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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

The Lady’s Curse
Natalie Tehrani

The Tower
Adaira felt the tower walls edge closer, imagined the spiders creeping from their damp beds to crawl over her skin. The fever strangled her once more. Fighting it she struggled to the window and collapsed - breathing in the icy air. Outside the fields stretched for miles, laughing with silent scorn at her weakness.

For twelve months Adaira had waited - endured her suffocating prison - hoping that each night would be the last, spent in a place she imagined equal only to hell.

And so the days were torn away, the nights plagued her and she had to acknowledge defeat. No one was coming. As always her thoughts turned to those who had betrayed her. Her father. She had never expected him to keep his promise of banishment. It seemed his love was not as unconditional as she had thought. Perhaps she could have borne this pain - if only he had not deserted her also. She closed her eyes; a fierce refusal to meet the vision of his face, slowing drowning in an army of sparring thoughts.

She made a vow to herself in that dungeon, witnessed only by the silent, solid walls of her prison. She would never trust anyone with her heart again.
Looking out at the sweeping fields - licked with icy morning dew - she recalled making another promise. A promise that was everything and nothing….

A Chance Meeting

Leaving her three cousins behind in a giggling heap Adaira left the dwindling game of bowls in search of Alfie, the Palace’s groomsman. He was in the stable-yard, lowering the stirrups on her frisky bay gelding Pixie who snorted with impatience at her approach. Alfie’s face bore a look of reproach as he saw her fine dress but he pursed his lips and said nothing.
"He’s in a right mood today miss, he’ll be playing you up I’m tellin ya."
"He’ll be fine once we’re out there, he just hates being cooped up in the stables all day."
"Hmm I hope your right. Now I don’t want you cantering down those ditches again."
"Alfie stop worrying we’ll-"
"It’s far too dangerous not to mention improper for a lady."
"Improper! Alfie-"
"Especially if you’re riding side saddle as yer meant to be Miss Adaira."

With a ‘no more nonsense’ look he gave her a leg up, produced a whip and frowned at her obvious haste to get going.
"Honestly, you encourage that horse Adaira, you really do."
Eventually he nodded with satisfaction, and without a second’s pause Adaira had smacked the bay’s flank and left the stable-yard. Sighing Alfie turned his back on the pair and strode off in search of a task less provoking.

Half an hour later and streaked with sweat Adaira pulled herself up from one of the muddiest ditches she had ever encountered.
"Pixie, you don’t know how lucky you are, if I’d have hurt myself..."

She had to laugh, it was her own fault, and she was constantly being warned about her "adventurous" riding. But with such extensive countryside surrounding the palace she just couldn’t resist a fast ride and a few jumps.
"That’s enough for today Pix, we’d better get back before father threatens to give you away again!"

Adaira leapt up into the saddle, one foot in the stirrup. Just as she was reaching for the other, a flurry of trumpets blasted out from somewhere in the distance distracting her. She leaned forward to listen; suddenly a loud shot rung out - unnerving Pixie who surged forward into a hasty gallop. Losing her footing, Adaira was violently flung over her horse’s neck and landed hard in a crumpled heap on the damp ground.

Her eyes swam and she struggled to see. On hearing a voice she tried to sit up but an aching pain in her side forced her to sink back down.
"Hey, be careful there, you had a nasty fall."

As her eyes slowly regained their focus, she looked down to the arm that was gently helping her sit up. She assumed it must belong to one of her uncle’s men - sent out to search for her. Looking shyly into the face of her rescuer, she caught her breath and quickly averted her eyes. The man helping her was no servant of the king; he was a young, handsome man and from his exquisite dress and private crest, most definitely a noble.
"I’m so sorry to disturb your journey sir, I, my horse was scared and I lost my footing."

The young man remained silent but his eyes danced distinctly with laughter. Feeling extremely embarrassed she attempted to rise with dignity and flushed at the offer of his hand to help her up.
"You’re clearly in pain. Please let me help you. "

Realising that she had no idea where Pixie was, or just how far from home she’d ridden, she accepted his hand - cringing at her dirty one and wishing she had taken Alfie’s advice to avoid the muddy ditches. Gently lifting her up onto the saddle of his horse, he leapt up behind her, supporting her bad side whilst urging his horse on at a brisk walk. Adaira akwardly leaned back into his chest, aching too much to sit as rigid as was proper. She stared at his hands - not knowing what to say. It was a feeling alien to her; only that morning she had been teased about her constant chatter.
"You could talk the hind legs off a donkey, that’s what father says." The laughing voice of her little cousin Ella, trying to mimic the grave baritone of uncle Ivor made her giggle.

