"Stupid bloody magic!" Elle growled. She slammed the book on the table closed, dust floating up to her nose from the movement. She sneezed several times before leaning forward to rest her forehead against her palms, her frustration building.
For the past three days she had tried, to no avail, to find a way to break through the protection spell that was keeping her trapped. On the first day she had sprinted towards the open front door, hoping that she could break through with brute force and determination. Mias had been leaning over the banister, looking down at her with amusement. The instant she made contact with the open doorway she felt the empty space contract outwards as it gave under the force of her weight, before she was launched backwards into the manor where she landed without grace on her backside. Mias had roared with laughter, which she responded to with a finger that she hoped was universally known.
The second day was a day for experimenting. Elle decided to see if she could somehow shatter the invisible barrier which kept her from her freedom. So, she had thrown objects at the open windows and doors, all of which sailed through the opening with ease. Though that experiment had not been very fruitful, Elle took comfort in knowing that she had broken several items that looked extremely expensive.
The third day Elle decided that knowing what she was up against would be useful, so she found the library, which was so packed with books she had no idea where to begin. She had searched through volumes upon volumes of magical books filled with strange languages and drawings that meant nothing to her.
Only now was she beginning to realize that none of her efforts had amounted to anything. She glared over at the tall arched windows which sent the curtains billowing into the library on the cool afternoon breeze. How could freedom seem so close but in truth be so far out of reach?
"What are you up to now, sweetness?" Mias asked from the doorway.
Elle leaned back in the chair and rubbed her temples. "Please stop calling me that."
"You're not throwing my books out the windows now, are you?" Mias teased. "The statuettes and silver candlesticks I can live without, but if you start in on my books we may have a problem."
"I assume there was a reason you came looking for me?" Elle asked, not willing to take his bait. Mias enjoyed teasing her, she had learned over the past several days with him. Perhaps if things were different, she would enjoy teasing him right back.
"I was expecting you to dine with me," Mias said.
Elle looked at him for the first time, his imposing form leaning in the doorway, looking as though there was nothing in the world wrong.
"Don't take this the wrong way," Elle said flatly, "but I would rather starve than dine with you. Not that you would care anyway."
"On the contrary I have never really cared much for stick thin women," Mias said with a wicked grin. "I would prefer that you eat your fill so that you continue to fill out your dresses so very nicely."
Elle flushed, tugging awkwardly at the bodice of her gown. Her attempt at hurting his ego had failed miserably, just as her attempts over the past several days had failed. Mias always managed to turn any snide remark she made towards him into an innuendo or perverse comment that made her blush to the tips of her toes. It would have been cute if it wasn't so damn annoying.
Elle tried to ignore his presence, turning her attention to a stack of books she had piled on the chair beside her. She picked up a thin leather bound folder tied neatly with black ribbon. She opened it carefully, surprised to find a stack of loose papers that appeared to be some sort of family tree. She glanced over them casually, not really reading anything because she could feel Mias' stare boring into her.
When she spotted Mias' name beneath what she presumed were the names of his mother and father, she couldn't hide her surprise when she saw a name beside his.
"You have a brother?" Elle asked, looking to Mias.
He frowned. "I have no brother."
"But his name is right here," Elle said, pointing at the paper before her. "Elias."
Mias took several steps into the room and cast Elle a warning look. "Never speak that name again."
Elle raised her eyebrows and looked back down at the paper. Mias had a brother. A brother that he definitely didn't want to talk about. But she had to know more. In truth she hoped that Elias could be contacted and perhaps talk Mias into letting her go. She knew it was a farfetched idea, but at this point she was willing to hold onto any glimmer of hope she could.
"Why don't you want to talk about your brother?" Elle asked.
"I already told you, I have no brother." Mias grated. "Not anymore."
"He died?" That notion disappointed Elle, because that meant she couldn't count on a brother popping in for a visit, wondering why a kidnapped woman was lurking around Mias' home.
"He's dead to me," Mias said, raking his hand through his hair. "We will leave it at that."
Elle let out a sigh of relief, glad to know that Elias was still alive. Now she just had to figure out a way to get him to come by for a visit.
"He's your brother," Elle said casually. "You should try and patch things up. Family is important."
Mias placed his hands on the table and leaned forward, meeting Elle's eyes. "He isn't coming here. And even if he did, he wouldn't help you."
Elle let out a frustrated sigh. Why couldn't she be stuck with a dimwitted kidnapper who didn't always seem to know what she was planning? So much for her semester of psychology!
She glared at Mias. "Well, Elias may be many things, but I doubt he would kidnap a woman and hold her against her will!"
