Authors: Nonie Wideman,Robyn Wideman
Akira bit her lip. Her brow scrunched, and her lips tightened. Damn you! My damned dresses can burn for I won’t be here to wear them. Hell will freeze over before I will ever dress to please you or any other man!
“You may not hide behind those rags anymore. There will be time for any alterations to be made while I’m away hunting. When I get back, you are to dress like a lady, not a damned dried up nun.” He looked expectantly as if he thought she might think to thank him for the gift of her mother’s dresses.
Akira picked up her fork. She stabbed at her food. She imagined jabbing the fork into the arm he waved about as he gave his orders. She imagined stripping him down and then lacing him into a dress before she tipped him over a cliff with a few of his most tender parts between his legs tied to a huge immovable rock. Her eyes turned icier. Imaginings like that helped her to remain silent. He had no idea of the things she had done to him in her mind. No idea at all. In her thoughts she pictured herself coldly watching as he fell into an abyss.
Benjamin gave Akira a warning look. He saw the tic at the corner of her mouth. She was holding herself back by a thread. When his father was not looking he gave his sister a look of sympathy. His eyes observed her white knuckles.
The neckline of Akira’s dresses and gowns were unfashionably high, suited for a daughter promised to a nunnery. The high necked dresses worn of late were plain as plain could be. She went to great lengths to looked as plain as she could. The memory of her father cupping her buttock cheek was seared into her brain. She had taken to jamming a wedge of wood under her bedroom door at night. If he got into a drunken stupor and came to her chambers she hoped, it would hold the door against an intrusion. If not, at least it would slow him down and give her time to escape out her window. The dagger her mother had given her came in handy stripping a bedsheet to make a rope so she could drop down safely. At night, the dagger’s home was under her goose feather pillow. Escape was on her mind constantly. She would only bathe if she knew he was away from the manor. At the first opportunity afforded her, she planned to flee. If only he had some business to attend to and would leave.
Benjamin directed his gaze at his father. “Are we going on a hunt tomorrow, Father? I heard one of the men mention a hunt? I thought it strange that he thought we would be entertaining ourselves with sport when we are in mourning.”
“It is unfinished business. One could call it sporting, but it is a man hunt.”
“What man do we hunt and why?”
“It is a runaway, indentured,” answered the baron.
“Does this man have a name?” Edgar had a bad feeling as he asked.
“Tom, Tom Smith if it matters. Does it matter boy?” The baron challenged.
“It matters if it is the man you took a bride from,” Edgar responded. “Is it not enough that you bed the woman he wanted for his woman? You refuse to return her. Must you keep him indentured? Surely the loss of his bride should cover his debt?”
“His debt is worth far more.”
“Ah, but Father, what am I to say to those who would argue the young woman you have taken must have great value... as you seem too attached to return her.”
“Say nothing. Who would dare question? She stays of her own free will.”
“There are those who would question that Father.”
“Is it so unbelievable that she has developed feelings for me, and I for her. Am I to be denied comfort after being widowed so grievously?” The baron’s temper was rising. “Are you asking this for yourself, or has someone put these questions to you?”
“I’m just looking after your best interests, Father. Your attachment to this girl, and how unfortunately it transpired has caused much anger. To appease the men who talk of petitioning the king to force you to return the young lady, would it not be wise to compensate the man with no less than his freedom?”
Akira held her breath. She had never heard Edgar talk to her father in such a manner.
“Sard them all, a debt is a debt. If he has the means to buy himself freedom, he can do so.” The young lady will tell you all she stays of her own free will. Do you take issue with me Edgar?”
Akira waited for her brother to say yes.
“No sir, just wanted to know where we stand and how to respond to the charges against you.”
“Good because I was beginning to wonder who your loyalties are with.”
“Family as always.”
Akira’s heart plummeted. She looked at Benjamin. This can’t be! What more evil is he going to do to that poor young man? Akira’s self-pity instantly was gone. There is no end to his arrogance, no end to his sadistic behavior.
Benjamin looked a bit disappointed. “I had hoped we were hunting boar. Much more sporting.” He dared not voice what he was thinking.
I hope Tom Smith did as we asked and headed farther inland to the Kingdom of the Great lakes.
