An excerpt from chapter five of my work in progress, Shadow & Flame. Modig is a young lord’s son, reminded at every turn of his questionable origins and his twin brother’s failing health. On the eve of his coming of age ceremony, the silence is about to be broken.
She was beautiful, her hair hanging gently from her face in hazel ringlets, the frame of her countenance sharp but soft. Fair skin basked in the moonlight of a clear night, and the very stars seemed to kiss her cheeks, lighting the tint of rose with passion; the hand entwined with his reassured his spirit in a way none other could, and the hand at her waist held her gently, almost as though he were not worthy to have any part of her at all. She was perfect. And she was his. “I love you,” he murmured, pressing his lips to her ear.
His words received a smile. “…I know…”
He was young, but one would not have known it by looks. Indeed, his dark eyes and pale countenance seemed hard, wintry even when professing vows of love and adoration. “Do you love me, Gwen?”
The tinkling of laughter spilled down upon the garden below; they spent many summer nights here, out on the balcony, drinking the moonlight and scent of snapdragons and verdure. She pulled closer, pressing a kiss to his lips; his eyes met hers, and she almost shuddered despite herself. An intensity lay there, and a cunning that made her feel as though he could sense her thoughts before she knew them herself. Even her love was laced with fear: he was as stone. And yet, in all honesty, Gwen answered, “Of course I love you, my Modig.”
At the name, something ineffable darkened his brow. “Why do you call me that?”
She thought it obvious. “Because that is your name.” Curling her fingers around the other’s, the woman smiled, satiated. “…My Modig…”
“I am not Modig,” he stated simply, pulling away; something in his mind barred the gates every time he heard the mark. It was a constant pain, and it was building. “You have seen my brother, Gwen. That is Modig. I am not.”
Brows furrowed slightly, thinking this some sort of game. “You are both Modig—you the elder, he the younger. You share a name, not a fate.”
He wished he could be certain of that. With every passing day the burden grew heaver, the shadows deeper. Umbrae seemed to hound him with hopes of grandeur and fear of what the next day would bring. At times he worried he would go mad like Lord Rhiam, who had taken to locking himself in his study, muttering words to visitors none could see. Discontent rolled through his being, and he pulled away from the woman, traversing with a sigh to the other side of the balcony, leaning forward with only his hands to support him. Gazing deep into the shadows of the courtyard below, he could discern nothing. He could see the hearts of men as easy as blinking, and yet in his own fate it seemed he had no hand. “…Could you love me, if I had no name?”
“What sort of question is that?” She joined his side; her voice lilting slightly. “You cannot have no name at all.” He did not respond, staring darkly into the void, almost as though he expected someone to be staring back. She felt the gravity of his mood, and it unsettled her. “It does not matter. I shall love you no matter your title. I would love you if you were naught but a shadow in the night: you know this.”
Her earnestness frightened him; she could not possibly know the shadows of his soul, he had held them from her for fear that if she truly knew, she would never return.
He could not look at her. “Marry me, Gwen?”
The non sequitur only served to disturb her more; “Of course, I should be a fool if I didn’t… What is wrong?”
“You will be mine forever,” he reassured, more for himself than her. “We can run from this place, these walls.” This damnation. “We will be free, I know it.”
“Will you not stay on as lord of the manor?”
“For what? To rot here in the shadow of the stars?”
“The stars do not cast shadow, my love.”
He could not explain, could not continue this dialogue. “I know.”
Across the grounds, another woman stood in silent worry—the years had worn her face harshly, the buxom pride of youth tarnished with years of sorrow and fear. Wrinkles framed her delicate lips, so often turned to a frown, and shadowed her brow with fretting. Dim eyes gazed forth through a lattice-glass window, out the moon; but she had no lover, no one who would comfort her on the nights filled with dread. What worth she once had in the eyes of her husband had all but dimmed. He spent more time in his inner chambers, fretting to the walls, than gazing upon her. He had fallen from his angel’s light and into the eternal dark waiting for him; not even her love could resurrect the being that she had loved on their wedding day.
Soft hands twined about a silken handkerchief embroidered with the lord’s crest, restless, yet knowing not what they could do. The lady had been haunted of late by the apparition of a stranger’s face—of all the memories of her youth, that face remained crystalline in her memory, as apparent as the night she first saw it. Her mind had been wandering, traveling down the path of time, and she did not see the eyes gazing up at her from below, though should she have looked, she would not have seen them anyway. The figure often met her here, silent as stone, beneath her chamber window. Never had she seen the visitor, though something tonight told her the shadow was there. If only she could see him.
“Where are you …” Softly she sighed, “Your son came of age today, did you know? He is a prince now…You should have seen him,” the fair countenance smiled as she recalled the sight of Modig, strong and cunning, standing at Lord Rhiam’s side in splendor. “He looks more the part than Rhiam ever did… He looks like you, my love.”
The elf heard the words, standing beneath the courtyard willow, and his hard gaze softened at the epithet. Isabel was beautiful, backlit by firelight, the silver rings on her fingers catching the moonlight to spark the smallest glint, vivid in his mind nonetheless. The elf’s grim frown loosened; he wished more than anything he could be at her side, comforting her with whispered words and a gentle hold—but that was not his place. He reminded himself of that, even as bitter vengeance filled his mind. For years he had suffered the mongrel of a mortal that called himself a lord, but no longer. He would rein terror upon him for all the years of remaining silent. The Goddess knew vengeance would be his this night.