Fosca strides, purpose in every step, through the marketplace the only thought on her mind was her husband Count Ludwick of Austria. Dinner had to be cooked, fire’s had to be stoked, rooms cleaned all before he returned from his very necessary trip. One item was left on her list, Veal; Ludwick's favorite. As she approached the stall of the butcher she guards her heart. ‘A woman is a flower…’
“Hello, Good sir.” She greets a smile on her lips. She watches as he rears slightly back something she thought she would be used to by now. “I would like some of your best veal, please.” She requests her smile wavers as she watches his assistants staring at her face.After a moment she reaches into her purse removing a small amount of money she moves to hand it to him.
“O-oh of course signore, of course.” The butcher finally answers. He turns and shouts at the young boys to get the veal cut and wrapped for her. “I-It will be ready, soon.”
“Thank ...you.” Fosca watches as he quickly turned towards the next customers. Noticing the whispers from behind her she moved to the side not wanting to get in the way of the next customer. She stares ahead at a tree, not looking to her sides or even at the ground, the whispers continuing behind her their eyes burning into her back, their whispers getting louder as she stares harder at the tree taking in the branches and the leaves, she sees a bird sitting on one of the branches. She watches as it cleans it beak and ruffles its feathers and suddenly it takes flight soaring through the air till it disappears.
“Signore?” Small voice calls.
Fosca looks down to see a small child holding a white package towards her. Her thoughts go back to the bird how it seemed so free of restrictions. So alive so free to change as it leaped to new heights. As she watches the child standing before staring into her face the whispers seem to rise in volume as the stares seem to grow in strength as she looks into his face.
‘A woman is a flower…’
“Thank you,” Fosca whispers to the child a smile crossed her face as the boy blushed. She reaches into her purse pulling out a small coin she hands it to him. “Have a lovely evening.” She turns towards her carriage. She hears the boy yelp of excitement and the rise of the whispers again, this time uncaring as she remembers why she ventured out today to make her handsome, loving husband’s favorite meal.
Once home she hurries about making the preparations for dinner. Memories of her parents floating through her mind, her father's indulgent smile, her mother’s loving gaze as she helped the cook make supper. With a smile she made the broth for the soup, thinking back to Ludwick’s reaction when he was told she had made the broth herself. He's sweet compliments raining down over her as he held her hand. She watched the veal roast in the oven thinking about Ludwick’s multiple trips none of which had been successful in earning him any money, yet. With a sigh she thought of their coiffures running low worried she would have to ask her father for another loan. As she continued to ponder about their funds a knock was heard from the servant door. With a deep breath and growing fear approaches it not sure who it could be, she opens it to see her cousin Frederick standing in the entryway.
“Frederick!” she gasps “What are you doing here? I thought you were off training with your battalion.”
“We stopped in town for a few days!” He informs pulling her in for a hug. “I wanted to check on you and Ludwick to see how he has been treating you.”
“Why use the servant entrance?”
“To give you a fright, why else!?”
“Oh, Frederick!” She exclaims slapping his shoulder. The worries of the day seem to fade in the light of her cousin who feels more like a brother since her parents took him in.
“Where is he? I want to surprise him as well.” He questions.
“Oh...Well, Ludwick had to leave on urgent business, he will be returning today. I’m cooking one of his favorite meal to welcome him.”
“Ah, so he is neglecting you,” Fredricks states grabbing one of the buns as he takes a seat.
“No!” Fosca yelps startling both herself and her cousin. “I mean that he has very urgent business he needs to attend to so he needs to leave... weekly. For long periods of time and without a word because he’s busy.”
“So’s he’s not neglecting you?”
“No, He loves me.”
“Yet, He’s never home.”
“What is your Battalion doing?” She asks switching topics as she slides into the seat opposite him with a bright smile not reaching her eyes.
With a sigh, Frederick goes into a colorful recount of his battalion duties and functions describing his sergeants and generals in tasteful yet humorous manner. Fosca listens in a riveted fashion following his tale as though he was telling her the secret to life. Perhaps he was.
“Oh my, look at the time! You should head back wouldn’t want your general coming after you.” Fosca chides.
“Ha, like he would take the time. I must come to you again! I’ll bring some of my friends and we will regale you with stories!”
“Oh, come tomorrow evening by than Ludwick would be rested and he will want to see you again,” Fosca suggest.
They both rise and head for the servant's entrance with a nod Fredrick’s agrees, stopping before the door he hugs her once more whispering into her hair. “No matter what I will be here for you, Cousin.”
“Thank you, Frederick, I will see you tomorrow.” As she shuts the door behind him she looks again at the clock two hours till he gets here. Two hours….
She goes about cleaning the house. There isn’t much to clean since it’s only her, mostly. She let the servants go months ago. No point in paying them to serve one and it saved her a great amount of money. She set the table, brought out the wine, set the food out and fussed over the candles. Looking at the clock again she notes the time. One hour till he arrives. One hour…..
