Chapter 8 - Does It Matter?
The next thing Leda knew, she was being dragged back through the long corridor, past the waiting room and down the stairs through the statuary and gallery. All the while, she could barely get two words out from how quickly Pyramus was making her walk. But when they were making their way through the gallery and toward the door, Leda finally yanked her hand free. And when she did, Pyramus turned toward her, his cheeks red with fury.
“What did she mean?!”
Pyramus whirled around, speaking very quickly and barely above a whisper “Your mother speaks in ridiculous hyperbole.”
He grabbed her hand again, but Leda yanked it back.
“It certainly was not!” Leda looked her uncle up and down with disgust. A few of her pale strands had fallen in front of her eyes as she surveyed him angrily.
“I miss it,” he suddenly reared up on her, “when I could tell you a simple lie and you’d believe it.”
He tried to grab her hand again, and once again, Leda pulled it back viciously.
“Well, I’m not a child, am I?” She nearly screeched, close to tears.
"Well, you’re certainly,” he mimicked her, “not going into this bravely, are you?”
Leda looked away, feeling as though her heart would burst. She was certainly used to the cruelty from her mother, but not from anyone else.
“You will do as you’re told, and believe every lie that is told to you until you can grow up and hear the truth and act accordingly.” Pyramus stepped toward her again.
“So, I’m just a pawn,” Leda tried not to let her voice break, but the words turned into a sob.
“The fact that you haven’t already worked that out means that you cannot even begin to understand the depth of your role--”
“-- to you! To mother, and Gemma. Nothing more. I’m nothing except a bargaining chip. Is that all I've ever been? Is that all I've been groomed to be?”
Pyramus’ lips became thin and tight. And suddenly, Leda felt as though the gallery had grown very large, and she felt very alone.
It was a thought that had a occurred to her. A thought so devastating that she pushed it out of her mind. But now it was clear. It was standing right before her. Plain and true.
And it struck her like a knife.
“I am only loved as I am useful.” She muttered to the ground.
“As we all are to this Fate,” Pyramus exhaled, gazing at one of the paintings on the wall.
That only drove the knife deeper into her heart, and Leda turned her eyes back on her uncle, which were now full of tears.
“And we all must obey,” he met her gaze, but he wasn’t as angry or desperate as before. But he was grave.
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Then you’ll know that the Pantaleons are far more terrifying than any sky falling on your head.”
There were a set of footsteps that resounded behind them. It was Soler running down the steps toward Leda and Pyramus. His beauty matched that of the gallery, and he was a surprising sight in contrast to how Leda felt.
“You haven’t left yet?” Soler admonished.
“A little difficult--” Pyramus grabbed for Leda’s hand again, and she pulled it back.
And with swift force and movement, Soler reached for Leda’s wrist, before she could even think, and was dragging her toward the doors in which they entered. Soler’s grasp was like a stone.
The sun shone warmly on her face, but only for a brief moment. Soler led her to one of the carriages and pushed her inside. Before Soler turned away, Leda caught his gaze, but Soler quickly looked away. Leda thought she saw a trace of pity in his expression.
She didn’t bother asking why she had to leave. Leda didn’t even want to imagine it.
What did it matter?
The carriage had taken Leda directly back to The Blue House. Leda didn’t dare ask the servant that opened the door and helped her out why she was taken there: after what transpired that morning, over the waterfire, and what Pyramus said to her, Leda didn’t have to be told anything. Of course she was going to stay at The Blue House. If nothing else, for propriety's sake if she were to replace Valentina.
She had barely noticed the dust covers had been removed. That barely any time had passed since Valentina had disappeared. And when Leda found her old room, it was left as it was. She didn’t think twice: she pulled the wand that held her hair together and undid her dress. And everything fell around her. And then she fell into her bed.
The sun was setting when Leda had awoken finally, and the house seemed lived in, once again. People had been walking through, and voices were heard downstairs. Leda had found an old robe and other articles of clothing that were left stored in her old wardrobe. She slipped on the robe and softly padded down the stairs. The Blue House had a lovely, warm interior. There was a mix of deep, mahogany panelling with the Stryker colors to match-- cobalt blue with rose-gold accents.
There were tall, grand portraits from their coven as well as ancient weapons and shields mounted on the walls. They all gleamed with the same military luster that Leda imagined shone whenever anyone heard or said her family name.
And as Leda made her way through the house, she realized that people had already left, and that all that was there was a rustling of papers.
It was the study. She crept closer, and through the crack of the door that stood ajar she saw Irena bent over the desk.
Her breath caught. Twist any necks.
Leda gently pushed the door open.
She let her heel click. And Irena shot up straight and turned.
“You scared me,” her words were sharp. And she turned back. “You missed Pyramus and Gemma-- they just left.”
Leda watched her back move from under her shirt. Then Irena paused over her work and then turned to look over her shoulder at her daughter again.
Leda’s heart sank with fear. Suddenly, she felt as though she were 10 years-old again, standing before her mother. Periodically, Irena would summon Leda to look her over. One of the few “motherly duties” that Irena felt she had to live up to. But each encounter, each inspection, was always profoundly demoralizing for Leda. They always ended in a sharp quip about her magical abilities, her looks, or even her manner. Talentless. Sallow. Grim.
