As a setting for most of her fiction, Martha Corey-Ochoa created Logia, an island country between Europe and North America. She envisioned a series of stories--all of them sad love stories, often with political elements and scenes of torture and death--tracing the history of the country.
It is impossible to reconstruct today a coherent saga of Logia as Martha envisioned it, because the saga was in process when she died. At first, she imagined Logia to have been settled by atheist dissenters from Europe in the fourteenth century; later, she changed that to Protestant dissenters in the sixteenth century. She altered plotlines, dates, and names of characters and Logian regions freely. At various points, she appears to have conceived the tales as short stories, novels, or verse dramas. She wrote extensive notes about them, including literary analyses. Near the end of her life, she seems to have hit on the idea of a framing story, The Heart Craves Blood, in which the whole saga would be told from the point of view of a graduate student in Logian history writing in the 2010s, whose name was possibly Maria.
Although none of the Logian stories was ever completed, Martha wrote many fragments, sometimes as narrative sections, sometimes as journal entries from the point of view of the characters. One story, Isabel Reynor, she began developing as a novel, of which she completed several chapters.
The only thing that remained relatively consistent through the years of composition was the titles of the stories. A list of the main titles is given below. After the framing story, The Heart Craves Blood, the titles are roughly in order of the time period in which the stories were to be set, from centuries ago to the present. There were more stories than these, but these were the ones that seem to have been the most developed. Following that list are selected fragments of the stories, including the extant chapters of Isabel Reynor.
The Heart Craves Blood
Upon these pages I will cast scholarly restraint to the winds that blow but rarely in my civilized home. I will venture into a territory not mine to explore as I cross the temporal boundaries that bind even the historian to his own time. This book will provide me with the refuge I have long sought from the emptiness of the tangible world I inhabit, for as I record the suffering experienced by men of the past, I will grapple with my most immediate concerns: my desire to hurt and my longing to love.
From a young age, I have been fascinated by torture. It is this drive more than any other that has led me into the field of history. The past of my nation, Logia, is as marked by violence as that of any other nation, provided you look far enough past the cheerful half-truths of the textbooks. I grew up with Logian history, yet I never came to appreciate the violence that drove it until I was nearly finished with primary school. By this point, I was already a young woman, and gravely ashamed of my secret fascination with suffering men. I entered secondary school determined to purify my sadism in the crucible of love, only to find that the carelessly intelligent boys who peopled my honors classes were hardly deserving of my affections, and, even if they had been, were unwilling to date me. From my first year of primary school, I had cultivated a façade of proud and profound boredom with the world around me. Each year, I retreated deeper into my intellectual shell, and came to seek my fulfillment from books, papers, problem sets, and libraries rather than from my immediate human companions. But the heart is stubbornly attracted to its own kind, and mine, despite my ability to subordinate its desires to those of my brain, was only biding its time until its suppressed romantic interests could be realized. It is the story of the intertwining of love and sadism as realized in my academic and personal lives that I intend to tell now.
Mine was an unorthodox topic for a dissertation, and I planned to approach it with the utmost scholarly detachment. It was strange to type “torture” into the search box for García Library of Juliana University without being in the InPrivate mode on my computer. As a rule, I had used this mode for my more violent searches ever since I had gotten my own laptop as a primary school graduation present. Even though my parents had never been inclined to search my computer, and even though I had been living away from home for years, I was still afraid to commit my dark searches to electronic memory. At this point, at the beginning of my fourth year of graduate school, it was more for myself than others that I tried to keep my public computer use separate from my private, often nocturnal inquiries into violence.
García Library was part of the third-best university library system in Logia, and its wealth of resources had no less to say on the topic of torture than on any more mundane topic. I left my apartment on West 84th Street and Evergreen Avenue and walked the three avenue blocks to the Southwest Entrance to the Juliana University campus. It was three o’clock on a clear Tuesday afternoon in September, and the campus was humming with local mothers pushing strollers, cheerfully talkative students walking to and from class, and undergraduate first-years whose awe of the university had not yet been eroded by months of work in its service. A trio of first-years were discussing their adjustment to dorm life in loud, guileless tones.
“I love the food. It’s something different every day!”
“That’s easy for you to say. You live right next door to the cafeteria. Me, I have to walk five minutes every time I want something to eat.”
“You should have gotten a suite with a kitchenette. That’s what I did.”
I darted around these students, who were walking three abreast, and proceeded to the library. The security guard at the door did not even look up from his newspaper as I swiped my Juliana ID card and entered the library’s Gothic main hall. Dust mites were flying in the light afforded by the lofty chandelier, and the smell of fruit tarts and coffee wafted from the García Café located on the second floor to the right. I took the central staircase and made a slight left to enter the Logian history reading room. It was my favorite spot in the library as well as the one where I had spent much of the last several years. Today, I took in the bent heads of students reading at tables and writing at computers. One group had occupied the plush chairs in the center of the room, and were chatting softly about their history classes. This conversation, combined with the beeping of scanners and exchanging of words at the circulation desk down the hall, was the only source of noise in the room. The footsteps of the wandering scholars were not even audible, as the floor was richly carpeted.
My destination today was the stacks. The entrance to the stacks whose contents pertained to Logian history was conveniently located at the back of the reading room. If the room itself had been quiet, the stacks were absolutely, almost oppressively silent. They were overwhelmingly dark, too, until I flicked the switch and the aisles of books were dimly illuminated.
The centerpiece of current scholarship on torture in Logia was written in 2007 by a professor named Marco Danario. Although Danario taught in the province of Stelleria, where the primary language was Italian, his book was written in Spanish, one of the two official languages of Logia, so as to give it a wider audience. The book was titled, The Utility of Pain: Torture as a Political Tool in Logian History.
Víctor: The news that my father was ill reached me when I was already on my way home from the North. I increased the pace of my travel, riding ahead of much of my army. Only my most essential and trusted attendants continued to travel with me. When I arrived at this island, I was only thirteen. I watched my father build it up from a gentle wilderness to a fledgling nation. He is the face I associate above all with Logia, and I have difficulty imagining its survival without him. But weakness is not dominant in my nature, and I am determined to preserve Logia according to my father’s goals for it. He envisioned Logia as an independent and ultimately powerful state whose freedom came from its classical and atheistic foundation. I grew up to love my father and believe in all his ideals. My mother reinforced these feelings with her own intelligence and devotion to my father and his vision.
Torrential rains were falling as Armand Dupont led his bride out of the Gothic hall where they had said their vows.
“We can take a carriage to the castle,” offered Armand.
“No,” said Anne, his bride. “Let’s walk.” Together they stepped out into the downpour. He held her hand, guiding her around puddles and making sure she would not fall.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you too,” he said, gazing at her pretty face. It was hard for him to tell whether the water streaming down her flushed cheeks was rain or tears.
“Are you crying?” he finally asked.
“Yes,” she said apologetically. “I’m having awful premonitions.”
“Of what sort?”
“I’m afraid for us. The world is a terrible place, but there is nowhere else to go.”
“It’s not as bad as it could be. At least we have each other.”
“You know that is never enough. We are fated to be miserable. The rapture of our love will give way to grief soon enough.”
“There is joy even in grief.”
“Armand, you do not see! I see. I see whips tearing off your flesh and hot irons burning the raw wounds.”
He stopped and grabbed her shoulders. Rain had soaked through his white shirt. “What makes you think that?”
“Your ideas will destroy you. Your philosophy is too much like religion, and your politics too much like those of the martyrs of the Roman Republic.”
“I may die a martyr, it is true. But my ideas will survive. You cannot tell me that you would prefer an empty life to a glorious death.”
“I have dreamed of death for myself, but I would not wish it on you.”
“I am fortunate to love you. If I did not have you, I would want to die.”
“I want to die anyway,” she said, smiling faintly.
“I wish I could make you happy.”
“I don’t wish it. Misery is my province.”
“It’s mine, too. So let’s share it.”
She turned her tear-stained face to him and let him kiss her.
Years later, after Armand had begun spending much of his time with another woman, Anne would remember that afternoon in the rain. It overshadowed the significance of the wedding ceremony itself. The words she and Armand proclaimed in the hall were scripted, and, although she meant them whole-heartedly, their infinite hopefulness could not compare with the beautiful despair of the spontaneous words uttered in a violent storm.
The other woman was Marcia Hermer, the wife of King Victor of Logia. Armand loved her with a passion surpassing his feelings for Anne, although without the intense tenderness he felt towards Anne. Armand met Marcia after he began spending more time in Semper Liber, the national capital, and less in his family’s country manor in the neighboring province of Klepsipytia. Anne tried hard to keep Armand at home, but his ideas were too grand to be contained within the barren country.
“Think of our children,” she told him. “It is best to raise them in the country, away from the foul fumes of the city.”
“I disagree. I think it is better for them to grow up in the capital. They should be raised to lives of glory and service rather than the idle life of a country landowner.”
“Glory can be discovered in any walk of life.”
“But it is easier to foster where there is an abundance of political and intellectual stimulation. One has to search for glory in the country, but it surrounders the capital city like a halo.”
“This grand idea will be your undoing. You know it, and yet you are determined to drag down not only yourself but your wife and children as well.”
“Anne, I have spent years living here with you. I have yielded to almost all of your domestic desires. I’m sick of waiting for my life to begin! I’m almost thirty. I will move to Semper Liber, and you can join me if you so desire.”
“Then I must come with you. I’ve noticed how you’ve been moving back and forth between the city and the country. This restlessness is no good for either of us. Do you have a place in mind where we can live in Semper Liber?”
“My father was an old friend of the late King Edward. I’m sure there will be a place for us in the royal palace.”
“Will King Victor admit us into the palace?”
“I’ve stayed there before. There’s plenty of room. We’ll be able to have a nice suite for our entire family.”
“Very well. When will we leave?”
“We can leave within a month. The journey only takes a few days.”
That night, Armand wrote a letter to his friend Paul Garnetto, informing him of his decision to move to the capital. He knew that Paul would relay the information to Marcia. It was not the first letter he had written to Marcia via Paul, but it was the first whose purpose overshadowed its poetry. Generally the reasons for his letters were trifling, the real point being to tell Marcia how he was doing and give her his good wishes. In their lexicon, “good wishes” were a code for love.
The conclusion of the letter to Paul ran thus:
I hope this letter finds you and your family in good health. I look forward to meeting with you and the King’s other advisers on a regular basis, and taking an active part in the life of our country. Please give my good wishes to the Queen and let her know that I am eager to speak with her upon my arrival to Semper Liber.
Armand sent the letter by his private messenger, as was his habit. This messenger knew that there was some significance to these letters beyond their surface, but he did not know what it was. Armand wondered how long it would take until his love for Marcia could become public. He knew that this love was forbidden on multiple counts, and that he would only be hurting himself and his loved ones by making it public, but in his wilder moods he did not care. He wanted all the world to know that he loved Marcia.
Anne: I wish I could tell Armand that Marcia is no good. Rather, I wish he would listen when I tell him. She is pretty, but her eyes are cold. She will be the death of him. He will do whatever she tells him to do, and if her political whims strike her a certain way, she will order him to do something fatal. He thinks she loves him but she does not. I love him, but he refuses to notice me.
Víctor: Marcia works her political machinations from an abundance of feminine passion. She lusts after power not as a man lusts after his mistress, with measured and patronizing affection, but rather as a woman gives herself to her husband with the fullness of her being, relinquishing any claim to individuality in favor of cleaving perfectly to his imperfect contours. She has blinded herself in pursuit of this passion, as her sharp eyes sharpen into knives that stab at the men who love her with our limited devotion. A sleight of mind could have turned her extraordinary devotional capacity toward me or Armand or even God, but rather than giving herself to one who might love her in return, she chooses the cold, cruel ideal of power as the sole target of her heart’s fervent affection.
Marcia: For someone who deals in people, I am surprisingly solitary. Armand is not enough to make me happy. Could anyone ever be happy with a mind like mine? Victor and Armand have both spoken to me of the coldness in my eyes. Only Paul believes my eyes are warm, but I do not love him. He and I are both too rational, too much of the same kind. The passion of Armand and the violence of Victor turn me on and melt the ice of my cold heart. Armand smiles as though I could make everything better. Soon enough I may be plotting his death, against my love but in accordance with my will. One of them must die. The carnage must stop, and only death can stop it. Our fragile country may encounter attacks, war, and destruction if we do not put ourselves in order. Can they not see that none of their visions will be realized by this infighting? Like women fighting over a baby, they would sooner rip it apart than give in. I must be the one to save our infant country, but at what cost? I will miss their caresses, their violent, desperate kisses, locked in Paul’s rational embrace.
