The Obedient Wife

Sonya Lano | 20/11/2011

“Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever unlock this door,” he warned her, settling his intense black eyes on her sternly before handing her the ring of keys.
It was the same routine every time he left. The command, the look, the handing over of his keys.
She wondered why he didn’t simply remove the key from the key ring and take it with him if he wanted her to stay out of the chamber so badly, but asking him might seem impertinent, and so she bit her lip on the insolent question and jangled the key ring in her hands, liking the soft clank of the keys as they clinked against one another.
“I won’t open it,” she promised, smiling demurely, and she meant it. Every time she said it she meant it.
She must be the perfect wife – an obedient one.
She had to be obedient. It had taken her forever to get a husband, and she wasn’t going to risk losing him.
He smiled his beautiful smile at her words and wrapped his arm around her waist to pull her close. “Obey me and all will be well,” he whispered against her lips like a secret before drawing her deep into a luxurious kiss. Then he was gone, leaving her wanting more as she stood alone in the corridor bereft of his touch with the keys still warm from his skin dangling from her palm.
She sighed. He never gave too much of himself, as if afraid she would start disliking his taste or his touch, and his scant affections left her starved for more…though she never pressed or nagged.
She must be obedient.
As if to console herself, she jangled the keys again, smiling at the musical sound and liking the way it covered his footfalls as he walked down the stairs away from her.
He would be crossing the foyer below by now and she knew he would want to see her before he left, so she walked out onto the gallery.
As she suspected, he halted in the doorframe, his dark hair and attire swallowing the sunlight. He met her gaze.
Remember, he mouthed.
Kiss me, she wanted to respond, but knew she must not.
She must be obedient.
And so she inclined her head. I will remember not to unlock your door, she promised silently. And if I do not, then I will remember your sweet body on mine and that will remind me to obey.
He smiled – a rare gift, also too infrequently bestowed and therefore a powerful inducement to make her strive to win another one.
She would obey. She must.
But once the front door shut behind him, she heard them again.
The whispers.
They always came whenever he stepped foot out of the house, as if they sensed his absence and wanted to fill the silence. She hadn’t mentioned them to him, afraid he would think her mad…or worse.
But she could hear them everywhere. Coming from the walls, the ceilings, even the floors. And not just here, but everywhere in the manor, following her through the corridors as she wandered the halls, flowing around her as she undressed, accompanying her even into her dreams…when she slept at all.
They were here somewhere, these concealed whisperers, hiding from her. She had already searched for them thoroughly, gradually making her way room by room, starting with the cellar where the murmurs were augmented a hundredfold and ending with the attic where they were disembodied and fractured. She had searched for hidden trapdoors or locked chambers, cells or oubliettes, but there were none that she could find. She had even looked in cupboards and drawers for tricks and found nothing.
The only room left to search was the forbidden one.
But she must not go in there.
She must be obedient.
And she would not risk her marriage for her sanity. It had taken her forever to find a husband, and even this one had come from afar, as he lived on an isolated island in the middle of a tempestuous sea, leaving only for business on the mainland.
Her parents had been glad to see her go – not that they didn’t love her; they did, but her magic disrupted theirs: weeds kept sprouting back up in her father’s garden and strangling his fragile blossoms and lovely herbs; roasting chickens and skewered swine would come to life and start trying to wriggle their way off the spit while her mother was cooking. It chafed on their magic, this interference, and they had been trying to marry her off for years, but no one would have her. Oh, she was pleasant enough to look at, some even claimed she was passably pretty and a few even found her beautiful, but her magic was somehow off and grated on her suitors’ powers.
In desperation, her parents had finally been reduced to advertising abroad, even throwing a bottle into the sea and ensorcelling it to find her a husband.
Then he had appeared.
In the middle of the night, banging on their door, bringing her and her parents downstairs while a raging storm lashed at the windows.
Her father had opened the door, and there he had stood. His long dark hair plastered to his skull by the torrential rains of the winter storm, a crumpled piece of parchment with water-blotched ink on it clutched in his pale, slender fingers – her parents’ plea.
“I’ll take her,” he said, his eyes traveling past her parents’ hunched figures to settle on her where she stood on the bottom step of their grand staircase, shivering in the storm-riled wind that whipped in through the open door. He held out his hand. “Come.”
And in a dream she had obeyed, entranced by his beauty, the sinister air he wore like a cloak, the look he fixed so intently on her face, and the small smirk he allowed himself when she come to a halt just before him.
Her mother started to say something but her father shushed her.
The man took their daughter round the shoulders and led her still in her nightshift outside into the driving rain, without allowing her time to pack a single thing or even to embrace her parents in farewell – but she was so dazed she didn’t realize it until the carriage door slammed shut and they were lurching down the road.
“Wait!” she cried, belatedly coming to her senses. “I’d like to kiss my parents goodbye!”
