She hadn't grieved. It had been over two years and she still hadn't grieved. Oh she had grieved when she thought her sister, the Queen of Ebon Askavi, Dreams Made Flesh, Witch... Jaenelle, was lost. She had raged and swore and collapsed as sobs racked her slender frame, but the news before that? She absorbed it quietly and she hadn't grieved.
Now. Now she was snappy. Snarly. Confusing his sons and the boyos over her behavior. Had they never known? Never seen? Was it that closely guarded of a secret what had transpired?
Oh he knew. Had known for some time then formally as the Steward of the Dark Court. And he had done nothing about the grief she hadn't taken. He took her at her word when she said she was okay. Believed the smile she had given them all. Now that he looked back, the smile was too bright. He should have seen it then.
But you didn't, High Lord. You didn't. You looked her over and focused on the coven and Jaenelle. You still had not accepted her because of why you almost lost your Queen, a voice chastised him. Pain filled his gold eyes as he watched the woman standing in the gardens, staring into the pond as moonlight danced over its surface.
He glanced to his right and saw Chaosti, the Warlord Prince of Dea al Mon approach her. He saw him pause when he heard the soft snarl she emanated. A part of him wanted to smile. She had shown that bit of steel when she came to Kaeleer and it came out more and more every day.
It was that steel that had forced him here to deal with the mess he could have stopped. Karla, Kalush and Gabrielle had brought it to his attention. Three Queens that tolerated a sister witch snarling at them because of who her blood relation was. A sister witch that they could see was in pain, but they didn't understand it. He winced as she remembered the pain he had inflicted on them with a single word.
A quick explanation to them before he took his leave and the name drove him here, calling to the boyos and his sons to join him. It was time that they stopped ignoring the presence in their lives, for if their own Queen had discovered how much pain her sister was in and they had done nothing... there were no words to describe what pains they would face when she turned away from them. Even her own husband.
"Leave me alone," she said, bringing Saetan out of his musing. He glanced to see Aaron approaching her.
"Wilhelmina, what's going on?" the handsome man asked, his voice gentle. He was trying his best to not be snarly with her. Especially since she, in turn, had snarled at his wife and Kalush had come home with tears in her eyes after telling Saetan. He hadn't had time to question her before Saetan had summoned the boyos to him to deal with whatever was troubling her.
"Nothing, just leave me alone," Wilhelmina said, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Not a chance, witchling," Lucivar Yaslana said, his wings extending as he hooked his thumbs into the leather belt around his waist. In typical Eyrien fashion, he cocked his hip and arched a brow. He was ready for a fight, always having enjoyed sparring with the women.
"Or would you prefer I threw a bucket of water over you?"
It was meant as a tease, to get her to smile. Her reaction was not what he expected.
"Do it and I'll twist your cock off, you prick," Wilhelmina said, blue eyes flashing. Lucivar and the other men stiffened.
"Doubt that's really necessary," Daemon Sadi said in a lazy tone. Too lazy. He received a slashing mental smack from his father.
"Lady Benedict," Saetan said, falling on formality. "You have not grieved."
"I don't know what you are talking about," Wilhelmina said. Saetan, however, was not blind. Neither were the boyos or his sons. They saw Wilhelmina tense, her spine going ridged.
"It's been two years," Saetan continued. "And you have not grieved." She looked away.
"High Lord?" Khardeen asked at the same time Lucivar said: "Father?"
But he ignored them, focusing on the dark haired beauty in front of him. The witchling he had failed. No more.
"Morton wouldn't want you to grieve him forever, not this way. Not when you haven't released it to the Darkness," he said gently. Despite how soft his words were, he saw the wince as if he had slapped her.
"I don't know what you are--," Wilhelmina started.
"Do not go there, witchling," Saetan said. "You know."
The boyos glanced at one another before glancing at Lucivar and Daemon, but they were as stunned by Saetan's words as the rest. Their focus turned to Wilhelmina and they saw the pain in how she held herself, how she stood. This was--.
