The Worst Emotion
The barrowman reappears inside Mistress’ house, having slipped through the miniscule crack beneath the door and the floor. The barrowman knows that he is late. A week she said, and It is late by twenty-fours hours. The flaunting of the Mistress’ rules, and the sending of the tablet felt good, but now It wonders. Wonder whether that particular gambit will see it punished. And in the long centuries that It has lived, It has seen things to curdle the mind, and more, the flesh.
It can feel two presences in the house. One is that of the bird, the Mistress’ bird. The other is unfamiliar. These two presences, they differ from her own family, that the Mistress herself raised, with only her magic as source.
These new presences, they’re stronger. There is a sense of mind, of thinking, of power. It tracks that other unfamiliar power. The barrowman knows what she has done. It has been done before– feeding the dead the blood of barrowmen will make them stronger, but it is a double-edged sword. A fact which It isn’t going to tell the Mistress. Omission by lying is something that her commands should have covered.
The barrowman walks out on an balcony, where the Mistress sits with a young girl. They sit at a table, drinking something that smells like lemon. “Who is this, Helena?”, the girls asks. Helena, that’s the name of the Mistress, an detail it hasn’t been able to divine. Interesting. “Oh this is just a servant. I see that you have finally arrived.” It sinks to Its knees, bowing.
“I forgot the time. I will not do so, not again.” ‘Helena’ nods. “Will we…” It glances at the girl “- will we continue?” “Cordelia here knows. Everything. And to answer your question, no. At this point we will wait for a particular someone to die.”
“But why?”, Cordelia interrupts. “They-” her brow furrows, and one eye spasms,”- they hurt us. They beat us. They raped us. They’re monsters. We should go and kill them. Right now.” She repeats what she has said a couple of times, before stopping, and resuming a calm and ordinary mien. It’s like the surface of a sea, before being broken by one of Jörmungar’s kin, the barrowman reflects, looking at this Cordelia. You can never know….
It looks closer at the girl called Cordelia. It knows these things, have seen them before. Her memories and personality has been tampered with, and tampered with badly. Like a man cutting off an arm, when only a hand is needed. “Because I said so.” She sips from her cup. “Tell me; what is the most awful emotion on this planet?”
When none of them says anything she shouts. “So?!” “Envy”, the barrowman suggests in compliance. “Nope.” “Greed”, Cordelia says.
“Still not it.” “Rage”, It adds. “And fear”, Cordelia tangents. Helena shakes her head. “Love”, Cordelia says, then closes her eyes. “No, longing.” “Hatred”, the barrowman puts forth. “You guys are still missing the mark.”
“Pride perhaps?”, Cordelia asks. “I would add sloth to that list”, the barrowman says. “Better, but you are too narrow in your definitions.”
“Lust, lust which most people mistake for infatuation, and even love”, Cordelia says before trailing off. “Wrath, for wrath isn’t the same as rage, which is immature. Wrath is righteous in nature, springing from a person that been wronged”, the barrowman concludes. “Getting closeeeer…..”
“I don’t know”, Cordelia says, defeated.
Helena sighs, and puts one hand against one of Cordelia’s cheeks. “Guilt, is the most awful emotion. It’s a form of rot, that seeps into the one’s body, and which cannot be cured. It can set a person free, it can make them beholden to another, it can make some sick… and it can drive someone to take their life.” She sips out of the cup, once more with a certain relish..
“And so to answer your question, my most esteemed servant, we are waiting for guilt to kill a girl.” She looks up at It, and smiles.” Indeed, why kill someone, when they will do the job themself?”
“Mistress, might I have your leave to explore Fallowfell further? I fear that the little bit I have seen has just wet my appetite.” “Alright. But now you know my name. You will not mention it. You will not think it. You will not mention the location of this house, nor the existence of Cordelia. You have your leave.”
It bows, and moves back from the balcony. Cruel. She might be broken inside, might be deluded. But above all, she is cruel, It thinks to itself. The barrowman starts to make plans for more tablets, more interruptions.
In a bathroom, in a different house, in a different part of Fallowfell, a girl sits in a bathtub and looks at a letter. The meaning of the letter, and the other messages that she has received over a week are all the same: this is your fault they say. That Sihle died.
Because you hurt someone, and that someone hurt you back, by killing your best friend. There is a part of her that screams, that this is not her fault. When a stalker stalks some unwitting girl, is it the girl’s fault? Of course not.
But there is an other part of her, the one inebriated by the glass of wine next to her elbow, and filled with teenage-anxiety and hormones that doesn’t agree. That part makes her take up the razor-blades.
She places them against a slender wrist. There is a pressure, resistance, and an ache, and then the blood flows. The teenage part of her says that it will be over soon. That part is right. Long minutes pass, and her awareness of her surroundings dim. She starts to cry for some reason. Maybe the person who killed Sihle is right. Maybe wrong. But she miss Sihle. She misses her so, so much. The edges of her vision darken.
We’ll see each other soon, Nahle. That’s her last thought.