~ (Continued) Qvattorday, 13th of Maius ~
It had been two weeks since she learned of her husband’s disappearance. Some hope had been given to her by Salome, who had gone through a similar ordeal, and Perdita stayed by her side almost constantly, to the point of the other woman neglecting her suitor, and that eased some of her pain. But Cordelia still kept away from most of those around the château. She was not sulking, she refused to call it that, but her strength and disposition were so low that she desired nothing beside to sleep. She ate one or two meals a day, and never in company beyond Perdita or Renaud. Though, once, Elizabeth had joined her, their discussion melancholy even if the blancwitch’s presence and brief hug had eased her nausea and helped her finish her meal.
Perdy insisted she keep better care of herself and she tried; Jourdain’s child made her feel she had a purpose (and she could not wait until he came back and she could tell him!), but it was still difficult. Every day she felt weaker and fell into deeper sadness.
Yesterday the prince himself had come to tell her that Renaud was no longer in residence and on his way to Folia. She had not pressed for details though now wished she had. That Renaud would leave at the behest of his father, she understood. Comte Feuilles was an imposing man. But His Highness had mentioned it was his grief that took him, and while she dared not question His Highness, that seemed odd. Renaud would have come to her and either asked her to accompany him home, or at least inform her he was going.
With Perdy’s luck they had come upon a second rumor that added to the mystery, and yet helped to uncover it—gossip that Lady Síofra was unwell. With the margrave and margravine rushing to the château that afternoon it seems confirmed.
Renaud leaving that morning, at around the same Síofra began to be unwell? The two were undoubtedly tied. He had done something, harmed her in some way.
To her shame, Cordelia’s first reaction was a twisted feeling of pleasure that the other girl had had something happen to her. Let her, as fay, know pain while she had lost her husband to her kind. And then Delia had felt ill in a way that had nothing to do with the child in her belly. She liked Síofra! They had spoken together, played cards, and while she was not as close with her as with Perdita, she thought of Elizabeth and Síofra as friends. It was not Síofra’s fault Jourdain was missing, nor was it His Grace’s, fay they may be.
Oh, and her husband would be ashamed of her for this as well. Jourdain had never had any problems with the fée or fay, unlike his father. Her husband had even once said to her in secret that it would be an adventure to be taken into Faery. He had never thought his mother had died because of a fée curse, and instead thought the comte had spread the rumor with his wife’s illness as a means to spread his prejudice.
With Renaud courting Síofra she had assumed her brother-in-law had changed his ways away from Frederick, grown to think outside of his father’s influence, but perhaps seeing the comte had again instilled old habits. Or losing his brother had caused him to lash out at one he claimed to love. Or was this a lover’s spat that had nothing to do with her bestia?
And now Cordelia lay awake, a hand resting on her abdomen, unable to sleep due to feeling unwell physically and mentally, and thinking about the last several days and all that had taken place. Perdita was asleep beside her, not wanting to even leave her to go to her own rooms in case she was needed. Moonlight filtered in through the space between the curtains, and an owl hooted in the new darkness. With her other hand Cordelia was stroking Perdita’s hair, which seemed to glow in the light.
Síofra’s illness may be physical as well. She did not know any details beside that Lady Elizabeth had been with her, and His Grace had checked upon her. Had Renaud put a child in her and then run off at the news?
The anger at that thought had her getting up from bed. It might not be the case, but the possibility would not let her sleep. And truth be told, focusing on something that was not related to Jourdain gave her some energy.
Perdy murmured in her sleep as Delia pulled away from her, but the other woman did not wake.
“I will be back soon, sleep, Perdy,” Delia promised. She found a robe and put it over her nightgown (she had not bothered to change into proper clothes this day), and at first only paced in bare feet on the cool floor and thought. Yet there was only so much that could be done without more knowledge.
It was after dinner, but not so late that it would be overly impolite to visit someone for an evening tea. If half the château were already abed, the other half were still reading or relaxing. She made her way out of her room and towards Síofra’s.
The guards were polite along the way, one asking if she needed any help and offering to fetch a servant for her. She declined, and when she said that she wanted to see how Síofra was doing, found a guard at her side walking with her.
“I do not need an escort— ”
A growling froze her in her steps.
“The Margrave has left his… pet,” the guard said, as they came into view of Magec, who glared at them. His teeth were bared and his hackles up along his back. He too seemed to glow in the lamplight of the evening.
Cordelia stepped away from the guard, and held up a hand to make him stay back. She lifted the other hand out to the wolf.
