Chapter 30: Melisande
We sit outside in the moonlight, enjoying the last the day has to offer- Bane makes me sit almost upon him, so close that I can feel his breath on the left side of my neck, looming over me like a dark predator, ready to drag me back inside should any trouble occur, and kill any man who dare approach his inner circle. Only Bobby, Andri, Barsad and Carrieveau are permitted to sit near, listening to the crackling of the coals and breaking in the smoky firelight. As midnight approaches, the moon directly above the cold cells, hanging in the black sky, there is sudden movement from above; the group of us question what could be happening, until it becomes clear that someone is being enlisted to the prison in the black of night.
"Why would they bring them in so late?" I question, and Bane stands then, moving a little closer; the rope is moving incredibly fast, zooming the new inmate down the rough side of the cave, grazing their side so that they cry out in pain; Bane rushes for the end of the rope and grabs hold of it tightly, stopping the prisoner's decent; the rope goes taught and the figure smashes against the wall, letting out a small gasp as Bane carefully reels down the rest of the rope; the person't feet touch the ground and Bane stares at the short figure, looking down at the covered face; Bane reaches his hand up to the cloth over the head before him and pulls it carefully down-
revealing the tear-stained, bloodied face of a young woman.
"Oh my God," I breathe, instinctively getting up and following after Bane; automatically I grab the woman by the shoulders, turning her to face me. She catches my eye and looks as stunned as I must; without another thought I wrap my arms around her neck, drawing her close in an embrace that I may never release her from.
"Inside," Bane says after a few moments, grabbing hold of my wrist, "now."
I nod, and lead the woman by the shoulders into the physicians cells; Andri, Bobby and Barsad follow shortly after, and Andri hastily locks the door. He mutters under his breath in his home tongue whilst Bane talks to the woman in Arabic and she replies breathily, shaking with sobs; I try to reassure her and reach for some water and a cloth to clean her battered face with; as I get a closer look, even through the darkness, I can see that she is stunningly beautiful; a small straight nose, full dark lips and oval eyes the colour of the sun-baked earth beneath our feet. I also see that the injuries to her face have not been caused purely by the grazing of her decent into the pit; both of her eyes are blackened with fist-shaped bruising, and her top lip is split all the way through, bleeding still.
"Ask her what happened," I implore Bane, and he complies.
"The guards beat her," he informs me- my chest tightens as I watch her cry, the bruising to her face raised and puffy about her eye.
"You're alright," I soothe, holding her head in between each of my hands. She takes hold of my fingers and squeezes them tightly, staring into my eyes a second before leaning her face against my chest and sobbing there. I move so that i'm sat beside her on the bed, still cradling her face, and shoo Andri away as he comes back with a bandage for the gash on her cheek.
"What's your name?" I ask her in Arabic, and she breathes,
"Okay Melisande," I say, lifting her head, "you're going to be alright now- it's safe in here- come, lie down-"
"No," she says through her gasps, "no, I need to speak with my father-"
"Your father?" Bane asks her, "you won't find him here, woman."
"No, he has sent me here, we must speak-"
"He sent you down here?!" I ask, "but- what?!"
"He sent my husband away- I must get home-!"
"There is no 'getting home'," Andri snaps, "you are here now. You'll do well to keep quiet and dry your tears before morning comes, or you will find that-"
"Oh, shut up!" I snap at Andri in English. "Leave her be, she's distraught- why don't you just go away and be miserable somewhere else for once?!"
"Watch your tongue-"
"Watch your own!"
Andri spouts something at me in a bluster of his home tongue, which none of us can understand, and sits on the end of his bunk with folded arms and a hot expression on his grated features. I hold Melisande until she falls asleep, cradling her in my arms as she sobs.
The following morning there is a horrid sound which wakes me up- I open my eyes, pulling myself from my cot and going to find the source of the commotion; I remember the events of last night, remember that woman, Melisande, and move over to the bathroom.
Melisande wretches over the bowl, tears streaming from her eyes as she chokes.
"It's alright," I say, coming up behind her and holding the thick tresses of long dark hair back from her face as she vomits. She grabs my hand with long fingers, holding it tightly as she coughs the last of it up.
"Thank you," she says, and I smile, a little surprised.
"You speak my language?" I ask, and she turns her face to me, wiping her mouth over with the back of her soft hand.
"You speak mine. It seems only fair, do you not think so?"
I give her another smile and help her to her feet, bringing her back through to the room where Andri still sleeps and sitting beside her on my own cot.
"How old are you?" I ask, and she seems to struggle with her English a moment before confirming,
I nod and tell her my ow age- we sit talking in our broken alternatives of one another's languages for a long time before she begins to tell me why she is here.
"I married a man," she says, "English, speaking the same as you do. That is why I know your tongue. My father... my father did not know. He is a lord, you see, he would not like his daughter being around with a soldier of your people. We went away together, I took some of fathers money- we lived happily, we were married. But father came looking, and father found us. He sent by husband away." She swallows hard before continuing, "father wanted him to die. I said no, I pleaded with him, and father let him leave if he never came back. The shame of it, the retribution on our family... I am a embarrassment to him. Shameful. The religious men, our leaders, they say he must kill me, but he refused. He sent me here as an alternative to putting me to death."
