When you're waiting for the next book in a series you love, there can be this ache like you're missing someone. I know that feeling so well. Hopefully, this little taste of book three of Bluebeard's Secret helps tide you over!
The Law of Greeting stole me away. The machinations of man brought me back, torn from the Wittenhame and dragged - ragged and bloody - back to the washed-out world of mortals. I had no say in the first and less in the second, caught as I was like a leaf tumbling on the surface of the river, swirling and bobbing in the grip of a mighty current. But so it is with the great stories. They create their own currents, forge their own streams, and we poor mortals are ever subject to them as the tide to her mistress moon.
"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," my brother's harsh sobs echoed, and faded, and then returned a long time later with other voices joining his. I was cold - so, so cold - as I lay shivering on the hard ground, but not nearly as chilled as my husband must be in his place beneath the greedy sea.
I saw him in my mind's eyes, his blue beard and bright cat's eyes under the swirling depths, his flushed cheeks turning pale and then blue, his teardrop of blood washing from the planes of his lovely face, the fish snatching at his hair and clothes, as he was pinned to the pillar, immobile, trapped.
It was not for myself that I moaned when they lifted me into a carriage with scared voices. Not for my own fate banished back to this plain mortal world that brought tears leaking slowly from my heavy eyes when they brought me to a close dark room filled with whispers and worry. Not for my own self that I sought when my consciousness was snatched and returned and snatched again.
It was for him that I searched in every snatch of speech I heard, in every gentle touch, in every small glimpse of a face. It was for just one more glimpse of him, one more of his words passing like fine silk through the ring of my mind, one more sweetly bitter kiss searing my lips like fresh ginger.
But none of these attended me. Nothing at all tended me except the cold hands of mortals, the plain speech of plain people, thrall to the whims of nature and time. As I grew well again, it was only their faded faces and pale food that greeted me, seeded though it was by generosity and charity.
From the first, the sea called to me. Any open window meant the echoes of her moaning voice - so like the one echoing forever inside of me. I learned to listen for it beneath the sounds of the household around me. For if I could not touch my husband again, I could at least listen to that which touched him and caressed him daily in his grave.
Eventually, my broken body healed and grew strong again, to the great relief of Lady Greatspur who had graciously taken me into her home and ensconced me in the chambers of her long-deceased daughter. I pleased her with my quiet manner and my willingness to embroider every cloth she put before me as I convalesced in her home. I ate little, spoke less, and kept my hands very busy - a credit, she said, the sign of a good wife and lady, and didn't my brother need that right now in a sister with the chaos in the capital?
But though my hands worked busily, and my manners worked even harder, it was the sea I was listening for in every space where the good lady drew a breath and paused her musings. It was the sea I watched for in snatches through the windows. I was as attuned to it as a mother with a new babe, noticing it's every mood and whim and bending myself to it.
I waited patiently, biding my time until the first day that I could sit unaided and cross the room without assistance. That night, I crept from the lady's great house, passing the doors of those who slumbered with as much silence as the specter on my shoulder. No matter that I was in the mortal world, she lingered still, wrapped around my shoulders, waiting for the moment where she could morph from spectral collar to guardian and snatch the words from my mouth.
I stepped out onto the stones, my bare feet feeling every slippery surface, every snatching grassy caress of a dull empty land and slipped toward the call of the sea, careless to how rocks bit my feet or cold stung my skin. The moment my toes met the freezing water, I ran over the glazed rocks and threw myself into the sea. What did I think I would find within? Did I think I would hear his voice? Did I think I would find some strange magic that would bear me to his side? Did I expect that the sea would bargain with me?
If I expected any of that, I was wrong. Gravely, sorely wrong. For nothing greeted me but nothing - a great raw roaring nothing as if my very life had been hollowed out as one hollows a wooden bowl and scraped down to the narrowest shape that can still hold a soul.
I returned to the grim estate eventually, hiding my misadventures with a hasty bath beside the well and hanging my clothing by the fire to dry. When questioned, I claimed a fever had taken me, soaking me in sweat. And after the chill of the night, I was just as feverish as I claimed, and worry filled the glances and words of those around me as they had when I first arrived.
The fever passed as all mortal things do, and when it did, I tried twice more. The first, in a small fishing boat I stole from the shore. I discovered nothing except that I was very bad with oars and not nearly as strong as I'd hoped.
Of my husband and my life, nothing was left to me.
On the last time that I slipped out to the sea in the night, I came with fury and acceptance and the words of a funeral on my lips.
The wind howled, blustering along the shore with the violence to stir clouds of sand and bursts of sea spray up into the air in swirls like tiny specters dancing over the landscape in murderous frenzy. There could be no more perfect atmosphere for what I was there to do.
I sank to my knees on the sand in the dark of midnight with no one to witness what I did but the wailing wind, the sober moon and my grim spectral companion.
