The Talons of a Dark Heart Ch. 11byTalyisBagley©
The Talons of a Dark Heart
She could hardly feel the air entering her body; it felt as though her lungs were filled with muslin. Bells clamored constantly in her head and only worsened when she pried her eyes open. The daggers of light were like needles shooting into her very pupil. She could only hazily see where she was.
A red and gold tapestry hung near the bed. It was her mother's, showing a maiden with a unicorn. Her blankets were the finest in all the castle, trimmed with gold filled with goose down. It was so soft under red velvet, it felt so much like home to her. It was all a dream, everything had been a dream she couldn't awaken from until now. She snuggled deeper into her mother’s personally hand-woven blankets, too weak to run and find her, but she knew her mother was close by, kissing her forehead so tenderly while she slept
"I need more wood!" Novak growled at the servants who had brought him small bundles of twigs. "This is not enough, you idiots!" He yelled, tossing the bits of kindling at them, chasing them away.
"Novak," Gareth tried to calm the tempest raging in his friend. "All the wood is still too wet. You can't put any of that on it, it will only kill what flame you have."
"She's freezing, Gareth," Novak nearly pleaded, filled with fear now and teetering on the edge of hopeless desperation.
Gareth sighed. His prince had been like a mad man since they found the princess nearly drowned a week ago. She would freeze and then burn up; it was a constant battle to bring body to a normal temperature. Novak hadn’t left the room the whole time, rarely allowing people to enter, he was so paranoid about more harm and sickness coming to her. Talyis laid in bed her body deeply rising and falling with a noisy wheeze.
Delia tiptoed reverently into the room to visit to her gravely ill friend unafraid of Novak's fury. She carried a tray of food for everyone to share. "I want to have me dinner near me friend, and I won’t hear a word of against it from you." She wagged a red freckled finger at Novak. She handed Gareth a chalice of the healing drink, another insult to Novak’s attempts to nurse Talyis himself.
Gareth's jaw dropped. He hated being in the eye of a brewing typhoon between his wife and Novak. Novak was beside himself with grief, so he hadn’t yet lashed out against Delia's constant charging and admonishment for Talyis's demise. However, Gareth feared it was only a matter of time that this turn of events would add more acid to Novak's vulture-like heart.
Gareth handed the chalice to Novak, knowing that he wanted to heal his love and heard his wife grumble behind him.
Novak had been grasping onto slivers of hope, but they were slipping through his fingers every day. Novak had the spoils of the war opened and hung her mother's tapestry on the wall near the bed and covered her freezing body with her mother's blanket on which the Queen had sewn intricate designs of the white twisted trunks of Onor's trees. He hoped that being surrounded by her mother’s things would help her to feel comfortable and strengthen her will to get well.
Novak held Talyis closely, staring off into the dark room with only the slight glow of what remained of the fire casting dancing shadows across the walls. Talyis moaned slightly, hugged him closer to her unconsciously; her dewy lips opened slightly giving way to her gentle snores.
Novak tucked her in and pulled her himself from her embrace to build up the fire. He carefully added new logs to coax a larger flame to burn. Soon the fire was roaring again. Sweat slid down his brow, and he could taste the salt on his lips. It was warming up outside with the rainy season behind them, but he didn't care as long as Talyis was getting well.
The red glowing wood was soft as he stabbed it with his poker. He opened his robe to cool himself and continued to tend to the fire. Orange and black figures, like ghosts in the wood, beckoned him. He set the poker aside and placed a new log on the fire. He quickly stuffed fabric into his mouth and waited. Waited until it was time to begin to prepare for the future with the woman in his bed. She snored and whimpered slightly in her sleep; and he groaned. On she snored ever so delicately and an muffled, desperate cry escaped into the night air. He wept around the fabric gag in his mouth, the incredible pain could never match the scar under the velvet blankets, and tears continued to fall as he rocked himself to sooth the penetrating fire. He coughed violent tears and she slept on, unknowing.
