The next few weeks will be pieces of my short story prequel to my novel Monster. This is the story about the villain of Monster before she was evil. It’s the story of Arabella, her heartbreak, and foolish trust in magic. I hope you enjoy this first part of my story titled The Rose.
“I promise you. I will come back to you,” he told her. “And we’ll be married within the hour of my return.”
Arabella stared up tearfully into Rowan’s eyes. “How long will this war last?”
Rowan shrugged. “Not too long, I’m sure. We just have to reclaim one of our ports that has been taken. I’d imagine a few months at the most.”
“But you’re just a blacksmith, not a soldier. You make swords, not use them! Why must you even go?” she scried shaking her head.
“The King needs more men to fight. It would seem the kingdom is a bit short on soldiers since the last few attacks on the castle.”
“Rowan, men are being killed out there! I can’t bear to live if you die too.”
He touched his hands to either side of her warm cheeks where her tears spilled over his fingers. “Try to have some faith in me, my love. I will be careful. And I will do my best to return. How could I not when I have such a lovely woman waiting at home for me?” Rowan kissed her forehead. “Never lose faith. I will return for you.”
Rowan was coming home today. It had been three years since she had last seen him. Arabella could hardly contain her excitement as she ran to the castle courtyard to await the arrival of the returning soldiers. There was a chill in the air, causing her to tighten her wool cape around her slender shoulders. Already the streets were filled with crowds eager to welcome home their loved ones. Small children danced around their mothers all with the hope of seeing their fathers again. Young girls stood by wearing their finest dresses and holding freshly picked bundles of the last flowers of the season from a nearby field in hopes of catching the eye of a young man returning from battle. Every face beamed with joy except for the faces of the mothers which were pinched in anxiety. They knew better than to celebrate now. The truth was, not everyone returns. Not all husbands return home to their wives. Not all fathers return to their children. And not all sons return to their mothers.
Regardless of any doubts or worries, every face lit up and turned eagerly to face the sound of a trumpet. Their men had returned.Arabella spotted Rowan’s dark curly hair almost the instant the men appeared. When she saw him, she suddenly felt foolish for ever having entertained the thought for a second that he might not return. Her heart pounded painfully against her ribs just at the sight of him. There were new lines on his face and his skin was much darker, but he appeared otherwise unchanged.
Then she noticed a wisp of a golden curl fall on his shoulder. Then a flutter of pink silk behind his left leg. And a young pale face that suddenly came into view behind his— a girl’s. Who was this girl sitting smugly behind him? Why would Rowan even let her on his horse? It wasn’t for lack of horses; there were plenty extra returning with the men.
As Rowan passed her, their eyes met. But not in the way she had imagined every day since he had left. He didn’t leap off his horse to shower her with passionate kisses; he remained seated on his horse with no intention of going to her at all. He didn’t light up with excitement at seeing her again; he turned his face away in shame. Arabella suddenly felt sick. She had to get out of here. Now. Away from people and away from the joy surrounding her.
Looking at her distraught appearance, anyone around her would assume her friend or loved one had not returned. But the truth was far worse. He had returned. Just not for her. She wanted to believe this was a misunderstanding. Perhaps he had not actually seen her. She knew the truth, but she needed to hear it from his lips before allowing herself to get too upset. Shoving her way through the mass of excited people, Arabella rushed to Rowan’s home at the edge of the woods outside the city walls where she decided she would wait for him to return.
It was after nightfall when Rowan finally returned to his house with his sister Kate. Arabella had fallen asleep against his front door and was awakened by Rowan’s hand on her shoulder. Her eyes flew open in surprise, and she sat up suddenly alert before relaxing at Rowan’s familiar face leaning over her.
“Arabella, how long have you been out here?” he asked looking concerned as he helped pull her to her feet.
Arabella shrugged and stared at him blankly, unable to comprehend his words. Her body was too numb from the cold to think.
“Come on,” he said puling her to her feet to lead her inside. “You need to warm up.”
She felt her knees weaken as she was lowered into into a wooden chair. As Kate fetched blankets to wrap around her, Rowan began frantically building a fire to warm the room while throwing furtive glances over his shoulder to make sure she was fine. Arabella faintly heard Kate mention something about her lips being blue. It was nearly an hour before she could start to feel again. And also remember why she was here.
“Arabella, are you alright?” Rowan asked kneeling in front of her. Just as he had kneeled when he’d proposed to her.
“I’m fine,” she answered mumbling. She forced her eyes to focus on his as if she might be able to read his mind by doing so.
Her intense stare filled the room with tension, making Rowan suddenly uncomfortable. He was definitely guilty of some horrid secret. And Kate looked unsure if she should even be in the room.
“Um, Rowan, I think I left my—” Kate looked around frantically, “gloves—yes, my gloves— outside,” she said motioning to the door.
