Echoes of Another Life
"In the emptiness of evermore, I stand on my own, For you were meant to be right beside me, But your love in another lured you away, So here I stand, Guarding against the echoes of another life."
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"Tell me then."
Instead, she shows her. Shows her a whole other world. Turning toward the cold young queen, Adelaide releases the scraping stone of the balustrade and reaches up, grabbing abruptly at her by either temple, her fingertips searing into the girl, her magick sinking in sharp and intrusively. An attack of sordid manner.
"How could you?!" she screams out with all her worth, all her heart and broken soul and sound. "How could you! How could you! How could you!" she screams, slamming into him, punching and crying against him as he weathers the assault with a pained expression, a strong expression on his handsome southern features.
Mary rips off with a gasp, a blitzed confusion and wariness, swiping blindly out as she staggers, catching herself on the stone, her knees buckling. The sudden spinning in her head turns the world upside down and swirls around her like the eye of a storm. She is sick with it. Thinks her stomach as might as revolt. Shaking her head, she starts to protest in slur, tries to ward off the wretched witch when she comes at her, but instead only collapses. Overcome by a feverish faint. By sharp painful flashes of vision that grip her tight and won't let go.
The first time it slows into focus, begins to make sense, she is wholly trapped within the scene, bereft of her body, of the reality she knows, so far released of it that she finds it distant and surreal like a freshly forgotten dream. The here and now is what is real. The here and now is what is solid. And it is intensely emotional. Intensely wrenching. For she is inside herself, inside another woman, with glowing golden sun kissed skin and long curly blonde tresses in a lavish Italian dressing gown. She is sitting at first, her legs squeezed together and her hands clenched in her lap, her face fixed away from the somber empty room, turned toward the little bit of light bathing into the dark room from the oriel window bay. Sitting still as a statue, held together by the precarious brittle adhesive of her own tremulous control, sitting and stewing in her darkly tense thoughts when the strapping Spanish man enters. His eyes are dark gold and his hair is pitch black and in need of sheering as it frames his broad face, a handsome face with brutish pronounced bone structure that of a warrior, a powerful jawline and cleft chin shadowed heavy with stubble. As he comes in, her control cracks, and the lady surges to her feet in a vicious whiplash of movement. Ready for a fight. Aching for it. She feels as if she is herself and yet knows that cannot be. It cannot be…
Because her name is Lavinia. Because she is or once was the pampered daughter of an affluent Spanish political family, with a loving overbearing father and an educated mother, one beautifully composed and coveted in her society, living in Rome. Her family is back in Spain. Her beloveds are back in Spain. Every last one of them. Or they were. Until today.
"Tell me it isn't true." She speaks softly, her gentle feminine alto carrying through the silence of the oppressive room like a melody, like a carefully held together song of pain.
"Nia," he murmurs thickly in return, not granting her request with that dark difficult rasp of his and the dark remorseful furrow of his ridged brow.
"No," she stops him, preempts his excuses, his explanations, not able to stand and listen to his defense of his actions, to his justifications. Turning her head aside, eyes shutting harshly, her face is strung taut and her lashes are damp, but no tears reach her cheeks. She is stronger than that. She is angry. "No. You do not get to tell me why you are here. You do not get to tell me why you thought it was not unforgivable to bring her here."
"Nia. Mi querida," he whispers, half to himself, a plea for her mercy.
She has been captive in the capitol for five years now. A political prisoner taken when her city had been ransacked by the marching Papal armies. Forced into marriage with the medaled soldier who had abducted her from her home, her people, who had raped and humiliated her with merely glimpses of compassion which only made her despise him more.
And despite the circumstances, she had endured. She had carved herself a standing in Rome. Found herself a semblance of peace and control that allowed for acceptance.
But his arrival threatens that balance. His presence destroys it. So no, she has no mercy for him. She has no mercy left for anyone anymore. Not even herself.
Tears not streaking her face, she lashes out as he tries to approach, shoving hard at his chest, knocking him back with the punishing force of her fury. "How could you?!" she accuses viciously. "How could you! How could you! How could you!" she screams, slamming into him over and over, punching at his broad strong shoulders, crying and thrashing against him as he weathers assault. When he tries to catch her in his arms, hold her through her struggles, she wrenches herself away and turns her back on him, going cold. "What were you thinking? Bringing her here."
