A/N: Wow, my third story on Fiction Press, seems like just yesterday I was just starting out with my first! I'm particularly excited about this one though, because it's a new genre for me. Fantasy definitely gives a bit more freedom, I think. Anyways, hopefully you all enjoy it. I'm actually co-authoring it with a friend and fellow author of mine (Star18 at FanFiction's site; check her shiz out, it's AMAZING). If any of my IHASF fans are wondering, the next update IS almost ready, so just try to sit tight! The only reason this new one's coming up before it is because it's been waiting in the wings for a while and I wanted to get some feedback on it ;) As usual, if you're curious about character pics for the story, they're updated regularly at my website. Thanks in advance guys, hugs and kisses! xoxoxo
Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.
- Albert Camus, Notebooks
The physician placed his hands across the expanse of the rounded, swollen belly of the pregnant woman, the fingers poised over the ivory surface of her skin. His eyes were shut, his face serene- as if he were trying to listen or wait to feel something.
The woman's face searched his with an anxiety that was still controlled by the gentle contours of her face. "Well?" she asked. Her voice was as smooth and lilting as water; almost hypnotically soft. "What do you see? Is it a girl? Is it a boy? Are they alright?"
The physician opened his eyes and lifted his hands off of her bare belly, "A girl I think," He said at last, to which she heaved a heavy sigh of relief. A girl. A girl. Her eyes were almost burning from the sheer emotion of the news.
"And," She murmured shakily, "And what does she l-look like?"
The physician shook his head apologetically, "I don't know Countess. These things are never quite certain. But she is healthy; strong kick, strong heartbeat. All in all, you and the Count should have nothing to fear. Only a few more weeks, I should say."
She was silent for a few more moments, then gave a light, gracious smile, "Thank you Doctor," she said in her velvety voice. A healthy baby girl. It was good news. Wonderful, in fact. But it wasn't enough…it just wasn't enough for her.
The physician helped her rise from her goose-feather bed, and she re-tied her vibrant purple dressing gown over herself, the bulk in her belly making a deep impression. As she walked out with the physician to the top of the staircase, she slid a number of coins into his hand from the velveteen purse that was always kept full by her husband for her own personal use. She stood at the top of the stairs, watching as he descended.
A healthy baby. That was good.
But the most beautiful baby….that was even better.
Her name was Vashti Konstantine; a name that held a significant weight in most parts of the country of Tyrwen. In fact, to the public eye and ear, she was the Countess Vashti Konstantine, spouse to the wealthy Count Viktor Konstantine.
The two of them owned a modest sized manor just outside of Hulinn. In the city they owned an illustrious home located in one of the central squares, near the Castle. The Konstantine's were known for their wealth, social affluence and influence, and noble line, both on Vashti and Viktor's sides of the family. Their marriage had been one that was practically inevitable. Indeed, Vashti had known from an extremely early age that she would someday be given to the gentle-eyed, withdrawn Count Konstantine that said little but had much. It was something she felt she'd always known and therefore accepted, brooking no refusals or protests whatsoever to the match. She had known very little of him and spoken to him no more than once before the day of their joining, but she had felt as though she had been prepared for anything—good or bad.
Vashti had been pleasantly surprised. For all of his silence and withdrawnness, Viktor Konstantine wasn't just the husband she had expected him to be—he was better than that. He may have been quiet and reserved, but he was kind, and even mildly affectionate with her. Passion was something he concealed from the outside world, but she found out that it was something he possessed – and he had a passion for her. A respectful, gentle one, but a passion nonetheless. He treated her with care and consideration. He was good to her. That was the most honest way to describe it. And she returned the consideration.
Were the Konstantines in love? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But they achieved a state of contentment with one another that Vashti knew was almost unheard of in the relationships of couples in Hulinn. She was happy. Viktor was happy. They were happy together.
But there had been one thing. Just one. Like a dark, somber rain cloud, it hovered over their marriage, casting a grim shadow on the lives of the Count and Countess Konstantine refusing to go away or even be ignored.
They had no children.