Marcia: I am dressed in mourning, and yet dull black fabric cannot explain the depths of grief to which I have descended. Victor and Armand killed each other, but I am responsible for their deaths. Paul is the best I have now, but he cannot make me feel better. I have been too happy and too much in love. I thought I would be too strong to succumb to grief. That was what I told myself when I decided I would rather see them both die than see Logia descend into anarchy. Why must I lose them both? I will never regain the ecstasy that abounded only yesterday. I thought I would not grieve. I thought I could control myself. Losing both of them at once was too much of a shock. I am the most prominent person in the kingdom, and yet I feel like dying. Power is nothing without love. Armand will never return to me. We tried to fight fate, but he lost and I lost with him. I engineered their deaths, and now I wonder why. What purpose is good enough to make this loss worthwhile? I am saving the lives of many, but at what cost? I loved them. Lily told me I was immune to passion. How little she saw!
When Lorenzo saw them bring Julia in, the one thing that had been holding him up fell apart. They ordered her to remove her clothes. Francisco, Juan, Edmundo, and Ofelia were there, the latter holding the hand of an uncomfortable Clara. Adán and Laura were also brought in to watch the spectacle. Roberto in his doctor’s compassion had asked to watch it, so he was present too. He wanted to stop the beating if Julia seemed too weak, although he did not know how effective his pleas would be. Francisco and Juan liked the semblance of medical authority that a doctor brought to the proceedings, but they did not intend to listen to Roberto should he deem Julia’s punishment dangerously harsh.
While Juan’s guards were tying Julia to the gallows and preparing the whip, Lorenzo could stand it no longer. “Let her go,” he implored his captors.
Juan and Francisco exchanged a glance. “No,” Juan said.
“Please. I am begging you. She is too weak.”
“It is policy for us to punish those who commit seditious acts,” said Ofelia. “If we didn’t, our society would fall apart.”
“Fuck your society!” he exclaimed. “How can it be lawful that she, who is the only innocent one among us, should be made to suffer so terribly?”
“Don’t try anything,” said Julia. “I can bear it.”
“We’ll see about that, whore,” replied Juan. The guards had finished tying Julia up, and the strongest among them stood several feet behind her, holding the whip in his right hand.
“One!” called Juan. The whip hissed through the air and landed across Julia’s back. She screamed, the sound a perverse variation on her usually delicate soprano.
“Two!” As the whip came down, it wrapped around Julia’s side and cut the tender skin of her breasts. She screamed again.
“Three!” Lorenzo noticed with horror the crimson blood trickling down the pale skin he had once caressed. Deeply disturbed, he turned his eyes to Julia’s face. As the fourth blow fell, she chanced to look at him. Her twisted face betrayed her fear, her anguish, her desolation, all of which pointed to, in his tormented mind, his own guilt at not saving her.
“Five!” called Juan. Before the guard could strike, Lorenzo ran to him and tried to wrestle the whip from his hand. Immediately the other guards were upon him, and within seconds they had pushed him to the cold floor of the dungeon. Their powerful hands held him down, and their feet met every attempt he made at motion with fierce kicks. He could not see Julia, but he could tell from her screams that the whipping had not stopped. His mind raced with mad desperation. If he could not fight with her attackers, he would have to take another tactic.
“Let her go!” he shouted. “I’ll make a deal with you!”
“Let’s hear it,” said Ofelia.
The guards let go of Lorenzo, and he stood up shakily. “You were going to give her twenty-four lashes. I know because you told me that would be her punishment if you caught her. Well, if you let her go now, and do not hurt her again, I will let you give me twice that: forty-eight lashes.”
“You fool!” exclaimed Juan. “Do you think that we need your permission to punish you or her as we see fit?”
“You have already attempted to assault our guards and interfere with the execution of justice,” explained Ofelia in an infuriatingly patient tone. “We have every right to punish you in the manner you described, not as a substitution for her punishment, but as something entirely separate.”
“My lord of Clepsipicia,” said Lorenzo, fixing his eyes on Francisco. “I have aided you in the past. All I am asking now is that you spare her, and as compensation, you can punish me however you want.”
“This is absurd,” said Juan. “A criminal, attempting to bargain with us.”
“No,” said Francisco. “There is reason in what he is saying. It appears that even among our basest criminals, nobility can be found. I will not deny a man his request to suffer in the stead of a woman he loves.” He raised his voice to address the guards. “Let Julia go. Bind Lorenzo to the gallows, and bring over one of the many-tailed whips. There will be no counting of blows this time. We will stop the flogging when we see fit.”
“My lord!” called one of the guards. “Should we take this prisoner back to her cell?”
“Let me stay,” pleaded Julia. “I may never see him again.”
“You may stay,” said Francisco.
Suddenly Clara broke free of Ofelia and cast herself at Francisco’s feet. “Must you listen to him?” she begged. “He doesn’t know what he is saying. You could kill him, and then where would I be? I love him!”
Francisco signaled for her to rise. “He has chosen to bear this punishment,” he said slowly and deliberately. “You would be doing him a disservice if you tried to stop him now. Both he and Julia have committed crimes, so there is no lawful way by which we can spare them both. Blood must be spilt. He has chosen to make it his blood, and I will respect his decision.”
Clara turned to Juan. “And have you no pity on me, my brother?”
“I have no pity on a criminal such as him. It will be better for you if you don’t remain with him after what he has done.”
“I can’t!” she exclaimed, bursting into tears. “I can’t watch this.”
“Ofelia, can you escort her out?” asked Juan impatiently.
The two women left the room, their full skirts swishing against the stone floor. The guards had carried Julia to the side of the room where Adán and Laura were waiting, and Laura was now stroking her sister’s hair and murmuring prayers and Bible verses in her ear: “Blessed are they who suffer for the sake of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” But despite Laura’s attempts to comfort her, Julia was crying as she watched the guards tighten the ropes around Lorenzo’s wrists. Guilt, awful and unusual, stirred inside her, competing with the physical pain for dominance over her consciousness.
“Clara is right,” she whispered to Laura. “He could die.”
“If he did, he would die a martyr. It would be the noblest death he could endure. And after his death, he would be with God for all of eternity. Think of it, Julia, think of the bliss that will be his, and yours, if only you can pass through this life in paths of righteousness! If he dies from this torture, yes, there will be terrible pain for both of you, but it will not last forever. The torments that our enemies will soon suffer will last forever.”
Julia said nothing. Her nearly unshakable faith was yielding to despair. As her sister was speaking, Julia had been watching Lorenzo. His proud eyes were looking straight ahead, but Julia could see the fear in his tight brows. She sensed his heavy breathing almost as though her hand were pressed against his chest, feeling the rapid palpitations of his heart. He loves me, she thought, over and over, like a tourniquet to stop the flood of unwanted images and ideas that troubled her. He loves me. He loves me.
Then the awful moment was upon them. The guard drew back his arm and struck Lorenzo with the whip. Lorenzo was unprepared for the intensity of the pain, and had to bite his tongue to keep himself from crying out. Within a few seconds he felt the sting of another blow.
The Lost Lake
In the midst of varied trouble, the fifteen-year-old Princess Lena sneaked out into the poorer quarters of the capital in search of adventure, novelty, and perhaps love.
Lena, aware that her mother was busy with Thomas and Lydia, slipped out a side door of the castle and walked the mile into the heart of the city, away from the prosperous region surrounding the castle. None of the citizens recognized her face, but they could tell she was a wealthy young woman and kept their distance. Suddenly she tripped and fell, dirtying her skirt in the muddy puddles left over from the rain of the day before. She stood up. Her knee was cut but not bleeding. She slipped again and was surprised to feel an arm supporting her, preventing her from falling. When they had passed the dangerous stretch of the street, her rescuer removed his arm from around her waist and inclined himself slightly to look at her. She was pretty but not beautiful, with a sweet, childish face and pale blue eyes. Her wavy blonde hair was loose around her face and on her shoulders. She had an innocent, vulnerable air. Almost immediately he felt a need to love and protect her, and a fear that this need would drive him to his death.
“You are dressed so beautifully,” he began. “You must be a noblewoman.”
“More than a noblewoman,” she said, smiling gently. “I am Princess Lena.”
He gasped. Now he knew his fate was bound to hers, and hers to that of the whole country.
Once I asked Chris, “Do you trust me?”
“Maybe,” he said evasively.
“It’s all right if your answer is no. Just tell me.”
“Lena, how can I trust you? As a young girl, you can be fickle in your love, and as a princess, you can be deadly.”
“I’m not like that,” I protested.
“If I keep seeing you, it will only bring about your heartbreak and my death.”
“Please don’t talk that way!” I exclaimed. “I don’t ever want you to die.”
“And yet you have often wanted to die yourself. What a double standard you have set up here!”
“I don’t want to die anymore, now that I have met you.”
“I’m happy about that. It’s hard enough to talk myself into suicidal moves without having to talk you out of them.”
“What do you mean?” I asked anxiously.
“You can’t expect that we will stay like this forever. Eventually our secret love will be disclosed. Moreover, eventually you must make up your mind: will you marry me, or will you marry Charles?”
“I wish I knew.”
“It’s all in your control. Decide.”
“But you said something else,” I persisted. “You said that you have to talk yourself into a suicidal course of action. What do you mean?”
He took my hand and held it for a while without speaking. Then, without letting go, he said, “Loving you is a deadly course of action for me. It’s only a matter of time before your father moves against us.”
“That doesn’t mean he’ll kill you!” I interjected.
Lena: So this is it. This is all life has to offer me now. How could everything good in my life have fit into the span of several weeks, not even months? It is no matter. I am a silent widow. My mother will not let me mourn. She tells me that my life is better than ever now that Charles is my husband. How can I love Chris’s murderer? Perhaps he did not strike any blows himself; it was hard to tell in the fading light. “Why do you hate me?” Charles asks me petulantly, as though it were not obvious. Can he not see that he is the murderer? He, my father, and my brothers are all killers in intent, if not in act. I saw Chris bleed. How can my mother tell me that everything is all right when I watched that dark blood gush onto the forest ground like the stream of death? I had never seen so much blood before, and in spite of my fear I stayed by his side as long as they would let me. How can they expect me to be happy when the only man I will ever love is dead? How awful it is to wait for something good to happen. I wish I could raise a hand against myself, but I lack the courage. No one knows of my suicidal desires because they are so faint. The skies are screaming their anger at the murder of a good man. The storms of summer and early fall come often but not often enough. Every knock at the door is a chance to disturb my broken heart. Will his ghost never return to haunt us? I long for his touch at night. Why can I not have his child? I would raise it tenderly as a last monument to our love. This is the legacy of my father’s reign: the murder of an innocent man for political reasons. Damn it! Why could they not have killed me too? After all, they have already killed my reason for living. So why am I still alive? It is the foolish fear, not of what comes after death, but of death itself, of pain in particular. Nothing will convince me to overcome this fear. I could live forever suffering like this just to avoid pain. I must go see Adrian. He is the only one who might understand. No, even he would tell me to do my duty. After all, he did his. He just happened to fall in love with his wife. But we are not all so lucky. Some of us fall in love with the wrong people. Chris died because of me. I am the murderer, the one who caused his death. I am the one who deserves to be punished, but am I not punished enough? The source of my joy has been ripped away from me. My oasis is a mirage. All that surrounds me is desert. My heart is parched. It is burning with dryness, with lack of water, with an impending death that will never come. I am constantly dying but never dead. My mother stares at me with blank eyes. How am I to respond? She does not understand that I loved him and I love him still even though he does not exist. I tried to convince myself of an afterlife, but I cannot quite believe it. Nothing comforts me. I used to take pleasure in embroidery, but not anymore. I am not allowed to wear mourning. My mother says I am rejoicing for my marriage and I have nothing for which to mourn. Thus the invader supplants the real lover and the woman is left miserable.
Lena hated walking through the orchards now. All the leaves had fallen, and made ugly crunching noises as she crushed them with her feet. Like his bones, she thought, immediately regretting her implicit approval of the macabre image she was trying to forget. Summer had been glorious, but this autumn was proving itself perhaps the most wearying season she had yet endured.