“Don’t just stand there gaping-- I would think Gemma would have schooled you out of such imbecilic habits.”
“I wanted to ask you something,” and Leda fought against the lump in her throat.
“Ask me something,” Irena echoed.
“What did you mean?”
Leda’s heart leapt.
“What you said...” Leda didn’t want to say it all out loud. Twist any necks. “Before I left, you said something to Adonis Tariel.”
“There’s plenty more I would have liked to have said.” Irena muttered.
Leda looked down at her hands, but she didn’t really see them.
“What happened the last time...?”
“The last time?”
Irena let the air out through her nose as she tossed the pen on the table. She gazed at the papers on her desk for a long time-- she knew what Leda was talking about.
“The Pantaleons wanted a quick ceremony when your sister was Fated.” Her words were clipped and factual. She placed both hands on the desk behind her and leaned against it. “I didn’t. Not when it was to a Tariel. So, I put a veil over one of my Valkyries and led her up to the waterfire. Adonis Tariel is a coward and will call what he did self-defense.”
Leda felt her skin grow cold.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Tariel killed one of my Valkyries in cold blood when he found out that it wasn’t your sister Valentina.”
Leda’s heart plummeted to her stomach. Irena’s expression didn’t flicker.
They were both silent for a moment.
“Is that all?” Irena turned back to her desk.
The shock of her words, the idea that-- the image-- of a girl’s neck snapping, all made Leda’s head reel.
“N-no!” Leda burst suddenly.
Irena whirled back around.
“That’s not all! How...? How... why? Why did you let this happen?”
Irena eyes were like fire. But Leda couldn’t stop herself: “How can you let me go through with all this? Or even let Valentina? With someone like him...?”
Leda pushed her fingers through her hair as she pushed her shoulder against the door post.
“Yes, indeed,” Irena sniffed coldly, quietly, “how could I? But it’s a foolish and childish thought.”
“I can’t do this!” A wave of tears surged through Leda. “He’s going to kill me.”
Irena’s eyes were steely now as she watched her daughter.
“So what if he does?”
A silence cut through the study.
Leda could do nothing but stare at her mother in disbelief.
“You finally have some use to this family. If I were you, I would be thanking Valentina for disappearing.”
Leda turned sharply from the door.
"Leda!" Irena called out. Leda paused but her eyes were at her feet.
“It would not be in his best interest to kill you-- let alone alienate you.”
"Alienate me...” Leda faltered through tears.
“Your sister was to be a bridge,” Irena paused and looked down at her shoes before looking back up, “and now you are, too.”
Leda bent her head lower: she was ashamed that she couldn't move. She couldn't run away, back up the steps to her room, away from her mother. She was something now to her mother. She had meaning, and she hated herself for wanting to know why.
"What does that mean?”
"It means that the Tariels can't do any harm or become too secretive--"
Leda finally met her mother's gaze.
"Because of me."
"You're my bridge." Irena's eyes glittered with a smile. "It's not a matter of Fate or desire. It's about what's good for our people and the covens. Keeping the Tariels in check is well within that scope. If you have no power, then your eyes and ears are a safe second."
"If it's not about Fate..." Leda's heart was beating quickly now. Something had struck her from within, "was the Fating real? Was this all arranged?"
Irena's eyes pressed shut and then opened again. "Does it matter?"
Leda just stared at her mother. The silence filled the room like a suffocating fog. And Leda could barely distinguish all her feelings: but the one thing that she could with absolute certainty understand was that none of it did matter in the end. All warlocks had to be resigned to the Fate. What difference was it now for Leda? She was neither human nor a witch with full powers: And now she was doomed.
In that moment, she wasn't distraught or angry. Rather, she found it all surprisingly peculiar: peculiar that her mother finally needed her; peculiar that now Leda neither felt distraught or angry; rather, Leda felt a strange warmth well inside her; it was a strange warmth that, finally, she was significant. It was as though she had finally stepped out into the daylight after being sequestered in a shadow; it was a warmth she that she had imagined, but now felt completely different than what she thought. And it wasn't relief or happiness of any kind that she felt. Just simply a strange sensation. And when Leda recognized that her mother wasn't gazing at her with the same contempt as she always did, but rather with a cool satisfaction with the role that her daughter was to play, Leda felt resolved.
There was a rustle from behind, and Leda caught the deep blue Valkyrie uniform from the corner of her eye.
It was the dark-haired Valkyrie that had offered her tea, and the one Leda saw crying in the throne room just before Pyramus had dragged her out. The girl's eyes were downcast as she approached, which Leda an opportunity to examine her face a little more closely-- she seemed to have recovered, but, to Leda, she appeared more pale than before.
"Chae," Irena called the Valkyrie, "will you show my daughter back to her room: she will need her sleep."
Chae's eyes tilted toward Irena for a moment and then with a curt nod turned. She started walking, and when Chae didn't hear Leda's footfall behind her, she glanced over her shoulder.
"You will need your rest," Irena exhaled and turned back toward her papers, "now that you are to be bonded to a Tariel, life will be quite different for you."
Leda glanced at Chae and then back to her mother.
"Off you go," Irena said into her papers.
And Leda detached herself from the doorframe, and slowly followed after the Valkyrie.