Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 | Uncategorized
My Beloved Brother,
I write this letter to you from the small room atop the eastern tower in our parents’ manor. At this moment, I am sitting on a cushion with a writing board on my lap. There is ink to my right and clean paper to my left. A glass of wine sits in front of me. The chill Autumn wind blows through my hair. I hope to finish before the sun has fully set, for it seems appropriate to write you this letter from this battlement.
Do you know what I would see if I stood up and peered out over the crenelations? No? Of course you don’t. But you are afraid. I can taste your fear from here, carried on the wind. How long has it been since you last saw your dearest Kassana? Your beloved Green Woman? Your true love? A few days? A week? A fortnight? Has it been a month since you last heard her voice, smelled her scent, felt her skin beneath your fingers?
Did you really think you could deceive me again, Tomas?
You poor, besotted fool.
I intercepted your last letter, telling Kassana where to hide from me. Yes, my dearest, best beloved brother. Once I had the letter, it was easy enough to send along one of my own. I invited Kassana to meet at our parents’ old manor. In your name, of course. Sealed with your initials.
She came. Of course she came. She was as smitten with you as you are with her.
Oh, dear me, did I perhaps reveal too much in my choice of verb tense?
Forgive me, Tomas. This letter is so much fun to write. More than I thought it would be. I feel positively giddy! I hope my hand does not tremble too much and spill ink all over this fine white paper. Though I race against the setting sun to complete this letter, I still want to draw it out as long as possible. To enjoy this feeling. Vrentae.
I think the good lady was rather surprised to see me here and not you. But I assured her you were nevertheless on your way, unfortunately delayed by your “ward”. Kassana was a bit nervous at first. But you know me, Tomas. I quickly put her at ease. We had the most delightful tea together. She could not stop talking about you. I was content to simply sit back and watch her carefully catalog all your virtues. Oh, yes, Tomas. If I had not already known, I would have learned it then. Your Green Woman was desperately, hopelessly in love with you. And you obviously returned her ardor tenfold. A hundredfold. A thousandfold.
The Rake Breaker and Prince of Rakes. What a pair. You really would have been worthy of being immortalized in opera.
I invited Kassana to take a stroll with me. Almost immediately, she remembered what you no doubt warned her of and was back on her guard. Then she realized I am Mistress of Poisons. I could see her quickly going over the tea in her head, wondering if I had fed her some deadly thing. I doubt poison would have worked if I had used it. You know all my favorites. I imagine you have been teaching Kassana how to build up her resistance to them. A good, if unnecessary, strategy.
There was no polite way for her to refuse my company. So she came with me. We walked. We talked.
“Tomas has told me of your… Game,” she said haltingly.
“Has he?” I responded.
She nodded. “I… that is, you should know we’ve never….” She blushed. But oh, Tomas. I could hear the lie in her voice! I know it well. After all, it’s the same tone I use every time I’ve told you Shajar and I are not lovers (he’s in hiding, by the way. I made sure to tell him in person why he ought to fear you. Technically, we have been lovers since before his wedding. Which means I’ve won the Game already. But I shall be charitable. Autumn ends in two weeks. Good luck. Two weeks, and then you are mine, your forfeit is mine and your knowledge is mine. Ah, but I digress horribly! Back to my penultimate conversation with Lady Rake Breaker).
I laughed off her discomfort. “Well, then, there’s nothing to worry about!”
At this, she smiled. Poor fool, she actually believed me. I decided to embellish a little bit. “To be perfectly honest, I believe I would be incapable of playing the Game with you, Lady Kassana. Not only as I have come to think of you as a dear, close friend, but also because you make my brother so happy. The Sua’ven know we both have had so little happiness in our lives. I can see the love in your eyes, hear the love in his voice. I, too, love my brother. Nothing in nearly two decades has pleased me more than knowing he has fallen in love, and with a woman like you. You are surely worthy of each other.”
I suppose I should not have been surprised Kassana believed me. After all, I was telling the truth. Mostly. At least about the important parts. About you. Mostly.
She was quiet as we ascended the east steps, but eventually broke the silence to ask me, “Why?”
“Why what?” I returned her question with a raised eyebrow.
“Why do you and Tomas play this… Game?”
I sighed. “It’s a long story. But I suppose you deserve to know. Has he not told you already?”
She shook her head.
“Very well, then. Many, many years ago,” I began, scarcely believing I was about to reveal the entire story to someone else, to this woman of all the women in Shan’ri, “I fell in love.” I sighed again, remembering my first.
“He was a Falcon. And, oh, how beautiful he was! His mother had dealings with my father, the nature of which I never fully understood. But it meant she came often to visit us, bringing her favorite son with her at times. I never noticed him until I was in my first flush of womanhood. Then I began to notice… things. Things a woman notices about a man. The way his arms looked, as if cut by a lathe. His shining dark hair, hanging halfway down his back, wondering what it would be like to run my fingers through it. The way my heart skipped a beat whenever he fixed his deep green eyes on mine.”
