Gah! Keeping up with this is harder than I had thought. Who plans this during the holidays? Clearly, I do. I love it, don't get me wrong, but I don't want to flake-out and miss a post.
I should have considered my two sons are off school and my hubs has lots of free time, which means lots of outings. Disney Springs, favorite restaurants, and planning Cole's (my youngest) fifteenth birthday this weekend. Yep. That little guy came into the world on December 30th. So close to being a New Years baby.
Anywho. The show must go on, so as promised, please enjoy day 9 of FATED TO DIE. Hope you're ready for more, because you're getting it! Tee,hee.
I stare at the closed door, waiting to hear a key turn, locking me in.
Does that mean there is no lock, or does he trust me not to leave? Maybe he doesn't have to trust me because pain will be my punishment should I attempt any escape.
Curious, I step to the door and reach for the handle. The leaves of the plant straighten toward the ceiling.
I freeze. How does it know what I’m doing? It doesn't have eyes. Maybe it heard the floor creak under my shoes. But plants don’t have ears.
"Hello?" I ask in a timid voice.
It doesn't respond.
Laughter bubbles up in me. Silly girl.
Exhaustion hits me with a heavy yawn. I touch my forehead and close my eyes for a moment. The events of the day are finally catching up to me. I should sleep.
I shuffle to the door at the back of the cottage. Grit and gravel scrape the floor as I pull it open. It leads to another small room with only a cot and lantern. A coarse blanket covers a thin mattress. When I fluff it, dust puffs around my face, making me cough and sneeze. I hustle into the other room and breathe in less dusty air. The chair beside the fireplace catches my eye. Seems like a good enough place to sleep.
I hope there are no rules against spending the night in the chair versus the bedroom—if you can it that. The plant doesn't seem to mind. Its leaves hang in a natural way, like it's content or sleeping. Maybe it is. Maybe I could….
My gaze lands on the front door—the unlocked front door—and then back on the peaceful plant. Adrenaline surges through me with the thought of escaping.
I could try to get away, run home and see my family. If I can find my way back to the village. I don't know where I am, and I have no means of protection against the night creatures in the woods.
Another yawn claims me, draining the rush of energy from my body. My shoulders sag and every part of begs for sleep. Even if I could make it outside, I wouldn't get far. My body needs to rest.
Escape will have to wait until tomorrow.
Muscles aching, I lower onto the chair. The cushion is lumpy, but at least I'm not choking on dust. A sigh leaves me. It feels good to be off my feet. I prop them on the footstool and let my head rest against the high back of the chair. Only then do I let my thoughts drift to my family.
The look of hurt and betrayal in Father's eyes—I'll never forget. I should have told him I couldn't mate with Tristin. I owed him the truth, to prepare him in case I was chosen. At the time, I didn't think it was a possibility. I still can't believe this is my fate.
A shutter of sadness rips through me at the thought of my sisters. I can only imagine how they reacted when Father showed up home without me. They must be so confused, so scared, and hurt that I led them to believe everything would be fine. I didn't even tell them goodbye. They were still in the barn with Daisy when Father and I left.
Tears burn my eyes. I bury my head in the corner of the chair, hating myself. I have to fix this. I have to get back to Father and the twins if only to apologize and promise them I will survive. I will not be like the other girls. I'm not like other girls now. The situation will be different for me. I have to believe that.
I wake with a stretch and groan. The soft mattress bends under my weight, and warm blankets twist with my body. I can't remember the last time I slept this well. Since the twins are not jumping on my bed, they must still be sleeping.
Morning light shines behind my closed eyelids. Time to greet the day. I blink my eyes open. A sheer white canopy with light purple flowers hangs above me. The scent of lavender fills the air.
This isn't my bed. Thin, smooth branches twisted together act as the posters holding the canopy. A white lush blanket covers the bed with thin white linen underneath.
The room is smaller than mine, with white wood panels on the walls. To the right, sunlight filters through a window draped in sheer fabric. The dresser and nightstand are made of the same smooth wood as the bed.
