Truth is Truth, to the End of Reckoning
What a piece of work is man?
How does one prepare for a battle? What had she to do but don her armor and prepare her battleground? However, she had no idea what she could use for armor. In all her dealings with him, especially of late, even her most steeled defenses managed to be cut down rendering her has naked and helpless as a babe. She also knew nothing of where or when she would be ready for her move, so her battleground was equally as unknown.
One thing she knew for certain: standing in the rain wasn’t going to make her any more prepared. The rumbling of thunder seemed to grow louder. The storm was coming in for a second wave; this was long from over.
She walked through the rooms like an unwilling trespasser and only lingered in one spot for as long as absolutely necessary. The bath had been drawn for her already, more than likely before he went in to visit her that morning. By then the water was tepid, hardly warm at all, but she washed anyway. The heat would have been unwelcomed on her scorched skin or even the skin around it, so she counted it lucky.
The marble countertops held an array of choices of clothes for her to wear. As much as she hated how revealing her choice was, the open backed dress was the best choice to give her wound air to breathe. The dress itself was a deep blue, almost black the hue was so deep. The neckline itself was high and hugged her neck. But there were no sleeves and the back exposed from the cut that plunged down to the bottom of her waist almost revealing the swell of her backside. The bottom portion was heavy and flowed quite gracefully. The only other color was floral embroidered designs in white thread along the floor-length hemline.
With the open back and shoulder, she was able to regularly keep up with applications of her burn salve that she found on the table by the bedside. As for her hair, she kept it bound high near the top of her head not only because it kept her hair from brushing her wound, but he liked it best when her hair loosely flowed. Even in the threat of violence, she would do nothing to purposefully please him.
The minutes passed in a flow of time as steady and sure as a river. Instead of agonizing over the change from hours to minutes left in solitude, she simply sat near the fireside and meditated. She reached as deep within herself as she possibly could. She tried to memorize the path between her waking mind and the world of her innermost memories and subconscious instincts. If the path became familiar, she would find it when she needed it. With practice she could be more confident that she wouldn’t be at the mercy of chance.
Meditation became harder and harder as she became more aware of her hunger and thirst. She had no way of telling for sure, but the greying light became darker and darker seemingly signaling the passage into evening. She had gone all day without food or drink. The storm outside increased its passions, and she was almost prepared to go outside under the darkening skies to drink from the rain.
Just before she made the move to rise, the door handle signaled someone approaching. She got to her feet quickly and put on a strong stance to face him. Would he be coming at her with the same anger and fury as he had left with? Would he be slithering in holding over her the key to things she needed? She wasn’t sure if she was present enough to adapt efficiently to his mystery mood.
But it was not Durai who stepped through the open door. Though it took her a moment, she recognized the Captain who was responsible for bringing her here and in the state in which she arrived. This was certainly not what she was expecting, and she tried to hide her inner fumbling to adjust. She hadn’t the slightest idea what he could want. He came in with nothing, not even a weapon against her. Not that he needed one. Even at her strongest, she would be no matched for a high-level guard.
He walked in and stood just within the frame of the door. She reached out with her senses and found him different than before. He wasn’t as confident this time; his bravado had diminished. He was almost like a scolded pet with a tale between his legs, but not quite. He still held his pride and his honor. But something else was missing. Something he seemed to be searching for.
She wasn’t the only one keenly inspecting. With her slight change in appearance and time away from the weathering of the wild, he was surprised at what the polish revealed. His memories of her looks didn’t do this sight justice. She seemed so beautiful, so purely stunning that he knew in an instance what drew so many to her. This was surely the face that inspired the stories of dragon-guarded maidens that ignited the bravery and passions of knights and heroes in the old stories of faeries long ago. Something magnetic shone through her eyes. It was so tangible that he almost was compelled to reach out and grab at it.
She very much seemed to him to be an angel.
In the wake of her silence and scrutiny, he decided to speak first. His voice held no arrogance; it hardly held authority at all. He cleared his throat almost as if knowing his voice had shrunken small within him from the shine she emitted. “I, uh…I brought you some food. It’s in the main room.”
She took a step forward surprising herself with grace and confidence she had not shown in a very long time. If this was her chance, she would take it. “Did you pick the table up first?” she asked with pointed assertion. She notice his confidence drop even more at the words, and she wasn’t about to stop there. She had a chance before to come in with stealth and secrecy. She had a chance to be spared all of this. This man took it from her.
