Dark Sister (Part 2)
Next day he came to me with his face veiled in illusion, with Esty in tow.
“Today you’re firstborn”, he said before I could lift my hand to check.
“Oh. And why is that?”
“We are seeing Lily and the babe!” Esty enthused. “She wants the firstborn blessing on the little lamb.”
“What? No! Didn’t you say she was staying in that hotel?”
“Left early evening yesterday. You better start preparing.”
“No! I will not handle no fuckin baby! You can’t make me!”
“So you give up then?”
I felt like slapping that smirk off his face. “I’m not, but I’m not going near a baby. End of story.”
He pulled off his gloves. “Well, then I guess I have to pronounce our Oiskog-marriage over.”
Two hours and a fancy dress, makeup, hair and jewels I couldn’t afford from a year’s worth of salary later we were jolting in a carriage. Esty was over the moon, feeling the need to express her gratitude every five minutes. “It’s the only way we could see our little nephew,” she squeezed my hand.
“Uh, great I guess. I hope it’s not gonna puke on me or something,” I mumbled. “And I’ll have a word or two with your snobbish bitch of a sister.”
Esty looked horrified. “Oh no, please don’t. It’s not her fault. I promise.” She shot a quick look at her brother. “In her place I’d probably do the same.”
“What, shit on your family?”
She let go of my hand and looked down at her own four fingered ones in her lap. “This family has ruined us all…”
“No. I did.”
“Oh, don’t start it again, Timbo. It’s not all about you, you know.”
“It is, though, mostly. I’m the first son, afterall.”
“Let’s just not dwell on these things now, shall we?” she snapped.
I looked from one to the other. Quite a can of worms I opened here. Liliana, Estelle and Dorothy were older than him, but Tim should have been heir to the whole vast Saqueroy estate. Instead he was the living proof of their curse.
We continued in a tension-riddled silence until the Baru Nion estate appeared on the horizon, where Lily was living with her husband, Dain Baru Nion. She was the only one who managed to marry as was befitting (if slightly lower than) her rank and as soon as she did, she severed all ties with her family.
It was a tidy little manor we arrived to, nothing fancy – good enough for the vohiek siblings.
A handful of servants waited as we got out of the carriage. The point of the firstborn blessing was to make sure the infant passed on no tainted blood. It should be done, as per definition, by a firstborn, but since we are a rare commodity in this world, Lily made the concession of allowing her defective siblings near her bundle of joy. Esty and Tim both tried to trick, wheedle, bribe me to do it before, but now the bastard found a hold on me.
We were waiting in a spacious tearoom with tall glass windows opening on a neat garden, with tea and cookies in front of us on an ivory inlaid table.
“The fuck takes them so long?”
Esty shot me a disapproving look. “They have to get the babe ready. It may take time, you know.”
I mumbled something and stuffed some cookies in my mouth.
They came at last; Lily at the front, loveliest of all the Saqueroy girls, tawny skin glowing in the dusty afternoon light, silky brown curls piled on top of her head, big, dark eyes on us, with the squirming parasite, I mean baby in her arms, followed by a guy that looked to be a catholic priest, Lord Baru Nion himself, and a flock of assorted servants, hand picked to watch every breath of the heir. The procession halted a few steps from us. I looked at my companions. They looked equally abashed seeing their sister for the first time in years. They stood, not quite knowing how to proceed.
I cleared my throat.
Lily’s face lit up. “Firstborn! It is such an honor to have you here! I have firstborn ancestry too, you know…”
“Just call me Nenya. For a week now, I have a name.” I gestured towards bossman. “We are in Oiskog, or how you call it.” I noticed Esty shaking her head, gesticulating frantically, too late.
Lily’s smile withered. “Oh? You are not tainted yourself, are you?” She turned to the priest. “There’s really no point if she’s tainted, is there?”
“She’s not tainted,” Tim said through clenched teeth. There was something in his look that made Lily not press the topic further. “Alright then, here’s William,” she offered the sprog to me.
“It’s not gonna start screeching or something like that, right?”
She cast me an offended look. “He’s a very well behaved babe. His diapers have just been changed too.”
I could do without the gross details, but I took the kid nonetheless and held it up at an arm’s stretch away.
The priest stepped forward. “Repeat after me. May the Lord bless this child…”
“May the Lord bless this child…”
“So his days be long upon the earth, blessed with health, happiness and abundance…”
“So his days be long upon the earth, blessed with health, happiness and abundance…”
“and that his progeny not be tainted.”