"What’s so funny?"
The question brought her back to reality with a jolt and she mumbled a weak excuse that it was nothing. A feeling of confusion began to attack her senses. His very voice sent tiny tremors across her skin. It was as if ants had somehow crawled into her veins and were somersaulting in her blood. She had never been so close to a man before but never had she felt so safe. Again his deep voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Where do you live? I just realised I’ve been heading towards Umbar and I don’t even know if you live there."
"You live in Umbar?"
Adaira could guess at his answer but still hoped she was wrong.
"Yes, I live there with my father. I assume then that you don’t?"
"No, I live in Keir. Actually my uncle is the king."
"Your uncle is king Ivor?"
"Yes, do you know him?"
"I know of him."

The silence that ensued made Adaira feel uneasy - what could have happened for the mention of her uncle to provoke such a reaction? She knew that King Bracken and her uncle didn’t get along, but hadn’t realised the bitterness had seeped into the two kingdoms as well. Just as she was beginning to feel hot and slightly panic-stricken, she felt him gently take her hand in his. Something in his touch silenced the rising blush creeping to her cheeks. As they rode on, she felt herself relax and begin to notice the beauty of the woods around her. Usually she rode so fast her view of the land was a blurred mass of colour. Now she noticed the bird nests carefully sown amongst the branches, and the damp moss lying at the oak trees’ feet. She was trying to decide whether she had just seen a deer or a stag, when a sudden trampling of hooves made her start. Coming toward her at a fast canter was Alfie, astride a disgruntled and heavily panting Pixie.
"Miss Adaira! Thank goodness I’ve found you, your father went nigh on mad when the damn horse came a back without you."
"I’m sorry Alfie, Pixie took a start and I fell. This kind gentleman helped me."

Alfie looked at the "gentleman" in dismay, and after uttering a mumbled - and Adaira felt - rather abrupt thank you, he insisted on carrying Adaira home himself on Pixie. She turned to look up into the stranger’s face, wishing she could say something. The ants were sprinting through her veins now and all she could manage was a hopeless silence. Seeming to understand the unspoken words she herself struggling to grasp, he squeezed her hand and whispered into her hair.
"I’m sure we’ll meet again."

Before she could snap herself out of this uncharacteristic dumb show she suddenly found herself in, he was gone and she was left staring at the mud flicked up by his horse’s hooves.

The Banishment

Adaira shook her head violently, hearing the persistent trample of his horse’s hooves in her mind. She wished she hadn’t let herself remember. The fresh air brought in through the open window that morning had stilled. Feeling hot and clammy Adaira lay down on the floor; pushing her cheek against its damp, cool surface and willing the memories to leave her alone. Yet again her strength failed her and this time it was her father’s enraged voice that disturbed her wandering thoughts.
"How could you betray your family this way Adaira, for a young man you hardly even know?"
"Father I do know him and I know that whatever Uncle Ivor thinks-"
"What, you think your Uncle is wrong? You think that you know better?"
"I don’t mean that I know better, but I know Leon and if you gave him a chance you’d-"
"You’re nineteen years old, what do you know about men? Do not try to interrupt me again Adaira. I am your father and I forbade you from seeing him."
"I love him. I had to see him Father - I’m sorry."
"You’ve gone against my orders - all those weeks - lying. Against the wishes of your uncle, Against a King Adaira, and that is no small matter. You will stop seeing that man or Lord forgive me what I must do."

Tears tickled her cheeks and she shut her eyes tight, wet eyelashes dusting the bare floor, struggling to forget the rest of that horrible day. Her father had ignored her pleas, refused to even meet Leon himself. It was then that she had let slip their plans to marry. She hadn’t meant for it to come out, but somehow the words had escaped from her mouth before she had even felt them on her tongue. Her father’s fury had erupted - a tirade of accusations screamed that she was a traitor. She had been cast out. A servant packed her things and within hours she was bundled into a carriage and driven throughout the night to the tower. Believing in her father’s love she had waited for him to realise his mistake. She had waited for Leon to search and find her. She had waited…..