She heads upstairs to get dressed she chooses her gold dress the one she wore the first time they meet. Fixed her hair in a simple braid with a gold ribbon on the end. Looking into the mirror she tried not to stare she knew she wasn't beautiful but...she was loved. Lightly powdering her cheeks and biting her lips she looks towards the clock. Twenty minutes till he returns. Twenty minutes….
She heads to the foyer fussing around the room while anxiously watching the street through the window. Wondering how her husband would greet her how he would rush in tired and sleepy till he looked into her eyes, then quickly sweeping her up into his arms promising to stay and finally...kiss her. He would tell her about his day talk about how he misses her and he’ll finally get a job close to home because he can’t bear to be away from her. Then they will eat he’ll praise her cooking and take her hand and lead her to the bedroom and..and….from the street she hears a carriage stop in front of her house she watches as her husband climbs down a smile grew on her face. She rushes towards the entryway fixing her hair in what she hoped would be seductive. The door opens and in he walks carrying a small bag he shuts the door behind him.
“Welcome home, husband.” She greets walking forward she helped him remove his coat and hold his bag. “The parlor is ready if you want to rest before supper.” She informs putting his jacket into the closet she notices a paper sticking out of the inner pocket. She takes it out and looks it over; it’s a gambling card stating that someone named Raphael was in debt by thousands of pounds. She smiled thinking how kind her husband was to take on a friend’s problem. When a thought floats into her mind and takes root; ‘He never introduced any of his friends to me’ . She shoved the note into his coat turning she followed him into the parlor.
“How was your trip?” She questions taking a seat to his side. Picking up her unfinished needlework she went to work waiting for him to answer.
“It was...Business. Not much to talk about I’m afraid.” He answers puffing on his pipe. His eyes focusing on the wall ahead of him. Silence fell over them Fosca wondered what was going through his mind as they sat together.
“It would be nice to have something to tell my parents.” She reasons continuing her needlework.
“Father keeps asking if you would like to work in the factory-” She stops as Ludwick stands.
“I’m tried, Fosca, Can we...Not tonight, my dear?” He throws over his shoulder heading towards the doors.
“What about dinner!?” Fosca calls after him. Worried she had offended him with talk of work, again. While her family paid her dowry and helped them get their home he had yet to return any of it.Why did he marry her if he didn’t plan to grow with her!? Why?! ‘ Don’t asks questions...He chose you.’
“Save my plate, I’ll eat later.” He answers she knows that means that she would eat alone, if at all. His footsteps could be heard going up the stairs signaling to Fosca, again, that their talk was over. Fosca swallows her tears thinking that again she would spend the night with only her tears and a good romance novella. She puts her needlework away as she moves to blow out the candles and close the curtains. She silently moves to the kitchen each step resounding in her heart highlighting her loneliness, her pain. ‘He chooses you! Love will come, eventually….’ Her mantra playing on repeat in her head as she cleared the dinner room and put out the lights, placing the salvageable food in the ice box. Her mind unable to come to terms with her life’s currents path. Thinking back to the many romances she had read the multiple tropes and tragedies the numerous endings she had memorized she thought she had it figured out that she had found a loophole for someone ugly, someone who was less fortunate, someone who didn’t deserve love. She ascends the stairs carrying a small lantern a small sliver of hope still floating in her mind. ‘Love will come, eventually….’ She comes to his room staring at it she wondered why it felt like more than this wood door that separated them. She touches the cold wood remembering their wedding night, his warm touch, A fire in her belly, a moment where everything was bright and colorful when she swore he loved her.
“I forgot to tell you my cousin is in town, visiting, he will be here tomorrow evening to see you.” She calls hoping that her words would reach him.
“I will be here.” His answer muffled by the door. She smiles he stills cares she thinks he will be here for me.
Chapter 2: The next night
It was his third week with this new battalion and he already knew the pecking order, who was the head and who was expendable. He followed as they head into town watched as they flirted with the young misses and sang loudly; a loyal outsider. Frederick, the leader of the group was talking about his cousin, how she was feeling lonely in a new town and would greatly appreciate a visit. Giorgio watches as he convinces the six of them to follow him to this unknown cousin’s home promising drinks and games. He follows as they approach the home he stands near the back of the group ready to run if it were a prank of Fredrick’s to get them to waste their wages on another whorehouse.
The door opens to show the most wretched creature his eyes have ever seen. Her skin so white and pale it could have been marble, her eyes pointed and dark they seem to swallow his soul, her brow so harsh and wide as though she was ready to frown at any minute, moles seemed to climb up her neck. As he continued to stare he thought that he was looking into the face of the grim reaper. Giorgio watches as Frederick's face lights up as she turns her eyes to him. They hug he catches what must be her voice just above a whisper as she ushers them in Frederick staying at her side, pointing towards the parlour. Being the last to enter Giorgio takes in her face as Frederick explains why they were late a smile crossed her face, more a baring of teeth, like she didn’t smile often enough to know how. As he enters the parlour he sees the other men have found the food and drinks. He hears Frederick and Fosca chatting about something from behind suddenly she laughs the sound a mix of bells and shattered glass.