“and that his, do I really gotta say this?”
He looked taken aback. “Why, yes, please. It’s the most important part of the ceremony.”
“and that his…” I swallowed. I looked at them in turn, the priest, Lily and Dain watching anxiously, the whispering servants, Esty and Tim staring at the kid transfixed. The sprog started to get fussy and my arms began to hurt, so I quickly finished. “That his progeny not be tainted.”
I felt like washing my mouth, so I showed the whining baby in Esty’s arms. Lily’s eyes shot wide. I poured myself some tea and turned to the priest. “What kind of ceremony is this? It’s not like any of the Christian rituals I know.”
“It’s, well, it’s like baptizing, adapted to the local conditions.”
“It’s not really Christian-like, shoving that poor lamb like you did,” Lily snapped.
“Nor is it to ban your sibs from seeing it,” I retorted. “I mean if that’s their thing, looking at sprogs.”
The sprog in question was in Tim’s arms now, and he looked down at it in wonder. I felt uncomfortable spying on them, so I turned back to Lily. She was watching them with thinly veiled distaste.
“Thank you,” Esty said on the way back.
“Not welcome. And this was the last time you pulled that kinda shit on me,” I turned to Tim.
He chuckled. “Seeing Lily’s expression was half the fun.”
“Yeah, pissed myself laughing,” I grumbled. “William, what a pretentious, bullshit name!”
We went to the vohiek quarter of the city and sat in a relatively elegant patisserie. I couldn’t help admiring the Rev as he walked in ahead of us, dashing, elegant, seemingly self-confident. I caught myself looking at him with something akin to pride. We sat at a corner table for a light lunch.
“We do owe you thanks,” he spoke up suddenly.
“That you do,” I replied between two bites, “and let me tell you partner, that’s gon cost you a lot.”
“I don’t know. Let me give it some thought.” I knew I couldn’t say an amount he couldn’t pay. I wanted him to pay with something that actually cost him effort to give, something that couldn’t be bought with money.
“He didn’t move you at all?” Esty asked. She was still stuck with the baby. She gave me a wide-eyed, innocent look. “Not that cherubic little face, those perfect little starfish hands…”
I pulled a face. She knew exactly how to push my buttons. “I’m afraid I have to disappoint, Princess,” I shook my head. “Jesus!”
Tim watched us with the ghost of a smile on his lips.
“Having fun, are we?”
The ghost widened into a grin. “Aren’t you?”
I pursed my lips. “If you want to ruffle my feathers, you gotta try harder.”
Again, that smirk of his. Challenge accepted, that smirk said.
The girls barged into my room late in the morning. Gaita, Sindre, and the girls usually working on the Saqueroy princesses. They whispered excitedly among themselves in their tongue, giggling occassionally, but of course none of them would tell me what was going on. Damned vohieks! They brought a dress compared to which my dress visiting Lily was plain and unassuming; a whirlwind of rustling velvet and silk the color of a raincloud, light like a cobweb against my skin, breath-fine lace, and then there were the jewels; a spray of sparkle, caught in a spiderweb of filigree silver.
“White-gold,” Gaita corrected me.
“Ok, I don’t know what you want with all that stuff; I’m not putting them on.”
The makeup brush stopped in Sindre’s hand. “Why not?”
“Because. I’m not putting them on, unless I get to know what for.”
The girls exchanged a look. “Bossman’s orders.”
“Now we’re talking. Please elaborate.”
Gaita crumpled a muslin underskirt in her hands. “Please, Alula. We were instructed not to tell you.”
The excitement was gone; they looked genuinely worried. I knew I’d just get them in trouble if I didn’t cooperate. I gestured towards the constellation of sparkles. “Those are not diamonds, yes?”
“What’s wrong with diamonds? You don’t like them?”
“Gai. You’re not being funny.”
“Mydzi Möjz, you act like you are not used to grandeur, having lived in a royal court and all that.”
I sighed. This misconception again. “I did not live in the king’s court. I didn’t have a rank. I was there for one reason.”
She shrugged. “Whatever. Will you put them on, then?”
I pulled aside the curtain of the carriage. We were riding on a wide cobblestoned road that cut through a forest.
“Let me guess; we are going to Saint-Pierre-le Moûtier.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Otherwise why the dolling up?”