Kassana had the most moonstruck expression on her face, and I knew she was thinking of you. I continued.
“The warmth of his hand as it held mine. It was not long before we professed our love. We swore eternal devotion to each other. Tomas… I think Tomas knew something was between the Falcon and I. I should have told him, but I did not. This was a woman’s secret. I wanted to tell him in my own time. Every time he asked, I simply laughed it off and downplayed the entire Romance.
“Had it stayed a Romance, we might have been able to find some form of happiness. But we were young and foolish and passionate. Not yet hard and cynical. It became… it became a liaison.”
What a demure woman you chose! She actually blushed when I used that word! I ignored her and continued. I had begun telling a story I never told another living soul. Not even Shajar. And I would not stop till it was done. Yes, Tomas. All of it.
“Our secret liaison continued for… oh, less than a full Season. The happiest Season of my life, truth be told. But then came a day when our secret could stay secret no longer.”
“Did Tomas find you out?” she asked.
“Eventually. I had something very important to discuss with my beloved, so took him to my private tower. I thought no one would discover us, that we would have privacy. Of course, my lover was quite passionate back then. He insisted on a coupling before hearing what I needed to tell him. And, silly me, I consented. That is how my brother came upon us, in flagrante delicto. Or nearly so. He was… furious. You have not seen him lose his temper the way I have. He was somehow convinced I had been spoiled, that this man was taking advantage of me. And, I believe, he was also deeply hurt by the fact I had not confided any of this to him. He grabbed my naked Falcon by the throat, dragged him to the window and held him out the window.”
Her eyes had gone wide. She did not want to believe you capable of such things. But it gets worse, doesn’t it; Tomas?
“I screamed and pleaded with Tomas to let him go. But Tomas refused, only saying how he had been deceived, how his sister had been defiled. I believe he was even crying when he said such things. My Falcon flailed helplessly. He tried to speak in his own defense, but Tomas had his hand firmly around my lover’s windpipe. It was enough of a struggle simply for him to breathe.
Tomas demanded to know if I was still intact or if this man had “ruined” me. I tried to tell him I was still marriageable, that my prospects had not been irredeemably destroyed by youthful ardor. But of course, though we had not been fully coupled when Tomas came upon us, neither of us was clothed and even a blind veth could see where our liaison would have eventually gone had we not been interrupted. Tomas knew I was lying, knew I would lie before he even asked the question.
‘Tell me!’ he demanded, yelling at me, ‘Tell me one reason, one good reason, Ismene, why I should let this trash live. He has ruined you and made you weak.’
“I was on my knees, wrapped in a thin linen sheet, begging Tomas not to kill him. I was apologizing profusely for keeping this secret from him, imploring him to be merciful. I told him what I hoped would persuade my brother to pity. I told him I loved my Falcon.
‘You were supposed to love me!’ he screamed in return.
Tomas’ hands grew tighter around his prey’s throat. ‘You have one chance, Ismene. Tell me why I should let this man live when he has come between us and weakened your spirit so.’
I took a deep breath and said-”
I took a deep breath. And then I said it. Oh, yes, my dearest brother. I opened my mouth, and I said it. It.
“‘Because I am carrying his child.’
My Falcon’s eyes went wide. I had not had a chance to tell him yet. He redoubled his efforts to get loose of Tomas. But it was too late. I could see something go out of my brother in that instant. Some part of him hardened beyond recovering. I had said the very wrong thing. My poor wingless Falcon, aided by my brother, flew out the window and broke himself on the ground below.”
Kassana was staring at me, dumbstruck. Horrorstruck.
“Ismene,” she whispered, “I had no idea…”
I shook my head.
“It was almost twenty years ago. What came after was far worse.” I stopped, reliving the horror for the first time in years.
“My father was furious when he found out what Tomas had done. He had known about the pregnancy already, of course, as had my beloved’s mother. We had devised a plan to save our names and fortunes. My fallen Falcon and I would have been married quickly and quietly to avoid scandal. I would have retreated from society for several Seasons, afterward emerging with an infant of vague age. But of course, my intended had been cruelly murdered by a jealous brother who thought he owned my secrets. No vean would marry me now, not if I was mother to another man’s child. I understand Father even went so far as to stab Tomas one night, trying to teach him a lesson about precisely whose property I was.
“Father fed me poisons after the murder, trying to rid my body of the baby. He even snuck up behind me once and pushed me down the stairs. All that did was break my leg. It was too late, the child was too much in me. And, oh, I wanted this baby. It was mine, and no one could take my own flesh and blood away from me. I resisted the poisons and kept my baby alive inside me through sheer force of will. Tomas was… I believe he regretted what he had done, his role in this whole mess. He was the only person, the only person there for me during this terrible time. Sometimes, though it would cause him to spend the entire night screaming in agony, he would drink the poison himself to deceive our father and thereby spare me. He saved my baby’s life, I am certain. My father forced me to dress all in black, a symbol of my shame. No one would speak to me. Tomas alone had a kind word for me. Tomas alone gave me love.
