Prologue: The Anchoress of Corinn Ada
by Julian Lawler
Lightning flared outside, reflecting for a second the manacles that held her captive. A few seconds later a deep boom rattled the four stonewalls of her prison. Rain filtered in through the open window and already she was ankle-deep in water. With eyes as black as the night, she stared down at her gray-skinned hands.
She would have been called beautiful once. These days her hair was falling out, her skin was sagging, and some would say her eyes had a glazed look to them. She knew some called it madness. She thrashed violently, rattling the chains that held her in place to the center of her room. As if separate in thought, she could feel one of her violent fits coming on.
She pulled frantically in her chains, making her ankles and wrists bleed, rubbing the bone and skin raw. She gave out a piercing shriek of a cry and thunder drowned it out. Lightning flashed. Thunder boomed. And then she lost herself in the endless depths of her thoughts.
An hour passed before she slumped over from weariness and exhaustion. Her head throbbed and it felt like a split lemon. It took some effort to concentrate and it was still sometime later when she realized that it was no longer raining. A cool breeze, fresh with the scent of pine and earth, wafted through the gaping holes in the walls.
The world smelled of revitalization. The odors in the air suddenly made her miss the world outside. It had been years since she ran through the fields outside Cienda Falls. One of her favorite things to do as a child was to swim up the River Erinnin and bathe under the great waterfall at the center of the city.
That was a lifetime ago. Slumping over, she put her head down and tried to drown herself in the water she was used to sleeping in. This was the fourth time in as many days that she was trying the unthinkable.
A latch sliding over brought her back from the unknown so many called death. Death was not the unknown to her. Death was very tangible and she knew it well. When you cursed death and then longed for it, it was surprising how warm and sympathetic the unknown could be.
The door to her prison opened slowly and she could barely see the fat, robed, friar stepping through the doorway through the wet strands of hair that covered her face. The balding man came down the small steps on sandaled feet. He held a plate of food in his hand and not once did he glance at her.
She lunged at him when he reached the bottom step. Her frantic attack fell several feet short, but caught him totally unawares. The friar slipped and splashed into the water. He sputtered and flailed desperately until he found her standing over him.
“The water is cold, isn’t it, Rachibald?” she said in a tone that clearly said his life was in danger.
The man crawled away to the wall as fast as he could. When he reached the wall, he banged on the door like a man caught in a cage with a mountain lion. He wasn’t overreacting. She was far more dangerous.
But she lost some of the anger in her eyes when she noticed that he was out of reach. “Move my chains, friar,” she said levelly. “I haven’t had anything to rest my back on in almost six months. I sleep in almost four inches of water and I’ve been wet for the last year and I haven’t been changed in longer.”
She turned away and walked back to the center of her cell. “It’s the least you could do,” she whispered softly under her breath.
“I told him not to move you,” said a voice from the doorway. She spun around and stared at the man who held her captive. “You are not to be treated with any sympathy. They are not to curry any favors favor for you, either. If I catch any of them disobeying me, they will be thrown out of the city.” That usually meant death.
She stared up at him and wondered how she had ever loved the man. His stunning good looks did not extend an inch beneath the surface of the skin. He was a monster in an angel’s body and her own shallowness had brought her to this trap and current situation.
It would do no good to ask, but she did anyway. “Why do you do this to me?” She didn’t bother sitting down and she let her arms hand loosely at her sides. She might be more dangerous than a mountain lion, but she was as good as one strung up on a wall for show.
He smiled one of his beautiful smiles, displaying a set of perfect teeth. That smile didn’t reach his eyes. She couldn’t recall a time it ever had. “The pain and strain enhances your Ability. You know this. You do not cooperate with me. So I have to force it out of you. It’s only as difficult as you have made it.”
She shook her head emphatically. “I don’t keep it from you. I am untrained. My Ability doesn’t come like a dog after you whistle.”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “My methods are proving quite useful. I don’t think anyone knows just how effective. It would be a shame to let our little secret out.”
“You wouldn’t dare!“ she spat. “You are too much of a coward! You love your own hide too much to say anything.”
A look of anger crossed his eyes and quickly it was gone. A master of composure, she knew she had struck the truth. “Tell me, anchoress,” he said. He rarely called her by her name these days. “Has your knight in shining armor arrived?”
She hated when he mocked her. Smiling at the demons in her life, the man before her included, she shook her head, her hair releasing droplets to the watery surface below. “He will come. And when he does, your days will be numbered. The days of Corinn Ada will begin their trek into the pages of history.”
The made his jaws tighten.
“Rachibald,” she said quietly into the stillness that followed, “leave us, please.”
The friar made for his feet, slipped once, and staggered out of her cell with whatever dignity he had left. Both man and woman stared at each other quietly, appraising the new person they saw before them. They both had changed.
“Do you know how long you’ve been here?” he asked. There was a tinge of pity in his voice. How she hated this man. To think he had spoken to her like that in the stillness of the nigh, with the darkness to hide their deepest, darkest secrets from each other.
“Four years,” he said matter-of-factly when she made no response. Four years. She staggered back as far as the chains would allow. Her knees grew weak and she didn’t think she had the strength to remain on her feet.
Her sobs were louder than any shriek she had ever given. No amount of thunder would drown out these sobs. She cried and cried and struggled to master herself.
“Listen, my wife,” he said over her choking sobs, “your imprisonment has not been in vain. When we married, you said you would do anything for me. This is one of those situations where I’m holding you to your word.”
The bastard had to die! He had to. And suddenly the anchoress knew she would not kill herself. She would get her revenge, even if she had to stay in this prison for another ten years. Besides, there were things she hadn’t told him, yet. Staring at the man she called husband once; she sat down and pondered the arrival of her knight in shining armor, because he was on his way. The wind had told her just like it had told her many other things that he was coming; he was blacker than the heavens above that had so forsaken her.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler