XLVII.

The blinding rays of sunlight from the windows did not help the drums in his skull. Then an observation, alarm: his chamber did not have such a span of windows. Nor were the curtains pink.

A part of him already knew where he was and the excruciating memories spilled forth from that spot. He gasped, sat up too suddenly. Dread, shame, a search for his tunic, trembling.

“You are finally awake,” The demoness poised before her dressing table, spoke into the mirror at his reflection as she brought her hair in all arrangements of ugly.

“You,” His voice was but a pathetic croak. “How could you…do such a thing to anyone?”

“Dearest,” She finally decided upon a side for her mane, and Horatio only wanted to rip each strand from its roots as insufficient revenge. “I am sorry for your discomfort, I’ve already sent for a doctor. But, I would not had to do this had you been –” She drew out the word to leave space for him to remember every agonizing detail, “– willing.”

His legs refused to budge. “Monster.”

You are the monster, Horatio,” She hissed, turning from the mirror to face him. “You left me.”

He was unwilling to admit the way his hand trembled in fear as she approached him; powerless, his mind drifted inevitably to her, and his heart stopped.

God no, nono, nonono.

Rosamond read his horror as she smiled, “Soon enough even your beloved would know that you are the monster.”

“Athlem would believe me,” His mind stated firm faith aloud, though another voice questioned: why should she? I am defiled, willingly or not I’ve shared a bed with another. Just saying her name was blasphemous. He was unworthy of it.

Of her.

At that a gentle rapping made Horatio curse his unmoving body more as Rosamond explained, “It’s probably just the doctor.”

Good, he thought, it is much easier to dispose of a hired servant. Then it dawned upon him, “No you can’t, you will kill me.”

“Don’t be silly, my dear,” Rosamond teased with forged innocence with a hand on the handle, “It’s just the doctor.”

There was no escape. His underestimation of Rosamond’s insanity ruined him. The handle turned, mahogany yielded, and he was frozen as his life fell apart the moment the visitor stepped into the room, drowning.

Her hair was plaited beneath her usual cap saved for the strands left out to give an illusion of a cropped look: she insisted to keep it long despite the trouble since they both loved it when he ran his hand through it. She drowned herself in the blue tunic she stole from him when they were much younger, loose enough to render her frame masculine. These things seemed like a Saint’s relic, buried him alive.

Athlem bowed to the noble woman with cold civility. Then the sun and moon of his sky fell upon him: he had no choice but to watch the odd-colored depths widen and water. She drew a sharp breath. Shock, confusion, denial.

Betrayal.

She was the one to tear her eyes down over the crumpled sheets and floor of discarded clothes, remembered to gasp for breath.

Rosamond watched the wordless exchanged with pretended obliviousness, “Apologies to bother you, Doctor Denthea, but I was wondering if you could examine my lip,” In a desperate search of distraction, Athlem crossed the room and turned her back to him as she saw to the small cut on the woman’s lower lip. “I told you to be gentle, Horatio,” the noble purred.

He couldn’t hear Rosamond, his ears rung. Athlem was deathly quiet, turning to her case of medicine as she took a glass of water sprinkled with a fine crystal for the lady, “Flush with this.”

“What is this?”

“Salt to disinfect your injury. Is that all you called me here for?” To add salt to my injury? He heard the unspoken line and it stung.

“Athlem,” His tongue finally decided to work; Rosamond grinned and left for the bath with the salt water. “Please, I –” Her shoulders tensed at his voice, so broken, so eager for understanding; words caught again when she turned to face him, her eyes nailed to the floor to measure the distance between them.

What could he say to redeem himself? The truth, but he refused to relive the nightmare.

“Does Your Highness feel ill? Pray tell,” Athlem muttered to the rug.

“Athlem…” And he thought he was in pain before.

“Pray. tell.” She gnashed her teeth.

Then he saw the line of silver drawing its track down her cheek. What can he do? The truth, she had to hear it from him.

“I was…drugged, Athlem, I was leaving the meeting when she stabbed me with something in the neck and I…” He still couldn’t bring himself to retell it, everything ached.

Athlem made her way to him, tilted his chin and sharply turned it from one side then the other to examine his neck to corroborate with his story, “What did you feel?”

Shame, humiliation, fear? “Numbness…and I couldn’t move.”

“Approximately what hour was it when you were ‘drugged’ as you said?”

“I…don’t remember…there were multiple…ministrations,” He flinched away, disgust crept up his throat.

A thought passed by her eyes, but she drew from her bag a small dagger instead.

“Ath?” She unsheathed it, grabbed his arm; he winced at her forceful contact, “I can’t…tell you the full truth. It’s too…” filthy.

She drew a thin line across his wrist with the blade, collected the few droplets that surfaced in a vile before bandaging the insignificant  cut, “Some vixen they throw in your way, huh?”

“Athlem –”

She took her bag, bid, “Good day to you, Your Highness,” before slamming the door, disappeared.

“Good day indeed,” Horatio would’ve strangled Rosamond for her retort had he not been deaf, his bandaged hand grasped at thin air as he drowned in his own filth and the end of his world.

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