Chapter 3: Vicious
It was nearly noon before Roderick unenthusiastically progressed from the bed, still under the spell of a deep and meaningful sleep. His dreams were possessed by flaxen maidens with arctic eyes, dancing around his bed like lambs. As he washed up for a late and welcome breakfast, he shuddered a few times to what he thought was a lingering maiden’s soft hair brushing against his shoulders. A splash of cold water to his face, and a run of his fingers through his own dark hair brought him back to reality.
Clothed with a somewhat casual combination of silk vest and accompanying merlot cravat, he ventured into the main hall after a lure of rich scent. It was the smell of breakfast which addressed him, and he was eager to respond. His gait became much more energetic as he approached the dining room.
Although not yet served, and awaiting his arrival, the smell was so potent it was as if it were all laid right before him. A satisfied smile plucked his lips as he sat at the head of the table, and an attending servant gave a brief bow of “good morning” before alerting the rest of the staff to serve. Roderick enjoyed the detailed organization he demanded of his help. He always thought a disciplined and stiff servant made a better impression of its owner than a prized art piece.
“I must say, I haven’t enjoyed the smell of food quite as much as I do now.” The remaining servant, stiff as marble, gave a polite nod in agreement.
“Perhaps you have not been served by my people.”
The dulcet voice, speaking perfectly and hardly accented, struck him like a club, his long fingers clenching in submission at the soft table cloth. It was Aleksia, standing proudly with the other kitchen staff, food in hand. The other staff looked at her as if she were mad for speaking so freely with Roderick, followed by shifts in posture showcasing their disapproval. She looked fresh and rested now, with a new rosy livelihood in her cheeks. The clothing he kept for his servants did her no justice, however; the mournful shades of ash and ochre sucking the powerful color from her. Furthermore, not yet tailored, they hung loose from her comely figure.
Roderick hardly wanted to chastise her for speaking unprompted, but his cheeks burned beneath his servant’s expecting eyes.
“We do not speak at breakfast, Aleksia. I expect you to be modest in the Blackwood house.”
He nearly winced when her eyes widened in embarrassment at his reprimand, and as punishment she kept her beguiling voice under lock for the rest of the morning. His servants glowed in the basic satisfaction of his disapproval, as they found enjoyment in little else throughout their day. Although the breakfast was prepared wonderfully, and certainly more flavorful than any he’d had to that day, he refrained from commenting further on the meal.
As he finished, and indicated his intent to move on with his day, Aleksia hastily snatched his plate, managing to both snub yet ‘modestly’ respect her employer in the most austere sense. She returned to the servants’ quarters with the wares without a single glance upon him, yet didn’t sway a hair out of line. Regardless, he could feel the electricity of her resentment. But, since he couldn’t see it, he couldn’t reprimand it.
A rather put-off Roderick returned to his room for his coat and hat before heading out to the stable to see how Danjel was making out. His four Cleveland Bay horses grazed freely in the enclosure, one of them following a worker who walked along the outside of the fence. Roderick squinted beneath an unusually strong sun, raising a hand to his forehead to assist him. He wondered if the worker was Danjel, but before he could even finish the thought, Danjel popped his head from the barn door.
“Hall-oo mister Blackwood!” The cheer of his deep voice startled him, for the second time. His smirk was taut as he thought, do the Swedish believe in a proper introduction, or do they just speak at random?
“Good morning, Danjel. How do you care for the stable?”
Roderick took a few steps towards the stable entrance, giving it a quick look over. It was fairly clean, for a stable. The stall doors were open, with various scattered tools indicating they were being thoroughly cleaned. The feeding hay was also better stacked in the corner. Danjel leaned proudly on his pitchfork, one dirty hand wiping his forehead.
“I like it.” Danjel affirmed his answer with a few bobs of his head. “I like work.”
Generic. Roderick leaned back on his heels, taking a deep inhale. He wanted to ask more about Aleksia, about their marriage, about what was up with them. However, such ‘small talk’ would be highly inappropriate, especially with his hired help. Danjel didn’t seem to agree, and went on with initiating the conversation himself.
“Does Aleksia do well?” Danjel asked, looking out to the field. “She said shes cook for this morning.”
