Chapter 4 - For Survival
Gemma waved everyone from the room. And by the time the door had closed behind the warlocks, Leda’s tear-stained face was turned onto the fire. Her body and mind felt empty and hollow suddenly.
“You should be in bed,” Gemma whispered, but she sounded exasperated, as she carried a silver tray with tea things over to the fire. “The sky has fallen, and they couldn’t wait several hours for us to be well-rested to inform us.”
She finally sank into her chair. Her composure seemed to have returned, but Leda didn’t want to look at her. It would be an acceptance to what she had to do.
Gemma sighed and looked into the fire. They were silent for a moment, and even though there was a throng of warlocks outside the door waiting for them, Leda felt Gemma’s calming, authoritative presence: she wasn’t going to let anyone back in until she had spoken to Leda.
“Why is this happening to me?” Leda finally muttered.
Gemma’s eyebrows simply arched.
“I suppose that’s one way to look at it...”
Leda’s eyes shot up at her questioningly.
Then Gemma continued, “another way to see it is... well, you will now be someone of importance.”
Leda’s lips parted in disbelief.
“I will be Fated to a Tariel.”
Gemma immediately shook her head and spoke quickly, “you must know by now, Leda, that most of what you have heard are rumors, and nothing more.”
Gemma inhaled and straightened her shoulders. She looked down at her hands-- this was going to be very difficult for her.
“People are complicated, Leda, and many of us don’t like to face that fact. We like things to make sense, and to reconcile a dark coven with a genuine right to privacy, we invent fantasies, like school children, to make sense of our reality.”
Then she suddenly leaned closer to her: “You’re no longer a school-girl. You’re barely 20, but you’re old enough now to know that fantasies and rumors from small, silly warlocks that have little imagination are not true. Whoever Adonis Tariel is something you will discover in time, but you certainly have no idea now.”
Leda just watched her.
“I’m telling you this for your own survival,” Gemma looked back into the fire. She couldn’t look Leda in the eye. “One way or another, you will be in the sovereign’s palace, and you will be Fated to Adonis Tariel.”
“What if he is all that they say?” Leda’s voice broke as she stared into the fire. She knew that Gemma was right. She knew that was how Fate worked. And with what had happened, with the sky falling, this was far beyond Leda or anyone’s control.
Gemma was silent for a moment. She did not say anything. It was almost as though she didn’t even hear Leda speak.
“Then you must be the better aspect of the Tariel coven,” her soft eyes landed on Leda.
Leda sat back, glancing around the room. There was something else, though. She didn’t want to think it or speak it, otherwise it would be true for her as well.
“What if...” she brought her knuckles up to her lips, “... but what if that’s why she disappeared...?”
Leda looked down at her lap.
“We don’t know why, Leda,” Gemma said wearily. “We don’t know what has happened. And it appears that Adonis Tariel had nothing to do with it.”
Leda’s eyes darted to her aunt-- she hadn’t heard this.
“How do you know?” Leda leaned forward in her chair.
Gemma was still staring into the fire, and her lips parted when there was a firm knock at the door. Leda and Gemma suddenly turned their heads toward the door as it opened. Soler swiftly closed the door behind him, carrying an opened letter. Leda could see the deep violet ribbon of the sovereign hanging from the letter. Soler handed it to Gemma immediately, and she ran her eyes over it, holding it close to the firelight.
Gemma just exhaled folding the letter, and stacking one hand on the other. Her back was straight, and her eyebrows arched.
“I suppose that’s that.” Then she switched her eyes to Leda, “we’re expected in several hours at the palace.”
“For the Fating?” Leda jumped to her feet as Gemma rose slowly.
“An inquiry, and depending on what happens, yes, a Fating.”
Leda’s chest rose, her lips pursing and then opening, but Gemma reached out and clutched her shoulders firmly.
“You will not be alone, but you must be strong, Leda. We will sort this out, but you must be prepared.”
And with that, Gemma wrapped a firm arm around her niece, and Leda was ushered out with her aunt and Soler on either side of her. When the doors to the study opened, warlocks were all there, still. They turned when the doors opened, and Leda could see them better. The gray morning light was beginning to shine through the French doors. There were two young women in periwinkle damask coats: they were apart of her mother’s elite militia appropriately called Valkyries. Near them was the man in the deep red damask. He had dark, olive skin, and his eyes were close together, which were, at once, kind and stern. He was careful to keep his distance from the fox-faced man in the chartreuse coat, who was with two other men from the sovereign's guard. Leda understood why the sovereign's men were there, but couldn't imagine why the man in the red coat as well as the two Valkyries were there, too.
"I suppose you all know that we've been summoned." Gemma stuck out her chin as she spoke in her sweet, smooth way that could easily twist anyone around her finger, but Leda could sense her profound contempt for the fuss that had been caused at that hour. "And unfortunately, I suppose you'll be following us."
"Of course," the fox-faced man tilted his head politely, drawing his hands behind his back, "we are here to protect Miss Stryker."
Leda's lips parted, and she was about to ask why she needed protection.
"As am I," the man in the red asserted firmly from behind the group, shouldering his way forward to the front. "I have been charged to look after, Miss Stryker."