Vashti had never even let the contemplation of such a thing enter her mind before she came to live in the Konstantine manor. She had known that her joining with Viktor would have problems- but never that one. Not that. Konstantine women weren't infertile. They weren't. It wasn't natural. Not only that, barren noblewomen in Tyrwen were considered to be either under some kind of terrible curse (the very worst kind), or had angered the Gods in some way, shape or form. There was some kind of explanation to such a horrible fate—it was never something that just happened.
Which made the Konstantine's frustration at Vashti's empty womb all the more powerful. They consulted soothsayers, mediums, enchantresses— none were able to find any trace of a spell or curse on either one of their lives. It wasn't that. So they both became extremely religious; attending every single one of the sacrifice services at the Temple of Worship, making exorbitant donations to the priests and monks in exchange for their blessings. Viktor was especially attentive to his new duties; he dedicated himself to his faith, steadfastly praying and entreating to the gods to answer his pleas and grant him and Vashti a child. He erected an especial shrine to several deities in both of their homes; three times a day he knelt before it, his eyes closed as he mumbled in his gentle, soft voice. Nothing could stop his determination, nor the fervor and faithfulness with which he threw himself into his religion.
Vashti had been equally fervent in the beginning. But then more time has passed. Her womb had remained closed, their prayers unanswered. Nothing was happening. No baby. No baby…
It had hardened her to the faith of the Gods and the priests who served them. Viktor may have remained steadfast in his beliefs, but she gradually withdrew from it all. Viktor was praying to inanimate objects that couldn't hear him or anything, that weren't even living. The Gods and their priests had all been silent to her pleas, so she would cease to cry out to them. What good had they done her? The years were going by; she was growing older and older. She was swiftly becoming the laughingstock of the upper echelon of Hulinn society. The whispers of 'Whoever heard of a barren Konstantine?' seemed to follow her everywhere—there was no running away from it.
There were times when Vashti had thought she would go mad with it. Even worse, was the shame and sheer guilt she felt. She was convinced that her infertility was due to some failing of hers. She didn't even allow Viktor to take the blame on himself (which he tried to do multiple times) She had failed to produce an heir to all that he possessed; there would be no one to carry on his name. And it was all her fault. All her fault…
Then, a miracle had happened. Vashti became pregnant. The news of it created a sensation that rippled from one end of Hulinn to the other. The courtiers couldn't stop talking of it; after all these years, could anyone believe that the Konstantines were going to finally have a child? Wasn't the Countess supposed to be barren? Was it all a farce? Was it a girl or boy? The questions swirled from one social circle and gathering to another, never stopping.
Vashti had realized that all her years of pain from being barren were worth it when she saw the look on Viktor's face when she told him that she was with child. He had knelt before her without a word and kissed the backs of her hands, as though she were a queen, murmuring a 'thank you' into each palm. It wasn't until he raised his head to look at her that Vashti saw the emotion in his eyes. She had felt it rise in her own throat, threatening to choke her from even speaking.
Viktor expressed no preference for either a boy or girl child; he stated firmly that he would be pleased with whichever the Gods blessed him with. But his wife was entirely different. Her pregnancy became something that consumed her. She was obsessed with seeing to it that everything was done perfectly, that no error occurred. The child would, must be in perfect health. It would live—she would make it live. And not only would it live, but it would be the greatest child to ever be born in all of Tyrwen. Of this Vashti was absolutely determined. No child would be greater than hers. Viktor may not have had the same degree of ambition for their unborn child as of yet, but she did. He may not have cared what sex it was. But Vashti did.
And she wanted a girl.
She needed a girl. From the moment she learned that she was pregnant, she felt a burning desire inside of her for the baby to be female. Vashti wanted a daughter; a daughter whose beauty, charm, intelligence, and power were unsurpassed by any other woman in Hulinn. A daughter she could raise herself, teach in the same ways her mother had led her. A daughter who would make the daughters of the women who had secretly laughed at Vashti all those years look like gangly trolls. A daughter who would strip them of their so called beauty with one look of her eyes.
