Chapter 18 - The Dark
“I was alone, and time passed oddly. I must have passed out, at some point, during that endless night. I woke when someone untied me. I thought Dahlia had returned to hurt me again and became so scared that I wet myself,” Rowan’s voice mocked what she saw as a weakness, but shame burned through her like fire as she told them of the most humiliating moment of her life.
“I was too far gone to understand that the hands touching me were not rough or ungentle. I tried to fight, but I could barely move, and my rescuer made soothing noises as if to a baby. Dahlia never soothed me in her life when a good slap shut me up the same,” Rowan returned from the far places of her mind. Her eyes grew dark with emotions that still haunted her, and she had an unexpected heart-wrenching vulnerability to her that turned into a cold, fiery, hardness.
“I actually remained inside the barn for more than just one night. Enough time passed for the wounds to fester. Rats ate at my flesh, maggots infested the open wounds, and my aunt never returned to find out if I lived,” Rowan said these words with no inflection, but the shadows in her eyes spoke volumes.
“The woman, Morian, wrapped me in a blanket, stole Dahlia’s handcart, and took me to her home. I became seriously ill for the first time in my life. I screamed when she cut open the wound Dahlia made, and I wailed as she scrubbed out all the dirt and unclean things. She cried for me and kept begging for me to forgive her, but it was necessary. She stitched my wounds afterward and took care of me like a mother,” for the first time since they met her, Rowan’s expression softened into something resembling love.
“For a while, I got to be a kid. A year passed after that night, and by then, I looked like a grown woman, and not a twelve-year-old. Morian taught me to read and write. She showed me all the little things my aunt neglected to teach me, and she did not fear me. I tasted happiness for a brief moment in time,” Rowan grew still, her muscles tensed again and she clearly didn’t want to continue. Neither Alena nor Marcus needed an interpreter to tell them that what happened afterward was much worse.
“She died,” Alena guessed, prompting Rowan when she remained silent for too long.
“If I were never born or even if my aunt dumped me in that river, it would have been so much better,” Rowan murmured with such guilt and remorse in her demeanor that it alone spoke of terrible things.
Alena was aware Rowan existed and heard a few rumors about the woman who gave birth to this impossible child. She knew that same woman robbed Carla of Victor’s love, but all of this knowledge never made real the concept of a woman who gave birth to a child, chose death over becoming a vampire, left that infant both motherless and fatherless in the care of an unfit guardian. Victor could never claim a Damphir; even though he facilitated her birth when he should have prevented it.
Alena thought it unforgivable to leave a Dhampir baby in the care of a human. A mere mortal that would watch it grow faster and stronger until it came of age when the monster in its blood would awake. Rowan grew up alone in a world into which she didn’t fit, a world she didn’t understand and which shunned her.
Alena grew up in a loving home, and a happy child grew into a contented woman until her father cast her mother aside for a human.
It shocked Alena that being twice as old as Rowan with all of her life experience, garnered from being a warrior at her father’s side, the woman who ran his household and the daughter who adored her father despite his faults, Rowan was more mature.
Victor exposed her to both sides of life, one step at a time. He did not throw her into a cruel world that hated her and made her loathe herself.
If she acknowledged her pity for Rowan, it meant she accepted Rowan, and then Alena would have to admit that her father was not only cruel in battle. Her gut-wrenching sympathy for Rowan was as undeniable as her growing respect.
Victor loved Rowan’s mother, and yet he killed her to make sure his child lived. For reasons of his own, Victor wanted Rowan birthed, but then he seemed to cast her aside, and Alena couldn’t understand her father’s actions.
Carla was at Victor’s side for the best part of two hundred years, yet she failed to give him a son. Not that he had ever said he wanted a son, but he was not a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, and his daughter inherited that from him.
Alena saw Victor in Rowan and sitting this close to Rowan; his genes were superior in both of them; no matter what their opinions on the subject were.
She realized Rowan did not tell her this story to garner either sympathy or pity. It was Rowan’s way of saying she had no right to anger. Her guardians never mistreated Alena, and they didn’t torture or even beat her as a child.
She received love. Her parents spoiled her, but Victor never allowed her to become a brat. Once she came of age, he taught her to be tough in the same way he would have treated a son, but once he got home, she had to understand her place. He tolerated no disrespect.
Alena wasn’t naïve. At times, Victor was an unforgiving taskmaster, and she did things at his bidding; she would rather not have done. Matters to which a man would have given no second thought, nor a warrior in these troubled times. Alena didn’t rationalize her guilt away with the same ease. She still had nightmares over the horrors her hands wrought at Victor’s command, but she was a grown woman by then, not a child.
Sometimes Alena had trouble balancing the emotions inside her. Just because she was still a single unattached female and likely to remain so for a while longer, didn’t mean that she was vulnerable or dense. More than one man in their house thought her a harsh, cold, and unforgiving bitch.
Alena had a problem with boundaries. In a man, these things were admirable, in a woman they were unacceptable. She didn’t care most of the time, but it made it harder to react the way she realized she should. She saw the way people looked at her when her actions turned out to be the wrong emotional response to a situation. Alena saw the expression in their eyes, and she understood what they expected of her, but she could not make herself feel what she didn’t feel, nor would she pretend.
Alena had issues, and yet she had a normal childhood. Rowan learned the lessons Victor taught Alena as a grown woman when she was a child, barely able to understand. It was a credit to Rowan that she was this normal after all she suffered, but it disconnected something inside Rowan. It created a distance that lived in both of them, and that kept them apart despite their bond.
Both of them struggled to express the hurt and fear inside of them because there were much more terrible secrets to reveal, but if the door opened any further, they would both be defenseless.