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Ugliness of Beauty
Author's note: I was really inspired by how dainty and ignorant women were thought of during the Victorian Era, combined with strong women, both fiction and real-life, such as the Red Queen and Charlize Theron.
At fifteen years old, Alice Cavanaugh was still not married. She hadn't been betrothed as a mere infant. At her age and during the Victorian Era, this was a disgrace. He parents had tried, and tried again with noble boys from every age and domain, but it soon became apparent only those who were blind, deaf, and unfeeling would dare to do so.
The girl was gorgeous; exquisite in every way. An English rose. She had inspired poetry from a tender age. Her golden locks cascaded down he shoulders, below her waist, down to her knees. Her skin was so pale, it was almost translucent. Not a single hint of a blemish or the slightest flaw. Her cheekbones were prominent; her bone structure divine. She had a dainty figure, with a waistline of thirteen inches. Even Her Majesty, the almighty Queen Victoria, had flushed with envy when she had glimpsed at her when she’d first started evolving into a woman, and a very alluring woman at that.
She was rich as well. As the daughter of a baroness, she was acquainted with Queen Victoria. She was a quiet girl; she wouldn't so much as disturb a fly. She had the voice of an angel, and played the harp.
Yet still, all of these qualities made her even more alienated among her people. Rumors about her spread faster than wildfire. She used self-defense when a man’s intentions became too clear. She was talented at archery, a sport many men had failed to excel at, while she was only a girl, and still young. Her older sister, Jenna, at twenty-seven, still had no husband. Or rather, she’d had a husband, but apparently betrayed him. Society did not take well to adultery, so she’d been blinded. The punishment had been slow and torturous… and given to the wrong person. She also had anger issues. Servants whispered among themselves how they’d hear the golden-haired girl smashing priceless porcelain, and ripping apart silks when she was in one of her rages. Yet still, none of this compared to her most dominating and feared feature; her eyes.
Those piercing gray eyes, framed by a thick fringe of long, black lashes were what everyone feared. When she’d been born, her eyes had focused almost right away. The gaze of an intelligent adult in an infant had sent every noble boy, as well as his parents, back to wherever they’d come from. It was abnormal for a child to have such focused eyes at such a ripe, young age. As she’d grown older, it seemed as though her eyesight grew better and better. With each year, her eyes seemed to get more and narrower with suspicion.
It wasn't the girl herself everyone fearing; it was only her eyes. Her beautiful, stormy eyes that seemed to know every secret that you might behold. Calm eyes that had no care in the world, because they knew that no one would dare cause her any trouble, for everyone knew her power not only lay in her parents or social status.
The arrow sailed cleanly into the bull’s eye. Alice squinted into the bright sunlight, her bow sure and strong in her hand.
“Another three yards,” she called to whatever servant was serving her. She didn't bother to keep track of them. There were far, far too many, and they changed too rapidly for her to keep up. Most of them also had sticky fingers. She’d once found one of her mother’s rings stuffed beneath one of their mattresses.
The servant scrambled to move the target post. Today, it was a little boy. Nine years old by the looks of it, with cropped, bronze hair and wide green eyes. He quickly moved out of her piercing, cat-like glare.
Alice readied her bow, and raised it to her mouth. The corners of her lips would rip, but it would be worth it. They’d ripped before, but they’d mended, just like everything else… She released the arrow, feeling the lush tear of the corner of her mouth. It shot gracefully to the bull’s eye. Another stunning shot.
The sun beat down on her hair. Sweat was pouring down her back, dampening her dress. Perhaps just one more…
No. The hem of her dress was already soiled. She’d pay for pushing her luck. Her parents may let her off with a warning, or maybe even with a compliment at how daring, talented, and dedicated she was, but her uncle certainly wouldn't.
“Oh, well,” she murmured. She placed her bow carefully on the crude table she had made for her weapons, and picked up a steel dagger. She weighed it in her hand. The little boy watched her with his emerald eyes widened, his small, bony hands curled into little fists with anticipation. Alice could see his ribs poking through his thread-bare shirt.
With a quick, powerful flick of her wrist, she flung the dagger into the bull’s eye. The impact of it was so strong, the post toppled over. The boy’s jade eyes widened even more, a hint of a good-natured grin starting to spread across his face. Poor soul.
“Watch your fingers on the weapons,” she said as she passed him, touching his gaunt shoulder. She crossed the grass, barefoot, to get her shoes and gloves. Torture devices, both of them were, but her hands and feet were so small and delicate, she hardly felt any of the agony her mother constantly complained about. She’d never needed to use glove powder or a glove stretcher, as Jenna did. In fact, most of her shoes and gloves were far too big on her. Finding a corset was an even bigger issue. She had never found one that was small enough. Of course, her uncle would notice tonight, but surely she could find one by dinner.
She looked back over her shoulder. The scrawny boy was trying to drag the forty kilogram table back to the stables. He couldn't have been more than fifteen kilograms himself. Her uncle was a devil.
She strode back to the boy, whose skin had turned an unhealthy shade of white. She laid a hand on his shoulder. It was like caressing a skeleton. He looked up, and immediately bowed to her. She’d have her uncle pay for this atrocity.
She reached into the folds of her dress, and pulled out five pounds. The boy’s eyes turned into restraining fists, but his mouth parted greedily. Alice took one of his hands and placed the five pounds in it. Tears came to his eyes, but she couldn’t tell whether they were from joy or disbelief.
“Go run to the cook and tell him to give you something from tonight’s menu of the largest portion. Tell him if he disobeys, he will have to face punishment from my uncle.” The boy’s lashes glistened with tears. “There is supposed to be fine weather tomorrow. The table will not get damaged.” She patted his cheek. That snapped him out of his reverie. He spun on his heel and ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. His long, bronze hair flared out behind him.
She kept her eyes on his back until he disappeared into the castle, as though they would protect him. She wondered what meal he would be having tonight.
She swiveled around. The target post was still up. An urge to shoot threatened to overwhelm her.
No. If the boy could get along without a bath, a shirt that would actually cover him, and an actual bed to sleep on, she could get along without one more shot.
She squinted into the sun again. Perhaps today she could get along without getting into an argument with her uncle tonight. Maybe. For the boy with the green eyes, she would try.
She wandered into her sleeping rooms, figuring she could take a short nap before the dinner. There was a faint buzzing in her ears that always warned her was the start of a ghastly headache. As she turned the corner to enter her sleeping room, she gasped at what she saw.
Her sister was lying on her bed, her beautiful destroyed green eyes open. She lay unmoving. Alice was about to work up a scream when Jenna fluttered her eyes a few times and sat up on the bed. When Alice took a step forward, Jenna’s head snapped up in alarm.
“Who’s there,” she asked, her hand inching towards the edge of the bed, where Alice saw, lay a knife.
“It’s only me,” Alice responded, walking to the windows to draw the curtains open. The bright sunlight streamed through the window. “You shouldn't sleep with an open knife. You won’t be able to see it when you roll on it and murder yourself in your sleep,” she continued nonchalantly, getting out her worn-down hairbrush.
“I couldn't find the sheath. Why are you in my rooms,” Jenna asked. Her red lips were curled into their usual serene smile, but Alice could see her jaw twitch.
“You probably confused your rooms with mine. These are my rooms. The question should be why you’re here,” Alice shot back, sitting down on the white, pristine bed, handing Jenna the hairbrush, and beginning to untie her golden locks.
“I heard him.” Jenna’s face curled up in a sneer. She and Alice had refused to call their closest uncle by his first name ever since he had given Jenna’s first beating. Alice had hidden in a closet in the room where the beating had taken place to make sure he didn't kill her. Luckily, he hadn't, but Alice had only been five years old at the time, watching her sister being treated like cheap furniture at seventeen years old. “He was ranting to that horrid horseman about how his brother was willingly allowing a tart to live under his roof.” She began to run the bristles of the brush through her sister’s hair.
Alice’s jaw clenched. The hypocritical swine.
“So then what,” she asked, trying to keep her voice even.
“Then came the streams of profanities, and I didn't want to hear anymore,” Jenna’s voice cracked. Alice turned around to face her.
Though she was blind, Jenna’s jade eyes were still full of life. Her mother often compared Jenna with Snow White. Her lips were naturally red, while her raven hair tumbled to her waist. Her skin was also pale, though no where as pale or a translucent as Alice’s.
Her uncle, as usual, had found a way to use this against her. At her wedding, he’d whispered to her, “Lips red as blood, hair black as night. Bring me your heart, my dear, dear Snow White.”
Her green eyes reminded Alice so much of that little boy’s eyes in the field; wide, innocent, and in permanent pain.
Jenna smiled and ran her fingers through Alice’s mane once more.
“Go to sleep. I’ll wake you when it’s time to enter Hades' domain,” she whispered. All Alice remembered after that was the lilac scent of Jenna’s hair.
She slept dreamlessly in a safe, dark haven with the whiff of lilacs in the air. When she woke, her shoulders and neck were stiff, her hair already piled up. She was sitting in an armchair, in a silk baby-blue dress. Her shoulders were revealed, but her gloves concealed most of her arms. As usual, they were too big, as were her shoes.
Shouts echoed from the halls. She caught her own name in one of the shrieks of desperation. She sat a little straighter. Was it another rumor? Was she about to be arrested?
Suddenly, a maid’s head popped into the room. She sighed in relief when she spied Alice before turning around again.
“I found her! Go back to the table,” she barked into the hall. The maid was a plump woman, past her child-bearing years. She rushed to Alice and coaxed her out of her seat.
“Come child, your uncle is waiting. You’re late.” Her even voice didn't mask the panic she tried to hide. Alice blinked sleepily. Fatigue was making her incoherent.
“How am I late? Jenna said-”
“Never trust and adulteress, my lady,” the woman cut her off, her voice turning sharp.
Alice gritted her teeth. She snatched her hand out of the woman’s as they raced down the hall.
The realization hit when she was outside the dining hall doors.
“Wait! I have-”
“No corset.” Her uncle’s smooth, snakelike voice sent chills down her back. The maid had pushed the doors open, revealing her lack of proper attire. Alice swallowed, holding back bile as well as disgust.
“Yes,” she replied with no infliction. She strode past him, her back straight and jaw clenched, trying to numb herself of all emotion, feeling her uncle’s stormy gray eyes on her.
When she turned around to sit down, she noticed that he still hadn't moved from where he had greeted her, his face still faced towards the doors, which were now closed. The silence was thundering.