“My husband is on his way, I do hope your friends don’t mind the limited refreshments.” She says to Fredrick her voice quivering with what seemed to be unshed tears. Watching as Frederick assures her that it was fine and they wouldn’t keep her long. Once everyone was settled Frederick offers to tell her some stories from his travels. She gave a small smile leaning forward to hear the story her face catching the candlelight in a way that highlighted her sunken cheeks. Frederick began his tale with animated motions and voices when he made a ‘mistake’ one of the others would jump in to offer a better perspective. Grigio watches her face, go through a myriad of emotions at first her face soften to an almost digestible than she would twist her face in a way that would frighten him with it’s ugliness. As another of the men helped fix Frederick's story the parlor door opened revealing a shockingly handsome man. Reminding Grigio of the handsome kings and princes he read in his studies. A strong silence fell as the group realises that this man is Fosca husband.
“Ludwick, you’re late! We’re almost through the wine, Cousin in law. Come join us.” Frederick greets a slight edge to his voice his anger palpable in the air. Ludwig walked towards Fosca and begging our forgiveness with a polished edge stating he was sorry but he had urgent business in town. As he passes Grigio, strong feminine perfume follows telling him exactly what kind of business it was. Once seated beside Fosca, the uncomfortable silence lifts only after Fosca asks to hear the end of the tale. Fredrick and the rest rush to the end of the tale. Awkward laughter fills the room as they reached the climax, Fosca husband silent with a slight grimace on his face as she laughs.
“What kind of games do you have on hand, Signora?” asks one of the other men in hopes of lighting the mode.
“Not many, I’m afraid. There is checkers and backgammon...oh, and the cards.” She answers from her seat. Her voice wavering reminding them of someone on the verge of crying. “Here let me-” Her husband grabs her hand. She turns towards him flushed as though this was their very first contact.
“We don’t want to distract you from your duties, my love.” He tells her. Petting her hands, he rose and carried her to the door, Like she was in trance she followed. “We will call you if we need you.”
“Ah….Of course, Cousin, I hope you and your friends have a wonderful evening.” With a slight bow she slips away. For a creature so frightful….she was rather graceful.
“Now, Gentlemen! I say the best way to understand someone is over a rousing game of cards.”
Ludwig exclaims walking towards one of the drawers he pulls out a pack of cards.
“Who is up to a game?” He asks surveying the room avoiding Fredrick’s stare. The others agree while Grigio decides to instead watch and digest what just happened. Fredrick to sat out staring holes into Ludwig's head.
He watches the game but after two rounds he became bored, glancing at Fredericks who was watching the door in hopes of his cousins return, no doubt. Turning his gaze to the shelf behind Fredrick he takes in the large quantity of books his interest piqued he rose and began to scan the shelves. He was shocked to see the newest anthology by one of his favorite recreational authors. He pulls the book out surprised to see the pages cut and dog eared. He began to devour the story excited to see where the author would take the hero, what perils, what adventure… He hears someone snicker from beside him glancing down to see Frederick looking at him with a smirk on his face.
“It seems you found something of great interest?” He jests pointing at the book he continued. “If you ask our gracious host...I’m sure they will lend it to you.” Waving his hand in Ludwig's direction.
Looking behind him notices the game paused Ludwick was staring at them with a strange blank stare. His collar loosen and his coat tossed to the side giving him a more human air.
“Those books...are my wife’s. You should ask her.” He answers the unasked question. “Check the yard she’s probably gardening.”
“Thank you…” Grigio whispers moving towards the door he pauses the thought of meeting her face to face of staring into her eyes frightened him deeply.
“I can show you the way.” Frederick volunteers his thinly veiled anger make itself known again. “Besides someone should check on Fosca.” the obvious scolding laced into his words make the already heavy air thicker, silence reigned as he walked to the door.
When they close the parlor door, they can hear laughter breaking out followed by shushing and whispered voices. Grigio watches as Frederick turns and begins to walk down the hall unsure how to comfort him in this moment. Silently he follows taking the time to take in the house though it was small it still gave a sense of grandeur. The walls a simple yellow with white accents, paintings of flowers every few feet.
“You love to read.” He states Grigio nods unsure of what exactly took place. Silence reigns as they walk the halls. “Fosca loves to read as well. She always carried a book with her when we were younger.” Frederick breaks the silence with this confession. As they continue to walk he goes on. “I know my cousin isn’t….beautiful by society's standards. I know she is awkward in conversation but when she smiles and I mean truly smiles, she has a look one could call sweet.” With a huff, he stops in front of the last door in the hall turning to finally look Grigio in the eye. “My Uncle and Aunt took me in….when I had no one and they trust me to care for her…. they are my family and Fosca my dearest cousin. Even if it for a moment I’m thankful for the company you offer her. ”
Grigio listens silently, wondering if the wine and his bottled anger had caused this slip of tongue. Earnestly surprised by his frank admissions wondering if it would be rude to agree and worry at the implications.
