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Apr 30

Fated Magic – Chapter 16

Two things have kept me from posting chapters lately, one good and one bad. The good thing? A week’s vacation in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains. The bad thing? A nasty case of writer’s block. The vacation is definitely over. We’ll have to see about the writer’s block. I’m keeping my fingers crossed (or, as my Swedish friends would say, I’m holding my thumbs).

Emilia walks in the garden at Stonedale, her father’s house. Fine snow sifts down from a flat, grey sky. She and her sister Catherine wear hooded cloaks and mufflers against the chill, but cold nips Emilia’s feet and ankles through her boots and stockings. It’s a bearable discomfort, since this isn’t the sort of conversation she wants the servants to overhear.

“Why on earth did I tell him, Kit?” Emilia’s throat feels threateningly tight and she clears it. “He’s right. It would’ve been far more sensible to simply remain quiet and let matters take their course.”

Kit gives a short, derisive laugh that plumes on the air. “You could no more do that than sprout wings and fly away, Em, you know that.”

“When a such man has kidnapped and holds me against my will? Don’t insult me. I’m a fool not to take any chance I can get.”

“Why did you tell him, then, if he’s such a blackguard?”

“I don’t know!” Emilia’s voice pierces the soft fall of snow. She shakes her head and says more quietly, “Forgive me.”

They walk in silence a while. Finally, Kit says, “Is he a blackguard?”

“Of course!” Emilia says, then, “No.” She sighs. “I don’t know.”

Kit laughs again. “Oh, dear. I see the problem.” She reaches over and squeezes Emilia’s arm. “My poor sister. What a terrible quandary!”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Emilia says. “Don’t. Being carried off isn’t the least bit romantic, I assure you.”

“No, indeed not.” Kit gives her arm another understanding squeeze. “But there must be other considerations, or you wouldn’t be so muddled.”

“There always are, aren’t there?”

“Tell me.”

Emilia sighs again. “If some other wretch takes over, what happens to Dragovich’s people? I can disappear easily enough. But what about my friends? What about those whose only crime is to work for him? They can’t do the same. And they’ll die.”

“You could warn them.”

“While they’re caught between a tiger and a raging river? It could never work.”

Kit slants her a look from under her hood. “Are you listening to yourself, Em? Face it. You have no wish to see him dead.”

Emilia turns away in agitation and vexation. “I’ve no wish to see anyone dead. Nor to trade lives for my freedom.”

“And that’s all.”

Kit has always been forthright and fearless. Often too much so, much to the despair of their mother. But Kit’s fine looks and the cheerful candor in her dark eyes seldom allow others to find offense in her words.

“What do you want me to say, Kit? That for all he’s an unapologetic beast, he still has a certain nobility and honor? That I must keep reminding myself that he’s a villain and a scoundrel? That I’m still drawn to him after all he’s done? Such knowledge is bad enough.”

“You don’t credit yourself. You wouldn’t feel that way if there were no reason.”

“Yes,” Emilia says on a humorless laugh. “I’m a foolish woman.”

“You know perfectly well that isn’t true, so you mustn’t keep saying it. You see too deeply to be any kind of fool.”

They walk in silence a few steps, their breath curling white into the still, cold air.

“I told him I don’t do murder, even by silence,” Emilia says at last. “But if he were as despicable as I accused him of being, I might. Heaven save me, but I might.”

“Ah,” Kit says softly, tipping back her head. “He’s perhaps more noble than beastly, then?”

“I haven’t quite decided the precise proportions of each.”

Kit nods thoughtfully. “And what do you see, sister, when you look into his future?”

“I see…” Past the fire, beyond the violence, so distant and tenuous it approaches impossibility. Something squeezes her chest; hope or despair, she can’t say.

“I see what he could be,” she whispers.

* * *

Emilia awakened feeling vaguely ill. A headache pressed behind her eyes, and her body felt achy and heavy.

Her dream returned so powerfully she could almost hear the slightly husky tones of Kit’s voice, feel the pressure of her fingers on her arm, the whiff of cinnamon that always accompanied her.

All that, gone. Not separated by thousands of miles and weeks of travel and years of absence, but gone. Dust, for a hundred and fifty years.

Tears pushed up. She let them come this time. There was nothing wrong with weeping for the loss of one well-loved. And she’d lost everyone. Everyone. Her sisters. Her husband. Her children. When had she even had the chance to grieve for them, after awakening in an utterly alien world, struggling for bare survival?

A tap came at the door. “Señora Dunmoor?” a woman’s soft voice said.

Emilia raised her head and found both her pillow and her face wet. She fumbled for a tissue on the bedside table and hastily wiped her face and nose.