A warm morning breeze whispered through the planks covering the windows. Birds happily twittered outside her window and brought a smile to her face. She peeked her eyes open in hopes of seeing her mother’s shadow, feeling that hand smoothing her hair back gently. Her tapestry hung perfectly behind her mother, she felt so at home. Her cloudy vision grew clearer with each moment; there was no more pain., As her vision cleared, so did the shadow become clearer. It was not her mother. She clenched her eyes closed and moaned loudly, a guttural cry from the depths of her soul. Quickly a drink was brought to her lips; she remembered the smell from before. The drink was flooding her mouth and she had no choice but to drink. Sleep came upon her like she was being dragged to the bottom of a river. The voices above were muffled. Muffled concern, and tears, pleading tears.
The River! Her mind screamed. Then her chest was being beaten as if to break the very bones covering her heart. Breathe, Talyis, you must breathe.
She was drowning. She had drowned.
Tears fell from her face, her mother wasn’t the shadow.
"Please, find out what is wrong with her! She came to but she's been sleeping for two days," Novak begged the healer.
The healer placed his ear to her heart and shook his head. There wasn’t much more that he could say. She had to fight to live. It was going to be a hard fight.
"She needs to eat, so that the infant doesn’t take everything from the mother. Her body will sacrifice to make sure the child survives."
Novak broke down in tears and held Talyis gently, rocking her as the night fell.
She didn’t understand it. She wanted him to just go away so she pretended to sleep. Seeing him was like salt in her stinging broken heart. She had hoped she would never return to this room, this land, this face.
She opened her eyes again. Novak was grey with sorrow, his face deeply furrowed as he rocked her back and forth. The green eyes that had so enchanted her as a child were dull .
"Water," she croaked. Novak took in a sharp breath and looked down at her. Everything within him stopped. "Water, please."
Novak unfroze and ran to the table near the fireplace and poured a glass of water. He brought it to her, holding it to her lips, ignoring her attempts to take the glass herself. When she had finished drinking, she gazed up into his eyes. They had turned a rich emerald, the grey cloud had dissipated as if the sun was shinning on his countenance.
"Talyis, my love, speak again. What can I do for you, princess?"
"Leave," she said in a whisper her body already shuddering in growing sobs. "Leave!" She finally broke through in a growl.
Novak looked at her in horror and backed away from the bed. "If you wish."
Delia immediately moved into the room as Novak left. She stopped and glared at him.
“Yer lucky she’s well,” she said to remind him that the entire ordeal was his fault. Novak simply nodded, his eyes downcast as he removed himself from Talyis’s presence.
Delia loudly moved about the room, idly fussing to keep her temper in check. "What were you thinking? Or you trying to get yourself killed?!" Talyis frowned deeply. She was tired and turned to her side to avoid Delia. "Well, you need to eat. You are too thin. Let me get you something quickly. You know that it was Novak that brought you back." Talyis again burrowed deeper into the bed. "Pounded your dead heart to a beat again."
"I wish he’d killed me, left me to-" Talyis murmured.
"Don’t ye dare say that! I don’t want to hear it. Me heart nearly broke seeing you so grey and purple-lipped," she scolded and turned on her heels to stomp to the door. "Gar-eth!!!"
Talyis moaned as Delia screamed for her husband and again when Gareth entered carrying a tray of food. The scent of the spices hit her nose immediately and her stomach roiled.
"Now let’s get you fed." Delia took the tray and sat beside Talyis, spooning some of the stew to her mouth. "And then after dinner, you can have a little talk with the love of your life."
At those words, Talyis pushed the spoon away from her face and averted her eyes.
"Come on now. He loves you, Talyis. You love him," Delia said patiently.
"Delia you don’t understand," she said wearily.
"What? That you have loved each other since you were babes?"
"He hurt me Delia!" Talyis spat. She forced herself to sit up, not trying to hide the anger in her eyes.
Delia took a deep breath and reminded herself of her promise not to let Talyis's mood affect her negatively. Instead, she merely arched an eyebrow of judgment. "He saved your life!”
"You don’t understand Delia! What he did was unforgivable. You will never understand." Talyis couldn't bring herself to tell Delia about what happened in the camp -- the branding, the rape.
"You are turning into him: bitter and callous. You love him. You would rather live in spite and pass on true love-" Delia went on but Talyis interrupted.
"Leave me alone Delia." Talyis glared at Delia before once more lying down and turning away from her. Her head felt like dull saw blades were gnawing at every nerve.