He spoke these last words venomously at the fox-faced man.
"I don't think," the fox-faced man spoke with a little, taunting smile, "anyone feels remotely safe when a Tariel's man is left to protect a young woman, whose sister only went missing shortly after being courted by Adonis."
With that, the man in the red coat lunged for the fox-faced man when Soler blocked the man in red. Leda shrank into Gemma's arm.
"It's not worth it, Horus," Soler whispered at him furiously.
"Best listen to your friend," the fox-faced man smiled.
"Lydos," Gemma narrowed her eyes at the fox-faced man, "perhaps you could be more concerned about the immediacy of your duties rather than a trivial rivalry."
Lydos mouth went flat, but he politely nodded his head at Gemma, relenting.
"If you all choose to remain while we ready ourselves, I won't tolerate any exchanges of power. You may use the drawing room and the garden."
And with that, Gemma firmly pulled Leda with her, and they climbed the stairs together.
Leda was left alone with the a small, blonde maid, who worked nimbly. Apparently, Gemma had already communicated what exactly Leda was supposed to wear and how quickly everyone had to work. Leda wasn't even given a bath as her arms and legs were already being shoved into different layers of clothing. Her long, white-blonde hair was swept up, and when Leda looked at herself in the mirror she looked almost unrecognizable. Leda could recognize her wide-set blue eyes, her stark, pretty features. But there was something about the ensemble about how she was fashioned in that moment that communicated some kind of message, not only to Adonis Tariel but to herself.
Leda ran her hand down the pale lavender gown. It was simple and brushed the tops of her feet. It was a strange cross between a nightdress or something she'd wear to a party. The last thing the maid fastened to her was an elegant, cream shawl that was fastened at her shoulder which crossed her neck and her body, leaving her right arm exposed and free.
With a little huff, Leda could see the maid was finished. And when she turned, Leda understood that she had to follow her. The maid escorted her down the stairs and when Leda finally reached the foyer, she saw Irena, her mother, and her uncle Pyramus. They looked equally as tired and flustered as she felt. They also had hurriedly dressed and were speaking in low tones to each other. When Irena saw her daughter approach slowly, she pursed her lips in assessment.
"Good," Irena's eyes twitched all over Leda's face.
It was the first time Leda had heard anything positive from her mother related to herself. Leda didn't know what to do but stare back.
Irena's eyes were like fire for a moment then she answered stiffly, "you look young, innocent. It's your only protection right now."
"Why do I need protection?" Leda glanced around, remembering the warlocks that were just standing outside of the study waiting for her. They all seemed to have disappeared.
Irena inhaled: the questions were getting irritating. Pyramus drew a breath. He wore dark sunglasses-- he must've been hungover. His dark red hair hung around his face, as he began slowly:
"The sky falling... well, there are concerns..."
He nodded his head from side to side.
"Concerns that some people may be angry..."
Leda suddenly felt a strange relief that it wasn't necessarily protection against Adonis Tariel. But then she realized that was worse: if Adonis Tariel wanted to hurt her, who would protect her?
"And they would blame me?"
"The whole family," Irena correct coolly.
There were footsteps behind them, and Gemma approached pulling on her mauve gloves and pull down the netting to her modest hat. Soler followed behind in a cold lavender suit that complemented Gemma's ensemble.
"Let's not linger-- I don't think sovereigns care for doddling subjects." She waved her sister and brother and her niece toward the pale blue carriages that lingered in front of Gemma's home.
"You're coming with me," Irena shot at Leda over her shoulder.
But Leda stopped in her tracks and stared at her mother's dark blue coattails flapping behind her.
"I want to go with aunt Gemma." Leda wasn't going to spend the whole ride listening to her mother criticizing her. She felt an overwhelming sense of dread bubble inside her at the thought of being near her mother.
But Irena spun on her heels and walked back to her daughter: "Unless you want to die, your aunt can't protect you against multiple attacks from other angry warlocks who are justifiably angry that your sister shirked her duties. Get in!"
"She didn't shirk anything," Leda was close to tears, but she knew what she was saying was futile. "She's gone, and something has happened to her."
Leda felt as though she were breaking in half. Why wasn't anyone concerned about finding her. She shouldn't be here, arguing with her mother. She shouldn't be summoned. And she shouldn't be Fated to Adonis. Valentina was supposed to be climbing into that carriage with Irena.
"Why isn't anyone looking for her?" Leda felt like she was being crushed, and her voice faltered.
"We don't have time for this," she grabbed Leda's arm and dragged her to the carriage, but Gemma rushed over.
"Have some compassion, Irena!" Gemma reached for her shoulder, but Irena jerked her arm away. "This isn't easy for anyone. It's not as cut and dry as it is for you. She has to be willing, that is the key to the ceremony, and you know it!"
Irena breathed, her red lips disappearing with anger.
Fresh tears streamed down Leda's face, and she suddenly felt foolish for creating a fuss. It would only make her mother's temper worse.
"I'm sorry," Leda whispered. She immediately opened the carriage door and climbed in.
Irena shot Gemma a look of contempt before climbing in after her daughter.