Elle stood abruptly, sending her chair backwards from the sudden movement. She doubted that her statement would even affect him, and she wanted to get out of the room before he came up with another one of his comments to make her blush.
When she rounded the table and headed towards the door, Mias grabbed her by the arm and turned her to face him so abruptly that she nearly fell over.
Mias couldn't believe his ears. Had Elle just compared him to Elias, and determined that Mias was the worst of the two? She had never even met the bastard!
"Choose your next words carefully sweetness," Mias said through gritted teeth.
"Stop calling me that!" Elle shouted, trying to twist her arm free.
Mias worried that with the way Elle was twisting and tugging her arm she would hurt herself, so he whirled her so that her back faced him. He pulled her back against his chest and wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides.
"You know nothing of my brother," Mias murmured into her ear. "Yet you compare me to him?"
Elle struggled against his hold, trying to stomp her bare feet on his booted ones. "I haven't met Elias, so on that basis alone he shines in comparison to you!"
"I told you never to speak his name," Mias grated.
Elle went still, muttering something so quietly that he didn't hear.
"What was that sweetness?" Mias breathed, not missing how Elle shivered at his closeness.
"I said Elias," Elle hissed.
'Stubborn wench!' Mias thought.
Mias turned her to face him, as always overwhelmed by how beautiful she was. And those eyes, a man could get lost in those eyes.
"Elias is a cruel man. There is a darkness within him that I fear will one day drive him to madness." Mias shook his head, remembering the cruelty that his brother had displayed towards others. Certainly such acts had been tolerated in battle, but Elias took too great a pleasure in his brutality. "I fear that no matter what he does he cannot slake the evil that slithers inside him."
"What makes you think you're any different than he is?" Elle demanded, trying to break free of the arms that held him against her. "You kidnapped me, and now you're keeping me prisoner!"
"Careful, Elle." Mias grated.
"On top of that I have no privacy!" Elle went on angrily. "I try to sleep in one of the other rooms and I wake up to find that you have carried me to your bed. I try to take a bath and there you are in the doorway, asking if I need help!" Elle's eyes were filled with tears now, but Mias refused to let her go. "Why can't you just leave me alone!"
"I have given you everything you could possibly need. As long as you are with me you will want for nothing," Mias said.
It was true, he had made sure she had the finest gowns cut in the latest fashion. He had showered her with gifts, books, perfumes, soaps, and jewelry. Lots and lots of jewelry.
He frowned down at her when he realized she wasn't wearing any of it.
"I don't want your stuff!" Elle shouted, bringing her hands up between them and pushing him away. "You can't buy me Mias!"
"I'm not trying to buy you," Mias said, trying to keep his own anger in check. "I just want to make you happy."
"You don't care about my happiness," Elle shook her head, looking down at the floor. "If you did you would take me home."
Mias couldn't, no he wouldn't do that. Ever. He knew he was a selfish bastard, but he didn't care. Elle was his. He knew it the moment he laid eyes on her. And when she kissed him, she had sealed her fate.
"I'll die before I let you go," Mias whispered.
Elle looked at him warily, letting out a shaky breath.
"Clearly you and your brother are more alike than you thought," Elle murmured. "Cruelty must be a family trait."
Mias watched Elle leave the room, his whole body feeling numb from her cutting words.
What if she was right? What if he was no better than Elias? If that was true then he was destined to hurt her, time and time again. The very idea frightened him, and he didn't scare easily. And on top of his own self doubt, Elle had called him cruel? Certainly he was feared and respected for his power and his fierceness, but he didn't want Elle to know it! Dammit, she was the one person Mias didn't want to be afraid of him, but it seemed it was too late for that. Instead of winning her affection, Mias had only succeeded in pushing her further away. Not only was she angry for being held against her will, but now she thought him cruel? And to compare him to Elias, that was a blow that had him shaken to the depths of his soul.
The walls felt as though they were closing in around him. Mias needed to get outside and stretch his legs, perhaps take his horse for a ride through the valley. Mias strode down the hall, hoping that a long ride and some fresh air would clear his head.
Elle watched Mias from the upstairs window as he mounted a large black horse and took off at a steady pace across the field before disappearing out of sight.
She felt terrible for the things she had said in the library. She knew comparing Mias to his brother, especially after the mention of his viciousness and the sadness in Mias' eyes when he spoke of Elias, was low. But she was just so damn angry, so frustrated not only with Mias but with herself. One minute she was desperate to escape, yet the moment Mias so much as looked her way she wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him.
She let out a frustrated sigh, when she spotted Abernos making his way across the field coming towards the manner.
"That little weasel!" She hissed, before turning and running down the stairs. Three loud knocks sounded at the front door just as she stepped into the foyer.