He finally turned around, boring his stormy, cruel gray eyes into Alice’s. She didn't break her eye contact. It was him who finally had to look away.
She shot a quick frantic look around the table. Jenna’s back was arched in on itself, as it always was when she was choking on panic. With a sudden surge of rage, she wished she could slap Jenna’s back to make her sit up straight. Her mother was also hunched over, but her lips were silently moving. Praying, Alice realized. She choked back a morbid giggle in the irony of the moment. Her father looked as though he was expecting a blow. Yet still, his lips were slightly pursed in disdain and embarrassment.
Her uncle finally walked toward the table, and sat down at the head of the table. The nerve. He moved with the grace of a sword, his body lean, yet masculine. His cruel eyes were an exact replica of hers down to the last eyelash.
“Well,” he began. His voice echoed throughout the hall. Jenna flinched. He turned his attention to her father. “I am ashamed to see that my own pious brother… has been housing two prostitutes.”
Traces of red spiked Alice’s vision as she tightened her grip on her knife.
Her uncle coughed out a dry, sarcastic laugh. “It is actually comical! One decides to betray her husband, while the other one, who obviously looks up to her, insists on flaunting herself! Truly comical!” He tilted his back to laugh.
Do not lose your temper. Do not lose your temper. Do not lose your temper, she chanted to herself. As she ran her index finger ran down the edge of her knife, she pricked her finger. Her uncle’s words echoed in her head. Lips red as blood…
Speak, she willed herself. Speak. Jenna let out an almost inaudible whimper. She glanced at what her sister was wearing, and had to stifle a groan. Of course; she’d slipped on a seventeen inch corset that Alice had once tried on, but hadn't fit her well. Jenna, at twenty-seven, had a twenty-three inch waistline. This was acceptable, but with that corset, any shock would make her collapse, or even more likely, kill her.
Alice looked down at the dead meat on her plate, thinking that this was what she was about to become. A small smirk rose on her face before she could stop it. Before she lost her bravado, she spoke.
“Forgive me, Uncle Diablo,” she said, her mouth twisting around his name. “I could not find any corset that could hug my figure snugly,” she chimed in her angel’s voice. “They are all far too big. My waistline is only so large; thirteen inches! It seems almost… comical.” Her voice caressed the last word. “Yet I find the contrast between your wife’s and my figure even more humorous. Perhaps I should send her all of my corsets, or would they still be too minuscule,” she continued innocently. Diablo’s jaw twitched. Alice flashed him a blinding smile.
His wife, as everyone knew, had gained an unacceptable amount of weight since childbirth, she was even stumpier than Queen Victoria. Not only that, but she had failed to produce Diablo an heir.
“With my deepest gratitude, I will have to decline your offer. Thank you, Alice.” His nails dug into the tablecloth. He turned to Jenna.
“Oh Jenna dear,” he practically sang to Jenna. Jenna hesitantly lifted her head.
“Yes,” she squeaked. Alice wanted to slap her for showing weakness.
“Your previous husband and I recently took a trip to South Africa. I have to say, he is simply devastated about what you did to him.” Alice drove the knife deeper into her flesh.
“He scarcely eats, and he claims he is often disturbed by nightmares.” He leaned forward to place his hand on hers. A bead of perspiration formed on Jenna’s neck. It slid down to the inside of her dress.
“However, just before we were to leave, he said that it hurt him even more that you have not even sent him a note of apology. He says that you act as though you have done no wrong.” He patted Jenna’s arm.
Alice slammed the knife down on the table. Everyone’s eyes trained on her, but she’d had enough. At this rate, she’d slice her finger off.
“Why exactly were you in South Africa? You weren't off doing business, were you,” she spat, slamming her hands on the oak table. Blood from her finger stained the white tablecloth. “Would you like to tell us what your business is?” Her mother drew in a gasp. A servant dropped her tray in shock. Her uncle’s mouth fell open with a slight pop. He mashed his lips together, narrowing his eyes.
She knew she’d pay for it, but was a far too good and rare opportunity to pass up.
She had him, and Diablo knew it. She leaned back in her seat, her rosebud mouth spread in a perverse smile. “Its fine, Diablo. We all know what it is.” She raised one perfect eyebrow, taunting him. His eyes blazed with fury; gray ice, red rage. “We’d also like to know who your business partners are, would we not? But they are not important, are they? You’re all one and the same, smuggling African Americans over to the States, and not losing any sleep to it. Does Queen Victoria know? I think she’d relish that piece of information…felon.”
It was silent for one heartbeat.
Diablo let out a roar of vehemence as he lifted his oak chair and smashed it into the window. Shards of glass landed on the food. In the blink of an eye, he had one hand cutting of circulation on Alice’s arm, the other in her hair, dragging her out the doors before she’d even registered what she’d done.
He slammed her head into the wall, once, twice, three times. Black spots formed in front of Alice’s eyes, while she struggled to get air in her burning lungs. She felt something hot and sticky in her hair. Her uncle dragged her by her hair further down the hall. She needed to breathe. She couldn't feel from neck-down. She needed air.
Her uncle dropped her on the floor like a doll near a small table her mother had set up. Where was Jenna? Had he hurt Jenna? She couldn't swallow. What about her mother? Would he punish Ella afterwards? Thoughts whizzed through Alice’s mind, before she could take in what they were. What about-
That last thought was cut off by when Diablo brought her to her knees. There was suddenly the sound of shattering glass and pain in the back of her head. The floor spun up to meet her face. The last thing she heard was the sound of a group of people running and shouting. The world went bright, than black.
Someone was slapping her cheeks. Was it her father? What had she done yet again? It all came back to her. She groaned from her soreness and what her father would do to her. He had never beaten her before, but perhaps this time would be an exception.
“Why isn’t she waking up,” her father’s voice asked. Alice could almost see him twitching, as he had a tendency to do when he was nervous or worried.
The slaps came harder and harsher.
“She should be coming around soon, sir,” a smooth voice answered.
“Stop slapping me,” Alice groaned, smacking the hands away before she opened her eyes.
“Thank the Lord,” her father gasped. His hair looked grayer since the last time she’d seen him.
She was lying down on a white sofa in her powder room. Her mother and Jenna both slumped in armchairs, sleeping. The sun was already rising; the red in the sun reminded her of blood.
“Is he gone,” she asked. Her voice rasped.
Her father nodded solemnly. “Yes. He didn’t even bother taking his possessions or his servants.” Alice’s ears perked up.
“Servants,” she asked, trying to clear her throat.
“Yes. He just locked them in that little room across the hall-”
Before he could finish his sentence, Alice leaped from the sofa, and strode to the room across the hall, and rammed the wooden door in.
A woman yelped as she saw who it was at the door, and struggled to cover her children from Alice’s view. Alice panted, trying to find enough strength to stand straight up without fainting. Her hair had been woven into one thick braid, but it weighed her head down; she couldn’t keep it straight.
“All of you,” she gasped, “out.” Nobody moved. “OUT,” she shrieked. All of the servants rushed out past her as she gasped in air.
She eyed all of them in their rags. Their skin was an ashy, papery gray, their ribs as prominent as her cheekbones. She spied the little boy, and she couldn’t resist the urge to smile.
She turned around to face her father and the doctor who’d come to order her back to the sofa.
“Father,” she began, with all of the tranquility she could muster. “Could we please have these poor, starving slaves sent to Queen Victoria?” She fluttered her eyelashes for extra effect.
“Slaves,” her father asked. “These aren’t slaves, these are servants, and you ought to know that.”
Alice narrowed her eyes. “If they were servants he wouldn’t have had to pay for them, and they wouldn’t be free for sale, would they,” she whispered, curling her hands into fists.
She knew that she was pushing her luck, yet again, but she just couldn’t bear to wait any longer. At any rate, she would faint at any moment, so why not appear as vulnerable and irresistible as possible?
Her father pursed his lips. Alice fought back a smile. She had him wound around her little finger, and they both knew it.
“Alright,” he sighed. He waved her off to go back to her rooms. As she skipped, her strength suddenly recovered, she could hear her father escorting the slaves to the entrance, talking to the doctor.
“Do you happen to have any remedies for headaches, sir,” he asked tiredly as his voice faded in the distance. Alice covered her mouth to stifle a giggle.
Jenna stroked her hair in smooth, repetitive motions. Alice sighed; she’d been at this for three hours.
“Jenna,” she sighed, about to complain.
“Hold still,” Jenna urged.
“Can I please just go to sleep? Please. You can paint in the morning,” she urged.
Jenna had come around ten in the evening announced, claiming that she had a vision in her head of a painting of Alice, but she needed to know every precise detail of her sister’s face.
She’d taken to tracing Alice’s features with her fingertips, and when announcing she’d had her face down to the smallest contour, Alice had sighed when relief. Jenna had then taken to her hair.
Alice glanced at the clock.
“In fact, it’s already morning.” Jenna stopped her persistent fondling.
“Really,” she asked.
“It is already four in the morning. Go.” With a delicate sigh, Jenna rose and floated out of room, her black hair flouncing behind her.
Alice rose, famished. Maybe she could sneak silently into the kitchen and ask the cook to whip up something. At any rate, it was senseless to try to get some sleep. The first rays of light were already emerging on the horizon.
She didn't bother to dress out of her nightgown that had an eight foot long train, or pile her hair up. It all trailed behind her as she made her way to the throne room to eat.
She glided down the stairs, and almost tripped over a body. The cook, she realized. She leaned over, touching his shoulder gently. The cook’s eyes flashed open and gasped at Alice. She rose to his knees and bowed. Alice rolled her eyes.
“Do you mind getting me a meal,” she asked as gently as she could.
“Ye-e-ss,” he stuttered. He trotted down the stairs, and raced to the kitchen as Alice sat down at the dining table. No one had bothered to clean up the mess from yesterday. She pushed away the bits of glass, the rancid meat, and the rotting vegetables.
“What should take your fancy today, milady,” the cook’s throaty voice called out to her.
“Whatever takes your fancy,” she called back to him. “Make it quick. I’m ravenous.”
She stood, making her way through the shards of glass, pulling open the velvet curtains. The sun blinded her as it had yesterday, but today the warmth was welcome.
When she finished her meal, it was around eight in the morning. Before the rush of servants began, she hurried back to her powder room. Without realizing it, she fell asleep.
Something nudged her.
“Please forgive my daughter,” someone murmured. Alice frowned. What had she done wrong? All she wanted was to sleep… for an appropriate amount of time.
