The darkness fell as a hush upon him, quiet and still, the only recognizable sound the swollen rhythm of his own heart. He took a breath, and then another. Another yet. But the pain did not diminish, did not recede, surging against him, suffocating, like the lashes of the storm-churned tide.
Flickers of light still beckoned from the tower window, his disobedient eyes turning towards it despite his own admonishment.
"I'll pretend it's you."
Her words seared with fire and ice, eating away at him, upending all he thought he knew, all he had striven to become. He would not give way to such imaginings, seeing her and him – them – in such close proximity, his grasp upon her pale skin, his breath mingling with hers.
He hated Marke, almost as much as he hated himself.
But how could he not think of her, just has he had every night since he had glimpsed her through a fevered haze? She consumed him, even now, as another man's wife. He closed his eyes against the memory of the beach at Dunluce, the sea as green as her measured gaze, her skin warm against his hand even through the textured fabric of her gown. He had meant to keep that moment forever, as one keeps a treasured jewel in a casket of silver, looking at it time and again with a small smile of remembrance. But now it would never be a joy, only a curse upon him, damned as he was to anger and regret.
He is stark mad, who ever says,
That he hath been in love an hour,
Yet not that love so soon decays,
But that it can ten in less space devour;
Who will believe me, if I swear
That I have had the plague a year?
Who would not laugh at me, if I should say
I saw a flask of powder burn a day?
The tower chamber held a strange foreboding, yet even as she sat next to him she knew what was to come. How absurd it was to pretend otherwise, as if she was ignorant of the act that would soon follow. As if her skin did not already know the touch of its true and rightful claimant.
"Come with me!"
She heard his voice even now, etched with longing and hope, as their bodies clung to the side of the boat, yet it was difficult for her to recall why she had refused him. Perhaps she had wished to show him that his talk of duty had moved her to keep faith with her own promises, to prove that she was not solely guided by the wants of her heart. But what did it matter, in the end? All their obligations had been kept, yet it had only brought them grief.
Marke was speaking to her, words meant to comfort, to quell her fears. But even as he brushed away a plait of hair, or reached for her hand, she knew he could not truly touch her, not when her heart was so very far from this place. Her body had been pledged to him, nothing more. She owed him her loyalty, but not her love.
She willed herself not to think, especially not of him, where he might be, if he was thinking of her. And as Marke leaned down to kiss her, she shut her eyes, the darkness clouding her mind into oblivion.
Ah, what a trifle is a heart,
If once into love's hands it come!
All other griefs allow a part
To other griefs, and ask themselves but some;
They come to us, but us Love draws,
He swallows us, and never chaws:
By him, as by chain'd shot, whole ranks to die,
He is the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry.
Every muscle in his frame burned, urging him to burst into their chamber, offer his hand, and steal her away, to a place so far from the world that they would never be found. Had she not asked him to do so already, her pleading ringed with a veil of tears? All thoughts of home, all consideration of honor and duty, all would be lost within her eyes, within her touch upon him.
But it could not be. To destroy everything he had helped create in order to have her would simply trade one tragedy for another.
They had not spoken since that afternoon on the ship; he could not even meet her eye. Even as he had seen her last, bedecked in wedding finery, resplendent as the silvery Goddess born from the sea, even as he had watched her eyes flit about, quietly searching for his, he did not dare. He stood as a man half-dead, who moves and breathes by force of will alone.
How could he stay to watch her be paraded around as a captive prize, to see them eat from the same dish, drink from the same cup, take their leave at night's end and disappear together into a darkened room? But then how could he go, leave his home, forsake the only life he had ever really known?
"We will live with this. We must."
This remained the painful answer to the riddle of his divided self. His heart must be hardened, the invisible cords that still bound them together put to the sword.
If 'twere not so, what did become
Of my heart, when I first saw thee?
I brought a heart into the room,
But from the room, I carried none with me:
If it had gone to thee, I know
Mine would have taught thine heart to show
More pity unto me: but Love, alas!
At one first blow did shiver it as glass.
She fell back against the bed, Marke's hand fumbling with the laces of her robe, and her heart ached at both his awkwardness and visible need. Could she transform herself, transform this place, the bed linens she lay upon, until at last she might trace her fingers against the sand, feel the tang of the salt sea within her lungs?
His breath was heavy on her neck, his lips whispering across her skin, as she trembled in excitement and fear.
She turned upward to meet his mouth with hers, surprised by her own urgency, the desire to feel every part of him with every part of herself. Even so, she wanted more, so much that somehow they would wholly cease to be themselves, but be lost and intermingled within each other.
He paused to look down at her, her palm still flat against the rough pounding of his heart, his eyes questioning, waiting. She acquiesced with a small nod, not trusting in words, as she pulled him down into her ready arms.
A fire soon coursed through her, an ache so strong she thought she might weep. With every movement the conflagration spread, consuming her, until at last, she was released, her body sensing that it had devoured and been devoured in turn.
"How do you feel?"
Where the words real, or was she only remembering them? And if she did not open her eyes, how was she to know the difference?
Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
Nor any place be empty quite,
Therefore I think my breast hath all
Those pieces still, though they be not unite;
And now as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore
But after one such love, can love no more.
He remembered holding her close within his arms, her skin still warm and flushed, until they had both been lost to sleep, even as the long shadows of twilight stretched across the churning of the sea. He had woken with a start to find her gone, the space beside him cool and empty, the embers of the burned-out fire trailing tiny wisps of smoke. Yet even in the darkness he had been unable to return to sleep.
In the morning she had come for him, her voice turned thick with fear. She could not go with him, she had claimed, and only the pale harsh daylight had been witness to their separation. The sea had brought him to her, under a mask of death, and it bore him away just as simply.
For all his plans and schemes, for his love-sick notion to win not only Marke a wife in Ireland but himself as well, to bring her back to Cornwall as his own, where they might forever relive those days and nights they had discovered each other among the chatter of shorebirds and the ocean's roar – what did they all come to?
Were they merely playthings of Fortune? What would become of them, in the end? He knew, in his heart, that theirs was a story that would offer little pleasure in the telling.
He glanced up again at the window: the light was gone, put out, the shroud of darkness total.