Delia sucked air through her teeth and let the tray loudly clatter on to the bedside table. "When you are done feeling sorry for yerself and want to be a friend, then maybe I'll forgive your behavior towards me. You are a fool and life will not get any better for you if you let yourself go on this way. Novak adores you; he would never touch a hair on your head again. I never seen him so complete and without that thorny heart he had gotten from his life in your castle." She then stormed out of the room but then came back, still red with disappointment. "And lest you forget, my dear, I know all about hurt and unforgivable actions." She slammed the large heavy door as she left the room.
Talyis rolled her eyes and curled into a ball and felt her entire body freeze, not from sickness but from something else altogether, from something deeper. She shuddered until she fell into an exhausted sleep.
"Let's play a game, boy," the little girl said as her fingers played with the white lace at the bottom of her emerald green dress.
"Yes, princess," the scrawny boy answered. They sat in the grass of the castle grounds under white-barked trees with trunks that twisted like a wrung towel and turned into branches that looked like dozens of arms on twirling ballerinas.
"It's called ‘See My Little Eye’. You have to guess what my little eye is seeing."
"Yes, princess," the boy answered. He was patient, having played this many times before.
The girl's eyes glinted precociously behind the strands of thick curly black hair fell in her face. Her hair was never fully contained by her nanny's single braid that twisted like yarn down her back.
"Can I go first, princess," the boy asked, eager to play her game.
"Yes," she said, wiggling her legs out in front of her.
"See my little eye it lies on-"
"No. You are doing it wrong!" she barked, "It's ‘see my little eye it lies on’." She demonstrated by pointing her finger to her eye and then smiled.
"Yes, princess." He smiled. He always played the game wrong on purpose, enjoying how she fussed at him when he didn’t do it just right. "See.” he pointed with exaggeration to his bright green eye that contrasted brilliantly in the sun with his dark hair curling down his neck. "My little eye, it lies on a beautiful thing."
Her body slumped in disappointment and she cocked her head to the side, annoyed. She huffed, "Me."
"Yes!" He smiled brightly, congratulating her.
"You always pick me first when we play this game," she said, then walked away towards the archway that led to the castle hall. The boy followed; his lanky body towered over hers. She pressed her body against the stone wall of the entrance to watch as people walked into the dinning hall.
King Aronich and the queen smiled at each other happily, walking arm-in-arm and leading their guests, royals from a far land, to dinner.
The princess turned to her playmate. She noticed how his clothes loosely hung from his body. It was one of two pairs of clothing that he was allowed. The other was a page’s outfit that he would where as a guardsmen when he was assigned to surveillance.
"See my little eye, it lies on a beautiful crystal square," she said.
"The chandelier?" the boy guessed.
"No," she giggled and swayed back and forth holding her hands.
"The scepter top beside the king’s throne."
"No, one more try."
The boy paused and his eyes gazed upon the pedestal in front of the throne. A crystal box with intricate engraving sat on top.
He remembered standing next to the princess in the hall earlier when the visiting royals came and had given the strange box to the king and queen. The princess had interrupted, begging to hold the box herself while the visiting king spoke to her parents and explained how the remarkable metals within the box turned gears so that it would play music by lifting the lid.
The boy had been intrigued and had also wished that the little princess would be silent so they all could learn how the craftsmanship was made.
The little princess threw an amazing tantrum when her parents refused to let her touch the fine gift. Her fit continued until the king angrily sent her and the boy out of the hall.
"The crystal music box," he said.
"Yes!" she squealed jumping up and down clapping her little hands. "Boy, please bring me the box."
Novak's faced flushed with horror, "But Princess-"
"Oh," she whined, batting her big brown eyes at him. "Please bring it to me. I just want to see it. I'll be ever so careful."
"Your father did not allow you," he reminded her.
"Please, boy?" She leaned into him, her gentle hand on his shoulder as she whispered in his ear. "I won't tell anyone and we'll put it right back."
The boy exhaled; he had found himself in this predicament with the princess before. He wanted to give her everything; he enjoyed seeing her smile and her playful nature was enchanting when it wasn’t causing him trouble.
"It's my turn, Princess." he said hurriedly trying to divert her new obsession. "See with my little eye lies on-"
"Boy, please, it would make me very happy," she said in a sing-song. She smiled at him with her innocent heart shaped face he wanted so much to kiss.
