The individual angels of frozen mirth that winged down in powdery legions from beyond filled the land, the town, driving its inhabitants indoors to sit before their jolly fires. Snow, with its playful bitterness as it nibbled at her cherub nose, already aglow with icy burn. But she did not care.
Pulling her grey wool coat with the milk-and-tea colored rabbit fur on the cuffs and hood- her last remnant of childhood- for, of late, she had blossomed into a woman- tighter around her; the embracing of arms. She flew on the wings of the wind down the cobble-stoned lane. The snow dove dizzyingly, like frenzied ballerinas in the guise of swans into her open, heaven-possessed eyes, ironically brighter the nearer she came to the oppressive fortress of grey stone and iron that sat, hulking, at the far edge of the public square.
Number 014, she must see him today.
The man at the heavy oak desk in the dreary, scream-drenched foyer seemed taken aback when he saw her, his eyes lightening as he looked upon her expensive cot. His greed did not care to hide itself in his words,
"Ah, Lady Blackmoore," here, his eyes flickered up and down her stately form, as if searching for a hidden purse, sagging with patron money, "Perhaps you thirst to make a kindly donation to a humble asylum?"
"No," here the man's eyes flattened, proper and mannerly as before, "I come to pay a visit."
Number 014 awoke from the light caress of intangible dreams to the sound of the lock being disturbed by a violent rattling of keys. Here, it seemed he only dreamed- one nightmare, as continuous as time and the passing of heavy shadows into solid darkness.
As the door swung inward, Number 014 flinched, an animal-like instinct bred into him during the course of his captivity. However, the image of punishment sticking its head of carved monstrosity around the leaden door did not manifest itself, rather, another face altogether peered around the door.
Lady Blackmoore stepped into the cold cell, her presence tall and solid in its confines. Even the malicious man who held the keys and a repulsed look for 014 seemed to shrivel meekly in her aura.
"I shan't be long," her icy gaze glanced sideways at the man, who left, bobbing nervously in a jester's bow.
With the click of the shutting door, the prison's bars, she seemed to melt into a bubbling breath of warmth, spreading out to the corners of the room.
"014!" She dropped to her knees before him, her skirt falling neatly out around her, an ocean of wine and storms, her hands clasped in childish delight, "Oh, I realy should not call you so- Here, I have compiled a list in my head of possible names for you, but, well, they are all rather lovely- I can't decide. Oh. I do think it would be best if you chose one, though-"
She broke off, her heated lips hanging open like those of stunned gilded maidens of the Renaissance paintings. 014, as he was called, sat before her, visibly trembling in every fiber of his being, rattling the chains of his disability, he eyes weak and feverish, his skin untouched, his lips unkissed- Yet both of them, all of him shivering in ecstasy at the prospect of it, crying with his mute tongue. And this physical ailment being the only original reason for his limbs to be manacled, solidly to a wall, so overlooked by the foppish doctors of the eighteenth century, now added to his solitary, somber confinement of a couple decades, kept him from her. This, and nothing more.
How he hungered- nay, starved- a suffering worse than that one imposed by lack of nutrition to physically nourish him, for her; her song bird voice as it rose and fell with the medley of her statements, all at once both those of a girl of eight years, and of pomp and circumstance. He needed her eyes, his astrolabes, to guide him through life's labyrinth, her mere presence-
All this she saw, or, perhaps, she only saw him trembling, and knew the rest already. Her fingers found themselves in the tangled threads of his night-sky hair, a raven's tale of woe, her fingers gracing his parchment skin with a touch so merciful it was blasphemy. And, then- He fell, deathlike, into the swoon of her lips upon his, convulsing with fulfilled longing as all of his hopes narrowed to that one shining pinpoint.
"Ah-," Lady Blackmoore fell back, hands over her rosy lips, but not over her burning cheeks, "I should not have done that." She watched the liquid crystals, far more precious than any diamond, course down 014's cheeks like falling stars, "Did I hurt you?" But she knew she had not. She wished, though, perhaps, that she had, however, for the other option was, she suddenly realized, far too impossible.
"I should not have done that," she repeated, wishing to, and then unwishing again to take back the kiss, "Oh, I am to be married tomorrow!"
014 looked up, suddenly, melding with his chains as one, unfeeling object, his eyes, alone, holding his confusion.
"Married," she repeated slowly, "Oh! I know. But, I must! It's father's will, and Lord Goldmire can support me, and care for me. He's upstanding as a citizen and had a fondness for children, and- Oh," she watched different mists rise in the abysses of 014's eyes. "The truth is, 01- um, 4, you and I, could never be. It's just the way that society functions. I'll still pay you visits- I just cannot give you my heart."
He could already hear the church bells of tomorrow, ringing off, in great peals of glory, off the near buildings and distant hills. Lady Blackmoore in her white gown, standing next to Lord Goldmire, as if idols of some perverse pagan temple. They did not belong there, together.
. . . can support me, and care for me. He's upstanding as a citizen and has a fondness for children-
I just cannot give you my heart.
Yes, she could not give him her heart. But, then, neither could Lord Goldmire give her his. He would hive Lady Blackmoore something Lord Goldmire could never hope of possessing to give her.
Yes, he would give her the very thing he saw in her eyes-
Lady Blackmoore sat in the chamber, now void of bridesmaids and fussy assistants. Soon the organ would begin to bellow forth its great crescendo of matrimony. But, to her, it would be the dirge of love.
Again and again she read the crumpled notes in her fluttering lily-white hands.
One was a letter from the asylum, informing her, regretfully, of 014's sudden departure from the world. The other-
It simply read, 'But I can.'
The handwriting was not one she recognized, but there was no mistaking who it was from. Before her sat a box, opened only slightly, in her sudden abandonment of it-
It contained a human heart.