"You've got a lot of nerve showing your face here," Elle said when she opened the front door to find Abernos standing on the front step holding a clump of wildflowers out to her. "I should punch you in the nose."
He shuffled his hoof on the cobblestone, "I know you must be very angry with me, but the last time I crossed Mias he turned me into a pygmy goat."
Elle frowned, logic telling her that to accomplish something like that was, well, physically impossible.
Abernos tugged at his vest uncomfortably, and Elle noticed that unlike the last time she had seen him, he was fully clothed, wearing a green and brown vest with intricate vines stitched on it, along with a pair of simple dark brown pants. His hair was smoothed back from his face, and Elle hadn't noticed before that he was quite handsome.
"A-a pygmy goat?" Elle asked. "What on earth did you do that would make Mias turn you into a pygmy goat?"
"I asked him what color his underpants were," Abernos shrugged. "It didn't go over so well, as you might have guessed."
Elle had to bite down hard on her bottom lip to keep from laughing. "I see."
This was just the sort of distraction she needed, and she hoped that she would find an ally, or at least a friend, in Abernos.
"Well, thank you for coming by Abernos," Elle said. "But I don't think you can come in. Mias has put some kind of spell on the place."
Abernos looked up at the manor and knocked casually on the stone walls. "Magic such as this can't keep me out, since my very existence is magical."
"But Mias used magic against you before," Elle said cautiously. She didn't want Abernos to try and come through the door and end up hurt, or worse, dead.
"Yes, he did. And if I had been human I would have stayed as a pigmy goat until he reversed the spell. But after a few hours, the spell wore off and I returned to the beautiful figure you see before you."
Elle laughed. "Well then, come in."
Abernos walked into the manor with ease, handing Elle the flowers which had clumps of dirt hanging from their roots.
"Your dress is quite lovely," Abernos said to fill the silence.
Elle's lips thinned. "Apparently Mias has a fetish for Disney princesses. Today I am supposed to look like Aurora, I think."
Abernos laughed. "You speak of the strangest things. You must tell me someday what it all means."
Elle led Abernos into the living room and then placed the wildflowers into a crystal vase with the dozen roses Mias had given her the day before. She touched one of the roses absently, wondering if she was foolish for hoping that Mias had given them to her as a sign of true affection.
"You look so sad," Abernos said.
Elle turned and looked at him, hoping that she wasn't going to start crying. "I'm just so scared, Abernos. And so confused."
Abernos put his hand on her shoulder, patting it awkwardly. Elle found his meager display of affection comforting, because it was so genuine. She took Abernos' hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, before wiping away the tears that were on the verge of spilling over.
"Enough of this," Abernos said. "What you need is to have some fun."
"What did you have in mind?" Elle asked with a smile, her first real smile in days.
"Dancing!" Abernos said, rushing to a Victrola-looking object in the corner of the room. Abernos turned the crank on the side of it vigorously, before music seemed to pour down from the ceiling.
"I'm a terrible dancer," Elle admitted when Abernos took her around the waist.
"That's alright, so am I," Abernos laughed. "And if you step on my hooves, it won't hurt a lick."
Elle laughed when he lifted her off the ground and then set her back on her feet and twirled her around and around so fast that she was dizzy. She couldn't stop laughing, she was having more fun than she had had not just in days, but in years.
Abernos had been telling the truth when he said he was a terrible dancer. But she was loving every moment of it.
After taking care of his horse and locking the barn for the night, Mias headed towards the manor. The moon was high overhead, even though the last rays of sunlight could still be seen peeking over the mountaintops in the distance.
Mias was nearly to the front door when he heard music and laughter coming from inside. He glanced into the window of the living room to see Elle twirling and laughing, her hair whipping around her as she spun.
Mias grinned, eager to get inside and join her for a dance or two, wondering where it would lead.
That's when he saw Abernos grab Elle around the waist and lift her off the ground, making her smile wider and laugh harder.
Mias felt jealousy bubble up inside him as he strode to the front door and threw it open.
'She shouldn't be having such fun with another,' Mias thought. 'She should be having it with me, and only me!'
Before Mias knew what he was doing, he had Abernos by the collar of his shirt and was dragging him along towards the front door.
Mias was aware that Elle was shouting behind him, hitting his back as he pulled Abernos along beside him.
Mias grabbed Abernos by the tail where it stuck out from an opening in his pants, and threw him forward out the door where he landed in a heap in the dirt.
"ABERNOS!" Elle shrieked. "Abernos, are you alright?"
Mias glared at Elle who seemed to shrink away from his gaze before glancing back at Abernos with wide eyes.
