1. | For Who I Once Was
There were three factors that stood out to Lynda. The first: she was lost. She wasn’t lost in the sense she couldn’t find her course backward to a location, but rather she had lost all grip on who she was, memories included - that was, she didn’t even recognize the body she now occupied. The only thing she hadn’t lost was the name Lynda, a name she found stitched on a handkerchief in the top part of her ruined dress. Lynda, a name she did not know.
Ash floated down, gathering on her shoulders. The weight from the ash felt insignificant as she felt the pieces of her past rush back. She had memories, but they were from another life. That was the second thing: she had the second factor: she. She perceived she had lived before she could remember the simplest things: the taste of warm honey in tea, the humming of windblown leaves, or missing the feel of sun-kissed skin and the sight of exquisite sceneries that ranged from the gush of the green rolling hills and overgrown gardens of her parent’s former Estate to the colors of the mountains that surrounded the borders. Yes, she saw mundane memories, but she was also seeing clearly the life she used to have: the life of Duchess Kayra of House Sparthrest. She remembered everything: the time she jumped from a tree to escape the estate with her sister, who broke her ankle in the process, to the last moments of her loveless marriage. However, she was at a loss, as she could not recall the events that led to her death or the months prior.
Last, she felt odd. When she gazed down at herself she noticed that things were different. Her once delicate hands, that carried only the smallest of wounds from her first few tries at sewing - the only scars that would be acceptable for a person of her status as a Duchess, now possessed a different roughness formed from calluses, a result of labor, something her principles never allowed her to do in the past. It forced others to serve her on her every whim, as the high-class level she lived, as she carried the noble name of Duchess. She was never left each day with the suffocation, the feeling of being chained. Lynda missed the sleeves and shawls that would always cover her back, no matter the heat, to protect her image, an image that would crumble if anyone, including the man she was married to, saw the scar that ran from her forearm, traveling as deep as her shoulder blade; a scar acquired by a fall as a child off a wall into a thorny rose bush. When she now moved her shoulders, though, there was no resistance, no pain, only wariness as before. The fire-warmed stone she stood on did little to make her feel any warmth. The past wound was no longer on her body, and why would it be? She was no longer the same person she once was, but someone completely different.
As for what she saw, it only left her an intense sense of longing. From loneliness? She was not sure. Perhaps. It could as well come from the thought of missing out on the lives of her past loved ones she had left behind, and maybe even a recent loss, she thought, as she woke up in a place that could very well be an islet, and she would not know any better. But for who she once was, she learned better. After all this time, these years, she recognized what to do. In this lifetime, it would turn out differently.
Kayra as a Duchess lived a full life, but Lynda now bore a few regrets from her past. The crucial one was not knowing what became of her beloved little sister. For that reason, Lynda decided she would travel back to the Reisymth’s ruthless Estate, a place that was thoroughly known for its beauty and enchanting appearance but also carried a piece of a unique specimen well noted for its poisonous nature in, very much like her mother, Madam Reisymth. She had normal plants, but their use was for show. Their charismatic presence and vivid fragrances for the guest that walked ideally by, they would be met with: Black Eye Susan, and Orange Tiger Lily, she also possessed Rosemary and other medicinal herbs which she carried in fifteen to sixteen diverse sections created for each variety. But those weren’t Madams’ favorite.
No, her favorite was in the far back, away from prying eyes. Oh, how her mother favored them, called them her darkened beauties! Hidden there were Wisteria, Lily of the Valley, Deadly Nightshade, Foxglove, White Snakeroot, Oleander, Water Hemlock, Rosemary Pea, The Wild Pair. Madam Reisymths didn’t care if they killed, stunned, or suffocated someone or something. If they could be used as a weapon Madam had them in her collection. They were beautiful, lurid, even eye capturing, but a single touch, a single taste brought on their deadly desires. She treated them as her babies; better than her youngsters, in fact. Kayra knew, as long as they weren’t poisonous enough to kill or she held the antidote in hand, Madam Reisymths held no fear of using them as a refined punishment for her children.
Determined to find the answers to how her sister’s life ended, and to see it wasn’t by their parent’s hand, Lynda got up from the only spot that wasn’t covered completely in ash and soot and stepped out of the leftover ruins and stones that were the only remains of the burned cottage she first awoke from. She got up with the traces of black ash covering the once blue dress and took her first few steps out of the cottage that was once encrusted in rust, tawny amber, and golden flames.