“I want to see Lady Síofra,” she said. “As a friend. Because if my brother-in-law has done something horrid, it is my duty to help her.”
She was not sure if the wolf would understand her, but if it was from Faery, it was a better chance than not that it could.
He sniffed her hand, licked her fingers, sneezed (Delia had to keep from laughing at this— was this the first time she had laughed since Jourdain’s disappearance?) and moved away from the door.
When the guard took a step forehead to come closer Magec growled again.
“Thank you for taking me here,” Cordelia said over her shoulder. “I will be fine. As you can see Magec is protecting me.”
The guard nodded, gave another look over the wolf, and returned to a nearby post.
She knocked. There was silence, but a light flickered from beneath the doorway. She went ahead and tried the handle and opened the door.
“Bonsoir? Síofra, it is I, Delia. How are you feeling?”
The younger girl was in bed, sitting in dim light, her knees pulled up to her chest. Even in the flickers of candlelight one could see she had been weeping.
“Lady Cordelia! You—”
“What did Renaud do?”
She walked over and sat beside Síofra on the bed, reaching out and taking her hand.
“How… How did you know he did anything?”
“I have seen Renaud as both kind and cruel, at times to the very same person at different times,” she said. “I heard you were unwell, and he leaves the very same day without telling me? It felt false, and so I assumed, and now you confirm. Allow me to apologize on his behalf for what he has done.”
“Do you know the details?” Her voice was a whisper, on the edge of more tears. She looked down and hugged herself tighter. But she did not pull her hand away from Cordelia’s.
“Non, and you do not need to tell me if you do not wish to. But may I help in any way?”
“He was cruel,” she said in a whisper. “Because I am fay.”
Ah. So it was her bestia that caused this. No. No, it was Renaud’s actions at that that caused this.
“Then you are well physically?” she asked. Without meaning to, she again rested her hands on her stomach. “I worried perhaps, with it being Midspring, that—”
“Oh! Oh no,” Síofra squeaked, and for the first time in knowing her Delia saw her blush. “We did not—no, your little one will not have a cousin to play with. He did not leave because of pregnancy. We have not done more than kiss. Will not do more than kiss,” she amended. “I tried to go help find Jourdain, go into Faery with him. He did not like it and thought I was going to hurt him. He hurt me in return.” She whispered the last words and closed her eyes, her hand in Cordelia’s tightening. “I sent him away for it. His Highness and Pierre found me and said they would spread the word that it was their doing and not mine.”
“Oh, dear Síofra, I am so sorry. Please, I offer apologies as the wife of a lord of Feuilles, and Renaud will be punished for this.”
“Th-thank you, Cordelia. Merci. And— and I am sorry as well,” she said.
“If you are apologizing for your kin then I should as well. Your husband was taken by fée. For this I am very sorry.”
Now tears stung her eyes as well. Cordelia blinked and was then enveloped by Síofra, who hugged her without preamble. She returned the hold.
“Thank you,” she said. So many people had been sorry, but Síofra’s apology was the first that felt sincere to her.
“Can you tell me more of Faery?” Cordelia said as she sat back. “I only know stories and tales, and those often say things that contradict, or, I assume, are extreme. With Jourdain there, I do want to know more. Salome told me a little… ”
“To me it is home,” Síofra said. A faint smile appeared on her face. “Mother and Father and I have only truly thought of ourselves as nobility ever since Félicien let us have the title of Spadé. Fairy courts are more informal and spread about than human ones, we do not have titles or lands in a way that would make sense. There are some towns, but nothing as grand as a city where I am. We keep the forests and lands wild. I played in flower fields and caught fish with my older brother, Duc Félicien, as a child, and my niece and I were more like sisters. There is magic in the air and the water and the trees. My mother taught me magia and how to use a sword, and my father hunting and about animals.”
“That sounds like a wonderful life,” Cordelia said. And truly, it did. There was a freedom there that was not found in her home, not that she had had a bad life in any way. “Do you— do you know what happens to people who are taken into Faery?”
“Some. At times we would go into a small town nearby and see others, some with humans that came to Faery. They are often used as servants, though children are adopted from the start. Fée have children far more rarely than humans and many grow impatient. But the longer you stay in the lands the more fée you are. When you are deemed to be fay yourself can no longer be a servant unless you choose to be. Félicien and Mother enforce this. And some just came into Faery by themselves and wanted to start a new life there. Oh, and time is odd as well, so if one is a servant for several years and wishes to return home, it may have only been a few days gone here. Or the other way, and they are there only a few days, but it may be years on this plane…” her voice faded at the implications and inability to say which one was more likely.