Roderick cleared his throat uncomfortably, but Danjel wasn’t a house servant. He had a bit more of a relationship with his stable workers, who were generally specialized individuals who came from middle-class families. Although he didn’t know Danjel well enough to feel comfortable conversing with him, he also couldn’t hold him to the stiff, modest standards of the house servants.
“Aleksia helped prepare the breakfast this morning, and it was very enjoyable.” He didn’t want to praise her too much, but even with such a weak compliment, Danjel beamed. Roderick intercepted.
“Are your sleeping arrangements suitable? Many of my stable help live elsewhere, so I had to have an additional bed brought into Aleksia’s sleeping quarters.”
“We need no two beds.” Danjel seemed to brag, followed by a roar of a laugh. Roderick felt like he was shrinking in embarrassment to the mention of the duo sharing a bed. Of course, the mention of such things in casual conversation was truly rude, but even worse was the thought of them together specifically. It bothered him to the point of intense scrutiny; Danjel’s sloppy hair, his bellowing laugh, his dirt-streaked face. In that moment, he looked akin to certain farm animals known for being foul.
“Very well, then.”
Roderick forced the words out quickly, avoiding eye contact with Danjel. He took this opportunity to make a hurried exit back to the house, uttering irate insults under his hot breath. He supposed then he’d demand they utilize their separate beds, but after a few moments of fuming, he remembered they were foreign. They came from another country, and certainly a different culture. He couldn’t, and shouldn’t, exactly punish them for them.
Upon entering the house, he made for the parlor with an exaggerated gait, nearly tearing off his coat and hat before he whipped open the doors. He threw his hat upon a soft, floral-patterned chair to his right, in the fashion of a true tantrum. His honey-hued eyes looked so hot with irritation, one would expect the ‘honey’ to melt right out of them. Worst of all, he had no logical idea why he was so frustrated to begin with. Ever since Aleksia and Danjel became more than just unemployed immigrants to him, he felt constantly on the edge of his seat.
Could he trust them? Should he keep them? Were they worth the trouble? These were just some of the thoughts racing through his perspiring head. He threw himself, as though exhausted, on the mint-colored loveseat.
And then he froze.
On a sturdy cherry stepstool, a house servant was paused mid-dusting of the mantle beneath Alexander’s portrait. Skin flushed, eyes widened, and fingers trembling, they slowly turned back to face the wall and carefully continue dusting. Roderick, however, did not unfreeze, because that servant was Aleksia.
Now all he could think was: For the love of—are they everywhere? Why are they ALWAYS here? Never mind that they lived in the house. To Roderick, their presence was only annoyance, a purposeful annoyance.
“Must you do that now?”
Roderick’s demand caused Aleksia to jolt, almost akin to the shock she endured when Danjel embraced her back at the docks. Remembering that moment, a mere day before, he softened. A sudden feeling of remorse came over him, as he felt as though he’d instilled fear into her. As she slowly lowered herself from the stool, he stood from the loveseat, unaware of his disheveled appearance.
“Please, you may continue. I apologize.” Roderick clenched his hands into tight fists, awaiting her response.
Aleksia glanced over her shoulder at him with an expression of hurt on her face that evoked a feeling of nausea from Roderick. She quickly looked back to the wall, again still, without saying anything. He began to speak against her silence, but he remembered he’d just earlier today told her essentially to be quiet. He was quickly becoming embarrassed with his own foolish behavior.
“I’d like to speak with you. Will you speak with me?”
Although his request was odd and quite unmannerly, he knew she’d oblige. He did, for all intents and purposes, own her. But only on paper, just a technicality of legal jargon. An agreement that could be ended at any time. Something about the fragility of Aleksia’s participation in his life evoked a feeling of defeat within him. And because of this, he would demand of her everything he could to hold on to the thought of his wilting control over her, his fallacious ownership of her.
As she turned again to face him, he felt the power of his control over her pulsing through his veins. He lowered again to the loveseat, awaiting her answer. His confidence reared its steel-jawed head, and the flames of his pride, fed by the savage intimacies of his past, burned uninhibited in his warm eyes. But Aleksia met his ego with rivaling poise, and approached him.
Just when he thought he had the situation under the direction of his selfish reigns, Aleksia sat opposite of him, as cool and startling as the water Roderick splashed on his face that very morning to rid himself of the flaxen maidens with the arctic eyes.