WARNING: Contains violence.
Bran finds his voice to tell us the end of the tale.
London – 1842 (Bran)
Three days Bran had been lying on the library floor staring at Charlotte.
He couldn’t move. Richard had ordered him to lie on his side with his hand so close to hers he could feel her skin cooling. He couldn’t look away, Richard wouldn’t let him.
At first he’d pushed and strained against his maker’s will trying to reach her but no matter how much he wanted to move he couldn’t. Not a fraction. Then he’d cried until he couldn’t cry anymore.
He’d killed her. His curiosity. She would’ve been better off if he hadn’t gone to find her after she stole his wallet, but he had to know how she’d done it, she shouldn’t have been able to notice him.
No. She was lying there dead and he was still lying to himself, and her. It wasn’t just his curiosity she aroused when he first saw her. She was a beautiful woman, even when she was tired and drawn and had dirt under her nails.
Now she was dead and covered in blood with her neck and shoulder torn open and he’d done it.
He imagined he could hear her exasperated sigh and the touch of her hand against his face when she said he hadn’t killed her, Richard had.
Bran could close his eyes, Richard hadn’t forbidden it, and that was the worst torture. When he closed his eyes he saw Charlotte as she had been; unstrapping her knives from her arms and talking about her adventures before bed, arguing with Josef, climbing the trees with Mary or Merry on her back. He’d feel her hand in his, hear her laughing, smell the berry scent of her.
Now she smelt of death and decaying blood.
Fury was building inside him with a heat like a furnace. Charlotte might’ve been proud, she’d say it was about time he got angry at something. He strained but didn’t budge. He was going to kill Richard. He’d find a way.
The library door opened and Richard’s footsteps thudded across the carpet.
‘At least you’ve stopped crying,’ Richard said. ‘Pathetic.’ He put a foot on either side of Bran and crouched down. ‘That’s not a bite to eat in this house. Little wifey cleared it of people, so very noble.’ He took a sip of whiskey from a glass he was holding. ‘I see why you liked her. You always were sentimental.’ He sighed. ‘Nothing cured you of it.’
Richard tapped Bran’s shoulder with the glass. ‘You’re mine, Brandon. Mine. Not The Saracen’s, not your own and certainly not some whore’s.’ He tilted his head towards Charlotte. ‘Learn the lesson well. But I’m magnanimous, I let you have your fun, I thought once you got the rut out of your system, but… You’re lucky you’re my favourite child.’ Richard put his finger to his lips. ‘But don’t tell anyone.’ He grinned. ‘All this time and you still haven’t broken. You know Freyja Deacon calls our family the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know? But not you.’ He patted Bran’s arm. ‘That usually involves a bit more deadness. Well done.’
Richard put his face close and inhaled. He was a cold pressure against Bran’s mind, solid and unmoveable as ice.
‘Even now I can feel you fighting against me,’ Richard whispered. ‘Straining to be free. If your God’s real he must’ve made you of strong stuff. You’ll break in the end. Will it be this that does it? I can’t wait to find out.’
Richard straightened. ‘Your God took everything from me, Brandon, as he’s out of touch I’ll just have to stick to his representatives.’ He kicked Lot’s foot. ‘Wifey should be up and about by now. Not strong enough to make it through the change?’
Bran gritted his teeth.
‘Oh, I forgot I told you to shut up.’ Richard tapped his own forehead. ‘Must be my age. It will be brilliant if she wakes up. Your great love unable to say a nice word to you and that’s just for starters.’ He smiled. ‘Ah, yes, so many fun games to be had.’ He kicked Charlotte’s foot again. ‘Time to get up Sleeping Beauty, I want to play with my new toy.’ Richard straddled her and set the glass on the floor. ‘Perhaps she needs a handsome prince to kiss her awake.’
Bran groaned with the effort of trying to break Richard’s hold.
‘Aren’t we assertive now?’ Richard flicked Bran’s nose. ‘Are you going to stop me?’
Bran strained. He didn’t move.
Richard leaned down with deliberate slowness. ‘Sleeping Beauty, wake up.’ He caressed his tongue along her torn neck and stopped to whisper in her ear. ‘You’re really going to make Brandon suffer.’
Richard went rigid.
Charlotte’s claws sank into his shoulders. She wrapped her legs around him.
The moment dragged into an eternity. Richard engulfed by Charlotte, wide eyed as if his brain was frozen by the impossible.
Time accelerated again and Richard flailed. His boots banged against the floor. He shoved at Charlotte, rolled across the floor, and pummelled her back.
His blows weakened.
She held fast.
Bran’s arm jerked. He pushed against the weight holding him down. It lessen bit-by-bit and he edged upwards. The ice in his mind was melting.
They came to a stop with Charlotte on top. Her neck healed to thick scars, Richard’s skin cracked like baked earth. Her green eyes turned iridescent with energy, his eyeballs shrivelled. The gashes on her face disappeared while his hair turned wispy.
Bran jerked into a sitting position.
Charlotte straightened, blood was smeared across her face and running down her chin. Beneath her Richard collapsed to ash, it poured out his clothes like a timer.
‘Should’ve read a book.’ Charlotte tilted her head back and rubbed her origin scars on her neck and across her shoulder.
Bran stared at her. He had a thought that he should be relieved but shock had its fingers tight around him and wouldn’t let go.
Charlotte was alive. Richard was dead.
Richard was dead. Charlotte was alive.
He was free.
He. Was. Free.
Charlotte was alive.
She groaned. ‘My fecking head. Is it always this loud? And everything smells… I’ll try not to think about it.’ Her head flopped forward and she flexed her hands, blood dripping from her clawed fingers, then wiped them on her trousers.
She pushed herself to her feet and stretched her back until it cracked. ‘I really fancy a fuck right now. Not joking. Is that normal? Yum dinner, time for dessert kind of thing?’ She crossed to Bran and offered him her hand. ‘Told you, you’re stuck with me.’
He stared at her extended hand. ‘You’re alive.’
‘I wouldn’t exaggerate.’ She smiled and flexed her fingers. ‘I’ve been listening to the stories I know what the hero gets.’
She pulled him to his feet. ‘The hero gets a kiss.’ And she pulled him into the deepest most amazing kiss he’d ever had.
Richard was dead.
He was free.
Charlotte was alive.
Her mouth was thick with Richard’s blood. It was confusing, disgusting yet amazing at the same time. He lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist.
She broke the kiss and pressed her forehead to his. ‘We’re going to have so much fun, chuckaboo.’