Ten Years Later
Candles cast wiggling demons onto the stone walls of the dark room. A large bed held a sole occupant in its lonely vastness. The shadows slithered across her pallid cheeks and moved over her neck like serpents looking for a tender spot of flesh upon which to inflict their deadly attack.
Lord Terran Knowles bent over her small hand, pressing his forehead to the slim fingers he held crushed in his. Her once warm skin felt clammy and cold. He didn’t move for a very long time, and it appeared as if both he and the woman were dead.
But Terran wasn’t about to let her die, not when he’d fought so hard to get her, winning her over another suitor. Not when he’d negotiated a dowry so grand it would provide enough funds to pay his knights and secure peace for his people and his castle for years to come. Not when he loved her. No, he couldn’t permit Odella to die.
But how could he stop it?
Why, Odella? he asked silently. She’d been happy here at Castle Knowles — at least he’d believed her to be — and they were to be wed in a week. Why would she do this? Why would she poison herself?
He could think of no answer. Nothing! She’d always seemed so cheerful, with a soft shy smile. God knew he’d do anything to make her better, give her anything she desired.
A knock sounded at the door. Terran didn’t respond. He wanted to be left alone with Odella. The door opened behind him.
“Terran?” a voice called, hesitantly.
His cousin moved closer. “I’ve brought a physician.”
Terran’s jaw clenched; his hands tightened to fists. “A physician will do her no good,” Terran growled. “She poisoned herself. I want someone who knows about poisons.”
“I can’t find the herbalist,” Kenric said. “And a physician –”
Terran whirled, his movements as lithe as a panther. He was off his knees in an instant, grabbing his cousin by the tunic and slamming him back against the wall. “Get me the herbalist,” he snarled.
Kenric’s black eyes were wide as he stared at his cousin for a long moment before nodding his head. “As you wish, m’lord,” he whispered.
Terran released him, and Kenric walked swiftly from the room.
It took a long moment for Terran’s anger to subside. Physician. What good is a physician? I need someone who can help Odella. Someone who can cure her of the poison.
Odella was like a glorious angel laid out in his bed, her hands folded on her stomach, her slender face somber and pale, her eyes closed. Her beautiful honeyed hair was tucked beneath her head.
She was a ghostly reminder of what she’d once been.
He remembered the first day he’d laid eyes on her, more than a year ago. He’d been riding into McColl Village to attend a tournament, arriving just as the merriment began. Odella had been dancing around a maypole with some of her ladies. He remembered her bright blond hair all but glowing in the sunshine, her laughter like music to his ears. He’d immediately fallen in love with her.
He won the tournament in her honor, defeating all who stood against him. After that, through months of negotiation, Terran convinced her father to betroth her to him.
In granting Terran Odella’s hand in marriage, her father had given him the woman his heart desired and a bountiful dowry that would save his castle.
Now she lay dying in his bed. As he looked at her, lifeless and ashen, he wanted to cling to the memories until she regained her radiance. But somehow the images wavered and dissolved before his mind’s eye into a mocking replica of what she used to be.
He rubbed his hands over his eyes, trying to wipe away the truth they presented to him, desperate to hold fast to the memories.
I have to remain calm. She’ll be as good as new soon. It won’t be long before she’s smiling again. It won’t be long before I hear her laughter.
“Odella,” he whispered. “Why?” He bent again at her side, gently taking her hand in his. “Why?”
Odella’s head shifted slightly and Terran raised his eyes to her face.
In the flickering light of the candle, he could have sworn her lips moved. He stared at her for a moment, holding his breath, waiting for them to move again. It must have been his wishful imagination. Now they were still. Terran wiped his weary eyes, trying to clear them. But when he opened his eyes to look at her again, her lips were indeed moving.
He quickly boosted himself up on the bed. Her breath was so shallow he could barely hear her. He lowered his ear closer to her lips.
“Garret,” she whispered.
Terran sat bolt upright, his jaw hard as granite. He must have misheard her. But there was no mishearing her next cry.
Her lips moved again, her face contorting with pain. “Garret,” she managed to gasp.
Dysen! Terran reared back. He knew only one Garret. Garret Dysen. This cannot be! Why does she call for another man?
Then a thought struck him so hard he almost reeled. Could she love Dysen? Could she have killed herself because she couldn’t be with Dysen?
Anguish and disbelief tore through Terran. He stood and stepped away from the bed. How could this be?
He whirled away from her, clenching his fists. God’s blood. Have I been so blind?
Agony tore through him. It cannot be! he told himself. But deep in his heart, he knew he finally had his answer. Odella had poisoned herself to escape marriage to him.
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