Her eyes burned, but no tears came. She was not even outdoors. She was sitting safely on her bed, alone, as she had increasingly become, although not without protest from her mother.
“You must help me,” pleaded Ilse.
“There’s nothing I can do,” replied Albrecht.
“Then give me this consolation,” said Ilse. “When my husband, Michael, dies, as I know he will, find me an apothecary. He won’t sell to me but he’ll sell to you. Buy me a poison. I have no business living after my husband is dead.”
“I can’t do that!” he exclaimed. “I’d sooner do anything than help you die!”
“You’re only making it harder for me. You’re not making it impossible. A person who wants to die has many ways of going about it, but, given your position on the matter, I’d rather not tell you my plans.”
“Think of it this way, Ilse. If you kill yourself, you throw away everything: not only any chance at happiness you might have had on earth but all your hopes for eternity as well. Is there nothing I can do to convince you otherwise?”
“I would sooner endanger my own soul than yours,” she said.
“Tell me what it is you want from me, and I’ll do it. I don’t care what the cost may be to me; I’ll do it regardless. Only promise me that you will continue to live.”
“Tell me this, then. Do you love your brother Erich?”
“Not now. I hate him now that he has driven you to this point.”
“Then what I ask of you may not be quite as hard.” She paused.
“What is it?”
She swallowed and exclaimed softly, “Kill him!”
Albrecht: After Ilse pleaded with me to try to save Michael, there was nothing I could do but accede to her wish. Very soon I calculated, perhaps from despair, that the only way to do this would be to kill my brother. The extremity of such a decision did not immediately bother me, and as I was soon to see, I would have little time to develop remorse for my actions after I killed Erich.
I am not a happy person. At the age of twenty-eight I became a widow, and my eleven-year-old son became king. I took up the burden of power that my husband would never bear. I ordered my subordinates to hurt and kill my enemies, but when my children came to me with quivering lips I tried to comfort them. I loved a man, and I am still haunted by his warm black eyes, his urgent caress, the smell of his blood. With me, love and happiness always return to blood, to darkness, to death. And yet I go on living, not for love of life, nor for fear of death, but for the inevitable pull of duty. Only once have I evaded its dreadful call. I doubt I ever will again.
I felt Phoebe’s hands trembling as she fastened the buttons on the back of my black gown. I wondered whether this tremor was a sign of anxiety about the night’s banquet. I, too, was nervous that this, the first royal banquet since the one at which my husband died, would prove to be almost as disastrous.
No, that was not the cause of her concern, I reasoned as Phoebe continued to work. If she were merely uneasy about the banquet, she would not have avoided me like she had that morning and afternoon. There was something potentially dangerous on her mind, and I was determined to find out what it was.
“Phoebe,” I said coldly, as she was preparing to arrange the strands of my hair that had fallen out of place. “I want you to tell me what is upsetting you.”
“There’s nothing upsetting me,” she said, too quickly.
“I don’t believe you. I noticed your absence from my apartments last night.”
“I was seeing Joseph.”
“And where did you and Joseph go?”
Her feeble attempts at eye contact fell apart. “I—we went nowhere.”
“You must tell me where you went. You know I will ask him if I cannot find out from you.”
“You can’t ask him. He’s run away.”
“So he has run away,” I said. “And what would he have to run from?”
“I…” she murmured, her voice tapering off.
She began to cry prolifically. Her tears spilled onto my china blue carpet.
“Phoebe, please understand. You’re putting both of us in danger if you don’t tell me where you have been.”
She continued to cry without meeting my eyes. I walked over to where she was standing, grabbed her by her slender shoulders, and raised her chin so she was forced to look me in the eye.
“I am asking you one more time to tell me where you were last night. If you do, I will forgive you for sneaking out without my permission. If not—”
“All right,” she said in a voice choked with tears. “I was at a place on the other side of the city. Joseph took me there.”
“Is that where he is now?”
“And who else is with him?”
“I don’t remember them all.”
“Whom do you remember?”
“The leader is a man named Julian. A foreigner.”
I shuddered imperceptibly. “How old is this Julian? What does he look like?”
“He…I can’t tell for sure, but he appears to be a few years older than you. He’s tall. His eyes are black and his face is cruel.”
Then he probably was the Julian I knew, the exiled prince of Logia who had attempted to kill his father, the King, fourteen years ago. But I needed to be sure.
“Isabel?” called a melodic feminine voice, interrupting my thoughts. I turned and saw my sister Teresa leaning against the white frame of my doorway, her wavy brown hair cascading over her black-clad shoulders.
I left Phoebe and strode over to the doorway at my usual brisk pace. “Hello,” I said to Teresa. “What brings you here?”
“I wanted to give you some advice. As regent, you will be in need of a plethora of skilled financial advisers to work under your head treasurer. At Hugo’s suggestion, I have come to you to recommend our accountant, Ethan Finlow. He has been one of the main people managing our finances for the last four or five years, and his intelligence and precision have served us well.”
“Ethan Finlow…I’ve heard the name before. I believe he used to work for Count Charles of New Brittany.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that. It’s his policy not to divulge the names of his other clients.”
“I would have to know something about his past if I were to trust him with my son’s money.”
“Well, of course it’s a different matter for you,” said Teresa. “You have a whole country to take care of.”
There was something in her tone I did not like. For years Teresa had been growing increasingly irritable around me. Perhaps the cause of this irritation was the rivalry between us, a rivalry that was natural for two daughters of a prominent family.
I responded to Teresa’s slightly elevated temper with my habitual coldness. “I am aware of my duties, Teresa. You would do well to remember yours and let me continue my conversation with Phoebe. We are discussing a grave matter.” I glanced at Phoebe, who had sunk onto a soft red chair in a corner.
“Might this have anything to do with Phoebe sneaking out of the house?”
“What makes you say that?”
“I’ve been having the same problems with Caitlin, one of my maids. She left my apartments a few nights ago and has yet to return.”
“Well, ask her where she’s been as soon as she comes back.”
“All right,” agreed Teresa. “I’m going to find Hugo and make my way downstairs. You know you have less than half an hour until you’re supposed to be there.”
“Think about what I told you about Mr. Finlow. His financial skills are excellent. He would be a tremendous help to you and your children.”
Teresa left my room, the slight train of her dress trailing behind her. I walked over to Phoebe. “When you sneak out, have you been traveling with Caitlin?”
“Yes,” said Phoebe tremulously.
“Where exactly is this place on the other side of the city where you go?”
“I’m terrible with directions.”
“Then perhaps it will be better if you show me,” I said hastily as I heard a parade of footsteps enter the room.
With her petite lips and sunstreaked golden hair, Myra, my children’s governess, exuded an air of warmth and beauty whenever she entered a room. But I barely noticed her as she entered and curtsied, for I was caught up instead in the solemn trio behind her.
It was the first time I had seen my children since the coronation yesterday of Alexander, my eleven-year-old son. At that ceremony, our roles had been prescribed and stylized, and my younger son, Jonathan, and my daughter, Maria, had been lost in the strained glory surrounding their brother. I wanted to spend more time with them, but, cognizant of the impending banquet, I merely knelt, embraced each of them gently, and rose to greet Myra.
“Are you almost ready?” she asked me.
“I am ready,” I said confidently. “Phoebe?”
She had relapsed into sobs that were audible from halfway across the large room. “Let her stay here,” said Myra. “She needs to rest.”
I did not feel like arguing, so I took Myra’s advice and did not command Phoebe to follow me.
We walked down halls hung with centuries-old tapestries and carpeted with imported burgundy fabric. The food at the banquet was rich and abundant. My favorite food was usually the lamb roasted with sweet fruits and bitter herbs, but tonight I could not taste it. My stomach felt like it was turning in circles and my mouth was dry. My thoughts kept going back to Phoebe and Caitlin, and to why Teresa would make such a point of recommending her accountant to me.
The meal ended with the presentation of a crown-shaped cake iced with the date: August 2, 1616. Then there was dancing, but I did not partake in it. I watched Alexander engage in an awkward dance with twelve-year-old Elizabeth, the daughter of the duke of Abrint. He and Elizabeth had been engaged for two years, but they barely knew each other. He was much better friends with her ten-year-old brother, Reginald. Alexander and Elizabeth finished their dance to measured applause, and for a moment my stomach ceased its turning.
My anxiety started again as I saw Teresa walking towards me with a man I did not recognize. He was slender and a little under six feet tall, and he looked to be around thirty. He had short, straight, dark brown hair and a slight frown, but his most salient feature was his black eyes. When he focused their charcoal fire on me, the intensity of his look forced me to glance down at the wooden floor of the ballroom.
“Good evening, Teresa,” I said. “Are you enjoying the banquet?”
“Very much. I especially liked the roast lamb.” She paused. “But now Hugo is dancing with Genevieve, the widow of the late queen’s cousin. It’s creating quite a scandal, actually. I mean, she’s in mourning and he’s supposed to be dancing with me.”
She continued to talk, but I cut her off. “Why don’t you introduce me to your friend here?”
“Oh, yes,” she said eagerly. “This is Ethan Finlow. He’s the accountant I was telling you about.”
I waited for him to bow, but he did not. “How do you do,” he said.
Caught off guard by his lack of deference, I fumbled for words. “I’m doing well,” I finally managed. “How are you?”
“As well as can be expected.” He took a deep breath and said, “Lady Teresa says you might have a position for me.”
“I don’t know about that. There is an understandably rigorous process associated with gaining a position in the national government. Even if you go through that process, there is the risk that we will not accept you.”
He looked me in the eye, and this time I met his gaze. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
After a moment, I looked to my right and saw that Teresa had gone away, leaving me alone with Ethan. The enigma of his presence disconcerted me. His boldness seemed to be a façade for some deep well of misery whose contents I could not decipher. Was it anger simmering under his surface? Was it grief? Or was it love transmuted into bitterness, a feeling I had understood but never known? Those black eyes…they were Julian’s eyes. But the excessive warmth they bore belonged to Ethan alone.
“It was an honor to meet you,” Ethan said suddenly. “I hope you consider me for a position in your Treasury.”
“I will,” I promised. “It was a pleasure to meet you too.”
He bowed before turning around and walking away from me. I watched the back of his black shirt until he disappeared into the crowd.
The banquet did not finish until shortly after midnight, but I woke up before seven a.m. anyway. Ever since I had learned of Jonathan’s death, I had been sleeping lightly. Phoebe woke up at the same time I did but decided to go back to sleep when I told her that I intended to visit Ralph, one of the former King’s closest advisers. “Please don’t tell him anything of what I told you last night,” begged Phoebe, tying the bow on her nightdress.
“I’ll tell him whatever I think necessary,” I said firmly. “But I promise that as long as you cooperate with our requests for information, you will not be hurt.” In a gentler tone, I added, “You helped me tremendously last night.”
Phoebe began to cry, and I left the room without trying to comfort her. She had friends among the servants who could do that. Instead, I summoned my guards, who escorted me to Ralph’s apartments in the left wing of the castle.
Ralph, a sturdy man of fifty-nine years, was eating a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal when I entered his plainly decorated parlor. He rose and greeted me with a bow. I instructed my guards to wait in the antechamber to his suite.
When we were alone, I shut the door. “Ralph, I have something disconcerting to tell you.”
“I have reason to believe that Julian Reynor is back.”
Competing waves of emotion passed across his slightly wrinkled face before he settled on an expression of concern. “Then we must be careful. Do you have any more information?”
I shared with him the information that Phoebe had given me.
“We should plan a raid on Julian’s compound as soon as possible,” he said. “But it should be conducted covertly, with a relatively small force, in case we are mistaken in our guess that the Julian whom Phoebe mentioned is the one whom we are seeking. I will have Phoebe take me to the compound with our soldiers following behind us. All this I will arrange within a fortnight.”
I nodded. “Then I can trust you to organize this attack on your own?”
“Yes. After all, it is better for us to act as secretively as possible in this affair until we have a better understanding of what is going on.”
“Ralph, I have another situation for you to decipher.” I told him about Teresa’s recommendation of Ethan and about my brief conversation with him. “Why would Teresa be giving me such seemingly aimless advice? She knows we do not need a common accountant managing royal finances.”
