21 - Awaken
"Liar," She said.
Snow faced the mirror trying on her old dresses just ten minutes before dinner. Aragon Grimlake demanded a proper homecoming. He was arriving from his travels, a viceroy for the wolf packs of their region demanded he left and attended to the border.
It was a job of constant diplomatic exchanges, whether it was just a simple ordinance implementation, or a raise in taxes. Her father was an official directly under the council of alphas and his profession demanded most of his time and energy.
"You look ...nice," Clara said, "We just need to tighten your corset and it'll fit."
Snow looked like a twelve year old. A great chunk of muscle left her skin clinging to her bones. Her cheeks were sharper, the shadow under them darker and deeper. The collar of her nightgown would drop to her shoulders, exposing her elongated neck. Her skin was pale above the bluish marks of her veins. It was smooth and pale - almost see through. She knew she lost weight, but her sisters would comfort her, saying that it only came with the disease.
The loss in the bulk of her body was subtle. They'd reassure her. But, Snow didn't believe them. She didn't know what to believe.
A month has passed since the incident. Her sister described it as the daydreamer's sickness. A merchant was found with the same illness, not far into the woods, Snow was said to have caught it while hunting.
It's all just a dream. The plague has taken you. You slept through winter. Now, you've awakened.
At least, that's what they all said. It was to reassure her, offer her a solid answer. As long as it kept her silent, they'd tell it to her, again and again.
"I'll eat in my room," Snow said. Her chin dropping to her chest as she spoke.
"Oh come on," Clara replied, "One more dress. Let's try one more dress."
One more dress. One more lie.
"You'll recover from the illness, dear sister," Clara brushed her hair aside unhooking the loose blush dress from her body. Clara didn't need to do much as the dress fell right down. Snow's undergarments tugged against the heavy fabric, they too almost fell right down her shoulders.
Everything was falling, crashing down. It was gravity, so strong, she felt her heart sink with every breath.
Snow knew what happened.
She lived through it as clear as broad daylight. But she still needed to put the pieces together. She can't just scream his name and expect him to come for her. If by any chance a Torryn did exist, he couldn't hear her. And, if by any chance she was still sane, a Torryn might have not existed.
Snow knew what happened. She'd tell herself again and again. The memory was fresh and accurate, it did not feel like an element of the past. It felt like the present.
"Is Margaux coming?" Snow asked.
"We'll see," a wry smile painted her sister's face.
Clara looked like herself. Her belly was flat tucked behind an emerald green corset. Could Snow have just dreamed of Clara's pregnancy? Was there ever a child?
Snow clenched her fist just as tears began to blur her vision. She was about to be an aunt. A distant memory of Clara in the clearing haunted her.
The blood drenched tunic. Her screams. The drops of sweat dripping down her forehead as she pushed.
It was a battle all in itslef. Snow wanted to know if Clara won. Both had shared something momentous, a seal that was a proof of their bond. It was too bad that it may have not happened after all.
"Hush, Snow," Clara's hands cupped her cheeks, "Don't worry, we'll find something that'll fit."
"That would be nice. It'd fix everything," Snow lied. She grew tired of fighting, grew tired of waiting. She'll just listen to what she was told, do what is asked of her.
That Torryn, whoever he was, didn't seem to be worth it.
Snow gave it all up, gave him up. She was just plagued with the daydreamer's sickness. It was all a dream. She made it all up in her head. But, some part of her knew him. He was an alpha of house Burnwood and his eyes were a beautiful hazel. She could still feel him touch her skin. She'd wake up from a night of sleep dreaming of his eyes, his voice, his touch.
Snow was unsure if she woke from a dream or just stepped into another one. She'll be breathless, hungry for him. The skin on her neck would burn. Her fingers would rub against it, calming the warmth that radiated there. She'd face the mirror several hours a day searching for his mark. She searched for the scar day and night.
It wasn't there. So maybe, there wasn't a scar to begin with. There was no Torryn to begin with.
