thunder cracked overhead, the storm that had begun churning the early morning skies when she left the castle had finally arrived at her new home, speeding the oncoming of the evening dark.
Suddenly, a rush of frizzling nerves swelled up inside her. She took a steadying breath, her eyes closing. She cleared her throat and knocked soundly, announcing her presence authoritatively, though she felt no confidence inside.
Another round of thunder, a long, sharp and crackling thread causing her to jump. She shivered, though she knew not from the cooling wind or the emotions evoked from standing there. She knocked again, a bang set in rhythm to distinguish her presence from the storm beginning to rage. Had she gotten the wrong place? It looked desolate enough, did anyone live there?
She took a step back from the door crowded with clinging, dead vines and looked about the empty yard, her ears straining for sound beyond the immediate. But creaking metal drew her attention back to the door, the unlatching handle groaning as if it were shaking free of years of rust. A woman stood on the other side of the entryway, a dour, distrusting face peering out in the dimming evening light.
"Yes?" said the gaunt, ruddy face.
"H-hello," Brynna returned, stepping closer, forming an uncertain smile. "Hello, my name is Brynna, my father lives here, I-I believe."
The young woman gave a small gasp of pleasant surprise before opening the door wider. "Well, I am surprised! Do come in!" She held her arm open, begging the weary traveler in. "Your father is just outside, having a bit of a nap. Oh, but he thought you were to marry. Had an invitation and everything. Doesn't have two daughters, does he?"
Brynna entered, laying her large trunk down, her quick eyes surveying the new home of her father. She chuckled dryly at the suggestion. "No, I am afraid I am all that there is. And as for the wedding..." Her eyes searched about more, eager to move past the topic. She eventually turned back to the lady who stood smiling slightly, looking up and down her fine dress. Suddenly self-conscious over the finery of her gown, she cleared her throat and smoothed nonexistent wrinkles away from the skirt. She smiled at the woman and asked for introductions.
"Oh, forgive me, miss. My name's Elspeth." She made an awkward bow that Brynna wondered if it was more joke than sincerity.
"You are not from Tamlin, are you?"
"Oh, gracious no, miss. From in the woods, to the north."
"However did Saul find you to work here?" She sat in a chair at the table, looking up at the woman with the fiery red, straw like hair. Her body was spindly and taut, like a starved dog. But she had a quick, almost nervous energy that spoke of an active mind and matching mannerisms.
"Were that time in life, weren't it? I did not want to stay in that cramped, little cottage my family was shoved in, so I left. Have an aunt here, maybe you know her. Mrs. Lundt?" Brynna found the name familiar and so nodded tentatively. "Well, she were my ma's sister, and so I come here to stay with her and her husband. Then one evening, her neighbor tells her a young man was lookin' for someone to look after your father." As she continued her story, she rose to tend to the kettle over the fire, pouring it out into two hot mugs before dropping some crushed herbs into them and placing them before herself and Brynna.