Rowan stood to move next to the fire and stared at his sister’s hands confused. “But you’re wearing them,” he pointed out to her.
Kate’s eyes widened and glanced down. She frowned as if annoyed to discover her gloves on her hands. “I meant to say— I didn’t leave them outside,” she said laughing nervously. She cleared her throat and resumed a serious face. One failed excuse wouldn’t keep her from another escape attempt. “Actually, I was going to visit a friend next door and see if any of the returning men caught her eye today as she had hoped. She seemed very excited earlier. Not that a girl needs a man to be happy,” she added quickly, glancing at Arabella before reaching for the door. “I’ll be back later if you need me!” she called out to them scurrying out the door before either of them could protest.
For the first few minutes following, Arabella said nothing. She stared blindly into the dancing flames of the fire that suddenly felt too hot for the room.
“Can I get you anything?” Rowan asked her.
A tear slid down Arabella’s frozen cheek. “You said— you promised you would marry me the day you returned,” she whispered still watching the fire. “So here I am.” Arabella looked up at him with a tearful smile. “But that’s not what you want anymore. Is it?” She saw Rowan struggle for words but didn’t give him the chance to speak. “What did I do wrong?” she questioned with pain in her eyes. “You loved me— at least that’s what you told me every day before you went away. So please. Tell me. Because I want to know what I did to deserve this kind of rejection. Was this always your plan? To leave me for someone else?” Her voice broke. She hadn’t meant to flatly accuse him of anything, but the words just came out.
Rowan shook his head as she spoke. “Arabella, my darling, no, I never wanted to hurt you!” he cried taking her hands in his and again kneeling at her feet. “Believe me, none of this is what I wanted. My engagement to Anna has nothing to do with you.”
Arabella’s eyes widened. “Engagement?!” she blurted. “How, Rowan? How did this happen? What does she have that I cannot give you? You forget that I am wealthy. Surely you would not leave me for more money! Besides that, she’s still a child!”
“I know, Arabella, I know!” he yelled suddenly gripping her shoulders. His blue eyes were both wet with tears threatening to spill and yet burning with anger and frustration. He hung his head and took in a shaky breath to calm himself. “Please, my darling, do not think for one moment that I don’t want you. I swear I love you and would marry you tonight if I could, but—but I can’t— I just can’t!” he yelled, releasing her before beginning to pace across the room.
Her heart softened realizing he was indeed telling her the truth. He did still love her. “Then what is the problem, Rowan?” she asked, her question halting him in his tracks. “If you don’t tell me, I will ask Kate. It’s obvious by her behavior you’ve told her.”
Rowan crossed his arms and stared at the floor. “The problem is that Anna— the girl you saw— is pregnant.” He paused to watch her reaction, but Arabella appeared too shocked to respond. “I met her this past year. Nothing was supposed to happen. I still don’t know how it did. Things happened so fast. I regret every second of that night with her, but I can’t escape the consequences. I have to marry her, Arabella. Otherwise, she’ll be ruined.”
Finally a sob escaped Arabella’s lips along with her objections. “And what about me, Rowan? What of my life? My life will be ruined! Does that matter at all to you anymore? Has three years changed you so much? You said you’d return. I’d rather you hadn’t. You’re not the man who left three years ago.”
Rowan clenched his teeth. “All I can do is apologize. I can’t undo my mistake. I had hoped you would love me enough to understand. Either way I choose, I can’t do the right thing for both of you. But you can find love again; Anna can’t raise a baby on her own.”
“How old is she anyways?”
“Nearly sixteen,” he answered.
“So still fifteen. Still a child. Rowan, she’s ten years younger than us!”
Rowan groaned in frustration, raking his fingers through his hair. “That doesn’t change the fact that she’s pregnant. Her parents threw her out of the house. No man would marry a woman in her condition. It’s my responsibility to care for her now. I promise I never meant for this to happen.”
Jumping to her feet, Arabella strode across the floor towards him and slapped him across the face. “Stop making promises. They mean nothing to me anymore.” She turned her head away hoping more tears wouldn’t fall. He couldn’t see her break.
Neither spoke for a painfully long moment before Rowan spoke. “I am sorry, Arabella. I am so, so sorry.”
Her heart fell. Fell deep into the pit of her stomach. He wasn’t going to fight for their love.
“I should really go,” she whispered, feeling her emotions start to press against her.
“Arabella, wait,” he said reaching for her hand.
“No, Rowan. I have waited three long years for you. I’m done waiting.”
It took everything in her to walk away. To avoid looking back one last time to see his face. Somehow she managed to walk out that door. Back into the cold where all her hopes had died.
To Be Continued…
Next week will be the scenes where Arabella comes up with a plan to keep Rowan for herself.