“I’m ill,” she called. Her voice came out weak and unsteady. “Please, I wish only to sleep.”

Silence from the other side of the door. Emilia wondered who it was. Not Flora. One of the maids, perhaps.

“Okay, Señora,” the voice said. Footsteps padded away down the hall.

Emilia wiped her face again, lay back down and stared at the ceiling. Dragovich would expect her at breakfast. She couldn’t quite bring herself to care.

She drifted a while, not asleep, but not entirely awake, either. Another tap came at the door.

“Señora Dunmoor?” the soft voice said. “Señor Dragovich says, come eat breakfast.”

“I can’t eat. My stomach hurts.” This achiness and malaise and weakness were uncomfortably familiar.

The footsteps moved off once more.

The next knock was more forceful. “Emilia,” Dragovich’s voice said. “Come out.”

She shoved upright in bed. “For heaven’s sake, can’t you leave me alone? I’m ill!”

The door opened. Dragovich took one, hard look at her, turned and spoke to someone behind him—the maid, presumably. Stepping into the room, he shut the door. He crossed to the closet and flipped through the garments within.

Covers clutched to her chest, Emilia spluttered, too outraged for words.

Finally, he approached the bed, a robe in hand. “Get up. Put this on. Go wash your face.”

“How dare you, sir! Leave the room this instant!”

“Come, Emilia. Do you think you’re the only undressed woman I’ve seen?”

Still hugging the covers to her, she leaned forward and snatched the robe. He walked away, to the French doors, and stood looking out into the garden. She slithered out of bed, pulling the robe around her as she hurried to the bathroom.

She shut the bathroom door. And locked it. For whatever good it would do. After all, he was a wizard. She supposed a locked door was no barrier to him.

After splashing water on her face, she confronted her reflection. It looked as ghastly as she felt: eyes purpled and puffy, nose red, her hair straggling out of its braid.

Smoothing her hair and gathering the robe about her with as much dignity as she could muster, she opened the door.

Dragovich turned and studied her again. “Mia said you have a stomachache. Is that all?”

She swallowed the impulse to say it was none of his concern. It wasn’t, but telling him so would do nothing to convince him to go away.

“A headache. A slight fever, perhaps.”

He abruptly crossed to her and laid the back of his hand on her cheek, then her neck. Emilia was too astonished to flinch away.

“No fever,” he said. “Has this happened before? Say, after other readings?”

She realized why this particular illness seemed so familiar. The air in the room seemed suddenly to vanish. “After I saw…” Her voice failed her. She wet her lips. “George’s death,” she whispered.

“You were sick.”

She nodded.

“How long?”

“Three days.”

The door cracked open and the maid peeked in. Dragovich beckoned her. She carried on a tray and set it on a table. With many worried glances between him and Emilia, she quickly withdrew.

The tray bore a Dragovich-sized breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, jam and fruit compote.

Emilia swallowed hard and turned away. “I can’t possibly—”

“You can, and you will. Sit down.”

Emilia sat, avoiding looking at both him and the food.

He took the other chair and gestured. “Eat.”

I can’t.”

“Let me guess what you feel. Your stomach seems an aching void. You’re weak and your joints hurt like an old woman’s.”

She met his eyes in surprise. “Yes.”

He nodded. “I’ll explain something to you. You aren’t a wizard, but you still expend power when you use your gift. Can you see the magic? Can you feel when I use it?”

Intrigued despite herself, she shook her head.

“I can. When you read me yesterday, you used much power, more than usual. Did you eat after?”

“I was— No. That is, not very much.”

“When we use power, we must replenish ourselves. You no less than I. When you don’t, your gift takes what it needs from your body. That’s why you’re sick now. That’s why you must eat. Try.”

Reluctantly, she split a biscuit and spread butter and jam over it, then forced a bite between her lips.

Dragovich crossed his arms, watching her. She fought the impulse to squirm under his regard, concentrating on chewing, swallowing, taking another bite. For a worrisome moment, she thought she might have to dash for the bathroom. Then her stomach apparently decided food was a desirable thing, and she tackled it with increasing enthusiasm. The eggs, laced with cheese and herbs and green onions, seduced her tongue with their fluffy savor.

“You never realized this before?” he said with some amusement.

“I rarely have visions that overpower me.” She thought back. How she’d felt when she’d seen George’s death. Tiff’s. Now Dragovich’s. “I thought it was only distress over what I saw.”

“Distress, yes. But your power, too.” He was silent a long moment. “I use you badly, don’t I, Emilia? You must forgive me. It’s only ignorance, not malice.”

She almost dropped her fork.

“Does that surprise you? Wizards are few. Those with a little power, a small gift…” He waggled a hand back and forth. “A few more of those. You—you’re the first seer I’ve seen. Or maybe I should say the first strong one, the first who can see the future at will. I don’t know how your power works. How it affects you.”

