It had been the best day of Idira's life. Cross-legged, she sat on the bed and gazed at her handiwork, the pages spread out across the bed cover. She had learned to trace out all the letters of the alphabet. She had even managed to write out a few of the easier ones on her own, without the tracery. The first word she wrote was her name. She looked at the page, her heart bursting with pride, that was her name and she had written it out, all by herself.
On the next page was Myra's name, and then Benny's, and finally on the last page, written out with great care, was VanCleef's. She couldn't wait to be called downstairs so she could show the others what she had accomplished. Nin had been generous with her praise as Idira worked. When her tutor departed just before dinner, Idira had overheard her telling Lanira in the hallway she thought Idira was an extremely bright child.
Tomorrow they would continue their work, but Idira couldn't wait. She pulled out her colouring book, and on a blank page at the back she tried writing her name again, though Blackie kept interrupting her by chasing her pencil. The door opened. She looked up, Lanira came in and moved to the bed. She looked over the pages, silent. Her eyes lingered on the one with VanCleef's name. She picked it up and looked at it, expressionless. After Nin had left, Idira had drawn a little stick figure picture at the bottom, of VanCleef holding her hand in front of the door of the big house. Lanira set it back down in exactly the same place. Idira caught her wiping her fingers on her skirt, discreet. Lanira nodded at the door.
'Benny's just arrived and is waiting in the yard at the back,' she said, turning to leave. 'I'm to have you in Myra's room before he is brought in.' She stopped and looked back at Idira. 'I have spent the entire day trying to reason with your stubborn sister, but she has this hare-brained idea Benny will be able to fight his way out of this house with her by his side. The girl can't even walk, what's he supposed to do, fight and carry her? I want you to promise me if he agrees to such a mad thing you will hide under the bed. I don't want to see you hurt.'
Idira glanced down at the pages in her hands, her heart sinking, all she wanted to do was see Benny, give him her present, and ask him about the violet light. But Myra had lied to VanCleef, so there was bound to be trouble ahead. Idira probably wouldn't even get a chance to ask Benny anything before everything went wrong.
'I promise,' she answered, quiet, organising the papers so Myra's lay on the top.
Lanira's face softened. 'I've been hard on you, haven't I? You have proven to be a sweet child, though a little disobedient at times. If anything happens today, you will always have a home with me. My little one went to the Light years ago, but her room would suit you well, should the worst happen.'
Idira looked up, her own troubles forgotten. 'You lost your little girl?'
Lanira pressed her lips together and nodded. 'She had a sickness even Arinna could not cure. Kara was your age when she—' she shook her head, and pulled the door open wide, blinking back tears. 'Come, now is not the time.'
Idira followed her minder down the stairs to the landing on the second floor, seeing her with new eyes. Lanira had lost her child, and Idira had lost her mother. Why did everything have to be so broken and unhappy in the world? Why couldn't VanCleef have the money owed to Papa and the other workmen? If the people in Stormwind had only paid what they owed, Idira would never have come here, the chickens would never have been taken away, and Myra and Benny would still be together planning their wedding and their move to their little farm in Elwynn. Papa would be leaving for Redridge to build his house. The maid would never have died.
So much unhappiness, most of it caused by money.
They approached the door to Myra's room. Two new men stood outside it, even meaner looking than the ones from the day before. One of them had an iron collar around his neck. He looked twice the size of Benny, the massive muscles of his upper arms bulged under their leather wrappings. He glared at Idira as she approached.
She shrank back against Lanira's skirts, terrified. Her minder's arm wrapped around her shoulder, protective. At a sharp word from Lanira, the mean looking man unlocked and opened Myra's door, his scarred hands far too big and rough for the elegant key and fragile door handle. Lanira swept forward, hurrying Idira along, ignoring his hostile look. Idira cringed as she passed him. Benny could never beat that man, he looked like he ate rocks for breakfast. Perhaps that was why he was there, to send Benny a message.