Whose room is this, and why am I here?
I sit up. In the corner, a small dingy lantern catches my gaze.
Memories bombard me. The boy surrounded in mist. The ceremony. The look in Father's eyes when I was chosen as Messenger.
My chest tightens, and my heart races. I spring from the bed, vaguely noting the white nightgown covering my body. Last night, I was in that battered cottage. I fell asleep in that old chair by the fireplace.
I stumble from the bedroom and freeze. The area is the same but different. Like in the bedroom, wood panels in white line the walls. The sheer drapes over the windows weren't here last night. They flank either side of the stone fireplace, which looks restored.
Light green fabric with white flowers covers plush cushions on the chair beside the fireplace. The small wooden table shines like it's newly polished. The same book sits on top. I trace a finger over the gold etchings, and a tingle sizzles on my skin.
It's like a spell is cast over the cottage. The only spells I know of are dark, like the one in our village. How else could all of this have changed? How else could I have fallen asleep in the chair and end up in the other room, in a beautiful bed, dressed in the softest nightgown I've ever worn?
I draw in a breath and inhale a sweet, warm scent. The dining table is set for one with a bowl of creamed oats, a side of mixed berries, and a glass of milk. The food wasn't here when I came out of the room.
"Who did this?" I search of the small room for the source. "Did you?" I ask the plant that looks as relaxed as last night.
It doesn't even twitch a leaf in response.
My stomach rumbles. I pluck a blackberry from the top of the creamed oats. The fruit looks fresh, the texture good, the scent normal. My mouth waters. One blackberry can't hurt. I eat it. Mmm. It tastes perfect.
The front door opens. I whip around, expecting to see the mist-covered boy, but no one enters.
"Hello?" I step in that direction.
"Turn around." The boy's voice sounds from outside.
"Why?" I take another step.
"Do it," he commands.
Humph. I twist away and cross my arms.
Footsteps creak over the wood floors. I don't remember him making sounds yesterday.
"Close your eyes and straighten your head," he orders from close behind me, making me wonder if I should be afraid. A cool soft material covers my eyes.
"What are you doing?" I reach up to feel a satin mask.
"It's for your own good, considering you've already forgotten the rules." He ties it snuggly at the back of my head. "I presume you'd prefer a verbal reminder not to speak instead of a painful reminder."
I open my mouth to thank him but nod instead. This no talking thing will be my greatest challenge yet.
Something he said last night pierces my thoughts. "Do not speak unless I ask you a direct question." Perhaps a few more words won't result in pain.
"Will you do me the favor of asking me questions? There is so much I want to know."
When he doesn't respond, I face him and point at my mask.
He sigh as as if annoyed, but I detect a note of humor. "Very well. The mask is to train you to remember you are not to look at me or my mother when in our presence. You will keep your head and eyes down, so you can see where you're walking, but only where you're walking."
Why? I shrug and shake my head to convey my confusion. Is she as hideous as the rumors say? Is he? His eyes are silver, I know that, but everything else about him seems normal—what I could see through the mist. Maybe he has scars or burns or is disfigured in some way. I want to tell him it wouldn't bother me if he is. I've been considered flawed my whole life because of my eyes. Again, I shrug and shake my head like I’m confused.
He takes my arm and steers me forward. "Eat. You'll need your strength tonight."
Tonight? When I meet her? That sends a chill through my bones.
When I don't move, he guides me onto the chair. "Eat."
I don't want to, even though my stomach is grumbling like a hungry animal in the woods.
He flips my hand upside down and places cold metal on my palm. A spoon? Feeling around, I find the bowl and lean close to the table. Then I attempt to scoop oats onto my spoon and feed myself.
I aim for my parted lips. The spoon hits the corner of my mouth. Half of the warm oats make it onto my tongue, while the other half drips down my chin. I pat the table for a napkin. My thumb ends up in the bowl. I let out a frustrated squeal and almost rip off the mask.