“Some visions…” she began. “It’s like I’m living them. Not only seeing them. The pain and fear is my own. I can’t escape it, and I can’t close my eyes and mind to it.”

“How many deaths have you died?”

“Please, don’t ask me that.”

“Too many,” he said. “How many did you spare?”

“A few. Not as many as I’d like.” She put down her fork, stared at the food. “I told you there is no destiny. But people can be very set, no matter what future lies before them.” She raised her eyes to meet his. “It may be why the future I saw for you is so strong.”

“Because I won’t change to avoid it.”

“Yes.”

He leaned back in his chair. “Is that what happened to your husband? You foresaw his death, and he went to meet it anyway?”

She squeezed her eyes closed. “Yes.”

Dragovich was already sitting back, his arms crossed. She couldn’t say why it seemed that he withdrew further. “You were his wife. He didn’t trust you?”

“Of course he trusted me!”

Pain twisted, almost as strong as those days and weeks after her vision of George’s death. Why now, when it had been so long, when the years had finally begun to smooth the jagged edges?

“He felt duty-bound,” she went on. “I concocted excuses he could give to escape the trip—a fever, an accident, a death in the family back in England. Anything to allow him to beg off with his honor intact. We quarreled—” Her voice wavered and she stopped, lest she humiliate herself in front of Dragovich.

“But it was honor that forced him to go, was it not?” Dragovich said. “How could he leave his fellows to face what he would not?”

How could I live with myself, Emmy? George had said, holding both her hands in his, shaking them in the effort to make her understand. What kind of man would stay home, safe with his wife and children, knowing his friends and colleagues will suffer a cruel death? Is that the kind of man you want to spend your life with, the kind of man you want as a father to your children?

And she’d accused him of caring more for his friends than for her, the children. Then wept bitterly, because she knew he was right, that he’d die in another way if she convinced him to stay home, to stay safe.

Dragovich leaned forward, brushed her cheek with a thumb. She was weeping after all.

She snatched up a napkin and turned away a little, blotting at her face. “Forgive me.”

He sat back again. “What is there to forgive?”

She gave a watery laugh. “Nothing, I suppose. Only it was so long ago now. You must think me terribly feeble.”

“I think,” he said, “you’re stronger than most wizards. We can bend the world to our will. You have a power as great in its way, but its potency depends on the will of others.” He sat silent a moment. “It seems a cruel sort of power.”

Was that understanding? Kindness, coming from this man? She fought the desire to reach out to it.

“What is the alternative?” she said. “To impose my will on others?”

“We all impose our will on others.”

She took a sip of tea. “Some more than others,” she muttered into her cup.

He laughed. “Yes. I look forward to the day you pardon me for that.”

“You, sir, are an optimist.”

“No. Only a realist.” He leaned forward. “Who else understands power? Who else understands the world we knew? We’re all alone in this world, Emilia, you and I. No one else knows that. No one born to this age can ever know. Have you thought of that?”

Emilia looked away. He might as well have twisted a knife in her heart.

* * *

Vadim sighed quietly. He’d set out to chip away at her resistance, her resentment, let her see what her connection with him was worth. Now, her quickly averted face showed complete rejection.

More and more with each day, he regretted stealing her away. Oh, not that he regretted her, of course. But he’d thought he could take her like any other thing of value, fitting her to his purpose. What had he told her that first day in his office? I’ll use you to my benefit.

It wasn’t so simple.

She could, with frightening ease, lead him to disaster. But now, learning how her husband had died, he realized something else—she could also guide him into any path she wished.

He completely understood her husband’s actions. What woman, no matter how prescient, can understand what drives a man? And what man can stand to be molded by a woman?

Either required a level of trust he’d damaged, if not destroyed. But had he ever had a chance of persuading her?

What would he have said? Yes, I’m a wizard, and I realize the last wizard you encountered raped you of your very soul. Yes, I’m a warlord and an outlaw. But let me show you how much we can do for each other

He huffed a laugh.

“I beg your pardon,” she said, “but you find our common isolation humorous?”

“I laugh at how I’d wish to convince you that what we share is more than what divides us,” he said. “I laugh at absurdity and futility.”

She grew very solemn, touched his hand where it rested on the table. “Send me home, Vadim.”

He looked down at her fingers, so delicate against his own, covered them with his other hand. “You must see how impossible that is now.”

He gently picked up her hand and laid it back on the table.

1 comment

  1. donbay2013

    Do I detect a molding? Do I detect a softening? Does a rock become pliant? Does a strong character vanish? Do any of us, gifted or not, become something we can’t be?

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