“I wouldn’t trust him,” said Ralph. “It’s strange for your sister to recommend him for a position for which he is probably unqualified unless she has some ulterior motive.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t trust my sister either?”
“I don’t know. Right now her behavior is murky, what with her difficulty in answering questions about Caitlin and her recommendation of…”
“Yes, of Mr. Finlow. I wonder if he has some kind of connection with Caitlin.”
I shuddered. I did not want to think that Teresa and Ethan were involved in whatever awful thing was going on with Caitlin and Phoebe.
“You behaved well during the coronation two days ago,” said Ralph. “You carried yourself nobly, like the national leader you are. I am certain you will make a wonderful regent for the King.”
“Thank you,” I said. I was still getting used to hearing people refer to my son as “the King.”
We managed to talk about trivialities for a few more moments before I announced that I had to leave.
“Thank you for coming to see me,” said Ralph. “I’ve been worried about you.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I’m really doing fine.”
“Even with your husband’s death?”
“Even so,” I said in an admonishing tone. “I never lose sight of the necessity of remaining strong and stable. Ordinary people can afford to cry; I cannot.”
“Well spoken,” he said.
I wondered whether he actually accepted my dismissal of his concerns. Not wanting to linger on the subject, I returned to the issue of the upcoming attack. “Let me know the effects of your attack on Julian’s compound,” I said. “If you cannot find Julian, don’t kill all his associates. We will need information from them.”
A few days later, I was having tea and sweet breads with Charles, the count of New Brittany, and his wife, Dolores. For several minutes we talked about the variety of imports from the New World, strange developments in French fashion, and a book that Charles was reading called The True Law of Free Monarchies. It was written by the current King James I of England, and it had been published around the turn of the century.
“I agree with the author’s defense of the monarchy,” said Charles, “but I cannot abide by his belief in the divine right of kings.”
“I feel the same way,” I said. “The existence of the monarchy helps propel a country to political, social, and economic greatness. Associating the monarchy with the ignoble concept of religion is irrational and counter-productive.”
“If religion were to return to the Logian elite,” continued Charles, “it would have to play only a superficial role in politics. It could not be permitted to enter mainstream political ideologies. I am aware that the Greeks and Romans believed in a host of pagan gods, and that this system of beliefs seemed to work for them. But I still cannot see the purpose of religion to anyone in Logia.”
“We are a country founded on the freedom afforded by atheism,” I said. “Our ancestors fled persecution at the hands of the English and French governments in the fourteenth century. King Edward I, and the rulers of the Garnetto and Reynor dynasties who followed him, were all atheists, as were most of their advisers. But do not forget that many common immigrants to Logia were merely poor farmers and urban workers seeking new economic opportunities for which they were willing to sacrifice some of their religious freedoms. The common man does not need the right to proselytize, nor the right to be part of an assembly of more than one hundred people for a religious purpose. He is more concerned with keeping himself and his family alive.”
“Perhaps he needs religion because it is tied to his ancestral customs and it gives him hope,” said Charles. “But surely people such as you and I do not need it.”
“On the contrary,” I remarked, “we are the ones who need it the most. Religion is like a drug for the masses. They take it to alleviate the pain brought about by their lack of power even as it also augments their weakness. The religion of anyone but the strongest believer is immensely useful to the one who would keep him in subjection.”
Dolores was looking down intently at her tea, her eyes blinking quickly. I remembered that her parents were devout Christians who had been forced to leave Spain to avoid persecution for their unorthodox beliefs. It was possible that she was a Christian as well; she would not tell me whether she was.
“I have another question for you,” I said to Charles. “My sister Teresa recommended an accountant to me. A man by the name of Ethan Finlow. Are you acquainted with him?”
The areas around Dolores’s eyes turned red, and tears began to fall into her empty teacup. Charles looked at his wife. “Perhaps it would be better if you went to your room and rested,” he suggested.
With trembling hands, she set her teacup down on its saucer. “All right,” she said weakly. Charles signaled one of the servants who had been waiting at the door to take Dolores to her room.
After Dolores had left, Charles took a deep breath and started speaking.
“Ethan Finlow had been working for us for a little over two years when the incident happened. He was superb in his understanding of financial matters and his skill in managing our wealth. The only thing I did not like about him was his pride, which he tried half-heartedly to conceal, but this I could forgive him because of his practical intelligence. What I could not forgive him, when I finally learned of them, were his designs on my wife.
“One day, late in the afternoon—I believe it was becoming twilight—my head gardener was pruning the hedges on the grounds of our manor when he caught sight of Ethan and Dolores kissing behind one of the hedges. The gardener told them to come inside and wait for me to deal with them.
“Even after talking to both Ethan and my wife, I could not figure out whether she had loved him. I was ready to kill him, and I would have been within my rights to do so, but Dolores pleaded with me to spare his life. I acquiesced, and dismissed him from my service without further punishment. This occurred about two years ago.”
“That’s terrible that he did that,” I said. “I wonder whether Teresa knew about it when she recommended him to me.”
“I should hope not. I don’t want it to get around.”
“So let’s say my sister doesn’t know about Ethan’s past. I still don’t know why she would make such a point of recommending him to me.”
Charles was beginning to answer when I heard a loud knock at the door. It was Ralph, accompanied by Phoebe and a guard.
Ralph bowed quickly. “Good afternoon, Your Highness. Good afternoon, Count. I am sorry to interrupt your conversation, but a matter of grave importance has arisen, and I must discuss it with the Regent in private.”
“Of course,” I said, standing up. “Good day, Charles.”
I left the room before I could hear his good-bye. “What is going on?” I asked Ralph in a low voice.
“The attack occurred last night. I’ll tell you more when we reach my suite.”
Ralph led me to a parlor that he rarely used. Its walls were painted reddish brown, but there was a white spot on the wall where a painting of the late King Alexander had hung. Ralph directed me to a soft tan chair, the only one of its kind in the room. He and Phoebe sat down on two wooden chairs. Phoebe’s older brother Joseph was sitting on a dilapidated grayish sofa. His hands were bound by a rope and a guard was standing next to him.
Ralph told me that the previous night, he and Phoebe had led a dozen soldiers to Julian’s compound. Julian was there with Joseph, three other men, a woman, and two children. After killing two of our soldiers and wounding four more, Julian and most of his companions escaped. The only prisoners we took were a man named Thomas, who died this morning from a wound suffered during the attack, and Joseph.
“We must remain optimistic,” said Ralph. “We have Joseph, and he may be able to tell us more about Julian’s recent behavior. Julian is still at large, and I doubt he will return to his original hiding place now that we have discovered it, but if we can find just one person who knows his new location, we will be able to track him down, this time with a larger force. What are your thoughts on this, Your Highness?”
“We have taken steps to reduce the threat posed by Julian, but there is still more we must do. For instance, it is imperative that we ascertain whether Julian played any role in the death of my husband, his father, and the twenty-two others who were poisoned the night of July fourteenth.”
“Perhaps Joseph can help us answer that,” said Ralph. I glanced at Phoebe, whose face had turned pale and whose mouth was hanging awkwardly open. Joseph’s face bore a similarly fearful expression.
“I know nothing about the poisoning,” said Joseph quickly. “Julian never told me anything.”
“For what purpose would he have you around, if not to involve you in his plans?” Ralph asked Joseph.
“I don’t understand.”
“What job did you do for Julian?”
“I did little things for him. Running messages, showing him the city, things like that.”
“What kinds of messages?”
“Oh, you know, like what was going on…”
“Give me an example.”
“I can’t remember.”
“You must remember. You’re just not telling me.”
“I swear I did nothing wrong. I just did what any other man would do in my place.”
“He was going to kill me! I had to do what he asked if I wanted to stay alive!”
“What did you do?” Ralph asked.
“I can’t tell you.”
“This will be much easier for both of us if you tell me right now.”
“He said he’d kill me if I told anyone!”
“Julian is not here,” said Ralph. “We are here, and we have the authority to torture you this very afternoon if need be. Are you still unwilling to tell us what you did?”
Tears had been falling softly down Phoebe’s cheeks while Ralph was questioning Joseph. Now that the possibility of torture had arisen for her brother, she began to sob frantically, her breath coming out in gasps. “Stop!” she cried. “Stop! Stop!” Her eyes, blank and desperate, alighted on mine.
“Phoebe,” I said, “this is not about you. We need your brother to tell us these things for the sake of the whole kingdom. Sometimes in life you will find that you must put duty ahead of love.”
“You’re punishing me!” she screamed.
“We are not punishing you. We are very grateful for your contributions to us.”
She screamed something that I could not understand. I told the guard to take her into a side room so she could calm down. He left her in the care of Ralph’s servants and returned to his place next to Joseph.
While I was talking to Phoebe, Ralph had placed paper, a quill pen, and an inkwell on a table near his seat. After exchanging a glance with me, he spoke to Joseph. “I am asking you one last time. Will you tell me what you did?” He dipped his pen in the ink and held it over the empty page so he would be ready to write down Joseph’s confession.
Joseph began to speak. “Many years ago, I used to work for Julian. When he returned from exile, he found out my location through Phoebe, who otherwise was blameless in this whole affair. Because I now worked in the castle kitchen, he had me use a powder to poison the roast chicken that appeared on the King’s table during the banquet of July fourteenth. Everyone sitting at that table died.”
“Who provided you with the poison?” asked Ralph.
“Julian gave you the powder directly?”
“Not directly, but…”
“Then who gave it to you?”
“Another servant. Her name was Caitlin. She works for Lady Teresa.”
“Did Lady Teresa play any role in this?” I asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“Was anyone else involved in this plan?” asked Ralph.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, who else have you seen at Julian’s compound?”
He gave all the names he could remember of people he had seen at Julian’s compound. Most were unfamiliar to me, but I recognized one that belonged to a man who had not been present during yesterday’s raid. The man’s name was Ethan Finlow.
Ralph asked Joseph several more questions, the answers to which filled up two or three pieces of paper. I tried to focus on the information Joseph was giving us, but I found my mind occupied with thoughts of Ethan. I wondered whether my sister knew of his connection to Julian. If she did not know, her recommendation of him was nothing more than a potentially costly mistake. But if she did know, then she, too, had to be in league with Julian, in which case she was intentionally placing me in danger by recommending one of Julian’s underlings to me.
I waited for Joseph to provide information about Teresa or Ethan, but he knew little about Ethan and nothing about Teresa. The only information he did give was that Ethan appeared to be in love with Caitlin. To my shame, I felt a pang of jealousy.
When the interrogation had ended, the guards led Joseph out of the room. A messenger came in and told me that given the pressing business that had arisen this afternoon, the supper I had been scheduled to have with my family would be postponed until the following night. Nevertheless, I left Ralph’s suite shortly after Joseph had departed.
After a quick supper, I went to my children’s study. I had promised my daughter Maria that I would read her a poem about Princess Lena Garnetto, a fifteenth-century Logian figure whose story had enthralled Maria. Seven-year-old Maria was exceptionally intelligent and was already beginning to display my tendency toward melancholy. When I came into the study, she was sitting and holding her Introduction to Logian History open but staring blankly at the bookshelves across from her. Alexander was working diligently on a Latin exercise, while Myra and four-year-old Jonathan were talking cheerfully. All of them rose to greet me when I entered.
Maria and I moved to a small, round table in the corner. Outside the nearby window, the sun was setting behind golden-edged clouds. Maria sat in a short wooden chair, and I knelt next to her.
“What interests you about Princess Lena?” I asked Maria.
“She’s so sad,” said Maria in her high, mournful voice.
“What about her sadness interests you?”
“That she was in love. But why did they have to kill him, Mommy?”
“The man Lena loved was named Chris. I don’t believe it says that in your book. It is sad that he died, but Lena’s father, King William, had good reasons for killing him.” Maria watched me expectantly, her eyes perplexed.
“King William was fighting a war with northern noblemen. To end the war, he planned to marry his only daughter, Lena, to a northern nobleman named Charles. The fifteen-year-old Lena ran away with Chris Talbot, a commoner. King William had no choice but to kill him because Lena had to marry Charles to end the war.”
“Did the war end?” asked Maria.
“Yes, it did, but not the way King William had planned. Instead, it resulted in the deaths of Lena and her family. It also resulted in the beginning of the rule of our dynasty, the Reynor dynasty.”
