He had brought her back to the place where it all began.
She, of course, didn't think of it that way. As she stepped out of their carriage, all she saw were the run-down, battered ruins of some once-magnificent palace. The tragic sight did not spark a single memory in her long-forgotten past, safely hidden under years of newfound love and devotion towards her master, something that, the Count wished, would resurface in the young woman's mind as soon as she realized where she really was, what sort of life-changing experiences waited beneath the cobblestones at her feet.
She was unsure. Haydee stood still, waiting for the Count to move ahead so she could hold onto his arm and allow him to take the lead. Strangely, though, he didn't budge; rather, with a gesture of his hand, he bade her walk forward in front of him. And so, ever so reluctantly, she took her first steps toward the horror that awaited her inside.
She entered the main hall, at the same time inhaling a dusty gasp of awe.
No sunlight reached the room in its solitude; its only source of illumination came from the faint band of light that streamed from the open door behind her. Every item in the hall was destroyed. Haydee saw nothing but shattered antiques, torn tapestries, worn statues, violently mutilated divans. What's more, a thick sheet of dust blanketed the entire spectacle, making it difficult for the girl to breathe.
She turned her attention to the silhouette standing right behind her, and her eyes searched desperately until they met his own.
So strange...Usually she was so adept to reading the intentions behind her master's face, but now, she was met with an expression she had never seen before. What sort of emotion hid beneath those eyes? Sadness? Sympathy? Pity? Haydee didn't know, and to her dismay, this in itself increased her fear of what was to come.
Hesitantly, she took a step forward...
The illusion passed by her so quickly, she nearly missed it.
A young child or four, perhaps younger, ran ahead of her, soft, black hair bouncing behind her. The child ran into the arms of a beautiful woman, who placed the former on her lap. Behind the both of them, a stout, powerful-looking man with a beard as black as the child's onyx hair placed a loving hand on the woman's shoulder. The two watched as their daughter emitted carefree giggles, twirling her mother's hair between her fingers.
And before Haydee knew it, it hit her.
"It can't be..."
The child, suddenly puzzled, turned her head towards Haydee, revealing her face for the first time.
"My lord? Where are you? Excellency?"
Weak pounds on the door.
"Don't leave me here! Please! My lord!!!"
Whimpers in the dark. Tears. Utter loneliness.
She was helpless. Curling into a tight ball, sitting securely on the dust-covered ground, her back to the door, she was helpless. With hot tears trickling down her face, her heart racing dangerously, her breaths quickening each second, she was helpless.
Barely did she see a glimpse of her own past, yet already, she didn't want to see any more. The child's face was already branded permanently into her mind. No matter what happens, she would never forget that face, the face that remarkably resembled her own, the face that would serve as the starting point of a chain of unbearable fears, waiting to be relived, the innocent, doll-like eyes that bore deep into her soul, reawakening that familiar, depressed, hopeless child within her.
Haydee felt the darkness swallow her whole, felt it surround her defenseless, shaking body. She squeezed her eyes shut, shielding them with both her trembling hands. When at last, the silence gave her the least possible bit of reassurance, she lowered her arms and squinted through the dusty air.
In addition to the ruined hall decorations, bodies were scattered everywhere, fresh, bleeding corpses, some of them dismembered. Blood coated the carpets, stained the tapestries, was splattered across the walls. Everything Haydee saw, young and old, was dead.
All save a mother and her child.
[Come, Haydee! We must hide!]
[But Papa is still--]
[Hush, my child! They're coming! Take my hand!]
They ran towards a hidden room to the northeast of the hall, and Haydee, as if awakened from a strange stupor, abruptly got on her feet and ran in the same direction.
The room was small, barely even a quarter of the previous hall, but it was dimmer, and again, Haydee couldn't escape from the sick sight of blood decorating the walls.
It was then that she met the most familiar and painful memory of all: watching her mother bleed to death.
Everything was the same as before. She remembered the number of bullet wounds her mother took before she suddenly collapsed. The scared child was trembling as Haydee had before. She even remembered the puddle of blood that pooled from her mother's body, towards her little feet. But most of all, she remembered the dying woman's last gesture, last words.
The mother, with her pale, bloody arm outstretched in front of her, handed a small, sheathed dagger to her frightened daughter. With it came her final request.
[If anyone violates or dishonors you...kill yourself!]
The mother fell and moved no more.
The child, holding the dagger in her hands, wept bitterly, crouching next to her mother's now-empty body. At the same time, the tears reappeared in Haydee's eyes, and she too could not hold back the sobs that arose from her dry throat...
[OPEN THIS DOOR!]
Two powerful thumps on the door.
The sound of shattered wood as the door is broken through.
A dozen or so soldiers rushing in, pointing their bayonets towards every corner of the room.
[The pasha's wife?]
[Wait! There's a child!]
[Get her! She's his daughter!]
The child tried to break free from the vice-like grips of the surrounding shoulders, but her attempts appeared to be futile, as she realized she was too weak to fight back, too traumatized, too full of disbelief.
Her teary eyes searched for help, not meeting Haydee as she stood solitary in one corner, a ghost amongst the figures of her illusion. Again, Haydee's eyes reflected her inner fear, and she knew what would happen next.
A man entered, a sneer evident on his face, as he carried with him a red-hot brand, blinding to the eye, waiting for an opportunity to mark a person forever.
That person was Haydee.
Seeing the brand for the first time, the child cried out in fear, kicking and struggling more vigorously than before, her eyes fresh again with tears.
Haydee closed her eyes, weeping bitterly as she heard the child's cries in the background, slowly merging with her own. She could already feel the hands of the soldiers on her wrists, could already feel the heat of the brand close to her neck. Only she knew the feeling of burning iron upon her skin, and heaven knew how much she begged not to bear it for the second time.
She cried and cried, wishing the illusion would stop. It was all too real for her to bear, to relive.
The brand was closing in, and all too suddenly, she became still. All hope was lost.
Her body was tired. Her wrists hurt. Her throat was parched.
And for the briefest moment, for the second time...
...Haydee Tebelin was alone.
"Haydee! Wake up!"
Her throat was burning.
"Open your eyes!"
His words could not reach her. She could not hear him. She could not open her eyes.
Screams filled the room, ruined, dark, empty but for the Count, holding a restless Haydee in his arms. There he cradled her, tried to whisper soothing words into her ear, tried to hold her close to him despite her unconscious writhes and struggles, but to no avail.
He kissed her neck repeatedly, stroked her hair, replaced his soothing words with apologies, and slowly, so slowly, Haydee's body became calm. Her loud cries were ceased, replaced with heartbroken whimpers and soft sobs, as she pulled the Count closer to her.
"No more...No more..."
"Never again. I promise."
It took a while for Haydee to feel his lips on hers, to feel his tears fall on her face. She didn't need to open her eyes to know it was him. With tears welling her eyes and a painful throat, she spoke.
The Count kissed her sweat-covered brow and held her closer still.
"...I did it for you."
Sorry for the cliffhanger, guys. I leave the rest of the interpretation to you readers. Does Haydee get her so-called courage, or doesn't she? You decide.
I haven't posted for a very long time, so bear with me again. o 3o And reviews are welcome! 83