Avarice

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A v a r i c e | T w e n t y S e v e n

T w e n t y S e v e n

❝A suggestion is nothing but play;

an accusation and you watch what you say.❞

I GAWKED AT CAIN IN DISBELIEF. “Are you being serious?” I questioned, shaking my head. I couldn’t even fathom what I was hearing. “You honest to God believe that I am the witch, even after everything that’s gone down with Marquise Trill?”

Cain nodded and shrugged. “How else would you explain what happened?” he said while handing me my cloak.

I took it from him and opened my mouth to respond, but right then my family chose to wake up. Cain turned away from me, kneeling down beside them. I ran to the other side of my family, nearest to my parents. “What happened?” Sarah asked. My breath caught and I looked up at Cain, half-expecting him to tell them that I was the witch - which I of course wasn’t.

Cain met my eyes above my family. He held them while he said, “Your carriage was attacked by lycanthropes. You were dragged here, but you’re okay now.”

I nodded, looking away from him. “It was lucky Cain was here, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it.” Cain’s eyes hardened, but he didn’t contradict me. Mother frowned at that, too, I noticed. She still didn’t like Cain, but now that he had “saved her life”, perhaps she would start getting used to him.

Father turned and pushed himself off of the ground. I reached out to try and help him, but he waved me off. Father was never one to ask for help, even when he needed it. He got himself into a stand and reached a hand out for Cain to shake.

Cain stood up himself in respect and took my father’s hand in his own. Cain stared at me while my father thanked him profusely. I could tell he wasn’t happy with what was going on, and that I had hell to pay later. But for now, all was well.

My father and Cain had to help Zachariah out of the woods, being careful not to disturb his leg any further. It was a mystery how Zach had been the only one hurt, as if the lycanthropes hadn’t actually wanted to cause the Victoires that much pain. Cain, with his keen eyesight and glare, obviously caught onto this as well.

With a glance towards my brother’s leg, he looked up at me expectantly.

All I could do was turn away.

It was absolutely ridiculous that he could believe I was the witch behind all of this...heartbreak. My own best friend, Lydia, had died from the Lycanthropes. My family had been taken. Not to mention the actual witch had already been caught.

Cain was just unbelievable.

He was probably just angry because I knocked him out. Then again, he wouldn’t be able to remember that...so I wasn’t really sure what had him so angry at me.

Mother wrapped an arm securely around me, tugging me to her side. “Are you alright, Cerise?” she whispered to me. We fell behind the others. Cain and Father were still carrying Zach practically, even out of the forest, and Sarah doted on Zach’s every need.

I nodded. “I’m fine, really.” My eyebrows pulled together and I looked over at Mother. “What happened, exactly?”

Mother shook her head, tightening her lips while she thought on it. It couldn’t have been too long ago, maybe an hour or two. “It’s very blurry, Cerise,” she told me, squinting as if that might help the images in her head. “I think I might’ve hit my head at some point.” Nonetheless, Mother sighed and began her tale of what had happened.

“It seemed to happen out of nowhere. One second there was this nice man checking over our horses - he thought he saw something off about them - and then the next thing I know the carriage was tipped over and I was watching my son bit into and ripped out from where he lied.” Mother’s eyes began to water from the memory of it. I could tell she was terrified and lied my head against her should while we walked, hoping to give her some comfort. “No I know why the horses were acting strange, of course,” Mother laughed in spite of what had occurred. “They had seen a lycanthrope!” She dabbed her hand against her eyes and cheeks, catching and wiping away the tears. “That poor man though...and you didn’t find him?”

I closed my eyes, shaking my head. “I’m afraid not,” I lied. That “poor man” had no doubt been one of said lycanthropes.

Mother pursed her lips, her eyebrows pulling together. “After Zach disappeared, Sarah was taken. And then your father. And then me. It all happened so fast. Once I was grabbed, there was this strange smell...and then I just...I can’t remember anything more. I had thought I was going to die, Cerise. That that was the end. And then I wake up and there you were...and...“Mother’s nose wrinkled, “Cain.”

I rolled my eyes at her prejudice. “He’s honestly not that terrible, Mother.”

Mother lifted a lip up in disgust. “Even if he did save my life, he is no man worthy of my daughter’s hand or her company.”

Even after facing death, Mother still would not let up on who I was to marry.

I couldn’t imagine Lilith was like that as her mother, so where had she gotten it from?

Perhaps Mother had received powers - or I had simply spoken my thoughts without realizing it - because after thinking that, she said, “Your grandmother never cared what I did with my life, Cerise, so long as I wasn’t in the way of hers.” Mother shrugged. “I was fine with it most of the time. I was an independent woman who made my own choices. I only ever looked out for what I would want my children to grow up with.” Mother smiled lovingly at her husband’s back. “And then I met your father.”

So, in answer to my question, she’d gotten it from herself. As if that made it less annoying.

Once we’d made it into town, Mother really played up the damsel in distress card, complaining that had she received a better carriage, this wouldn’t have happened. Or if the dressmaker had down a better job at sewing, her dress wouldn’t be in such disarray.

Mother was back to normal, it seemed.

Cain and Father immediately took Zach to the Doctor’s while the rest of us went home to meet up with our other family members. Sarah and Gen instantly hugged one another, crying into each other’s shoulders. I wasn’t quite sure if it was for sadness or happiness, but I imagined the latter to be the cause of their tears.