I waited for Maria’s reaction. After a moment, she said, “So Chris died for nothing.”
“Chris died because he broke the social rules by loving Lena, a princess. He had no right to do this. Both he and Lena placed love before duty, with disastrous consequences. We cannot afford to do the same.”
“Of course not,” said Maria.
“Would you like to hear the poem?” I asked.
I began to read. The poem, which had been written in 1514, was titled “The Tragedy of Princess Lena.” Its several stanzas told Lena’s story from her first encounter with Chris to her marriage to Charles. Maria listened in silence and fascination. After several minutes, I reached the final stanza. It read:
“The clouds will hide and the blackness will cover
The blood on the lakeside where setting rays shone;
Thus the invader supplants the real lover;
The woman mourns alone.”
As I was reading the last two lines, a pair of black eyes burned briefly in my mind before fading away. Trying to forget the image, I looked up at Maria. “What did you think of the poem?” I asked her.
“I liked it a lot.” She paused. Then, hesitantly, she asked, “Have you ever been in love like that, Mommy?”
“No,” I said.
“Not even with Daddy?”
I let a tepid wave of grief pass through me at the thought of Jonathan. “No. Not even with your father.”
“Do you think I’ll ever love like that?”
“Oh, Maria, I hope not. It’s nice for a poem, but it seems to me that love like that brings terrible pain in real life.”
“But it sounds so beautiful,” remarked Maria tremulously.
I did not know how to answer. Outside, the sky had changed to a dark, enveloping blue. A rush of grief passed through me again, but this time I was mourning for myself.
The sky was still a rich, starless indigo when I awoke the next morning. Dressed in my simple white nightgown, I unbolted the doors that led onto my balcony and stepped out into the expectant summer air. I placed my arms on the cold iron railing of the balcony and wondered why I had woken up so early. I had to discuss yesterday’s developments with Ralph and order the arrest of Caitlin and Ethan, but I could not do these things until after sunrise. The slim crescent of the moon shone feebly on my unruly brown hair as my suppressed memories rose to the front of my mind.
Even as a child of eight or nine, I had been intrigued by accounts of torture. The descriptions I heard at the time were not particularly graphic, but I was careful to insert the blood pooling on the floor, the charring flesh, and the screams of the victim. At that age it did not matter to me whether the victim was young or old, male or female. This indifference would change.
When I was eleven, I began spending more time with Julian. Sometimes I found it difficult to be in his presence because when he talked to me, I imagined his face becoming distorted with pain. When he walked away from me, I imagined a whip cutting through his shirt and into his flesh.
On February 25, 1602, I made the mistake of telling Julian about my unwanted fantasies. He and I were walking in his father’s orchards and watching the last rays of the setting sun when I stopped and told him I had something important to say.
He stopped, too. “Before you say it, let me give you this,” he said. He encircled my waist with one hand, drew my face towards his with the other hand, and kissed me smoothly and quickly. It was my first kiss. My heartbeat sped up, and my palms were perspiring.
“Isabel, I love you,” he said to me. “Now, what is it you wanted to tell me?”
“It’s hard to explain,” I said shakily. “It’s like, when I look at you, sometimes, I don’t see you as you are, standing before me. I imagine something terrible happening to you, some kind of pain being inflicted on you, but I never see the person causing the pain. Just now, when you kissed me, I pictured the dislocation of the arms you were holding me with. When I see your back, sometimes I imagine that you are being whipped. When I see your face…”
“Enough!” he said angrily. “Isabel, I am the wrong target for your violent fantasies. I will not suffer. I will make others suffer.”
“How?” I asked. I had not heard him talk like this before.
“I want to be king,” he said.
“And you will be.”
“I don’t want to wait twenty or thirty years.”
“Julian, if you plan anything against your father, you will die!”
“That is exactly what I am planning.” He took a deep breath. “I will kill my father and live. The guards change at two a.m. and I am going to sneak into my father’s suite at that time and kill him with my sword. I will leave my younger brother, Jonathan, and my mother and younger sisters. They may live. But I am sick of waiting. I will be king, and you will be my queen!” His voice was marked by emotion, but his black eyes were cold.
“What hatred must have driven you to that point!”
“It is not hatred that leads me to want to kill my father, although I am capable of hatred for him just as I am capable of love for you. It is something more primal and yet harder to understand that drives me to kill. It is my longing for power, my longing for self-preservation. Ultimately you will see that duty is merely a variant on this longing, and that love is—”
“Love means nothing coming from you! I will be queen, but not by your hand. I will love, but I will never love you!”
He slapped me forcefully. I cried out and tried to step backwards, but he held me where I was.
“I could kill you tonight,” he said in a low voice.
“But you will not.”
He let go of my trembling shoulders. “You’re right,” he said. “I will not kill you tonight. But if you tell anyone what I have told you, and I live to find out that it was you, I will have my revenge.”
We walked back to the palace in agonizing silence. The next morning I told Ralph. I did not tell the King directly because I was not sure whether he would believe me. Ralph believed me, but rather than telling the King of the designs on his life, he sent for Julian and told him that he had a month to leave Logia. If he were still in Logia after that time, Ralph would tell the King of his murderous intentions, and Julian would be likely to face torture and death. This possibility fascinated me, but it did not come to pass. Julian left within a fortnight on a boat bound for Europe.
The violent images that frequently troubled me when I was around Julian mostly disappeared after I married his younger brother, Jonathan. For thirteen years I loved Jonathan, bore him three children, and suppressed the few violent fantasies that lingered in my mind. I knew healthy desire and healthy love. I did not let myself become attracted to any men besides Jonathan, and I almost succeeded in forgetting Julian’s memory. I was the wife of the heir to the Logian throne, and he loved me, but I was not happy.
In the years of my marriage to Jonathan, my unhappiness was largely derived from feelings of emptiness. Now that Jonathan was dead, that emptiness had been replaced by a resurgence of the desire to see others suffer. I wanted my victim to be young and male, and I wanted him to be Ethan.
With this desire in mind, I traveled to Ralph’s suite shortly after the scarlet rays of sunrise gave way to a tamer blue. Ralph greeted me with troubled eyes. “I spoke to your sister last night,” he said. “She says Caitlin has been gone for days, and she still can’t find her.”
“Then the next logical step would be to arrest Ethan,” I said.
“What makes you say that?”
“I am certain that he knows where Caitlin is.”
“Why would he know?”
“Because he loves her,” I said bitterly.
After a pause, Ralph said, “We will do what you think best.”
“So you will send guards to arrest him?”
“As soon as we finish talking. Come see me in a few days and I will let you know how the interrogation goes.”
“I think the interrogation should happen as soon as possible—for instance, this afternoon.”
“I’m not sure I can arrange that.”
“What could be holding it up? This is the most important investigation in Logia at the moment. The more of Julian’s companions we interrogate, the sooner we can find and destroy Julian himself. We don’t have Caitlin, but we can find out where Ethan lives through the Directory of Castle Employees. I see no reason why we cannot question him this afternoon.”
“I’ll do my best to arrange his arrest,” said Ralph. “If we are able to question him today, I’ll let you know how it goes.”
“Actually,” I said, my heart racing, “I’d like to be present at the interrogation.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that. This will not be a clean affair like our first interrogation of Joseph. This will take place in the basement, in a room where there are instruments of torture, and it is possible we will have to use them. I’ve seen interrogations under torture before, but you haven’t, and I wouldn’t want you to.”
“I could afford to be sheltered when I was merely Prince Jonathan’s wife. Now my son is King, and I am the Regent, and I cannot afford to ignore anything that pertains to the welfare of Logia. I will see this interrogation, whether you like it or not.”
“Very well,” said Ralph. “I’ll send a messenger for you when we are ready.”
The room smelled of stagnant moisture, as though it were perpetually afflicted by flooding. Its walls were made of rough, unpainted stone. With whips and iron pokers hanging on the wall and a wooden gallows standing in the center, it was like a macabre tool shop. The lighting throughout the room was generally dim, but at the table where Ralph was sitting, the candles burned brightly enough to testify to the merging of my desire to hurt and my longing to love.
My guards escorted me to the table and left the room to wait outside. Torture was not their specialty. I sat down next to Ralph and discussed with him our goals for this interrogation and the way in which torture would be carried out if it became necessary. When we had finished our conversation, he sent his guard to bring the prisoner in.
Flanked by two guards, Ethan entered the room. At Ralph’s command, the guards walked over to a corner on the far side of the room where two other guards were already standing.
“Sit down,” I said to Ethan, pointing to a wooden chair opposite from Ralph and me.
“No thank you,” he said. “I prefer to stand.”
“Suit yourself. You may be here for a while.”
Ralph began to question Ethan. The first questions were mostly about his background and current position. He answered these with little trouble. The trouble arose when Ralph started asking questions about his recent activities outside of work.
“Are you acquainted with the former Prince Julian?”
“We know you are. Your friend Joseph told us so.”
“If you’re basing this off of what Joseph told you, you’re mistaken. Most likely you intimidated him just like you’re trying to intimidate me.”
Ralph continued to question him on his recent activities. Frustrated with the lack of progress we were making, I changed the subject.
“Let’s leave the question of your connection to Julian for a moment and focus on Lady Teresa’s servant Caitlin,” I interjected. “We have reason to believe that she played a role in the death of the late King Alexander and his family. She disappeared several days ago and we still do not know where she is. You could help us immensely by telling us where she has gone.”
He stiffened. “I cannot tell you.”
“You are aware of what your willfulness will cost you,” I said.
“It is not my intention to cause you pain.”
“Liar!” he shouted, and his eyes burned. “You have been waiting all along to cause me pain. Your companion is merely here to get information from me, but you, Isabel, you are here to watch me suffer. Well, you will get your wish. I refuse to tell you Caitlin’s location.”
I had turned livid at his just accusations. “Take off your shirt,” I ordered him. He unbuttoned his plain white shirt and threw it on the ground, his hands trembling slightly. I looked down to avoid his eyes, and caught myself staring at the faint outline of his abdominal muscles.
Ralph glanced expectantly at me. I swallowed hard and called the four guards who were standing in the corner. I ordered two of them to bind Ethan’s hands to the posts of the gallows, and another to get a whip from the wall. When the guards had finished tying him up, Ethan moaned in reaction to the strain on his wrists and shoulders, and my heart began to beat rapidly. I rose and crossed the room until I was standing at an angle to him, far enough away that I could see both his face and his back, but close enough that I would be able to read the suffering on each.
“Ethan,” I said, “I will ask you this question again. If you fail to answer, you will suffer blows from the whip until you tell us the answer. Do you understand?”
“All right. Where is Caitlin?”
He did not answer. I gestured to the guard holding the whip in his right hand that he should begin. In a practiced motion, the guard drew back his right arm and then brought the whip down on Ethan’s back. Ethan let out a wordless cry. The fast beating of my heart turned into an audible pounding, and sweat grew inside of my clenched fists.
I watched drops of blood collect, almost tangible, with each subsequent blow. The hiss of the whip through the air, the abrupt smacking sound as it made contact with the skin, and Ethan’s subsequent screams played repeatedly like the theme of a macabre dance in which I was the only willing participant. A dark smile curled my lips as a tingling arose between my legs. I shivered, overwhelmed with pleasure.
Still cognizant of my duties as interrogator, I looked away from Ethan and indicated to the guard that he should pause. “Now,” I said to Ethan, “are you willing to tell us Caitlin’s location?”
The guard raised his right arm, and I nodded at him. There was no smile on his face as he brought the whip down. I wondered briefly at pain, at why I should feel so complete in the midst of such a grim situation, before the demands of my body consumed me once again. I smelled the rich saltiness of Ethan’s blood and felt my stomach shaking. I saw the ribbons of flesh hanging from his back, and the tingling between my legs turned into a pulsating sensation. Waves of pleasure reverberated through my body.
After a few more blows, I stopped the guards and asked Ethan where Caitlin was. Again he refused to answer me, and the flogging continued. Each blow pushed him forward initially, but in the course of his futile writhing he returned more or less to equilibrium, always ready to suffer another blow. He clenched the muscles of his face and gripped the posts to which he was bound, as though by increasing the tension in his body, he could diffuse some of the pain.
I turned my head toward the guard as I heard him throw down his whip. He walked to the wall, took a clean whip, and carried it back with the carelessness of habit. I noted its metal tip, and realized suddenly that my last few moments’ pleasure was founded on my cruelty to an essentially innocent man.
