It was a dark and stormy night…

Portrait of a Lord and his lady

It was a dark and stormy night, lightning fragmenting the inky darkness of the sky, clouds angry and ebony black, wind howling the mansion like a predatory wolf. The servants had gone around earlier in the evening, after Reginald had left, locking all the windows securely, shutting the curtains and bolting the doors shut to prevent damage to the rather splendid mansion. She had listened to their whispers about the master leaving, about the weather being an ill portent for his pleasure that evening, all the while planning her own entertainment.

Aoima, however, ignored this chatter of misfortune for the most part, settling into the wicker chair beside the crib with a warm smile on her face. This new baby was growing up fast, and she couldn't help but giggle when she saw its angelic curls, its wide, toothless grin full of innocent mirth. There was no way these moments spent with her child could be tarnished.

What made it even more saccharine was the victory she had won over her husband – despite all his bluster, all his promises, he had not managed to keep her away from their newest daughter. Even now, as he sat around a table playing card games well into the night, he would have no idea that she was secretly here, spending quality time with Leonya.

"Maa-maaaa!" The child with the chubby cheeks pointed at her mother and strung the few syllables it knew together, drool dribbling down her face as she triumphantly spoke her only word. Aoima's heart exploded with delight at hearing her child speak, so pleased she was with herself and her daughter.

Holding the tiny boy close to her, she felt Leonya's small hands grasp her clothing, latching onto her mother and holding tightly: she practically screamed with happiness, the warmth of her child washing over her, resting against her body as the connection between mother and child strengthened. She was so lost in her pretend world with the child she didn't notice the door open softly.

"What do you think you are doing here?" softly spoken, yet a distinctive hint of malice, the nursery door swung open to reveal Reginald's silhouette, supported slightly by the doorframe. She gasped, quickly standing up and replacing Leonya in the cradle, uncertain what to do or what to say. "I've been looking for you, my love…" She began to walk towards him , realising her only escape was through the door he protected, determined not to be driven away by him.

"I was - " Faster than she could follow, his hand jabbed forwards, fist smashing into her throat, the inability to breath or think without pain eluding her. She fell to the floor, unable to react, watching fearfully as he circled her, like a hawk to its prey, the alcohol in his system causing him to take a rather unorthodox route around her.

"I'll tell you what you were doing here, you deceitful little bitch!" He spoke with venom: clearly, he had had a most unfortuitous night with the cards: it did not seem that lady luck, nor any other of the female persuasion had favoured him this evening. "You were defying me, weren't you? You were breaking my rules in my house, and that I cannot allow."

She cried allowed and curled up as a well-aimed kick landed on her breastbone, his foot smacking into her hard as she lay, prone and unable to defend herself. "You know you're not allowed in here, how dare you come in here!" He was ranting: in the half-light she could see his eyes, wild and wide, the liberal amounts of alcohol in his blood driving him to this half-lunacy.

"What do you think you were doing, what were you doing…" He seemed to cast about violently, looking from left to right, expecting the answer to materialise. A smile illuminated his face a few seconds later: clearly he had happened upon an answer. "I'll tell you, you were trying to turn it against me, you were trying to turn it into your creature, against its father, and I won't allow it!"

Aoima attempted to get to her feet, tasting blood in her mouth as she struggled to regain her stance, incredulously watching Reginald's drunken slurring devolve into rampant delusions. He looked at her, a flash of fear passing through his features, soon replaced by an anger as powerful as anything he had felt those last few minutes. "It's a conspiracy, they're all against me. I know what your game is, I know what your plan is, I saw you talking with your brother, don't think I didn't!" He spat this time, Aoima raised her hand to wipe her face clean as he continued his tirade against her, accusations growing wilder and wilder. "He's already had money off me, well over 6,000 gold…" He mumbled this, frustration replacing outright anger as he seemed to pat his pockets down, searching for any remaining coinage on him. "And now you're going to turn the child against me. Your swamp life blood of a family is trying to take off what's rightfully mine, trying to ooze up out of the mire that you infest; but I know this, and I won't let that happen." He put a hand to her chest and propelled her away, before loudly stating: "This is de Breos land, de Breos money and I won't let you have it. I've been on to you from the start!"

"You're insane, you're drunk!" She finally managed to get her words in between his, eyes narrowed in anger at his tirade. How dare he speak about her in such a way, how dare the drunken sadistic monster accuse her and her family of such blatant and obvious lies!

"All part of your brothers plan, I'm sure you know…but if I know its an ambush I can repay it tenfold, can't I, my dear?" His handed tangled itself in her hair, twisting viciously within the long locks and yanking her around, like horse in its bridle.

"What the hell are you on about?" She called out, attempting to break away from him and failing, his grip far too tight to allow her freedom. "What the hell are you doing?" He pulled her back to him, holding her body against his: she could smell the thick scent of spirits on his breath, feel his heart pounding against her…

"That's right, always playing the dutiful wife, but I know what really lurks in your mind." Reginald looked deeply into her concerned eyes, an eyebrow raised, a wide smile on his face as he leant upwards to kiss her, pressing his lips to hers. She attempted to resist, but found it impossible to pull away as he sank his teeth into her bottom lip: groaning, she pushed him away, blood spilling down her front as his teeth tore her flesh.