As she stepped out, her feet stood upon a white and black splatter that deeply contrasted against the greens, browns, and yellows of the beautiful array that fell from the forest. One foot in front of another, step by step, each step matched up to the pounding of her heartbeats that resonated through her head, something she could only conclude came from the inhalation of smoke leftover from the remnants of the burnt cottage. However, when she pulled her hand back from the spot where the pulse had originated from her head, her hand was colored crimson red. From her blood. She wiped the red swiftly onto her dress - the only sturdy thing in sight, besides the trees, which she didn’t want to use for fear of gaining attention from predators, which would make it easier to track her down by her scent carrying further in the dense population of the woods. The crimson of her blood now splattered on her dress left a smudge of scarlet on the darkened dress that was still stained in soot- a once beautiful ocean blue dress, she assumed.
The farther she went, the less she smelled of singed hair and flesh. At some point, the smoky smell overcoming her senses subsided, and she could once again smell familiar fragrances: pine, oak, and chestnut. As she continued to forge farther from the burned cottage, she smelled other things. A fragrance very familiar to her met her nose, flowers. First, it was small ones that people were adapted to seeing every day as wildflowers, lavender, and soon she came upon honeysuckle. Oh, how she wished she could smell roses instead. Honeysuckle reminded her too much of lovelessness. First, it was a drug that would draw you in close, but then, as soon as you step away: you wake up. That was what she was used to. At the painful crushing reality that would break any fantasy she had, that would usually come from her parents and her husband, lovelessness.
Kayra did not deny that she didn’t have the deepest ties with her parents, as they had only conceived her and her sister in the hopes of a rise in status after they paid their dowry in their matrimony. After failing to receive a male heir to the House of Reisymth, they couldn’t wait to see her, the oldest of the two, off to be married as soon as she turned a marriageable age. They weren’t even willing to wait a couple more years so she could reach her prime. Those foreign feelings of parental love, the feelings that were displayed several times when she and her sister snuck into villages dressed as commoners, she wasn’t sure how to process them. With all these past issues, her parents carried barely any space in her center for mourning. Even though they were the two people that helped create her, she perceived them only by two names. Madam and Lord Reisymth.
Actions spoke louder than words - anyone would know of this phase. But Kayra’s marriage was based on one action; the agreement of an arrangement to transfix matrimony as a blood alliance, and no other sweet words would follow. Her husband was known as Duke Sparthrest, or on rare occasion to her alone, Duke Aaryn. Duke Sparthrest, in her core, carried a bit more space. For the limited amount of times he made her heart hesitate in a beat, or the odd occasion they shared intimacy in their loveless, arranged, marriage, the only success that was felt would be in the Duke siring an heir. This hope ended in failure, pain, and a hopeless miscarriage.
Pain was something that Lynda, as Kayra, was used to, be it from struggling with loveless ties of mental anguish or physical torment. Over the years she had accomplished many things, as Kayra, and even now as Lynda.
She was walking nearly barefoot in the woods with only the shreds of garments clinging to her limbs; nothing but the tatters of material tied together by two loose pieces of string stitched in an odd arrangement of triangles, crosses, and lines that never quite aligned or overlapped each other. It just covered her heel before it perished - leaving raw skin exposed. But even so, she would endure what? Pain, suffering? Surely, she would get through it.
After a day, when she finally made her path out of the forest, looking up, the initial things she noticed were the sombre looks and harsh whispers cast upon her. It didn’t take the Queen of Gendrah to realize what the reason was - her sooty appearance, bloody display, and ragged clothes made it obviously clear. Having gone through far worse, she felt she could get through this, just like she had done in the past. Just as she had done as Kayra.
Kayra wasn’t like most noble ladies that would fall into self-pity from the smallest of misfortunes that were handed to her. Yes, she was forced into a loveless marriage, when still a child, and then was unwillingly seated as the Duchess of Sparthrest with no proper preparation for her age. She had dealt with all that through the years and yet; she had remained happy. She could still get servants and the maids to cover for her in front of the Duke as she planned dates to sneak out to the villages and meet her sister. They allowed her to her lonesome on days her sister couldn’t slip out of their parent’s Estate, with just the occasional eyes of the Duke’s right-hand man on her to ensure her faithfulness. Yet, she held pride and carried an unspoken understanding throughout her marriage with her spouse. The Duke would not harm her in any way, and they would share pride and respect for each other, acknowledging each other’s status in front of others. While, behind the scenes, they would not interfere with each other as long as neither tarnished the Sparthrest noble name. This, of course, included having any affairs.
