Two months passed before word came from the party sent to capture a troll. The mission had failed. All but one of the party had been killed, and he didn't last much longer than the time it took him to return to Moonbrook and deliver the bad news. Fourteen men, lost.
The night he arrived, Myra, VanCleef and Idira were taking their evening meal in the big dining room. He came in, his injuries wrapped in stiff, blood-stained linens, reeking of infection. He pulled off his grimy red bandana and mopped his face, his hand shaking as he told them how their party had been taken by surprise almost as soon as they entered the vine-infested jungle of Stranglethorn Vale. It had been a massacre. The machete wielding trolls had made quick work of the others, their hunting tigers growling as they fed on the fallen, oblivious to the agonised screams of those still living. He had managed to survive by throwing himself into a deep, rocky ravine before the tigers got to him. The trolls had left him for dead.
VanCleef said nothing, but Idira could tell he was very angry. He put his wine glass down with great care, got up and walked out of the room, leaving his unfinished dinner behind; his silver cutlery askew on his plate, a piece of meat still speared on his fork. He went up the stairs, his booted feet hard against the wooden steps. A heartbeat later a door slammed.
Waiting at the dining room's arched doorway, their arms crossed over their chests, Myra's guards eyed each other, their thoughts difficult to read, but it didn't look like they approved of VanCleef's plan to capture a troll. No gold in it, Idira had heard one of his men mutter earlier that day when she was in the kitchen collecting apples for the horses.
She put down her fork, her appetite gone. Even if they were bad men, they had died because of her. It was her fault. Before she could stop herself, she imagined them being eaten by tigers. She looked at Myra, hoping for reassurance.
Her sister returned to her food, unconcerned. 'Fourteen less of them,' she said, smug. Only a little of the country dialect still clung to her words, softening the sharpest edges of her now unmistakably noble accent. She looked up at Idira, her eyes cold. 'That's a good girl.'
Despite her hatefulness, Myra sounded terribly elegant, like a real lady. At first, Idira thought Myra looked even prettier when she spoke with her new accent, it was like her words finally matched the rest of her. But as the number of days until the six month deadline shortened, and her hopes of being reunited with Benny dwindled, Myra changed.
Her beautiful words became weapons, used to inflict injury. She changed from melancholic and withdrawn to angry and bitter, prone to temper tantrums. She ordered gowns by the dozen from Stormwind, wearing them once before tossing them into her fireplace to watch them burn. Idira couldn't bear it. She would cry as Myra paced the sumptuous bedroom, barefoot, a glass of wine in her hand, wearing nothing more than her corset and knickers, laughing, vindictive, as the poor gown succumbed to the hungry flames.
Her dinner finished, Myra stood up. She raised her glass to her mouth, her gaze drifting down her guards' bodies, lingering on their crotches. She sipped her wine and licked her lips, slow and seductive. 'Perhaps you shall be chosen next for this fool's errand of his. If I was a tiger, I would eat you.' She laughed, brittle, amused by her little joke. Her guards glared at back her, their hatred tangible. Ignoring them, she poured herself another glass of wine and sank down onto VanCleef's chair, gesturing to the waiting manservant to serve her dessert there.
Idira pushed her chair back and left. Myra was getting drunk again, things would only get worse from now on. When she passed out, VanCleef would have to carry her to bed. He didn't want anyone else to touch her. Although lately, almost every night went the same: after a drunken dinner filled with Myra's angry words and accusations, VanCleef would drag her from her chair up to her room, his face black like a thundercloud before the storm. Even with her hands over her ears, Idira could still hear the sounds of their fighting; the crash of porcelain against the walls, the heavy thuds of furniture toppling over. It was just like living with Papa again, only this time Myra was Papa.
VanCleef's voice would carry, loud, angry and fraught with frustration as he cursed, bellowing if he wasn't a man of honour he would take her there and then and teach her a lesson she wouldn't soon forget. Idira wished he would just teach her that lesson, whatever it was. She just wanted the fighting to stop.
Once when Idira was playing in the stable yard she heard VanCleef's men talking about Myra as they carried broken furniture from her room to a waiting wagon, shaking their heads as they threw the splintered pieces away, calling her a demon woman. Later, while they played cards in the tack room she heard them laying bets whether VanCleef would crack and take Myra to his bed before the six months was up. One scoffed and said the only thing wrong with her was she needed a good, hard fucking. The others nodded, grim and threw their gold down, betting VanCleef would do it that week. He didn't.
Two weeks after the failed attempt to catch a troll, Idira sat on Myra's bed, watching Lanira help her sister get ready for dinner. Clad in an ivory corset and loose silk knickers, Myra trailed her fingers through the gowns in her wardrobe, bored. Lanira pulled out a gorgeous emerald green one and held it up, an eyebrow raised questioningly. Myra's lips curved into a sneer. Quick as a cat, she snatched it from Lanira and strode to the fireplace, wadding it up to throw into the flames. Lanira cried out and caught it just in time. She sheltered it against her chest, her eyes sparking, furious.