“I delivered my baby early. It was a difficult labor. Father had brought in a midwife sworn to secrecy, but it was still hard. It took me two days to give birth… and at the end of it, I had the most beautiful son a mother could ask for. The midwife cleaned him as I panted in the bloody bed, wrapped him in a soft chamois blanket and handed him to me. Oh, he was gorgeous! He had his father’s eyes and my hands. I thought I even saw a little of Tomas in him, as well.
‘You must name him,’ she told me. ‘The secret name.’
“I nodded, and thought for several heartbeats, just looking down into my son’s newborn eyes. I have never, Kassana, ever felt a love that strong or pure. I speak of having known true love once in my life. Many assume it was with a liaison, perhaps with the one who was my baby’s father. No. The only time I have ever known true love was holding my son in my arms. Tired, sweating, bleeding, weak, crying from the emotions which overwhelmed me, but the happiest I have ever been or ever will be again.
“I raised his ear to my lips, and, as all mothers do, whispered his secret name.
“And as soon as I had, the midwife grabbed him out of my arms. I screamed, but she stepped away from me. ‘You are not fit to be a mother, slut,’ she said. ‘Your father has ensured he will go to parents who are capable of love.’
“I screamed again, tried to get up, tried grab my son away from her. But I was too weak, my leg still Injured. I fell to the ground in a tangle of bloody sheets. I ordered the veth to detain her, but they dared not. She walked out of the room, and that is the last I ever saw of my son.
“And now, Kassana, you know why I play the Game of Tears with Tomas.”
I turned to face her. Her cheeks were streaked with weeping. Strange. My eyes were dry. I suppose I spent all my tears years ago. Can you believe it, Tomas? I thought I would die with this secret. Yet I actually told another living, breathing ven about my son.
“Ismene, I never….” She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t understand. Your story is sad, but why does it explain why you play the Game?”
“Oh,” I laughed. A bit too brassy, I thought, but Kassana seemed not to notice. “I forgot that last part. You see, it was Tomas who delivered my son to his adoptive parents. He knows my son’s given name, the name all the rest of the world knows him by. Tomas also knows the names of the ven who adopted him. All I live for, Kassana, is a chance to see my son again. To see what sort of man he has grown into. I know only his secret name, but Tomas knows his public name. Tomas made it clear long ago there was only one way I would ever learn that name. To play the Game of Tears, and to win. So I play. For almost twenty long years, I have played. And, I confess, not without some degree of pleasure on my part. But now, my current lover is in hiding. A few more weeks, the Season ends and victory shall be mine.”
Kassana could only stare at me. You had never told her about me, had you? I suppose again, I should thank you for keeping another of my secrets.
“So after you win, will you still play?” she asked. Hope glimmered in her eyes.
“I am done with death,” I answered her. “Two more weeks, and it will all be over.”
And, oh, she sighed with relief just then! Poor dear.
I looked around me, and laughed. “Why, the strangest thing! We’re here!”
Kassana looked puzzled. No matter, the stupid cow was standing right where I needed her to be standing. Everything else was just drama from here on out.
“We’re in the exact same room where Tomas killed my Falcon!”
I think she must have heard the coldness in my voice, for she tried to flee then. But I was too quick. And if I am to tell the whole story, I had also slipped a numbing agent in her tea. Not enough to kill her, but enough to throw her balance off. I wager you had never thought to inure her to that kind of poison. I had played out this scene in my head a hundred times, and it would have all been ruined if Kassana escaped. I like to hedge my bets.
Just like you, Tomas, I grabbed her by the throat and held her out the window. Just like my Falcon, she struggled to draw breath. I could see the fear in her eyes. The awful, sinking realization that she had been played from the start. Of course she had. She might have been the Rake Breaker, but I am Ismene Yvarai.
I bent her over the parapet. My lips were as close to her ear as they once were to my long lost son.
“I swore to Ikhalu that one day, my brother would suffer as I have suffered. Yet I could never inflict my pain on him. There was never a way to hurt him that deeply. But you, my dearest Kassana, you are that way. He loves you as he has never loved anyone. Taking you away from him is the only way to complete my revenge. And now you know all my secrets but one. Here it is: Ever since that black day when my first love fell as you are about to fall, I have hated Tomas Yvarai.”
And with that, one small push and she was out the window! Flying with no wings, screaming curses at me until the most satisfying wet thunk I have ever heard. I leaned out the window to look. There she was, broken and sprawled on the cold, hard ground, blood seeping out from her. Most definitely dead.
I went over to the small cabinet that is even now still there. I took out the wine I had been saving for this day, poured myself a glass, and began composing this letter.
Two weeks, Tomas.
Yours with all filial affection,
Blooded of the Fox
Mistress of Poisons
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