She heard some feet shuffle, and water splashing around in a bucket. She braced herself; she’d used this method countless times to wake Jenna after she’d refused to reenter reality after her punishment.
She shifted her weight on the sofa. “One drop of water touches my face, I swear on the Blessed Virgin I will walk out of this household and never come back.” Everyone froze. Alice smiled serenely and opened her eyes. Her father stood above her in a formal stance. She flashed a smile at him.
“Father,” she exclaimed. “What brings you here on this fine morning?”
“Morning,” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “My dear Alice, it is well past evening,” he said as she rose gracefully from the sofa.
“I do think it is your accident that has got you in this condition. I think we should get Doctor Rubenstein…” his voice trailed off.
Alice stared at the remote figure slumped against her door. It was a man, twenty-seven by his body. His hair was a cropped, chestnut brown that managed to shine even in the shadows. His eyes were a deep, smoldering, chocolate brown that Alice could feel were boring into her own. He was tall; abnormally tall in fact. By the looks of it, he was around six feet tall, and that was even taller than Diablo. His skin was pale, but there were buttery, golden undertones to it that reminded her of her own hair. He was very masculine, but not very overdone. He wore a white, linen shirt and cotton brown pants that were meant to mask his figure; they didn't succeed.
“Father,” she said, interrupting her father’s stream of words.
“Yes? Oh, right.” He adjusted his tie. “Alice, this is Jared. He is our new servant. He would be one of our new servants if you hadn't donated the other fifty to Victoria.”
“They weren't servants, they were slaves. They were sold, so they are slaves,” she said.
Her father paid no attention to her whatsoever. He gestured to Jared to come forward. When he didn't come, he sighed in exasperation.
“Come on, boy! She doesn't bite!”
“Most of the time,” Alice murmured dryly.
Jared stepped forward out of the shadows. His contours were flawless, his jaw to die for. His pink, plump lips were covered in white little shreds of skin, but otherwise, they were just another addition to his beauty.
Alice raised her chin a notch.
“Where did you find him,” she asked haughtily, her gaze locked on Jared’s, who betrayed no emotion.
“I didn't find him. He came to us,” her father replied. Alice tightened her lips.
“Around four in the morning today,” he responded calmly. Alice raised one perfect eyebrow. Jared didn't even flinch; strong, this one.
He continued. “He will be assisting Jenna in her daily needs starting tomorrow. After all, you cannot help her for the rest of your life,” he said with a small smile, as though this were some joke. Alice felt tremors shoot down her arms, making her hands shake. She hid them behind her back and clenched her jaw, resisting the urge to shriek in rage.
“Well, my work is done here. Get to know each other; I have business to do.” He exited the room, looking as though he had no care in the world. Alice wandered vaguely what his so-called business was.
Jared took two tentative steps toward her, one hand out, palm upward. He opened his mouth to speak.
Alice marched to him, her expression a beautiful nightmare.
“Listen, and listen well,” she whispered. Even though he was four heads above her, he cringed as though the fifteen-year old towered over him. She grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled him closer to her face.
“If you hurt her, I will crush you.”
On that note, she exited the room, not bothering to gauge the man’s reaction.
As Alice made her way to Jenna’s rooms, she encountered two maids whispering frantically to each other. As soon as they saw the gray-eyed beauty, they abruptly stopped.
“Whisper, whisper, whisper. You can never be too careful, what with all of Jenna’s hearing, can you,” said Alice, without breaking her stride. When they were behind her, one of them yelped, as though she’d been poked with a pin. Alice had to admit, that did give a tiny bit of satisfaction.
She smashed her fist against Jenna’s art room door repeatedly. She heard footsteps, but they wouldn't come quick enough. She slammed the nuisance of a door out of her way.
“Do you know that there’s going to be a new servant assigned specifically to you,” she asked, breathless.
Jenna wiped a brush against a cloth to remove water from it. She turned to Alice, wiping her hands on her old apron.
“And,” she asked.
“He’s going to be a man,” Alice said.
“So,” Jenna drawled.
“There’s going to be a man, taking care of you, a blind, attractive woman!” How could she be so slow?
“And your point is…”
“The point is that you have to prepare yourself for very likely possibilities,” Alice hissed.
Jenna sighed, as though trying to talk to a foreigner.
“Nothing is going to happen like it did last time, I promise,”
“How can you promise?! You've never even seen him! You’re not even trying to take any necessary precautions,” Alice wailed.
“Oh, Alice,” sighed Jenna, patting her cheek. “Go to bed. I’m pretty sure this is just the stress of the day getting to you.”
Alice walked to the entrance, her head down. It was useless; her beautiful, gullible sister was so clueless as to what evils existed in this world. She was willingly going to give herself up to some man who she thought was as innocent as a rose.
“Sleep with that dagger, and if you hear anything or anyone, I don’t care if it’s a mere mouse, shriek at the top of your lungs,” Alice ordered glumly.
Jenna exhaled sharply. “Oh, dear Alice,” she muttered.
“Do you promise?”
“Yes, I promise. Go. To. Bed.”
Alice pouted but stood her ground.
Alice stomped out of the room, wandering if that had been the last time she’d ever see her sister, her lips red as blood, hair black as night.
She sat on a pile of rose petals, her dress was made of rose petals; rose petals stretched as far as her eye could see. The sun was beating down on her, mocking her. She had nowhere to move, and if she did, she had no strength to move. The horrid rose petals weighed her down.
As she looked out the sea made of rose petals, something started to rise out of it. As it rose, it moved steadily towards her. She squinted against the horrid sun. If she could only make out what it was…
A portion of the rose petals had morphed into the form of a volcano. As she watched, bodies draped in pure white cloth burst out of it, covered in red liquid… blood, she realized.
The first one was her father, than her mother, than that little green-eyed boy. Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their daughters soon followed. Her dead grandparents and an old childhood friend piled one on top of the other. Their blood seeped from their clothes to the rose petals, transforming them into blood as well. All around her rose petals turned into blood. Her dress turned into blood, but it dried into a black crust and caked her body.
With one final spurt from the volcano, Jenna popped out, and landed on her face by Alice. Alice, with morbid curiosity, reached out and rolled over the corpse.
She let out a wordless, inhumane shriek that was loud enough to wake the dead, but didn't. Jenna’s eyes had been gauged from their sockets.
She kept on shrieking until Jenna rose, and opened her mouth to speak.
“No one loved you, Alice,” she said, wiping the blackened blood off her pristine white gown “Our father thinks you’re a waste of time, our mother really couldn't care less, and everyone else here,” she swept her arm out toward the pile, “couldn't have been more anxious to leave you. I was the only one who ever loved you, and you let me die. You don’t deserve to be loved.” Her fingers closed around Alice’s throat.
Alice let out a deranged scream. She was covered in cold sweat, her hair stuck to her temples. She shook so hard, she thought she would spontaneously combust. She breathed in quick, shallow gasps. Above her was Jared’s face, open and concerned. She let out a small whimper of fear. He smoothed her hair away from her forehead with his large, warm hands. He pulled her into his arms, and carried her to a long, white coach near the window. It was a full moon tonight.
It felt good to have someone comfort her. She’d always wanted an older brother who would look out for her, but he’d died three days after he was born. His name was supposed to have been Ian.
Jared pressed her head to his shoulder, stroking her back. It her then that the world was truly indeed cruel. She shrieked out her sobs, not even bothering to breathe. She cried for Jenna, an angel who had been punished on Earth. She cried for her mother, who gave birth to two abnormal daughters. She cried for Jared, this pure embodiment of an angel who didn't know he was comforting an unfeeling, disturbed creature. She cried for the living, who was so naive and clueless as to what dangers lied ahead. She cried for the dead, who had found out too late that life was far too short. She cried for herself, for no reason in particular, just knowing that she was dead as it was no matter how long she’d live.
All Jared did was hold her in his arms, keeping Alice from ripping apart, holding her in one piece.
When Alice woke up, her face was stiff with dried tears. She was tucked into a warm quilt, her head on a soft pillow. Her hair hung over the edge of the couch. The curtain was closed, though Alice could see a ray of light streaming through an opening.
Jared sat on a white, wooden chair, running his fingers through her hair yet again, a small sad smile on his face. He looked worn and exhausted, and there were bags under his eyes, but he still possessed that protecting aura that had gotten Alice through the night.
He leaned forward in his chair. “Alice,” he whispered. “I would never try to hurt you or your sister.”
Alice swallowed audibly. “I know.” Anything she had thought last night or anything she’d assumed was now gone; blown away with the wind. She sat up, rubbing her stiff, cramped neck. “I know.”
Jenna would be safe, and Alice didn't have to worry anymore. Maybe tonight she would sleep soundly.
She rose from the couch and touched Jared’s shoulder.
“But what made you change your mind,” Jenna asked as she plucked a single string on the harp. The harp had actually been a gift to Alice, but when Queen Victoria found out that Jenna had wanted one also, she brought her one. Alice was obviously better than Jenna skill-wise, but she hadn't played in so long, and didn't like to think of it.
“He just... just… I…he came…,” Alice stuttered before sighing. She couldn't explain to Jenna just how pure to the core Jared was without explaining what he’d done last night, and Alice didn't want to share it. It was simply too sacred and private.
Jenna looked up from the instrument. “Does this have anything to do with your unhinged screeching last night?”
Alice shook her head. “No.”
Jenna raised an eyebrow.
“Alright, yes, it does.”
A knowing smile settled on her face as she turned back to the harp. “Is there anything romantic about it,” she asked.
“Good Heavens, no.” Alice knew that she’d come to that conclusion, but she wasn't lying when she said that. The man was twelve years her senior for Pete’s sake! Even though this would make him an eligible husband for her if he’d been a noble, she still wouldn't marry him. He felt more like a brother, or at the very least, her defender.
“Are you sure,” Jenna pressed.
“Your assumptions about me are quite insulting,” Alice snapped.
“Forgive me, Alice, but you never know. What are the odds of you forgiving someone fullheartedly, and then trying to convince others he’s God’s angel?”
Well, that was an easy conjecturing to make. When someone did something horrible to her, the odds of her forgiving them were slim to none.
“Well, we must be off to dinner,” said Jenna said, rising from her seat. Alice took her arm and led her to the dining hall. Servants bowed to them as they passed, but Alice disregarded them; they only respected both of them out of fear.