It's been a month since she woke. She fought through half of it in the dungeon where she was sent if she ever spoke of Torryn. The cold, the moss covered rocks, the chains rotting in rust housed shear hopelessness and desperation. It was enough to make her tremble. She despised it, being dragged down there was a horror.
If she did live that life, why would Torryn send her away? Wouldn't he love her enough to stand by her side and protect her himself? Was she a liability? A stain on his name?
Snow closed her eyes and the memories of that night surfaced once more. Her chest became heavy as she breathed hard to keep the sadness from consuming her whole.
They all saw her in her darkest. She remembered how the wolves looked at her, just as she released her void. They were barely awakened by the incident. Snow felt the terror in their eyes as she began to indulge in her kill. After what she did, Torryn's reputation would suffer.
He had a void for a wife. She couldn't feel her hands as she clenched each one. They turned cold.
After what she did, Snow brought him shame. He had to get rid of her. That is, if a Torryn did exist.
So, ultimately, it was better that it didn't happen: the selection, the marriage, the reaping, meeting him, everything. It was better that it was all just a dream.
Snow wouldn't have to bear the loss, the crippling sorrow of Torryn's absence. Being alone was one thing, to be unwanted was another.
It was all just a dream. She convinced herself, suppressing the tears that drenched her self pity.
And, there she was, battling through the dilemma of which dress still fit her. It was easier, Snow just had to pick through an array of garments. She did not need to worry about anything else. Everything was plain black and white. This life was much easier, than the life she thought she knew.
The truth did not matter, after all. Snow gave up searching for it. Everything she heard, every explanation, every narration of their version of the reality sounded bland and incoherent. But, Snow already gave up. A life without Torryn was easier, not that it was the life she'd choose.
Somehow, it felt like it was chosen for her. And Snow would play along, lie after lie.
He'd close his eyes and he'd see him there.
It has been too long, and debts had to be paid. For many years, Torryn has kept his end of the deal. He was obedient, rebelled less and went under the wing of the elders. Just like what he'd ask of him. The other alpha wolves were permissive. They understood his youth and the inexperience that came with it.
Torryn tried. He did what he was told him. He followed his wishes. He put down his wolf, he became more human, than the rioting animal he used to be all his life. He settled, married, despite Torryn's resistance to be bound to someone else. He knew it. He knew what Torryn feared. He knew exactly what would churn his gears, throb raging blood in his veins. Torryn stepped aside shoved away his anger, suppressed his wolf.
Still, Dimitri left him.
His older brother left specific instructions, long before his absence, all of which Torryn followed. The alphas will be there to guide him, protect him until the status grew on his every move, and every breath he took. He was a good student, an obedient follower. Despite his mischievous ways, he remained a follower of law. He saved up good graces, impressed most of them if not all.
Torryn did not ask anything from them, until he met Snow.
That was all he ever wanted, the night they went to hunt the Sallow. But, it was too late. The hunt failed to reap the creature, instead they were intersected by a Rogue chieftain. The size of that beast was remarkably robust. He must have fed on forest meat all his life.
Snow took the first kill. Torryn's body tensed and the more he thought of it the more he grew weary.
The wolves were forbidden to take a life once Spring Solstice began. It was a celebration of friendship, a union, the pact that dictated the only time Rogues can cross the border, interact with the Pledged. Once the sun sets, the border is non existent. They'd usually cause trouble around the wolf packs, plant traps here and there for a good laugh, some would lurk the woods and secretly harm the Pledged. No one knows what the night brings.
Now, all has been lost, Snow has taken the first kill between nations even as Spring Solstice began. Her name, her scent would be sought after the moment the Rogues found out. They'd seek her, a law violator, who under her claws let a Rogue wolf perish.
Now, they'll come for her.