Once in the room, she ran to Myra, desperate to put distance between herself and the horrible man cursing as he struggled to lock the door. She had only begun to tell Myra of her day when the door unlocked once more. Myra's breath caught. Idira turned. Benny and VanCleef stood in the hallway. Benny looked rough, his injuries still healing from his fight with VanCleef. His sweat-stained leather tunic and breeches bore the evidence of a long day spent travelling. VanCleef stood with his hands on the hilts of his daggers in a fitted black sleeveless leather tunic and breeches, his boots rising above his knees. He looked like he had been training. A sheen of sweat coated his arms and face. His dark eyes went straight to Myra who lay propped in the bed, her hair tumbling loose over her dressing gown. He gave her a look, intense and possessive. He held her gaze as he stepped aside to let Benny pass. Benny came in, not knowing where to look, fists at his sides. Lanira slipped past him and pulled the door closed behind her. No one locked it this time. Idira sensed VanCleef outside the door, ready to come in at the slightest provocation.
'Benny,' Myra whispered, struggling to lift her arms to him.
He went to her, anguished. He took her hands and sank to his knees beside her. He looked even more awful up close. Fresh cuts and bruises showed over the older ones. Idira wondered if Benny had gotten a fresh beating from Papa once he arrived in Redridge.
'My love,' he rasped, his voice hoarse. He sounded tired. 'Ye must listen ta me close, fer he's only lettin' us have two minutes. There's nothin' I can do for ye. If ye ever want ta see me again, ye have ta go along wit' him.'
Myra tried to pull herself up. 'No. Take me with ye. Please, don' leave me here. I beg ye.'
'Ye think I like it anymore than ye? It haunts me. I can't sleep for thinking he's taken what's mine, knowin' there's nothin' I can do ta stop it, except bide my time an' wait.'
Myra shook her head, tears brimming in her eyes. 'Ye knew VanCleef was goin' ta claim me. Why did ye let me come here, ta this? Why didn't ye take me ta Elwynn while ye still had the chance?'
Benny's jaw clenched. He looked at the floor, then back up at her, his eyes bright with tears. 'If I'd taken ye ta Elwynn, he'd have found us, killed me and still taken ye. Jac said it would only be the once, I drank myself senseless that night trying not ta think about it.' He punched the mattress. 'It was only meant ta be the once!'
Myra slumped back against the cushions, her tiny reserve of energy exhausted.
'Then kill me. I beg ye,' she dragged his hands to her throat. 'If ye ever loved me ye'll end my pain.'
Idira touched Benny's hand, frightened. 'Ye have ta talk sense inta her! She already tried ta die once an' VanCleef killed a lady for it.'
Benny took hold of Myra's chin and cupped her face. Under his tender look, she sobbed.
'Please,' she whispered. A tear slid free.
'There is another way,' he said as he brushed her tear away with his thumb. 'I been hearing rumours that the king won't stand for what VanCleef's doing here in Westfall. Give it time, he'll come soon enough and finish him. Ye must live, for I'll have ye yet as my wife on our little farm in Elwynn. Don't ye be dying on me. It's hard enough as it is, knowing ye're here, but ta know I've lost ye, forever . . .' He pressed his forehead to hers, his tears mingling with hers. 'I love ye so much. Just live, fer me. Promise me ye'll see this through and come back ta me.'
Myra shuddered, but she nodded. Benny kissed her hard and pulled away. 'I'll never stop thinkin' about ye. I swear it. Ye're all I live fer.'
He backed away to the door. Idira slipped off the bed and ran to him. He knelt and caught her in his arms, hugging her so hard she almost couldn't breathe. He let her go and stood up, his attention returning to Myra once more.
'Take good care o' yer sister until I can come back.'
Idira held up the page with Benny's name on it. 'This is fer ye. I wrote it today, it's yer name.'
He took it from her and looked it over, his eyes bright with unshed tears. 'Well, I'll be. Ye're goin' ta go places, ye are. Allus was a clever thing, must be those pretty eyes o' yers.'
The door opened. VanCleef walked in, like a cat stalking prey. He almost looked disappointed to find nothing happening. He looked at Myra.
'I take it your goodbyes have been made?' he asked, cold.
Myra glanced at Benny, who watched her, his eyes filled with warning.
VanCleef exhaled. He glanced at Benny. 'Your transport to Redridge awaits.' He gestured at the door, dismissing him.
'Jus' don' let her die,' Benny said, his gaze sliding back to hold Myra's, as though he was memorising her. He turned and walked out. He never looked back.