Andrea Novis Episode 3
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
As they entered the throne room, Andrea Novis caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror which hadn’t been there nine months before.
She was shocked at how pale her face was, how prominent the cheekbones, how deep set and intense the eyes. But the woman she saw looked healthy, calm, beautiful, unscarred by her nine months in total darkness. She walked with no slouch, no weakness, no uncertainty. Her hair was dull as wheat chaff and long as corn tassels, but it was neat and well-behaved. And she had dressed correctly by touch.
She did seem to have picked up a habit of holding her right hand against her heart. And visible only to her perceptive eye was a slight tension every three steps as she prepared to change direction or hit a wall.
But she looked, she saw, like an angel trying to look merely human. She walked the rest of the way to Markul’s throne with a soft smile.
The king’s vulture grin became an irritated frown. She realized that the mirror had been placed at the entrance so that she would see the horror she had become just before seeing him in his grandeur. It had had exactly the opposite effect and he was furious.
But she did recoil for an instant at the ripple of voices which ran around the room when he frowned. Though she had led herself through carefully guided fantasies of the outside world, the impact of so many people was still overwhelming. The King saw her moment of weakness and, though he didn’t understand it, curled his lips slyly as if he had won some victory.
Andrea Novis swept the courtiers with a stony gaze: pathetic excuses of men and women who had let their King imprison a woman who would not marry him. Calm again, she faced King Markul. Unwilling to curtsey, she inclined her head as a queen would to a visitor in her own court. In a way this was her castle now. She understood its roots, had made them her own.
“Well, my dear?” the King said in his moist voice which sounded like he needed badly to clear his throat. “Are you ready to show more grace and courtesy now? Today is a very significant day, you know.” His child’s face, always a hair’s breadth from twisting into petulant rage, smirked with superiority.
She regarded him silently. “Well, my dear?” he persisted, annoyed again. “Would you like to know what day today is? How much of your life you have lost because of your obstinacy?”
“Today,” she answered quietly, “would be January 9th, exactly nine months to the day since you had me imprisoned.” She gave in to pride and added, “I have lost 275 days. The average length of a woman’s pregnancy is 268 days and so any symbolic meaning is of course lost to me.”
This time the ripple of voices didn’t shake her. The male voices held contemptuous confusion but the female voices actually snickered knowingly. She could almost hear the women dig elbows into the ribs of their men.
The king spluttered. “Ungrateful wretch! You’ll be shoved into a darker cell this time!” Ridiculous, as she’d already been in total darkness. “A cell with rats this time, with, with snakes and, and, and.” He actually stamped his feet. “Vermin!!” he finished.
The voices in the court this time were uneven, dissatisfied. Finally, a smiling noble bowed before the king and said, reluctant and apologetic, “Surely Your Majesty means to say that the Princess might be imprisoned in a dark cell for the first time? For we have been assured that Her Highness has been held with all due courtesy.” His emphasis, as if he were prompting a child in a play, told Andrea Novis that he didn’t believe what he said; none of them truly believed that she had been held in a luxurious cell. But the king’s words had forced them to take official notice.
For a moment, she almost felt pity for King Markul as his confused eyes darted from the noble to her to Sir Robert. His eyes fixed on Sir Robert and glared: her beauty and cleanliness as she stood before the king was making him ask whether she had been well treated after all. Sir Robert looked away angrily. She recalled the mirror by the door: what if she had come up looking as broken as he’d hoped? The pathetic fool hadn’t even thought of how that would contradict the story he’d told the nobles.
Markul had been on the throne almost since the moment he was born, with weak uncles and aunts and more distant relatives vying for the real power. If he stretched out his hand for anything it was given to him; a wild fit of screaming tears would plough his way if someone momentarily thought to teach him some boundaries.
And there was something deeper in his nature which Andrea Novis still did not understand: he had asked her to marry him nine months before but he hadn’t wanted her. Even now, she felt his lack of desire for her. And during her long months of imprisonment, she’d thought back on his marriage proposal and on his more crudely stated offer when he’d burst into her guest room later that night. He’d been excited, but when she said no, he had smiled a delighted smile at her and left her to sleep. And of course she’d awoken in her cell.
Sexual inhibition and prudery had no place in her nature. Her daily discipline in the cell had included, without fail, a vivid sexual fantasy and a cherishing of her body which included prolonged ecstasy. She had refused him because her dignity as a woman and a human being had demanded that she refuse him.
Could she have refused him if she had known what would follow? Could she refuse him now, knowing that it might mean going back to that small dark cell, or worse?
He was sputtering to the noble, “She, she has been well treated, as you can see by looking at her. And besides, she…” With puffed cheeks and a crafty sideways glance at her, he floundered to a halt because of something he did not want her to know yet. The noble retreated, relieved.
She suspected that her father, in his indolent, heartless way, had sent a lazy demand that she be returned after her unexpectedly extended stay. And Markul possibly still hoped that she would give herself to him before she found that out.
She stood, as steady as a rock, and waited to see what would develop. The king actually squirmed under her gaze.
Slowly his hostility gave way to longing. He wanted something from her, something which she was denying him and she realized that she’d been wrong: he did not want her to give herself to him. He wanted something else.
The atmosphere of the hall, expressed in a discontented buzz, was against him now. Markul spoke to her, kindly, gently, almost hopefully. “I have freed you. I have set you free.”
Andrea Novis spoke firmly. “I have spent 275 days in total darkness in a cell six feet by eight feet by six feet high. I would do this again rather than yield to your demand that I prostitute myself to you.” An angry gasp flew around the hall.
But the king only nodded. “Very well,” he said. “Sir Robert! Take her back to her cell. Let her have another nine months to think!” He smiled his delighted smile.
Andrea Novis had a moment of weakness. She’d been so sure she would be set free; this was what came of grasping too firmly at hope. She almost gave in and begged him not to send her back but her discipline held. She resigned herself, beginning her mental habits already. A long slow breath in…
He was bluffing! She saw it in his eyes, heard it in the voices around the court. He was going to return her to her father. She had only to wait.
Or did she? Sir Robert laid his heavy hands on her arm, began to march her along.
To be continued…