Kayra wasn’t sure how Duke Aaron felt, but to her, compared to an abusive or prison-like marriage, it could be much worse. Celibacy didn’t seem so bad in her books. It just meant that out of all the years of marriage she and Duke Aaryn had never gotten, well… personal. Those situations almost looked to be forbidden. If something transpired, it usually started by having one beverage too many and ended the next morning going back to the way things always went. In other words, their relationship was physically cold and emotionally shallow, longing for the kinship that was formed with the pleasantry of the skin to skin contact, the definition of lovelessness. They never acknowledged those nights, and it was only during those nights she would drop his title of Duke and call him by his first name, Aaryn, out loud in a fit of emotion and passion. Those nights slowly stopped after their third year, when the pain and loss of their unborn child strained too much on their fixed link, in some ways breaking it, breaking them emotionally and physically.
They never spoke of their loss, but then again, they hardly spoke to each other during their marriage. The loss affected Kayra though, to the extent that besides the servants and gardeners of the estate, the only other member she spoke to was her sister.
Words spoke volumes, but silence drove farther into the hearts of others, a lesson she learned over time.
The surrounding silence was something Lynda was adopted to. In the estate she was always left alone, no one ever approaching her but now. It was never silent with the whispers and asinine looks that would follow her back, but she played well, using the skills she learned to show ignorance and held her tongue, a skill she did not have to perfect as the Duchess.
Looking around, she found the only person who showed to not have her eyes fixed upon her. An old man sat to the far left of her, three houses down: wearing a withered hat that barely shielded the few strands of hair peeking out from under it. He was sitting on a crooked three-legged chair that looked like even a nudge of spring air would topple it over. Taking a breath, she made her course over, ignoring all the attention her steps were creating. She strode up, shrinking a little at the bombastic sound that her steps made due to her weight. She stood in front of him and in a meek voice, trying to get his attention, a voice that was in great contrast compared to her once confident, full voice that had strived for recognition as the former Duchess.
She tried to draw upon the old voice. Nothing came out but a squeak.
He did not look up. Trying not to look flustered while ignoring the burning on her cheeks, she cleared her throat and did a slight cough. This time he looked up. He had milky blue eyes.
He was blind. Astonished, she staggered back.
Lifting a hand, the man fumbled before gripping her wrist in a tenacious hold. She resisted pulling away.
“What can I help with, Ma’am?” She smirked finding it ludicrous, as she raised an eyebrow and in amusement asked, “I have yet to speak, however, you can tell that I am a lady. I am curious on how you could tell?” He let out a gruff chortle that captured the silence as it traveled through the town, making her hesitate before joining in. When the laughter subsided, she received her answer for how the laughing blind man knew who she was. Her footsteps. He had claimed he could tell her gender solely on the principle of how her walk echoed. She asked in the same tone she had tried to muster before:
“The town name,” she said, firm, and to the point. She forced the sound like it wasn’t a request.
She was in Midstone, the blind man told her. A name she knew, but never visited in the flesh before as the Duchess. She learned all the names of the towns and villages that were within the Duke’s borders, a task that was given to her as the Duchess to do annually. She knew the names, locations, and possibly could sort the towns by names, sizes, population or most accomplished. It made a negligible difference to her. She even worked as far as memorizing what each one specialized in.
Midstone didn’t jump out to her as one of the big producing towns that specialize in one particular thing. She noticed that much by just gandering around without a need for any prior knowledge. What she did recall was that Midstone was recognized for its clear route for merchants trying to get to the capital city Greintranet. As she now recalled what the town profited from, she became more confident in herself and on how she was getting to the Reisymth Estate. After gaining short directions to where the carriages and wagons were located - across the town, and two lefts, she bid her goodbyes to the kind-hearted, blind man. A satisfied smile now stained her bloody, cracked lips. She stretched, not giving a care about the eyes that were upon her.
As she wandered, she took in the lackluster surroundings. The only colors were the dark red hues that occurred from her: dried blood and clay on her skin that was slowly peeling off with the dark stains of ashes caused by the heat of the high rising sun. Lynda had a suspicion that if she even ran the tips of her fingers through her hair, she would be only met with the grime of soot, filth, and dried blood. In her statue of loneliness and feelings of isolation, even with the eyes of the townsfolk constantly on her she seemed lost and forgotten. She told this to the wind, and as if in a response to her, a frivolous breeze wafted past and tossed her hair and the few remaining items of clothing in the air as if in laughter at her drastic fall in appearance, and title.
To her surprise, her appearance wasn’t so disturbing that it kept all living things away, because a man clearly in his forties approached her. He was wearing a hat that did not provide the amount of shade that it was originally meant to cover on his rounded face. His face, obviously sunburned, was ugly, with cherry red splotches.