"She is your sister. She wanted to be with you."
"That does not matter now!" she yells, whirling back at him, wet eyes flashing dangerously like the surge of violence from a wounded wild animal. Then abruptly goes quiet. Falling calm again. Like the eye of a storm. Like the precipice.
My sister. My baby sister, she thinks into that deafening silence. That numbing calm. This is no place for her. This is no place…
The man before her is Nikola. A man she has known all her life, from her city, from her home. They grew up alongside one another. They had once been meant for marriage, uniting their two families for strength and prosperity, betrothed as children and unprotestant of it. But all that she knows right now facing him is that she hates him in this moment with seething passion. Hates him for the reminder he represents. For endangering what is precious to her, what she has kept safe by locking away, far far away from here. Locking from her heart. And now he stands here, making her remember who she was, what she once had, remember that her life had once had meaning and joy and fulfillment in a way she forced herself to forget in order to survive. She can't even bear to look at his face. That face she has known longer than any. That she has loved.
"Why have you come, Nik?" she asks the man at her back. Facing the window with its meager opening to the bright golden light of day, arms folded tightly about herself, keeping her together, her questions are tiredly spoken, defeatedly subdued. "Why have you come?"
"I am your husband. I wanted to be with you."
"You are not my husband," she contradicts, still tiredly, sighing wearily at his familiar way.
Looming behind her, so painfully close, he counters steadily, evenly, "I should have been."
Yes. You should have been, she thinks, even as she slips away, as the reality around her begins to break apart, restructuring itself into the original, into the present, her awareness jagged and in desperate disorientation as Mary wakes strewn across the cobbled stone of her veranda balcony, dusted in snow.
"There you are. Come now. Let us get you inside, shall we?" Adelaide is saying mildly to her as she crouches down and snakes an arm about the queen's waist to heft her upwards.
"What did you—" she tries to query, demand, accuse, but her words slur off into silence as her head drops back and smacks hard into stone when the witch slips her grip with a grunt before she can catch her again, pulling her upright so that the women stagger haphazardly into the chamber. Halfway across the bedchamber, she drops her once more, letting the girl slip limply from her hold and sprawl on the floor. Mary groans, fingers digging into her temples, squinting and blinking and trying to recover herself. Struggling to make sense of things.
"No. No, Nikki. No!" she screams, panic and pleading and uncontrollable laughter shattering the quiet afternoon staccatos of the aves, her bare feet pattering across the cobblestone as she rushes around the courtyard fountain, rushes through an opening of a beige belvedere and breaks out across the green grass, a grown boy of ten and four chasing at her heels. When he catches her, he clasps her about the waist, snatching her up out of her run with a jerk that steals her breath and swings her into a spin, her yellow skirts swirling around them as they go, her head thrown back in a rich glorious burst of laughing protest. "No. No, Nikki. No! Please!"
"Kinsley," she growls, grounding out the syllables, fingers furling to bite into the stone under her weak body, pushing painstakingly onto her knees. She manages to grasp hold of the duvet and haul herself up the foot of the bed, making it only partially atop before she loses her focus on time and spins backward into the past. Into the vision.
She is back in that somber room, back in Lavinia with Nikola at her back searing heat and pain into her soul, stuck once more in that dark oppressive room in a cold desolate palazzo of the state, one of the finest residences in all of extravagant Rome. Stuck. A prisoner in a tower.
From there, she recalls earlier awareness, jumping back to when the fair Lavinia was a child no more than six years, and she and a boy named Nik raced each other down the hills to the waterfall. There by the water, Nik and Nia played make believe and chased and fought swords and wrestled through the wildflowers. They playacted marrying there in the bright sunny Spanish fields one day. Husband and wife. That was to be their future. They had no issue with that. It seemed a perfect fit. A natural thing. Fairy tales and rainbows and the world was supposed to stretch on just like this for ever and ever. Life was meant to be all days like this one, sunny and laughing and free. Happiness. Innocence.
And for a little while, just a little while, it had been.
