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- Rachel Rossano
The finished section of Word and Deed:
“You are weak, Verdon. You kill like a woman!” I glared at my half-brother.
His narrow shoulders tensed. A hush fell over our late father’s great hall. The dog lying before the hearth groaned loudly.
Sick with anger and helplessness, I gloried in his reaction. He condemned me to a living death, marriage to a man some considered unsettled. Still I could evoke fire in my frigid sibling. I knew his soft places where the words would sting most. Rage prodded me on.
“Your mother would writhe in her grave if she saw the slovenly murderer she brought forth. It would be better for her if you never lived.”
“Hush, Verity, hush.” My old nurse’s hands trembled where they gripped my arm. Ealdine served more as a companion now that I reached adulthood.
She had good reason to cower. My cheek still stung from Verdon’s last loss of composure. Wisdom urged me to let go of the burning emotion in my gut. Yet the anger demanded I rant or sob.
I refused to give Verdon the satisfaction of tears.
His fingers closed on the hilt of our father’s sword. My sword. Our father promised it to me, yet Verdon refused me even that. I unleashed the final blow.
“Our father would rise up and call you coward for this act. Selling me to a mad man will not silence my tongue.”
The impact of his fist snapped my head back. I welcomed the pain. It grounded the anger, distracting me from the agony in my chest that began with our father’s death. The grief ached with every breath those moments I missed him most. I was helpless without Father’s protection, a fact never more clear than now.
Another blow, this time behind my right ear, rocked my sense of the earth. The crack of my skull on the stone echoed, preceding searing pain. A fog blanketed my senses. The hand I lifted to my scalp came away red.
“Foolish move, Ravenridge.” Sir Hirion’s face wavered above me. I blinked, but he remained out of focus.
“Lord Silvaticus paid for a living bride, not a corpse. If you wish to remain in Silvaticus’ favor, she should be well and whole when he arrives.”
“A fortnight is time enough for her to heal. I have not left a lasting mark on her features, only her head. He will see nothing amiss. Now lock her in the tower. I grow weary of her lies.”
Rough hands lifted me from the floor. Ealdine’s pleas for caution grew distant as my senses finally faded.
Dust and taste of mold assaulted my tongue. The convulsion of my sneeze morphed into a cry of agony. I ached as though trampled by a horse.
“Hush, love, calm.” Cool hands touched my face and then stroked my wrists. “Hush. The pain will pass.”
“I …” My attempt to speak grated my throat raw. Unbidden tears pricked at my eyes. I would not cry. “Wat …”
A cool, wet rim pressed to my mouth. I drank. The fluid tasted ill. I would have spit, but I needed the moisture.
“It rained last night, and I didn’t have a clean vessel. Your brother allowed you water, but not enough,” Ealdine explained. She offered the cup again. I drank with gratitude. Once my thirst was quenched, I pushed it away.
“I was foolish.”
“Child, words spoken in anger are rarely wise.”
“The apology will hurt my pride thrice the agony of my headache.”
“Humility takes strength to cultivate.” She spoke the words of my sire.
I opened my eyes slowly. The light, filtered through the lattice over the window, pierced my eyes. I grimaced up at the wooden ceiling beams.
“The tower again?” I croaked. Only three months ago I stared up at these beams. Then I gave little thought to my surroundings, too ill with grief to care. Father newly dead, Verdon, drunk with power, banished me and my whetted tongue.
Then his marriage plans gained me the reprieve. Dangling like a lure before all the rich and powerful nobles, I had smiled and kept my tongue silent. Lords and knights alike evaluated me with bored or lecherous features. They placed a price on my hand, womb, and inheritance. Apparently, the last was the crucial attribute to my new lord and master.
Lord Silvaticus purchased me without bothering to lay eyes on me. He witnessed instead the perfection of my land and coveted the strategic value of the cliffs on the southern coast. He wished to build a fortress. Hardly a flattering decision.
I dreamed like any other maid of a mate who loved me in word and deed. The hope poisoned by my brother’s greed died with the betrothal announcement. I was now the property of Lord Silvanticus, a man with a heart of ice. All he had to do was come claim me.
“Your brother decreed you are to speak with none but me until your husband comes to claim you. I am only to attend you three hours each day.” Ealdine fussed with my bandage. My head still throbbed, further reminder to keep my temper before Verdon.
“Did he ban the garden?”
“Nay, you are allowed exercise within the walls, but the gate has been barred from without.”
“He wishes me to crave human contact.”
Verdon also knew the chinks in my armor. After the previous confinement, I sought contact, conversation, and interaction with others.
“If he wished that, he would have denied you me also.” Ealdine stroked my forehead, hands soft with age. “Now sleep. You need rest.”
My skull pulsed in rhythm with my heartbeat. I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep. I would write my apology in the morn.
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