When they entered the dining hall, their mother and father were already seated, talking to the waiter about the choice of wine. The servants were hustling about, removing the last shards of glass from the table.
Alice had taken after her mother, Ella, more than Jenna, while Jenna had her mother’s features, but had her father’s coloring. Ella’s large bright sea blue eyes had gone to Jenna, but Jenna’s coloring had mixed in with her father’s jade green, as did Jason’s black hair. Alice’s luminous hair and dewy skin were from her mother, though Ella’s hair was a sleek, icy blond. Jenna’s extreme rosebud mouth also came from Ella. Alice also had plump, pink lips, but they were far less exaggerated.
Alice’s large cat-eyes had obviously come from Diablo.
Jason waved them over to sit. After they said their prayers, they were served. Alice almost gagged when she saw her plate. It was the same exact tray as two days’ ago. The wine though, was Greek instead of French.
She sat quietly, laid down her napkin on her lap, and began to eat, trying not to vomit on it. Jason cleared his throat to speak.
“Jenna, have you met Jared yet,” he asked.
“Yes; the one who arrived yesterday to look after you. He was supposed to start his duties today.” Anger colored Jason’s tone.
“It’s alright dear, I sent him off for the day to clean himself up. He looks as though he hasn't scrubbed himself for three year,” Ella exclaimed.
“Is he still here in the castle,” Jason asked.
“Why, of course.”
“Then let him join us for Christ’s sake! I don’t care if he had bugs crawling up his ear canal, bring him!”
“He has nothing eligible to wear,” Ella protested.
“Than… he can wear something of mine,” he finally decided. He sent a servant to get him. The soft clanging of china and silver filled the silence.
“Alice, you've met him, haven’t you,” exclaimed her father. “Enlighten me; what is he like,” he asked, leaning forward in his eagerness.
Alice wiped her mouth, refusing to meet his gaze.
“Well,” she began. “He is very… strong, I suppose,” she said vaguely. “I honestly can’t say Father; I've barely exchanged two words with the man,” she said, lying through her teeth.
Actually, they’d exchanged much more; much, much more.
She picked up a piece of dead cow with her fork and popped it in her mouth casually.
“Didn't I leave you two after I was finished making introductions to get to know each other?”
“We had nothing to say to each other; I left soon after. Besides, I didn't know there was a time set on how long we were able to talk,” she added smoothly.
Lines wrinkled Jason’s forehead. It often struck Alice just how ignorant her parents were. Did they honestly never detect a note of a facade in Alice’s so-called happiness? Or why Jenna always had a smile plastered on her face? How did they not see what caused Alice’s anger issues, or why Jenna always blinked whenever she woke to see if her eyesight was still gone?
At that moment, the oak doors opened, revealing Jared and the servant girl. Jared was dressed in one of her father’s old suits that seemed a bit too tight around his chest.
Alice’s father quickly glanced up from his meal and waved him over to sit down. All of their eyes followed Jared as he walked to sit right across from Alice and to the left of Jenna. When Jason cleared his throat, everyone diverted their attention from him. The silence turned from comforting and familiar to awkward.
When Alice had had enough of this, she spoke.
“So,” she began. “Where are you from, Jared,” she asked.
Jared shot her a grateful look. “South Africa,” he answered. Her fork clanged to her plate.
“Africa,” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” he answered, giving her a smile.
“So you’re a part of the slave trade,” she said. It was more of a statement than a question.
“Of course not,” he said, shooting her a disgusted look. “My father was an Irish banker, but my mother came from Wales. She fell ill when she gave birth to me, and the two of them set out to find a warmer climate for her to heal.”
“So they coincidentally chose the slave capital of the world,” she asked, picking up her fork.
“That’s beside the point, Alice, where he lived,” Jenna interrupted, her dead eyes narrowed. “The question is whether he supports the trade or not.” She trained her eyes on him.
“I fought for the North in the States for three years from when I was sixteen,” he stated.
“Did you have personal interest at stake,” she asked.
“Obviously not; I have nothing to lose.”
“So do you or do you not,” she pressed.
“I don’t support it. Is there anything more you wish more to know,” he shot.
“Yes. How old are you are, may I ask,” Alice interjected.
“Twenty-eight. How about you,” he asked indignantly.
“Fifteen. You do know you’re about the same age as Jenna,” she asked.
“How was I supposed to know?”
“You weren't supposed to know. I was merely implying how you both have an artist’s view on life.” That stumped him.
“An artist,” he asked, raising his brows. “But you’re blind,” he said, turning to Jenna.
Alice smiled to herself. Few had dared to say the word so bluntly. Her parents’ opinions obviously differed from hers’.
“We do not utter that word under this roof,” roared Jason, while Ella had her hand over heart, her eyes wide.
The three of them looked down at their plates, startled out of their shouting match. When the two adults finally snapped out of their fury and shock, they started to rant about their business. At they started to move on to specific financial terms that Alice really couldn't care less about, she glanced up at Jared and Jenna at the same time they looked up at her. She let out a small giggle, but covered it up with a cough. Jared bit on his nail, while Jenna just held her breath with a smile on her face.
After twenty minutes of trying to hold back hysterical guffaws, Jason declared the meal over. Jared took Jenna by her arm, and along with Alice, the three of them made their way back to Jenna’s rooms. It wasn't long before the hall was echoing chortles of laughter.
“Artist,” asked Jared as he held the door open for the two ladies.
“Yes. She’s even more astounding and talented than when she still could see,” answered Alice answered, plopping down on the white queen bed.
“She’s simply exaggerating,” Jenna implied, gathering her toiletries.
“Don’t believe her; she’s too modest for her own good. Besides, she can’t see it, so she can’t exactly comment on the quality of it,” Alice insisted.
“It’s her you shouldn't listen to; she shoots even better than our father, or any other man I've ever met,” Jenna shot back.
“Well she-,” Alice was about to protest, when Jared pulled her upright.
“You shoot,” he asked in an amazed voice. “As in archery?”
Alice shook off his large hands off her shoulders.
“Yes, I shoot,” she replied, picking off imaginary pieces of lint off her skirts. “Is there a problem with that because I’m a girl, a weakling, a disgrace to mankind?”
Jared’s brows pulled together into one furrowed line.
“No! Not at all; it’s just that you look so…” he trailed off, tucking a stray piece of Alice’s hair behind her ear.
“Tiny? Fragile? Delicate? Dainty? Minute,” Jenna offered.
“Perhaps she’ll show you one day,” Jenna proposed cheerfully.
“Excuse me? Who said I would ever show him,” Alice demanded.
“Nobody did, but it would be very therapeutic for you.” She said this so calmly, as though there was nothing wrong with therapy.
“I don’t need therapy,” she hissed.
Jenna merely shrugged. “It’s your choice, either way.”
Alice rolled her eyes.
Jenna wandered into the dressing room, ready to change into her nightgown. The two of them watched her leave.
“How does she not bump into anything? Are you sure she can’t see,” Jared muttered to Alice.
“Lower you voice. She may not see, but her hearing is superior even to a dog’s,” Alice whispered. “She can sense the presence of everything, whether it be an object or a person. She calls it her sixth sense, but it’s actually her fifth, to make up for the one she lost.”
“How did she lose her eyesight,” Jared whispered back.
“Another conversation for another time,” she answered. “But to make a long story short, it was her punishment.”
Just then, Jenna emerged from the other room, her black hair a lion’s mane. She blew out her candles without another word to either of them, and tucked herself into her sheets.
Alice and Jared exited the room, as quiet as two shadows in the night.
When Alice had dressed out of her gown and released her hair, she sat down on her bed, where Jared was already lying despondently.
“Do you have your own room here,” she asked him, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Here, no,” he answered with a sigh. Alice frowned.
“Where do you sleep than?”
Jared got up and rubbed his eyes. His shoulders stooped, as though he’d aged fifty years over the course of the day. He faced Alice and ruffled her hair good-naturedly.
“With some other people,” he answered, walking towards the door.
“Where,” she persisted.
“Good night, Alice,” he said as he exited the door.
“Where,” she shouted, running to the door as he shut it. She turned the handles this way and that. He’d locked her in; the scoundrel. She turned around. There was always the option of the windows, but that was a tad too extreme, even for her.
Oh, well. He’d be back in the morning, she thought to herself as she blew out her bedside candle. If he didn't… well, she’d think of some punishment for him if he came back…which he would. She was sure of it.
Alice leaned over to investigate the little lump of some substance in a pool of liquid. As she leaned over, she realized it was some sort of small living creature covered in black fur, lying in a pool of blood. It was breathing its last tiny vigorous breaths. There was a hole in the back of its puny head, the source of all of the blood. When it gave its final breath, it rolled over, revealing two missing eyes.
Alice let out a screech of agony. She twitched uncontrollably; her whole world was out of her control. Sweat was matted to her scalp, and her sheets and pillows were damp. Like the unidentifiable creature, she breathed in quick, hitched breaths.
What was happening to her?
She felt sure, strong arms pick her up and carry her over to the sofa. Jared rubbed soothing circles into her thumb. Tonight she didn't scream, she only let out the occasional whimper of fear. She glanced at the clock; it was only six in the morning.
Using one shaking hand, she reached out and parted the drapes. It was cloudy today, and dew coated each and every plant. There was no sign of wind.
“Come,” she ordered, rising.
“Alice, I think it would be wiser if-,” Jared began. Alice cut him off.
“Didn't you implore me yesterday to let you see me shoot,” she asked, wrapping a shawl around her shoulders.
“Than come. This might be your only chance to see this.”
Without another word, she took down the bow hanging from her wall and headed down to the castle exit, without bothering to see if Jared was following her.
She snuck a quick peek in her peripheral vision. He was catching up to her, while she could barely keep up with herself.
The arrow sailed cleanly into the bull’s eye. Gracefully, even. She turned around to see Jared smiling at her, clearly impressed. She shot him a quick grin.
She had been stupid not to take Jenna’s advice. This was exhilarating.
She readied another arrow into the bow and shot. She shot again. With every arrow she released, she numbed herself; bit by bit, until she couldn't feel herself any more, just the bow itself.
She ran out of arrows within six minutes and then quickly went on to knives. She finished those in a matter of seconds.
When Jared went to pluck out the weapons from the target post, her dream’s words came back to her: You don’t deserve to be loved. She shook off the haunting feeling. It was only a nightmare. A horrible one, but it still wasn't real.
