by Rachel Van Dyken
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright © 2012 RACHEL VAN DYKEN
Cover Art Designed by Elaina Lee
Edited by Cynthia Blackburn and Stephanie Taylor
It's impossible to thank all the many people that helped make this story what it is. But I'd like to give a special thanks to Laura Heritage. You kept me sane during the times when I would argue with my own characters! Thank you so much for your friendship and tireless hours helping and supporting me! Love you!
“Hands at this angle, young master.” Mr. Field was always careful in his scoldings, and for that young Dominique was grateful. He had heard whisperings that not all music teachers were as kind as Mr. Field.
A prodigy—the name hovered over him like a blazing sign. At eleven, even his boyish mind knew that life would never be simple. When other little boys were outside running and playing in the streams, Dominique was in the great practice room tapping away at the ivory.
Music was to Dominique what breathing was to everyone else. He wasn’t able to quit the melodies pounding through his head—through his dreams. Often, he would sneak down to the practice room in the middle of the night because his fingers itched so heavily to touch the keys of his favorite instrument. If the music was not played, sleep would not come.
The crescendos, the notes—everything had always existed in his mind. The major scale of beautiful notes descended upon him in times of great happiness, the minor scales—the scales of sharps and flats—often during times of danger. His teacher, Mr. Field, said it was a gift, that all prodigies had a sixth sense. Dominique, however, felt different, too different to play with others his own age. So he poured himself into music as much as he could to his mother’s utter delight, for she was always doting on him, telling him that one day he would be a great master and that people from all over the world would pay to hear his gift.
His father, the Royal Prince Maksylov, thought music was only for the weak-minded, and often told young Dominique that unless he grew strong in physical build and learned how to play with others, nobody would ever follow him. That he, as a musician, could never lead.
And so Dominique led the life of being pulled by two parents: one in the direction of the piano room, and the other to the outside light. Both directions held certain feelings of excitement and fear, for Dominique hated to fail at anything and often found it frustrating to have to concentrate on more than one task at a time.
A certain evening, after his parents had gotten in another fight over his musical education, Dominique had snuck into bed careful not to let any of the servants see the pooling of tears around his eyes. He cried, not for himself, but the love lost, for it seemed both parents never saw him as the boy he was, only what they wanted him to be.
After the servants had gone to bed, a slow haunting melody began burning in the back of Dominique’s mind. Closing his eyes against the onslaught of music, he put the pillow over his head. But the music would not quit. Minor chords filled with dread and pain drifted in and out of his mind until he thought he would go mad. Finally, unable to keep his body from moving, his fingers carefully started playing the melody in the air, imagining the pianos keys underneath his finger tips as he played the song that would not leave him.
The song progressed; it became more and more angry. The hair on Dominique’s arms stood on end. Surely he would die this way! The music was finally coming for him! There was no other option in his mind. He had always thought about how he would die. There was nothing simple about dying for any prodigy. For a musician, there was always music. Always a benediction telling the sad tale of a person’s life which had gone unlived.
With a squeal, Dominique ran downstairs to the practice room. If he was to die, he needed to be next to the music; the only hope, it seemed, was to play that song and pray it never return to his head.
He threw open the doors to the practice room just in time to see his father pull back the trigger of a pistol and his mother fall to the ground in a bloody heap. Then, his father turned hate-filled eyes toward Dominique. With sickening fear, he noticed his teacher, Mr. Field, also lying on the floor, dead, just behind the couch. His soulless stare went right past him and his coloring was a grayish white.
“What are you about, boy?”
“Papa!” Dominique froze in place. “Papa, you hurt Mama! What have you done? You—you beast!”
“Beast?” His father laughed, madness etched across his face. He took a stumble to the side-board and poured himself more brandy, not sure at all on his feet as he took a seat on the sofa, his booted foot only inches from Mr. Field’s outstretched hand. “I give your mother everything! I give you everything and she repays me with betrayal!”
His voice shook the walls in the room and suddenly Dominique knew where the music had come from. Just as his teacher had said, it had come from within. He had sensed the danger, and the music once silent as he entered the room came back full force as his father trained his eyes on him.
Blood still dripped from the prince’s hands as he smiled and threw the glass of brandy on the floor, shattering it into pieces.
“So you think me a beast, boy?”
Dominique slowly backed away toward the door. It seemed his only hope was to somehow escape the nightmare he had walked into.
“Answer me!” His father wailed, throwing another glass to the floor. “Answer me now, boy!”
“No. No, Papa, you are no b-beast.” Tears fell from Dominique’s eyes of their own accord, streaking his face with the salty wetness of death.
