In response to the Daily Post writing prompt Exhale
I was numb; I didn’t understand. What could I have done that I would deserve this? The chains weighed heavily on my wrists and waist but the shame weighed even more on my heart. It forced me to my knees and it took all the strength I had – and I did not have much left after the night I endured – not to spill the tears that I felt welling in my eyes. I could not meet my father or my mother’s eyes, but least of all Endymion’s. The shame was too great; and the worst was not wondering why, but having brought it down on the people who had loved me the best. I did not need to see my father to know how hurt he looked, neither did I want to see the restrained anger and want to spill blood in Endymion’s face. I knew what I would see in their eyes, what emotion would transpire at that moment. But it was the King’s voice that drew my head up. It rang cold and filled with authority.
“Brianna d’Essault, you stand here accused of practicing the dark witchcraft of Brianna but also incest. But you also stand accused of having used both to gain access to the throne, which makes you a traitor to St-Dôme and the penalty for that is death by decapitation.”
My heart skipped a beat and then went into frenzy as I searched Endymion’s eyes. What did he mean? What did it mean? Incest? I had never laid with any man in my life even after last night; at least the purpose of that was clear. The Queen’s voice rang then angry and yet with something that felt like satisfaction.
“We are ashamed that you should dare to wear the white of the virgins while you are known to have fornicated, with your brother no less.”
“Silence! You are not allowed to speak.” The voice that spoke was not raised and yet it rang with a power almost holy. It made me close my mouth and drop my head. But I looked to where the voice came from and saw a hooded man approaching me. I could not help myself. I stood stepping back. One of the guards pulled on the chains bringing me down. Were they going to kill me there? I bit my lips so hard they started bleeding. But he was a priest, the prince in fact.
I whispered, “Your highness.” And received no answer.
He laid his hands on my head as in blessing. Only the words were a sentence of their own.
“As of this moment and until this judgment is done the gods reclaimed your name. You are stripped of it and you will not be allowed to speak on your own behalf.”
Again my heart missed a beat, only this time it felt as if it did not go on. I could not breathe, there was no life left in my lungs nothing. I was going to die. White dots appeared in front of my eyes. They had taken my name away and it was all that defined me. But as I felt myself fade I realized that it was not; my name was only part of me. I had been right when I said that Endymion was half of me; inside my soul I could feel him like a breath of life, a beat of the heart, a brightness of mind. And I was also the Daughter’s daughter. St-Dôme was only a part of what I was. I could breathe again, the dots disappeared and I looked up to the Prince who was stepping away. Still I knew that if I tried I would not be able to talk; but then why had the men last night been able to? The man who spoke with me still had not been granted his name back and he could talk. I knew I could not.
“Who will speak for the accused?”
There was no sound in the room for a moment.
“I will,” my father’s voice raised in the silence.
“We will not allow it.” It was the Queen. “It cannot be anyone of her family.”
I thought she did not consider me a d’Essault. I looked to my father and next to him to Lord Avalon. I met Endymion’s eyes; he would have spoken on my behalf. He wanted to I could see it in his eyes in his stance in his shallow breath. But I shook my head no. I would not let him do this; instead I turned to Etienne. Etienne whom I had brought into a vision, he could be my voice. I could show him. When he looked at me, he nodded; he knew it was what we had seen together.
“Your Highness, I will speak on behalf of the accused.”
The Queen gasped, but the King answered.
“It is granted Brother Etienne.” He was a priest; there was no denying him in this. Etienne approached me and knelt in front of me.
“What happened?” he whispered.
I could not answer. I could not speak. So instead I took his hand and did what he taught me to do. I showed him all of it; no not all of it. I did not show him what the old maid did only her verdict, nor did I show him the men in the jail as they spent themselves on the floor. It was enough of a humiliation to have seen it once.
“I’m sorry…” He could not say my name either. He turned to the King and Queen and asked. “Your Highness, what are the proofs of the accusation against this young woman?”
“Three nights ago, in the house of Avalon where Damien d’Essault was lying sick and hurt the accused was seen fornicating with the young lord while he was asleep.”
What were they talking about? Damien was my brother, and in love with a woman whose name I still did not know. And I… I was betrothed to a man I loved so much it was painful. Why would I do anything to endanger that? Etienne answered calmly.
“And was there a time at which this was witnessed my Lord and Lady?”
“The act was seen around the time of the seventh hour.”