With a heavy pat on his back Fredrick opens the door to show one of the most beautiful and luscious garden Grigio had ever seen. Flowers of all shades and hues decorated the small yard in the middle of the yard stood Fosca in her gold gown watering some daffodil’s. Some unseen force drew him close as he watches her in the fading sunlight. As he drew closer he heard the distinct sound of quiet sobbing he watches as her shoulders shudder with a hiccup. With a breath, he cleared his throat and watched as she took notice of his presences. With a quiet gasps, She turned her face wet with tears, the water in her eyes causing them to glitter in the fading light.
Making her almost pretty.
“Oh, I’m sorry...I was...so absorbed in my flowers.” She stutters wiping her face with a handkerchief nearly the same pure white as her skin.
“No, I’m sorry.” A strange combination of anger and longing to comfort coming over him. Why he didn’t understand. “I wanted to ask if I could borrow this novel until I return.”
“Oh,” She blinks. Standing froze for a moment Giorgio takes in her face as it morphes through an array of emotions. Some more terrifying than others. Motioning for him to sit on the bench she takes a seat beside him she continues. “You enjoying reading?”
“Yes, This author is one of my favorite’s. I’ve only seen their works in pamphlets, though.”
“I, too enjoy his writing. My parents gave it to me as a wedding gift .” She explains. With a small smile she reaches for the book. Handing it over he watches as she flitted through the book her eyes lighting up. “I enjoy the way he writes the Heroine. Powerful, in the way she fights the villains. Inviting, in the way she helps the village. Yet, she is still a flower, Delicate. She is a mystery that slowly unravels before the hero. It’s just so invigorating.” Turning towards him she smiles. Giorgio feels a pull in his heart at the way her eyes twinkled and the crinkle at their corners. The ugliness of her face in sharp contrast against the bright spirit in her eyes. He felt himself being pulled again.
“Y-yes, It is.” Giorgio stutters. A moment passes as he looks into her eyes the intense darkness in the orbs seeming to pull him in further.
“You may borrow it, of course.” She turns her face away breaking the connection, freeing his soul. “I could wrap it for you-”
“No, it’s fine.” Shaking out of her pull, he turns towards her. “I should go back before they leave without me. I don’t know this town as well as they.”
“Of course, I should beginning supper.” She rose. Giorgio allows her walk in front of him the scent of Lilies and gardenias, rise up to his nose.
As they walk down the hall her cousin, appears seeming to have sobered up in their absence. With a nod, he took her arm talking to her in hushed tones. Giving Giorgio time to mull over what just happened. A creature, so hideous and ill-portioned and yet…she seemed to somehow snare a part of his soul. Something about her, gripped him when he saw her crying he almost embraced her to comfort her. She’s a woman...nature has its own laws that must be obeyed, he reasons.
At the parlour door they paused, the gravity of the situation settling over them, Frederick opens the doors as a cloud of smoke greeted their eyes. The laughter of the men reaches their ears Fosca covers her mouth as the smoke coiled around her. Her cousin rushes in opening the windows smacking some of the men on the back urging them to rise. Giorgio feels eyes on him, a heavy and angry gaze, searching for the source he see’s Fosca husband staring with a predator like expression. He feels a shiver go up his spine as Frederick announces they were leaving.
“Yes, I should go to bed as well.” Ludwick announces eye’s still on Giorgio. Who was now inching towards the doors.
“But, Dear-” Fosca began her voice wavering.
“I’m tired. Perhaps I will eat later.” Nodding towards them he heads towards the stairs. Fosca takes a step in his wake almost in a trance, freezing as Frederick calls her name.
With a shaky sigh, she turns towards them, “Let me lead you out.” Her voice tight as it held in a sob. He feels it again that pull. Fredricks rushes to her side comforting her. As they walk out the door he hears her call out. Turning he sees her staring at him with those bottomless eyes. “I hope that book brings you much joy…”
“...Giorgio is my name.” A tremor goes up his spine that she didn't even know his name yet had such power over him
“Oh, how provincial.” She whispers with a gasp she covers her mouth as though she hadn’t meant for the thought to slip out. In that moment she seemed almost child like….
“It has it’s moments.” He chuckles. Watching her eyes twinkle in answer, their depth taking him in again. A cough from the group pulls him out with a nod he returns to the group. They walk the path back to the barracks the men jostling each other and talking loudly. Giorgio was trapped in his own mind almost afraid to focus on anyone thought. He felt bewitched…. the feelings he had in her presence couldn’t have been natural.
“Hahaha, Giorgio! Do you wanna tell us what happened between you and La Signora?” One of the man asks throwing his arms around his shoulder causing him to jostle the book.The scent of alcohol and smoke choking him as he tries to pull away.
“Yes, you were gone a long while.” Another calls. Silence reigns for a moment as he thought of what to say. He didn’t want to offend Frederick…
“I could tell better what they did,” Frederick broke in shoving Giorgio taking the pressure of him. “They talked about the book’s character and little else.” He finishes pushing the others forwards.
“Ah, Giorgio, ever the gentleman!” They cry stumbling forward arms around one another.