“Duty and business first, young Ben. If we allow this serf to escape, and flaunt authority others will dare the same behavior and our society would crumble in chaos. We have an obligation to keep order.”
Akira swiftly glanced at Benjamin.
Surely you are not going to help him hunt the man?
She could not hold her tongue. “Does an obligation to keep order include preventing riots?”
She speaks, she speaks!” The baron mocked his daughter. “Finally she speaks!” He pointed his finger at her. “Yes, we have an obligation to prevent riot and rebellions by showing no weakness. If you give riffraff any quarter they will get bolder. Anarchy starts with being soft. You think me ruthless, I know it. I did not win favor from my king by being soft, fighting his wars. Ruthless strength is why this family does not live in daub and wattle huts. Remember that when you feel sorry for peasants. To keep what we have you whelps need remember that and protect the family.”
Akira watched Edgar nod agreement. You nod very convincingly my brother. Have you no balls to ask father what threats he made, that the poor girl would lie for him and say she stays of her own free will? Are you really going to help hunt Tom and bring him back? You shut me out because I’m of the weaker sex. I’m not weak. Akira again wondered if her brothers knew half of what she knew about their mother's’ life. She looked at Edgar. He was handsome. He was soon off to join the king’s militia like Marcus. Did he realize their mother's life had for so many years revolved around the short chaperoned visits she had with her sons? Had he any inkling that their mother hated her sister-in-law, Violet?
Anger won over caution. “If she is here of her own free will, why is she not sitting and eating with us, Father?” Akira asked.
“You stupid girl, put yourself in her place. You have recently lost your mother. Under the circumstances, she is reluctant to offend you.”
Choke me with your lies!
“Well thank her for being so considerate.” The sarcasm in Akira’s voice was thinly veiled.
Poor girl! What has he done to you?
“She must really be under your spell to risk so much criticism, and abandon…”
“Akira enough!” Edgar spoke loudly and sharply. He could see the vein in his father’s forehead starting to stand out. He glared at Akira.
Akira stopped. She looked away. Edgar was right to chastise her. Her temper was about to bite her own ass.
Akira knew things she was not supposed to know. It shamed her that she had eavesdropped on her mother and Matilde. She had been twelve years of age at the time. She had wakened from a nightmare and was intending to crawl into her mother’s bed. Akira was hoping her mother was in her own bedchamber and not sleeping with her father. She had tiptoed quietly. When she heard voices she was curious. When she heard weeping she was concerned. She did not make her presence known. Akira remembered how her ears had burned with the indelicate details her mother revealed to her confidante, Matilde. She remembered the tearful conversation almost word for word.
Her mother had wept as she said, I’m certain Violet takes pleasure in the fact that she is the one raising my sons as if they were her own. I suspect Violet hates the fact that I’m the one who gave birth to Rolfe’s sons. She hates me. I’m certain she hates me.”
Matilde said, “there, there now, how can she hate someone as kind as you, m’lady?” Matilde handed her mistress a clean dry handkerchief.
Akira’s mother had replied, “there is unnatural bond between Violet and Rolfe. I spied on them. He beds his sister.”
Akira’s innocence was stripped from her as she listened to the sordid details of her father’s sexual misconduct. She heard the word incest and wondered if it was a bigger sin than her father breeding with Aunt Violet. She did not understand that it was one and the same thing. She did inherently understand it was repulsive, unnatural and shameful.
Akira had cautiously peeked around the curtain to see her mother weeping on Matilde’s shoulder. Akira’s twelve-year-old stomach had tied up in knots. It hurt to not be able to comfort her mother. She had gone back to bed feeling hollow. The monster her father was, was far more frightening than the monster in her dream. She cried for her mamma. She felt justified in hating her mean and controlling Aunt Violet.
Akira kept the shameful secret for years. She looked at Edgar and Benjamin. Did they have any idea that their father was such a pervert? Would they believe her if she told them she feared more than his tongue and fists? She suspected they would not. Something so disturbing would be hard to accept. Her heart was heavy. She knew her mother hid much from her brothers for many years. If they suspected things amiss when they were younger, they would have taken their concerns to Violet. Violet would have reported to her brother, and her mother would have faced even more separation from her sons.
