"You must understand that this was a difficult decision….."
Whatever else that her father, Edward, Lord of Wallsbridge, was saying to her passed into a blank space as Erienne stared uncomprehendingly at him.
Married. She was to be married. To her Father's overlord. Her overlord too. Master of Cromwick. That meant … that she could count the days that she had left to live. If legends were anything to go by.
Erienne stared helplessly at her father who looked back at her blankly. Her hopeful turn to her mother and her sisters were equally devoid of sympathy. Her mother, Lady Mary, was thrusting pained eyes at her, begging for forgiveness or understanding. Erienne could not decide which it was. Her two unmarried sisters appeared immensely relived, possibly by the fact that they were lucky enough to escape this terrible fate. Lord Cromwick's reputation as a ruthless and fearsome lord was known throughout the country. He had inherited Cromwick from his father at the age of nineteen, when it had been a reasonably prosperous holding. Now, it was one of the most prosperous and powerful of the King's domains. As Cromwick's power had grown, so too had its lord's notoriety. He had sacked neighbouring holdings, killed armies of enemy soldiers, put down the rebels up north and even brought down Lord Pentwith, whose sister had been rumoured to be the King's mistress.
"He is supposed to be fearsome but courageous, Erienne," her second sister, Lady Davina, offered as a form of condolence as Erienne remained silent. "Why, even the King had to take his side when Lord Pentwith was killed."
"But, his previous three wives. All of them died within months of the marriage. It was dismissed as suicide but some say that Lord Cromwick killed them. He turns into a demon at night … "
"That's enough, Regina," Lady Mary silenced her eldest daughter, Lady Regina. "There is no need to believe rumours. Lord Cromwick is a powerful lord and Erienne should be grateful that she has been chosen to have the honour of being his bride, aren't you, love?"
"Yes, Mother," Erienne answered, seeking a mirthless pride within herself for having answered without faltering. What else could she have said?
"Now, Lord Cromwick will be here by dawn. Regina, you need to help your sister pack. Beatrice and Davina will help me see to packing the wedding gifts."
Erienne nodded with another obedient, "Yes, Mother," curtsied dutifully to her father and left for her room, distinctly aware of all eyes following her. She walked briskly to her room and closed the door behind her, knowing that she would only have a few moments of privacy before Regina came in. Erienne stood in the middle of her room, looking around her absently. This had been home to her for the past fifteen summers and she had been told less than fifteen minutes ago that she would be leaving it forever in less than a day. Erienne did not know why she felt like crying. She was not leaving behind anyone who would love her or miss her. The way her parents had broken the news of her impending marriage to her confirmed that but she had … Erienne had to admit that she had hoped that at least her mother would have cared.
When news of this dreadful alliance had started making its rumours a week back, Erienne had not taken them seriously. Sure, her parents might not have been as warm to her as they were to her sisters, but she was their child. Surely, they would protect her. Surely, they would not wish to see her die early. Even if they would never see her as the same as her sisters.
Erienne allowed herself a few tears and some moments of self-pity before gathering her wits as she heard her door open. Closing her eyes, she summoned every ounce of strength within her and turned to greet Regina.
"My goodness, Erienne! You hardly look like someone who has just been told of her marriage to the Devil. How do you take it all so calmly?" Regina came in with a look of astonishment on her face placing two trays on the floor. "No wonder, you were chosen. You are just right for this … this alliance, Erienne. Look at me. I could never survive the night."
Erienne nodded, her calm appearance never slipping as she packed wordlessly along with her sister. It did not take them long to finish as her sister rattled on throughout the packing about the fine gifts. To her parents' credit, Erienne noted that there were several gowns of silk, some jewellery of silver and stones and even a gold headband. "Aren't they just so pretty, Erienne? Mother has reserved the best for you. Even I am so jealous. My wedding gifts were hardly so precious."
"I suppose I am precious to Mother and Father," Erienne offered finally when she felt her sister's expectant eyes on her. "We are all packed now, I believe. Have I missed anything?" Erienne asked, just to prevent any silence between them. She did not want any moments that could give way to pity or love. Her sisters had never been close to her though she had to admit that none had been cruel to her either. They had just never really noticed her. Erienne supposed that she blended very well with the walls of her father's castle.
"No, you are done, I believe," Regina assured her and then turned to her, now more hesitatingly, "Perhaps, we could go for a picnic tonight, Erienne. Have dinner by the lake like when we were wee children."
Erienne had just gotten herself busy again carrying her packed belongings to a corner of her room when she looked up and blinked. Her sister's suggestion shocked her. There had been many times when she had longed to join her sisters on the picnic. It had been a special time, when her sisters had laughed and played together. Somehow, Erienne had mostly been left out of it. Her quick grasp of numbers and Latin meant that she was often helping her mother with the running of the castle and did not have much time for such "silliness" as her mother had put it.
"That is very kind of you, Regina but I had better sleep early tonight. Father said that I had to be ready before dawn as Lord Cromwick would be arriving in the morning."
"Right, of course. We must always listen to Papa," Regina nodded and Erienne thought she saw a look relief of her sister's face. She chastised herself for having such unkind thoughts. Another minute of awkward silence before Regina looked at her and said, "Well, I suppose you ought to be off to bed. Take care, Erienne." Regina had appeared as if she was going to hug her, though her sister quickly straightened her shoulders and left the room.
Erienne bowed in silence for a few moments. Regina appeared kind. Perhaps, it was all her fault that her family just did not know how to …. Care more for her. It did not matter anymore. This life was already in the past, Erienne realised the sureness of it as she looked out of the window and saw the sun, the reddish orange hues streaking across the sky, as it disappeared slowly but surely. As surely as this day would end and with it, her life as she had known it for fifteen summers.