No matter how hard she tried to free herself from the emotion, Jenna’s eerie voice kept on whispering: You don’t deserve to be loved, you don’t deserve to be loved, you don’t deserve to be loved…
When Jared handed her the first arrow, she wasn't focused. She didn't even notice herself releasing the arrow. It missed the target post completely. She gritted her teeth in frustration.
She notched another arrow with the same results. She growled. She set another arrow, when she felt Jared’s hands resting on hers. The warmth of his palms absorbed into hers. He guided her movements and aimed with her. When they released the arrow, it impaled itself into the bull’s eye.
Alice opened her mouth to speak when the church bells rang. She sighed and began to gather her things. When the two of them entered the grounds again, Jared spoke up.
“Didn't you tell me yesterday that you were going to explain how Jenna was blinded,” he asked. Alice pursed her lips.
“Why do you want to know? No one should carry that heavy of a burden,” Alice replied.
“You carry it; why don’t you share it? Maybe it will become much lighter and more bearable,” he contradicted. The temptation suddenly overwhelmed Alice. Perhaps he was right; maybe the burden would become more bearable.
“When Jenna was born, she was betrothed to a lord ten years her senior,” she began with a sigh. “The two of them married when she was seventeen years old. Her wedding was the first time she saw him.”
“What was his name,” Jared asked, popping his knuckles.
“I don’t remember; I was only five or six when this happened. We don’t speak his name,” she answered. “The lord came from a well-respected Italian family. He had a good reputation; he was known for giving charity to the poor and supporting Arabs. Six months into their wedding, Jenna caught him betraying her with another woman that was older than her. She confronted him about it, and threatened to report to Queen Victoria. If I’d been older at the time, I would have stopped her. He immediately got nervous; he knew that she and Victoria were close, and nothing could stop her. On her eighteenth birthday, he claimed to the royal court that she’d cheated on him with seventeen other men in the six months of their marriage. He even tortured four random men to admit it, and told the court he’d killed the other thirteen in a rage. Even the Queen couldn't block the court order. Her punishment was that she was blinded, so that she would never look at another man ever again.”
Jared was silent, and Alice kept quiet, allowing him to absorb the information.
“How do you know it was really Jenna who betrayed him,” he asked.
“I saw it happen. Jenna and I were hiding in a closet as a game when it happened,” she sighed.
“You were only six years old at the time, were you,” he murmured. Alice didn't answer.
“How did they blind her,” he finally questioned after an agonizing silence. Alice shuddered delicately.
“I wasn't there to watch; Jenna wouldn't let me. I’m sure though they used some sort of burning process.” She shuddered again at the memory of Jenna coming home, not being able to see her.
“I have told you about my family more than you should know; now it is your turn,” she told Jared.
“I have nothing to share,” said Jared with wide, innocent eyes. They were far too overdone; she wasn't fooled. She gave him a cocky smirk.
“Do you think I am as obtuse as you think I am? What are the odds of a European noble from South Africa coming back to Europe as filthy as a pig, looking for a job? My guess is that the odds are very unlikely.”
Jared gave her a warm smile. “That is another story for another time,” he joked. When he looked away, Alice could see pain saturating his rich eyes.
“You do realize I’m going to hold you to that,” she asked him when they stood outside Jenna’s door.
“I wouldn't expect anything less, Alice,” he chucked as he opened the doors.
Jenna was sitting by her window, sipping on a cup of tea, her face wiped of emotion.
“Mail’s here,” she called in a hollow voice. Alice spied one small letter addressed to her and Jenna from the Queen. She took it and rubbed the expensive paper hesitantly between her thumb and index finger, gazing at Jenna’s back.
“Are you alright,” she asked her timidly. “You seem a bit…”
“I’m fine, Alice, thank you very much,” she snapped. Alice raised one eyebrow; Jenna hardly ever lost her temper.
“If you say so,” she muttered as she opened the letter.
Dear Alice and Jenna,
I don’t want to hurt you both any longer than necessary, so I am going to be blunt.
My mother had died. I know you both were close to her, so you were the first two people I wrote to. I know she loved you both very dearly; you two were like grandchildren to her. Do not grieve for her, for she wouldn't have wanted that.
Death is just another phase of life.
Alice thought the reason she couldn't finish reading the last line because the world around her was collapsing. No, it was only her hand that was shaking.
The room had just taken on a bright shade of fiery red when she fingered the first china bowl, and smashed it against the window. By the time she heard screams of alarm, she already had the next bowl in hand, ready to launch it into the face of the first person who tried to stop her.
It was that damn last line: Death is just another phase of life. If that was true, than anger was another phase of recovery.
“I have heard the rumors, but never in my life had I considered that my own daughter could have such…such… such ISSUES,” shouted Jason.
Alice was chained to a chair, and didn't even bother to struggle against the chains. It hurt too much to move, either way, and she gasped with pain at every movement she made.
She didn't remember what had happened after the world had flashed red, but she had a pretty good concept. Jenna’s sleeping room was destroyed; completely eradicated. Shards of glass had coated every surface. Jenna and Jared hadn't been hurt. When Jared had grasped what was happening, he and Jenna had ran out of the room and called for help. Around thirty servants had come, along with twelve butlers. Alice had injured each and every one of them in one way or another.
Alice herself had fallen onto glass when losing her balance at one point. Now, blood streaked every limb of her body. Alice spread out her fingers; the chains were cutting off her circulation.
Her mother and father had arrived three hours later after one of the butlers had managed to choke her and knock her out. They were the ones who’d ordered her to be chained. Alice could now barely swallow.
Jason pulled in a breath and gestured for Ella to continue.
“What is done is done, Alice. This is permanent; you can never ever take this back. We were planning to deliver such good news to you,” she chided. Alice didn't have the energy to feel ashamed.
“Why did you do it Alice? Why?” screamed her father, who was now wringing his hands, pacing. Alice swallowed through the pain.
“Victoria’s mother is dead.” There, the words were out now. What was done was done. Alice tried to shift her position to see Jenna’s reaction. She saw her gasp three times, before fainting. Jared caught her before she could fall, and laid her down on one of the Roman-style couches that surrounded the dining room.
Ella’s mouth popped open and gaped open like a fish’s. Jason’s faced furrowed into a frown, obviously confused.
“So,” he demanded. Ella’s mouth closed. “That gives you no right to demonstrate such horrors.”
“Forgive me than for showing a bit of emotion,” Alice muttered, hissing in pain.
“Now that that’s cleared out of the way, we have good news for you,” said Ella. “We've found you a husband.”
Alice laughed; surely this was a joke. It had to be, no man was fool enough to think she’d give him children. But Ella frowned is disdain. Alice’s jaw dropped. They were actually serious; after fifteen years of searching, they’d found her a husband. This couldn't be happening.
“Who is it,” she asked, vacant. She couldn't bear to say my fiance.
“A noble from South Africa, but he’s originally from Europe. His name is William Blackwood.”
There was an audible gasp from Jared, but Alice didn't have time for this.
“When am I to go,” she questioned, feeling nausea crawl into the pit of her stomach.
“The day after tomorrow,” Ella said sympathetically.
“You ruined your chances of staying here, darling,” said her father. “You could have stayed here, but now I think the warm weather will be good for you. It will calm your nerves.”
“Please don’t make me do this. I’ll do anything, but I won’t do this,” Alice whispered, begging.
“I’m sorry sweetling, but we have already made a deal.” The two of them started to back out of the room.
“You are to take your whole wardrobe, and your most trusted servant,” continued Ella. “Remember, we are going the day after tomorrow; make your decisions quick.” They shut the door.
Alice leaned over, first vomiting out food, then blood. She couldn't stop. Every time she tried, she couldn't resist ramming her fingers down her throat again and again.
She was ready within three hours of packing, but she couldn't bear saying good-bye to Jenna. In some ways, she was glad that she’d destroyed Jenna’s room. Now, she slept in the room on the couch near the window, while Jared slept on the floor.
Her screams eventually turned into tears. Every morning, she woke with a puffy face from the salt water. She stained her sheets with it, but couldn't bring herself to change them.
Jenna had insisted that Alice took Jared as her servant, persisting that she could get along without him. She would see him at her wedding either way in four months.
Alice didn't go out of her room for those two days, refusing even to eat. Alice and Jared kept her company so she was never alone and tried to commit suicide or hurt herself in any way. She had once tried to make herself throw up, but she’d learned her lesson when she saw Jenna pick up a whip and wave it suggestively.
When she and her family arrived at the port, it hit her than. Her family had abandoned her, Victoria’s mother had left her; only Jared would stay for her, who she only knew for only so long. Alice watched as Jenna became smaller and smaller until she dissolved into nothingness as the ship pushed through the dancing waves.
One of Alice’s favorite things to do was watch the sea roll and tumble around the ship, angry that it had come to interrupt its power. It was that much more enjoyable when it was nighttime, and the stars twinkled above her and Jared. She lost track of time on the ship, for which she was glad. Yet it was after thirty nights did she remember what he had promised her. On the thirty-first night, she brought it up again.
The sea was peaceful, and the sky was whiter than black due to the outrageous amount of stars.
“Don’t you remember what I am holding you to,” she asked him.
Jared exhaled sharply through his nose. “Well, I certainly never expected you to forget, but I hoped to postpone this conversation for later,” he admitted as he looked up at the stars.
“My mother died when I was two years of age. I have no memories of her whatsoever. My father is the most powerful slave trader in South Africa, I am ashamed to say.” He glanced at her. Alice was leaning over the railing, a sad smile on her face. “He died last year from old age. He was sixty-four. He was a smart man; he knew he was going to die, so he left us a will.”
“Us,” Alice asked.
“My brother and myself.”
“You didn't tell me you had a brother,” Alice hissed at him.
“He’s my twin actually. So, my father left us a will. We both thought that we would get equal shares of his money, but when I looked at it, everything was directed to him; the land, the money, the property.”
“Why did-” Alice began to ask.
“I didn't support my father’s business, and my brother was the exact opposite,” he cut her off. “My relationship with my father had been in ruins before he died, but I never had anything against my brother. I never expected it from him, but he turned the whole of South Africa against me. After a month, I had enough, and escaped on a boat to Morocco. I took jobs in Spain, France, Switzerland, and Belgium before finally coming to England.”
