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   Chapter 14 Fear in her heart

The Curse of Kalaan By Linda Saint Jalmes Characters: 24315

Updated: 2018-05-18 10:21


Someone banged on Virginie's door and she almost jumped out of her skin. She wasn't expecting a visit. Sitting at the foot of her bed with her hands calmly crossed in her lap, she was lost in her thoughts and had been ever since Gwendoline left. The chambermaid had prepared her bath and rubbed her down with a liniment to prevent a fever. She then helped her to dress for dinner, which was most likely going to be later than usual. All the time Gwendoline was with her, Virginie only half listened to her chatter; however she did hear that 'people from high society' had chosen this, of all times to invite themselves to visit the Croz family here, on the island and that was why the bells were tolling and Madame Amélie was very preoccupied.

"Yes?" she called out. "Come in, " secretly praying it wasn't Catherine for she was in no condition to see her.

When she saw Isabelle peeping around the door, Virginie sighed in relief. The young lady came in and closed the door behind her.

She sat down next to her friend on the bed and said, excitedly, "Ginny, I have to speak with you before we go down to dinner! It's urgent!"

"Me too, " Virginie said in a tortured whimper. Her tone unnerved Isabelle whose good mood disappeared in an instant.

"What happened?"

"I… I… don't really know… to be honest." Virginie's voice faltered and Isabelle frowned.

"It's Catherine, isn't it? I heard you returned from your morning outing in a sorry state! Has she been behaving badly again?"

"No!... well, ..Yes… I mean no! Oh, Isabelle, 'tis not at all what you think!"

Isabelle's eyes widened in surprise and she shook her head in puzzlement. The long curls hanging down over her ears bounced quite comically, but not enough to lighten Virginie's mood.

"Now I'm worried! Tell me everything Ginny. You know you can trust me."

The young woman opened her mouth several times to speak, but the words wouldn't come. The only sound she could make was a sort of whimper.

"Ginny!" This time Isabelle sounded more annoyed than worried, and the situation was beginning to play on her nerves.

"I think I have feelings for Catherine!" Virginie blurted out. She squeezed her eyes shut so she wouldn't have to see the look of disgust she was sure would be on her friend's face.

Isabelle was very quiet for an instant. But then Virginie heard tittering and promptly opened her eyes to see her friend holding her hand over her mouth trying as best she could to control her laughter.

"Well, I never!" Virginie jumped up, indignantly. "You are mocking me!"

"No, of course not!" Isabelle said, lying shamelessly. She was trying very hard to keep a serious expression on her face. "All right then, you think you have feelings for Catherine. Exactly what kind of feelings do you mean? Friendly, sisterly?"

"No, neither. The other kind, " Virginie's reply was almost a whisper, so quietly murmured, that Isabelle wasn't certain she heard correctly. Virginie's pacing back and forth between the bed and the window didn't help.

"Why do you say that?" Isabelle asked, calming down.

"When she touches me, or speaks in my ear, what I feel is… very… well very disturbing. 'Tis the same whenever she looks at me. I... feel shivers running through my body, my pulse races and I start breathing heavily. I've even found myself hoping she would kiss me! Oh, only for a terrifying second after which I collected myself quickly enough. But… Isabelle! Am I losing my mind?"

"Now, now, my friend, " Isabelle tried to reassure Virginie. She approached her and took her trembling hands in her own. Shaking her head, she asked, "What has Kal... Catherine done to you, and in just two days?"

"B…but it isn't her fault!" Virginie protested. "It is I who has the impure thoughts about her, and she…"

"Cannot possibly pretend not to have noticed." Isabelle said sharply, cutting her off. "Have you ever felt this way for another woman?"

"No!"

"Are you quite sure? If I came closer to you and started to caress your hand or if I placed my lips on yours…"

"Isabelle, please!" Virginie had a shocked look on her face. She stepped back, pulling her fingers from her friend's hands.

The young Isabelle Croz grinned from ear to ear with such a mischievous attitude, the resemblance with her brother was remarkable.

"You see? There's nothing wrong with you after all."

"Yes, there is! Everything is wrong!"

"All right then, and how can you know that you have 'feelings of a physical nature?' Have you ever had these feelings for someone else?"

Virginie flushed bright red and, yet again, looked away from her friend to avoid her eyes.

"Yes, I have… for your brother."

"Amazing, " Isabelle murmured, pensively.

This time she didn't laugh. In fact, she was astonished by Virginie's confessions. This meant that her heart and body had instinctively recognized Kalaan in the form of Catherine, but her mind hadn't! How could Isabelle even begin to explain this to her friend? If she hadn't seen her brother transform with her own eyes, she would have laughed at anyone who told her about the curse.

"Ginny, " she said, after a moment of thought, "You know, it's not necessarily wrong to be attracted to a member of the same sex. In ancient times, in Egypt and even Greece, this type of desire was quite common and generally accepted. In Egypt they concocted philters and love potions to develop love among women, and in Greece, well all the scholars know about the affair between Alexander the Great and Hephestion, the Macedonian general. Most of the Greeks of that period were bisexual. To quote Plutarch on the subject, 'The lover of human beauty will be equally and favorably disposed towards both sexes instead of supposing that men and women are as different in the matter of love as they are in their clothes.' I could give you hundreds more examples if you wished. Love knows no boundaries and does not care whether it happens between two men, two women or a man and a woman. When two kindred spirits meet, they recognize each other."