A full moon has passed since Snow's absence. And at the brink of sanity, a thread slowly slipping from his fingers, a wrenching ache like a thousand needles slowly slicing through his chest, Torryn was losing his mind. He was turning mad, so much so that he'd walk straight into the rogue infested woods this fine evening. Torryn was to walk straight to danger, let the men that who sought revenge feast in his blood. He'd lay down his life, let someone take it, while he's too much of a coward to do it on his own.
Torryn's feet led him into the woods. The fog made him slip into a void of turbid air. The moon reached through the cloud of haze under the forest roof, and yet it he could see nothing. The pale white rays would flicker a small light. It was shameful, all that light drowning in so much darkness.
With a dagger in his hand, he walked towards the place he dreaded to visit. Every year, his people would hand down flowers and gifts to the exact place where his brother was last found. It was Torryn's turn to hand down his gift.
Dimitri died saving his brother. He died for honor, for love.
Torryn chuckled as his feet balanced on an uprooted trunk. He knew exactly where to step, he would head straight into darkness and still he'd find where the damn place was. Through the stubborn fog, just past the woods, to a place where his heart was safe, Snow lived.
He imagined her smiling through the pages of a book snugly covered in a warm cloak in Grimlake. She'd be devouring the smoked meat Clara would roast for her. She'd be far from all this, far from him, in a place where she can grow.
And, whatever that's left of his hollow chest, where there lay darkness, so unfathomably vast, deafening and blindingly empty, Torryn would indulge in the reassuring thought of her safety.
Thinking about that night still sent shivers down his spine. He grew up in ways that did not let fear root in his heart. He'd march into war and feel nothing. But the sight of her in front of that rogue made him question the kind of courage he knew he had. One look at both of them, sent him trembling. He was terrified.
Torryn stood in the middle of a patch of ground. Withered flowers and melted candle wax lined a slab of carved sandstone. He ducked down and scratched dripping candle from the words carved on the surface.
James Dimitri Burnwood
His fingers dug on the carved sandstone. He traced every word as he smiled. Bloodthirsty. Of all the things father could describe him, it had to be bloodthirsty. Torryn would not debate on it any further. His brother was indeed a fighter. Who would have taught him all the things he knew?
We'll be unstoppable, Dimitri would say.
He felt his lips twitch and a smile replaced a grim line on his lips. No Rogue would survive between their claws. He and his brother used to venture through the woods. Torryn was barely seven when they'd lurk around the Burnwood territory with their father. Just as soon as his wolf awakened, a hunger like no other made him crave it all, the bloodshed, the thrill of the kill. That was reciprocated by his older brother who was almost thirteen then.
Torryn had his first kill when he was eight. He has become addicted ever since.
They'd hunt trespassing Rogues and both would take one by one down. Even at a very young age, their father would throw them into the merciless night, the most kills would have chocolate sweets by dinner. It was all a game.
And, Dimitri would win every time.
Torryn reached for the match in his pocket and began to light a candle that was barely an inch from the ground. The wick received the small flame and began to feed its wax to keep the fire alive. Then, warm light lifted the darkness.
Torryn would close his eyes and he'd see him there.
He dug his palm into the sharp side of the dagger. Warmth coursed through his skin. The pain comforted him, reminded him he was alive. Torryn knew he deserved it. He deserved a lot more pain for dragging Snow in this kind of life. How did he ever deserve her? He clenched his fist and felt the blood drip down his wrist. His feet nudged withered foliage on the flickering fire. Darkness consumed him again as the flame huffed clouds of smoke under the dried twigs. Just as soon as it caught on fire, he placed his bleeding palm above the flames and let the drops of blood hiss on the embers.
The huffs of smoke, the charred blood left a scent of death. Torryn improvised, still it was a good death call. It will be enough to summon Dimitri wherever the hell he was.
The deal was over. Torryn needed his brother back. It has been too long and his wolf craved for freedom. His brother left for love and for sure he'll understand if Torryn asks for his return for the same reason.
Snow needed them both. She'll be in hiding, protected by her clan, far away from him. It will give him time to fix whatever he started.