An Escape

The days passed, and with them came the spring. Adaira woke from fitful nightmares to sunbeams dancing on the tower walls - urging her to join in their joy. Birdsong filled the emptiness of her prison, and even the water she hauled up from the well tasted somehow fresher. Slowly her tired body began to revive. Each week she felt herself grow stronger, like the sunny daffodils outside her window - poking their heads up from their earthy beds to display their colourful petals.
One particularly warm morning - noticing she had run out of water - Adaira began to descend the winding, stone staircase to the well at the tower’s basement. As she walked past the oak door, heavy metal bars in place as usual - blocking from her the world outside - she noticed something strange. At the foot of the door in the right hand corner was a small hole; probably a mouse had gnawed its way through she decided. However on closer inspection, she saw that in actual fact the wood was rotting away. Further up the door splintering gaps were appearing too. Adaira held her breath in desperate hope, and gently applied some pressure to the door’s rusty hinges. The wood began to sigh and the hinges seemed loose. Leaning harder against the door she felt the wood beneath her give slightly, and in a joyous panic she began to throw her weight at the door with all her strength. After several attempts she had to rest, her arms were grazed and some splinters had nestled their way into her skin, but she was so excited at the thought of seeing the sky and touching the grass, that soon she was battling the heavy door again. It was definitely weakening, but after a whole day of resting and pushing she had to give up.

At first light Adaira was running down the steps and again throwing herself at the stubborn door. After four days of repeating her efforts, she told herself that it wasn’t going to work. Forcing herself to try one last time she summoned the last of her body’s strength, threw herself side-on at the door, and finally it gave way - bursting open with a great crash.

Adaira stumbled forward, stopped herself from falling and then flung herself to the ground regardless, kissing the dewy blades beneath her in sheer delight. Jumping up she ran, tears streaming down her face and screaming at the top of her lungs. She was free. After months of longing to feel grass beneath her feet and wind on her cheeks she was free. Looking around her she suddenly remembered her situation, and her joy simmered down into unease - what was she going to do now?

The Hidden Village

After two days of walking through nothing but fields and woodland Adaira began to grow anxious. As a child she had never been further than 20 miles outside of Keir. The local countryside she knew well, from her rides out with Pixie, but none of her surroundings here looked at all familiar. What was even more disturbing was that she couldn’t see a single cottage, or even a farm house anywhere.

After a short rest - and having eaten the last of the raspberries she’d found - she was at a loss as to what to do next. There were no roads, no signposts and no people to ask for directions. In front of her were more fields and to her left was a rather dark looking forest. Deciding that at least she may find something to eat in the forest, she set off at a brisk walk - hoping to get through it before the evening fell.

It felt like she had been walking for months, not days and Adaira began to wonder if she’d been better off in the tower. Realising the sheer stupidity of her thought she gave herself a stern talking too and carried on walking. A few miles on and she was sure she had gone round in a big circle, when suddenly she thought she could make out a track up ahead. Stepping carefully over some fallen branches, she came up to it - muddy and disused as it was - it looked as if at some time a woodsman had cleared it, for it was big enough to drive a cart down. Clearly however, it had not been for a long while. Weeds grew across the path and dead branches lay strewn at its side. Once though it had been used, so it must have led somewhere and this thought gave Adaira the drive she needed to work her way through the boggy ground. She kept slipping and falling in the mud and most of the berries she’d found in the forest were inedible. Slowly her energy was draining away and just as she felt on the verge of collapse, she thought she heard a noise. Listening closer she heard another sound and soon she was running through the mud, out of breath with excitement. Bursting through a thicket of bushes, she stumbled into what looked like somebody’s vegetable garden. Scurrying around the side of the adjoining house, she walked out into a village square. All along the edges were tiny cottages and here or there was the odd shop.

The sound of bustling life surged through her veins. A woman was coming out of one of the cottages - a writhing ginger cat in her arms. Adaira crossed the square and watched the woman knock on her neighbour’s door, a heated onslaught followed whereby the woman dumped the cat into a confused looking boy’s arms and stormed back over to her own house. Adaira ran over just as the lady was closing her gate.
"Oh excuse me, excuse me!"
The woman ignored her, walked up her pathway and shut the front door with a loud slam. Adaira assumed she hadn’t realised it was she being called and looked around for somebody else to speak to. An old man was coming out of a grocer’s shop across the street and a flurry of people further down the road seemed to be heading for a little church on the corner.
"I wonder why they’re all in such a hurry."
As Adaira mumbled to herself, a mother rushed past her - trying without success - to clean her son’s face with a wet cloth.
"Come on Ewan, it’s the Queen’s coronation today - we need to be in church."
A Queen? As far as Adaira knew there had never been a Queen in all the history of Keir. Her uncle himself had prayed daily for a son, for he said "no woman had ever been a successful Queen." Where was this place, for surely she was nowhere near her home? Passing the grocer’s shop she heard the shop keeper call back the old man.
"John, you’ve forgotten your apples."
"Ah thank ya, no doubt I’d forget me own head if it weren’t screwed on!"
"Not going to the church today?"
"No. I was a full supporter of Old Ivor. You won’t catch me celebrating a woman on the throne, even if it is one of his daughters."
"Ay I know what yer saying, but the King’s been in his grave these past two months. We can’t be without ruler forever."
"Such a shame his brother was taken too. He would have made a fine King."
"Ay, but they said he was going mad after all the trouble with his daughter."

