We buried Mama in the witches’ graveyard in the forest. Her sisters adorned the freshly dug earth with flowers and candles. Her plaque read the word “Beloved.” Every witch except for Ivaine attended and all of them wept, even Galaea whom I had thought incapable of it.
But none harder than me. My hot tears of regret fell long after the others were gone. Have I dishonored you, Mother? Have I brought you nothing but disappointment? She’d said I made her proud, but how could I when she despised nearly every decision I’ve made for the past year?
But how can I go back to the witches and be the daughter she always wanted when I hate them for what they have done to me? How can I pretend to be one of them when it hurts my bones to stay here? And how can I ever sleep again in the hut that belonged to us when her bed will forever remain empty?
So I go to the only place I can think of to go.
I stand in his doorway a broken and withered petal that has long forgotten its flower. “My mother…” are the only two words I can speak before my voice is carried off by fresh weeping. But he already knows the rest.
“Corynne, I’m so sorry,” Markius says.
And then after looking me over, he adds, “You look like you could use a drink. Come in, I can help you.”
He leads me to his kitchen. Every surface within it is dusty. The man could definitely use a housekeeper. He pulls two goblets from his cupboard and fills one with a dark liquid he pours from a barrel. “This is the finest rum you can find in Lyvenia,” he tells me.
He takes a swig from his cup and exhales. “Oh yes. You simply must try this, M’lady.”
He hands me the other goblet and pours for me. It smells ghastly, but who am I to deny his hospitality? I have learned better than that.
I take a sip of the most wicked tasting substance that has ever been on my tongue. It burns my throat and I choke in surprise and scrunch my face in a wince. Markius laughs at my reaction.
“Don’t drink much?”
“Never,” I tell him.
“It gets much better,” he assures me.
It’s true. The burning sensation in my throat has turned to soothing warmth and my head is lighter in a way that I find lovely. I drink it down and help myself to another.
After two glasses, I feel… strange. The good kind of strange.
“Are you all right?” Markius asks.
“I am. I’m… I’m…” It takes a few moments for me to remember the word for what it is that I feel and then it finally occurs to me. “Happy. I’m happy.”
And then I start laughing uncontrollably. Have I really been unhappy for so long that I forgot what happiness was? Such a shame. It is a wonderful feeling.
Laughing so hard makes me topsy and the room becomes floaty but Markius reaches his arms out and steadies me.
“I told you it was good stuff.”
“You did. We should drink more.”
“I think you should slow down. Have you eaten today?”
I find his question hilarious. I haven’t eaten today or yesterday. It was the last thing that seemed appealing. My stomach gurgles as a reminder and I decide it was time to fill it again. But why eat when I could drink?
I realize that he’s staring at me because he’s waiting for an answer so I just say, “I need more!”
He shakes his head with a laugh as though I am a silly child and says, “Oh, very well.”
A third cup down and the room starts to rotate. I sit down on the bear rug and Markius joins me on the floor and puts his arm around me. He’s had four glasses at this point and he’s working on his fifth, but he has a lot more practice at this drinking thing than I do.
“Don’t feel bad, kid,” he says. “My mother died too when I was about your age.” He points up to a picture on the wall.
He lifts his goblet to her and says, “To you, Ma. May your evil soul rest in peace.” Then he drinks the rest of it down.
“Fuck it. Life’s too short for misery. I oughta teach you a song.”
“A song?” I ask eagerly. “I love songs!”
“Then you’ll really love this one. It’s an old drinking song I used to sing with my boys at the tavern. It’s about forgetting your troubles and enjoying the good things—mainly rum.”
He tries to teach me the lyrics but I am laughing too hard for them to sink in. Around the third verse, he becomes passionately involved and drunken tears of merriment start rolling down his flushed cheeks.
He repeats the refrain enough times for me to get it. I shout the words along with him and we sing until we are exhausted and in pain from laughter.
Now the world around me is spinning too much. To avoid becoming sick, I curl up on the floor and close my eyes. The fur of his rug is so soft and the fire is so warm and everything is so black that I cannot help but to drift away. How long has it been since I’ve slept… how long…
When I wake my mouth is dry and tastes foul. My stomach is sick and my head…
GODDESS, MY HEAD.
“Good morning, M’lady.”
His voice is like a mallet against my temple. “What is this?” I groan with my face in my hands.
“You’re hung over,” he says. “It happens sometimes when you drink.”
“I’m dying,” I insist.
“You aren’t. It may feel that way, but I promise it will pass. You just need something to eat and some fresh air.”
“Oh no. I am never eating again.”
“That’s funny, I would have thought you’d say something along the lines of never drinking again.”
He laughs. “I used to tell myself that all that time. Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
He takes me through the marketplace on our way back to the camp. The sun seems murderous this morning but although it is shining brightly, there is still a chill in the air.
We stop by a booth and Markius buys bread for my sour stomach. I am still nauseated, but the smell makes my mouth water regardless. We share a loaf as we keep walking.
Today, he stays with me even as we pass our usual parting spot. I change direction slightly and lead him to the graveyard.
“So this is where the witches go to rest?” he asks solemnly.
“Yes.” I reply.
“Here she is.”
I kneel before her grave and wish that I were buried beneath the dirt along side of her.
Rum can no longer mask the immense feeling of loss.
I’m sorry, Mama,” I murmur. “I tried to save you. I tried so hard…”
Markius lowers himself to the ground and lays his hands on me. “What can I do, dear? How can I make it better for you?”
I lean against him and say, “Take me away from here.”
“Marry me and I will.”
I sigh. He could be my rescuer. He could give me a completely different life than this living hell I have come to know so well. And maybe, in time, I could love him too.
“I will, then.”
He puts his arms around me and pulls me off the ground so quickly that it disorients me.
“Oh, I love you Corynne. Anything you ask for will be yours.”
I will never be a princess and I will never be a queen. I lay those aspirations beneath the sod where the dead witches lie, and I try out the words that were once so familiar but have become so new. “I love you too.”
They will feel right again in time. At least, I hope they will.
“Let’s leave right now!” he exclaims. “Forget about going back, forget your belongings. I will buy you new things—better things.”
“Wait,” I tell him. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not, love? Is something wrong?”
“No,” I answer. “But I can’t go yet. I have a promise to keep.”
“So now you want to marry.”
Galaea appraises me with those ancient, cunning eyes.
“I see no reason why I cannot,” I say. “You changed the law and Ivaine is married. She lives with her husband outside of these walls, but she is still part of the Sisterhood.” The sad, bitter part of me rises but I push it down so I may remain diplomatic.
“I simply desire to do the same thing. I will still work at the marketplace and I will give you a quarter or my earnings, just as my mother did.”
“That is generous of you. I only ask if you are marrying for the right reasons. Ivaine had an honorable reason to marry the king, so to advance her sisters in the kingdom. What is yours?”
“My reasons are my own. The law is the law and this is what I will to do.”
She smiles at me, but her smiles are never warm. “Very well. As long as you remember to fulfill your obligation, you will have my blessing. You may go.”