The moment passes for them as they head deeper into the town. But for him….His thoughts turned back to the creature who seemed to ensnare his mind. Her explanation of the character’s seeming to echo in his mind… ‘Powerful ...Inviting...Delicate and so Invigorating…’ He wonders what about her made him dwell so long on her, suddenly a hand thumps on his back.
“When you are ready….I can bring you back...”
“Back…?” He questions looking up into Fredrick eyes soft with a kind of understanding. As if he knew that his soul was confused by his feelings.
“I know the city can be confusing I can bring you back whenever you are ready to return the book.” He offers. He didn’t know...a strange combination of relief and fear settling on his heart.
“Yes...I would like that.”
The walk back seemed longer in Grigio mind he couldn’t seem to focus tripping over rocks and narrowly avoiding trees the others laughed thinking it was simply the wine having latent effect. He wished it was as simple an explanation as that but he feared it was something more powerful.
Time moved rather swiftly for the two…Ludwick left for business the next day and Fosca feared she would re-enter that depressing motion he had found her in. But Giorgio and Frederick were stationed in the town for another few months and offered her companionship and entertainment. The first week Frederick made a point to be present for all their visits playing the part of chaperone. Both Giorgio and Fosca had much to offer in way of criticism and praise of their favorite author. They learned that they had more in common outside of their love of literature...both were only children and missed their families deeply. Giorgio followed in his father's footsteps by joining the military. Fosca’s garden had been gifted to her by her mother a way to keep them close. A month into their visits Frederick stopped coming complaining that their talks were boring and turning him into a statue. Unsupervised Fosca tired to distance herself but Giorgio had a way of making her forget that she was a happily married woman he made her feel different to see things differently. For Giorgio, he didn’t think that he would be coming back as often as he did he thought that once Frederick stopped bringing him he would stop but each time...something would draw him closer. Something would make him stay longer. Something made him keep talking...Then Ludwick came back.
Fosca fussed in the mirror Giorgio and Frederick were coming to take her into town to get the newest book in the series that Giorgio had introduced her to. As she pulled out her parcel she smiled Giorgio had insisted they make a day of it. Her anticipation made her hurriedly clean the house and water her plants she could scarcely eat breakfast as she thought of what they would do. A walk in the park...Then buying the books and maybe even journals, Giorgio loved writing in journals perhaps he’d like one as a gift...then they would have dinner at a small bistro. It would be lovely. Taking a seat in the parlor she smoothed out her mint green dress waiting for Fredrick's head to pass her window...slowly a carriage pulls up to the house stopping. She watches as Ludwick leaps out with a gasp she rises. He was back! How could she forget?! He must be tired too his soul. Running she meets him at the door. Taking in his tired visage noting the smear of bright red on his face.
“Not now, Fosca. I’m tired. I’ll take my food to my room.” Waving her off he heads to the stairs.
“Ah,” Fosca begins pausing as he stops. “I-I’m sorry dear but I-I don’t have anything waiting.” As he slowly turns back eyes wide.“If you give me a moment I can make you something.”
“What?” He sneers walking back down the stairs leaning heavily on the railing. “I spend a month struggling to find proper funds to pay back your father.” He stops a few feet in front of Fosca who is now wringing her hands her nose twitching as the scent of bourbon reaches her. “Is it too much to expect when I come home is food.”
“My love, I-”
“Do you truly love me if I come second in your life!” He interjects stepping closer his eyes a strange mix of anger and annoyance.
Desperately she tries to placate her husband but sadly she forgot to lock the door allowing her cousin to come bursting through laughing loudly with Giorgio blushing brightly as he follows close on his tail.
“Cousin! You must tell Giorgio how foolish he looks with that hat…” Fredrick quiets seeing the tense scene playing out in front of him.
“Oh-Ludwick has just returned.” Fosca eyes flickered between the two men the air growing tense as she moves between them. “I-I’m afraid we will have to cancel our-”
“No need, Love.” His sneer as he spoke causes her stomach to twist in a way that it hadn’t in so long she almost didn’t recognize it. He chose her...didn’t he? “I’ll find my meal somewhere less hostility.” He ignores her cry as he grabs his hat slamming the door behind him.
Leaving her standing there clutching her waist as her vision blurred. He was angry as he should be! This is what she gets for being happy in his absence. Her feet seemed to move on their own as a sound seemed to grow within she fights to keep it in.
“Fosca!” A voice calls out to her worry etched into its tone. “Please wait.” He begs pulling her back. His dark hair curled and shining in the candlelight of the hall his eyes burning into her once more. The sounds fading as she looks into his eyes their hazel spheres calming in such a comforting way.
“Giorgio, I-I” Her voice shakes with tightly held tears. “I’m sorry to have ruined our plans.” With a shaky breath, she turns away pulling her hand away.
“Fosca, we can still go...there is no reason we must throw away our plans.” He pleads trying to catch her eyes. “I was so excited to buy the book I...well I brought out a new hat.” He holds out the hat for her to see. It is a brightly colored top hat in blue with a dark red ribbon wrapped around the brim. A bright pink feather danced from the ribbon stretching high above nearly tickling her.