He came running after her, calling in a boyish growl “Ms. Heltzgrave” a rough pounding screech. It reminded her of a sound that’s made as wind hits a wall, with the combined event of waves rushing, pulling, turning and drawing back from the sandy shore under a storm. She did not stop nor turn around. Surely he wasn’t talking to her. He spoke in a very deranged way, his pronunciation was off in a foreign way that made the b in the call come out more like a “grrr” sound, so she heard it as Heltzgrave and not Heltzbrave. “Ms. Heltzgrave! ” he called out a second time, now his steps and his voice barely carrying to her.
She found, now being more than three quarters to her destination, that the wagons were now in sight: across the remaining part of town and to the edge where the town’s sign read, ‘Welcome To Midstone’. It was, carved in big wooden block letters. It seemed, however, that the ‘s’ in Midstone seemed to have fallen, so it read as ‘Welcome to Midtone’. She thought it was a bold sense of irony that the sign was carved in the wood when the town’s name carried the word stone within it, and how the word stone wasn’t even up on display. Lynda thought it was best to keep the bit of humor to herself as onlookers gave her odd looks at her sudden burst of mirth.
As she paused in the movement to appreciate her own laughter, she failed to notice the old red withered faced man that looked to spend too many hours under the sun and not enough inside, caught up to her.
Now she was certain, as the man grabbed her elbow calling her once more by that preposterous name, that she was Ms. Heltzgrave, although she had no idea who that person was presumed to be. Lynda Heltzgrave didn’t seem to flow as a name, much less a commoner’s one of that. So did that mean that Ms. Heltzgrave was an alias? If so, for what purpose did it carry?
She soon received her answer from the red-faced man. He explained he was a friend. Or at least that’s how he introduced himself. The word itself could refer to the possibility of many things. So she appeared less guilty after he explained they had never met before face-to-face.
Instead, he knew her from an organized circle of connections, as her alias ‘The Mistress In Blue, and the few people that apparently knew her persona: Ms. Heltzgrave. A silent sigh escaped her lips once she heard those words. She didn’t have to fake being Ms. Heltzgrave, or fake being anyone. No one knew her, or who she was, and who she could become. That was an unforeseen warm welcome. She could just be herself.
If she was ever asked who she was.
The answer, if she was being candor, would be; Kayra Sparthrest, formerly Reisymth. The only thing different now was the new name, Lynda. Whatever her last name was expected to be, she may never know. She did not mind that fact much. The name may have frequently changed, and the body may have shifted profoundly, but who she was had still remained the same.
He helped her one more time, by introducing her to who he claimed was a lifelong friend. She wondered if family was closer in terms. She could see the resemblance: with the same sunburned face, cheeky smiles, and slightly squished noses that could possibly be mistaken for a potato. But then again, that may just be how people in the merchant business looked in this region. Before the early cherry-red faced merchant left her, he offered her a gift.
“From one friend to another. For a friend in need,” was his only explanation when offering her the small basket. Looking down she saw a unique outfit, a green dress, with a grey ribbon attached. It was way plain from a formal noblewomen’s standpoint.
Nevertheless, she gave him a heartfelt smile, a hesitant step as if asking a silent question. He didn’t stop her, but instead opened his arms and engulfed her in a hug, with neither caring for each other’s filth-covered appearance. When they parted ways, they promised to meet again. Unknown to Dengrol (a name she later learned from his cousin) he had become an unforgettable friend to the former Duchess of Sparthrest. Dengrol’s friend later introduces himself as his cousin- Micah.
His voice differed from Dengrol. It was deeper, harsher, in a way that made you want to step back upon your first encounter. But, with his way of smiling all strawberry faced, it made it too hard to stay guarded in his presence. It was during him questioning her, that she discovered two vital things she may have overlooked if she hadn’t encountered the two cousins on her move to the Reisymths Estate.
The first major revelation was that her sister, Cyndria, was alive. Everyone she had known was alive, she’d only been ‘gone’ - six years. The second piece was that her sister was no longer at the Reisymths Estate. In fact, her name no longer held the title Reisymths. Instead, her sister carried the name she once did - Sparthrest. Her sister had become her replacement in her marriage to the former Duke. They had chosen her as the next sacrifice in their parent’s eyes.
Her sister was never built for the type of coldness that developed from an arranged marriage. The heartless persona was never made for her sweet, innocent little sister’s eyes.
She had been away from her sister for six long years and her sister needed her now. She had first-hand experience what a marriage to Duke Aayrn could do to a person. She dreaded what must have happened to her sister after six long years. Had they married her to Duke Sparthrest for that long? Lynda could not be sure… No matter how hard she pressed Micah, he did not know.
Lynda exclaimed and then tried to explain. She went as much as yelling that she had to go to the Sparthest Estate, see her sister, be with her sister. Micah, that kind-hearted fool, heard none of it.