Vashti had been a beautiful girl in her younger years, and she was an equally beautiful woman now. It went without saying that any offspring of her and Viktor's would be attractive to say the least—but this wasn't enough for her. She wanted a daughter whose beauty almost seemed unnatural. One that would never even be able to blend in with the beauty of other women.
The child grew inside of her by the day, larger and larger. Vashti would speak to it, willing it to be a girl, willing it to be extraordinarily beautiful. She knew it was a girl—she just knew it. But as for the other matter…
She knew of several places to go, several people to see who specialized in such things. There were certain women willing to cast a spell or speak some magic words for just the right price.
And then, there were the Other Ones. The Gájes; a gypsy tribe, nearly extinct that resided on the edge of the Vale Grove in the Nether Regions a safe distance away from Hulinn. There was talk, rumors of certain healers within the clan, healers with immense power. Incomparable power. Of course, it was completely limited to talk. The Gájes had been banished from Hulinn literally ages ago by the King. The reason was long forgotten, but the wariness of them remained.
Vashti didn't feel wary when she thought of them however. She felt interested….insatiably so, in fact. She had heard of a spell, the name of which was forbidden to even be spoken inside Hulinn that could be cast. A spell that was said to have power over appearance, even before birth.
Vashti had only mentioned the Gájes to Viktor once. That very first time, he had dismissed the idea completely. His faith in the ball of fluff made him utterly firm in the belief that indulging in any other form of magic as a means of help or gain was a sin. They were pagans, he said, nomadic drifters with blasphemous practices and worship. She was to stay away from such people. And after that day, so Vashti had. At least physically.
Her mind returned to the Gájes constantly. The prospect of what was inside her mind tempted her almost to the point of distraction. However, she obeyed Viktor. The only aid she sought for her and the child was that of the finest physician in Hulinn. He came three times a week to monitor their progress. She hadn't gone to find the gypsy camp, or make the request that was ringing throughout her mind day or night…at least, not yet.
Vashti sat before the looking glass in her and Viktor's bedroom, examining her reflection in it closely. Her body had been bathed and oiled down in fragrant oils and perfumes and she was now dressed in a light and airy silk nightgown and robe. Her hands reached up to touch the porcelain like complexion of her face. Not a single blemish was on the skin. It was soft and clear. The cheekbones were prominent, without being too harsh. Her eyebrows were high and sharply sculpted, forming a gentle arch over deep, hazel eyes that looked upon the world around them with an unmatched gracefulness and gentility. Her mouth was a perfect shape. A small smile turned up her lips.
"Still the most beautiful woman in all of Tyrwen."
She turned her head in surprise and saw Viktor standing just in front of the pair of double doors to the bedroom. His hands were slid into his pant pockets, his jacket removed and the first two buttons of his shirt unbuttoned. He watched her with a stare that she had long become accustomed to; gentle and concentrated. It wasn't often that her husband showed what he felt in his eyes—but Vashti did know that he showed it whenever he looked at her.
She smiled at him, "Darling, I didn't even hear you come in, you startled me."
He began walking towards her, "I apologize my dear. It wasn't my intention." Viktor kept coming until he was standing directly behind Vashti. He placed his hands on her shoulders and lowered his lips down to the top of her hair. After that, he brushed back the hair to expose the skin of her neck, then kissed that as well. As he raised his head, he met her gaze in the mirror, and they smiled at one another, "Tell me," He said softly, "How are you?"
"Very well," She answered. "The physician came today, he said that everything was well…and he confirmed my suspicions." She smiled wider, "A girl."
Viktor smiled wider as well, his teeth flashing as he gave a small laugh, "A girl. Darling, that's wonderful news."
"You're truly not disappointed that it isn't a-"
He shushed her, "Nonsense. I told you from the very beginning: I will be overjoyed with whatever the Gods see fit to bless us with. Tomorrow, I will go and make a special sacrifice at the temple, and I will pray that our daughter be as beautiful and radiant as her mother."
He kissed her neck again, then turned and strode a few steps away, beginning to unbutton his shirt to get undressed. Vashti looked after him, her expression changing to become concentrated, "Viktor," She said slowly, "May I speak with you about something?"