“I take it that wasn’t from dancing,” he said without hiding the guilt in his voice then. She was surprised that he wasn’t masking it in the least. Was that a trap? Could she trust that?
“Not any dance that I’d care to repeat. Though, I must say, thank you so much for delivering me to the ball.” She noticed as he talked that he seemed to be searching for something. But the more she thought about the suffering she could have been spared, the less she was willing to graciously humor this man.
“I was just –“
“If you say ‘following orders,’ I will strike at you any way I can. Sins asked of you from your masters make them no less sins.” Althea felt the power she had long since counted as lost within her growing stronger. She thought maybe she had what it took to reach the other side of the story she was thrust into. However, she realized that this man was hardly the evil adversary she would have to face in the end.
Now it was he who took a step closer. He didn’t hang his head in shame, his voice held no excuse or pitiful contrition. He looked her dead in the eyes and answered her, “I know.”
What had he come for?
“You’re seeking something. What is it? What do you need from me?” Her tone dropped its harsh intent somewhat. One cannot deny human nature, and her nature was, at its basest, helpful and hopeful. Even if time and again it put her under the heel of oppression and misery, she couldn’t seem to shed the skin she was born with.
Hemele’s eyes darted this way and that momentarily almost as though he didn’t know the answer himself. Althea closed her eyes for a moment and felt deep within him. She saw two souls fighting for reign of his heart. They swirled inside of him and all around him like rapids in a violent river. Hemele could feel her inward gaze penetrating where no one else had looked before, and he felt vulnerable. Perhaps for the first time in his life.
“I guess I need to understand. There’s a lot of shadows that seem to follow you, and I don’t know if they are the bidding of the devil or you.” Hemele’s question seemed to confuse Althea for a moment. She never for once in her life had given anyone a reason not to trust her. She wasn’t used to not being trusted. Even a complete stranger in the woods at the end of the world seemed to instinctually trust her. Now this man poses the possibility that she is the mastermind behind all of the manipulated situations surrounding her.
But then, somehow, the idea was not incomprehensible. His position, his questions, every action he took made sense if he had walked in the darkness cast by Hell itself for long enough. He didn’t know her, he only knew the whispers she left behind and the orders without context of the most perversely powerful person she had ever known.
Althea spread her arms away from her body in an attempt to appear open and clear. “I don’t hold the strings here; I never have. All I want is for a chance to stop the suffering that has touched everyone. I’m sure it’s touched even you here high on the hill. Instead,” she said as she turned towards the fire and looked deep into the dancing flames, “I am held here stifled by the shadows of which you speak. I am not master of them. At least not yet.”
At her final words she turned back to Hemele and saw his eyes wide with horror and disbelief. She knew at that moment that he had found the horrible site on her shoulder. She realized also that, somehow, that was what he had been looking for.
“It’s true,” he whispered so quietly and unintentionally that he wasn’t sure himself if he had said it out loud.
Althea looked at his reaction to his discovery and knew that this moment was important. This was the pivotal moment in the fight for a man’s conscience and soul. She was afraid to move and tip the balance wrong.
Then, to her surprise, he seemed to tremble. It was as if something in him broke and crumbled at his feet, something terribly important. And it had. Hemele was standing at the center of the pillars holding high his lofty aspirations and the idealism his aspired to, and it was crumbling around him into dust at his feet. All he had done shamed who he wanted desperately to be. The possibility of his own sins were so dauntingly massive that he was drying up inside like the rain gone from summer. In that moment, all sound faded far away and all he could feel was the cold sweat at his hands and tasted the white electric panic in his mouth.
He hadn’t even noticed her approach, but he felt the hand through the darkness and the touch drive out the despair. He looked down at his hand as it was held by two very small ones. He looked up and saw her. The light from the fire threw brilliant light from behind her, and she was even more assuredly an angel then.
Hemele swallowed hard the dryness in his mouth. “I was sent to bring you food and leave. He instructed guards all night…he will be gone until dawn.” He stopped as he realized that the man had left and a boy was left talking.
He turned her slightly, and to his surprise, she let him. He looked closer at the mark on her shoulder and saw that everything Galen had told to him was true in every detail. He looked back at her then. Her expression was frightened and brave at the same time.
He opened his mouth. His voice was small and wavered in his inner crisis. “I want to understand, and I think that I’ve read this, all of this, all wrong. Do you think you can tell me a story?”
“I will tell you the truth.”