Chapter 96 - Deception
Rowan and Alena stood beside the rails as Marcus concluded his business with Byron until he called them and they joined the subdued trio. Byron frowned, and he had that strict cast to his face again, which betrayed his unhappiness with their decision to go on this journey alone, and without backup. Sarah was also oddly emotional and shared her father’s sentiments on the matter.
“If we’re not...” Marcus started, and Byron drew himself up to his full length, his silver-gray eyes flashed with unexpected anger, and Marcus stopped speaking, despite his amusement at Byron’s indignation.
“Master, I believe we’ve already had this conversation before, and we will not have it again. We will wait,” Byron interrupted with the dignity of an admiral, and the anger only a friend could have when he didn’t agree with the course of action another friend takes but knows he cannot change that person’s mind.
Alena and Rowan knew that this time, fate stacked the odds against them, and they had lied to Marcus, which meant he didn’t suspect the truth, ergo Byron had no idea what their intentions were. They brought Marcus under the impression that this was a scouting mission to check out a possible location where Belvare might be hiding. He thought they would return, figure out a plan, and launch an assault.
They knew where they were going and how to get there. They knew exactly what they intended to do, and that they would walk into a trap.
They each wrote Marcus a letter which he would find with Byron upon his return. Each of them explained their part in this, and they put all the research in sequence for him to figure out just in case they didn’t succeed. If nothing else, it would allow him to understand that there was nothing he could do about what would happen.
Byron didn’t bow stiffly as was his custom but took Marcus firmly by the hand, and then he held both women close for the longest time; the way he held his daughter to him sometimes.
Sarah hugged them too, and it felt odd, so right and yet so wrong. They barely kept themselves in check since they were both so close to tears, so near telling them all the truth. Byron took their hands briefly as Marcus jumped to the dock.
“I will be here,” Byron assured them with emphasis, and it was odd that he specifically looked at Rowan before allowing his gaze to shift to Alena. As if he had sensed something in their manner.
“Look after them well,” Rowan suggested as she indicated the humans, and then they were gone. Her words confirmed Byron’s suspicions more than anything else she could have said.
He knew it was her way of saying goodbye, and he also noted that Alena did not do the same. He suspected that they were about to do something stupid but brave. He had a feeling Rowan might not return, maybe both of them, and they didn’t let Marcus in on their plan.
“They were in our cabin just after Marcus came to speak to you this evening,” Sarah observed, and they both quickly made their way there. The letters were on Byron’s desk. One for him, two for Marcus bound to a familiar black wrapped package, and a note for Sarah. They ran up to the deck to warn Marcus, but the horses had already disappeared into the night. They returned to the cabin to read the letter which confirmed all of Byron’s fears.
Marcus became quiet as they rode on their horses, leading the supply animals by their halters. As usual, he sensed that something wasn’t right, and he glanced at them often. They forced themselves to act as normally as possible, and it wasn’t long before Marcus relaxed and joined in their quiet banter. He probably thought they missed Sarah and Byron already.
Rowan used to like the open road, but these days it made her uneasy. She’d gotten used to the confines of the boat, the sounds, and movement of the sea. She missed her kitten along with the constant smell and noises of the humans. She longed for Byron’s dry sense of humor, and Sarah’s irreverent teasing.
They traveled hard for almost five days before they encountered the first Demvaren and skirted them unobserved or so they hoped. The girls had less of a hope of that, knowing now that Belvare created the monsters only to keep them from guessing his plans. He slew all those villagers to get their attention and start them on this ill-fated journey.
The urgent sense of danger his action created prevented them from understanding just how well planned and well-orchestrated all these seeming coincidences were. For centuries he placed the clues, made sure they were preserved and presented at just the right moment, by just the right people.
The understanding of what was to happen did lie between them like a rock dragging their souls down, and Marcus must have sensed it, which made him more watchful.
They half expected him to corner them, but he seemed as caught up in his own thoughts as they were. He’d been like that since he returned from his shopping expedition and the mark on the pier hadn’t improved his disposition either.
It made the burden they carried easier to bear and to keep from him. It wasn’t as simple to acquire the poison locked in his strongbox, without his knowledge. Byron had proven a useful, but an unwitting ally in their deception as they replaced the vial with a replica filled with alcohol.
The full understanding of what they learned from and saw on those documents, made them almost as emotionally closed off from each other as they were in the beginning, but at the same time, it wasn’t entirely accurate either.
Marcus wasn’t as acutely aware of this as the girls were, and it was almost as if they were already taking leave of each other, and it felt wrong. Suddenly this ending seemed so unjust, but it was the only right thing. The only road to redemption, and it may lead through hell first.
Now that they knew how to read the texts and could dechiper the code, they learned that the one who had the strength to end Belvare and to drink the forbidden blood, would not die quickly. It would be a death so painful as to twist the mind and rip the soul apart.
This fate would be theirs, and if Rowan had her way, it would be hers alone. Knowing you would die one day and knowing you were going to die soon, made a world of difference. Especially if you knew how and the how was one of those things that terrifying nightmares were made of, but somehow it felt like a fitting end for her.
Rowan’s life had been tortuous and painful until her path crossed with theirs. The dream was nice to hold close to her heart, but somewhere inside, she always knew it would never belong to her. Could never be possible for the likes of her.
Her only regret was that Marcus’s daughter would never be born. That their child would never have the chance to take her fate in her hands and make a life for herself. That Marcus would never get to love his daughter, and that she would never know her mother or have a home. She would never even have a beginning.
His son would be born. Rowan decided that long since and for that, she would willingly die. She would not allow Alena to thwart her efforts or make her sacrifice in vain.