I watched her leave, she faded through the door. It made me sad to see her go, I had been charmed by her since the day I met her. Not enough to seduce her of course, though that thought had crossed my mind a time or two. I wished I knew what she had been talking about. Somehow it seemed familiar but fuzzy, like a dream I may have once had. It bothered me, I could not stop thinking about it.

"Kindley!" I called out. My manservant came out from the hidden servant's door. I noticed that he looked slightly guilty. " Bring me some more port." The man did as he was told, disappearing for a moment then returning to fill my glass. I picked it up and took a long sip, I had a feeling that it would not be the only bottle I drained that night.

" Were you listening to that?" I questioned the manservant, not accusingly but rather curiously.

" Yes, sir." He lowered his head.

" Well, what did you make of it?" I asked.

Kindley frowned slightly. He seemed extremely uncomfortable. " I don't know, sir." His whole body tensed. " I'll leave you now, sir." He turned quickly to leave.

" No, come back here." I commanded, he had something to say and I wanted to hear it. Kindley returned reluctantly. " Now tell me what you think."

" Lord Rawlings would be angry with me." Kindley said.

" Why?" I asked confused.

"I can't tell you sir, I promised him." Kindley pleaded. " Please, just let me go."

" No. Lord Rawlings is dead. He's been dead for weeks. You can't keep a promise to a dead man."

" He'll know." Kindley replied rather superstitiously.

" Tell me, or I'll let you go. Without a reference." I knew that it was harsh of me to say, and I didn't mean it, Kindley had worked for the Rawlings family for years. But he didn't have to know that.

Kindley looked frightened at the prospect of dismissal." You are not Ambrose Rawlings. Ambrose was Lord Rawling's son. He died four months before we found you. Or rather, I found you on a river bank, unconscious and battered. I brought you back to the manor. Lord Rawlings decided that we would tell you that you had been sick. We taught you to be Ambrose."

I stared at him with an open mouth. " Why?" I asked. " Why did Lord Rawlings do that?"

" His wife had died, his son had died, there was no one left for him anymore. He claimed he needed someone to pass the fortune on to, but I think he just needed someone to love. He had become a hermit since his wife died many years ago. I don't think he was quite right in the head."

" So....so...your saying that I could be the person she was talking about?" I stammered.

" The truth is, my lord, I have no idea who you are. You could be a prince or a peasant or anything in between."

" I'm going to bed."

I could hardly sleep, tossing and turning for hours before I finally drifted off. I dreamt of strange things: jumping out of a tree to catch a horse, an old man I knew somehow, a river. The river was most important, it kept coming back into my dreams. One moment I was walking toward it, then I heard a scream. Soon I saw her, young and unspoiled, with her red curls loose on her shoulders, her green eyes sparkling. It was dark and she reached out a hand to me, beckoning.

I woke with a start, covered in sweat. My heart pounded as if I had just run for miles. My mind raced, were these really dreams...or were they memories? I closed my eyes trying to invoke more of these visions in attempt to come to a conclusion.

" I don't care where we go, I don't care how we live! Please, don't leave me here to marry him! I have to be with you, I need you!"

" Mercedes..." I said, sliding a hand to her neck.

" I'll die without you." She whispered.

I snapped my eyes open and jumped out of bed. Tearing my door open and running down the stairs. I went out onto the dark street, sprinting along the empty sidewalks. Not a soul lingered out in the darkness; I heard a clock tower strike two in the distance. Knowing that I could not stride up the marble steps and pound on the door, I went around to the back of the house, to a terrace on which I once had sat with her. I climbed up onto it and peered into the window. The house was silent.

For a moment I feared that I had come here for nothing, there was no way I could get into the house without someone finding out. Suddenly a face appeared and I jumped back from the window startled. The door to the terrace opened and Mercedes' maid poked her head out.

" Sahib! Come, come!" She whispered urgently. I went through the door, and she closed it quickly behind me, without a sound. I followed her as she padded barefoot through the house, up the stairs, and to a heavy wooden door. " I have not been in, she will not allow me. Sahib Richard is in the room across from this, I'll lock the door behind you. When you want to come out, I'll be waiting."

I nodded at her instructions and went inside. The lock to the door clicked behind me. Slowly, I made my way through the fabulous rooms, ornately and exotically decorated. I passed through three rooms before I saw her. She lay on a chaise, covered by a black throw, her gaze focused out of the window. A pillow supported her head, her long red curls falling all around her face. Her skin was pale, her lips too had lost their color. She lay there so peacefully, serenely, that for a moment I did not want to disturb her. I remained silent.

Mercedes must have sensed me there, staring at her. She had always been able to sense a person's eyes on her. She slowly turned her head toward me, her eyes taking a moment to focus on mine. They were huge and when they caught sight of me they filled with tears. I carefully walked over to her side and knelt beside her.

" I didn't think you would come." Mercedes said, her voice heavy, as if very tired. " What made you remember?"

I stared into her green eyes, wet as they were with tears. " I had a dream, many dreams of you and other people who I'm not quite sure I remember. But I had a very clear one of you, on the night when....when we argued."