“That’s not all,” he added when Alice opened her mouth to speak. “When I arrived in England, I wasn't sure where I’d get a job. I didn't need money anymore; I just needed some place to stay. One night, I wandered into an ally foolishly, and was greeted by six drunken men, all with knives. I was about to become one of their victims when I grabbed on the men’s knives and tried to fight all of them off. I showed off my skill,” he said, pausing after that. “They were impressed, and recruited me into their group. They told me I was going to be the one who finished off the victim.”
“You were asked to kill people… and they would pay you for it,” Alice whispered, horrified. Jared nodded.
“Yes. In a mere two weeks, I lost track of how many people I’d killed. I started to look for another job, and inevitably came to your family. I stayed with them the night I started to work, but then, I decided it wasn't worth returning.” He stopped, sneaking a side-way glance at Alice.
The first beams of light from the sun emerged. Alice and Jared squinted against the unwanted light. Alice turned back to Jared with an expression that would melt steel.
One of the crew members wandered sleepily to the railing. He screamed that he could see land. The whole crew started to take out their stashed beer, and offer it to the other passengers. The whole ship slowly awoke, with everyone dancing, laughing, and drinking, unaware of Alice and Jared.
“Jared, if I ask you a question, would you tell me the truth, no matter how hard it would be to say,” asked Alice, gripping the railing for support.
“Yes,” Jared answered, confused.
“Do you promise?”
“Yes, I promise. What do you need to know?”
“Who is your brother? What is his name,” she whispered, refusing to let him avoid eye contact. He didn't answer.
“You gave me your word,” she said. He swallowed audibly.
Alice nodded. “Of course,” she said as the world went black.
Freezing water splashed mercilessly on her face. She shot straight upright, and almost knocked heads with Jared.
“Normally, I wouldn't be doing this, but we've already landed,” Jared said. Alice tried to absorb the words, but couldn't bring herself to fully comprehend that this was the day of her death.
“What will you do when he recognizes you,” she asked Jared, as he helped her to stand.
“Nothing; he won’t notice me at all. After all, I’m only a servant. It won’t be a problem now, when you two are only engaged, but when you both are married, it is. That is when what’s yours is going to become his,” he answered. “He can’t even make you do anything you don’t want to do until you’re married. We’ll be fine Alice; it’s what happens after the wedding we should be worrying about.”
As they made their way off the boat, Alice saw exactly why her father must have sent him here. Small African American toddlers fanned old women. The houses were charming, reminding her of villas instead of houses. Flowers that Alice had never even imagined the existence of bloomed in the small gardens of those houses. There was a market selling here today, displaying fruits that Alice had never heard of before.
That was when she saw a little African boy on a leash, as though he were a dog. By the looks of him, a businessman had actually tied a rope around the boy’s neck, not wanting him to run away. It seemed as though if the boy moved farther than a yard from the businessman, he would be choked by the leash. It was horrifying sight.
“Where do we go,” she asked Jared.
Just then, a horse-drawn carriage pulled up to them, Alice couldn't see the driver’s face, but she got a feeling that his face was something she necessarily wanted to see.
“Alice Cavanaugh,” he grunted as a question.
“Yes,” she replied tentatively.
“Get in,” he ordered. He was chewing on a wheat stalk, causing him to slur his words together.
Alice and Jared both got in, clearly mystified by the driver’s behavior. With her head on Jared’s shoulder, Alice fell asleep.
“Alice,” Jared whispered. “Wake up, we've arrived.”
William’s home was gorgeous; there was no point in denying that. It was huge sprawling house, almost as large as her old home in England. Fountains were placed along the front courtyard, as well as statues of William… or was it Jared?
“You lived here,” Alice asked as they made their way to the entrance. Jared flinched when he looked up at a statue, clearly uncomfortable.
“Yes,” he answered, his lips pursed.
“What did he do to you? Surely wasn't so horrible to you,” laughed Alice.
“Well, he ruined my reputation, drove me away from my own home, and ruined my life. Yes, now that I think about it, he wasn't that horrible,” he said sarcastically. He stole a quick look at her. “You seem as though you’re on a bit of a high.” Alice was, in fact, on a high. Her head throbbed, flashes of pink kept on bursting in front of her vision, and she couldn't grasp solidly onto any thought. She didn't respond to Jared’s observation.
He stopped her, put one hand on her shoulder, and slapped her. A red welt in the shape of a hand appeared to her porcelain cheek. Alice stumbled backward from the force of the blow, astounded.
“Better,” he asked. Alice nodded, trying to ignore the roaring in her ears. “When you see him, don’t talk, just smile and nod. Don’t comment on anything, even if it’s a compliment,” he instructed as he steered her towards the entrance. “Understood,” he asked. Alice didn't reply, still recovering from the ruthless slap. He shook he shoulders brutally. “Understood,” he demanded.
“Yes, I understand. Could you keep your hands to yourself,” slapping his hand away, hurt. Jared took one long look at her, his hand already raised to knock on the wooden doors, his eyes containing a thousand years of sadness.
“Yes, I can,” he said, bringing his fist down on the door.
“Bonjour, bonjour,” the butler exclaimed, waving his arms around, and his eyes not focused. His skin had a gray, ashy tinge to it, and he had no hair on his head. He was three heads shorter than Jared, and was quite frail; his vainly hands shook. “I am Jacques, Monsieur William Blackwood’s butler.” Alice raised her eyebrows at Jared. He pursed his lips.
“And you are,” he asked, bowing and offering his hand toward Alice.
“Alice Cavanaugh,” she answered, trying to look around the unhinged butler, not even bothering to extend her hand to his. The butler snapped up, his watery green eyes suddenly aware as they raked across her body.
“Madame Alice,” he exclaimed. “It is such a pleasure to have you here. Monsieur William has been so eager to meet you. I have to say, it is an honor for me, as well. I have never seen a more gorgeous creature,” he said, his eyes glazing over. Alice narrowed her eyes, just daring him to make a move. Gradually, his eyes traveled up to her face, and seeing her expression, he looked away.
“Monsieur William is getting ready for your arrival. You may go up to your rooms. He will come to them when he is ready for you.” He waved her off before floating to what appeared to be kitchen. Alice turned to Jared.
“How am I supposed to know where my rooms are? Or how to get to them? More importantly, how am I supposed to know when I am to be given permission to go to them?” Jared chuckled, taking her small hand.
“I know where they are. As for permission, we will find a way,” he said, leading her up the emerald embedded stairway.
“I-” He clamped a hand over her mouth before kicking open the third room on the second floor. The room was quite small, and everything was white, from the small dresser to the wood of the bed. Alice plopped down on the soft white covers, a small giggle escaping her lips. Before long, she was choking on laughter, rolling on the bed.
“I never knew those were the type of the people you surrounded yourself with,” she gasped, wiping away a tear. Jared eased himself next to her, holding back a smile.
“Oh, yes. Jacques was never one of my favorites, but he sure can bring on a laugh.”
“You have favorites here,” Alice asked, sitting up.
“No, but I prefer some more to others,” he answered. Alice paused, hesitant to ask her next question.
“He didn't even acknowledge you,” she whispered. Jared sighed, rubbing his eyes.
“Well, I am a servant now, aren't I?” He laughed dryly. “I wouldn't be surprised if my brother were the same.”
The door flung open, revealing the haunting replica of Jared.
“Well,” William said, rubbing his hands together gleefully, as though he were about to scarf down a hearty meal. The resemblance between him and Jared was frightening. Their only difference between them was William’s cruelty and hunger in his eyes. He licked his lips as Alice took a step back.
“I am absolutely thrilled to finally meet my wife,” he said softly. Alice took another step back, hitting the wall. She cast a frantic look to Jared, who was gestured for her to speak. The pity in his eyes reminded her of who she was compared to this beast.
“The pleasure is mine,” she laughed warmly. “Sadly, until the wedding, we cannot be considered husband and wife.” She flashed William a hint of a smirk. “Remind me again Jared, when is the wedding?”
“Three months,” he immediately replied. Alice sighed sadly.
“We can only hope that those three months will go by in the blink of an eye,” she whispered. She flashed him her smirk again. William gritted his teeth before exiting the small room and slamming the door.
“My, my! Someone has a short-temper,” she exclaimed. It took a second too long for Jared to respond, and his response was not one she’d expected.
“It runs in the family,” he whispered. She turned around to find him staring out the window. The view was stunning, especially now, at sunset. She cleared her throat. He blinked a couple of times before turning to face her. His expression was vague, but his eyes’ depths were so deep she could see his bare soul. She said heavily.
“Don’t tell me you expected anything more, if anything at all,” she asked, leaning on the bed. They both knew what she was talking about.
“No, I didn't,” he whispered. That blank expression didn't leave his perfect features.
“Your brother is a cruel, cruel man. You can’t expect anything more from him. Besides, you’re not brothers. You never were; not if he treated you the way he did.” She eyed him knowingly.
“There’s no point in mourning what never happened… or even existed.” She crossed her arms.
He pulled in a breath that Alice imagined went down to his toes, and exhaled. He was suddenly himself again. He smiled crookedly and cocked an eyebrow.
“Wouldn't you know?”
When the brilliant African sun had set, and the moon had rose, Alice and Jared sat on the roof of William’s mansion, looking out to sea. The stars were brighter here than they were in England, and it was far darker. The only lights there that they could see were coming from Alice’s window, the moon, and the stars. The moon cast a silvery haze over the black sea. The two had been up on the roof since the sun had set. It was now three in the morning.
“Can you imagine that over two thousand years ago, people stared at the same moon we are staring at now? In one hundred years, people will still be staring at the same moon. I guess some things are infinite,” whispered Jared. Alice exhaled sharply with a smile.
“Nothing is infinite. Not you, not me, not the moon or the stars,” Alice contradicted.
“So you’re saying that Jenna’s blindness isn't infinite,” he asked, turning to her.
“Of course it’s not infinite.”
“So you expect for her to wake up one day and she’ll be able to see?”
“Yes. She’ll wake up one day in Heaven, and she’ll be able to see.” Jared shook his head.
“Don’t tell me Heaven isn't infinite,” he said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.
“Heaven is most definitely not infinite. One day, people will stop believing it exists, and it will no longer cease to exist.” Jared widened his eyes as he slowly removed his arm from her shoulders. The atmosphere suddenly turned tense, dancing along the edge of despair.
“So what do you suggest you do about that,” he asked angrily, turning his face upward towards the sky.
“Hope,” Alice whispered. That one word sobered Jared’s mind. The silence thundered in their ears as the night took on a dream-like quality.
“What are we going to do about William,” Jared whispered softly.