The scent of his blood will let a coursing energy flow through the wolves of his bloodline. Torryn has spoken to his people before his departure and they will not mourn.
Do what you need to do. His grandmother assured him. The elders had his blessing. If miracles like that happened everyday, he'd keep Snow by his side.
Their marriage was bound by law and the elders would put Snow back where she belonged as soon as her safety was ensured.
"I promise, little bird," He said, "Everything will be alright."
Just as he spoke, warm breath caressed Torryn's back. He smelled a familiar scent. It was only now did he felt his eyes water. Dimitri didn't change at all. His brother still felt the same, his energy, his presence. It was intimidating but Torryn found home under Dimitri's dominance.
Dimitri's wolf called to him. Torryn turned to face the gray wolf, a scar across his face lined the black immersed against white. His coat was as gray as him, only a few shades darker. Dimitri was a mere reflection, their wolves were almost identical, brown hazel eyes against the gray that mimicked thunder clouds.
"Hey, bloodthirsty," Torryn smiled as sarcasm brimmed against his lips, "You owe me a life."
"Kill me now," Lais sat on the table across Snow.
She had a peach dress with ruffles on her shoulders and Snow giggled with the brightness that reflected on the silk. Her hair was pinned on a towering bun, fresh tulips lined the collected hair.
It was over the top. Snow had to look back to shield her eyes, hide her smile. The five of them sat around the table, chuckles rippled through the silence of the dining hall. Roasted pigeon, grilled sweet potatoes and greens in broth filled the vast table before them. Snow's mouth watered as she felt the hunger started to creep into her system. From the corner of her vision, small wheels of melted cheese topped with candied figs. Its smell of heated sugar and caramel inticed her before she even took a good look at it.
She was famished. But looking around the table, she could not help but notice the difference.
Snow was used to Rose's absence, but not Margaux's. She searched the tables and even asked one of the handmaids of her whereabouts. They only shook their head.
Her sisters were mum about it. It was part of the conversation that everyone fell in silence to. Snow only wanted to know where she was. She had a lot of things to tell her. If the dreams were just a figment of her imagination, Margaux would be fine.
Her stomach churned as she burped a bitter liquid coating her tongue. She lost her appetite. The scent of rosemary and butter did not entice her. Snow felt her insides turn cold, a lifeless pit.
Aragon Grimlake marched into the room as wooden doors swung open to his entrance. His hair, the little that was left of it beside his temples neatly combed in one side. Although age has taken most of his youth, his body was lean and toned, more than his age could permit him. The veins on his hands were thick and throbbing, his shoulders wide and burly. He did not look his age, well the gray of his hair subtly gave it away. His gaze passed Snow, her cheeks burned as his eyes stayed there. He'll probably notice the weight difference, say something funny to insult her.
He just looked away, sat on his seat. Aragon nodded his head as the she wolves took their places.
All of them sat on their designated seats as they began to partake on their supper. No words of greeting were exchanged, there was only a silent pause. It was the norm, Snow grew accustomed to. She and sisters would let their father enjoy his meal as they too would accompany him. His glass of wine would be poured by the eldest, Clara. As soon as his glass was half full. The flask of aged liquor would be passed to everyone, so they too can pour themselves a helping.
The porcelain flask landed on Snow's hands as soon as Lais took her share. From her periphery Snow's eyes caught the glimmer of Lais' dress. It made Snow chuckle. Snow poured fluid of deep ruby in her glass. Humidity clung to the sides of her cup as the cold turned vapor to water. Snow touched the brim of the glass to her lips, and drank it half empty.
She took several gulps and as exhaled a satisfying breathe. Her eyes closed as she savored the rich wine. Just as soon as she opened her eyes, her sisters were looking at her.
"Since when do you drink?" Clara asked. Snow shook her head and smiled. Her lips had no answer, only her mind bear the words.
"She has come of age hasn't she?"
The women flinched as the Grimlake alpha rose from his feast. He wiped his lips, brushing a coat of oil forming on his mustache. The women could only nod their heads. As all became silent, clatters of silver on porcelain plates filled the hall.