Akira’s heart ached anew. Thinking about her mother was starting to unleash tears that normally she could hold back even when during a humiliating beating ordered by her father, carefully metered out to do no permanent damage, or a humiliating rant made to embarrass her. The desolation she felt, the loneliness, was threatening to start a fresh flood of tears. It forced her to keep her gaze lowered. She thought of the peasant girl Anne. A tear escaped and trickled down her cheek. She could allow a tear for Anne. She dared not wipe it and draw attention to it. She did not curse the tear for escaping. A tear for another was compassion, not weakness. Dare she tell her brothers her worst fears? She could not help them by spying on their father if she left, if she ran away. What they wanted to know could come from Mary.
Alas, the tear did not escape notice. The baron smugly congratulated himself for bringing his headstrong daughter to tears. The tears were proof her compliance was assured, at least until the next time she would rebel. So he may have thought. He had yet to find need to dull her high spirited nature with the white powder inside the secret compartment of his ring, it was too risky to use with his sons underfoot. The slap he had given her seemed to be sufficient. The mark he left on her lip would remind her of her place every time she looked into a mirror. If she was lucky, it would not be permanent.
Akira dared a quick glance up as he moved his chair, to make himself more comfortable. She had hoped he was leaving the table. She noted his satisfied last look at her before shifting his gaze elsewhere.
Fool! You did not make me cry. My own thoughts made me cry.
She quickly rubbed away the traces of her tears. Something snapped. Her carefully constructed passivity was unraveling.
Akira’s thoughts turned towards the poor man now the subject of the current conversation. The father she despised now laughed with her brothers as he discussed the impending hunt for the serf. It pained Akira that the hunt was not for a stag, not for a boar, but Tom Smith, the broken hearted young man who loved the peasant girl Anne.
Is he going to try find his Anne in the city and steal her back, or is he given up and running away to forget. Does he know father has her hidden in the manor?
Akira hoped Tom Smith was going to fight. She knew she would if she were him.
Her father was planning to make an example of him. For running, if he were caught, he would have a choice of losing a foot or his testicles. Akira paled, listening to the conversation of her father and her brothers. That her brothers were not trying to dissuade her father from his newest offensive plan worried her.
Her father was ruthless, merciless. It seemed to Akira every year he grew more mean and vindictive towards those who crossed his will. As he aged and lost physical strength, lost whatever good looks he imagined he had to begin with, the meaner he became. His face was getting puffier, redder, heavier. He drank wine with every meal and in between each meal. He secretly wore a girdle to cinch in his belly. He even smelled rotten. The perfumes he wore did not mask the foul smelling sweat that his body gave off. She could often tell her father had been in a room after he left it. There was an unpleasant smell that lingered Another tear escaped. She despised crying. She despised giving the baron the satisfaction of seeing her cry, even for another and not herself. Her hatred flared.
Fortunately, Akira was no longer the focus of her father’s attention. He missed the look of pure hatred shooting out of her eyes. Benjamin did not miss it. He prayed Akira would lock her lips and cloak her eyes. If she did not, he feared his father would be tempted to lock her up and throw away the key. The old man’s temper was growing shorter and shorter. It seemed as if he was unraveling. There were rumors the king was again questioning finances and shortages of grain shipments.
Benjamin was beginning to question many things about his father. Being the youngest son, he had the least influence over his father. Edgar’s efforts earlier in the day to caution their father seemed to have fallen on deaf and defiant ears. The Baron had struck Edgar, and called him insolent. Edgar attributed the offense to grief, and the effects of too much wine the night before. He cautioned Ben to keep his counsel to himself. Ben suspected more than a headache and grief ailed is father. His mother’s words came back to haunt him. “Your father is going mad, and I fear for my safety and Akira’s. Take care my sons. Do not trust him.” Ben wished Marcus would hasten home. Something had to be done. His oldest brother was first heir, and if their father was going mad, Marcus could step into his father’s place. He was away trying to gain the king’s ear and do damage control. Their father needed to be safely ensconced into an insane asylum. Insane or not insane, he was a danger to his family, and an uprising was imminent. Benjamin thought about his father’s words.
Protect the family, yes I agree, Father. Sometimes a rotten root needs to be cut out and saplings allowed to take its place. Your rot seems irreversible.