This is Issue #28 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
* * *
Nixus stared at her father, the muscles in her jaw working, an almost smile on her lips.
“What was that?” Exosus hissed. “What did you say to me?”
“Forgive me,” Nixus demurred. “It has been an incredibly stressful time, and I fear my emotions have gotten the better of me.”
“How like a woman,” the man sneered. “I swear upon my blood it’s as though every single one of you is born to give me ire. You never gave me cause to beat it out of you, Nixiana. Even when you insisted on the military before your marriage, in deference to our Prince, you always knew when to kneel — don’t show me now it was all a lie.”
“I swear, my father, I have only ever wanted to bring honor to our family,” Nixus said quietly.
“Good. You can do that by bearing fat sons to your new husband,” he growled. “I’ll be glad when the contract is finished.”
Nixus felt herself nearly vomit in both disgust and fury; how had she ever convinced herself this man was worth obeying? Had he always been this noxious? She gritted her teeth and wondered aloud, “It isn’t yet signed?”
“No, you dumb cow. Do I have to repeat everything I’m saying?” Exosus sighed. “I barely convinced him you were pure, though I imagine after your stint in the military that your cunt’s been well trampled by the cavalry, hmm? You’ll need to do your best to pretend to be unused, Nixiana. Get it stitched perhaps. I don’t care if it housed the whole Legio including your mounts; maybe that’ll have made it easier to bear sons, eh? The papers arrived, and I’m going to write my confirmation, then return them. At that point, I imagine his mother will try to reach yours, for planning the ridiculous feasting parts I’ll have to pay for.” He held out his hand, saying, “Now, pour us another glass, Nixie.”
Nixus flinched, and then laughed at the complete absurdity. She poured another glass, and this time, handed it to her father, watching his adams apple work as he swallowed it down. She poured him another glass, even more full, and the man greedily swallowed it, grinning at her in triumph. She took the empty glass, then, and set it down, looking at it in wonder. “And to think he was sad to have lost your love. Personally,” she said drily,”I imagine I would be thrilled.”
For a moment, there was stunned silence. Exosus stared at Nixus, trying to make certain he’d understood what she’d said. “How dare you,” the withered patriarch snapped. “After all that I have done for you.” He rose from where he sat, but as he stood, Nixus rose, as well, lifting her chin.
He stepped forward, with the assurance of a man who has intimidated everyone, all his life.
He was met with the resistance of a woman who found her own strength, her own command.
He found that he had to lift his eyes to meet hers, and his lip curled in a snarl of fury. “What is the meaning of this, Nixiana? Is it station? Do you think I’m marrying you too low? Is that why you’re throwing this tantrum? You were an outspoken child, but this is–“
“Tace, patri,” Nixus said quietly, reaching up a hand and pressing a gloved finger against her father’s lips.
His reaction was swift, and violent. He twisted to grab her by the throat, shifting to dig his thumb against her windpipe. He was surprisingly strong, for an old man.
Her eyes widened as he reached to take a dagger from his belt, saying, “I’ll end this family before I see it twisted into something disgusting.”
Nixus watched her father bring the blade up, to drive it into her belly. He thought to kill her, as he’d tried to kill Coryphaeus so many years ago. She seized the old man’s wrist and twisted out of his grasp, whirling him into hers. The blade was at his throat before he knew what was happening. “So will I,” she growled against his ear. “So will I, father. But the difference between us is I will cut the black heart of it out, so that what is still living, still good, still pure, can flourish.”
She dragged him to the desk and shoved him down in his chair; as he struggled, she tightened her arm around his throat until he reddened, and then finally went limp.
She watched him for a moment, as he lay slumped, unconscious in the chair.
From there, she worked quickly, first finding the documents about the marriage bonds, and then her father’s private stationery, his pens and seals. She was no fine forger, but her father’s writing had never been elegant, and the seal was proof itself.
After the documents were complete, she wrote another note, a longer one, full of words she wanted to hear, things she wished were said. She signed it ‘Exosus’ and she used his personal seal, and left it on the desk in front of him.
After that, she made sure the knife was sharp, and the stroke was clean.
The end was bloody — Exosus would not have cared who was left to find him, would not have taken pains to make it neat.
She left the room with the candles still burning, twisting the handle to engage the lock.
* * *
“Will you be staying for a late meal?” one of the servants asked as she left the wing. “Your mother had hoped–“
“Yes,” Nixus said, nodding. “My father has convinced me of the importance of family. I’m leaving him to his paperwork,” she said, nodding to the uniformed housewoman. She didn’t look back at the door as she headed to the far wing of the house, to see her mother, who was no doubt curled up near the fire with her books and her wine, all at once a prisoner, all at once exactly as she wished to be.
Nixiana Aecus strode into the chambers given to the lady of the house, knelt on the cushions before her, and laid her head in her mother’s lap. “I told the servants I’d stay.”
Venustus Aecus set aside her book and stroked her daughter’s hair. “I told them you would, as well.”
* * *