'Good people are going without food to pay for these gowns,' she snapped, her body shaking, betraying the depth of her outrage. 'After all this time, how can you still believe the gold for them comes from VanCleef's purse?'
Myra shrugged, uncaring. 'So they suffer, what is it to me? I suffer too. If they are paying for these gowns, then less gold is pouring into his cause. Sooner or later it hurts him.'
Lanira glared at Myra, she shoved the dress down onto the chaise beside her and went to Myra, her jaw clenched. She waved her hand around the opulent room 'You call this suffering? Even if he is the most depraved creature in bed, whatever VanCleef could do to you pales in comparison to what others must endure under his iron fist. Stop burning the dresses, you stupid, stubborn girl.'
'You dare speak to me so?' Myra seethed, hectic spots of colour blossoming on her cheeks. She went to the chaise and ran her fingers over the dress, her eyes narrow, taunting Lanira. She grabbed it and bolted to the fireplace, the gown's train trailing behind her. Before she could throw it in, Lanira lunged forward and caught hold of the train, pulling Myra back. A loud rip filled the room as the bodice tore free of the skirt. Lanira looked down at the ruined gown, her chest rising and falling.
'No,' she whispered, her eyes bright with tears. Myra shot her a look of triumph. Lanira screamed, furious and slapped Myra so hard across the face, Myra stumbled backwards, her back slamming against the fireplace pillar.
Stunned, Myra's eyes flitted back and forth, seeing but not seeing. Her whole body trembled. Lanira went after her, reaching out to her, trying to calm her. Myra began to quake, her fingers writhed up into her hair. She took hold of her head and screamed. Her cry agonised, despairing, hopeless. The scream stopped. She stood there, panting, like a hunted animal. Her eyes went to her dressing table, she ran to it, frantic and swept its contents onto the floor. The little crystal jars of ointments, oils and perfumes tumbled onto the tiles in front of the fireplace, smashing into hundreds of tiny shards. The sweet scent of roses overwhelmed the room.
She started screaming again, incoherent, throwing chairs and cushions at the walls. Even though the dressing table must have weighed a great deal, she lifted it and heaved it across the room. It smashed against the door, gouging a hole into the bottom panel. Shouts and bellows came from outside. Pounding feet ran down the hallway. Barefoot, she stumbled over the broken jars, oblivious to the blood coming from her feet, her eyes wild, yelling King Wrynn was coming to rescue her. She clawed at the curtains, jerking on them, trying to pull them down, hysterical.
Idira ran to the corner, terrified. Lanira huddled over her, her arms around her, trying to protect her. Someone was at the door, shouting, trying to get it to open. A heavy thud hit the door, making it wobble. Another followed, then another. The door burst open, snapping off its hinges. The broken table scudded free. VanCleef stormed in wearing nothing but breeches, boots and a long red robe that hung open, revealing his bare chest. He must have been in his study, working on one of his engineering designs, as was his usual habit in the evenings. His face black with rage, he strode across the room and grabbed hold of Myra's arms, restraining her. She struggled against him, panting, her breasts straining to escape the confines of her corset. His hands tightened on her, digging into her flesh. She bellowed as the pain hit her. He shook her, hard, making her hair tumble free from its clips and pins. It cascaded down her back, a riot of curled, messy tresses. She looked beautiful in a completely different way, like a wild thing, desperate to be tamed.
'Enough!' he roared. 'This ends now.' He turned and threw her onto the bed so hard she bounced. She scuttled away from him, her feet leaving smears of blood across the white linen cover. He came after her and climbed over her, menacing. His fingers wrapped around her wrists, pinning her arms above her head.
'I still have six weeks,' she pleaded, squealing and kicking as he gathered her wrists together in one hand, and began unfastening the front of her corset with the other. 'You promised.'
'To the Void with my promise,' he retorted. His fingers finished their work, her corset popped open, setting her breasts free. He groaned and took hold of her jaw, his eyes capturing hers, filled with warning. Holding her still, he kissed her, fierce, possessive. Her struggles slowed, then stopped altogether. She moaned. Still restrained by him, she lifted her head and kissed him back, hungry, her hips arching towards his.
He broke off the kiss, and looked up at Lanira, his eyes hotter than a blacksmith's forge. 'Get out.'
Lanira scrambled to her feet and hurried out the gaping, destroyed doorway, Idira trotting after her to keep up. Once in the hallway, Idira looked back, Myra's guards moved into place, their big bodies barricading the view. Idira expected to hear her sister start fighting again with VanCleef, but all she heard was soft moans and sighs.
Later, as Idira coloured in her new colouring book, she heard muted cries that didn't sound like fighting at all. And later, as she ate her dinner on a tray in her room, their soft voices drifted up the stairwell as they moved from Myra's ruined bedroom to VanCleef's. His door slammed. Quiet fell. In the night she woke to the sound of their cries again, louder this time. Definitely not fighting. She smiled and turned over onto her side, watching the moon give way to the coming dawn. Silence fell. VanCleef must have finished the lesson. Peace had finally come to the big house. Idira closed her eyes, relieved. She slept, and dreamed of nothing.