"This is why you have withdrawn from everything," Khary spoke up. "Why dinner invitations are turned away and you try to feign that you are too busy to be around us." The more he spoke, the more hurt he sounded. But he couldn't tell if he was hurt because she had withdrawn from them or if he was hurting for her because they didn't know of her pain. Refused to see her pain. Hadn't he been one to tease Morton for gazing a bit too longingly at Wilhelmina when she first arrived in Kaeleer?
Wilhelmina simply looked away. So many words were clogging her throat, emotions joining them. Her heart was breaking all over again at the mention of his name.
Morton, the Warlord First Escort of Karla, Queen of Glacia. The man who made Wilhelmina's heart race every time she looked into those ice blue eyes. Every time she saw his strong body. She remembered how her heart had fluttered that first day at Lucivar's practice when she saw Morton strip off his shirt to spar with Khary. Sensing someone looking at him, he had turned and caught her eyes. A flush stung her cheeks and she ducked her head away. She hadn't seen the smile, but she did see more later as he began escorting her around.
She could still remember the feel of his musclar chest against her side when he had carried her into the Hall after Dejaal had been killed and his cousin had healed her injuries. She remembered how he stayed with her, protecting her, ensuring that nothing would happen to her. She treasured the times he was at the Hall and dreaded the times when he would have to return to Glacia.
"You were lovers?" Lucivar questioned. How could none of them had known?
"No," Wilhelmina said tightly, a pink staining her cheeks at the blunt question.
"Then--," Lucivar started, but Daemon interrupted.
"There wasn't time," he whispered, but enough that they all heard. Pain lanced through his heart as he saw a tear escape and slide down his sister-in-law's cheek.
"It doesn't matter," Wilhelmina said, dashing the tear away. She frowned deeply, trying to shove the rejection aside. None of them knew. He had been ashamed.
"Of course it matters," Lucivar said, staring at her. "You matter, Wilhelmina."
"He was ashamed!" she snapped at him. She felt the spike of tempers and shied away from them.
*Leash it. Now.* Saetan stared at the men before looking at Wilhelmina. "Why do you say that?"
"None of you knew," she whispered. Four little words and they were so filled with pain that it was a punch to the gut of every man there.
"I knew," Saetan said. Wilhelmina looked at him, a slight frown marring her brow.
Saetan pulled out a letter from his pocket. He didn't know why he kept it, it wasn't a formality to have such a thing in writing, but Morton had always been a bit on the shy side. In all the time he had known the boy, he would not have been surprised if he had lovers, but there had never been someone the way Marian was for Lucivar, Gabrielle for Chaosti, Kalush for Aaron, Morghann for Khary and certainly never Jaenelle for Daemon. Till Wilhelmina came to Kaeleer.
"I knew. I suspected for awhile, but my suspicions were confirmed because of this." He handed her the letter. Maybe somewhere he knew she would need this some day. Never a tangled web that he saw, but more of an inkling. A similar one that an uncle or father would have for their loved one.
Wilhelmina took it, noting that the words were written in Morton's strong scroll. How many letters did she have stored in a special box that had the same scroll on them? Words she thought meant nothing because he had been ashamed of her. Till she read this letter.
High Lord- I know a written request is not necessary for this rule, but it seemed easier to express the words on paper without gushing.
I would like your permission as Steward of the Dark Court to become Lady Benedict's lover, if she will have me. She already has my heart.
She couldn't speak, just stared.
"He loved you, Lady," Saetan said softly. "He loved you and wanted to be with you. He gave me that letter shortly before he had to return to Glacia that last time."
A tear fell onto the bottom of the parchment. She couldn't look up. Another tear fell. Her fingers suddenly felt nerveless and the letter slipped from them as her knees gave out.
It was Saetan, the closest of them, that caught her as she collapsed to the ground. He cradled her to his chest as the pent up sob that had been building in her chest for over two years finally released. He cupped the back of her head, his missing pinkie finger stood out against the fall of dark hair. She sobbed, her heart breaking all over again. When Saetan glanced at the other men, he saw the pain of knowledge and loss. And he saw shame.