Mercedes nodded her head silently. She took a deep breath. " You know I always thought I would be different than all the others that have gone before me. I never wanted to be like my mother, in fact I hated her for leaving me, but most of all for being so pathetic. Dying in childbirth, begging for mercy, giving me it's name. I wanted to be smarter, stronger than her."

Her voice broke off and the tears slipped down her white cheeks. I reached out and took her hand and clasped it in mine. It was cold, like holding an ice cube. " You are stronger...you are better."

" No, my life has been an insult to strength. I have alienated the people I love, I caused pain to myself and others, I made choices of which I am ashamed. I made them because I saw no other way. I am a coward, I have always been so."

It pained me to hear her sound so defeated, almost like she wanted to live no longer. In the days before, when we younger, these words would not have come out of her mouth. Then her pride would have been too strong." No, no Mercedes this is not you. Where is the fight that brought you this far, that brought me back to you? This was all your doing, yours alone, you could have just let it go, but you fought for me, for your love of me."

" It was all a waste....." She whispered, her voice trailing off.

" No it was not!" I shouted, jumping to my feet in indignation. " I am here standing right in front of you. I want you, and I will do anything to have you."

" Why now?" She screamed at me. " Why not then? When I needed you! Now it's a waste...pointless. I can't have you now."

" Why not?" I sank back to me knees, the outrage draining from me at her words.

She looked up at the ceiling and addressed the Almighty. " Why now, God? Is this some kind of punishment for all I have done wrong?" Mercedes lowered her gaze and look at me. Her eyes had gotten heavier, darker. " What cruelty is this, what injustice of heaven? Here you are right in front of me, I can touch, feel you, hear you. He's taunting me...God is...I don't know why he is so cruel to me."

"Mercedes," I asked, desperately. " What do you mean?"

She turned her head away from me and reached down to the floor on the opposite side of the chaise. She held something in her hand, and she placed it in mine, closing the fingers upon it. I unclasped my fingers and saw a small vial.

" What's this?" I asked.

" It was to be my mercy." Mercedes whispered. " Now it seems it is proof of my lack."

" I don't understand."

" It's poison." She said simply.

I threw the vial against the wall, it shattered into a hundred pieces. Tears began to fall onto my own cheeks now. " Why?"

" Because I though you were gone, I thought it was dark, that I was alone." She reached up a hand slowly and brushed the tears from me cheeks.

" Maybe it won't work...."

" It already is...I can feel it choking my heart....slowly killing me."

" No..." My voice was quiet, full of anguish.

" You must promise me something....two things." Mercedes said, her voice now struggling with the effort.

" Anything."

" First, there is a letter on my desk...you must give it to Pierre." She nodded her head at me. " And second, you must not be Juliet to my Romeo...don't follow me to the heavens just yet. You have a life to live...and you will live it. Do you promise?"

" I do." I whispered. " I love you, Mercedes. And I am sorry for all that has happened"

It took her a few moments of heavy breathing to reply. " I love you." I climbed onto the chaise and took her frail body into my arms.

I lay there for a long time, watching the rise and fall of her chest become more difficult, talking to her long after she had lost the ability to reply. Death did not come quickly to her, but it did come, as final as always. Her soul left her body with the dawn. Her life had truly been Merciless.

Days later I stood in a cemetery by a grave filled with a magnificent casket. There were not many people there, but those who were all had tears running down their faces. Everyone that is except for Richard, who seemed to be almost guilty, greatly anticipating the ceremony's end. It did end of course, with the family members tossing handfuls of dirt onto of the casket after it had been lowered into the ground.

Everyone drifted away, except for me, thought I knew that my presence would not be much missed. I stared down onto the wooden box with a hollow feeling in my chest, a pain and a vacancy that I had never felt before.

" This is the worst day of my life." A voice behind me said. I turned sharply to see a tall, handsome man, with skin darkened from a heavy sun. " To come home with an open heart, only to find that my beloved sister is dead. I cannot even reconcile now."

I walked over to him and pulled the letter from my jacket. " She wanted you to have this." I handed it to him and watched as he read it. He closed his eyes, took in a sharp breath, and crumpled the paper in his hand.

" What will you do, Hugh Hepburne, now that she is gone?" Pierre asked me, his voice heavy with pain.

" I think I will go home, to Scotland. I think I shall make amends with my family. Before I regret not doing it"

Pierre nodded. " Yes, that is a good idea. I will remember you always as the boy she loved more than anything." He handed me the letter. " I have to go back up to the house now....will you get rid of this for me?"

" Of course." I replied, and Pierre walked off. I watched him climb back up the hill to his house. I began to walk in the opposite direction, through the woods, eventually coming to the river. I crouched by it's bank and set the letter in it's current.

Sadly I watched as the last trace of her left my sight.

There would be no second chance for me.

Author's Note:

Well, that's it. Hope y'all enjoyed it. Thanks so much for all of you who have read the story from the beginning and all of you who joined in on the way. I have enjoyed writing this story and reading your reviews. Now I have a favor to ask. I would really love some well rounded critiques. So if your willing to do it, please tell me everything you liked and more importantly everything you hated, tell me what to change. I would really, really, really appreciate it. You can include it in your review wink, wink or write an email if you prefer.

Once again, thank you so much for your support, I could not have done it without you.


Allesandra Thornbird