"I need your help,"
Celeste almost choked on the wine, she was drinking when their father spoke. Her pale face became red as she coughed, slamming a closed fist on her chest.
"Spring Solstice is approaching and I need you all to be on your guard," He continued.
"Celeste and Lais will lead the pack in my name when I'm not present here. Clara, tend to the women and the children. Make sure there is enough supply that could last us in times of need. Scavenge food, medicinal herbs, all resources. Keep your wolves at bay. No one shifts, thay will pick our energy as quick as our scent."
Her sisters had their eyes on him, while Snow merely nudged the slab of meat on her plate with a silver fork. She waited for her name to be called. She wanted something to do to keep her busy. But with the nature of her abilities, she radiated too much energy. Her void will be like a siren, audible miles from here. It will serve their best interest if she remaind hidden in her tower.
A thud on the table brought back Snow's attention to the alpha. Aragon placed a series of leather bags on the table. He opened each one and handed the presents out to her sisters.
"This if for the cubs,"He handed out a white sack to Clara as she nodded, "Mix it in their meals to keep them well and nourished."
From the same satchel, he pulled out daggers and hunting boots, there were even sharpened iron tips of arrows still waiting to be attached to a wooden shaft. His father handed them to Lais and Celeste. Both eyes widened with the sudden gifts.
"You two, round up the men," His father hissed, "Guard the border and keep intruders out. Is that clear?"
"Yes, alpha," Celeste answered.
"And you," Aragon Grimlake faced Snow as he held out a leather satchel towards her.
Snow took it in her hands and pulled out the contents carefully. Snow's eyes widened, her fingers brushing against black metal plates intricately formed in a bodice that would cling like a second skin. Despite its metalic nature, the armor was light and the fabric that lined it was soft and breathable.
"Hunting armor," Snow spoke.
"Battle," Aragon corrected her, "battle armor."
"F-father, Snow can't. She's ill --
She didn't continue. Celeste knew all too well that when the alpha raised his hand, he wanted her silenced. Celeste had no choice but swallow back her words.
"I'm her alpha," His voice was like thunder echoing around the walls, "I decide what Snow can or cannot do."
The she-wolves gazed down on their plates as Celeste's eyes began to water. Aragon slammed his fist on the wooden table. The simple remark was enough to send his temper sky rocketing. His face turned red, but as soon Clara poured him a glass of wine. He hungrily finished it, not leaving a single drop. Aragon rubbed his eyebrows, easing the tension that made them stiff. His voice steadied as he continued.
"Since Margaux isn't here with us, Snow comes with me." He said blandly.
"Father!" Celeste could not hold back her words, "It's dangerous! You're bound to the promise --
Aragon pushed against the table as plates and pigeon bones fell down the stone floor. They felt his energy. Celeste, now fully aware of what she did, reduced to submit to him. His dominance made it hard to breathe. He stood kicking his seat and began to pace back and forth, holding on to his forehead, shielding it before it burst. He took a deep breathe as he spoke, spikes of energy piercing through the air with every word.
"Snow and I leave for the woods, she will take Margaux's place as the beta of this pack."
"Father," Snow's voice was clear and soft. Aragon's energy crumbled down with the sound of her voice. He faced her, staring at her with eyes that softened despite the red that flushed heat through his head.
"Where's Margaux?" Snow asked.
Aragon's energy did not bother her as much. It was her heart that hurt her chest, with every beat, with every rioting knock. She felt her ribs turn sore just as she paced her breathing.
Snow needed one truth to cling to, and where else could she get it, but from her own father. Snow reciprocated his energy, filling the room with a lull warmth of her void. It was subtle, harmless, just enough to let them know that she demanded an answer.
She could almost feel her void ripping through her skin when Snow heard him speak.
Emptiness the deepest her chest has ever felt, caved in.
And, in the middle of spring, her soul brewed a hurricane.