Nothing could ease the feeling of dread pooling in my stomach. The mirror was gone, but the dreams were not. Once the mirror shattered it released a malevolent creature, and this time it was not at arms-length.
I saw it as I ate my carefully-prepared meals. I saw it whenever Orynicus, the midwife, or the maid walked into the room. It was lurking in every corner, waiting, just waiting to shred me apart.
Whatever it was, the creature cared not for the passers-by, it only had eyes for me.
“You are lost in thought again,” said Orynicus, moving closer on the bed.
His warm hand rested upon my shoulder. He was far bigger than me, so much that one might assume he’d crush me with his weight. But he could not. I was not as weak as I appeared.
Without speaking a word I shook him off me. It was not clear if he was the culprit of these apparitions. I could not let my guard down. He stirred behind me, peering over the shoulder I retracted from his hand. I assumed hours ago he had fallen asleep. In the darkened room it was hard to tell.
“Cadia,” he continued, taking me by the hips and flipping me onto my back, “if you can not rest, I can not rest. Your heart thunders.”
I turned away to hide my face. If I looked up at him I might remember that night. It was much like this one. I felt my cheeks grow hot.
I shook my head vigorously. I had to clear my mind of such thoughts. But, when I did so I spotted that nightmarish creature, it was much too close.
Tears threatened to pour from my eyes — and as if they would drag the chestnut color along with them—I protected the watery droplets of shame from the horrors of the material world.
I looked back at Orynicus, only for a moment, and when I slowly turned to where the creature stood it was not there. I sighed. A crawling feeling urged me to pan my gaze down. I wish I had not.
I sunk into him, screaming and crying for the God above to spare me. Orynicus cradled me in his arms as I wept. I was not sure if he saw what I had. All I knew was that he was holding me, and I did not feel so afraid anymore.
Rippling throughout my system was a mixture of fear, uncertainty, and a strange warmth within the cold room. When Orynicus released me I wanted to reach out for him. How foolish that would be.
He cupped my cheeks in his hands. “Shall we go for a walk?”
I furrowed my brows. “It is long past dawn.”
“So? We will not get any sleep at this rate,” he replied, chuckling.
I was not sure what he was on about. It would delight me if he got in trouble with the midwife for being careless, yet again. Truthfully, that was not the only reason I said yes. I wanted to see more than a single room where I lived with the monster Orynicus and a third, demonic tenant.
“Fine. But I require more appropriate wear for the cold,” I agreed, shoe-horning in a request for clothing more wearable than thin nightgowns.
He frowned. I wanted to punch him. It was crude to make a woman wear such indecent robes all of the time. Clearly, it was not for my comfort.
After speaking a few short words to the man at the door, the man I heard but never saw, Orynicus returned to me.
“They will have you fitted on the morrow, until then you may wear Lady Tatiana’s overcoats,” he said, handing me a long, woven coat.
I eyed it with disgust. My eyes flitted shut. I tried to push away the recollection of that painful memory.
“You must wed me, Rynic, I am with child!” I screamed. The blossoms surrounding us did not seem so beautiful anymore.
His eyes were cold, unfeeling. “I am already promised to another. Do not order me.”
Tears of anguish filled my eyes. He truly was a sinful man. And I had shared a bed with him.
“Then I am leaving. I must find another to protect my virtue,” I said, storming down the beaten path.
A tug pulled me back. “You cannot go back,” growled Orynicus.
“Unhand me, you have made it clear that this is what I must do.”
He took me into his arms, preventing any movement. “I do not love Lady Tatiana, I love you.”
“I do not need love. I need matrimony,” I spat, wiggling free of his grasp. As quick as rain fell I ran. The twists and turns of the Vineyard thwarted me. A moment’s pause might have me trapped again.
In my rush I did not look where I was going. I bumped into a hardened chest, and when I looked up, I screamed in ghastly horror.
Darkened eyes without light, wings of shattered glass, sharp ears pierced by dark silver, it was Orynicus, and he was a monster.
A newfound sense of pride gave me strength. I inspected the coat until I found a worn stitch. Without an ounce of regret I pulled it, and the fabric slowly began to unravel. While looking directly into Orynicus’ eyes, I unwound the coat into a pile of thread, buttons, and hatred.
“I think you’ll find her coats do not suit me,” I said, trailing past him, “the man at the door will walk with me, why don’t you escort your betrothed?”
His eyes were as dark as the clouds overhead. Protruding from his backside were the same, stained-glass-like wings, and as his mouth twitched, the glass rippled. I was rooted at the spot. I could not move.
