"Zamora! Child, take my ha- Zamora!"
Mikael's arm grasped at nothing. I'm too far. The life escaped from his grey glossy eyes; his mouth was open, allowing the escape of his moans and sobs as they echoed through the trees, finding home to the hills. He threw his arms behind him then fell to his knees. Snapping and cracking. The other men were gone; there were beasts in the forest outside our castle. I don't remember where Mama had run off to. The women know. Yes, they know. They followed the men and cried. Oh my sisters, where are you all? It is no longer warm.
All this happened the second the moon was at its proudest. I was in my bedroom with my sisters, laughing and teasing because the men came (Papa didn't know that some of us were catching their kisses in the halls and garden earlier in the morning). My hair was drying from my bath. The bedroom was so warm from the burning logs in the fireplace. I noticed Eula smiling at me, her eyes bright, a grin on her face.
"Do you think the men are still outside?" I asked. "Stefan must certainly be standing outside our window." And I checked to prove my point to her, almost prancing snobbishly to the window to jest. And there he was, standing outside with some of the other men, staring into the trees. Eula laughed at how dramatically I opened the window, how I rested my head on my arm and pretended to fall under the faint spell of Cupid. I knew how much Eula was in love with Stefan. When they looked at one another while crossing paths, it felt so much like a fairytale. They were the iconic young lovers.
"Stefan!" I called to him, glancing over at Eula for a second to make sure she was watching. "Safe travels!"
He turned his head upward to the high window from where I peered over, a window very high off the ground where if one of us were to fall over, we would surely be all over the walls with our heads cracked open (Mama was never gentle with her warnings). I saw him smile; I pressed my lips together. Eula blushed as she neared the window, hiding her face from view, her delicate hands clutching to the thick curtains.
"Surely with your blessing I will stay safe!" He shouted from below, one hand on his chest and the other in the air directed to me. Stefan was new to us, having only visited Papa thrice this month. The others were common and boring, but Stefan seemed to spark life into Eula.
"I wish you an easy return!" I started to giggle, raising my arms up as well. Eula was pawing at my waist, trying to keep herself from peeking. "My sister Eula wishes you luck. She told me that she sends you a kiss since the breeze is favorable tonight. Goodnight, Stefan!"
I can't remember what he said after that. I closed the window and drew the thick curtains but Natalia spoke up, saying she would prefer the window open since it wasn't very cold tonight. I did as she said since Natalia was very exhausted from today, having gotten an unwanted advance from one of the rude men from the southwest, and I wasn't going to be the one to make her snap. I unlatched the window then left it slightly open.
I nestled in the space beside Eula in our bed. I raised the old bed covers over my head and sighed, my arms tangled with hers. She smelled of lavender, and the sun still radiated from her skin even in the darkness.
"Do you think Papa will let us marry these men?" She asked.
"Hush, Eula!" Guillermina hissed from Natalia's side, breaking the silence before I could.
"They seemed to have certainly gained some respect from father. They made him laugh!" I whispered from under the sheets, my hand cupped to keep our conversation a secret.
"I want to be married already. Being one of the famous unmarried 'Nine Daughters of Ignacio' can be exhausting," Eula whined, her eyes closed but her hands held mine gently, warm and soft. I studied her face in silence. She's thinking of Stefan. They love each other.
"It will be soon, Eula. Papa will notice how he looks at you and how he so slowly kisses your hand," I giggled. The others giggled also from underneath their blankets.
"Sisters, quiet! It is late! Let us sleep! We mustn't bother father's business," Natalia sharply whispered.
His arm tightened around my waist as we rose towards the moon, reminding me of his existence. He had been at the window. He had beckoned to me in my dream so sweetly.
Growling. In his chest I heard a great roar accumulate then erupt from the throat of a winged creature. His other arm covered my eyes; I felt too nauseous to move. The sound of wings flapping. No more shouting. No more howls. Only crying. My eyes stung, my face hot and wet.
"Why did you take me from my sisters? From my parents?"
Stefan's shouting had snapped me awake. He had burst into the room with a torch in his hand, demanding we all move to the main hall quickly. You're under attack, he had said. I heard no canons, no war cries, no sharp echoes of sword against sword. The night was quiet except for the murmuring of my sisters and the servant women. Wearing only a cloak over our night gowns, we huddled to meet Mama who had awakened before us, working vigorously to ensure the castle was safe from inside while Papa defended the outside. I can feel everyone's panic. Guillermina and I were the only ones who were calm. Guillermina...
I don't remember the pain. It was quick but it lasted while he held me there in the kitchen. She was watching. While I was crumbling in his arms, she gave me some expression of regret but it was immediately washed by satisfaction. That was the last of my warmth.
The beasts weren't attacking us. They were defending us. The men were gone but we were safe in the castle (but for how long). The servants were armed and so was Mama. My last memory of her was of her resembling an archangel, her mess of curly blonde hair sprawled around her face, tall, face of the fearless and with sword in hand, the light of God blessing her with strength.
Guillermina told me that Stefan was hurt, to hurry to the kitchen with her (I wanted to tell Eula so they could have shared a romantic moment with one another). No one was in the kitchen except us.
"Zamora, please stop crying, my love."
Neither his embrace nor my own blood could warm me. The chill of the winter night showed no mercy on this night.
"It may continue to hurt but bear with me, please."
When they saw me fall into his arms, having completed their search for Guillermina and I, the cries of banshee sisters echoed in my ears. Mama was too late to strike. Mikael had heard the collapse from outside and had rushed inside. He was also too late. Guillermina...
Snow. No- more like a blizzard, a winter storm. I craved for the warmth of a fire, blankets even more. He set me down in a stone box like placing a child to bed.
You will sleep. He repeated those three words once more but gentler, softer. It was as if he was begging me. My eyes refused to close, watching him struggle to bundle me with a dark cloak and bring the candelabras closer to the box.
"I am not ready to have you be by my side yet. For now, you will sleep in stone. It will be centuries until I see you again. But, by then, the world will be different and you will be safe."
The sight of my own blood on my hands made Guillermina turn around and leave, leaving me alone with him in the kitchen. She abandoned me. She wanted this.
The warmth returned like a hot shower of rain, spreading from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. I closed my fingers into fists and wiggled my feet, relieved of the disappearance of the stiffness of having laid down for so long. I think I'm late for breakfast. The girls will scold me again.
When my eyes fluttered open, I found myself in a vast, empty room. This isn't my father's castle.
I lifted myself up. I was still wearing the heavy coat and nightgown from last night. But this wasn't my bed. Well, it was some kind of bed, more like a pile of old cloths ordained with candles and candelabras. I'm not home. The man must be here.
I found my balance then hurried towards the first door I saw. I felt the stone ground beneath my bare feet but I couldn't tell if it was hot or cold. I must be feverish. I pressed my hand to my forehead. Nothing.
Past the door and into a hallway lined with lit scones, I ignored all the doors and went straight for end of the hallway. There was only a sitting room with no fire in the fireplace. No windows either. He stood in front of the barren fireplace, his hand curled at his lips, deep in thought. Standing so perfectly still made me question whether he truly was real and not a stone figure like those of the Greeks. No. He's no man.
"Where am I?"
His eyes were on me then he was gone, appearing very closely in front of me.
"Dear Zamora," He said with his arms raised as if to embrace me, an empty smile on his face. "You have awoken!"
I stepped backwards into the hallway. He dropped his arms to his sides, disappointed.
"Have you regained your memories?" He asked, searching my face for something. His expression changed.
"Yes," I said, looking at him up and down. "Why did you bring me here?"
"To make you my bride."
. . .
4-13-2017: Chapter revised.