“Then I hope he is happy there,” Cordelia said “And that he returns soon. That he is not away for very long from my side or his.” It was impossible at all of the humans in Faery were treated kindly, or there out of their own desires, but perhaps at least the lands by Spadille were filled with this honor.
“I do not think it is so bad being taken,” Síofra said shyly. She had relaxed enough to straighten out her legs and sit up. “I know it is terrible for those who have family, but my brother and niece were brought to Faery from this plane. I loved Félicien and he was a wonderful brother, and I would never have met him if he did not stumble into our land and Mother taken him in.”
“But he does have family here. And I… I miss him so much.” Cordelia looked down at her lap and curled her fingers around the cloth of her nightgown. She felt her stomach and thought perhaps it was already gently rounded.
“Would you come with me to the forest?” Síofra said suddenly. She looked up with pleading eyes. “We can go look for him. Maybe find him. I thought, while I am not my mother, I am heir to Spadé.”
“As you said you would do with Renaud?”
“Yes. Or maybe there can be a trade or a bargain. I will make sure it is not harmful to you, I swear it!”
“Alright.” Cordelia stood, bringing Síofra up with her. “Let us go.”
Magec stayed between them, not wanting to leave either of the women’s side and growling when guards tried to step closer to them. Síofra and Cordelia both affirmed they were well, and Magec’s tail wagged at doing his duty for his master’s daughter and her friend.
When they walked out into the garden Síofra gasped and took a deep breath of the new night air. Even Delia felt something that pulled at her.
“Now, we must be careful,” Síofra said, catching her breath, leading the human woman along towards the forest’s edge, though far away from where she and Renaud had been. Magec ran ahead of them into the deep brush, sniffing furiously and then chasing something small that dashed out from where it had been hiding. “Stay by me, and it would be best if you did not let go of my hand. Call me if something seems amiss, even if I look to be right beside you!”
“Oui, oui, of course,” Cordelia said, looking around at all of the movement and life in the trees. Fireflies lit up the branches and leaves as if stars had come down from the heavens, and birdsong sweeter than any instrument filled her ears even at this late hour. She had never truly been in a deep wild forest before. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw a flash of movement. Magec? But he had gone in the other direction.
“Good, now—” Cordelia took a step towards the… figure? Person? letting go of Síofra’s hand as she did. It was cloth—a cloak? Was it already her husband returning just as she went to search for him.
“One moment,” she called, not taking her eyes away from the spot to even look back at her friend. A ray of moonlight lit up a clearing not too far and showed her husband in his riding attire, standing and waiting for her.
She picked up the bottom of her robes and ran to him.
He looked up with a smile and opened his arms to her. She had not even the time to call out to Síofra that she had already found him, when she was in his arms and being held and kissed.
“Oh, Jourdain, it is so good that you are back! I hope you have had a wonderful adventure, but now it is time to come home. Please, come, I have so much to tell you—” she babbled between kisses and holding onto her love so hard she worried he would not be able to breathe.
“Come with me,” she said. “We will go back and all will be well again. I have become dear friends with—”
“I can’t,” he said. He smiled softly, sadly, and kissed her once more. His arms wrapped around her and he picked her up as if she weighed nothing, gathering her up in his arms with such strength that she knew he would never let her fall. She wanted to stay there with him forever. She did need anyone beside him. Though Síofra… and Perdita…
“What do you mean, you can’t?” she asked, pulling away with reluctance and shaking her head. The kiss had almost distracted her enough that she forgot what he had said.
“He was given to me.” A woman stepped from the woods into their clearing. Her eyes shone like rubies, and a shiver went through Cordelia as she saw the moonlight bend around her, keeping its distance and the other woman in shadow. Delia’s arms slipped off from her husband’s shoulders and she took a step back, one hand on her stomach as she reached out to grab a tree branch with the other to steady herself. She had chills like when she was ill and her head spun. Darkness swirled around the woman and mimicked wings upon her back. Another breath and the shadows were made flesh and were true wings.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Did you take him! He is my husband, you cannot have him!” She took a step forward, but Jourdain stepped in front of the other woman, his back to Cordelia, putting himself in front of his wife and child.
He reached out and stopped Mora with a hand to her shoulder. It was a courtesy that she did not strike him away.
“Lady Mora,” he said with warning. She looked at him, and then past him, to Delia. She began to walk and passed through Jourdain as she were made of darkness.
Or was it Jourdain who was not solid?