He smiled in the darkness – it was so potent she could literally feel it – and then he was beside her, his hand cupping the back of her neck and his breath warming her lips.
“If it’s kisses you want, all you have to do is ask,” he murmured and lowered his mouth to hers.
In an instant she forgot everything – her parents relegated to vague shapes in her mind, losing focus, blurring at the edges, fading in her memory as if she’d not seen them in years, not just mere minutes ago. Some part of her realized that this must be his magic, the magic of forgetting, the magic of binding, and that he was stealing her memories and taking her longings away so she wouldn’t ever want to go back home – wouldn’t even be able to get back home because she wouldn’t remember the way or even what it was named – but she let him take them because she didn’t want to go back. This – this passion he swept her up into was too luscious to resist or to tear herself away from.
And then he pulled back and the damage was done. Her home was lost to her, and her parents and their worries were distant memories that no longer touched her soul and could never lure her back to them.
Her soul now longed for him. And him only.
She had heard of such magic, of those who wielded the power to wipe away all other wishes from a person’s mind and bind that person’s thoughts and cravings to them so that the victim believed herself – or himself – hopelessly in love.
And in a way it was hopeless, as there was no way to escape such a bond or to retrieve one’s original desires once they had been obliterated into indifference.
But this was what she had wanted, and so she did not complain but reveled in the binding. She almost wished it were even more powerful, powerful enough even to annihilate her magic, powerful enough to make her absolutely obedient so she would never even be tempted to disobey and risk him discarding her.
But binding wasn’t controlling: being tied to him didn’t mean he ruled her every move, just ensured him she would never desire another…never desire anything other than him.
And still he gave so little of himself, as if afraid…afraid his magic would fail.
They had wed swiftly in a small chapel in a fishing town near the docks – she in her nightshift and he in his damp clothes – before he had hurried her bundled in his cloak onto his small private sailboat – such haste, she recalled, remembering his arm locked around her shoulders and his long strides eating up the distance between the chapel and his vessel, as if even after his binding, even after the ceremony, even after the kiss that had rendered her witless – as if even after all that he still feared she would change her mind and escape him.
She hadn’t. She was his wife. She would be obedient.
She had huddled close to the mainmast under a muddy tarp reeking of fish and sea refuse and had watched him manning the small vessel by himself, admiring his dark hair against the agate skyline and the sureness of his movements.
When they arrived at his manor, he had shown her to a room already stocked full of dresses, dresses close to her in size but all a bit too short, making her feel somewhat like a little girl wearing dresses she had outgrown.
But she did not complain. Nor did she ask who the dresses had belonged to before her. He might perceive that as inappropriate inquisitiveness.
Thanks to the binding, it didn’t take her long to accustom herself to the isolation of the place because, of course, she had him, her highest desire; but she often wondered what he desired. Was she what he yearned for above all else, or was there something else lurking in his wishes that made him restless and dissatisfied?
He certainly never looked dissatisfied, and his focus on her was absolute when he talked to her or…did other things to her.
And yet…he had this doomed air about him, as if he seemed to be waiting for something, expecting something from her.
That was another reason she could never be disobedient. He was watching for the slightest provocation…
It wasn’t worth it. Especially not when there was only one command he wanted obeyed.
She sighed, jangling the keys as she paced the empty halls – the whispering halls. Not that she wanted to disobey.
She didn’t.
But the whispers were becoming unbearable. They even seemed to increase in volume, as if there were more of them now. And she was certain that they were coming from the forbidden room. Every time she passed it now she could almost make out their words.
Come to us. Save us.
Then she would stop and listen and they would be garbled again and she would wonder if she was going mad from the sound, hearing words where there were only incoherent murmurs. She would walk on and there it would come again.
Come to us. Save us…
But when she halted and tilted her head to hear better, she couldn’t discern a single word, as if this were some sort of morbid game they were playing with her. She hated it. Who did these whispering voices belong to?
She found herself walking back and forth in front of the chamber, rattling the keys, ignoring the voices and catching a phrase or two then whirling around only to lose it again. She probably looked like a madwoman prowling in front of the locked door – she certainly felt like one.
Come to us, they whispered.
“Stop it!” she cried.
Save us.
“Shut up!”
Open the door.
She pressed her hands against her ears and backed away.
She must be obedient.
Must be obedient.
Open the door, they whispered, Open the door.
The keys clinked right by her ear.
She must be obedient.
We beg you, they implored.
Beg you.
Beg you…
No! She flattened herself against the wall and closed her eyes, trying to block them out, but once she was shut off from the light, their voices gained strength, assumed a terrifying clarity. She could hardly even hear the keys that clanked right beside her ear.
We beg you…beg you –
Set us free…
She could feel their despair now, their overwhelming despair, and it wrenched at her entrails like hooked blades – a sickle dug deep into her core, tearing, rending –
With a sob she flung herself at the door, her hands shaking violently as she sifted through the keys.
