He couldn’t believe what his lady was asking of him.
“Leave you? Alone with him? Are you mad?”
Her face registered surprise, and well it should, for this was the first display of temper he’d shown her. He couldn’t help it. How could she ask this of him? He’d vowed to stay beside her until death! Being apart from her would be worse than death.
“Lares, please,” she began, but he cut her off with an angry gesture.
“I won’t leave you, Lady. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again until you believe me but I will not leave you!”
A smash as the perfume bottle that had been in her hand moments before landed against the wall beside him, and a tinkle as the pieces slid to the floor amid a mess of scented oil.
“Why?” she screamed, and it was his turn to be surprised at his normally placid love. “Because you love me? Is that it, Lares – you love me and so you’ll stay here and torment me with what I cannot have?”
Her voice broke; she was crying and crumbling before his eyes, and he strode to her to gather her up in his arms.
“No, no, darling,” he whispered, supporting her small form. “Not torment. Never torment. Say the word and I’ll take you away from here! You don’t have to have this,” he said, stroking her hair and trying to soothe her. The lady would not be soothed.
Her fist connected with his chest and he stumbled back, releasing her abruptly. She looked at him, eyes red with salty tears that ran down her cheeks. She’d never been so beautiful to him – this was her first display to him of any sort of passion. It was gorgeous. She was gorgeous.
“I will not leave, Lares. You’ve known this for years,” she choked out.
“Why not? What keeps you here? It can’t possibly be him….” he laced the word with as much disgust as he felt, which was a great deal. How could anyone harbour anything but hate for Maurice Exsil Vis? It didn’t seem possible that anyone loved or cared for the man.
She smiled at him sadly, and he felt his fears confirmed. “It’s complicated,” she said. “You might understand when you’re older.”
Older! He was little under half her age, if that. She couldn’t be much older than fifty years. Didn’t look older than thirty, but he’d witnessed everything in the hall, knew Anala was Hope’s daughter, knew his lady had to be closer to fifty than he had thought.
Oh, yes, he’d heard everything, from what Anala had screamed at Maurice to what had transpired upon mother’s meeting daughter. He was concerned about Anala, and held a great deal more respect for the bellica, but she was not his primary worry.
But. Older! “You’re not that much older than I, my lady,” he said, hoping to compliment her.
Instead she let out a hollow, maddened laugh – no, a cackle, and sank to the floor. “Do you know how old I am?” she rasped.
How could he? No one did. He shook his head.
She laughed again, and it turned into a high pitched keening sound as she rocked back and forth on the floor. He resisted going to her, to soothe her, as she seemed to not like that.
At length she stopped, and said, so soft he strained to hear: “I was near twice your age when Maurice was born.” She gave him a terrible look, for he saw lurking madness in her eyes.
It was insane. Near a century had passed since she’d been born? Mayhap more than a century, for she’d given him no real number, just estimates. Insane and impossible. He knew it to be true, however, for she never lied to him. Evaded, yes. But never lied.
He knelt beside her and put his arms around her, holding her close. “Darling, I love you no less,” was all he said, and then he brushed away a strand of her hair and kissed her deeply, proving his affection with more than words.