Bossman was wearing his Sunday best too, looking every bit the prince he was. Not gonna appear in front of Daddy looking anything less than regal.
“So when are we gonna get to the estate?”
“We are already there.”
I took a closer look at the trees. “For how long?”
“Quite a while.” Was I just imagining, or was he really giving me a smug look? Not earning any brownie points with that shit. I turned back to watching the forest.
There was light ahead; as we got closer it turned into the biggest, fanciest castle I have ever seen – Châteauneuf-du-Faou – all lit up, glitzy, flashy, over the top. “An ancient dynasty; really no need for all that in-your-face show off. I wonder what Daddy is compensating for.” I shot him a glance. “Wait; I think I know.”
The smug look was gone; he was glaring at me with something akin to hatred. It was already worth it.
The forest gave place to a meticulous French garden, sparkling with the light of a million lampions, mirroring the myriad stars above. “Ain’t that pretty,” I sighed. The breeze brought laughter from the hedge maze.
We got out at the feet of marble steps half the length of a racecourse and walked past a wall of unmoving servants and entered an anteroom with its ceiling lost in the murk above the light of crystal candelabra. Imagine cleaning all that shit.
I linked my arm in his, and we walked along a wide corridor. For the first time in the evening my stomach clenched under the corset, as we entered the great hall. The best of the best, everybody who was anybody was present at the Spring Eve banquet held at the ancestral seat of house Saqueroy. There was the princess from the side branch of the imperial family Charles Saqueroy managed to bag for Aziz – the only son he had that wasn’t fucked up. And here we were, entering as the music and chatter slowly died and all eyes turned towards us.
Charles Saqueroy, himself almost a god, barely below the Emperor, stared at us in disbelief. I was not used to such welcomes, but then again I was in my vohiek disguise, and Tim, well, he didn’t bother to put on any.
We sat next to Dodi. She paled some shades.
“You have the nerve,” the Prince hissed in the utter silence, “to show up here like this, with your vohiek slut.”
Tim turned to look at him. My first instinct was to protest that I wasn’t a vohiek, but the Prince went on. “I should have killed you when I had the chance. I might, still.”
My heart skipped a beat. He might, at that; noone would lift a finger. Not that that would wash the shame off his name, but no doubt it would give him some degree of satisfaction.
Tim stood and walked briskly towards the head of the table – towards the Prince.
I scuttled after him, hissing; “I really don’t think this is a…”
He didn’t even hear me. Charles Saqueroy was stunned into silence at this audacity. Armed guards barred our way when we were only a few steps away from him; they flew back in every odd direction at one hand gesture from Tim.
He kept glaring at his father. The Prince swallowed. It might have only just begun to dawn on him that his defective progeny may actually cause him harm.
Tim lifted his hand and the Saqueroy flag above the Prince’s throne burst into flames. We were followed by cries of outrage and the shouts of servants trying to put out the fire.
“Hey, I figured out how you could repay me for the sprog-handling ordeal. I had to find something you can’t buy, but the options are rather limited in that regard, so here’s the deal. You put a ring on my finger, you give me a kiss. That’s how it goes where I come from. And don’t give me that ‘you’re not there’ crap. You took the whole ring idea from my world.” We were standing on the patio outside the villa. It was late, so most of the residents were already asleep.
He glowered at me with his famous narrow-eyed stare, then he made up his mind. He stepped to me and pressed what was left of his lips on mine. It was a little awkward with all the missing bits, but it was all in all an okay way to pass the time until the pain came. It came sharp, cutting into my lips, flooding my mouth with blood.
I whimpered and banged my fists on his chest. He let go.
“Motherfucker!” I screeched and shoved him in the chest. I heard noise from the staff quarters, but I didn’t care. “How dare you?”
He had the nerve to shoot me an amused look. “I think we better go in…”
I backed away from him. “Don’t you dare touching me. I’m not going anywhere with you, you sick fuck.”
“So… you’re giving up?”
I stared at him, stunned wordless, so I just shook my head and stormed in, slamming the door in his face.
Friday found me in a cell on a hard bunk bed, under a coarse military blanket. There was a filthy loo in the corner, a tiny washbasin with a cracked soap on the rim that looked like it’s been slumping there in its own puddle for the last decade. The whole setup uncomfortably reminded me of a prison or one of those gore B horror movies, where a couple of teens get kidnapped and chopped up by some maniac, complete with the metal door with a peep slot and the bare, dusty lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, mournfully flickering sometimes. At least I wasn’t tied down. I was also back in my human form, dressed in clothes familiar from my old life; jeans, t-shirt, sneakers. Was I back? Could I be back after I died there? If so, this was not where I wanted to return.