"You loved drama and murder." I spoke my memorial to Grosbeak. If he were here, he'd be insisting on a better funeral than this. He'd be insisting that I do the impossible and find some way to go down to him in the depths and draw him back. "You were a friend both kind and terrible, and in your jests and screams I washed up on shoals of kindness."
There. It had been said.
I spread my fingers on the sand and sank my weight into my palms, wetting my lips to speak funereal words for my husband. It had been three weeks since we were found on the edge of the sea.
Three mortal weeks could be decades in the Wittenhame. He could be long dead, his tumbled bones half-hidden by sand and memory, his people scattered, and his lands razed.
Or, it could be mere minutes for them, and even now he could be gasping under the sea, his lungs filling with choking black water as the sea sucked his life from him and forcing him unwillingly into her embrace. And even now when I spoke the words over him, I could be speaking his death when still he clawed for a last scrap of life.
And I couldn't do it. I couldn't.
I broke down as I had not yet broken, wailing my sorrow in a terrible harmony to the crash of the waves and the cry of the wind. I cried and cried until I thought, perhaps, that I had cried an ocean large enough to fight the sea for him, a salty jhinn to champion my cause and rise up to bear my standard.
But in the end, dawn rose as my husband did not, mocking his submersion with her flagrant ascent, and no champion emerged but a battered fisherman troubled to find me not far from his nets and distraught beyond human ken. He put me on his donkey and rode me to the Lady's house where dark murmurings filled every corner and kind hands put a hot drink in my hands, tucked me in a warm bed, and whispered that the Lord Savataz's sister had lost her wits.
It was from that miserable stupor that I emerged the next morning to find the house in an uproar. Lady Greatspur entered my room with trepidation just before noon, clutching a black gown to her chest and worrying at her lower lip as if I were the lady here and her the poor wretch dragged in by an ancient mariner.
"Lady Izolda," she said timidly. "Can you dress yourself, my girl?"
I could not have found a kinder hostess. I sank deeper into the blankets thinking of the night I had hidden in a ball from my new husband in just such a bed.
The lady crept to my bedside and if I had been more in possession of myself, I would have been shocked by how she - a lady of Pensmoore - sank to her knees so that her face was not far from mine, and she could whisper to me.
"We ladies have little power over ourselves, Izolda of Savataz." She paused, listening for a moment, and then shook her head and spoke again. "And you have clearly suffered a great loss. Doctor Ryvataz believes you to have lost your wits and he will tell your brother so - indeed he already has told him in the missive he sent and you brother is riding here with great urgency - and this on the verge of his coronation."
Coronation? That made me sit up and push the hair from my face with heavy hands.
The lady was nodding. "Indeed. After a bloody struggle and a bloodier peace agreement, your brother is to be crowned king of Pensmoore. The wars have taken and taken and to find a living lord of Pensmoore capable of managing the nation - well, the kingdom has rejoiced that he is returned to us. Surely, my girl, you must realize how desperate things are for us that we rejoice to have a second son of Northpeak to reign."
I nodded, my voice too thick to speak, but the nod seemed to encourage her.
"And that is why I am here. For I see before me not a deranged woman lost to sense, but a woman in deep grief as I was when my daughter was taken by the fever while not yet thirteen." Her lip trembled at that, and I reached out to take her vein-crossed hand in mine and the look in her eyes was steel and purpose. "So now, listen to me and I will tell you what I would have told her if she had lived to lose all she loved. Greif honors our lost. The greater the flow of it, the greater the heart that once held love. And yet, you must take back possession of yourself or find yourself locked away in a madhouse and what tiny freedom you have left stripped from you.
"So now, heed my words. Dry your eyes. Fix your hair. Put on this gown I have brought - one of my own. I have done you the dignity of choosing black. And when you are dressed, and coifed, and shut away inside, you will act the perfect lady again and you will embroider, and you will listen, and you will be a great boon to your brother and your nation, and whatever this great grief is, you will let it take you within, but never without, for if you do not learn to bridle it and force it to hand, then you will be ridden by it and lose what little freedom you still have."
And her words were sensible and wise and so I opened my swollen lips and spoke with my thick tongue.
By midday, my brother was upon the household with a grand stamping retinue of men and horses. They arrived in the first squalling snowfall of the season, their breath and pride puffing out in white gusts.
Svetgin was pleased to see me well and dressed in muted black, my hair drawn back sharply from my face and as unadorned as a proper widow. He praised Lady Greatspur, and took me off with him immediately once his party was refreshed at her table.
"I'm to be crowned tomorrow," he confided in me in the carriage. "And I will be counting on you for your help, sister, in securing my reign."
And I had smiled a tiny, serene smile and kept my face and hands as calm as Lady Greatspur had advised me, but my heart rolled and broke as the sea within me, and the roar of the ocean filled my ears and mind and did not let me go.
If you haven't pre-ordered Give Your Heart to the Barrow yet - or if you haven't started the four-book series, this is your chance. Follow this link to the series.