At these words Adaira stopped listening. Her uncle was dead. His brother was dead. No, they had to be wrong, her father couldn’t be gone. She turned to the two men who were shaking hands and turning away from each other.
"Sir, please, what you just said about the King. You must be wrong, you have to be wrong!"
The tears poured from her eyes but the old man carried on walking, shaking his head sadly. She longed to run after him, tear at his shirt, force him to speak to her, but her body was weak and she leaned against the grocer’s wall for support. She had to get home. Somehow she had to get home.

A surprise encounter

Adaira marched stoically towards Keir. The odd signpost carved into a piece of wood marked her progress. Weary and broken she listlessly managed to put one foot in front of the other. The days and nights dragged on like a waking nightmare. She was back again in the tower. The walls were closing in on her. The spiders were crawling over her skin. She couldn’t breathe. Her body was thinning from lack of food and her mind continued to play tricks on her. She’d hear her father’s voice scolding her for riding too far, or his laugh as he ruffled her hair and told her she was stubborn just like he.

Finally, as the moon shone down upon the tree tops she caught sight of the castle’s battlements and knew she was home. Reaching the palace gardens her body finally broke from lack of food and water and she crumpled with relief and pain onto the grass. The sun’s light touch awoke her several hours later and she heard a familiar, sweet voice speak, yet it was unmistakeable tinged with sorrow.
"Poor father, if you could only see what your Keir has become."

It was Bethany, her eldest cousin. She was standing over a gravestone laying down some snowdrops. They always had been her favourite flower - the palace gardener used to grow furious when she picked them. Sighing, Beth walked a few paces to another grave and bent down to replace some dead flowers with fresh ones.
"Uncle, why did you leave it so late to save her?"

Adaira saw the tears on her cheeks and tried to lift herself up to embrace her cousin, to tell her it was okay, that she was here. Yet her voice would not awaken, the words wouldn’t come. Beth moved onwards, still clutching some flowers to her chest. Soon she came to another head stone. No one else, Adaira prayed, please let no-one else I love be gone.
"Why did you have to go and love him? Now everything is lost. What sort of Queen will I be? I have no strength to rule. The war has drained us all."
What war? Adaira felt confused, delirious even. Who was Beth talking to and what did she mean by a war? As her cousin laid the flowers down and prepared to walk away, Adaira forced herself to rise and stumbled towards her cousin.
"Beth, it’s me. I’m back."
But Beth turned away from her, shoulders stooped in silent pain. Thinking perhaps she hadn’t heard her, Adaira tried again.
"Beth, it’s me, Addy! What’s been happening? Beth, please!"

Her cousin walked onwards, up to the castle, leaving Adaira in an aching confusion. Dragging herself painfully over to where her cousin had been standing, she read the slanting words etched into the headstone.
Adaira Rose
She rubbed at her eyes, she squeezed them shut tightly. She pinched herself to see if she was dreaming, but the name was still her own. Thoughts leaped before her mind’s eye screaming for attention, yet her body couldn’t take the shock. She fell to her knees, fighting to breathe, and then she heard the whispered voices. Looking up she saw the castle’s cook with another lady she didn’t recognise.
"Such a shame, such a dear shame; she couldn’t help who she loved."
"Ay and her dear father, he loved her. He didn’t mean to leave her there so long."
"I heard it was the fever, me two sons had it also god bless. And when he got to her it was too late?"
"Ay, of a broken heart she went they say. And that was it, all fell away after that. Her father went mad, made Ivor declare war."
"The King died in the battle, but what of her father and the love?"
"Fought each other to the end; both loved her and blamed the other for her death. Even after everything they couldn’t make their peace." Adaira couldn’t focus on their words anymore. Her heart was beating too loudly and she felt too hot. The spiders were crawling towards her, scurrying from the earth by her grave, through her mind and making their way down to her broken heart. There they rested, weaving a tight web around her heart - a heart made for so much love. A heart now broken and empty: finally free and finally home - yet eternally lost.

© Natalie Tehrani Jan 2008>

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