“We,” Alice asked, her eyebrows shooting upward. Jared smirked without looking at her.
“Of course we; I have to help you. I’m your slave for life,” he teased. Her eyes burned with anger.
“I don’t want or need a slave,” she growled. He laughed at her tiger-like expression. “Besides, I assumed we weren't going to do anything. I was just going to get married,” she continued. Jared raised his brows at her.
“So you were just going to give up? Live the rest of your life as a slave to a man who doesn't even count as a human being,” he asked.
“You listen to me. You are not going to be married to him. You are not going to be turned into some piece of priceless furniture that he can maim at his pleasure, while I have to watch the process. DO YOU UNDERSTAND,” he snarled.
“Yes, I do. Calm yourself before you throw yourself off the roof.” Alice watched as his eyes dimmed. “Now, let’s discuss this calmly. William wouldn't let me go if I burned down his house and cheated on him. The only way I can escape him, is if we kill…” she trailed off when she saw Jared’s victorious look in his eyes.
“No, we’re not killing anyone. It’s a suicide mission. We’ll be charged with murder, and… ” she trailed off again.
“You won’t be charged with anything; you’re parents’ status will protect you,” he whispered. She frowned.
“We’re not doing this,” she said, getting up, pulling Jared up with her. He laughed dryly as he bent down.
“Don’t waste your breath, Alice,” he said, scooping her up. She was asleep in moments.
All of their arguing about the situation was done in ferocious whispering behind the locked doors of Alice’s bedroom. Somehow, over the course of two weeks, killing William had become a very realistic and attainable option. In two weeks and three days, it was decided.
“You know, I never took you for a manipulative person,” she said as she sat down for another meeting that now included sixty eight servants and the unhinged French butler.
“Manipulative,” he asked, with an overdone innocent smile. She rolled her eyes.
“Exactly that. What person arranges an entire network of spies, and even intercepts 13 ships filled with slaves without my knowledge,” she asked. He shrugged as he bolted the doors shut and sat down at the head of the table. She looked at the room filled with servants, all of them spies. Jacques was even there, staring at his ashy fingertips. After a few heartbeats of silence, Jared began.
“We all know that the wedding is in two and a half months, and though that seems far away, it is only a fraction of the time we need to fulfill this mission. Alice’s family is going to arrive a day before the wedding, so Alice’s sister, Jenna, will be able to help us. Despite-”
“Isn't she blind,” a servant piped up, interrupting him. Alice turned slowly towards him.
“Yes, she is. Is there a problem with that,” she whispered. The servant sank into his seat, avoiding her cool gaze.
“As I was saying, despite our population, we still haven’t figured out how we are going to kill him. I have a few ideas, but I would like the rest of you to contribute,” Jared continued, eyeing every person in the room. “Since this will be the night of the wedding, William will have the right to do what he wants with Alice. He’ll want her to… entertain him. Alice, you could easily lure him into your room, couldn't you?”
“Make sure your seduction skills are up to par with this. Here is where the hardest part comes in. I don’t want this to backfire. If we just kill him without no reason that no one knows of, we may as well be finding ourselves guilty. We have to make him say that he’s one of the largest exporters of slaves in the world. I-”
“I can do that,” Alice sighed, picking at her perfect nails.
“Very well,” he continued, looking a little miffed he was being interrupted. “When you’re done with that, we kill him.” Silence followed his words. Finally, one of the servants sighed.
“I don’t think your plan is very well thought out, sir,” he said. Jared nodded. “I also think you’re a bit deluded about the hardest part. Do you expect Alice, a girl of only fifteen, to fulfill this job?”
“I could-,” she started to exclaim.
“I don’t doubt your abilities,” he said quickly. “However, we can’t send someone with no killing experience to do this. You’ll see what it really means to stick a knife in a man’s chest, and you’ll hesitate.” Alice glared at him with her cat eyes with what felt like nine lives before slumping in her seat.
“So I’ll do it. Alice can lure them him in there, I’ll be there to protect her, and when the interrogation is over, I’ll kill him,” Jared said.
“He won’t blurt out every secret he’s ever held inside him in front of you,” Alice snapped before softening her tone. “You can’t be in the room.”
“I won’t be. I’ll climb the wall to your window, and when you signal to me, I’ll leap in and kill him,” he explained. “Meeting’s over. You can all go to your rooms. The next meeting will take place in three days. Alice, you won’t be needed.” When she started to protest, he jumped in. “We’ll only be discussing how to make sure how to prevent other people rushing to William’s defense if they hear what we’ll be doing. You’ll perform better without the extra pressure. Your next meeting will be when Jenna arrives, the day before the event.” Alice nodded, getting up from her seat and taking Jared’s hand. “That meeting will only involve you, Jenna, and me,” he whispered.
After a flurry of wedding preparations, worrying, and more worrying, two months, one week, and six days had gone by. Jenna was where she belonged, by Alice’s side, and tomorrow she would turn into a murderer. Jenna was a genius, as usual. She’d brought all of Alice’s weapons for the network to use, and it was soon decided by the group that she would be in charge of weaponry.
All of this didn't matter to Alice. She wanted to be done with this as quickly as possible.
“… and so then, we’ll wrap his body in a sheet, and carry it to the ballroom, and pronounce him dead,” Jared finished. Jenna pulled her lips to the side.
“It is a very well thought-out plan, I can’t deny that,” she said. Jared, Jenna, and Alice were all huddled up together in Alice’s bedroom, going over the scheme carefully, to make sure nothing malfunctioned.
“Good,” he answered, before turning to Alice.
“You. Off to bed. I have business to discuss with your sister,” he ordered. Alice didn't even bother protesting; she’d be wasting her breath.
Feeling her way through the dark, she crawled into the white sheets, and shut her eyes, trying not to think that her wedding day was tomorrow. She didn't hear the two of them exiting the room, but she knew they were gone. She reached under her pillow, and pulled out her pills. She’d began taking them since one of the servants had passed her room, heard her shrieking into the night, and offered them, saying that they would prevent any disturbance of sleep. She swallowed them dry, and succumbed deep into unconsciousness.
When she woke, the sun had only begun to rise.
“I’m getting married today,” she whispered to herself. Her throat was dry and sticky from the pills. She rolled over to reach under the bed and find her slippers, but found Jared and Jenna, sleeping on the floor, entwined with each other. She nudged Jared with her foot, and when he didn't show any noticeable reaction, she flat-out kicked him.
His eyes flew open, and when he met Alice’s glare, he shoved himself away from Jenna.
“Wake up,” she growled. “I’m getting married today.” She stepped over Jared and yanked down her wedding dress that hung in front of the mirror.
Fifteen maids came to help Alice shove herself into the gown. Tiny as she was, this gown was custom-made, so whoever made this gown knew her measurements, and made this dress into a torture device. By seven in the evening, everyone and everything was in position. Two knives were attached to Alice’s ankles for her safety, while Jenna concealed a whole sword in her skirts.
Over four hundred people had arrived to witness the event, and most were from Europe. The excitement everyone exuded made Alice want to gag. Her parents, dumb as ever, were making friends with slave traders in disguise. Jared walked up to her side, silent as a ghost.
“You start in fifteen minutes,” he whispered to her, handing her a watch. She slipped it on her wrist, and reached for a glass of wine from a nearby table. It tasted of sawdust. She walked carefully along the edges of the room, slowly making a list in her head of who she thought was suspicious. The wine and adrenaline focused her mind; she couldn't feel her own body, just the desperation to get this over with. She glanced at the watch; fifteen minutes had passed. Within another thirty minutes, William would be dead.
She drifted to William’s wall of guards, which appeared to be pit bulls stuffed into formal suits. As soon as she came into their line of view, they smiled gullibly at her. They could have resisted, but it was clear that they wanted entertainment tonight. Normally, she would have tried to taunt them with their impossible fantasies, but there wasn't time.
William, the pompous git he was, didn't acknowledge her presence. He kept on staring straight ahead at the guests with a tranquil expression on his face. Even when she cleared her throat loudly enough that she knew he could hear, he didn't turn. She stood on the very tips of her toes to reach his ear.
“I need to talk to you. I know what you are.” It gave her satisfaction to see his eyes pop open as he finally turned to look at her with astounded eyes. She smiled coyly, taking his hand and pulling him closer to the exit. His face was still paralyzed in shock, but he still managed to move his feet. His guards began to shuffle after him until William finally turned around and spoke.
“Stay here,” he choked before Alice began to tug him along again.
The halls were dark and eerie. The clicking of Alice’s heels made William even more nervous than they made Alice. Still, she didn't show any sign of weakness; she had the upper-hand now. William’s hands were shaking and sweating in anxiety, and she could practically feel the vibrations of his heart through the space between them… or was it just the buzz of her own adrenaline?
She pulled open the doors to her small bedroom. The curtains had been carefully pulled shut, and a spare sheet lay neatly folded on the bed. Red carpets now lay on the floor, so as not to leave any blood stains behind. As she gestured for William to enter, she silently bolted the door.
She eased herself into one of the armchairs, and motioned for William to sit in the one opposite. He sat down stiffly, fidgeting with the fabric or his front, avoiding her sly gaze. She spied a small box of cigars on the table next to her, as well as a packet of matches. She’d never smoked in her life, but this would probably be her last chance to try. She struck a match and lit the cigarette. She pulled it up to her mouth and took a long drag. It had a nice effect on William; he dropped the small glass figurine he’d began fingering. The glass shattered on the floor, the shards catching the lights. The smoke did not feel good in her throat, but she resisted the urge to cough.
“So,” she began. “You are a slave trader.” Her high voice echoed on the walls of the room, making William flinch. When he didn't respond in any way, she continued. “That is very good. I have to say… I am morbidly intrigued.” She took another puff of the cigarette. “I know I have a bit of a reputation back in England for being wholeheartedly against slavery, but,” she smiled deviously, leaning forward to whisper. “Like everything, it is all a show; an image for everyone to form an opinion on. That being said,” she whispered as she stood, ground the cigarette on the carpet, and sat herself on William’s lap. “I want to join you.”
Almost immediately, William completely transformed back into his former, selfish self. His smile mirrored Alice’s cocky one as he ran his fingers greedily through her golden locks, rough and disgusting. Still, this would be would be worth it when he was dead and out of her life. She locked her eyes on his, making them as inescapable as a snare, and hung onto what he didn't know were his final words.