I looked around, but there wasn’t a ventilation shaft or window to see where I was. I lied down by the door, but could see nothing through the gap underneath. The corridor was lit outside – if it was a corridor at all – that was all I could tell for sure. There was absolutely nothing I could make a weapon out of, unless I was willing to break the bulb, plunging myself into pitch black, which I was not ready for. The only thing I could use was the blanket to throw on my captor – if there was a captor at all and I wasn’t just left in this hole to rot. I didn’t want to dwell on that. Someone must have noticed my disappearance. Dodi or Tim, someone will look for me, and the Rev has ways to find me. Unless it was him who put me in this place, growing tired of my antics, getting rid of me for good. I felt panic rising in my throat. He can’t do that to a Sister. Even he can’t be that insane. He can’t.
I had no way to tell the time, but after a while I heard steps on the corridor.
“Hey! Let me out! Hey!” I banged on the door. The steps stopped outside and the light dimmed in the gap underneath. Whoever it was, they didn’t move or say anything. I backed away and curled up on the bunk bed.
The peep slot opened and a tray of food was pushed inside. I ran up to the door. “Where am I? Why are you keeping me here?” I tried to see the person on the other side. The slot snapped shut. I looked at the tray; scrambled eggs, cereal, orange juice, toast, jam. A pretty decent breakfast, straight outta my world.
“Hey! Come back please!” The plates and the cutlery clinked softly as I banged on the door until my fist hurt, but there was no reply.
“It’s not laced with anything,” came a voice from the other side of the door. It was a male, that much I could tell. The breakfast tray stood on the shelf untouched.
“Please! Why am I here?”
There was only silence, then I heard keys jingling. I took a step back. My hands curled into fists, aching for a weapon.
The door opened and I could see my captor for the first time. No, I was definitely not back. He was either the most extreme vohiek I’ve seen so far, or a genuine freak. He was much taller than a man, tall even with the standards of this world and wide; he pretty much filled the doorframe, so there was no way I could dash past him into freedom. He was bald, his skin bluish-yellow, slimy looking, with a wrinkled snout and fangs hanging out of his mouth. Whiteless black eyes stared back at me.
“Wh… who are you?”
“I’m To-ong, last and most dangerous bastard of the wizard Ätile.”
“Where am I? Why am I here?”
“You are important to the vohiek…”
There was only one vohiek he could be talking about. “I’m sorry, but you got that wrong.”
“…because of your music,” he continued as if I hadn’t said a word. “Once he comes for you you can ask him about it. You’ll have ample time before the sacrifice.”
“My music? Hold on, sacrifice, what sacrifice?”
He gestured towards the tray. “Eat.” The door shut with a bang behind him.
There was only one thing he could have meant by music – Tim heard people’s music, their basic, underlying tune, what made them, them. It was one of his vohiek Talents. Why mine would matter to him I could not fathom.
Judging time from meals, at least a week had already passed. “I guess the Oiskog’s already over,” I said when To-ong next came.
“And you are still married to your husband…”
“He is not my husband!” I snapped. I remembered our last, unfortunate encounter. My lip was still somewhat swollen and tender. “I don’t even like him. He’s an asshole.”
To-ong shrugged. “I though the sacrifice would interest you more than such minor details.”
I snapped my head up. “Yes, yes it does, please! What kind of sacrifice is it? Does it require, um. Me dying?”
“Your blood, and his magic, but Ätile could tell you more about it.”
“Can I talk to him then?”
“Could I just give you, you know, just a small vial of blood and be done with it, or does he, um, require all five liters?”
He chuckled on the other side of the peep slot. “Nice try. No, your husband has to be here too.”
“Not my husband, damn you!”
“Why does it irk you so much? He is your spring husband, isn’t he?”
“So what? It means nothing.”
“There you are wrong. The Oiskog is an ancient mating ritual. You lasted longer than any of his previous brides.”
“Oh, yay me. How do you know so much about him?”
“Your question reveals a naïveté that is surprising in a Sister.”
“I was trained to be a Death Bride, okay? The main thing, the only thing I was taught is how to die properly.”
“And you botched even that.”
I was left with the echo of his annoying snicker.
Next part comes next week!