It was the embarrassment of seeing her husband carrying on with that girl at Ven Lusch’s soiree that brought Marsina Ven Denon to her decision to leave for the family summer house. All of Yurital had seen him that night, and everyone would have noticed when he left with her and not Marsina. The infidelity she could accept, after a fashion. It had been that way from the beginning of their marriage after all. Though it left her bereft, she was willing to overlook it, for the sake of their daughter Jacyma, to spare her the embarrassment and shame to come. And so she had become the kind of woman who, in the early blush of youth, she would have scorned as a fool for remaining married to Nyco Ven Denon.
She would have stayed, would have continued on the path she had chosen, had he not made so public, so obvious, his betrayal and scorn for her. That she could not countenance. Not after she had laughed off – or worse, bitterly fought against – anyone who had warned her of her husband’s ways when he had begun to court her. She was not just some naïve girl blinded by love. And when it had become clear just how much a blind fool she had been, it was far too late. She could not admit to having made such a mistake, her pride would not allow it, and then Jacyma had come and there was that to consider. But no more.
Her parents were no help. Every time she came to her mother in tears for consolation she received condescension, as though each wrong that her husband committed was a mark against her own character. Sometimes Marsina even felt that this was true. That had been the case when she had visited them the morning following the soiree, her mind still clouded with the wine she had drank, nearly two bottles worth, in her rage against her husband. It had consumed her and the hazy washed out feeling that accompanied her on her journey to her parents’ house seemed to be the direct consequence of it.
“I always said he was a fool,” her father had said when she announced, upon arriving, that she was leaving her husband. “Didn’t I say that?”
This was directed at his wife who frowned at him and tsked at her daughter. “I suppose it’s for the best.”
She did not announce her intention then, but once the rains had passed, and the threat of washed out roads and landslides with it, she told them both that she would be leaving early for the summer house. This predictably was met with consternation from her mother and anger from her father who forbade her to do so. She remained firm in her intentions, refusing to be turned from her decision by either of them.
There was some reason for concern over such a journey. A group of Hautlyren, calling themselves the Resistance, had been the talk of Yurital all through the rainy season. After emerging the year before, they had rampaged throughout the lowlands this season taking several important towns. A large number of forces had been committed to putting the insurrection down but their success had been middling to say the least. Many had succumbed to lowland diseases and there had been numerous cases of desertion, with some of the forces joining the rebels. Victories had been few.
Garden, where many of the Yurital elite, including Marsina’s family, had their summer homes, was near the lowlands and if the war were to spread it would come first there. Few expected that to happen, the Resistance hardly seemed a formidable foe. Yet they continued to persist. There were rumors that they were receiving support from some neighboring states and of whole villages of lowlanders being impressed into their service. Word was that once the dry season began they would begin an assault on the highlands, the heartland of the Niedellun.
Marsina paid no mind to such talk. That was the men’s world with its obsessions and paranoia and she distrusted it as much as she distrusted her husband. Nothing, not the dissolution of Niedellun itself, could dissuade her from journeying to the site of so many of her cherished memories.
She left first thing one fine morning before the sun had even risen, taking the train south from Yurital. Though she had a first class berth, she kept Jacyma on her lap, both she and the child dozing on and off throughout the morning. Sometime after she had taken her lunch in the dining car the train halted and did not move for over an hour, much to her frustration and Jacyma’s delight. The track they were on wound its way through the mountains that separated Garden from Yurital and for the moment they sat overlooking a gaping chasm that ended in a forest covered valley far below.
There were several more stops and starts on the journey of varying length, severely delaying their arrival at New Gerunn so that it was near nightfall when Marsina disembarked from the train. Making the last part of the journey stranger still was the fact that the stewards, normally so attentive during such delays and quick to pass on any information they might have, went through the car almost furtively, not looking at any of the passengers. There was a general disquiet among all the travelers at these developments, with many low murmurs and shared looks of concern.
Their reception at New Gerunn did nothing to ease Marsina’s unease. Normally there would be any number of porters fighting to help with her bags but the station was nearly empty. The ticket counter was closed, though the late trains were surely still to arrive as it was only just after supper. Abandoning her bags for the moment, she took Jacyma out to the street to see about finding a roadster that would take them to Garden. There was only one idling on the corner, the hautlyrun driver leaning against the hood playing with a toothpick and eyeing her with that blank expression so many of them adopted.
When she asked him to take them to Garden that night the expression vanished and his eyes widened in disbelief. “Haven’t you heard Ma’am?” he said to her. “They say the Resistance is coming up from the lowlands.”
“What does that matter?” she said to him, her weariness making her cross. “The army will stop them and I have to get to Garden tonight. Will you take me?”
“I don’t know Ma’am. They say the roads aren’t safe. Everybody’s been coming north today, nobody going south.”
Jacyma was exhausted and restless at her feet. Marsina knew a tantrum would not be far off if she did not get them into a car and on their way soon. “It doesn’t matter,” she said, “I just need to get to Garden. I can make it worth your time.”
He considered this, the toothpick flicking from one side of his mouth to the other. At last he said, “Why don’t I find you a hotel for the night Ma’am. You and the child can rest and I’ll take you first thing tomorrow morning. Maybe the news will be different tomorrow. But even if the news today is wrong, it’s not good to be on the road tonight. There’s folks who’ll be out thinking they can do what they please, you understand Ma’am.”
Though she very much wanted to be in her own bed, to sleep without thoughts of the trials she had endured in Yurital with the difficulties of the road left behind her, she relented seeing the reason in what the hautlyrun said. He happily ushered them into his car and went and retrieved her cases and then drove into New Gerunn, finding them a hotel with rooms available. He left them there promising to return at first light the next day to take them to Garden if the news from the south was good.
From The Uninvited
A short story by Clint Westgard