It was almost too easy to do this! All she had to do was keep her gaze on his, and while he was completely and utterly mesmerized, he revealed every single detail there was to reveal! All of those months of stressing about whether or not he’d even open his mouth had been wasted. There had been three backup plans installed in case all failed, and one of them included the burning of the mansion, trapping everyone inside.
Within fifteen minutes, she learned everything. All of his business partners, which “happened” to include Diablo, the names of his ships, even how much money he had in the bank. Every single mission of his went to her. The feel of his hard arm on hers did not feel good, but it seemed that physical contact made his wish to please her even more strong.
When he was finished, he looked at her intently with fierce, victorious eyes. There was no more cockiness or cruelty in his eyes. It reminded her of Jared. She wondered how William had been when he was a child. Perhaps it was the restraints of age that had brought him to be this way. She shook herself back into the present.
Even if he was deep down as pure and good as Jared, it didn't matter now. What’s done is done, and he had brought this on himself. Besides ruining and betraying his biological brother, he’d been involved in many illegal actions. He’d die, and he’d die tonight.
“Well,” he breathed, leaning forward. Alice released the breath she hadn't realized she’d been holding.
“I can’t wait to get started,” she whispered. Careful to make no sudden movements, she climbed out of his lap, and walked to the window. She wrapped her hand around the strings of the curtains and cocked her head.
“Your brother missed you during his time in England,” she said. On that note, she pulled open the curtains.
Watching Jared kill William was a horrible thing to watch. He leaped from the window sill onto his brother, appearing to be all but a flash of copper. He drove a long dagger in his heart with a smooth, emotionless expression. It was so quick, but so brutal. Whoever that servant had been, he’d been right. She’d never realized until this moment how big of a toll taking someone’s life could take on one.
Just like that, William was gone.
She leaned against the wall and sank down to the floor, feeling the weight from her shoulders being lifted. Jared inspected the body, his smugness radiating.
“Did you enjoy the show,” he asked with a smile, ripping the sheet in half with his teeth.
She smirked, rolling her eyes. “Yes, I found it to be rather amusing.” Abruptly, her tone turned serious. “What are we going to do now?” His pulled his lips to the side, thinking.
“We announce he’s dead, people will spit on his grave, and we move on with our lives.”
She laughed once at the simplicity of it. “You make it sound so effortless, so easy.”
He smiled warmly, tucking the body under his arm. “That’s what life is, isn’t it? It is easy. Every problem has a solution; the only complication is that we often confuse whether the solution should be the right thing to do, or what is easy.”
Jared trailed behind Alice, body in hand, back to where the banquet was being held. Again, the clicking of her shoes made her paranoid, but she knew everything was over. It had to be. There was nothing else to be worried about.
They finally reached the top of the staircase. The excited murmurs had rose in density, and the air pressure had suddenly taken on a whole new level. She took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, and brought in down on the paneling of the stairs.
Shards of glass and amber liquid rained down on the people below. The sound of shattering silenced the people, making them look up in astonishment, disapproval, and dismay. A couple of old women in excessively tight corsets fainted. Despite herself, Alice smiled. She couldn't help it; it amused her to see how old-fashioned people could be. It was time for a change.
“William Blackwood is dead,” she said in a high, clear voice. The ignorant people below her didn't seem to comprehend such “blasphemous” talk. Jared held up the wrapped up body.
Miracle of miracles, finally someone understood. One scream built up one after another as the chaos began.
Hours after Jared was put under arrest for convicted murder, Alice was still a heap of salty tears. Perhaps it was only the salty water that threw itself aboard the ship and into her eyes that made her feel as though she were in physical pain.
She should have known it would have come to this. When he’d explained how no one would get hurt, he hadn't mentioned himself. He knew that this would happen, and he couldn't have cared less about Jenna or herself. He slaughtered himself like an animal with no care in the world about what this would have done to her.
Even better, Jenna had wordlessly handed her a letter and walked away as they watched a ship take away Jared into the night. When she opened it and read it, she collapsed into the sand, wanting to die. The letter had been short, blunt, and unexpected- like a knife.
Dear Alice and Jenna,
My husband, Albert, is dead.
She added Jared and Albert to her list of people that had decided to leave her. Jared hadn't left her yet; he still had a trial. Still, it wouldn't be a fair trial. He wouldn't be given a lawyer and there wouldn't be a jury, so there was no point in hoping.
Against her will, she did exactly that; she hoped on the sea as she drifted slowly back home.
“The court is now in session,” the judge said in a bored tone, banging his gavel. Jared sat, also bored, chained to his chair staring blandly into space. As predicted, he had no lawyer, and there was no jury, just the judge and one of William’s closest business partner. Alice had written up an essay of what William had told her, but the judge had obviously “forgotten” to read through. Jenna sat next to her, and Ella and Jason were late. Victoria had said she would come, but still hadn't shown up. Her mind was slowly slipping away, just like her own.
The business partner immediately began screaming accusations at Jared, and no one bothered stopping him. They all knew that Jared was going to lose either way.
The man kept on screaming at the top of his lungs while Alice watched the back of Jared’s neck. She lost track of the time, and soon, the sun was setting. The orange light sunk itself into Alice’s skin, but she didn't feel the warmth. She couldn't feel anything. Her eyes slowly began to close when the door slammed open.
“Please forgive my wife and me for being late. There was an emergency we had to take care of.” Alice’s eyes popped open, all exhaustion forgotten. The haughty voice belonged to her father, who was now leading her mother down to the seats. The judge, who had been picking at his nails the entire time, sat up and squinted.
“Jason,” he asked. Her father chuckled.
“Long time, no see, my friend. I have to admit, if I hadn't heard from a reliable source that it would be you judging this case, I wouldn't have come,” he said with a warm smile. He sat Ella down and walked to the judge, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Let’s go for a walk, shall we?”
The judge rose out of his seat, and the two men walked out of the door behind where the judge had just been seated. As soon as the door slammed behind them, the screeching business man choked on his words, and the room became a black hole of thundering silence. Jared turned around in his seat and winked.
Alice sat up in her seat, but before she could properly react, he turned back to the front as though nothing had happened. She leaned back again, dazed. He’d planned this; he’d planned all of it…
They all sat there in silence for an eternity, awaiting their fate, when finally the door slammed open, echoing throughout the room. Jason strode confidently past Jared, sitting next to Ella. The judge eased himself into his seat and bit his thin lip. He hesitantly raised his gavel and cleared his throat.
“Accused not guilty.” A couple of men Alice didn't notice before came to Jared’s seat and unlocked his chains. The business man started on his shrieking again, more vigorously than before. Her family stood and exited the room along with Jared. When they were loaded into their carriage, Alice couldn't hold it in any longer.
“You knew,” she exploded, as the carriage started. “You knew and you didn't tell me!”
Jared sighed shamelessly and grinned. “I’m sorry, Alice. Even the noblest men cave into a duress.”
“I wouldn't count that as duress,” scoffed Jenna. Jared raised an eyebrow.
“I think a knife to the throat would count as duress.” Alice’s jaw dropped.
“You knew also,” she hissed at Jenna. Jenna smirked.
“I wasn't about to let him go. Besides, don’t put all of the blame on me. Father was also a part of this.” Alice was about to start on her father, but he held one hand up.
“We can discuss this all later. Rather, you three can discuss this. We have a meeting to get to.” Alice mashed her lips together, glaring out the window.
“What happened out there,” Alice snarled, hurling her shoes across the floor. Even though this was her first day back home, she didn't feel relieved. She didn't feel anything except for murderous rage. Jenna gestured to the bed.
“Sit,” she ordered. Alice did as she was told. Jared and Jenna sat on her armchairs, facing her.
“You know that I am no fool,” began Jared. Alice nodded stiffly. “When I told you that no one would get hurt when we murdered William, I said that you would be protected by your parents’ status. I’m sure you noticed that I didn't say how I wouldn't get hurt.” Alice bared her teeth slightly. “I knew I would be protected, but before I tell you how, I want you to know that I didn't use this only as a way of protection. When I came up with the idea to kill him, I knew that I would be safe. Understand that I wasn't using this as a way of escaping the consequences.” There was no mistaking the pleading in his voice and that he meant what he said. She softened slightly at his tone.
“Jenna and I are getting married.”
Time seemed to slow down before speeding up again. Flashbacks of the two of them together came and went as she choked on her breath. The more she looked, the more it made sense.
“How long has this been going on,” she asked in a broken whisper.
“Just before the two of you went to Africa,” Jenna answered. Alice tried to swallow, and failed.
“Why didn't I know about this?”
“According to you, you’d crush me,” Jared intervened. He laughed once without humor.
“So the only reason you got out of this was because you were getting married into my family,” she asked.
“Exactly.” She couldn't tell who answered. She pulled in a shaky breath.
“Both of you are staying here though,” she asked, her voice becoming sharper.
“You didn't leave us, so we won’t leave you,” Jared replied, shrugging. Alice smiled at that.
“When is the wedding,” she questioned.
“Tomorrow,” Jenna immediately answered. “We’re both as old as it is, and we can’t take risks with the judge calling us back in.”
“So soon,” she breathed.
“We have everything ready, even your dress. The corset is actually fit to size this time.” Jenna smiled softly, bracing herself for her sister’s reaction.
Alice locked eyes with both of them, smiling with her eyes.
“I hope you have a long, happy life together.”
50 Years Later
As it happened, Jenna and Jared did live a long, happy life together. Though they never had children, they had each other and Alice. Jason and Ella died within two years of their marriage, and their bodies were buried out in sea.
Alice never married, but it was rumored she had children. No one could be sure; she led an even more private life after her sister’s marriage. The three of them continued to live in the castle Jason and Ella had owned, but they covered up its existence by planting colossal rose bushes in front of it.
Jenna and Jared died on the same day, after a forty-seven year marriage. Jenna had been seventy-four, while Jared was seventy-six. It was a cold, snowy night, and in the morning, Alice had wandered in and saw their bodies, cold and lifeless. They had been holding onto each other as they drifted to Heaven. Jenna finally got her sight back.
Alice continued on with her life, reliving her memories in her deathbed. Her hair color never faded, and her eyes never lost their power. As she grew older and older, she requested that common children would visit her for a small cup of tea. Children, roses, and good memories became her joys in life. She died at the age of sixty-five from a cold on a cold New Year’s Day, telling a little girl with waist-length locks and gray eyes,
“Learn to enjoy life. Hold on to those you love, and only accept the love of those who are worthy of you.”