vineri, 29 iunie 2018

Servants of fate

"Men fight wars.
Women win them."

"What's your name...?"
She's been quiet by the foot of the massive four-poster bed, playing with her doll, brushing and braiding her hair, all the while gently telling her silly tales in a low voice. And it wasn't even her voice that woke him from his deep, dreamless slumber, but a splitting headache that seemed to be growing in intensity.
It took him a few moments to register her question and a few more to answer it. In his hazy state, she looked more like a hallucination than a real, breathing child, with her tousled dark brown waves and curious eyes.
"My name is... Gregory... I think... What are you doing here?"
His head hurts and it feels almost like an entire swarm of irritated wasps took up their abode there.
"I'm braiding Lizzie's hair, you silly! Look!"
Of course, she'd be talking about her doll while shoving the thing in his face.
"Her name is Princess Elizabeth, but Jane said that I can call her Lizzie. Jane is a princess too, so she knows those things."
Her voice is lost, concealed by the wasps' angry whirrs, while her silhouette becomes obscured and once more, Gregory falls in a fitful torpor, under the doll's immobile and piercing, black stare.

"You do sleep a lot... "
She's in the same place when he wakes up one more time, but the doll is no more. She's playing with a couple of silk ribbons that she probably found somewhere around, on one of the ladies' vanities.
"I came to see you yesterday too, but you were still asleep."
"Yesterday? What day is it?"
His voice is hoarse and his throat is burning with every word, yet he doesn't have the power to sit up and fumble for a glass of water.
"I don't know..."
She actually sounds unsure, so he doesn't insist. He's too tired for it anyway and what good would it do to him to know the day or the date? He's still trying to grasp what happened to him, but for now, it looks like he'll have to do it without his little companion's help. He recognizes the room as the bedroom he usually uses when he stays at his hunting lodge, but he can't recall how he got there. Or why his head keeps aching even when he blinks. So he simply gestures for the water carafe and hopes that she'll do him a favour and bring a glass of water.
Only when he sees her trying her hardest to pick up and bring forth the carafe, does he realize that she can't be older than 5 or 6. She doesn't bring a glass, but she manages not to spill all the water by the time she hands it to him, so he's not going to find fault in her, especially now that he can see how wet her skirts are. Fortunately, she doesn't seem to notice and only looks glad to have something to do around.
He falls asleep again after that.

Later that night he dreams. It's something he probably won't remember by the time he wakes up again, but he has the sensation he's not alone in the room. Through his sleepy state, he can distinguish the soft rustle of a woman's skirts and he can't quite place the mild perfume he senses over the wrist of the cool palm that rests on his feverish forehead, even though he's sure he should recognize it. It can't belong to his little aide, but it does bring back memories of his youth. For a moment, he thinks it might be his late mother's ghost and he worries that he might be dead, but the ache in his entire body feels too alive, so he abandons that train of thoughts and falls back asleep.

"Maman said you had a fever again last night."
It's been like this for as long as he can remember. Ever since he opened his eyes and saw her for the first time. It must have been weeks by now, but he's not sure exactly how many. She's there every time he wakes up and each time he falls asleep. She doesn't make too much noise, but he can still feel her presence even before he opens his eyes.
"I feel better now."
"I know. You don't have a fever no more."
Her little hand is warm on his forehead and so petite. She smells a little bit of milk too, but he supposes that's what babies smell like. She's still a baby to him and sometimes he wonders why she isn't in the nursery. But she wears little dresses, so she must be old enough to wander the halls.
"I went horseriding yesterday! Well, it was a pony, not an entire horse..."
She sounds excited, so he lets her continue because he simply doesn't know what he is supposed to say. He hasn't exactly spent much time around children this young, even though he's the oldest brother and he has 5 children of his own.
"Dolly was really sweet, but she tripped and I almost fell! I didn't get scared though."
"I fell off a horse once... I think."
Now that he's said it, he tries to summon the experience, but it just seems to bring another headache, so he gives up.
"I know. Maman said you fell and hurt yourself pretty bad."

"Why are you always around? Don't you have anywhere else to be?"
"Everybody's so busy around and they forget about me. Well, maman doesn't forget me, but she's tired a lot. She's here too, you know? As soon as you fall asleep or ill, she comes here and watches over you."
He already came to the conclusion that her mother must be the woman he dreamt about. She doesn't smell like a servant, so that's another thing he knows. And the little girl isn't dressed in servant clothes either.
"Aren't there other children for you to play with? Siblings or friends?"
"I used to play with my cousins, but they're not here. They stayed back home and tante Agnes went back to them two weeks ago, when you started to get better. And I don't think I have siblings to play with."
"You don't think?"
"Maman said I have brothers and sisters, but that they're not here anymore. She get's said when she talks about them like she gets sad when she talks about grand-mere and grand-pere too and they died when I was very little, so I think my siblings are dead too."
She sounds very detached when speaking about death, but he assumes she doesn't fully understand the concept. Or the inevitableness and the fact that people don't come back or get better from being dead.

It has been close to 3 months since he first woke up after his accident and summer is almost here. His entire room doesn't smell like a sick man's bedchamber anymore so he guesses that, along with the fact that he doesn't have a fever anymore must be a good sign. His body still doesn't feel like his anymore, with his head too heavy and his arms and legs too light, but it's getting better almost every day. And his memories are back. He's been slowly remembering bits and pieces every day, putting names to faces and deciphering everything, so today, when she finally decides to remain by his side when he wakes up, he can call her by her name.
"I was almost expecting you to run back to your brother and sister-in-law as soon as I started getting better." It doesn't go as planned, because as soon as he catches his first glimpse of her in 7 years he forgets all his carefully practiced arguments, but he still manages to take her hand - still cold, in spite of the warm weather, he can't help but notice - into his and says, in a tone warmer than he first intended "I'm glad to see you, Alleken. Let us go out into the gardens. I'm ready to hear your story..."

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