Ten now, she streaks mud over marble floors as they race through the foyer of her household, earning the irate yells of her mother, and when her father comes upon them, he scoops her up and tickles her into a furious fit of laughter and squirming. Playful and happy. Even her mother gives in, relinquishing her scolding frown for an indulgent glaze of love and exasperation. Father is so soon called away, like always, leaving the kids. Nikki teases her for being Papa's girl. She shoves him off his arcade perch. He breaks his arm but doesn't hate her for it.
At ten and two, she is caught spying through his window. Not for the first time, but it certainly is the first time of what she sees him doing inside. Panicked when he notices her, she jumps from the piazza balustrade and lands in a roll on the grass of the atrium below, running for her life while he tears out of his chamber, bounding down the piazza stairs four steps at a time. Nearly escaped, she is snatched off her feet halfway between their estates. Tackled to the grass. Rolling together in stifled laughter and lighthearted accusations, Nik and Nia tumble downward from the peak of hill. When they still, arriving gracelessly at the valley below, fighting faintly, fair-haired girl wriggling for freedom in her captor's grasp, falling quiet and calm, overtaken each by new admiring desire, surprised and unsettled, shy and restless, his amber eyes rake her face, studying its every feature, and then he leans his down to hers and they kiss. Just like that.
A year later, down at the falls once more, under nightfall this time, Nik and Nia meet in secret. Sneaking from their households while their parents and siblings sleep. The families had intended always to align their firstborns in marriage at the proper age. Now though, despite the children in no way anxious for a change in that plan, everything has changed. Now that his father is dead and the estate destitute while that promise of their alliance has been all but written from existence, hers is trying to marry her off to a young pompous heir of prominence and fortune across the city, a match with business dealings between his lordship and the king. They meet in secret by the falls the very night she learns of her father's intentions. Of the all but inescapable future set for her so suddenly now. A future so unlike the one she had been raised expecting. And so she sees him and she lets her whims take hold of her. Lets her panic and her resistance surface. She talks of running away together. She wants this idea. She clings to it. This is her last hope. If she could get Nikki to take her away, everything could be all right again. They could travel to France, to Greece, to every place they spoke of seeing as children. They could survive off their wits and their rogue living like they pretended to as children. They could have all those adventures they dreamed up down here by the waterfalls in their make believe play. The more she talks of it, rambling on fast in breathless hurry to keep him from interrupting her, from shooting her down, striving to persuade the boy of her wild fantasies. He is older than her and responsible, and so he tells her no, exactly as she knew he would, exactly as she feared. He tells her to go home. He doesn't look happy about it, seems so grave and grim, so stern in his obligation, his maturity. But whatever his feelings, his wants, she will never convince him. She knows she won't. But she tries anyway. And when he tries to turn her away and send her home, she gives it her all. She offers herself to him, stripping loose of her nightgown, letting it pool at her feet, and he tries to walk away but can't get far, finally gives in, spinning and striding across the gap, crashing into her, taking her down to the ground beneath his body in a hot hungry rush of desperation and surrender. They make love by the falls, laying tangled, her head on his chest above his heart, accepting the inevitable, a sort of calm come over them. Drawing apart, they dress in silence, backs turned to each other, sneaking home as dawn arrives.
Three weeks after that night, Spain is set upon by Roman aggressors, and Lavinia is taken.
Returning groggily to her present awareness, Mary finds herself laid properly along her bed on her back. Finds the redheaded witch seated at her bedside, soothing her brow with a damp cloth. Frowning as she stirs, eyes slitting hesitantly open to watch the witch's face, she quietly wonders, "What happened to them?"
"Nikola and Lavinia?" Adelaide guesses. Mildly, "They died. As all living things do."
The sorceress pulls back then. Setting the wet cloth aside, she smoothes the skirts of her dress down her thighs before settling her hands on her knees with a telling sigh. Her face is a kind mask. "Are you certain you wish to see?"
Mary doesn't answer. Not at first. She just lays still, composing herself, adjusting the notions of who she is and what things are in her mind, filing away the startling new developments of what she experienced from the witch's vile magick. She doesn't know what to think of this. All of it. Is unsure if she should even believe it, even as she knows the truth in her bones, in her soul. Knows what she felt and what she knew to be true as Lavinia was no trick. After a long hesitation, she decides, "No. Never mind it."