Virginie looked at her young friend with a blend of admiration and endearment.

"What you say Isabelle, is true and I found it fascinating when I read it in the books on that period. However, there is a difference between reading it and feeling it. How can I explain the uneasy feeling inside me?"

"'Tis simply the teachings of our church. You should follow your heart Ginny, as I do."

"What are you saying?"

This time it was Isabelle's turn to blush.

"It is to do with Salam. That is why I came to see you."

Another knock on the door interrupted them.

"Yes?" Virginie called out, a little annoyed. A servant's voice came through the closed door.

"Madame Amélie requests your presence in the sitting room, where her guests will be arriving shortly."

"We will be there in a minute, " Isabelle's reply came almost too quickly, as if she was relieved.

"What has happed with Monsieur Salam?" Virginie was impatient to know.

"I will explain later Ginny. We must go right now; my mother is expecting us!"

"You are avoiding the question? After I told you everything?" Virginie blithely asked, following Isabelle towards the door. "Please, keep everything I said to yourself."

"No nee

ine voice, sighing at so much stupidity.

"Was it necessary to brutalize this… this susky?"

"Husky... and no, I did not brutalize him. I only showed him who the leader was here."

To prove what he said, Kalaan snapped his fingers and told the husky to sit, which he did immediately with a yap before licking Kalaan's hand, his pale blue eyes looking deeply into the amber-green eyes of the count.

"Kal… Catherine!" Amélie caught herself just in time. "Let us all be seated, my child."

After her brief intervention, Amélie gave her son a discreet nod of approval and then returned to her detached attitude presiding over the dinner table. The meal was an ordeal for everyone except the duchess who spoke and ate at the same time. She was only pleasant to those who had arrived with her, and somewhat, with Amélie. All the others were treated with the same disdain. Catherine was the only exception to this attitude. The duchess ignored her completely, perhaps for fear of being thrown to the floor and held there until she peed on herself like the husky, who, by the way, was now lying happily and peacefully at Catherine's feet.

The time for dessert was approaching and what was probably morbid curiosity incited the duchess to turn to Salam.

"You sir, the pagan, have you ever had to face the man-eating beetles? From what I understand, they are horrible! The bugs dig under the skin and make their way up to the brain to eat it, while the person is still alive!"

If only they could have eaten this nuisance's brain and her tongue while they were at it, thought Salam, who remained stoic. Smiling calmly, he waited until she was stuffing her face with cake to reply.

"They are the sacred dung beetles, Your Grace. They only eat fibers, which they then eliminate as excrement. They roll the excrement into little balls in which they lay their eggs."

It gave Salam great pleasure when the duchess almost choked on the food in her mouth, that is to say half of a serving of cake. The cream was dripping down her chin.

Kalaan laughed out loud banging his fist on the table and the grandson seminarian couldn't help but do the same, though more discreetly. Isabelle appreciated seeing this side of him winked at him making him blush like a virgin. However, when Salam noticed this, his face darkened.

Virginie wished she could participate in the good humor, but Darius' heavy unrelenting eyes petrified her. She desperately wished she could escape from this room, run to pack her trunks and leave, go as far away as possible. But where could she go?

After a long silence Amélie wanted to restore the good atmosphere, so she asked the question that had been on her mind ever since the guest's unexpected arrival.

"I am happy you finally decided to visit us here on Croz, but why in the middle of winter?"

"Oh my dear, a horrible affair! Terrible things are happening in Paris and I was so frightened that I could only think of one thing, to come join you here! Even if this region exasperates me because it is sad and humid at least with the sea around us I feel a little safer."

Kalaan would show her if his country was sad and humid! He would drown her or turn into boued2 for the lobster crates! Before he could actually do anything, the duchess returned to her theatrical monologue.

"Do you know, heaven have pity on me, but the police found the remains of a dismembered man in the Seine, just across from my beautiful home! The Chief of Police, the famous Monsieur Vidocq3, came to see for himself and requested permission to question my personnel about it."

"Vidocq went out for a simple homicide?" Kalaan interrupted her, much to the surprise of both the duchess and Darius Borgas, who narrowed his eyes and began to scrutinize him.

Blast it! Catherine shouldn't talk like Kalaan would. But the damage was done and Borgas, whom he'd seen from afar on several occasions in Paris, and didn't much like because he suspected him of dishonesty, could not possibly recognize him in the features of the 'thing.' Also, it is quite plausible that, Catherine would know who Vidocq was. After all, the man was a living legend.

"Apparently the man, who was horribly chopped up, was one of his friends. He knew so, because the arm they fished out of the river had a unique tattoo. Oh! I cannot remember the name of the dead man. Probably the shock of seeing that at my door... don't you think…? But what was the name he told me?"

"Georges Maltinard, " Darius Borgas' gloomy voice reminded her. It was the first time he spoke since his arrival on the isle. He then looked back into Virginie's eyes with the cold eyes of a killer.

The psychological shock of the constant silent menace was so brutally intense, that a dark veil clouded the young woman's vision and she fell, unconscious into a bottomless pit.

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