She lifts her hand to her face pushing against her lips as she fights to keep her laughter within. Lifting her eyes to his she sees his eyes glittering with mirth as she loses her battle.
“I thought it was rather fashionable. The price was rather high though.” He confides whispering as he pulls on the feather.
“Oh, Giorgio!” She gasps shaking her head chuckling. “You must return it. If not burn it!”
“Oh, Fosca!” He scoffs before laughing at her his eyes staring into her’s with a warmth that seemed to erase the tension from her mind. As they stood in the wide hall space seemed to shrink as their laughter faded. Silence fell but it was not uncomfortable instead there was a heavy tension that seemed to grow with each moment that passed. A heat seemed to grow within her as another moment passed...
“We should head out…” Fredrick called from the great room.
Jumping apart they laugh again at the awkwardness of the moment. As they headed into town there were whispers but they were quieted as soon as they saw the joy in Fosca’s eyes as she held onto her cousin's arms listening to Giorgio’s excited ramblings about the book. The journey to the bookshop was quick allowing them to head to the Bistro for supper. They enjoyed a small feast as Fosca and Giorgio began to devour the book…
“Why does he make such a change to her character! She would never have followed the villain to the mines.” Fosca admonishes reaching blindly for a roll and butter.
“I think she’s trying to set up a trap.” Giorgio offers sipping from his glass eyes glued to his page. “She talked earlier of catching prey with a sweet fruit in a precarious place.”
“But I thought she was speaking to her companion of ways to catch a husband.”
“I think it was a two-sided comment meant-”
“While this is thrilling conversation,” Frederick interjects with a sigh eyeing the pair. “We are at dinner so...can we eat?”
Slowly the pair looks up at the other a small smile as they slowly close the books placing them to side.
“Ah, there we go. Now about my plans for the rest of the night.”
Eventually, their day fades into the night ending with a sigh at her door.
“I thank the both of you this day has been…” She pauses looking at them both with a sigh. “A welcomed relief. Thank you, again.”
“Dear cousin-” Frederick began taking her hand.
“Signora!” A shrill voice calls from across the street. A woman dressed in a drab grey dress hurried across the roadway. “Signora, I must speak with you.” She pleads eyeing Fredrick and Giorgio with disdain.
Oh, snap! I'm back, with a cliffhanger of sorts...Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter the few of us who wished them to have a happy ending.
“Ah, I’m sorry. Do-do I know you?” Fosca steps closer worry etched across her brow. As the Frantic woman began to fuss with her skirts.
“No, but I know you.” She looks towards the men again leaning closer she whispers. “You believe yourself to be married to a Count from Austria,” Her voice seemed to spit on the words. “In truth, you are one of many to fall under his spell.”
“What!?” Fredericks exclaims drawing Fosca eye as he moves forward stopping only as Giorgio holds him back concern in his eyes.
“His name is Raphael Barkins, he is a liar who leaves behind a string of broken hearts and empty purses. Every trip he took was to another who purses hold more wealth than the last til he bleeds them dry.” Her voice cracks as she finishes her tale.
“You must be mistaken-”
“Every three days he leaves for months at a time coming back drunk and heavily perfumed.” She interjects stepping closer the venom in her voice makes Fosca’s heart skip a beat. “He says he loves eats veal because it's the most inexpensive meat that has an air of quality to it. He never stays for long if he does he only wants one thing and then-then he’s gone.”
The details she spoke of, details of her marriage, made heat rush into her face. It couldn’t be true...she knew that Ludwick was cruel at times and distant but he choose her! Even If he was cold when they were alone? He choose her! The signs were all there since the very beginning! He was a perfect reflection of ever dream she ever had and he choose her! Why couldn’t that be enough!?
“Fosca…” Giorgio whispers. Snapping her out of the void that was the vicious cycle of thoughts reminding her that she was out on the street beside her cousin and...close friend. Having her world torn apart.
“I-I thank you for your-ah, warnings...I-I must go now.” Fosca stutters stumbling up her stairs.
“Stay here.” Frederick demands of the woman. “Watch her.” He commands Giorgio who nods in answer. “Fosca!” He calls out following her into the house. “Pack your things.” At her empty stare, he goes on. “I can not stand by while this fraud takes advantage of you.”
“I want to ask him.” She whispers looking at the parlor door remembering how only a month ago she sat eagerly at the window for her husband.
“No,” He urges pointing to the window. “He is out there, no doubt! Running up debts at some gambling hell-”
“I need to see him. To know if it’s true.” She whispers covering her face as the weight of the moment grows her legs trembling beneath her.
“...Fosca.” Fredericks whispers pulling her close. “I will be back within an hour if he is not back by then-”
“I will gather my things and leave with you.”
He nods looking into her glittering eyes as she fights her tears, “I am sorry, cousin, I will not fail you any longer.” Kissing her forehead he hugs her close before heading out the door.