But then when Adelaide rises to leave, instinct has her catch her hand, stilling her halfway up. Softly, stoically, she questions, "Are you saying that was me? That I was once Lavinia?"
The woman only arcs an eyebrow. "What do you think? What did it feel like?"
"It could be your trickery." She knows it isn't but says it still. Hanging onto doubt. To hope.
"Yes. Nikola had been Sebastian. A form of him, at least. Though our bodies die, our souls tend to linger on, finding new incarnations." She tells the toppled girl this assertion so simply, so easily, slender shoulders shrugging in affect. This doesn't bother her at all. This doesn't affect her at all. That grates at the girl. That makes her chafe. But the witch just smiles. "I am not claiming you two were meant for each other in that last life, only that this is not your first. And you would do wisely to keep in mind how well it went for those two."
With that irreverently warned omen, she leaves the troubled young queen to herself, alone in an empty bedchamber, glass door to the veranda left ajar, whistling in the bite of wintry wind as it swings slightly at the pressure. Alone with her sedatedly distraught thoughts. Swallowed horribly by the vacuum hush of the deserted room and its glaring stillness. She lays and waits for her heart to become less heavy. For her strength to return. For her head to slow its spinning. That happens in gradual stages, inch by inch, and it isn't the last spell that will topple her this way.
After Adelaide leaves, Mary remembers on her own.
He tried to follow long before then, before that oppressive room in Rome five years too late to save Lavinia. Tried to follow, did follow, even arrived once. But she sent him away, sent him home to Spain to take care of his mother, to have his own life. He couldn't save her. He couldn't take her with him. She wouldn't allow it, because she knew that if she went with him, let Nikola rescue her, her husband would send his men after them. They would hunt her down and Nik would be killed for her impetuousness. So she stayed. Said goodbye. Sent him back. Mirroring his own words that night by the falls. Their last night.
Then he arrives in Rome once more, five years later, arrives with her beloved sister Francesca at his side, escorting her to visit. As if this is normal. As if they are in no danger here in this city with her husband so close. Hosting them. She could kill him for this. For his stubbornness. His cockiness and his fearlessness and his simple seemingly unconcerned determination to be here beside her as a grown man, a strong man who has found his footing. Infuriating man.
"It is not safe in this city for her. For either of you. Please. You must go."
Instead of meriting that with a response, he says, "I should have run away with you. That night at the falls. I should have run away with you when you asked, Lavinia. I should have been brave and reckless like you were. And done whatever you asked of me."
"You were honoring your family. You were honoring me. I understood that."
"Give me a second chance to do that moment again. I would go with you. I never would have walked away from you, Nia."
"There is no changing the past."
"I can take you with me now."
"I am no longer a foolish boy. I can protect you. I can keep you safe."
"Enough, Nik. Don't speak of this."
"Damn you. Lavi, listen—"
"My answer will be the same," she cuts him off, harsh and unwavering in her impatience for his wild offerings. His grandiose ideas. He is as she had been, back then as a child with idiotic dreams, coming to the serious boy next door with frantic foolish fantasies that could never be anything but a girl's deluded fancy. "We have been through this before."
The woman she is now has no luxury for dreams or delusions. For impulse and hope. She has no luxury for him, for her sister, for the life that she lost so long ago. That girl they knew is dead now. Lavinia is dead. Who he came for is gone. This woman is someone else. She will not indulge him in this risk. Will not let him get himself killed for a ghost.
She tries to go, tries to shove herself past him, to dismiss him coldly and cleanly, but he grabs hold of her arm, yanking her back to him, jerking her against him with a roughness that resembles her husband's handling. Only it doesn't. It could never. At first she struggles, resisting against him, rigid and unreceptive, but his strength never falters, his fierce intensity, his pull for her remains so overpowering and inescapable so long as he holds her here. And so she relents. Finds herself soon clinging to his forearms where they clutch her, guard of ice melting under his heat, his persistence, mouth pressed profoundly to her brow as she begins to cry. Holding onto each other for dear life. For hurt and heartbreak. For solace.
Mary doesn't know what to do with these memories.
The Echoes: The One That Got Away by The Civil Wars.
Nik and Nia: Born to Die by Lana del Rey.