A Candle to Light Your Honour
K. Ryan, 2005
Author's Note: Ah, forgive me? Please? Even though I really don't deserve it?
Chapter Six: Pour Slow and Careful
1017, the Diamond District, Ninver, Capchen
Three years after a wedding.
It had been a hot few months, and the boards that were nailed to the windows of Lise's shop were steadily bleaching white. This was one of the few signs of outward dilapidation—the small building's stone foundations had been laid on Ninver's main thoroughfare generations back, fronts had to be kept—but it was telling. The bright patch where Cartwell's Creations' sign had hung had now faded away; nobody knew what had happened to the sign itself, except that it hadn't been sold.
"That was a dreadful business, wasn't it?" Gretchen, walking the street with Darra, Aymery straining at his mother's hand as he tried to run ahead, shook her head as she passed the forlorn building. "So sad, really. She was only a little girl."
Darra winced, stomach cramps had taken to besieging her at random, not that there was anything anyone could do about it. Eating only made it worse, and fasting was making her head pound. She eyed the small windows above the shop with bleary-eyed distaste. They were hung with red curtains. "Why bother pitying her?" she wondered.
Aymery chose that moment to break free from Gretchen, only to be silenced half-laugh when Darra grabbed his shoulder. "Enough of that, young man," she said.
"'Es, Aun' Darra."
The 'Aun' sniffed. "When will you ever teach that child to finish his words off properly? What I want to know is why she bothers continuing to live there, and why she bothers to hide where she gets her rent money from."
"Uh, she does work," Gretchen murmured.
"Well…" the other woman said; eyes' flicking as Darra's had to the window. "It's not as if anyone else is going to employ her, you know."
Darra's grip slackened, and Aymery ran for it again, only to trip over his own leg. The little boy sat in the middle of the street and howled.
In all the fuss of Gretchen wailing and snatching Aymery off the ground, Darra giving up any attempts at being sociable and striding on ahead of the two of them, nothing more was said of the tragic little Lise Cartwell.
The tragedy herself, however, had been watching the scene from above. Her lip curled as she saw an ant-sized Darra Chandler turn out of the Diamond District and into Fairview Lane, Gretchen holding her son close even as she half-ran to catch up.
"Hateful woman," said Lise, very quiet.
She only used two rooms from the double-story building now, and these were stripped almost painfully bare. The woman thought that she'd never be used to sleeping on a pallet. At least I've been able to make myself some nice blankets—and the curtains.
There really was something pathetic about being grateful for curtains in an empty room. "Hateful, hateful woman!"
Lise sighed, turning slowly to face Fedwren, who was leaning easily by the door. "How do you know who I was talking about?" she asked, tone carefully bland. She hardly ever startled now.
"Ah, my dear, there are only two people in all Capchen who could ever provoke your sweet self to cruelty." The tall man stretched, his fingers brushing the doorway. "One of them, alas, being myself, and the other," here, Fedwren chuckled, walking towards her, "Darra Chandler." Slowly, he let his hand rest on her hair. "And she is hateful."
Lise shivered. "You don't have to sound so happy about it!" she snapped.
"She hurt you," said Fedwren. "How could that make me happy?"
Lise closed her eyes and groaned, banging a fist on the windowsill.
"You're tired, my love." The merchant covered her clenched hand with his large one. "And no wonder, living like this. So poky. If you just let me arrange things—"
"Stop asking me that, Fedwren!" Lise pulled away, glaring up at him with wounded eyes. "It's bad enough that I have to work for you to live here. You are not going to…furnish me."
"You do know," Fedwren said dryly, "that as far as these things go, you can't really fall any lower, where reputation or the town's concerned. It doesn't matter that you haven't actually done anything that the gossip says you've—"
"It matters to me!" Lise was shrill, and she backed away further, hands on hips. "It matters to me that's all that ought to matter to you."
To her amazement, Fedwren started to laugh, and he was looking at her adoringly. "You sound…you sound like a wife," he said, gasping.
Lise slumped. There was nothing else she could do. "And I will be," she whispered. "But, Fedwren…"
"What is it?"
"Why didn't you save my shop? You could have, but you didn't, and I would have done anything. You know that."
The man sighed. "It just wasn't economical. I thought you understood—"
"—I would have managed." Lise lifted her chin. "You could have left me some pride, and you didn't."
"Oh, Lise, don't be like that."
Her hand rested on his arm, nails digging in hard. "There is no reason why I shouldn't be," she said, grip tightening even more.
Fedwren kissed her—teasing, lingering—and she stood in the circle of his arms, close-mouthed and statue-still, until he jerked back, hand clutching at his face in horror.
Lise Cartwell had bitten his lip.
Bidewell Apothacary, Diamond District, Ninver, Capchen
"Really, mother, I don't know why you sell this rubbish. It makes you look like a charlatan."
Darra stood in what had once been her childhood room, looking with disgust at the small bag Analise had given her. "They make me sick," she said. "And you charge me for them."
"Of course I do, goose."
Ana Bidewell looked at her daughter, flushed and glaring, and she shook her head. "You're looking awfully thin, Darra," she said disapprovingly.
"It's because your blasted medicines are eating me." Darra shuddered. "Why are you siding with Uraelle in this? I don't need anyone's helpto fall…with this."
Ana closed the younger woman's stiff fingers over the herb sachet. "Except your husband's, maybe?"
"Don't you 'mother!' me, my girl." Ana patted Darra's now clenched hand. "Not when I'm only forty-five and you with four brothers and sisters. I didn't need any nettle extract, and neither should you—and nothing will work if you don't start something to work with."
Darra swallowed, blinking hard. Aymery's hysterics had ruined her walk that morning, and now this indignity, coming from this person! "Mother, please…" she couldn't look Ana in the eye.