Silently, Fosca moves up the stairs of her home. A mirthless sound escapes her as she thinks back to the joy that had flooded her only a month ago. Soundlessly she packs her suitcases, all two of them, heading back down the stairs she heads into the parlor to grab her most important books. As she scans the titles her vision began to blur looking down she realizes that she was sobbing. Taking a seat on the settee she feels her chest convulse with her pain. No! She wasn’t going to fall into the pit of misery...even though there was nothing left for her. Life was cruel in a way that was deliberating to those who looked like her. The hope she had placed on this marriage to be a way out into the world and to have it all crumble around her. It was almost too much.
“Wife!” Ludwick-No. Raphael calls from the hall. “What is this!?” He questions walking into the parlor frowning. “Why are you crying, wife?”
He was gorgeous. Dressed in a fine silk suit top, hat under his arm as he looked down at her no doubt red dampened face, “I need you to answer truthfully-”
Before she can finish he begs. “What has brought this on, Flower?”
Her heart speaks a beat as she takes in his glittering eyes, slicked-back hair and pursed lips. He looked to the casual eye as a worried husband. It’s almost enough to make her miss the laughter in his voice or the cruel tilt to his brows.
“None of your double speak or-or flowery language!” She demands looking to a spot over his shoulder as she gathers her courage till finally. “Why did you marry me?”
Silence falls as her words seem to suck the air out of it. She stares out the window waiting for his answer. She sees familiar faces slowly pass by she can’t help but wonder if in their gossip they guessed...
Her musings are interrupted by his laughter.
“You knew what I was after, Signora.” He scoffs his accent shifting to something more harsh and callous throwing his hat onto the chair. Pushing his hands through his hair as she turns back with a gasp. “We had an unspoken agreement. You wanted my looks and charm, I wanted your dowry.” He continues walking over to the brandy seating atop the shelves. Her breath seems to escape her as he pours himself a glass. “Which your parents were rather quick to give.” He laughs downing the entire glass. Looking back at her he smiles, “They were eager to line my pockets, weren’t they?”
Before she knew it she was across the room standing before him her palm stinging and her breath rushing out of her. How could she let herself be so naive as to believe more might have come of this! Her poor parents so eager to see her happy, their money wasted!
“Oh, Signora. There is no one here but us there is no need to play victim we were both after something,” He pulls out a thick envelope with a wide grin. “And we got it.” Mockingly he bows out of the parlor running directly into Fredrick and Grigio.
“Cousin-in-law!” He greets with false cheer walking around them ignoring the anger in Fredrick’s face. “I have a package I must-”
“Raphael!” He growls following him into the street.
“Ah, So you do know...well, I will take my leave.” He offers heading further into the empty street a few souls milling about.
“Fredericks…” Fosca calls as her cousin follows him into the street.
“You have dishonored my cousin-”
“Keep your self-righteous anger, Cousin.” Raphael scoffs in the center of the street. “You knew what this was. The only way she would ever marry was with a desperate fool!”
As the words left his lips Fredericks' fist flew and Raphael's fists answered. Fosca’s heart twisted as Fredrick attempted to defend her what little honor she had left. “Fredericks, please!” She cries as a small crowd began to grow at the sounds of their shouting. A solid warmth appears around her shoulders steadying her heart.
“...Fosca, Give him this.” Grigio whispers taking her hand with a small smile. Her heart twists as she takes in his words. ‘Give him this.’ What is this but a show of crazed masculinity that only causes more pain!
“For your cousin,” Had she spoken aloud? “this is more than a show this is his apology,” Grigio whispers pulling her closer as Fredericks gains the upper hand. “He felt as though he failed you allowing this rouge to wed you.”
She had seen through Raphael games when he was Ludwig. She knew what the world had to offer people who looked like her. But Fredricks, her dear cousin held such high trust in his fellow man. “Oh, Fredricks.”
“I will ruin you in every club that holds your every name! You will be nothing more than common riff-raff!” Frederick shouts into his face. Fosca squeezes Grigio hand frantically and with nod, he walks forward tugging on Frederick’s arm to rise and leave Raphael on the ground.
He cackles as Fredericks comes to her side frantic she looks him over noting the bruising on his face and his wince as he leans on his leg.
“Go ahead and ruin me!” He mocks coming to stand on shaky legs pulling out the same large envelope. “I have no need of gambling halls or whore houses now that-”
Fosca’s eyes blur and her ears ring as a strange sort of thunder comes crashing down around her. Her arms turn numb and her breath shaking as she tries to focus among the clamor of rushing blood and screeching...
“Call a doctor!” Fredericks calls from the street for some strange reason.
“Fosca!” Giorgio calls lightly smacking her cheeks. “Go inside, quickly!.”
No, Lud-Raphael was talking he was-was That’s when she saw it, the blood on her dress and the cobblestones. Frederick was kneeling near a red puddle soaked to the knee urgently calling for aid. Giorgio was trying in vain to get her attention and escort her back into the house. And Raphael was-was...