When she stood before her Cordelia kept glaring at the woman who had taken her husband. She did not feel like fée, like Síofra, or even Lady Rhianu.
Mora raised her hand and touched Cordelia’s forehead, cupped her cheek, and then pulled her into her arms. The dizziness passed and the chills were replaced with warmth.
“Peace,” she whispered. The goddess of death understood life as well as decay, and she held the mother and her unborn child in her arms. “Peace,” she repeated, stroking at Cordelia’s unkempt gold curls, untangling their knots. “If you continue as you are, with your pain, and stress, both you and your child will be given to me. And I do not wish you in my domain, not yet.”
“You are Death.”
“I am, Cordelia. And Life. So you must be at peace, and understand, and take not these horrors with you.”
“Jourdain is dead,” she said softly as understanding dawned. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. She looked up into her husband’s eyes and saw then that the moonlight went through him and he cast no shadow.
Then Jourdain was beside her again, taking her into his arms, away from Death, holding her tight. A hand in her hair as he kissed her brow, and the other palming her middle and their child.
“I am safe,” he promised. His eyes sparkled behind unshed tears of his own. “I understand more than you know, and more than I did in life.”
“What happened to you?” she cried. “Who took your life? Who took you from me!” She wept and grabbed at his clothes, wanting him to stay with her, with their family, angry and frightened. She pulled him to her and gripped him so hard her muscles ached. “No, no, no…”
Jourdain held his wife and told her everything. Every reasoning and every truth, what he had known in life, and only found out after his death.
“I will talk to him, then! He can bring you back. You did not harm His Grace!”
“You will remember very little of this,” Mora spoke softly. Cordelia whirled around to face her, standing before her husband, straightening up as if she could stand between Death and her beloved. “The memory will be erased when you wake up, though the knowledge will remain in the deepest part of your heart and mind. You will be at peace, and live.”
“Non! I want to remember! Do not take him from me again!”
“I will never leave you,” Jourdain said. His arms wrapped around her from behind, and he kissed her ear, jaw, neck. “You need to be strong and live for Arielle, my dear. And for the other children you will have.”
“Arielle,” she whispered. She clung to the name. It was a lifeline, in the truest sense. Without her child she would choose death in an instant to be with her husband, but knowing their child would die made that an impossible choice. And other children? She would love, wed, again? Or perhaps he would return again some day, and for this future she had to live.
“Alright,” she said. She looked to Mora, who smiled at her, and then turned around to Jourdain, who kissed her again.
A growl interrupted them. Magec was there, in this place that was not the Duc’s Forest, and yet was. His tail was between his legs, not wanting to growl at Mora, but staying true to his order to protect.
“Ah, my dear Magec,” Mora said. The wolf whined, looking at Mora, Jourdain, and then back to Cordelia.
“She is my charge,” he said. “She should not be here.” He spoke? Oh, Lord Pierre practiced necrocræft and her dead husband was holding her, a speaking animal was the least odd thing this night.
“Yes, she is, and she should be,” Mora replied. “We are making sure she will understand and no longer suffer. Now I will return her to you.”
Jourdain kissed her once more.
“I love you.”
Cordelia righted herself, clutching a tree branch. She must have turned her head too fast and caught a spell of vertigo. Her eyes stung, and she reached up to touch tear-stained cheeks. Odd. Had the wind been cold? But she felt warm, and for the first time in weeks, calm and safe.
Magec bumped her hand and stuck his head under her arm to help her stand.
“Oh, thank you, Magec. Did you catch the poor rabbit you were chasing for a snack?” she asked. When the wolf sneezed she took that as a yes and laughed.
“Síofra!” she called. The red-headed girl dashed over into the clearing, relief on her face. “Oh, Lady Cordelia, I lost you a moment! Are you alright?”
“I am,” she said. “I am. Forgive me, I thought I saw something, but I was mistaken. Magec is here though.”
“Good, now come along again. And this time do not let go of my hand!”
The two walked around the woods for a time, looking for any fée that may wish to bargain, but found no one even though Síofra felt Faery again. They even entered the plane and Síofra, with great happiness and glee, showed her some flowers that did not grow in Cardinalis. But Cordelia told Síofra not to worry that they did not find Jourdain, this stroll together had helped her so much already.
Support "The Courting of Life and Death"
- Macabre Fantasy Romance
I write dark things that involve magic and romance. I love books and stories, and anime and gaming. I'm trying to Catch 'em All, I collect geeky pins, and listen to a lot of true crime podcasts.
The subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/Noctuina/