In the Chill, Relentless Rain

Sonya Lano | 05/12/2011

There she was, standing in the rain, the chill, relentless rain, in a long pale dress, a girl without a name.
Truly without a name, for she could remember nothing, not how she’d come to be lying alone on the side of the road, not why her dress was torn near to shreds and hanging upon her thin body, nor even who she was. All she knew was this moment, as if she had been birthed fully formed and her voyage into this world had been a rough one that had left her bloody and battered.
She had climbed to her feet, wincing at the pain shooting through her limbs, and now she merely stood, lost and forlorn, a solitary figure on an abandoned road, her only companion the impersonal touch of the rain. She wrapped her arms around her frail shoulders to try to hunch into herself and block out the biting cold and the invasive drizzle that mercilessly targeted every single bared spot of skin upon her. Bruises on her arms she wasn’t aware she had smarted under the bony fingers digging into her skin and every shiver pained her aching body.
Darkness was falling, rendering it nigh on impossible to see beyond ten feet, and still she knew not where to go or what to do.
That was when she heard them: the clop clop of horse hooves galloping along the road.
“Please!” she called into the darkness at the unseen rider, her voice hoarse as if she hadn’t used it in a long time. “Please stop!”
The whinny of a horse pierced the night as the yet invisible traveler dragged the reins in and continued at a slower pace. He emerged from the misty drizzle, a dark silhouette on a massive but emaciated warhorse whose ribs she could probably count. The rider’s eyes found her in the gloom – she knew even though she couldn’t yet make out his features because his head swerved her direction and then he steered his mount toward her. As he and his gaunt horse came closer, she noted with shock that he wore a sleeveless jerkin with no doublet underneath, leaving his arms bared to the elements and exposing what appeared to be a blood-red mastodon tattooed on his right arm, which was lined with lean muscle that spoke of the same undernourishment as his beast. She squinted as he approached and dismounted directly before her.
Ah, now she saw him clearly.
His face under the black hair plastered to his head was sharp-featured like a hawk’s, a strip of cloth slanted across one eye, a jagged scar slashed across one cheek and an arcane symbol branded on the other.
As his single dark eye fell upon her, shock flickered to life in his face.

“My lady!”
Exavier dropped to his knees in front of the royal daughter who everyone had thought dead.
For though it was beyond belief, it was her. He would bet his life on it.
Gone was her lush, hourglass figure, gone the air of haughtiness that had won her so much antipathy from the servants, gone the fine silken clothes she had vaunted so pompously, replaced instead with garments a homeless tatterdemalion would be ashamed to don, gone the flawless, untouched skin no one had dared to flay or mar.
There was no reason he should recognize her.
No reason save one.
He had loved her.
She dug her hands into his wet hair and dragged his bowed head back, the shock of her touch vaulting through his body...even now, after all these months...after all her cold rejection.
“You know who I am?” she asked, desperation flooding her delicate features – features that someone had tried to destroy and failed, because he could still see their beauty.
He would always see their beauty.
Her question startled him and for a moment he stared. What had she said?
Realizing the impropriety of having her fingers tangled in his hair, she abruptly jerked them back and the mouth he had so longed to kiss trembled with fear. “I beg your pardon,” she dipped her head in a still elegant bow, her apology heartrending to one who had never seen her humbled so before. She looked away, biting her quivering lip and denying him her yet lovely eyes. “I woke here – by the side of the road – with no knowledge of who I am or how I came to be here,” she whispered, her voice barely audible and laced with pain and shame.
Her words struck him so hard he reeled, dizzy. “You don’t know who you are?” he repeated vacantly.
A small, stiff shake of her head. “No.” Her fingers clenched at her sides and she heaved a deep, shuddering breath.
You’re the princess, he could say. I was your father’s watchdog. I protected the decrepit, sanctimonious ass who called himself our kingdom’s ruler but who was an uxorious weakling who let his dominating wife rule in his stead. A woman who so antagonized the kingdom that the peasants rebelled. They murdered them despite how I tried to save them – leaving me to die as I lay at the feet of their slaughtered bodies.
Leaving me with but one eye.
He still remembered how he’d regained consciousness frantic to find her, to save her if it wasn’t too late. But he had never been stupid and he’d known they would kill him if they realized he still lived. So while the rebels had been distracted by something shiny – shucking the corpses of the nobles of their jewels – he had gritted his teeth and jerked the dagger from his eye, then pawed through the dead bodies until he’d come upon the unconscious jester – some merciful soul had left him alive; then he had dressed himself in the jester’s colorful ensemble, ripping a shred of material from the checkered tunic and tying it across his eyes. And then he had acted mad, dancing and twirling as he pranced through the carnage, his eyes scanning the bodies, terrified he would find her. He had traipsed all the way through the castle and then outside where the battle-maddened peasants were still swarming around looking for escaped aristocrats. The only thing they had seen when they looked at him was what he wanted them to see: a crazy jester laughing at death, glorying in the peasants’ bloodshed and the overthrow of the royal family. Many had even cheered while watching as the one-eyed fool skipped and turned as he made his way through the frantic horde.
Exavier dragged himself back to the present. He had never found her. He had given up hope...and now she stood before him, all that had gone before wiped from her consciousness.
He could tell her that truth. He could tell her that the peasants who had killed her parents had obviously taken her and tortured her until she’d shut off her mind rather than remember.
Or he could tell her the other truth.
You are the woman I love, he could say. I am naught but a landless swordsman now, forced to travel from town to town as I seek whatever employment anyone will offer me, but I would protect you with my last breath, fool that I am. There is nothing for you back at the palace. Come away with me.
She cocked her head at him, unsettled by his lengthening silence. “Sir?” she prompted nervously.
He shook himself, his heart pounding as he realized there was a third option.
He could lie.
Looking up into her tortured face – the face that was still more beautiful than any other he had ever seen – he swallowed and told himself there was no other choice.
He shot to his to his feet, taking her icy hands in his own hot ones to pull her close. “I simply cannot do not recognize your own husband?” he forced himself to say.
She blinked up at him, bewildered and evidently unsure what to believe.
“Your wife?” she repeated blankly. “Then why did you kneel before me?”
His mind worked quickly, his words growing stronger as his resolve intensified. “To beg your forgiveness for failing you. I should have been with you when the bandits attacked and took everything we owned...they even took you. I returned to find you gone and have been searching for you ever since...”
And then he could no longer contain himself, burying his hand in her tangled, matted hair and kissing her full on the mouth with all the passion and love he had held pent up inside for years. He probed and he coaxed, persuaded and claimed until she surrendered with a sigh and triumph surged inside him like a raging river. When he was sure he had convinced her, he pulled back.
“Do you believe me now?” he murmured against her lips.
Tears filled her eyes. “How can I not?” she asked, reaching up a hand to cup the cheek branded with her father’s crest, “How can I not?” she repeated, “When I am so obviously loved?”

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