Things went by in a rush after this Fredericks got a leave of two weeks when he explained her...sudden loss. Giorgio learned he had been reassigned to another outpost a few hundred miles off yet he made sure to see them off. The warmth that passed through her as he hugged her close his cheek against hers his breath in her ear as he whispered, “Do not let this moment stop you, Fosca. Looking into her eyes as he pressed a small journal into her hand. “You are much stronger than this moment.” With a small smile, he waves as she boards the train.
Sorry! I said I would upload way earlier but life likes to throw stones at you. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the little cliffhanger. Thank you for the comments and likes.
They took the first train home and swore to keep that evening’s events: a secret. Her parents were ecstatic to see her having a year past since they saw their darling children. She was shocked to see only a few devoted servants left, the house in disrepair and her father’s health...deteriorating.
It seemed that her parents had their own secrets to keep.
She quickly developed a pattern where she could almost forget about the pain of her marriage...then her father passed. And she went numb again, colors seemed to gray and life began to spiral away from her as she allowed her mother and cousin to coddle her. A week after the funeral she sat in her room going through her things when she found the bloodstained envelope. The scream that tore through her as she stared at the packet on the floor caused her mother to faint. It made their doctor suggest she take on a personal nurse to watch for her hysteria.
That night as she lays in bed she wonders what had possessed her to keep his tainted package. Why when the cart man had delivered his things did she keep his hats and that blasted envelope!? Forcing herself to rise she grabs it from her dresser and forces herself to walk to the fireplace. In her weakened state, it slips from her hand the contents spilling out. With a quiet sob, she falls to her knees staring at the scattered papers till her eyes caught on a single word. Deed, scanning the page she sees Ludwick’s not Raphael named as proprietor of a mine. A silver mine, a good day’s journey from here. With a gasp, she pushed herself up wiping her eyes. She gingerly sits on the bed her mind reeling. So he got what he wanted a constant source of income; no need to marry some rich sad soul and drain them dry. With a cry she stands walking to the fireplace it’s embers still shining in the dark. It made so much sense why not burn his dreams turning his plans for the future to dust and ash?! Why then did her grip tighten?! Why can’t she just rid herself of this totem of life destroyed?! Raphael-
Wait...It was Ludwig of Austria who holds the deeds, not Raphael the grifter! As his widow, she bearded his debts as well as his wealth! Pulling her arm back she reads the deed again taking in all the details. This could be it! The answer to her mother's woes. A path she never saw for herself.
Gathering the papers she wipes at her eyes as she straightens them on the table. She needs to go to the mine and lay her claim as the widow of Ludwig. She had to convince her mother and cousin that this was the best choice. But how!? To her mother and Fredrick, she was still a flower, to be protected and sheltered. She never thought of herself anything more. Her heart in her throat as she thought of approaching them. How would she tell them? ‘Fredrick, Mother, I have found something that could save our way of life...No, I don’t know how to run a mine or how to find a property manager. But I-’
Her hand knocks some books off the shelf as she moves to clutch her head. Her mind throbbing as her panic grows. She should shut the door on these thoughts. How could she even imagine taking something like this!? She-little Fosca, poor little Fosca! She who couldn’t accept her spinsterhood and dared to dream outside her proper place-
Her eye catches on one of the books, Open to a random page a rare illusion showing a hero walking away from women head bowed low, weapon strapped to his back. But what caught her eye for what feels like the first time is the woman in the background. Instead of looking distraught or torn at losing her love...She looked strong. She looked as though she was purposely watching him walk out of her life as though she wanted it burned in her memory. As though she was growing stronger with every step he took.
Taking the book in hand she stares harder at the woman wishing for the ounce of strength she had. As she sinks down clutching the book to her chest her legs land on another book. Tears in her eyes as she moves the book pausing as she takes in the still shining cover and uncut pages. The journal that Giorgio had giving her, ‘You’re so much stronger than this moment.’
The time they had spent together felt like a dream. Her day would seem lighter once he would enter her home. He only once pokes fun at her theories and ramblings to tell her she was wrong. She enjoyed spending time with him even for a moment… ‘Don’t let this moment stop you.’
She was frozen, stuck. At that moment..when the horses screamed, when the wet hit her face her cousins call for help. She can feel her lungs fill with air but her ears only hear the thud of her heart, the panic of the moment.
She needs to move! To move from that moment. To not let him take a moment more!
“Fosca! Fosca, please!” Fredrick begs as he pulls her close. She can barely feel his arms around her, his hair brushing her face trailing in her tears. The sobs that had wrecked her causing her to gasp for breath.
“It’s okay, Fosca. I’ll protect you, dear cousin, from all of the evil of the world.”
There it was again. Fosca, the hothouse flower, in need of protection and guidance. Always stared at never listened too.
‘Don’t let this moment stop you.’
She pushed her cousin away to arm's length. She fights to catch her breath.
“Cousin,” She whispers her voice rough. “I thank you-Truly I do.” Swallowing the fear that gripped her tongue she whispers. “But I don’t need your protection. I need your support…”