"You know you needn't ask," He replied, "Tell me what you're thinking about."
"It's about the baby. I-I have concerns."
Viktor turned his head to look at her with a concerned frown, pausing in what he was doing, "Concerns? What-what do you mean by that? Is there something wrong? Something you don't think the doctor noticed?"
"No, no, no," She said, shaking her head, "Nothing at all like that. I just…I just feel concerned that she may not be receiving the best opportunities...the best advantages."
"Well then," He gave a gesture with his hand, "Tell me whatever you would want for her. Whatever you want, it will be hers."
Vashti took a deep breath, apusing for a moment. She licked her lips tentaviely, before answering, "I want to go the Gájes, Viktor. To ensure—"
Before the words had even left her mouth, she heard Viktor sigh heavily and give a small groan of frustration as he swept his hands across his black and grey hair, "Oh for the love of the Gods, Vashti, not this nonsense again!"
"It is not nonsense," She argued, turning around a little in her chair to look at him, "Why can you not understand the benefits, the advantages that could become available if we would—"
"Advantages? Benefits?" He repeated incredulously, "Don't speak such foolishness! Vashti, you must rid your mind of such notions. There can be nothing but danger and misfortune in dealing with such people, such barbarians!"
"But only think of what they could do for us, Viktor!" She pressed, "Think of what they could do for our daughter! Imagine; the most beautiful, alluring woman in all of Hulinn, in all of Tyrwen! Imagine the power she could have, the influence!"
"I am not interested in gaining power or influence—for us or our daughter," He retorted, "All I seek for us is a comfortable, secure, God-fearing existence. Power, pride and affluence are the tools of the Evil Ones." His voice roughened at the mention of the Sluagh; the word alone was one that most hardly dared to speak for fear of the evil attached to it.
Mostly they were called the Evil Ones. Everyone lived in fear of their powers. Everyone. The priests at the temple liked to say that the Gájes were agents of the Sluaghs—all the more reason that they should be avoided at all times. But Vashti didn't believe this. The priests were probably only trying to ward off competition for trust and popularity for those within Tyrwen who needed a higher power to ascribe to.
Viktor came and sat down beside her on the bench before the mirror. He reached out and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, "Vashti," He said gently, "What is your fascination with this endeavor? What is your fixation with it?"
She placed her hand over his, leaning her cheek into it, "I just want her to have every advantage. I want her to be special, Viktor. Unlike any other child ever born in all of Tyrwen. Can you not understand that?"
"And you believe that she must be the most beautiful to be special?" He asked confusedly, "That her beauty will give her everything she needs? How much confidence am I to believe that you have in me? In my ability to give her all of these things?"
Vashti looked away, sighing impatiently, "That is not what I meant—"
"Beauty does not bring happiness. It does not guarantee protection…Look around you, Vashti. See this world we live in for what it is…extreme beauty is a curse for most women. You were fortunate, but how many others had your family's wealth and affluence to guarantee such fortune? Would you wish our daughter to become like the Lady Malayka? Inherit such a fate?"
Vashti sucked in a long breath at the mention of the name, "That would never happen. Only let me make inquiries," She continued, undeterred, "Let me find out the truth about them for myself. I won't even go to see them, I'll send for one to come here and—"
"You will do no such thing," Viktor cut in swiftly and Vashti was mildly surprised at his tone; it was one he never took with her before. "One of those…those creatures are not to come under my roof. And you are not to make any attempt to communicate with them at all for yourself. None whatsoever. That is all I will say on the matter." Without another word, he stood up and crossed to other side of the room again to finish dressing.
Vashti said nothing more, turning back around to face the mirror again. Her eyes were cast down to the many items on the dresser, but her mind had already begun to travel miles away.
Her and her husband never argued. Not about anything. Viktor didn't like dissent and strife—he didn't allow it to enter his house. He even refrained from raising his voice with anyone, especially her. Peace was important to him. Anything that threatened the peace of his home, he tried to rid himself of. His faith had convinced him that any association with the Gájes would do this. She understood that.
But despite all of this, Vashti knew that she was right. She was right. Viktor just didn't understand now. But he would.