She knew which one it was.
The only one she’d never used.
You must obey, the voice in her mind tried again.
It went unheard, drowned out by the beseeching whispers.
The key turned.
The lock clicked.
The door swung open.
The voices stopped.
Silence. Utter. Absolute.
Still trembling uncontrollably, she peered into the room – and froze in debilitating horror.
Dead, mutilated bodies and bloody limbs lay strewn about the floor like toys flung aside by a petulant child. The stone was stained dark red, almost black under what looked to be fourteen gory, partially dismembered corpses.
And in the middle of the carnage stood her husband.
The glint of madness in his eyes.
“I knew you would come,” he smiled genially, as if he were greeting her over tea. “So nice of you to oblige.”
She spun around to flee but something invisible – magic? – gripped her around the neck and hauled her back.
“Not so fast,” he admonished her with a wicked chuckle and started to cross the bloodstained floor. “It’s time for you to die.”
It was then that she noticed the bloody axe in his hand.
So this had been the fate of her predecessors. The dresses she wore had belonged to his previous wives…and he had murdered them all. Every single one.
“You idiot,” she snarled. “You don’t know what I am.”
His feral grin widened as he approached. “You’re my next victim.”
“I’m a necromancer,” she spat. “I make things come back to life. Weeded plants, dead animals – even if they’re already roasting…Even murdered wives return.”
He stopped then, his eyes widening as he heard a shuffle from behind him.
He whipped around, coming face to face with fourteen ghoulish, grinning corpses, their bloody limbs sliding across the floor to reattach to their bodies.
“Goodbye,” she whispered as they converged on him, unshed tears in her eyes. His axe swung madly…but he could not kill the already dead. His unearthly scream as they took him down in a bloody swarm would haunt her forever.
Then the walking cadavers turned to her.
Thank you, they whispered.
Thank you.
We are now free.
And they collapsed where they stood in a ring around her dead husband.
She fell to her knees and reached out to touch his corpse but stopped herself before she did.
I’m sorry I wasn’t obedient, she apologized to the gruesomely defaced carcass, and wished she could cry for him.
Then a door slammed downstairs. Someone called her name.
Her heart stopped. She would recognize that voice anywhere. It was him calling her name.
She froze as footsteps pounded on the stairs and down the hallway, his voice growing frantic now. For an instant the footfalls stopped – he’d seen the open door – then he said her name again, this time anguished.
The running footsteps resumed and he appeared breathless in the doorway, his eyes widening as they took in the slaughtered bodies. Then his gaze settled on her and she was suddenly in his arms, his hands touching her as if to ensure him that she was whole, his lips brushing across her cheeks, her hair, her mouth.
“You’re alive,” he whispered, wonder in his voice. “You’ve killed him.”
“Not me,” she answered guardedly, not knowing whether to trust him or not. “Your – his…previous wives.”
Then he realized how rigid she was with terror and abruptly dropped his hands and stepped back, a pained look on the face she still called beloved.
“He was my twin brother,” he stated flatly. “But while my magic is forgetting and binding; his is – was – remembrance and imprisonment. It drove him mad.”
She stiffened. Imprisonment magic was the most dangerous kind – enabling someone absolute control over someone else if they spilled that person’s blood. Most babies born with such magic were killed at birth…but it wasn’t unheard of for loving mothers to hide such children away and keep them hidden under lock and key.
“He’s had me imprisoned for years,” her husband continued in a deadened voice, “ever since he cut me in a childhood accident. He’s been playing this horrible game with me since then, forcing me to keep his existence a secret, forcing me to go out and find women, seduce and marry them and bring them back here and leave them alone once a month with the command not to unlock this door. Some resisted for a while, but they all opened it. And they all died by his hand.”
And yet death had not freed them because their spilled blood had enabled him to imprison their spirits, she realized. Those had been the voices she’d heard begging for release.
Her husband looked at her carefully. “You have freed me from him,” he said warily, “and I feel obliged to release you from your bond to me,” he swallowed and looked away, “that is, if you wish to go.”
If she wished to go? After all the trouble she’d gone through to finally get a husband?
“Do you want to break our bond?” she inquired softly, because I don’t, she added inwardly – though she couldn’t make herself say it aloud. “I’ll understand if you don’t want a necromancer for a wife—”
He had her in his arms in an instant. “Who gives a damn about that? You can’t conceive of how much I lo –” he shook himself. “When I returned and thought he’d gotten you, too…it was like losing the ground beneath my feet. I never want to feel like that again. I want to keep you with me for the rest of my life.”
She smiled, a tentative tendril of happiness unfurling within her. “Then keep me,” she invited.
“With pleasure,” he smiled his rare smile and drew her out into the corridor to shut the door on the butchery within. Drawing her into a deep, glorious kiss, he added, “Just as long as you don’t bring my brother back.”

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