The woman sighed, touching the other's hot cheek. "Go home to Valden," she said.
Taking a great, shuddering breath, Darra turned her back on her mother and half-ran out of the door and then from the shop, not even slowing when passers-by started shooting perplexed looks in her direction. Ana's warm and musical voice echoed behind her.
"That was seven astrels, two creses'!"
Residence of Valden and Darra Chandler, Illian Way, Ninver, Capchen
Valden loved the workroom. His brothers had always thought that the making of wares was a necessary but unloved and tiresome step on the road to selling them, but he had always felt most comfortable here, surrounded by moulds and beeswax. If he had to justify it, then he said it was easier to persuade someone to buy when you knew something was worth the money, but this justification was only for other people. Valden never needed one for himself.
He was gently stirring a pot, hair falling into his still, calm face, when Darra came in.
"I need you to come with me, now."
Val smiled, but he didn't turn around. "In a minute, love."
If he didn't know better, Valden could have sworn that there was a tearful hitch in his wife's voice. "Darra?"
"Why aren't you coming, you stupid man?"
Val turned around slowly, confused. "You know I have to be careful with these. They'll spoil if they burn…"
"Ugh!" Darra stamped her foot, and she glared, but something in her face wasn't right. The mannerisms were all there, but this wasn't the Darra Val was used to. "Do I have to everything, myself, I ask you—Bethan! Bethan!"
Even this, Darra looking fit to kill him as she screamed for the housemaid she kept in defiance of Aunt Uraelle's disdain, was wrong. Uneasy, Val stepped towards her, praying for her health, his own, and the batch of wax's. "She's probably just upstairs…"
"Did I ask you? Bethan, get down here, you insufferable girl!"
Bethan, a tall, gangling cousin of the Wheelers' who was currently trying to fade into the wall as she crept into the room, bowed and swallowed convulsively. She was holding a duster. "So sorry, ma'am," she gasped. "I was in the upstairs salon and I couldn't—"
"Shut up and do what I tell you."
Valden flinched for the girl's sake. "Darra, I don't—"
"Valden Chandler, did I ask you?"
Darra was a deranged spectre, all hair and outstretched hands and jutting chin as she advanced upon the small pot of melting wax, examining it with a wild eye. "Bethan, I need you to stir this for…five minutes, and then you have to take it off the heat. Understand?"
Bethan was shivering. "Ye-es, Mistress Darra." She nearly cried out when Darra thrust the large stirring-spoon into her hands. "Five minutes, Mistress Darra."
"Well then, see to it." Darra had Valden by the arm and was dragging him out into the corridor before the man had a chance to blink. He had to match his pace to hers to avoid dislocating his shoulder. He was panting the time they reached the stairs.
"Why terrorise her, Darra? She never—"
"I don't…" Darra, breathless and incredibly red, bunched up her skirts with her free hand, trying to walk even faster. "I don't…care about…Bethan, Val."
They'd made the climb and reached the room. Valden grabbed Darra by the shoulders when she made a fraction-of-a-second pause to breathe. "What is it, love?"
Darra shuddered, and Val felt her grow rigid under his hands. Her whole body glared at him. "I'm sick," she said. "And I'm tired and just..."
She couldn't speak any more and, to their combined horror, tears were running down her face. She wrenched herself away, running into their bedroom.
"If all Capchen needs me to have a baby to make them satisfied," she choked out, somehow fearful and scornful in equal measure, "then just bloody well get on with it!"
To Valden, there was nothing about this scene that wasn't sad and somehow very, very frightening. Darra, still sobbing, still glaring, sitting stiff-backed on the immaculate bed, undoing buttons with quick, finicky fingers, her glasses crooked and smudged. He was sickened, guilt hot-and-cold in his chest, and yet…and yet it just wasn't right.
"No," he whispered.
"What did you say?"
"But…but you can't."
Val closed his eyes briefly, and then sat on the bed, carefully leaving space between the two of them. "Darra, why did you marry me?"
Darra started, hiccupping as she turned to look at him, genuinely confused. "Because…because it was a good match."
Val smiled thinly. "If you'd waited a few years you could have found yourself a better one. You know that."
She blushed, and she fell back on the bed, her disgust and exasperation a whimper half-suppressed. "You are an awful, awful man."
"You still married me."
"It was a good match! And I…you asked."
"Ah, yes." Valden lay back and then rolled over, leaning on an elbow as he looked down at her. "You always take the first offer."
"I should hit you."
"Forgive me," said Val, "but could it possibly be because you love me—just a little? I don't know why you're so frightened."
Darra slapped him. "I am not frightened!"
"Neither am I."
When she kissed him, it was meant to be hard and uncompromising, something to stun him into submission—anything, anything to shut him up—but it was a mess of nose and teeth and anger. His unbearable, open, familiar face was strange to her even after three years of what had become, after the wedding-time had ended, so much reluctant awkwardness in the dark. Her eyes were tearing up again, this from pain.
Valden rubbed his aching, bruised forehead and held back a laugh. "Perhaps we should…er…try that again."
Darra swore through gritted teeth. "Do what you li—"
He stopped her with two fingers at her lips. He was quietly surprised that she didn't bite. Leaning in, Valden took his fingers away and kissed her, barely hard enough for pressure to register. One hand gently cupped her face.
Darra's eyes widened, and Val pulled back, questioning. "Better?"
Darra shivered. "Do that again, she managed. "Harder."
After he'd obliged, she glared at him again, before licking her lips. "Where did you learn to do that? You've never done that before. You've been seeing another woman!"
"That…" the woman swallowed, almost smiling, "was…a joke."
"I see. Please don't try another one?"
"No. I don't think I will."
"Shut up. Valden?"
"Where…where do we go from here?"