"She should be inside," Chaosti said. Saetan nodded in agreement.
"I have her," Lucivar said, moving forward to take the sobbing woman from his father.
*Prick? I can take her,* Daemon said.
*She knows that you are there for her, Daemon, that you always would be. That connection from Terreille because you protected her there. I need to do this,* Lucivar sent on a spear thread. Daemon frowned but he didn't stop Lucivar from lifting Wilhelmina into his arms and walking towards the Hall. The boyos were close on his heels before Daemon and Saetan started to follow.
*Papa?* Jaenelle Angelline said on a spear thread, standing in a side doorway.
*We have her, witchchild,* he sent.
*The coven is here, we can--,* she started.
*No. You explain to the coven, but the boyos, Daemon, Lucivar and I need to do this,* he returned. He let her feel the pain over the memory for losing a Brother, and the shame for not protecting one of their own.
*High Lord?* Jaenelle questioned.
*We failed her, witchchild. We failed you.*
Saetan had continued to walk while communicating with his daughter. His Queen. He stepped into the sitting room where Lucivar had taken Wilhelmina, laying her on a nearby sofa and kneeling beside her to brush dark strands off hair of her wet cheeks. Her eyes were closed, but she was awake and tears continued to fall. He noticed how each of the males of Jaenelle's First Circle formed a tight circle around Wilhelmina, including Daemon. Nothing was going to get to that witch without going through the most powerful men in the Shadow Realm.
*We failed her,* Saetan finally sent again. *We should have been here. We should have seen her pain.*
*Morton?* Jaenelle asked.
*She hasn't grieved him, Jaenelle. She thought he was ashamed.* He felt her surprise and her own pain.
*I failed her too,* Jaenelle whispered.
*No. No, she would not see it as that. You are her sister and you almost destroyed yourself to purge the taint. She knew you were recovering, rebuilding your life. She understands that,* I hope he thought silently before continuing. *But we never looked to see if she was okay, and when we did, we took what she said at face value. We didn't probe deeper. We failed her and we failed you.*
*Papa--,* Jaenelle said.
*I failed her most of all,* Saetan said, only allowing Jaenelle to feel his pain. *I knew how he felt. I knew of his love. He told me. Proclaimed it to me as the Steward so that he could become her lover. And I never...*
*I failed her, witchchild. We failed her and didn't protect her. No more. We need this, Jaenelle. Daemon, Lucivar, myself and the boyos need to right the wrong. We need to ensure that she knows she is one of us. That we won't ignore her pain again.*
There was silence and he wondered if Jaenelle was going to ignore him and come for her sister with her sister witches.
Finally. *I understand. I'll tell the coven. I'll tell Karla. She will want to be one of the first after me to see Wilhelmina once the boyos have fussed enough.*
Wry amusement washed over him. *I don't think there is such a thing.*
*Fine, then until once Wilhelmina snarls about the fussing and threatens bodily harm,* Jaenelle said, the same amusement flowing to him.
There was a pause.
*Take care of her, High Lord. Take care of my sister.*
Saetan didn't respond at first, watching a moment as a new wave of grief hit Wilhelmina and she squeezed her eyes shut and began to sob again. He watched as Lucivar reached up and brushed a tear away. He watched as Daemon knelt by Wilhelmina's head and let his fingers just barely brush the top of her head. This son that had rarely touched or wanted to be touched, now gave comfort with his own. A testament to how his life in Kaeleer changed him for the better.
He watched as Khary sat on the edge of the sofa by Wilhelmina's feet, curling one hand around her ankle to let her know he was there. He watched Chaosti and Aaron rest their fingers on her arm. He watched as the other males of the First Circle touched her lightly, pouring their strength and emotions into protecting their Sister. He knew that it would take time, but they would all move past this and that Wilhelmina was finally grieving the what could've beens after two long, hard, pain-filled years.
Finally, he spoke to Jaenelle again.
*We will, witchchild. We will.*