…they moved among the carriages, the crowds, the noise, oblivious of everything but themselves, hearing nothing, as if they had been walking together in the country on a bed of dead leaves.” ― Gustave Flaubert, A Sentimental Education
Heresy. That was the word that came to Alexandra’s mind. This was heresy, a blasphemy with no end. The stately fir trees seemed to tip their needle pointed crowns in the breeze as the carriage made its way down the dun-colored hill to the massive parade field choked with the people she would rule as their Duchess. Alexandra acknowledged the majesty of the trees, an evergreen sea that gifted her with the scent of spirits and mint.
The Duchess elect shifted her gaze through the front glass to the back of the driver and his assistant on the black rolled leather seat outside. His back was broad and pushed hard against the uniform that struggled to contain the muscles and thick bones of his shoulders. The assistant was no small man either. Guards, she noted. They were more than they appeared to be. The deep rumble of his voice in a whisper cut through the upholstered frame of the carriage, and the assistant’s raspy laugh spoke of bawdy tales in the taverns last night.
She turned back to the window at her side and listened to the rhythmic clop, clop, clop of hooves. There were more horses behind them just out of view. The honor guard, no doubt. Alexandra’s vision blurred as the sounds of the carriage rolling down the worn path lulled her senses.
Heresy was always the new dawn and still the cyclic violence of her many lives played out in her nightmares and life, she thought. Cezar, sitting up front with the Officer of the Guard, looked regale with his uniform, well-groomed hair, and pitch black beard shimmering in a glow about his head. The detail of the gilded trim and lacquered frame of the carriage shifted to a washed out haze. No, God no. Not now, please. She pinched the soft tender skin of her inner thigh hoping the pain would stop her shifting to another waking dream, the dreams that haunted her at will. Color faded to cold blues and wet grays. She felt herself drifting as the sounds of reality faded and the sounds of her memories played voices and scenes before her eyes.
The Duchess, the one who dances with knives, an octagon cage fighter who loved the taste of her opponent’s slick, coppery-sweet blood in her mouth was royalty. Lost to the streets and regained. Heresy, she thought. Fucking heresy. She knew in an unthought voice in her head, she was a revenant, and she wasn’t alone. Not anymore.
The carriage lurched, Alexandra shifted back in the current moment and fought to hold herself there. No more dreams, she pleaded with an invisible master. She reached down and felt a hand. It was firm. Diminutive fingers turned up into her palm and squeezed. It was too late. Alexandra was gone, traveling back in time to another place, another moment her being couldn’t let go.
Alexandra lifted the captured hand to her breast to somehow convince her heart to slow down. The thundering pulse in her ears matched the steady beat of the horses’ gait and the soft whine of the wheels on axles. She heard a young girl in the throws of pain from a large man thrusting at her like an animal, the whine coincided with the slapping of iron on hooves with the gravel underneath. She heard and felt his hard thighs slapping against her naked body. Alexandra froze as a cold, rippling chill raced across her skin. Tears filled her eyes. No decent man would have her by his side if he knew her past.
The hand pressed against her body released her. Now there were two hands. One on her opposite shoulder tugging at her and one resting on her lower stomach where her hips formed a protective bowl defending the vicious pounding she felt getting faster and more fierce. The hands pressed her. Dari’s voice called out. “I’m here. I’m here. Alexandra, look at me.” The sound was distant. Moist air modulated across her ear as did soft lips with a hint of spiced perfume and clean starched cloth.
The vision and scent of tuck and roll leather, lacquered wood, and gold left colored lines of tracers across Alexandra’s eyes as she turned to the voice. She looked into the stardust blue eyes where shadows hid the top of the head, but the eyes glowed with light as did the lipstick on full wet lips. The eyes questioned her, seduced her, owned her thoughts as they bore into her like she was only a shadow herself.
Now, the nimble hands soothed Alexandra, beseeched her presence. The dead chill from moments before lifted under the penetrating cerulean focus of the irises and tender touch. For a moment, Alexandra was unsure if this was another dream where the eyes would make love to her, or the hands would lull her away from her awareness just before the stab of cold steel burned into her chest splitting ribs loud enough to be heard over her screams.
“I’m here My Lady. Stay with me. Look at me. I have you, and you are safe. They can’t get you here.”
Such a strange message and yet it made sense. Dari was no handmaid. It was only her role to play. Alexandra felt herself returning to the present with a loud hum in her ears. There was a crack like a splintering bone and then she was entirely in the present with Dari. She hugged Dari and choking back tears, pleaded with her. “Dari, I love you. You are the sister I always wanted, the friend I always needed. Please promise you won’t leave me ever again.”
“I promise, My Lady.” The mesmerizing lips moved in the light as Dari’s voice drifted in Alexandra’s consciousness. “We approach our destiny once again. You are more powerful than you’ve ever been before. My Lord was right to seek you out. There was never any other choice. And now, it begins. Don’t worry,” Dari said as she stroked her Duchess with a love that can only be felt by a revenant returned to her wolfpack after many seasons alone. “We all will know what to do. It’s in our blood. You’ll see.” The two halves of the whole held their embrace as both felt their life together was far more potent than either alone.
Art by Jimmy Law.