The 24th has become the 25th and I am somehow too tired to sleep.
I believe this condition comes from being mentally rather than physically exhausted, and while my body aches and desires sleep, my mind has been far outpaced my body on this day just completed.
For all the troubles that Kraken Moor has brought to my door, they have typically been challenges and turmoils of relative bursts rather than of sustained psychical strain. I saw firsthand from my father’s slaves the extremes that a human body can endure. Men, women, and even children on a few occasions were whipped viciously, their backs shredded by the lash.
Inevitably, the damaged slaves returned to their duties.
From those slaves, I learned that humans are resilient, that life is resilient.
So is the body, so is the mind.
I have long viewed being raised on a plantation a negative. It shames me that I benefited through my first 17 years from the forced labor of others, yet though I lived a pampered life, I saw the hardships the slaves endured. Now, when Kadul or Kanarl make themselves known to me, though I am frightened, though I quake at the blasphemy of their actions, I also know there is nothing they can do to me that my father has not done to other human beings. There are moments when I feel I am due a great punishment for my upbringing, and other moments when I draw strength from what I have seen.
The 24th of January was a day unlike any other I have experienced at Kraken Moor. What makes today – yesterday, I should say as it is past midnight – so different was not in the oddity of its events, but in the grim, sobering, unending, and solitary duty I had to perform.
Lord Shepherd had a fever.
Had we been off the road, it would have been a simple matter to place the man in a bed and keep him cool, providing food and drink from the kitchen.
We were on the road, however.
I responded to his cries by placing on my boots (the long boots Remy had given me, complete with the sheathed knives that Julie had provided), packing my belongings, and heading outside. I was immediately surprised to find Lord Shepherd on his knees, facing the ocean, and begging once more for Poseidon to repay his loyalties. My employer had his white shirt pulled open, exposing his chest to the semi-distant ocean in supplication.
As I approached him from behind, I looked to the water and searched for the source of the SHUCK sound, but while I was busy rushing to meet Lord Shepherd’s call, that noise had stopped. I believed I had seen, though the crack in the grey cottage, a dark mass risen out of the water, with two spots of such immense darkness placed where the giant eyes would have been, that I felt as if I were looking back to the world before God had brought life into existence.
The sound … the mass … the “eyes” were all now gone.
“Lord Shepherd,” I said gently as I reached him. I placed my left hand on the back of his head, my fingers finding his thick, black hair damp with sweat and ocean. I slowly moved around in front of him, intending to put myself between him and the sea. The moment I saw his face, however, I wanted to run away from him and leave not only him but all of Kraken Moor behind. An image of Madam Soiss’ body flashed in my mind and I foolishly told myself it didn’t matter. Better to die by the claw of Kanarl or his minions than to have to look again upon the face of Jenson Shepherd.
His eyes were red, shot through with blood.
Tears streaked his face, a face that looked so desperate, so despondent, so terrified at being left alone, that had Kadul appeared at that moment and offered me an eternity of luxury in Hell I would have urgently lay with him in the snow-covered tall grass just to ensure that I never again saw Lord Shepherd’s face.
Moving in front of him, his dark eyes looked up at me as if he had never seen me before.
“You are beautiful,” he said through tears. “You will give me a son!”
He reached out and grabbed my hips, and in a move of pure instinct, I slapped him hard across the face. This act, violent and unexpected, snapped him out of his waking nightmare.
“Beatrice?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”
I started and stopped.
“What happened to your face?” I asked.
Due to the darkness, I had not seen the mark on his face until now. There was a bruise on his face in the shape of a circle. An outline of a circle, would be more accurate and it eclipsed one of his eye sockets. As I studied the bruise, I saw another circle cutting across his lips, then another on his neck, and another on his chest, and another on his sternum, and another on his stomach!
“We must get out of here,” he pleaded, his voice raspy.
“Can you stand?”
He began to sob.
“Wait here,” I ordered. “I shall get the carriage and-”
Another man’s voice said, “I have that covered, Miss Sharper.”
A different kind of surprise awaited me as I looked up into the face of Silvio Tiattore. Without looking at me, the stableman picked Lord Shepherd up into his strong arms in a most tender manner, and carried him to the carriage that had already been prepared for travel.
“Mr. Tiattore,” I said as he stepped backwards out of the carriage, relieved to see a familiar face that I had thought lost, “how did you escape the snakes?”
When he turned to me, I saw that he had similar circular rings on his face as Lord Shepherd, though in a different pattern. Where Jenson’s bruises were laid out in a straight line, Silvio’s were randomly splattered across his face. His eyes were blank and distant and he looked through me, back to the ocean.
“Escape?” he asked pitifully. “Miss Sharper, escape is not possible. Take care of Jenson. I will get us to London.”
With that, he climbed into the driver’s seat. I quickly scrambled into the carriage and found that Silvio had laid Lord Shepherd out on one of the benches. As the carriage lurched forward, the horses clearly unhappy at having their rest disturbed and being once again so quickly on the road, I realized that Silvio had referred to Lord Shepherd as “Jenson,” something that I had only heard Lima do before. But where the departed chambermaid had said “Jenson” with a sense of impish wickedness, Silvio said it tenderly, and it made me again remember Mrs. Cotts’ assertion that everyone in the employ of Kraken Moor owed the house their loyalty. Perhaps, like me, Lord Shepherd had hired Silvio in a time of great need for the Italian.