I found my eyes increasingly drawn to Ethan’s face. Saliva was trickling from his open mouth, and sweat was dripping from his forehead. He was breathing heavily, but his cries were softer than before. The emotional thrill I had received began to die away, and with it the physical pleasure. For the first time during the torture, I looked at Ethan’s eyes. The fire in them had given way to a glassy stare. Immediately I felt a terrible pity that expressed itself in the painful cramping of my muscles and the continued pounding of my heart.
I watched the movement of his mouth as it formed a word: “Stop!”
“Stop!” he cried again. “I’ll tell you where she is.” His voice was saturated with mental and physical anguish.
I forced myself back into my official role. “All right. Where is Caitlin?”
He gave the location of Caitlin’s hiding place, which Ralph wrote down. I walked over to Ralph to confer with him.
“You should ask next about his activities on behalf of Julian,” he said.
“No,” I said, struggling to conceal my emotion. “It is better that we end the interrogation for today.”
“But you are in a prime position to ask more questions.”
“I know. But he has suffered enough for one day.”
“Very well,” said Ralph disapprovingly.
I ordered the guards to untie Ethan and take him back to his cell. After saying good-bye to Ralph, I followed them. The guards were supporting Ethan so he could walk. We walked down narrow corridors until we reached a cell whose dim lighting and dank odor reminded me of the room we had just left. The guards let go of Ethan and he crumpled to the floor.
“Leave us,” I said to the guards.
Once we were alone, I knelt next to Ethan. His handsome face was still distorted with pain. I realized that I had yet to see him smile. We stayed in silence for a few minutes while I tried to determine what I could say to assuage his pain and my guilt.
“I’m so sorry,” I finally managed.
“I’ll give you this for your apology,” he said. He lifted his head and spit in my face. I let his saliva trickle down my cheek.
He raised his head again, and our eyes met. His were still marked by a dull stare. The coldness of the floor cut through my skirts and into my calves, and numbness spread through my feet. I wondered whether any amount of suffering was enough to free me from my guilt. I had made a serious decision—the decision to torture a man, and then to spare him—on the basis of emotion rather than reason. This realization terrified me. I looked into Ethan’s blank eyes and saw them light up for an instant. The instant passed, and though a candle was still burning just outside the room, I was trapped in a darkness of my own creation.
I managed to tear myself away from Ethan when I remembered my obligation to have supper with my family that night. By the time I had returned to my apartments, there was less than an hour before I had to meet my family in one of the smaller banquet halls. Since yesterday, Phoebe had spoken as little as was necessary to me because of her sadness at the capture and interrogation of her brother. She blamed me for these things, and rightly so, but she would not dare say it to my face. Not like Ethan, who had accused me directly of wanting to cause him pain. I made a weak effort to turn my thoughts back toward Phoebe, but now that I had let myself think of Ethan, I could not forget him. I was haunted most of all by his glassy eyes, the sight of which had provoked in me a pity that overwhelmed the thrill of watching him suffer.
“Are you all right?” Phoebe asked me timidly.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m just preoccupied. But I’m sure things will get better.” It was the most harmless answer I could give her. Despite the horrors of that afternoon, I had to appear unscathed.
I picked up Myra and my children, and together with a contingent of guards we proceeded to the dining hall. We were the first ones there. Within a few minutes my mother and father showed up, as did my brother Benjamin and his family. We stood outside the dining hall for several minutes, making awkward conversation and waiting for Teresa. Finally she arrived with Hugo and their two children.
She curtsied quickly and said, “I’m sorry I’m late. I had a meeting scheduled with my accountant today, but apparently he has been arrested. Would you believe it? I had to spend the whole afternoon in the city looking for him. And we had no luck, Hugo and I. Still, we’ll keep looking. I hope he’ll be released.” Turning toward me, she added, “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about this, would you?”
“I can’t say. But look how we’re holding everyone else up. Let’s all go in and eat.”
My appetite was worse than it had been at the banquet following my son’s coronation. Whenever I thought of Ethan, my stomach shook. The sight of food made me nauseous, so I pushed my plate, with its roast chicken and mixed vegetables, away from me. I did not engage much in the conversation. Finally my mother asked me, “Is everything all right?”
“Yes,” I told her. “It’s just the strain of all my new duties. That’s all.”
My mother nodded. She had asked her question out of maternal obligation rather than out of genuine concern. Teresa looked coldly at me, as if she knew that I was responsible for Ethan’s arrest. I stared back at her, and she looked away.
After the meal was over and we were preparing to leave, my father pulled me aside and said to me, “I know something is wrong. A quick answer about your duties will satisfy your mother, but it won’t satisfy me. I’d like you to come to my apartments to discuss what is troubling you.”
“I don’t know if I can. It’s a secret.”
“Isabel, you can trust me to keep it a secret. I just want you to tell me. I’d hate for you to suffer alone.”
“All right.” We walked to his study, which contained a large amount of books given its relatively small size. His medical encyclopedia and his multi-volume history of Logia occupied the central shelf on the bookshelves directly opposite his desk, and a Greek copy of Plato’s Republic lay on the desk. I sat down in an elegant cushioned chair while my father sat in a plain wooden chair behind his desk.
“Isabel, I have always known you to be solemn and prone to melancholy,” he began. “But you seemed especially upset at dinner tonight. I noticed that you were not eating and that there was a dull stare in your eyes.”
“I’m trying to figure out the best way to tell you what happened.”
“Did you do something, or was something done to you?”
“I did something. I did something that may seem commonplace at first glance, but when you examine my motives you see how horrible it was. Do you remember how Teresa was asking me whether I knew about the arrest of her accountant?”
“I was responsible for his arrest. His name is Ethan Finlow, and I ordered his arrest because I heard from a kitchen servant that he was involved with the former Prince Julian.”
“Has Julian returned?”
“It seems that he has. I am worried about his return, but that was not my main reason for arresting Ethan. Against the wishes of Ralph, with whom I was working, I was present at Ethan’s interrogation. I deliberately turned the questioning from vague questions about his activities on behalf of Julian to the specific question of the location of a woman whom Ethan loves. This woman was probably an accomplice in the assassination of the late King and his family. As I had anticipated, Ethan refused to reveal her location, and so I ordered him to be tortured.”
“I do not condone the use of torture lightly. But if you were certain that he knew where this woman was, and certain that she was partially responsible for the King’s death, then your behavior was acceptable.”
I wished I could accept my father’s reassuring words. Instead I continued, trying to persuade him of the horror of my actions. “Even if we were completely certain of those things, which we were not, my behavior is still reprehensible. The problem lies in the intent. I arrested him because I wanted to torture him, and I tortured him because I wanted to see him suffer. I did not care about political reasons. All I wanted was the gratification of my sick desires, and I shed an innocent man’s blood for this purpose!”
My father remained silent. I continued speaking without meeting his eyes. “The way I knew I was driven by emotion was that, shortly before Ethan revealed the woman’s location, I began feeling pity for him. All my twisted pleasure was converted into pain and guilt, and so after he gave us the location, and against Ralph’s better judgment, I refused to ask him any more questions. I followed him back to his cell and knelt beside him for a while. I only left him as soon as I did because I knew I had to meet you all for supper.”
I looked up anxiously. The thought “There’s no way out” was running through my mind. Finally he spoke.
“I’m not going to tell you that what you did was wrong. I’m not well enough aware of the circumstances to determine whether the use of torture was justified. What I will tell you is that you are a woman, and you must expect that you will feel desire from time to time. It seems that for years you’ve been very good at controlling your desires and giving in to them only when it was proper to do so. Today you have been overwhelmed by the strength of your desires, and this is what you’re reacting to. You don’t like the feeling of losing control.”
“That sounds right,” I said. “But I wish there were some way to undo what I’ve done!”
“You can’t undo the past,” he said. “The best you can do is to try not to repeat the same mistakes you have already made. If you believe there is something about Ethan that makes you prone to give in to emotion, you must be especially careful around him.”
“What can I do to remedy the current situation?”
“That depends on what you want to do.”
“I want to help him.”
“Then the logical thing to do is to send for a doctor to treat his wounds.”
“Could you be that doctor?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I don’t have as much formal training as some of the other court doctors, but I have sufficient experience. Most importantly for your purposes, I can keep a secret. But we must start tonight. I don’t want his condition to get worse, and I’m sure you don’t either.”
“Then let’s go as soon as you are ready. My guards can take us to his cell.”
I waited in the study while my father prepared his medical kit in another room. Thankfully my mother was not in this part of the suite. She would not understand my urgent need to care for a prisoner whom I had tortured only a few hours before. After several minutes, my father returned to the study. “Let’s go,” he said.
My guards led us from the well-kept halls of the aristocrats through the servants’ quarters to the dungeon. They spoke with other guards, who took us to Ethan’s cell. The guard who opened the door to the narrow cell had a difficult time fitting the key into the lock. The key made an ugly clattering sound until the lock finally yielded and let the door swing open.
Ethan was lying on his stomach. I resisted the urge to run over to him immediately. Instead, I asked one of the prison guards, “How has he been?”
“He appears to have been in a fitful sleep. I heard him cry out once or twice, whether from pain or a bad dream it is hard to tell.”
“Has anyone brought him food or water?”
“A few hours ago, we brought him water and a crust of bread. He drank the water but refused the bread.”
“Thank you.” I walked over to Ethan and knelt beside him. He opened his eyes and stared at me with pain and accusation.
“I brought a doctor to treat your wounds,” I said to him. “He is my father. I asked him to help you, and he agreed.”
“Why would you help me?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.
“Isabel!” my father called. “May I join you?”
“Yes,” I said.
My father told the guards to wait outside and then knelt next to me. He examined the lacerations on Ethan’s back for a few minutes before telling me, “The bleeding has mostly stopped, and there are no signs of serious infection as of yet. If the cuts were more clearly defined, I would say he needs stitches. Still, so much of his flesh has been torn away entirely that it would not be wise to attempt too many stitches. I will wash and dry all the wounds and stitch up the ones for which it is possible to do so. I will also apply a healing ointment and cover all the wounds with loose bandages.” He took a deep breath and addressed Ethan. “The treatment will cause pain at first, but ultimately it is your best chance for healing. Is this all right with you, Mr. Finlow?”
“You do what you must,” said Ethan.
My father asked one of the guards to bring him a basin of water and waited by the door for the guard to return. Meanwhile, I fixed my eyes on Ethan. The sight of him sent invisible chills through my body.
“I don’t understand you,” he said suddenly.
“What do you mean?”
“You tortured me a few hours ago and now you want to heal me.”
I did not respond. Soon I heard my father’s careful footsteps as he approached us with the basin of water and a sponge. Silently he set to work rinsing Ethan’s wounds. His smooth hands splashed the tepid water on the reddened skin and gently pressed the sponge on the open cuts. The water seeped into the wounds like the tender drops of rain that follow a thunderstorm. Next my father took a bar of soap and rubbed it against the wounds. Spasms of pain passed across Ethan’s face because of the stinging agent in the soap. My father continued working, grimly oblivious to his patient’s pain, but I registered every contortion of Ethan’s face as though it were a blow to my stomach.
When he finished washing and rinsing the wounds, my father spoke to Ethan. “There are three cuts that can be stitched up. This process could cause intense pain. I would offer you an anesthetic, but there are risks associated with that as well. Will you be all right without it?”
“Yes,” said Ethan.
“If you want, you can squeeze my hand,” I said.
“I don’t want your help,” he said.
My father threaded his surgical needle with catgut suture and clamped it in the jaws of a scissor-like needle holder. He drove the semicircular needle into the edge of a wound on Ethan’s lower back, pulled it through until the needle reemerged, and tied the trailing thread in a knot. Trying to ignore the expressions of pain on Ethan’s face, I focused my eyes on my father’s hands as he meticulously repeated this process.
Suddenly I felt Ethan grab my left hand. He clenched it tightly enough that it would have been painful if I were not so thrilled that he was touching me. The sweat from his palm clung to the back of my hand, and his fingers dug into my palm. I shivered, but my face grew warm with excitement and shame. I looked down at our hands, joined in an embrace born of pain, and longed for our entire beings to be similarly united. Immediately I pushed the heretical thought away, but love, which had long ago become a foreign word to me, forced itself back into my mind, countering my every effort to stop its advance.