A napkin lands on my hand. After wiping my chin and thumb clean, I sit back and fold my hands on my lap. I will not be trying that again.
"You need to eat," he stresses.
I can't. I gesture to the mask, my jaw pressed tight.
"Am I to feed you, then?" he asks as if the task is beneath him.
Frustrated, I push away from the table and cross my arms. I can't see. I can't speak. How am I supposed to do anything?
He exhales with the same annoyance as before. "I will leave you to eat and dress for the day. You will find everything you need in the cottage. Do not remove your mask until you know I am gone. When I return, I will knock. You are to secure the mask before I enter.
A moment later, the door opens and closes. I tear off the mask and blink my vision clear.
"So stupid," I hiss before realizing I've spoken out loud. When my focus returns, I can't believe my eyes. The cottage is the same dirty, decrepit space from last night.
Did I imagine the beautiful transformation, or did he do something when he left?
At least the food is still here, smelling as delicious as it did before.
I devour the oatmeal, hungrier than I thought, and head to the bedroom to get dressed. The canopy bed is replaced with the ragged cot. Gray torn fabric blocks most of the sunlight from the window. My white dress hangs from a hook on the adjacent wall. Dirt no longer coats the hem. I sniff the fabric. Freshly laundered. How?
Fear shoots down my spine. I dig in the pocket for Mother's butterfly brooch. Thank the Blessed Ones it's there. I don't know what I would do if I lost it. It also appears to have been cleaned. I kiss the stones and pat the cottage wall, grateful for the kind deed. After placing it back in the pocket, I turn to find a claw-foot tub filled with water.
The water is warm to the touch, the perfect temperature. I smile in thanks. The bath is exactly what I need. Feeling a thousand times better, I drain the tub and dress. Then I shake out the dusty bed cover and place it neatly on the lumpy cot.
Just because I have to stay here doesn't mean I have to live in a mess. I have a tub with water, soap, and a towel. I can tidy up the cottage and make it better.
As soon as I grab the towel, the place changes back to the white cozy cottage, canopy bed and all. The tub has vanished, the window covered with white sheers.
I race to the other room. It's restored, as well.
In awe, I spin in a circle, taking it in.
Two knocks rap on the door.
I stiffen and scramble to the table to get the mask. Quickly, I tie it around my head.
The door creaks open. "I'm entering."
I nod. It's all I can do.
"I see you are relaxed again," he says.
How would he know? I lift my palm in question.
"The cottage rewards kindness and good behavior." Shoes shuffle in my direction. "But only to the pure of heart. It's one of the reasons why the Messenger must be a virgin."
I swallow. Talking about my virginity with my father was bad enough. Talking about it with a stranger who's holding me captive is even worse.
A new scent touches my nose. Cloves. Mmm. Mother used to make clove-flavored tea. It's my favorite, especially when paired with molasses cookies. I sniff the air, trying to determine its source. Is it coming from him? He's so close I can feel heat from his body.
"What are you doing?" he asks, giving me permission to speak.
I could clap with joy. "Smelling you and reliving a memory of my mother." I lean closer, breathing him in. "Delicious."
It sounds like he's stumbling away from me.
I reach out to help him, grabbing only air. "Are you all right?"
He clears his throat. "I'm fine. Save your words before you're punished for them," he scolds.
"You shouldn't be talking or sniffing me. You should be frightened. You are to meet her tonight. You are to deliver an item of clothing to a person who's Fated to Die. Doesn't that bother you?"
"Of course, it bothers me." My blood heats. "Everything about this bothers me. I can't see. I can't speak. I have no idea what to expect tonight, if I can pass all that is required without breaking any rules, or if I can survive to see my family again. I betrayed their trust in the worst way, and I can't even apologize or explain myself to them. I may never be able to."
The truth of that crashes over me, and my heart cries out in pain. I can't let that happen. I can't.
Hands rest on my shoulders. "You have a chance to survive this. I will help you."