The rest of the day – including the entire time the first sliver of sunlight appeared until the last sliver slipped over the edge of the world – was spent in the carriage, attending to Lord Shepherd.
He was as horrible as a patient could be.
Before the sun rose it was clear that he was in the grip of a powerful fever. His body nearly burned my hands when I touched him. I had Silvio stop the carriage so that I could bring snow into the carriage to cover his chest in an attempt to keep his body at a reasonable temperature. I removed his shirt and soaked it in more snow, then placed it on his forehead. At the second stop of the day’s journey, I returned to the carriage with snow only to find that Lord Shepherd had stripped himself of all clothes, and so I covered his entire body with snow.
And thus the day progressed with me covering my naked employer’s burning body with snow and him finding some comfort in a tattered sleep.
The snow would met and his wailing and writhing would start again.
When we reached our first village, I insisted that Silvio stop at an inn so that I could get a doctor, but there was none available. I was able to borrow a large bucket of ice (which I shall make Lord Shepherd provide recompense for on the way back to Kraken Moor) which assisted my efforts at giving Lord Shepherd some comfort.
By the time we reached London, the entire interior of the carriage was soaked with water and sweat, and I had noted that the ringed bruises on his body ran from his face, down his stomach, and down his left leg.
The entire day, Lord Shepherd said only three words:
“Poseidon … Kraken … Moor …”
At the edge of the city of London, Silvio pulled the carriage to a stop in front of residence. I had barely noticed that we had stopped, when four women in light blue gowns, gold leather gloves that ran the complete length of their arms, sandals, and golden masks that surrounded their eyes appeared at the carriage door.
I asked who they were, but they ignored me. The door on the other side of the carriage opened, and I turned to see Silvio offer me his hand.
“You will come with me,” he said in a very dreamlike, but confident manner, “and the Dolphinae will take care of Lord Shepherd.”
I did not see the victory gained in arguing or protesting or even, in that moment, questioning. The sun was already vanished and my body was willing to give the burden of caring for Lord Shepherd to another. I took Silvio’s hand and stepped down onto the slush-filled streets of London. It was dark, the only light coming from filtered moonlight and a few windows up and down this long, tight alley. The Dolphinae carried Lord Shepherd’s perfectly stiff body up the small set of stairs and into the house as if he were weightless.
Once inside, I was led by Silvio up a straight flight of narrow stairs that seemed to go up and up high enough to be equal to a fourth or fifth or sixth floor. The railing was on my right and on my left was a solid wall, bereft of any paintings or portraiture. The interior was dark, and the walls seemed to absorb what little light came from a few gas lamps. I had never seen such a tall flight of stairs uninterrupted by any exit onto a landing, and by the time Silvio and I reached the top, my legs ached and I was short of breath.
At the top, the hallway was perpendicular to the stairs, leading in both directions to closed, black doors.
Straight ahead was a set of massive double doors.
Tired as I was my curiosity wanted to moved past them, but Silvio led me to the left, where four Dolphinae, dressed identically to the women I had just met, waited for me. The room was circular, and there was a large bath already drawn. Luxurious but sparse, and colored in golds and browns, the room contained a bed, a bath, and a sofa. The Dolphinae stripped me out of my wet dress and placed me in the golden tub, where warm water and a mountain of soapy bubbles awaited me. A car was rolled to the side of the tub, filled with green grapes, cuts of cheese, and 2 carafes, 1 of white wine and the other of cool water.
It was wonderful, and soon sleep overwhelmed me.
Sleep was not absent of event, however.
My nude body drifted out of this room and down the hall, where I entered through the double doors and emerged not into a room but onto the porch of my father’s plantation. I looked down and saw I was in a white summer dress. The Mississippi sun was warm, but there was a breeze that would provide just enough comfort when it kissed against your thin sheen of sweat to make it perfect to sit in the shade and dreadful to move in the sun.
I turned to my right and saw Jackson sitting there, dressed in his Confederate greys. He was older than I remembered, and his smile was no longer mischievous but content. He reached out his hand and I took it. The man I was due to marry after the Civil War was over guided me to a chair and we sat together. Pitchers of both lemonade and sweet tea there for our pleasure.
We said nothing the entire afternoon.
We simply sat, the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Jackson Dereks, on a porch in Mississippi, enjoying the way the world should have spun to create.
Eventually, as the setting sun began to shine too brightly in our eyes, he reached out his hand to me. I took it, but when he stood and left with me, I sat behind, watching myself leave with him. I knew, as my own face turned to face me, that I would not see my own eyes, but those of Patricia Valmont.
At the door, Jackson kissed her lovingly on the forehead and then held the door for her as they went inside.
Leaving me alone.
I awoke in the tub, my mind more troubled than ever.
It was then I turned to my journal to write.
It is now that I shut my journal and retire to the bed.