"I'm alright," Abernos said, standing on shaky legs as he dusted the front of his pants off.
"Mias what the hell is wrong with you?" Elle demanded.
"I suppose I should be going," Abernos said weakly. "It is getting late."
"No, Abernos don't go," Elle said, pushing past Mias letting out a frustrated sigh when she reached the doorway and realized that she couldn't go to Abernos.
Mias grabbed her around the waist and placed his mouth against her ear. "Unless you want me to kill him, I suggest you let him go."
Elle cast him a confused look. Mias kept his expression hard so she would know that he was deadly serious.
In truth he didn't know what he would do if she didn't send Abernos away. He had nothing against Abernos, although he was a bit odd. But he felt so out of control he didn't know what he might do if Elle didn't send him away. The last thing Mias wanted to do was give Elle further reason to fear him.
"I guess it is getting late." Elle said sadly, glancing back at Abernos. "Thank you Abernos, I had fun."
Abernos smiled, nodding his head. "I'll say goodnight then. Mias, Elle."
Abernos turned quickly and rushed across the field before darkness swallowed him up.
Elle turned on Mias with a look of pure irritation. "You're a bully! How could you come in here and attack him like that?"
"He had his hands all over you," Mias said, clenching and unclenching his fists at his sides.
"He's my friend! We were just dancing!" Elle shook her head pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers. "I don't even know why I'm trying to explain myself to you."
Elle looked up at him, realization flashing in her eyes.
"Oh my god," She laughed. "You're jealous!"
Mias frowned. He was not expecting her to react that way. Clearly her play date with Abernos had done a great deal to improve her mood. Jealousy filled him up once more, and he glanced at the closed front door, wondering if he should hunt down the little weasel and string him up by his antlers.
"No," Mias said, trying to sound casual. "I just don't care to have Abernos traipsing around in my home. I don't like him."
Elle laughed, her hand pressed against her stomach. "Who would have thought big bad Mias would be jealous of a sweet little fawn!"
Mias crossed his arms. Sweet? She thought that little forest dwelling underwear fiend was sweet? Yet he brought her here and showered her with gifts and jewels and she found him cruel? This woman would never cease to confuse him.
Elle stopped laughing and wiped her eyes, giving Mias a smug smile that he himself had given on more than one occasion. It was the smile of someone who had accomplished something unexpected, the smile of someone who knew they were right, the smile of someone who had won.
Elle turned and headed up the stairs, glancing back at him over her shoulder.
"I had no idea you could get so jealous," Elle said, mocking his accent. "This new revelation is very exciting."
Elle disappeared into the upstairs hallway, but Mias could hear her laughter as she went.
He let out a frustrated sigh and headed for the front door. He didn't like that she had spotted his weakness, and knew that he would need to take his already winded horse out for a ride to clear his head once more. And if he spotted Abernos along the way, well he supposed it was the fates way of saying he should take out his jealousy on the furry little pest.
Elias glared up at the manor that he had once called home. Not much had changed, he realized as he climbed down from his horse, crouching low as he made his way along the dirt pathway that circled to the back of the manor.
He doubted that knocking on the front door and asking for entrance would go over well. He knew Mias would be eager for a fight, to end the rivalry that erupted between them so many years ago. Elias was just as eager to get it over with, but he wasn't interested in a fair fight. He had a much more sinister plan in mind, one which involved murder.
Mias was the eldest, by a mere forty-seven seconds, a fact that ate at Elias to this day. Elias knew deep down that it should have all been his, that he had as much right to everything Mias had. It enraged him, just thinking how Mias always had everything, while Elias was left with nothing. It had been that way since they were children, and Elias could stand it no more. But once Mias was dead, he would have it, all of it.
Once Elias reached the North side of the manor, he reached his hand towards the wall, the magic which resonated from it stinging his skin.
"Predictible fool," Elias sneered, recognizing the weak spell as one that he and his brother had learned when they were boys.
Elias waved his hand and immediately felt the spell fall away like a cobweb swept from a high corner. He glanced up at the window to the master bedroom, where he expected to find Mias sound asleep, and completely unarmed. It was almost too easy, Elias realized as he gripped an exposed stone and began the slow climb up the side of the manor.
His heart pounded in his ears as he came closer and closer to reaching his goal. Years of planning, and everything he had ever wanted was finally in sight.
Elias gripped the window frame and peered into the room, able to make out a sleeping form on the bed thanks to the dim light from a candle on the end table.
Elias smiled wide, climbing through the bedroom window and placing his hand on the hilt of his dagger.
If he wasn't trying to be so quiet he would have laughed. It was just too damn easy.