I am back at BU, and classes have just started. I’m rather looking forward to my projects this semester, although they promise to be challenging. The transition went well, but of course I’ve been distracted from writing. So I decided to write a scene between two characters of The House on Samarkand Hill. I’ve not yet written anything else on these characters, and although I have had for a while a basic idea of their personalities, I do not yet know for sure what roles they, particularly Isabelle, will play in the story.
The road wound through the fields of wheat ahead of the carriage, guarded by fences and the occasional oak. A kestrel hovered over the rows, searching for voles, while beneath the quiet streaming of the white clouds a red kite tilted the feathers of its tail to soar southward. There are so few of them anymore.
Isabelle leaned out of the window of the stagecoach and silently watched the passing stalks. The rich, wet scent of the earth in springtime touched her nostrils, stirring memories of her childhood in this land, and granting her an inner warmth despite the chill of the morning air.
One object broke the trains of wheat, walking parallel to the road. She ordered the driver to stop the carriage and called to the farmhand. “Whose land is this?”
The man, who was tall and broad-shouldered, squinted boldly up at her from under his straw hat. He spoke in a gravelly voice, and Isabelle noticed then that the hair stood up thickly on the back of his neck and where his chest was exposed in a bestial manner. “This land belongs to Sir Victor Damascus. Who’re you?”
Her lower lip trembled. “Do not address me so impudently, young man.”
The farmhand laughed. “I am not young. But you are even less so. The dying hold no grudges.”
Beneath the level of the window Isabelle twisted the dark grey fabric of her skirt.
“Who are you?”
“Luke was the name my mother gave me, and my father left me only with Chromandus. Are you a widow? I can always tell a widow.”
“Who are you?” she asked.
Luke Chromandus smiled, revealing large gaps in his teeth and a prominent canine. Isabelle had seen that smile in nightmares, or would yet, or believed she did. “Pull the curtains back over the window,” Chromandus said. “You do not want to see me yet.”
Stephen Rose was standing now at a distance across the wheat field, and the ravens fluttered upward, upright like a shadow beside the swirling darkness of the green cypress. His arms were pale and bony like the stocks of peach trees. Remember spring in Arles? The churning of the heavens over white flowers?
“You are dead,” she said.
Chromandus bowed his head. “We all become so. Living is unnatural, for in life we age. But the dead do not age. They rule the earth for eternity. The young do not truly possess the earth until they cease to be, unless they one day rebel against their fathers and destroy them.”
Isabelle stiffened. “Devil.”
Chromandus grinned again. “The Devil is man composite. Some shall do the Lord’s work until His order is gone, but I am His death, even as He has wrought mine. I have heard of you, Isabelle Rose: the Temple who loved a St. John and married a rotted thorny-bush that hangs over your bower still. Perhaps you, too, are almost ready to do the Devil’s work.”
“Drive on!” Isabelle commanded her driver. The carriage jolted forward and continued toward Damascus Hall.
“Remember my name!” Chromandus yelled after her. “Remember my name when–”
Isabelle pulled the curtain almost completely across the window. She no longer cared to look at the scenery of Silene, but stared blankly at the red-cushioned opposite wall of the stagecoach, which was now dimly lit by a single sliver of light from outside. She drew a glass perfume-vial from her chatelaine and dabbed the liquid under her chin. Her mind, when it had done with racing, slowed to a dull pedaling, and she gave herself up to sleep.