Heartweed: Chapter 10

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.

Chapter 10

Alex’s playing had stopped. The music now a song slipping from between the razor teeth of a diminutive faerie. Artie’s eyes raked the room, looking for Alex. There were too many people.
She saw Gorth across the room, laughing uneasily with one of the liveried faeries. He met her eyes. A frown creased his forehead. He cut his eyes towards the wall at the edge of the open area. Jerked his head after his eyes.
Artie turned and saw Alex. Her brother stood to attention beside Lord March. His eyes were open but glazed over and his lips curled in a slack smile. He neither moved nor blinked when March absently reached up and smoothed a stray lock away from Alex’s forehead.
A hush crept through the room and the massed fae turned like a field of  sunflowers following their sun towards a curtained aperture. Artie craned her neck to see a figure framed by the wine red curtains. This had to be the famously beautiful Lady March. Her long hair draped from a centre parting. Its lustrous shade reduced the deep red of the curtains to a pale imitation. The face beneath the hair had the characteristic Gentry features: slanted and delicate, but on Lady March they were given a softness and frailty. She looked like she could be bruised by a blown kiss and it made her look even more lovely. Her pale eyes swept up and around the room before dipping back to the floor and her feet.
Chatter restarted and heads turned away as Lady March crossed the room to her husband’s side. Artie began to push through the crowd. Lord March bowed over his wife’s hands and muttered something to her. She nodded. Alex swayed by their side. Though Lord and Lady March spoke only to each other, Artie noticed that Lady March’s eyes drifted often to Alex’s peaceful face.
Lord March placed his hand along his wife’s cheek to capture her attention. She jumped and dipped her chin towards the floor. March leaned in and spoke, his lips brushing her ear. Luminosity came from beneath Lady March’s skin and she turned back to Alex. She put a small palm flat on Alex’s chest and spread her fingers wide. Alex’s slack expression sharpened and warmed. He leaned his body in towards Lady March, his eyes fixed on her face.
Artie pulled up short at the edge of the crowd, looking between the three faces: Alex’s was filled with adoration, Lady March’s with something approaching hunger, and March’s with a watchful darkness that made Artie shiver.
Lord March reached out with a long-fingered hand to grasp his wife’s upper arm. He turned an stalked towards the curtained doorway, pulling her after him. Lady March trailed her hand down Alex’s chest and caught him by the wrist. She tugged at him and he swung along after her.
The chain of three snaked their way across the floor and Artie followed. As Lord march whisked between the curtains she saw two of the liveried servants move to take up guard positions at either side of the archway. Artie sped up. Could she slip by before they could stop her? Lady March and Alex vanished through the archway. The grey-clad guards snapped to attention at either side of it. There was no way past.
To Artie’s right a glass shattered. Angry voices cut through the room. She looked across. Gorth had collided with another of March’s men. As she watched he pushed the liveried faerie hard. The faerie staggered backwards, caught his heel on something and sprawled on the stone floor.
Everyone, including the guards at the curtained archway, was riveted to the fight. Artie stepped slowly closer to the archway. More shouts, then the guard nearest Artie darted towards the fight, leaving his post. Artie dashed forward, slipping behind the remaining guard’s back and through the heavy burgundy curtains.
She found herself in a short corridor. There were no torches here and no windows. The only light filtered through around the edges of the curtains behind Artie and picked out the stonework of the walls and the edges of doorways. As she stood waiting for her eyes to adjust a new light grew, coming from around the ajar door at the far end of the corridor.
Artie ran to the door and skidded to a halt before it. She rested her fingertips on the wood of the door and pushed. The door began to move slowly. She held her breath, every muscle tensed, hoping that the black hinges would not creak. That the movement of the door would not be noticed.
The gap opened wide enough for Artie to peer through into the room. It was a bedroom. The bed, heaped with richly coloured blankets and velvet cushions, took up almost all of the room and it was a large room. At the foot of the bed Lady March and Alex were pressed tightly against each other. Alex’s hands streamed through the faerie’s long hair. He was humming that same violin reel into her lips. His blank eyes were open and unfocused.
Lord March leaned against the wall. His posture was relaxed, but there was something in the narrowed eyes pinned on Alex and Lady March that made Artie shudder. March pushed away from the wall and drifted towards the kissing couple. His raised hand reached for the back of Alex’s neck. To caress it or to snap it, Artie could not tell.
The yelp slipped from Artie’s lips before she even realised. Her brother didn’t turn, but March did, His glare was like an icicle plunged into her heart. She lurched into the room, avoiding March’s grasping hand which had turned from her brother to her. Artie latched on to Alex’s arm with her odd blue hands and shook it. The force of it broke him away from Lady March, but he made no further move to follow. He and the lady stood an arms length apart, a length that neither of them moved to close. Alex hummed still, and now began to sway.
“Wake up.” Artie screamed and shook his arm again.
Two steel vices clamped around her upper arms and Artie cried out in pain. Involuntarily she let go of Alex’s arm. She felt a sensation that was like being raked  with claws f ice. Her ears pop and she felt a shattering. She knew without looking that Gorth’s glamour was gone.
Lord March gripped her face and forced her head back until she was looking up into his upside down face.
“The human’s sister.” A smile slid up the sides of his face splitting it like a shark’s.
Artie kicked backwards. Her foot connected with his shin. The fingers dug harder into Artie’s face. She gave a mew of pain, water leaked from her eyes.
“Alex, help me,” she gasped.
A flicker of something passed across her brother’s sleeping face, then Lady March reached out her snow-soft hand towards him and he took it, drawing her to him. Before she tilted her face in to kiss Alex, the beautiful faerie looked over and met Artie’s eyes.
Then she was gone. Alex was gone. The whole world swirled away into the crushing darkness. The shadows between worlds, Gorth had called it. This time Artie was a little more ready for it, but it still took her breath away. She was crushed, suffocated, spun and shaken. And then it was over.
She fell on her knees, retching. There was no time for her to catch her breath before a boot to her stomach knocked her onto her side. March kicked her again. The pain radiated out in a shatter pattern from the point where the tip of his boot hit to every corner of her body. For seconds, hours or years Artie could not breath or see or hear because of the demands of the pain.
When she finally opened her eyes and rolled onto her back March was gone. She was alone in the woods. The pain was mutating from a sharp thing into a fierce and wracking ache. Artie closed her eyes again. The image imprinted on the inside of her eyelids as she passed out was not of her brother, but of Lady March. Her expression when she had looked at Artie had been filled with sadness and behind it a kindling flame of fear.

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