He held my hand for several minutes. Only after my father told him he had finished the stitches did he let go. Hope stirred in me: might he come to love me? As I watched my father apply ointment to Ethan’s wounds, I could almost make myself forget that I had inflicted them. But when I looked at his unsmiling mouth and grim countenance, the absurdity of my hope struck me. Caught up in an internal flood of guilt and desire, I paid little attention to my father as he spread bandages across the wounds. As he finished, he began to speak, and I listened.
“The bandages should be changed a few times a day, if possible. Some of the servants would be able to do this. If you want, Isabel, I can send one of my servants every day.”
“Yes, I would appreciate that,” I said. I waited for my father to pack up his medical kit. When he was ready, we stood up. I felt unsteady after kneeling for so long.
Ethan looked up at my father. “Thank you,” he said. Then he turned his head slightly to look at me. The warmth was returning to his eyes.
“Good-bye,” he said.
I appraised him, hoping this would not be the last time I would see him. “Good-bye,” I said finally.
My father called the guards who were waiting outside. The prison guards led us to a staircase, at which point they bid us farewell and let my guards escort us upstairs and through the circuitous path to my suite.
“Thank you so much,” I said to my father.
“You’re welcome.” He paused and added hesitantly, “We did a good thing tonight. But I advise you to stay away from Ethan in the future. For one thing, I can’t tell whether you can trust him. But more than that, he is inherently dangerous to you. Remember what I told you earlier tonight. You don’t want to let your emotions take control of you again.”
“I’ll try not to.”
“Good night, Isabel.” He gave me a hug and a kiss. Then he turned around and began walking briskly down the hallway.
I figured most of my servants would already be asleep when I entered my suite. Phoebe was lying on a couch in my bedroom, but she bounded up when she saw me.
“You can’t sleep?” I asked her.
“Well, I doubt I’ll be able to get much sleep either. Would you like to talk?”
“Um, sure,” she said, taken aback by my sudden kindness.
“What would you like to talk about?”
“My brother. Where is he?”
“Your brother is in prison.”
“Will he be all right?”
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “He did something seriously wrong in helping to kill the King. I don’t think we can release him after that.”
Her eyes, wide and frightened, looked up at me. She seemed to be formulating a question, but she must have decided against speaking it because all she said was, “I wish things could be different.”
“I wish they could too,” I told her.
“It must be so hard losing your husband,” murmured Phoebe.
“It is,” I said. But my husband was not the man I was thinking about at the moment.
After a brief silence, I spoke again. “You’re lucky. You don’t have people’s lives resting in your hands.”
“I did once,” she said. “It was in my power to save my brother. And I betrayed him.”
“You did the right thing. I told you yesterday that sometimes duty has to come before love. And you placed your duty to Logia before your love for Joseph by telling us of his connection to Julian.”
She shook her head. “I will never forgive myself if he dies…But what an awful thing to imagine!”
We did not talk for much longer. Soon we said good night and went to our beds. My secure mattress and soft sheets were not enough to protect me. Phoebe would never forgive herself if Joseph died. She followed her duty, but still she was haunted by her love for her brother. I must never have loved Julian enough that I would really care whether my turning him in would result in his death. He had lived, but what of it? I had almost wished that he would die. But that was only a wish. Today I had deliberately tortured Ethan. Now I could see that if he died, I would feel terrible guilt. Of course, I was already racked by guilt. It had taken me years, but I was finally feeling an acute pain that might have been the stirrings of love.
A few days later, I returned to Ethan’s cell. He was lying on his side, but he stood up with a barely visible effort when he saw me.
“Do you want to know where we are going?” I asked.
“I figure you are leading me to torture again,” he said. His face, although gravely sad, betrayed no hint of fear.
“No,” I said. “I am taking you upstairs. I have an important job for you.”
Once again he did not ask for more information.
“Follow me,” I said.
We walked for several minutes up staircases and through corridors until we reached a well-lit hallway with several doors on either side. I opened one of the doors, and Ethan and I stepped into a modest parlor.
“These are your new apartments,” I told him. “There is this parlor, a bedroom, and a study.”
He looked at me quizzically. “You said you had a job for me. What is it?”
“Oh, yes. Well, my sister, Lady Teresa, suggested to me that you could serve as an accountant managing the finances of my household.”
“I remember. We discussed this position the night we met, at the banquet celebrating the coronation.”
“The opportunity is still open.”
“Would I have to stop working for Lady Teresa?”
“I’m afraid so. We would need your complete commitment.”
“That’s curious. I’ve never worked for only one person before.”
“If you’re worried about pay, that won’t be an issue,” I said. “We’ll provide you with these apartments, and you’ll be free to request meals from the castle kitchens. Additionally, you’ll earn at least one hundred Logian pounds per month, and that’s liable to increase based on increases in our income.”
“That’s quite generous of you. But it’s not money I’m worried about.” The corners of his mouth turned down in a pensive frown.
“What is your concern?”
“I don’t trust you.”
My stomach commenced its trembling, which had been present intermittently throughout the past few days. The façade of indifference that I had been trying to create was falling apart, and the memory of my cruelty remained. I felt as though Ethan’s black eyes were boring into my brain like a nail into wood as he awaited my response.
“I wish I could change that,” I said finally.
He smiled darkly. “You say that now, and maybe you actually believe it. But don’t think I’m ignorant of the pleasure you take in my suffering. I don’t easily forget the hurt that others have caused me. Nor will I forget that it was you who led me to betray the woman I loved.”
“Perhaps you will be pleased to know that she has escaped our grasp. When our forces reached Caitlin’s hiding place, she was hanging from the rafters, dead by her own hand.”
He closed his eyes and then opened them, inhaling deeply. “You murderer!” he exclaimed. “If not for fear of you she would not have died so young. But tell me this. Do you take pleasure in her pain too, or does it only please you because of the pain it causes me?”
“Neither,” I said. “For my own sake I couldn’t care less what happened to her. But for the sake of the country—”
“Don’t tell me about the sake of your country! Do you think such things matter to me? I loved Caitlin, and now I have lost her—forever.”
“I loved my husband,” I said softly.
He seemed taken aback by this revelation. “I had forgotten that you, too, were a creature capable of love,” he said in a gentler tone. “Indeed, I should have known that it’s the nature marked by the greatest cruelty that has the greatest capacity for passion.”
“Then would you say that you, too, are cruel? For by your own account you ought to be.”
Once again he smiled coldly. “There are things about me you may never know.”
“I wish I did.”
“It’s only fair. You have your power, and I have mine.” He paused. “Yes, I’ll take you up on your offer. When should I begin work?”
“As soon as you’re able. When you want, I can acquaint you with some of the other accountants who are working at the same task. They can explain to you what needs to be done and how you can be most useful to us.”
“If you’re willing, I can meet with them tomorrow,” he said. Suddenly his face tightened in an involuntary expression of pain.
A chill passed through me. “Are you all right?” I asked.
He struggled to hide the pain that I had discovered. “I didn’t think you cared,” he said scornfully.
“No, you don’t. You want everything to be all right with me so that you can get rid of your guilt. But even this is a purely selfish sympathy. If it weren’t for the sting of your conscience, you would gladly have me tortured again.”
I looked down. “You may believe what you will,” I said, as icily as I could manage. “Don’t think that you are the only topic on my mind, or even one of the major ones. I give you much less regard than you might imagine.”
“Then why did you go to the trouble of finding a position for me?”
“It was entirely on the strength of my sister’s recommendation of you.”
“Don’t trust her,” he said.
“Who are you to tell me…”
“I’m someone who knows,” he replied. “But disregard my advice if you want. It’s just as well for me.”
“Fine,” I said. “Good-bye.”
When I turned around, he was still watching me. I shut the door as powerfully as I could, but I could not shut out the memory of his tall lean body and bitter eyes.
The next day, I met with Francis Olyngworth, the head of my Treasury, to appraise him of the situation regarding Ethan. To my surprise, he and Ethan already knew each other through Teresa, so when I mentioned that I had decided to give Ethan a position in my Treasury, he was initially pleased.
“Are you aware of your husband’s involvement in the Red Vests?” asked the clerk.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” said Mary.
“The question is simple enough,” the clerk replied. “Do you know that your husband is a member of the Red Vests?”
“I can’t tell you anything. I don’t know enough,” said Mary, her voice trailing off into nothingness.
Struggling to conceal his irritation, Victor spoke up. “Then let me try to make things clearer. Your brother and several of his friends have been arrested. Already some of them have confessed to membership in and even leadership of the Red Vests. The ring of encirclement around your husband is almost complete. He may be hiding now, but do not doubt that we will find him. Know also that you will help us, whether you intend to or not. At the moment I don’t care whether or not you’ll admit to your husband’s seditious activities. His own confession will quite suffice. I just need you to tell me where he is.”
“I can’t!” she exclaimed. “You’ll kill him!”
The soldier standing at her right slapped her. Ignoring the sting in her cheek, she cried out defiantly, “I won’t tell you anything!” The soldier raised his hand again, but Victor motioned for him to pause.
“There’s no need for violence—yet.” Without taking his eyes from Mary, he continued. “You seem like a reasonable person. Surely you are not ignorant of the pain that will await you if you refuse to help us. Nor, I imagine, are you ignorant of the fact that we intend to interrogate not only you, but your brother and all his friends as well, on the specific question of Alexander’s location until we succeed in finding him. Think, then, of all the pain from which you will be sparing yourself and your brother if you only tell us where Alexander has gone.”
“I can’t,” she repeated. “No matter what you do to me, I can’t.”
“Stand,” ordered Victor.
Mercedes Leirião’s flight to the ship of the pirate Felipe Salazar caused a considerable stir among the women and men of the Maraian port city of Orção. The news spread first among the women, but this unusual piece of gossip also fascinated their husbands. The men wondered whether the defection of Mrs. Leirião, whose husband Walter was a celebrated merchant and politician in Orção, would elevate further the tensions brought on by trade competition with other Logian states, with the Spanish Crown and her possessions, and above all with the arrogant Britain and her thirteen troublesome offshoots on the North American continent.
Mercedes: The life of a pirate is not as glamorous as it may seem. It is certainly not as lucrative as it is made out to be. There are days, weeks even, when Felipe and I have next to nothing to eat, and my naturally voluptuous body fights the emaciating forces of starvation. A merchant makes a steady living. Walter and I never went hungry. I wonder whether Felipe’s kidnapping of Penelope is really based on political and economic motives. Even before he developed this plan, I could sense a growing distance in our relationship. He never knew me as a pure woman. He was not the first man with whom I had had an affair. Now I may expect that a loose woman is proper for a pirate, but perhaps I have miscalculated. It seems he longs for a virgin, and why not a virgin princess? He has corrupted me, and now he casts me aside as he seeks the terribly young object of his infatuation.
Mercedes: Penelope is ruining us. When Felipe looks at me, he avoids my eyes. His eyes sparkle around Penelope and she does not even love him. What a fool he is, throwing away my real love for his infatuation with some princess. In my moments of darkness, I long for his death. Constantly, I long for Penelope’s death. If she separates us permanently, I will destroy her despite the consequences. Let passion stir in my breast! May my thoughts become those of murder! I will kill her. She deserves it, but even if she did not, I would still kill her. I cannot look with pleasure on my past with Felipe. I gave up everything for him, but he is doing absolutely nothing for me. I am too old, too ugly, and too spirited. Penelope has no personality. She is wan, like a plain white shift. I hate Penelope. Felipe obsesses over her even though she is still thinking about her knight. I wonder what it is about her that attracts Felipe to her. She is beautiful, but in a frigid way. She trembles for no reason when she is around me. She looks at me with fear and I look at her with bold hatred. I turn my mouth into a twisted smile at the thought of her, but this is not a completely accurate reflection of my feelings. There is a part of me that wants to cry at my partial loss of Felipe’s affections. Every day the distance between us grows greater. I feel as though I am once again the stranger trying to convince him that I am worthwhile. I have become complacent in my relationship but it was always fragile.
Penelope: Against my will, I am falling in love with Felipe. His kisses are so passionate, like a thunderstorm to the light drizzle of Kyle’s kisses. Nothing is worthwhile except this new love. I like Felipe so much that I love him.
