Gertrude loved to comb Bathsheba’s hair.
Very few people knew about that sickly old lady’s past, who seemed to never have been beautiful and young. Like any other human being, she had her spring, and it was told she’d been a stage actress in her distant youth. What was clear was she’d been Eckhardt’s lover until he scorned her for getting old.
Gertrude never had children, but she was sensitive to beauty and youth, and so she couldn’t ignore the charm of Giselle’s daughter who embodied all she’d loved and wanted.
Bathsheba’s hair when loose reached to her knees, wrapping her in a dark, thick mat that never lost that soft sweet scent of lavender. Nobody knew where the scent came from, since she never used perfume. Gertrude had tried to cut it off, but in two days it grew back. Therefore, the old lady amused herself combing and tidying it, and Bathsheba let her do so, so that she could tell her about her past and the Cabal, which was useful for her.
So Gertrude eagerly separated the black hair strands, which flowed to her elbows, while artistically braiding and knotting her hair to cool her neck. “Do you understand?” She said at the time. “Why we need the Scepter. It’s the key to removing the remaining obstacles. We’re still not unstoppable...even though your mother believes so. That Lux Veritatis can destroy us even now, if he tries.”
“What poor faith you have in me, Aunt.” Grinned Bathsheba.
“Vanity’s not a virtue. Believe me, our beloved Black Alchemist and even the illustrious Karel considered themselves unstoppable. But you see where they are now. You, my dear, you have the clue so it won’t happen again.” She stopped abruptly at the sight of Giselle in the doorway. The attractive scientist looked at both severely. Gertrude turned away immediately, but Bathsheba didn’t budge from the sofa where she was installed and threw a lazy glance at her mother.
“What’s this?” Said Giselle. “The ladies’ room? Do you really think this is a salon?”
“We were plotting, Mother.” Said the beautiful girl slyly, then she rose slowly and began to curl the hair on the nape.
The scientist didn’t answer. She glanced at the old lady and left.
Bathsheba, who could see beyond minds and hearts, saw the shadow of death hovering over Gertrude. “Aunt.” She muttered then. “You should leave. My mother doesn’t like you.”
“And what could she do to me? When that proud woman was a brat, I was already the Black Alchemist’s lover! What does she have to teach me, to show me? She should beware of touching me! She should beware this witch!” And she laughed, showing her toothless gums.
Bathsheba smiled with that vague smile of hers and whispered: “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, Aunt.”
“Dr. Boaz claims your presence, Gertrude.” Hugh, the spy, was waiting at the door. Before she could think of nothing else, the old lady knew she couldn’t refuse. Things had changed a lot and she was no longer one of the most respected people in the Cabal. She was barely a shadow, drowned by the intense light emanating from the powerful Giselle. Lazily she got up and followed Hugh into the hall.
Giselle, reclining on the couch, was drinking a cup of coffee. Seeing Gertrude, she stood up and, with a cold smile, pointed to the seat: “Do me the favour of taking a seat, Aunt.”
The old woman sat rigid, and looked down at the coffee cup served to her.
“You don’t appreciate me any more than I do you, so I’ll get to the point.” Said Giselle with a sharp voice. “I warned you to stay away from my daughter. Despite being supernatural, she’s only two years of life and you’re filling her head with nonsense. You disobeyed me and you snatch her from me all the time, when I need her and her immeasurable power to progress in the Cabal’s cause. In bothering her, you hinder that cause.”
Gertrude laughed contemptuously. “Insolent young lady! What do you know about the Cabal’s cause? Experiments, samples, analysis, mutants...bah! Neither you nor your sister were useful to our cause. I’m the one who’s leading your daughter towards the Truth. When trying to use her as a mere subject of your experiments, you’re blaspheming against her great power. You’re using an angel as you’d use a scalpel! Beware, you fool, because Lilith’s curse can be casted on you!” Leaning on the table violently, Gertrude seized the cup and took a big gulp of coffee. “While you’re wasting time with your patients, your daughter sees her way opened. Don’t underestimate her, Boaz, she hasn’t been born to be your wrist, she’s more powerful than you and she’ll crush you with her feet, you’ll see!”
“You stupid dotard.” Mocked Giselle. “My daughter is my child and she loves me. Everything you say are senile ravings of a decrepit crone.”
Suddenly, Gertrude choked. She’d noticed a sort of bitter taste in the coffee, but now that bitterness was rising in her throat and prevented her from breathing. In standing up, trembling, she stumbled and overturned the table. Her knees buckled and she collapsed on the floor. She began to vomit.
“I warned you.” Hissed Giselle, quiet, as she took another sip of coffee. “I warned you.”
“Help!” Gurgled the old woman, extending her arms toward the stolid Hugh. “Poison! Poison!” But the spy didn’t move from his place. Bent over herself, the old lady howled again in pain, and turned angrily towards Giselle. “I curse you!” She shouted, choking on her own vomit. “I curse you, doomed hag! Remember my face when you go to hell, monster! You’ll die by drowning, choked by your own creation! I curse you!” She couldn’t say more, for she fell face down and after a few spasms, and remained motionless.
Giselle was quietly sipping her coffee. When she finished, looking at Hugh, she only said: “Get rid of her.”
“You’ve poisoned her.”
Giselle looked up. There in the doorway, silhouetted against the light, was Bathsheba’s slim figure. Her beautiful eyes looking at her, calm and serene. “You’ve poisoned her and ordered to dump her body in a landfill.” She said that with the certainty of someone who knows everything even before it happens. In her eyes there was no censorship or appreciation - she was totally expressionless.
“Yes, and I ordered that filthy chapel to be burnt.” Said Giselle. “No more superstitions.”
Her daughter went towards her and sat beside her. “She was an old woman who didn’t hurt anyone.”
“She was standing between you and me! Come on, child, you know I’ve done this for your own good. She only had in her mind her past memories and that claptrap she learned from her lover. And although you didn’t know this, she was in her youth as cruel as Eckhardt. She enjoyed his slaughters. We’re better without her.”
Bathsheba smiled that smile impossible to decipher. “She has cursed you.”
“You think her gibberish scared me? The unfortunate was dying and wanted to say something awesome before going to hell. I hope you don’t believe in such things.”
“Why not?” She showed her mocking smile again. “Did I not curse Meteora’s hegumenos?”
“You know you have the power. But that dotard had nothing! Now it’s just you and me. And I’ve shown the others nobody can mess with me. Whoever disobeys me will have to face the consequences.”
That was what she’d become. Bathsheba decided not to think about that and said softly: “Finally I’ve seen him.”
Giselle looked at her, puzzled. “Really?”
She nodded, smiling calmly. “He’s in Cappadocia. They are digging the citadel.”
“Fearless, foolhardy.” The scientist whispered. “Do you want me to send our men?”
“No. Let me do this. I know what to do. Besides, I’ve the certainty they’re in possession of an object that interests us even more than the Shards themselves.”
“You have to explain that to me.”
“Be content with it for now, Mother. I’ll be back in a while...and I’ll return with him.” She stood up, smiling coldly, and immediately her beautiful body vanished in the air.