In a flash, his father was behind him, locking the doors. The music crescendoed again. The finale—he could hear it; he could see it in his mind’s eye.
“Well, boy. Why don’t you go ahead and play. Play for me, play for your dead mother, and your wicked teacher. Play for us all!” His shout vibrated off Dominique’s ears like he’d been shot himself. His father thrust his hands into the air as if directing some invisible choir.
He was mad! The teacher’s body lay ever so lightly across his mother’s; he needed to step over them in order to get to the piano. In that moment, Dominique knew he would die, knew that he would never get to play with other little boys. The cold stream by his house wouldn’t get any use, for he would be dead, and dead little boys did not swim in cold streams.
With a deep breath, Dominique sat at the piano and began to play the melody.
His funeral march.
“Ah, such music is so pleasing. It is so sweet, Dominique, it nearly makes me ache with want, which is apparently what your witch of a mother was aching with. Don’t you agree?”
Dominique continued to play, tears blurring his vision. Perhaps a servant would hear the music and think it odd? His mind rejected the notion. It was impossible, for he was often playing music through the night. But this night was unlike any other.
As he finished the song, his father yelled, “Keep playing!”
So Dominique continued to play and shook as he did so. He repeated the same song, for there was no other melody in his
“For your sins, for the sins of your mother, I will punish you, once and for all! May you never play again.”
With a curse, his father snatched the candelabra from its perch on the piano and poured hot wax and fire onto Dominique’s hands. When Dominique screamed in anguish and tried to pull away, his father merely held his hands next to Dominique’s, taking the punishment with him, Dominique’s struggles nothing for the giant man. His hatred was so deep that he would rather hurt himself and his son than not give any punishment whatsoever.
With a curse, his father threw him to the ground and marched over to the fireplace, taking Dominique’s sheets of music with him.
“No! Papa, no!” Dominique wailed, for he had worked his entire existence on those songs. They were his everything. With a sneer his father threw them into the fire.
“Follow them into the fires of Perdition for all I care.”
With a scream, Dominique charged his father, his blistered hands reached into the flames, grasping at the remnants of the music. It wasn’t until his hands hit the scorching heat that he noticed his father was holding them there as well.
A scream would not come, though Dominique tried. The blackness enveloped him, and he felt once and for all, he had truly died.
15 years later
The carriage dipped, jolting Dominique from his nightmare. Always the same. Always that cursed song. Why was he never given respite? He looked down at his hands, covered by his gloves and never to be seen by the outside world. For their hideous scars were the stuff of legends and dark fairy tales. Surely the girl sitting across from him would expire on the spot if she saw what gruesome brutalities lay beneath his tortured gloves.
With a sigh, he leaned his head back against the leather of the seat. Had he done the right thing in taking her? Now he wasn’t so sure.
He looked across the carriage. His gaze rested on the young girl. Isabelle was her name. Or, in his mind, Belle, for the music surrounding her was true beauty, nothing he had ever seen in his lifetime.
The carriage dipped again and the young beauty opened her eyes. “Are we there yet, my lord?”
“No.” Dominique despised conversation of any type, especially with a woman. He hadn’t any experience with the lot of them unless he needed to satisfy his beastly needs and even then, he never looked at their faces, never kissed them, and never took off his gloves. Women were good for only one thing. Besides that, they could not be trusted. They were full of betrayal and lies.
The young maiden licked her rose-colored lips and pushed her lustrous brown hair away from her face. “Are we close then?”
“Why?” he asked, irritated with her questions. Was she to plague him the entire trip?
“I’m thirsty.” She looked embarrassed; her hands were shaking just slightly. Blast, the girl was probably cold too. What did she think he was about? Being her nursemaid?
“We’ll arrive soon enough.” He cut off the conversation by looking out the window, so desperate was he to get the girl to stop talking, or at least stop staring at him the way she was, with such curiosity and contempt.
“Why did you take me?”
Dominique took a deep breath then turned his gaze back to the girl. Her piercing blue eyes made him desperate for her to stop looking at him. If there was one trait he was always constant on, it was his honesty. So he told her the truth, not because he was being kind, but because it was the only positive characteristic he had. After all, his mother had lied, his father had betrayed him and his music hadn’t saved him at all. Honesty, it seemed, was his only mistress.
With a deep breath, he answered, “Because the minute I gazed upon you, the music changed.”
It is imperative that while writing music, you allow yourself to be lost to it, for those who listen will be the ones who find it, and in that moment a masterpiece will be created.
—The Diary of Dominique Maksylov
Isabelle blinked several times. She told herself to take a breath, or speak, or acknowledge that she had in fact heard what the man had just spoken to her, but she seemed paralyzed.