Mother ran into Michael’s arms, tugging Samuel into the hug (unfortunately for him). I stood by idly, watching this all take place. When everyone was through hugging and we had made our way into the actual home finally (how long had Michael, Sarah, and Samuel been standing out there for?), the questions arose.

“Where did you and Cain leave?” Michael asked. They, luckily, were no longer concerned about the relationship between Cain and me. Not there was one anyways.

I had already decided what I would say, knowing that this question would come up. I had rehearsed in my mind a few times already, perfecting the lie - no, fib. Lies were dirty. This was simply for everyone’s protection (including my own). “Cain saw how distraught I was and began towards the forest. I wasn’t just going to let him go alone, so I quietly followed him. By the time he realized I was with him, it was too late. So he told me to stay right next to his side,” this actually did occur, “And to stay quiet. There was a lycanthrope guarding Mother, Father, Sarah and Zachariah when we came upon them in the clearing, after following a trail of Zachariah’s blood.” There were definitely more than one lycanthrope guards, but I wanted the next part to seem believable. “Cain miraculously conquered the beast and the lycanthrope ran away. They woke up shortly thereafter.”

Michael nodded. Gen smiled, looking up into her husband’s eyes. “Oh, Michael. We should all thank Cain for what he’s done. Have a celebratory dinner or something.” Sarah nodded instantly. Michael seemed to not care as much, just slowly nodding. He had to be proud of his fellow knight’s achievements, I knew. Mother, however, immediately opposed the idea.

“We can’t!” she announced.

Gen frowned. It was clearly she didn’t want to go against her mother-in-law, but she also didn’t want to give up so easily. She played an easy card with, “Why ever not?”

Mother pursed her lips and jutted out her chin. “Why should I celebrate with such an arrogant man.” I didn’t think that Mother knew Cain quite enough to make those assumptions, but she surprisingly wasn’t too far off.

Gen’s eyes seemed to widen while she stared at my mother. “But don’t you want to thank the man who saved not just your life, but your family’s life?” That was a tough one. All of us made sure to keep an eye on Mother, waiting for her answer. She could say anything at this point. Mother never liked being pushed into a corner, but bring in the mention of family and she dropped to her knees. Mother wrinkled her nose, tilted her head, weighing her options.

Finally, she had come to a conclusion. “Fine. We will have a dinner with his as our guest for our gratitude,” Gen and Sarah instantly smiled, “however, he will not sit next to Cerise.” Sarah raised an eyebrow, clearly not understanding why this would have any impact on Mother’s decision. Gen winked at me knowingly, however, and Michael’s lips formed into a smug smile.

I rolled my eyes at the two and stood up from my seat next to Mother to walk over to Samuel.

Samuel had been standing, leaning against the wall right where people turned to go into the narrow hallway beside him. He had a blank expression on his face. I doubted he had been paying attention to anything that had just happened. He was staring at nothing until I came up to him. His eyes immediately latched onto me.

I smiled warily, giving him a slight frown. “Is everything alright?”

“Cerise, what truly happened in that forest?”

I frowned myself. “I’m not sure what you mean. I thought I had explained it. We came to the clearing, a lycanthrope was there and Cain-”

Sam raised an eyebrow, pointing a speculative finger at me. “Yes, Cain took care of the lycanthrope. But you see, I really can’t believe that. And, based on the look on his face, I don’t think Michael fully believes that either.”

My eyebrows pulled together in confusion. “Why ever not?”

Sam dropped his hands at his sides. “Michael has his best knights out there, Cerise. It wasn’t like that knight that saved you just randomly came upon you. He was positioned there, meant to save whoever was near. Cain is not one of the best men out there. If he was, don’t you think the king would have him positioned in the forest? How could he possibly know to defend himself with a lycanthrope?”

My jaw tightened, eyebrows furrowing. I hadn’t prepared for such an onslaught of questions, but with Samuel’s anxiousness and fearfulness and constant questioning, I probably should have. “Cain lives in the forest,” I said, shrugging. “He protects it. And he and Ian were the ones to catch the lycanthrope that put Marquise Trill in jail.”

Samuel looked away from me then, up at the ceiling. “Yes, but he had a helper. How could he take down a lycanthrope completely by himself? Without running away, and without a single scratch on him.”

I shrugged. “I gave him a little bit of help. It’s not like I can do much, however.” I said. It seemed like everyone today was questioning my motives, questioning my morals as if I were the villain in the situation. I had done nothing but simply help my family. Sure, I used magic to do it, but honestly, what was the harm in it?

Sam looked back down at me, his eyes boring into mine. “That’s the thing, Cerise,” Samuel told me, choosing his words carefully. “I think you are capable of a lot more than you say.” And with that, Sam walked away from me, leaving me to stand stunned.

Two times in the last hour I had been accused twice of witchcraft, and this time it was by my own brother.

I couldn’t even fathom what I knew what was to come after these accusations. If it was anything like what happened with Marquise Trill, the second the word spreads that I could be the witch, I would be burned at the stake. I wouldn’t be given such a fancy execution as Marquise Trill, even if I was of noble blood. She was related to the king, though distantly. I was nothing to him.

I, Cerise Victoire, was screwed.

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