My head lifts with a gasp. I mouth the word, "Why?"
His hands move away. "It is my job to keep you well so you can do your tasks as Messenger."
I'm no better off than a cow or pig being prepped to be slaughtered. How unfortunate. If I'm to get through this I need to be numb. Tucking away my emotions, I straighten my spine, ready for what awaits me.
"I thought you could practice walking around without the blindfold," he says.
Despite my surprise, I nod.
With gentle fingers, he unties the mask at the back of my head. "Keep your head and gaze down. That will help."
I blink until I can see. The first thing in my line of sight besides the light wood floor is a pair of black boots. His boots. They are shiny and large, but then he is tall, almost a head taller than me. The temptation to follow those boots upward and take in the boy before me is agonizing.
Even if I weren't curious by nature, I'd want to know who is caring for me. Wait. That's not right. He's not caring for me. He's holding me captive. Or is he just his mother's puppet? A prisoner like me, forced to do her bidding? Perhaps he can help me get word to my family that I'm all right and so very sorry for deceiving them. Perhaps he can truly help me survive this, and I can return to my family in the end.
I need to dedicate myself to doing everything right. To being as perfect as I can be.
First, though, I need to know one thing. Keeping my head down, I pretend to hold a quill and scroll on paper.
"You would like to write a letter?" he asks.
Clever boy. "I would like to communicate with you, and since speaking isn't possible without being asked a direct question, I thought it could help me learn things. Like your name."
He steps back.
"You know mine," I add. "It's only fair I know yours."
He backs away more. "I am to direct you, and you are to follow my instructions. There is no need for you to know my name."
Not a question. Darn. No pen, either.
Again, I lift my hand and fake scrolling on paper.
When he doesn't respond or move from his spot, I close my eyes and lift my face. I touch my palms together like I'm pleading for him to do this for me.
"I don't know if I'm permitted to provide paper and pen for you. No one has ever asked for such things." His shoes tap toward the fireplace, and I can sense his frustration. "But then again you are not the typical Messenger. Praya with two different colored eyes." His voice drops to a whisper.
Never has my name sounded so pretty.
I turn my face to him, wondering something and daring to ask it. Maybe my defiance will convince him to help me, as he so states is his duty. "Do you fear the two different colors are a mark of darkness?"
He clears his throat, seeming unsettled, and takes a moment to respond. "Not a mark of darkness, but a symbol no less."
Drawing in a breath, I brace myself for the pain that could come with these very words. When nothing happens, I open my mouth to ask another question.
"Wait!" he calls out. Seconds tick by. "You may ask me anything you wish until I tell you otherwise."
My bottom lip drops, and my eyelashes flutter to open without thought.
"Do not look at me," he barks.
I drop my head and squeeze my eyes closed. He grants me a wish, and I ruin it by almost looking at him. I need to focus. "I'm sorry. I don't want to fail you or my family."
A small gasp sounds from him. "Fail me?"
"I assume my ability to serve your mother reflects on you as you are my teacher. Therefore, if I do well for you, I will do well for her, and we both will be rewarded in the end. I'll get my freedom, and you'll get ... what would you get?" Eyes closed, I lift my face to him. "What would you want?"
"You ask a lot of questions." His tone deepens.
"You gave me permission to."
"Not those kinds of questions." His boots shuffle toward the door.
"Forgive me, sir," I add, not knowing what else to call him. Boy feels too disrespectful, and I can't have him angry with me. "I did not mean to offend you. Please don't go, sir."
"Dacian," he says with an ounce of anger. "My name is Dacian. I prefer it to sir."
Dacian. What a lovely name.
"Thank you for sharing that with me." I smile. "Will you please stay, Dacian?"
His hesitation has me bowing my head and opening my eyes so I can move toward him. His black boots come into to focus. They're turned sideways as if he's about to open the door and leave.
"Please," I murmur, so curious as to what he looks like.
"I'll be back before dawn to collect you." The door opens and he disappears outside.