“Berrón,” he shouted, his voice like gravel. The door cracked open. I, still frozen in fear, could not turn my head an inch. His gaze did not falter, “take Mistress Cadia on a stroll.”
“Certainly,” said Berrón, the man behind the door.
I felt an arm link around my elbow.
“Where to, Miss Cadia?”
Berrón swiveled us around, and I could breathe again. I hadn’t a clue I was holding my breath.
I surveyed the man. He was thin, and very tall, with ginger hair and icy blue eyes. An oddball, it seemed, wearing a shirt with large holes, yet lavish pants and leather shoes. He was handsome, in a strange way.
“I want to see your favorite place,” I answered. Seething behind me was Orynicus. He did not say anything, nor did he make a move to the door. I did not think he would be escorting Titania.
Berrón pulled me from the room, shutting the door behind us. He was grinning a wide grin.
“We did not think his Highness would return. Was it you that changed his mind?”
I froze. Highness could mean nothing less than a Lord. It was a title I would assuredly hear about, even if it were a town away.
“I did nothing more than defy him, and if that is enough, I suppose I did change his mind,” I admitted.
His temper was volatile. That I knew. Every time I disobeyed, ran, or was cold to him, I would pay for it somehow.
Berrón quieted at the admission. I supposed he had a different image of Orynicus than I. One of respect. Not tension and unanswered questions.
In the silence I surveyed the off-white brick halls. Everything was so unclear when we flew around. It was no longer the blurry mess I remembered.
The halls stretched up, skipping the natural structure of separate floors in lieu of precariously-hanging doors. Each door was uniquely fitted, leaving space for the towering glass murals separating them. Passing through the halls I would spot various works of art like these. They depicted oddly familiar scenes. I had not known them yet, but I felt I would soon enough.
One tapestry illustrated a woman in chains. She wore a periwinkle dress, and above her head was a crescent-shaped, golden halo. Next to her was a man. His belt held the key to her chains.
Another one adjacent to it shows a lady in a spring filled with her own blood, symbols carved with a knife across her body.
“Come now, that is much too violent for you,” scolded Berrón, coaxing me to move along. I had asked him to, after all. It was not a tour of an art Galleria.
Eventually we came upon a large, wrought iron gateway, with ornate patterned spires. Through it I saw the beginnings of a large garden. There were plants I had never seen before, and I was eager to inspect and study their properties. That was my purpose at the Abbey. Collect herbs, both poisonous and harmless, and bring them back to study. I worked with wounded men and women alike, using my knowledge to heal their various afflictions, and I put myself wholly into my work.
I rushed through the gates as soon as Berrón flung them open, basking in all the wonderful colors, smells, and appearances of the flora. They were well taken care of, I assumed by Berrón, it being his favorite place of all. I thought it might be mine, too.
“These purple ones, what are they?” I asked him, a gleeful smile spread across my face. I felt like a child again. There was so much to explore. I could not have been a happier girl.
Berrón waltzed over and examined the ones I was pointing at. “Maiden’s Cradle, they’re perennials that only grow here,” he explained without delay.
Strange, I had not seen such a flower in my herbology books. It could very well be a local variant of something else, but what?
I reached out to touch the flower, and Berrón slapped my hand away. “Do not touch what you do not understand,” he warned.
I slowly backed away. “They are harmful?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not to us, but I cannot be too certain that is true for you.”
“I am proficient in herbology, will you allow me to examine a sample with gloves on?”
Surprise, and then happiness crossed his face. “I will take it up with his Highness, and we will see tomorrow.”
I frowned. Freedom was not where I stood. I was only in a fancier cage, with all the pretty flowers and nice things, but it was still a cage. With a heavier heart, I wandered around the garden, memorizing the specimen I wanted to get a closer look at. Nothing in the flowerbeds was familiar, and as I continued to ask, the answer would be the same.
“It grows here during Springtime,” Berrón said to my inquiry about a wilted flower.
It grows here. It grows here. It grows here. I could not get any further than that. When I asked for a non-local equivalent, a flower or herb in the same family, he would tell me that there was no such thing. Eventually I gave up on asking questions. A nagging feeling in my gut told me that I was in no ordinary, neighboring town, that I was in a place filled with monsters just as terrifying as Orynicus. I didn’t want to believe my gut. I wanted to pretend my new, unhelpful friend Berrón was just a shy man who had no monster within, because if I didn’t pretend, I wasn’t sure I would ever feel safe again.