Amanda McCormick with another prompt for her ongoing blog challenge. The prompt was this:
Make a list of five things you’re afraid of happening to you. Then write a story in which one of them happens to your character.
Here is my list:
- My husband leaving me.
- My children dying or getting sick.
- Being forgotten.
- Failing in school.
- Not having a legacy to leave behind.
Content warning: this story features two male characters from my upcoming fantasy novel and deals with heavy themes, including the death of a child (only the cause of death is mentioned, and the child does not die “on-screen”).
To His Grace Duke Perael sil Aldrich,
Word has reached my ears of the tragic death of your beloved son Marcus. While I know there are no words that could bring you or your wife any comfort, please understand that sil Varstra stands with you. While my husband Duke Prego sil Varstra has a living heir in my daughter Ardia, who I had thought to marry to your son, we have also experienced loss. We’ve buried two boys in the fourteen years we’ve been married, one to crib death and the other to an allergic reaction to goat’s milk. I tell you this because I feel that it is important in this time for you to understand that the cycles of life spare no one, and it is your duty to move on. Murietta’s heart breaks now, I am sure of it, but once you’ve given her sufficient time to grieve, you must get her with child again. Take whatever wisdom the gods have graced you with and secure your bloodline. There will be more children yet.
Your father died when you were still a teenager, and you inherited a small but mighty duchy when you lacked any experience to see to it. Yet in the four years since you came into your own as Duke, your duchy has thrived, challenging sil Varstra for the crown’s ear on trade and exports
Her Grace Duchess Olivia sil Varstra
He received the letter yesterday. According to his majordomo, word of his son’s drowning had reached sil Varstra twenty-three days ago. A week later, they’d dispatched their sympathies, and told the messenger to ride hard.
Perael didn’t know whether to be comforted or annoyed by the Duchess’s letter. He still hadn’t come to terms with his son’s death, and he was not ready to ask his wife to move on. He couldn’t. Not when every time he went to bed, he saw her tear-stained face. She was always silent now, the tears falling in quiet streams. Sometimes Perael could tell she stopped crying hours ago, but she hadn’t cleaned her face.
And she’d always been so devoted to her appearance.
Murietta was a quiet woman who loved to paint. Unlike Perael, a Tavarian patriot, Murietta von Dekis had been born in Amerilis. Their customs were similar to Tavaria’s, but she had always seemed an odd duck to Perael. Warmth in her eyes, but ice in her words.
Perael was only barely twenty-one. He’d never known how to deal with people. At university he’d been generally reviled. His nine-year-old brother, Tahm, was more vivacious and liked than Perael had ever been.
It was too bad Tahm wasn’t the heir, but what would a nine-year-old do with an estate like sil Aldrich? He had no concept of trade and national security. The port city in sil Aldrich alone was a nightmare to maintain and protect, to say nothing of the wine and mage powder exports.
Perael crumbled up the letter and tossed it in a wooden basket near his desk. Sil Aldrich could keep their sympathies. He had no use for them. He had far too many things to do.
“Carlotta!” he called. After a moment, his elderly housekeeper arrived. She’d been with the family since his grandfather’s time, when sil Aldrich barely scraped by thanks to its port city. “Is Her Grace ready for supper?”
Carlotta shook her head, leaning on her cane. “She sent us out of her drawing room an hour ago. She stated she wished to be left alone and she would dress herself for dinner. I’m afraid I don’t know if she was able to do so.”
Able to do so. She’d not dressed for meals in the month and a half since Marcus’s death, save for when he’d insisted she let her handmaidens do it for her.
“I’ll go see her,” he said. He rose from his chair and crossed the room, leaving Carlotta to waddle after him at her snail’s pace.
He climbed the stairs, but as he did so, he experienced a strange wave of foreboding. He shook his head. Almost two months is more than enough time to grieve, he thought. I suppose I’ll take sil Varstra’s advice.
He swept into Murietta’s drawing room and found her at her easel. Before her was a canvas with swathes of deep gloomy blue painted on it, but nothing else. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? That she’s painting again?
He took a closer look as he approached. Murietta blinked at the easel, ignoring him, a paintbrush in her hand with black paint dripping from the bristles onto her dress. It’s a good thing that dress is black. That would never come out, Perael thought.