Fiona: I cannot mourn. I have no right to mourn when I am partially responsible for Kyle’s suffering and his impending death. What do I mean when I say there is hope? I should know better. There is no hope. I am so afraid now. I am almost free from the suspicion of the law, but my own guilt is harder to escape. I clench my hands into fists and contort my face into a grotesque mask when I remember that I am the one responsible for my lovers’ suffering, and that my freedom was purchased at the price of their blood. I never felt worthy of Kyle. I had almost convinced myself that we belonged together when we were both arrested and I betrayed him. Why do I keep dreaming that I can somehow remedy the injustice I have done to Kyle and Walter? I heard that if they are found guilty of Penelope’s death, they may be burned. Then let me jump into the flames with them, and may my charring flesh be united with theirs!
Fiona pushed through to the front of the crowd. She was wearing a black dress. She expected to mourn forever. Her reddish brown hair waved wildly in the autumn wind. The match was lit. Quickly the flames built, driven by the wind. Fiona watched her lovers. She had never seen their faces so distorted with fear, nor their bodies so weak. She cursed the integrity of her body and the words that condemned Kyle to torture and death. It was not a fair price to pay!
She stood for five minutes, watching the flesh turn pink and char on their legs. As the flames climbed to their torsos, they screamed. There are no heroes, thought Fiona. No one can stand pain. But I will.
She leaped into the flames and screamed. The pain was worse than she imagined. Soon she jumped out.
“This is their paramour,” someone remarked. “Take her out.” Even through the physical pain, she realized her mistake in leaving the flames. But her courage was not great enough.
Miriam waited several minutes for Samuel to return, but finally she decided it was time to leave for her rehearsal. She had not yet been late, and she did not want this to be the first time. Tomaso’s presence had augmented her excessive desire for perfection to the point where it interfered with the quality of her playing. She figured he was aware that he had an effect on her, but even she was uncertain of the exact nature of her feelings towards him. It had been a sufficiently long time since a man had raised her heartbeat above its normal rate on a regular basis that she could not help but feel uncomfortable and confused.
The Limits of Revolution
Lucinda: I have been a terrible wife, standing by and letting Chester, the king, be killed. I was so concerned with my own safety that I ignored not only the safety of my husband but the safety of our kingdom, which is now in the grip of wild revolutionaries, with their dangerous novel ideas that may sound good on paper but have no basis in reality. I wish Chester were still alive. I want to communicate with him even at the cost of my sanity. My daughter Hannah has no idea what grief is. It is inevitable that she lose her father, but must I lose my husband so soon?
Alexandra: I trusted Walter all along. He was the one who led us. What is happening to him now? It is the memory of that princess, Hannah. He never stopped loving her. His love lay dormant while he was married to Audrey, but now Audrey is dead and he remembers his exiled princess again. He will kill us just to be with her. He knows I would never abide by his bringing her back and starting a constitutional monarchy. I hope she is dead. If she lives, the revolution will die. Jacob thinks it is Lionel’s conservative influence on Walter that is leading him down this dangerous path, but I know it is Hannah. What fools we will become for love! Would I put my love for Jacob before my ideals? I should hope not. I fear that our enemies, led by my brother, will arrest Jacob and kill him. Jacob and I agree on almost every political issue, and yet we fight so often. It is the stress of the revolution. Our political failure is seeping into our relationship. I need our daughter to survive this. How could I raise her alone, an unmarried woman? If they take me too, will she fall into Walter’s care? He would raise her to hate her parents.
Hannah: I thought it would be easy to resume my relationship with Walter. I am back in the capital, but the capital has changed. The streets have new names that reflect revolutionary whims. Some buildings have been burned or torn down. The once magnificent castle is in ruins. Walter, too, has changed. He has lost a woman he loved. He will soon kill his sister. I do not want to hear about all these awful things. I have seen the death of my family, but all I want is to be with him.
Susanne: So my father wants me to meet new boys—maybe I will marry one of them. That may be nice, but I cannot get over Martin. I remember how close we came, how I pulled away from him. Was that the cause of our rupture? I have my virtue to protect, but now I would sacrifice it and anything else to remain his. It cannot be over! He comes back to my door only to go away again. My parents do not understand true love, but neither do I.
Susanne: My mother told me today of Martin’s suicide. She tried to blame it on him or else on the recent imprisonment of his father, but I knew I had played a major role in his death. If I could have loved him, if I could have made myself feel for him what he felt for me, maybe he would have stayed with me. I could have saved him. My mother would be pleased if I never mentioned Martin’s name again. Her desire is understandable given the condemnation that has fallen on his family, but I still wish he were alive.
Selena: I wish I could spare Patrick this pain. Although I am the one ripped from my home, I hardly miss it. I am more superficial than I thought. Let Patrick think that I am miserable and that I miss him, if it makes him feel better. He is trapped in his maze of morality, but there is no morality. I am so much happier now than I was with him. I no longer feel much pressure. Noah, my new lover, has nothing to say to me except that I am pretty and that he wants to fuck me. Occasionally I think about Patrick again. At these times my nice things seem worthless. I realize that all my material and sexual activities are means of covering up my inner vacuum. I was so eager to begin my new life. I sought pain. I frequented dangerous places, all to spite him.
Renata: Today I saw my friends for lunch. It was a pleasant experience, but almost immediately upon returning home I was reminded of my loneliness. Every night, I wait for Miles, and I am sick of his excuses about work. It is not his business that requires him to be out of the house until almost midnight. It would be one thing if he were seeing prostitutes for casual flings, but I have heard rumors from a friend that he is in a serious relationship with a beautiful courtesan. My friend cannot remember her exact name, but she knows that it begins with an S, and that the woman has blonde hair and blue eyes.
Selena: Against my better judgment, I am falling in love with Miles. I enjoyed my time with Noah, but Miles is the one who stirs the suppressed longings of my heart. He jokes about us getting married, but I tell him no. He has duties and I have a job. We can make love all we want, but we cannot love at all. The candles burn with special intensity in his mansion, with its multiple floors and gas lighting he never uses when I am around. He tells me it is not just my beauty he loves, but I am not a rebel and I will not let myself love him. He is a good man, but I am already lost.
Caitlin: Edward’s world disgusts me. I never suspected that he was one of them. My world has been torn apart so suddenly. I want to remain poor and miserable. I can never be happy in this glittery world. He thinks he is doing me a favor. How mistaken he is! He thinks he loves me. If he really loved me, he would let me go. I am like Persephone. He will kidnap me and make me a woman of his underworld. There is nothing beautiful about women like Selena. I must get out of here. I would rather die than live the life that Edward is forcing on me. Just yesterday the omniscient sun did not mock me. Just yesterday morning the grass sparkled with the possibilities of dew.
Patrick: Caitlin has become one of them. There are no words to describe this grief. She was even more beautiful and more pure than Selena, and now they will be the same disgusting women of the street. I could stand losing Selena but I was so sure I could keep Caitlin. I never trusted Edward but I still could not make myself believe that this would come to pass.
“I can’t believe how cruel they can be,” said Leo to Heidi.
“I can. They’ve been like this since the ninth grade.”
“No,” he said emphatically. “They’ve been like this to me since the ninth grade. And I can bear it. But it infuriates me to see the way they treat you.”
“They’re just as mean to Patricia and Nadine.”
“And so they are. But I don’t care nearly as much about Patricia and Nadine as I care about you.” He leaned closer to her.
“Don’t,” she said.
“You’re one of my closest friends. Don’t ruin that by falling in love with me.”
“Well, isn’t this something! You’re one of the brightest, most creative minds in the school and yet you’re afraid of love.”
894 Bumblebee Lane
Rosa: Today has been terrible, and yet it may be the beginning of something wonderful. I was terrified when I caught my left hand in the machine and I saw the sharp metal strips whirring toward it. I screamed. All the other workers stayed where they were, but my employer Nathaniel ran over to me from across the room, grabbed me, and pulled my hand out of the machine with precise force. I cannot believe he would express interest in me. Why should it matter to him whether my hand was crushed? He could easily find another worker to replace me. I cannot stop thinking about him.
Despite her enjoyment of Nathaniel’s love, Rosa became increasingly lonely in the world outside of their clandestine meetings. Her friends and co-workers resented her for her capture of Nathaniel’s affection, and those of them who belonged to the union resented her for her tacit acceptance of bourgeois exploitation.
Nathaniel: I love Rosa, but the forces around us will not allow this to happen. It is too late. We are already deeply in love. She tells me we must end this and I tell her that I will never let her go. She is too precious to me. I wish she were pregnant. I want us to have a child. It would solidify our relationship. I wish I knew why she pulled away from me. Is there another man? If there were, I would gladly kill him. If only I could protect her from everything! All I can do is love her. When I rescued her from the malfunctioning machine, I feared that her life and death were beyond my control. I do not want to watch her suffer, so why does her helplessness attract me? I would give my life to her. Life changes, but my love for her will remain constant.
Pura: As a union leader, I want to be a voice for those who are afraid to speak, but why must Rosa deny all the dictates of reason? Why must she ally herself with the enemy, increasing his vileness with her purity? She should not be doing this. My brother Nathaniel is no good for her. I will not run away from this, but neither will he. Better that she should die than belong to him! She does not realize how she is hurting herself. How long have I stood by the large white colonial of imagination, unwilling to walk in, holding a lighter in my hand? I wait to turn it on and start the spark that will ignite this lion’s den and catch onto the dry yellow-green grass of the savanna that hangs in curly strands like unwashed hair. I want to see crackling flames rise across the plains to the endless sky, blue with misplaced calm and bare of a single foreshadowing cloud. No rain will fall on my handiwork. I will kill the lion. I will singe his mane, burn off his flesh, twist his face into a contortion of pain, and blind his cold black eyes. If necessary, I will kill his whore, the lamb, if she insists on binding herself to him. If she will not leave her attacker, she will share his fate. But unwilling I stand, holding a box of matches, waiting to run one of them across the scratchy black strip and touch its fiery tip to the whitewashed wooden sideboards of the grand house. I long to rip down this monument to exploitation, but the matches stay in my hand. My courage does not exceed my fear.
Dominic: Pura has effected her terrible plan. I supported her murderous designs because I believed they were just. Now that the blood has been spilled, I am overcome with fear. If we can draw blood, so can Nathaniel. He will recover from his wounds and channel his grief into anger. I hope I will protect Pura when that day comes.
Their Parents' Battles
John: Mathilde speaks of mathematics in seductive tones. Perhaps she is unaware of this, but I can sense it. We are both relatively poor compared to the doctors, lawyers, and insurance agents common to Stonewood.
Mathilde: I still love my daughter Helena. This will never go away, in spite of everything, but my husband Harold believes that if I really loved Helena, I would not be having an affair with John. The gulf between Helena and me is widening. We fight every few days, often over little things, but the premise behind them is grave. Helena sees I am favoring Emily, and it is true. Emily is a child born of a man I love, not one I hate. But I remember making snow angels and dressing Helena in pink and green and playing Chutes and Ladders with her. Now we hardly ever do things together. She picks her own popular clothes. The only chute we know is the one through which we are all sliding down fast. It is unclear who will survive this. If Harold dies, I can stand it. Even if John dies, I can stand it, but I could not bear to lose Emily. She is the only one of us who is innocent, caught up in her parents’ battles. I ought to return to Harold, but I refuse. Grete fears that he will kill John. Helena refuses to believe that I am a bad woman, but what are good and evil anyway? There is only passion, and sometimes it helps, but more often it hurts. I am ruining not only Harold but John as well. I would welcome death if something happened to John. We are fated to die and we are fated to be miserable. I love John, but not enough to let him go. This is my fault. He is under my control. If I left him, he would return to his wife. He would give up his self-imposed interest in mathematics, its logic strangely contrasted to our irrational passion. May Emily live. I do not put it past Harold to kill her if he finds out she is not his.
Mathilde: Even John’s own wife, Natalia, seems to display little emotion at his death. I am dreading Harold’s return. What will he think when he finds me mourning for my lover? Maybe, if I can keep this love inside myself, it will be all right. I can hide behind the cooking and the cleaning and the washing. I can ignore the part of me that says I should not forget John. Maybe I am better off if I forget him. Lucille worries about whether Elliot loves her. I never had to worry about whether John loved me. Why must I write about him in the past tense? I cannot stand the fact that he is dead.
The shuttle was running late, and the girls were growing impatient.