He’d said the music changed. What the devil did that mean? And why did his eyes close so often as if he was trying to shut out the world? Pain etched in his brow each time he wrung his hands together and try as she might, she could not figure out the man sitting across from her.
She had heard that Dominique Maksylov was eccentric, a beast, in fact, for he bore some sort of bodily scar given to him by his late father, the royal prince. But everything about the man sitting across from her screamed beauty more than beast.
Oh, with his hair unfashionably long and the overgrowth of beard across his face, he looked like a savage from a foreign land, but he was tall, graceful. Every movement he made seemed as if he was conducting some sort of invisible symphony, even when he lifted his hand to push back the curtains of the carriage. She found her eyes positively transfixed—bewitched by such a simple movement.
It made her wonder what else the man did besides play the piano and write terribly tragic music. There had to be some other purpose for this perfect specimen sitting opposite her. Perhaps she was guilty of reading too many gothic novels, but the way his full lips pursed together, how his hair managed to look wild yet purposefully so, well, he appeared like some fallen angel or a werewolf searching the countryside for his long lost love. Isabelle suppressed a giggle; obviously she was left alone too often. For those were nothing but stories, and her reality sat stone-faced across from her; emptiness and longing was etched on his every feature.
It was said that the Queen cried for two days after one of the court musicians played one of Dominique’s songs. That she, in such a fit of sadness, refused drink and food. Finally, the King himself ordered the doors to her room to be broken down so he could attend to her.
Isabelle had thought it a lovely story, for it showed how moved the woman had been by Dominique’s music, though she had to admit, only someone truly obsessed would go to such extremes. And as much as she loved music, she couldn’t fathom being so moved by it. It was difficult for her to understand how the man across from her could make anything beautiful, haunting. Absolutely.
The carriage jolted.
Isabelle pretended not to watch as Dominique clenched his gloved hands in his lap again, and a scowl of pain stretched across his face.
“Are you well?” she asked before she could guard her tongue from being so impertinent.
His cold blue eyes pierced the air between them. She would not look away, could not back down from such a frigid stare even though it gave her chills down to her toes.
“My health is none of your concern. Believe me, if I desire for a nursemaid, I would have married one, instead of you.”
“Married?” Isabelle nearly choked on the word. The man was mad! He had kidnapped her! The thought had occurred to her that she would be well and ruined, but never did she think she would be saddled to such a man as this! “What do you mean, ‘married’?”
Dominique’s head tilted, like that of a feral cat inspecting its meal. “I mean to make you my wife.”
“Wife?” Isabelle repeated slowly.
“Yes, you do understand the meaning of the word, don’t you? Or are you so young and innocent that I’m going to have to explain every little thing to you? Where we are, why we are going in that direction. Why the trees grow so tall, what is expected of the marriage bed. Truly if you mean to torture me, ask questions now so I can relax in the silence once your speech tires.”
Isabelle’s eyes widened until she was convinced all he could see was white peering back at him. Her fingers reached to grip the seat and she scolded her lip inwardly for trembling so. Yes, her feelings were hurt. So abrupt was he in his manners and temper! He needed a good lesson, or a paddling, or a mother! Truly, to speak to her in such a manner was beastl
He had no reason to lie to her, and she did have all her trunks, but her own mother hadn’t even said goodbye to her! Why was she taken away so abruptly?
She told her lip to stop trembling again, carefully folded her hands in her lap and managed a tiny smile as she leaned forward. “It pleases me to no end to discover your ability to read minds, my lord! To think, I was pondering on every one of those questions and was so fearful to ask them. That is, until you so graciously offered your assistance. So tell me, why do the trees grow so tall?”
Dominique flinched as if someone had hit him and, with a scowl, looked out the window as he answered her. “You mock me? Do you truly wish to vex me this entire trip? I save your life and the thanks I get is a nattering woman who wishes to know why trees grow so tall. Lovely. Although I’m quite surprised your virgin mind didn’t first venture to ask the most important question of all.”
“And what is that, my lord?” Isabelle leaned even closer, only a breath away from his face. She meant to challenge him, to notify him of her strength so he wouldn’t focus on her weakness.
“The marriage bed. After all, we shall be sharing it as soon as we get to my estate, and perhaps earlier if fortune smiles upon you.”
He was bluffing. For the first time since their journey she saw doubt in his eyes; either he wasn’t used to talking of such things and therefore was not as wicked as he wanted her to believe, or he in his own way was afraid of marriage and the love that came with it.
“Then tell me—” she challenged — “After all, I am such a curious sort. Innocent of the ways of the world. Regale me with stories, my lord. I wait with bated breath. After all, I grow bored and you won’t even tell me how far we are in our trip to your estates.”