“I would ask that the witness be presented to this court my liege for at this time three nights ago, the accused, Endymion d’Avalon and I were at the temple of the Mother in prayer for Her blessing of their betrothal.”
The Queen spoke again then and there was a cold anger in her voice. What had I ever done to her that she hated me so?
“It is well known that the wicked daughters can be in two places at the same time if they wish it so.”
Etienne’s voice as he answered was as cold as it ever was.
“No your highness, it is known in Avalon where the knowledge of the sisterhood is kept. But nowhere else in St-Dôme until now were people aware of this.”
“And will she deny that she had access to that knowledge when she just spent a year in the Avalon household?”
It was unnerving to hear Etienne answer with the anxiousness I felt.
“Of course not.” He looked at me for a moment, a question in his eyes. I shrugged. How could he feel what I did? Endymion mentioned it once… when? Emotions. When he spoke again Etienne’s voice was calm. “It was I who taught her the ways of the Sisterhood and she ever refused to practice this. It may well be that it is not one of the gifts she has.”
The King asked then.
“What gifts of the Sisterhood does she have brother Etienne?”
“Your Highness, she can see into the past and the future…”
“And obviously share her visions with someone else,” the queen added maliciously.
Etienne inclined his head. “As I was going to say my Lady. Yes.”
The King raised his hand in warning.
“Can these visions lie?”
Etienne looked at me. I did not know, not for sure. But I did not think so. Yet the future was an ever-changing thing, as choices made would influence it.
“We cannot know for sure your highness. But the future is not written in stone since our choices close some possible paths and open some new ones. Something that was true yesterday could be a lie today. But of the past, no they cannot lie.”
“Would she show us?”
“No!” Several voices raised in unison from the crowd and the queen. Isidore d’Avalon walked from the crowd to stand next to his son.
“My liege. I would beg you to hear me.”
The King nodded.
“You trusted this child in my care for a year. She has shown to be nothing but generous. She was dutiful as a daughter, gentle and kind although we may not have always deserved it. She has not an ounce of dishonesty or betrayal in her and I believe that if she had we would have found out in one year.” The Comte was all but defying the King on my behalf, claiming an attack on his judgment was being made.
“If she is so dutiful and honest, why did her own family in Arulm send her away?”
My eyes moved to my mother who paled at that; I did not care for what transpired at my uncle’s estate to be revealed. Neither did my mother; she had made her peace with it. But how could the queen know? And why did she again refer to the Arulm as my family, she who had denied I was a noble of St-Dome until this day?
Etienne was about to answer but Endymion’s voice raised cold and stark as that very first time I met him.
“My Lord King, ever you have trusted Avalon’s righteousness, its capacity to probe the mind and find its true purpose. As my father said Brianna has just spent a year with us.” How could he say that name? “And she does not lie. She cannot lie.”
I saw my surprise reflected in the Prince’s face and it was he who spoke then.
“How can you say her name? I carry it within me.”
Endymion looked at me and there was, oh so much tenderness in there. I could have cried.
“She is a part of me and I carry her within me too. You cannot take it away from me. But your Majesty will she be condemned because the gods saw fit to give her the name St-Dome fears and despises?”
He was still looking at me, and in his eyes I saw a vision of what would come to pass. It was terrible; I had always known Endymion had the power to destroy. There ever was an edge to his mind; he knew how to get his way. And if they killed me today he would turn the kingdom he once loved to a pile of ruins, sparking the embers of the war he had prevented. I saw him guide the armies of Heron among the beloved regions of St-Dome and into Le Puy, his eyes cold and dark, burning with anger and hatred. I saw him drive his sword into the Queen’s heart before turning it onto himself. There would be nothing left of St-Dome but darkness. Was it what the sisters had mentioned? I blinked back tears as again I was in the throne room and all were looking at me.
“Child of the road,” it was the King talking and as I stared at him I saw the concern in his eyes. “Duke d’Avalon, our witness is beyond suspicion. She would not lie about this.”
“Who is it?” Endymion demanded. Etienne put a cautioning hand on his arm. Endymion retreated but instead of going back to his father he came closer to me. The King sighed.
“The witness is Damien d’Essault’s promised. Why would she lie?”
Everybody’s face registered shock and sorrow; at least among the ones who loved me. The others looked at me and there was shock and anger there. Who was it? I still had no idea. And so it was for my benefit that Etienne whispered.
At that I stood panic overwhelming me. Tears welled in my eyes that I could not stop. I was shaking all over. So it was my word against the Princess’? There was no way anyone would believe me. But I had not known, I did not know.
