Chapter Twenty-Five

Aria gasped and tried running to see her father, but Awen stopped her in her tracks by holding her arm out, palm as though flat against a wall. She felt choked for breath. Her father didn’t say anything, didn’t move. Aria couldn’t speak and she clawed at her throat even though nothing was physically there. Finally she fell to her knees again, almost passing out before Awen released her.

“Never forget who’s in charge here,” Awen intoned. Aria could only wheeze in reply as she tried to catch her breath, her heart beating out of her chest. Awen was carefully watching Gabriella as she walked over to Brock holding a knife. She cut into his skin on top of old scars. Gabriella cried, begging and apologizing. “I’ve kept him alive this entire time and you had no idea. I’ve tortured him, starved him, beaten him. I have broken him, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I kept him on the brink of death, letting him heal just enough until I knew he wouldn’t die the next time I tore into him.”

“Please,” Gabriella rasped, crawling on her knees as far as the chain allowed, and it wasn’t far enough. She stopped just short of being able to touch him.

“You’ll never touch him again,” Awen scowled.

“I’ll do anything,” Gabriella pleaded. “I’ll be your slave!”

“Mother no!” Aria screamed. How could her mother offer such a thing? Aria was once again silenced, and knew that her presence here was inconsequential. This was all for her mother, this show. Aria didn’t understand. Awen loved her mother? A million thoughts tumbled through her mind and she could barely grasp onto them before they fell away. Aria felt sick to her stomach. She didn’t know how much more she could take.

“I’m sorry Awen, I’m so sorry. I should have stayed with you. I know that now,” Gabriella whispered, barely loud enough for Aria to hear. “I did this do you. I made you this way.” She beseechingly stared up at Awen.

Awen didn’t say anything, just stared down at her, her face becoming an impenetrable mask of coldness. “And you’ll pay for it,” Awen whispered back, but still not showing any emotion. With that, she turned and walked away, out of the room, leaving behind blood and destruction. Gabriella hung her head, sobbing. She didn’t even seem to notice Aria’s presence. She was once again being led by guards and she heard the whispering of the halflings in the room but couldn’t know the words. Her mind was too busy trying to sort out what she had witnessed between her mother and the evil queen. She was stuffed back into the cell and given a meager meal of some kind of slop and a piece of crusty bread.

A short time later, she heard footsteps again, and leapt to her feet, gripping the cold bars and pressing her small face between two of them. She saw Gareth being led by four guards. He was limp in between the grip of two of them and still wearing the mask. They forced her to move backwards and they unlocked her cell, dumping him unceremoniously inside, throwing a small bag at her. She looked inside and saw a sewing kit as well as alcohol and bandages. Why would they do this much damage only to fix him? Gareth remained motionless on his stomach. Some of the wounds were still bleeding.

She cleaned her hands with the alcohol, and was thankful that he was passed out. She knew this would hurt. At first her hands shook as she threaded the needle, but quickly gained her confidence as she mended his torn back, trying to stitch him back together as best she could. She finally finished and taped bandages to his back, which would have to work until he awoke and she could wrap him completely in them. She cleaned her hands of the blood and threw the bloody rags in the corner that held her empty dinner bowl. She tried to see if she could remove the mask, but there was no way to get it off. There was no lock and no way to pull it over his head. It was as though it was melded on. She sat next to him and waited.

Aria ate another couple of meals and slept next to him by the time he came to. He groaned, his breath catching when he tried to move and the pain caught him. Aria gently put an arm on his bicep. “Be careful.”

“Aria?” Gareth asked, his voice full of pain.

“Yes. I stitched your back and changed the bandages once, but I would like to wrap them all around you. Can you get up?”

“I think so.” He started getting up and Aria helped him.

“I don’t know why they would give me things to help heal you,” she murmured as carefully removed the cloth bandage.

“They don’t want the wounds to fester with infection. She wants me alive,” he said through gritted teeth, preparing for the worst part.

Aria poured alcohol on a cloth and paused before reaching up to dab at the stiches. “I’m so sorry,” she said as she applied the cleaning agent.

“It’s okay.” He tensed his muscles as she cleaned the marks.

“I tried taking your mask off. I couldn’t find a way.”

“It’s enchanted. It prevents me from using any energy. Only Awen or your sister can take it off, because it requires dark matter from the universe to unlock.”

Aria paused again before wrapping the cloth around his chest, stomach, and back. “That’s awful.” She was trying so hard not to cry. Her mind had taken a beating over the last week and she didn’t know how much more she could handle.

“Zaria will come,” Gareth said, relaxing his muscles as she finished touching him. He was sore and tender, and every movement was excruciating. He gingerly sat down next to the wall without touching it.

“I don’t think we can beat her,” Aria sniffed.

“We can. You just have to think it’s possible.” Gareth squeezed her hand before going back to being motionless.

Aria explained to him the interaction that had occurred between Awen and her mother after he had passed out. “What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know. It’s so weird. Something had to have happened between the two of them. But…is all of this because your mother slighted Awen somehow? That’s a lot of work to go through just to get revenge on one family.”

“I know. I just wish I knew. My mother offered to be her slave,” Aria hiccupped as she started crying.

Gareth smoothed over her hair. “It will all be over soon.”

“I hope so,” she whispered through her tears.