Her hands flew to her mouth, desperately trying to stem the bleeding, daubing away at the precious liquid, hardly noticing as Reginald, chuckling to himself, kicked her feet from under her, causing her to crash to the floor again. As she lay crying, he walked over to the crib and picked up the child, holding it close to him.

"You're not getting her...she's mine." He considered the child with a kindness he had never shown her before, before the mad gleam and the ranting returned. "They're all mine and you'll never see them again, none of them, not even that…stinking bastard whelp of yours."

With characteristic cruelty, Aoima watched how, almost in slow motion, his foot came from nowhere and crushed her hand, the crunch and snapping of broken bones barely heard over her cries of pain and horror, and his laughter. She struggled against herself to stand up, running after her drunken husband, desperate to save the child from anything he might accidentally do to it.

"You're drunk, put the child back, please!" Aoima spoke through her tears. "Love of the gods, please put the child back!" She cried aloud, following him through the house, calling out after him out of fear for the child. Tears flowed openly down her face as she tried to struggle towards him, her wrist throbbing with pain.

"You want it back? You want it?" It was like a scene from a nightmare, a leering, maniac holding her child over the banister of the stairs, the blankets it was normally wrapped in unravelling and dropping to the wooden floor beneath.

"Yes, please, I'll do anything, just please put the child back were it is safe…"She spoke through her tears, afraid of getting too close. Pausing for a moment, he seemed to consider her offer for a moment. Taking advantage of this, she made to grab the crying baby, missing her target as Reginald moved the child to cover under his arm, grasping Aoima's neck and sweeping her along.

"Safe? I'll put you were its safe…" As she choked and struggled, he swept her legs out from under her and pushed her down the stairs, her head striking a number of steps as she tumbled to the bottom, her body crumpling like a doll at the bottom, unconsciousness washing over her.

Aoima woke up in pain – something she was getting more and more used to with these dreams: her broken wrist was bound, but tender: her lips ached and her head throbbed, the back of it sore, remnants of blood encrusted in her hair. It hurt to breathe deeply as she struggled to sit up, reaching for the clothes that had been left out for her – an uncharacteristically fashionable set, she considered, as she attempted to dress herself with her injuries.

"The lord awaits his ungrateful harlot, milady – you might want to hurry along!" A less-than-polite servant came in the room, sneering at her attempts to dress, eventually getting bored and yanking the dress into place, ignoring her cries of pain as she tied Aoima into her robes. "You wouldn't wish to keep disappointing him…though I suppose you aren't good at anything else!"

She barely had time to register the way in which she was being addressed, so suddenly afraid of the reprimand she would receive – her feet carried her to the place she knew she had to be, hardly stopping to draw breath. From nowhere, she vaguely recalled some kind of sitting for a portrait she had been required to partake in; terrified of the punishment she would suffer for her tardiness, she fled to the destination.

Opening the door to the gallery, she saw that her family had already taken their places, the children immaculately dressed and well presented, standing around their father, a chair she presumably was meant to assume looking obviously empty. Upon noticing her presence, the three children seemed to glare, their father briefly smiling before replacing it with a much more neutral expression.

"You're late." She took her place on the seat beside him, taking the baby that was offered to her, the weight causing a great deal of stress to her damaged wrist. Reginald didn't seemed to notice her wince, placing his arm behind her in a less than pleasant way.

"Yes, I'm sorry, I must have overslept." Aoima did not make eye contact as she glanced away, the unfamiliar person sat behind the easel arranging his brushes and paints, before standing up and attempting to reset their positions. He criticised the shabbiness of the bandage about her wrist and her mauled lip, frustrated as he returned to his place and began to sketch, angrily drawing wide arches with a pencil on the canvas.

"Never mind, my wife has a fondness for alcohol and fell down the stairs…" He hid the sneer from all but Aoima, moving the blankets from baby to conceal her broken wrist. "Fortunately the new born was with the nurse."

She looked abashed as the artist looked disapprovingly at her, muttering under his breath and making dark looks towards her whenever his eyes passed over her. Her husband, meanwhile, continued to move between looking smug whenever she caught his eye and remaining neutral for the artist. His other hand was placed in a protective paternal fashion on top of the baby's blankets, occasionally stroking and smiling for it.

"Its nice to have all the family here, wouldn't you say?" He addressed Aoima, eyes glimmering in a way that dared her to contradict him. Feeling confident in the presence of someone who could surely not dislike her anymore than he already did, she spoke up.

"They're not all here, are they, my love. We're still missing one."

"Drinking again already, Aoima." He spoke in a kindly condescending tone, patting her broken wrist and causing her to wince. "They're all here. All my children are here." He put stress on certain words in his last phrase, looking daggers at her and ending the conversation officially. She dared not argue further. He waved his hand in the direction of the artist. "Continue."

Aoima sat still, spine aching, pain shooting through her periodically: phasing out, she looked out the window, rain falling against it, no other sounds present except for the strokes of the artists pencil.