"I'm so sorry, that's awful," I tell her, squeezing my hand- gosh, she really is beautiful. Stunningly so, in fact, regardless of the bruising; her features look as though they have bee carved from granite, and her dark skin with those oval eyes is enchanting. I look around the cell to avoid staring at her, and notice that Bane is not in his cell.
"I see no other women," Melisande says, looking out to where the prison buzzes- no one has noticed her presence yet, and for that I am thankful; with all the hassle I myself have had to deal with, I imagine it will be triple for a woman such as Melisande. The thought angers me, and I realize that already I feel protective over this woman, as though there's some underlying connection stemmed purely from our shared femininity.
"There... there are no other women," I tell her carefully, and her brow eyes widen.
"...You have been alone down here?"
"All this time?"
"Oh... how long... how long have you been here?"
God, I don't even know. What, a year? Maybe a year and a half? Life seems to have just blurred together, a never-ending cycle of this battered hell.
"I think just over a year," I tell Melisande. She lets out a short choking gasp, and closes her eyes. I hold her against my side, ad feel her start to sob.""I want to go home," she says in her home tongue, a choked whisper as he squeezes my hand.
"I know," I say quietly. "...Me too."
Melisande has fallen asleep again when Bane returns to the cell. I throw him a smile which he doesn't return- instead he goes to his cot and begins gathering his things- his books and his papers, his clothes and bed sheets.
"...What are you doing?" I ask cautiously, and he throws me a burdened look, refusing to respond.
"What's wrong?" I ask him, sensing the dark nature upon him, "Bane, what's going on-?"
"I'm going," he says, bundling his belongings up in his arms again and heading for the door.
"No you're not!" I say in a whisper, heading for the door to block his path, "what do you mean, 'you're going?!' ...Where are you gonna go-?!"
"Back to my cell," he says, "I cannot stay here, can I, with another one of you in there, it would be impractical-"
"We'll just get another bed," I say quickly, standing in his path, "or... or i'll sleep on the floor, you can't go-!"
"Yes I can," he rebukes me, "it's absurd, besides, me staying there- I was only there in the first place because of the stab wound, that has long healed now, it's about time I went back to my own-"
"I don't want you to go!" I say, "this... this is your home now, with Bobby and Andri, with me! How can you just leave us-?!"
"I'm not moving country," he says, "I'm hardly leaving you... I couldn't avoid you all if I wanted to. I'll come and visit you-"
"And what about if there's someone in your cell? People will have moved around, there's probably someone take it by now-"
"They will move."
"And what if they don't?"
"I will make them move."
"...Come on," I try, "you can't go... I don't want you to go. I need you, here..." I look over to Melisande, asleep on the bed. "Let me come with you," I try desperately then, "you've got two beds, I could-"
"But... why not, there's plenty of room, besides-"
"Because I don't want you there!" he snaps, pushing me aside and charging out of the cell. I watch him go, bleary-eyed, as he disappears up the stairs and away from our cell... away from me.
I spend the rest of that day in an almost comatose state, Bane's words ringing in my ears.
I don't want you. I sleep as soon as night glimmers it's presence, anything to relieve myself of his stinging words. Morning comes around quickly again, and whe it does, I'm woken to the same retching I was greeted with yesterday morning.
I step out into the bathroom, to see Andri stood at a distance from Melisande, as she vomits into the bowl again.
"Is she alright?" I ask, walking closer- Andri puts his arm out in front of me and gives me a dark look, the salt and pepper stubble of his chin churning as he chews at his cheek.
"...You know what this means, do you not?" Andri says, shaking his head.
"...It's probably just the shock still," I try, horrified by the alternative- there is no way, no way at all-
Andri shakes his head. "That would have come last night."
Melisande lifts her head back, breathing heavily and sobbing despite her erratic state. I shake my head in disbelief, and Andri drawls,
"She is pregnant."
AN: At last, Canon! Consider this the end of Part One.
I think now is an appropriate time to tell you guys that 'Condemned' is officially going on vacation. Not forever, you'll understand- but I'm afraid I've lost all luster for the 'Condemned' universe at the moment. Writing this has become agony at this point in time, and though I have tried desperately- I've been struggling for the last six chapters- I can't do it. I have hit the wall, so to speak. I know exactly where the story is going, exactly what will happen, but I can't put my hands to the keyboard and get it down. My mindset is completely off and I'm struggling to engage- and when I can't engage, my writing suffers terribly, as I'm sure one or two of you have noticed. It's not fair on my brain, it's not fair on you guys having to read torturous crap and it's not fair on literacy itself- the last few chapters of 'Condemned' have just been an abuse of the English language. When i'm back in the mindset, when I've got other things out of the way, in the words of Arnie, 'I'LL BE BACK!', but there most likely won't be an update for a good few months. A big thank you to everyone who has stuck with Condemned thus far and especially to those three of you who have consistently reviewed :)
Sorry to be such a let down, guys- but when I do return, it will be with a abundance of joy and some delicious words for you all to read.
All the best until then,