 

Gabriella was chained to the wall, her hands and legs spread eagle. The fire in the room just barely kept her warm enough and she could feel the chill in the air. The castle was not what she remembered it to be. It used to be warm and inviting. Now it was dark and dank, damp and foreboding. She heard heels clicking down the hallway and tried to prepare herself, but nothing did. Awen entered the room, barely wearing anything. She had a white corset with lace trim on, her breasts threatening to spill over. White stockings held up with white garters, and white pumps adorned her feet. Her hair was swept up in a simple ponytail, and a filmy white robe splayed open and floated in the air when she moved, long sleeves encapsulating her arms.

They stared at each other for a long time. Tears ran down Gabriella’s face as she stared at her former love, lamenting everything that Awen had done in the name of revenge. The countless lives lost. The torture. The destruction of their world.

“I’m going to make you moan my name once again,” Awen whispered, showing nothing on her face.

Gabriella didn’t say anything. This is not what she wanted. How often had she thought about how she would change things if she could go back in time? How would she defy her father in the name of love? Finally, she whispered back, “Not like this. Please.”

Awen didn’t reply. She stood just in front of her, reaching out to touch her, but stopping just short of actually doing so. She ran her hand down Gabriella’s side as though she was touching her, her eyes following the movement of her own hand. She let her arm fall to her side.

“I hated you,” Awen stated emptily.

“I know,” Gabriella choked out.

“I still do sometimes. But I will always love you.” Awen admitted her feelings without showing them. The darkness had so thoroughly taken over she couldn’t show the love other than to say it with seemingly empty words.

“I love you too.”

“Why did you do it?” Awen demanded, anger coming back to her face.

“It’s easier for you isn’t it? To be angry and hateful?” Awen hissed her breath out, narrowing her eyes. She slapped Gabriella, and it stung. But she kept talking. “What are you going to do when you have nothing left? When you have your revenge? What then?” Gabriella asked softly. She wanted to try and get through to her. To stop this madness of death and decay.

Awen didn’t say anything for a long time. “I am too far gone,” she said with a hint of sadness. It was gone before Gabriella could tell if it was ever there. She started walking away.

“Wait!” Gabriella shouted, her voice echoing off of the walls in the barren room. Awen stopped but didn’t turn around. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. More sorry than you could ever know. I’ve thought so many times about how I could change things. I thought about leaving my husband, leaving my children when they were born. I wanted to find you. I wanted you. I need you to believe me. But please, don’t hurt my girls. I love them. Please, I’ll do anything for you. I’ll stay with you,” she whispered brokenly.

Awen stood at the doorway for a full minute without speaking, then silently left, the only sound her clacking heels fading into the distance down the hall.

Gabriella was left alone with her thoughts of self-torture, until a halfling guard unshackled her and gave her a robe to put on. She tied it shut and followed him through several passages until they reached a large room overlooking the deadened courtyard. She felt dead inside as she thought about how it used to look when she had been with Awen in happier times.

The room was enchanted so she couldn’t get out and the guard left her there. The floor had gorgeous and luxurious rugs that matched the curtains in gold tones. There was a four poster bed with the same curtains that framed the windows tied back to the dark cherry wood frame. The bedding was black with gold trim and gold pillows decorated the bed. It was the centerpiece in the room with a lot of open space. One of the walls was lined with leather bound books on shelves the same type of wood as the bed. In the corner was a black leather chaise lounge and a leather chair with a footstool. At the opposite end of the room was an ornate vanity, and next to that a walk in closet. The clothes were beautiful and bright, exactly what Gabriella would wear. Tears pricked her eyes at the thoughtfulness of the room, even though she was being held against her will. Awen still cared for her, loved her, no matter how angry she was. There was so much anger and hurt.

After the walk in closet Gabriella found a beautiful bathroom made with black and gold marble, with a giant marble tub. Candles lined the edges of the tub and there was a headrest at one end. The taps were gold. The idea of a bath appealed to her so she started the bath and poured some foaming bath milk in as she sought out the towels. She retrieved a loose dress and settled it on the counter and removed her bathrobe, climbing up the steps and stepping into the steaming water. She soaked her body until she was a prune, trying not to think.

It was nearly impossible to not think. She was so confused. She still had love for Awen, even after all of this. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know how to make her stop. She loved her children. She even had love for the man she was forced to marry. She thought about that night she had forsaken Awen. The heartbreak and despair in her eyes. It was a moment she played over and over again in her mind. She had been kept awake at night more times than she could count. She felt responsible for all of this. If she had stood up to her father, none of this would have happened. Everyone would be safe. But then would she have known her daughters? The impossibility of not knowing, of everything, wracked her with guilt and sorrow.

She felt guilty because her daughter was in a cell somewhere, barely being fed. Her husband was in a similar situation, she knew. She didn’t know anything about Zaria, but knew it was only a matter of time before she tried storming the castle. What would she do when that happened? At the moment she was in the lap of luxury, and she didn’t know if she wanted it to end. Then she mentally slapped herself for such a thought. What was wrong with her? She felt helpless. She sighed and got out of the tub, lightly drying then applying some lotion that smelled like honey and chocolate. The scent made her feel heady. She put on the light pink dress and the soft material swished pleasantly against her skin. She looked at herself in a full length mirror, feeling disgusted with herself. She needed to be strong so she could keep her children alive throughout this.

Gabriella walked to the bookshelf and picked a random volume, curling up in the chair. She read until the sun fell under the earth, and repeated this every day for several weeks. She tried not thinking, but constantly went between wanting to be with Awen, hating herself for it, and wanting to be with her children. She barely thought about her husband at all. She didn’t see Awen once while she was imprisoned in her room. She wondered about her. If her words had had any impact on her. She fell asleep in the soft bed with a warm wind swirling about the room, gently fluttering the curtains.

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