“She did not know your highness,” Etienne pleaded.
“You cannot know that for sure. She is a child with vision, she could very well have seen without you being aware of it.” There was sadness in the king’s voice; he was not convinced by what he was saying but it was condemning me nonetheless. Voiceless I screamed but it was the Prince who shouted his face contorted with pain and his voice filled with the sorrow and fear I felt.
“I didn’t do this. Even if I knew who she was I wouldn’t. Damien is my brother. I would not do this, I couldn’t. I don’t deserve to die, not for something I didn’t do.”
Everyone looked from the Prince to me and I realized how much worse things had just become. Not that I had intended to but I had obviously just practiced their “dark witchcraft” in the presence of the King and on his son. They were even more afraid of me than they were before. Endymion closed in on me taking me in his arms.
“Shush,” he whispered his lips against my brow. Desperately I clung to him; was there no other possible end to this? Was there no way out of this vision? I had always been able to prevent the death of others. Why not my own? “I won’t let them hurt you.” Ah no! He could not become the man I had seen. He could not spend the rest of his life avenging me. How could I tell him? Since I could not talk I brought him into my vision as I had done so many times with his brother. He was standing beside me holding my hand as we looked at the battles he led against St-Dome. He looked at me a question in his eyes. He knew what I had done, of course. For some reason here with him I could talk.
“You cannot do this love. You cannot become that man. Not even for me.”
He kissed me.
“I don’t want to lose you. They cannot take you away from me. Not like that.”
“And I don’t want to die. Believe me. But if they choose to kill me, you must find another way. Something is wrong. I am not sure what but you must find out.”
“What did they do to you?”
“Brianna, why are you trying to lie?”
“I am not… I don’t want to lie to you but if I tell you now…”
“I will do this.” He finished for me pointing at the vision in which he killed the queen.
“I don’t know my love. But you could and I don’t want this for you. I’d rather die than see you like that. I promise I will tell you all of it. After.”
“So I’d better make sure there is an after.” He said grimly.
Someone tugged at my arm: a guard was pulling me away from the safety of Endymion’s arms. Two men were by his side in case he tried anything. He looked at me and whispered. “I promise I’ll find a way.”
The King spoke then, addressing the court in a sad voice.
“All of you believing that the accused is innocent of the charges and in favour of releasing her please raise your hands.”
Of course my parents and the Avalon raised their hands and a few along the peers of the court. But not enough I knew.
“All those believing the accused is guilty of the charge and in favour of the sentence to be implemented…”
More than two third of the room raised their hands, including the Queen. It was a small consolation to see that the King himself did not. The Prince remained subdued. His vote would not be needed today; the Holder of the name was only casting his vote when there was a stalemate and he was the only one who knew the truth held in the heart of the accused. He would have spoken for me if he could. There was no other way. It was to him and the Princess Endymion needed to speak to. I looked at him but his eyes had grown dark. My Duke was going to war… no I had to trust him. He promised he would find a way and he would just as he staid by that door to tell me Damien was awake, he would find a way to save me.
I was kneeling still shuddering from the coldness of the sword against my neck. It was not there anymore now but still. I could not move, the tears were still in my eyes unshed. The Princess was talking but I could barely hear what she was saying. The only thing that registered was that I was not going to die or at least that she was appealing to her father on my behalf. Hands grabbed my shoulders and pulled me up; the Princess was looking at me sadness in her eyes.
“I am sorry I did this to you Lady Brianna.” I made to kneel again; but she brought her arm around me. “Don’t.” And she kissed me on the cheek gently. Then she turned again towards the crowd, her father. “Let it be known that this young woman is innocent of the crime she was accused of. I blamed her not knowing someone was tricking me to do so.”
There was noise in the crowd but I could not see them, could not really hear the changes of texture in the sound. But it did change and soon the hands that held me led me away from the block. They almost carried me down the stairs and released me into other hands, ones I knew even without seeing. They were cold and yet so warm; the hold was gentle and yet strong. I did cry then as he gathered me into his arms. He kissed my brow, my cheek, my lips softly, gently but with a passion that I had not expected to ever receive.
“Brianna, oh love. I am sorry it took so long.” He whispered.
I opened my eyes and met his gaze: so much love and concern there. For the first time I saw tears in his eyes.
“You are here. What else could I ask for Endymion?”
He smiled and kissed me again. A part of me wondered at being able to talk but it was too much. I was so glad he was here with me; the rest was negligible.