“Dearest, are you ready for supper?” he asked gently, placing a hand on his wife’s shoulder. She started abruptly, startled from some melancholy reverie.
“I tried to capture…everything, on the canvas,” she said softly, “but I couldn’t imagine anything beyond the blue. I thought it would help, but all I see is blue.” Tears welled up at the corners of her eyes.
“You can try again tomorrow. You’re off to a great start,” he said. “You’ll see more tomorrow.”
She shook her head almost imperceptibly, but put the paintbrush down on the tray near her chair and allowed Perael to pull her to her feet. She stood apart from him with naught but her hand on his arm as they walked down to the dining room together.
Dinner was a quiet affair with only the sound of the forks clinking against the plates. He tried to engage her in conversation, but she merely pursed her lips together and nodded or shook her head in confirmation or otherwise.
“Would you like to fill in the pond?” he finally asked, ignoring the niggling in his stomach urging him not to broach the subject. Murietta dropped her fork onto her plate, then jumped at the loud clatter it caused. She peered at him from across the table, her blue eyes wide, made all the brighter by the golden halo of unbrushed hair framing her face.
She said nothing, only peered at him.
“If it would make you feel better to fill it in before we have children again, I’ll gladly fill it for you. We can turn the location into a new stable. Tahm seems to like horses and if he keeps asking for new horses, we’ll have nowhere to put them all,” Perael explained. He met her eyes. Surely a practical solution and the promise of more children to love and horses to ride would cheer her up.
Murietta’s flesh was pale, the blood completely drained away from her face and collarbone. She looked like a ghost, wild and reckless with all the despair of the undead.
“Again?” she whispered. “Children again?”
Perael put his fork down and splayed his hands in front of him in a placating gesture. “I’m not saying we need to, you know, make another one tonight, or even this week. Not even this month. But in time, I do need an heir and I think you won’t truly be whole until you have another child to love.”
“Another child,” Murietta whispered. She blinked slowly three times, before silently pushing her chair back and walking out of the room.
Perael watched her go and said nothing. She just needed time.
He went to his office and read a few more letters and drafted several responses, but he couldn’t get Murietta off his mind. He was worried about her, but she was painting again. That seemed more promising than anything else in the past month.
It was late when he went to bed. Murietta was already asleep. Good, he thought to himself. She needs her rest. It’s been awhile since she’s received any.
Confident that his beautiful wife would feel better in the morning with his promises of future children and a safer home, he fell asleep quickly.
When he awoke, he realized it was quite late. Usually he woke no more than an hour after dawn, when Murietta rose to spend time in the nursery, as she always did since she’d fallen pregnant five years ago. Based on the light, it was clearly at least four hours after dawn.
It was at that moment that Perael realized Murietta was still in bed. She lay in the same position she’d fallen asleep with her arm over her eyes, shielding them from any light. He considered that that may be why she was still asleep. The morning light hadn’t woken her yet.
He leaned over her to kiss her forehead. As he did so, his blood chilled.
She was cold. No warmth of blood flowing beneath her skin.
Perael put his head against her chest and heard nothing. He knew, but he kept trying. He shook her, gently at first, then violently. Her limp body gave no response.
He sat back on his heels on the bed and drank in the sight.
His wife was dead in her own bed at the age of twenty. Only twenty.
He called out for Carlotta, his deep voice steady but hoarse. When the old woman entered the room and saw him still on the bed and the haphazard way Murietta’s body lay, she didn’t speak a word. She made it to Perael’s side as quickly as she could and gently pulled him off the bed. He stumbled but kept his eyes on his wife.
Not his wife. His wife wasn’t there anymore.
He didn’t hear Carlotta call for the majordomo. He didn’t hear her call for footmen. He stood in his underthings in the corner of the room and watched wordlessly as she dealt with it. As she dealt with his problem, his own problem, because he couldn’t.
It was his fault. He’d pressured her too early. She hadn’t been ready to hear about children. If he’d given her more time.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small figure enter the room. With golden hair so like his dead wife’s, Tahm looked like he could have been her son.
Perael decided right then that he would not remarry. His carelessness had lost him too greatly. His heir would be Tahm. Tahm would marry. Tahm would carry the bloodline.
But for now, Tahm was crying. The boy was only nine years old, for pity’s sake.
Perael took his brother into his arms and allowed himself finally to weep.