He shook his head holding on to the last grip of restraint he had.
"Ohhhhh, boy." She was his personal siren. "Aren’t you just dying with curiosity to know about the working gears that the King spoke of." She was taunting him, her little fingers moving as she tried to describe the gears. "The metal gears he said that are light as a feather turning with one another.
He was in the crashing waters approaching the jagged rocks. Novak sighed heavily, he truly did want to figure out how the gears made music, and the princess's tantrum had erupted before the box was opened for everyone to hear the musical secret inside.
He shook his head again. He could bring it to her, but not allow her to hold it so she wouldn’t get into trouble and they could investigate how the crystal box worked together. He carefully tiptoed into the room and grabbed the box. The princess squealed with laughter as she ran through the hall. She was giddy that they were breaking her father’s rule and ran towards the stairs to her chambers.
“Come, boy!” she called as she dashed across the hall.
The boy ran after her holding the precious box in front of him, also enjoying the thrill of escape. He ran up the stairs two at a time he always did. He didn’t hear the guard running behind him but the princess did as she ran into her room and slammed the door in front of the boy.
“Princess, let me in,” he cried and pounded on the door.
She opened the door and peeked her head out, giggling. Her hair had fallen out of her braid and floated about her face like a halo.
“Only people with brown skin and without green-eyes can come in,” she said.
The boy let his head fall to the side, he hated this game. “What do I have to do to get inside?”
“You have to-” she thought and every second he felt more nervous of being caught with the box in his hands. “You have to-to say you love me three times.”
He grinned; this was going to be easy. He adored the princess. He began to say he loved her but on the third heart-felt time she screeched and slammed the door closed. A hand seized his shoulder and the crystal box fell to the floor in a million shattered pieces. The music inside played disjointedly. The guard forced the princess’s door open to bring her to the king.
They were presented to the hall. Her father and mother stood in front of their chairs with very disappointed looks etched into their faces.
“Did you take my box?” her father asked. The princess looked at the boy, her hands holding her dress at her sides. “Talyis, I am speaking to you.” The princess looked startled that her father had figured it out. She batted her eyelashes innocently and her father walked off of the throne to her, embarrassed that his guest had to witness his daughter’s disrespectful behaviour. “Answer me.” His voice boomed as he stood over Talyis like a statue.
“Talyis, dear,” her mother said with just as much irritation as her father but not as much anger. “Answer your father. Did you take the box?” Talyis eyes darted back and forth between her father and mother nervously. Her voice was frozen and her eyes were tearing up..
“Talyis?” Her father softened. He loved his daughter but knew she could be quite deceptive. “I’ll ask again, did you take my box?” She just looked at the ground. “Fine, you will stay in your room tomorrow until you tell me the truth.”
Talyis immediately broke down into hysterical sobs and fell to her knees clutching her father’s leg. She cried out for her gardens, begging him to let her play in the gardens. She threw her head back and wailed.
“I did it,” Novak’s voice croaked. “I took the box, Your Majesty.”
Talyis immediately stopped sobbing. She looked at him bewildered. Her tear-stained face was more than Novak could bear.
“You took my box, boy?” the king asked. “Talyis didn’t tell you to take the box?”
“N-n-no,” He stuttered, fear already kicking in. He was afraid of what would happen now. “I took the box on my own accord. Princess was just with me when I took it.”
“50 lashes,” King Anorich announced and the guards seized his scrawny arms dragging him down to the dungeon.
They stripped his shirt and lashed him across his back. He tried to stifle his cries but the pain burned into his flesh. Welts and cuts criss-crossed his back and his eyes cried dry.
He was returned to his cot in his small room off of the kitchen and cried into his pillow as he had many nights before. Rarely did he remember his own father, and when he did it was a foggy memory. He did remember when his own father looked on him when he was caught doing something wrong. His father had looked like the princess’s father on her, not wanting to punish his daughter, but knew it was his parental duty.
He knew Talyis wouldn’t have had to face a lashing -- maybe a small spanking -- but the king would hold her and tell her he loved her.. Novak missed his father's and mother’s love tremendously that night. They cared for him, had sat beside his bed with Umma telling him stories and singing him to sleep.