1897 - Azalea Manor
We are gathered here this day to witness the joining of Lord Jonathan Zachary Azalea, son of the Duke & Duchess Azalea with Lady Eleanor Elisabeth Wicker, daughter of Lord & Lady Wicker, in holy matrimony.
What the Lord has brought together, may no man tear it apart… Should a reason exist why they should not receive the blessing; let it be heard now or forever remain in the dark.
Very well then! Lord Zachary, if you would repeat after me!
–I, Zachary Azalea—
I, Zachary Azalea…
–Take thee, Eleanor Wicker—
…Take thee, Eleanor Wicker…
–To be my wedded wife—
…To be my wedded wife…
Azalea Estate - Old Stables
‘Release me!’ she yelled, struggling to escape the hold he had on her, but her hands were bound, making it difficult to move.
‘Be quiet’ the man said in a commanding tone while readjusting her onto his shoulder. His companion looked around to see if one of the servants might’ve heard her screams. But no one came close to these parts of the estate anymore and all the servants were needed for the wedding reception. The two men entered the stables and moved towards the only straw-filled cubical. The brown haired male roughly pulled her off his shoulder and dropped her onto the floor. He yanked the blindfold off her face, pulling a few strands of her hair along with it. She hissed in pain before looking up at her captors.
She recognized both of them as members of the Azalea family. Derek and Julian, Zachary’s cousins. They visited the estate every school break ever since they were children. In a way, they all grew up together…
‘What do you want with me?’ she asked watching them loom over her.
‘Us-’ Julian asked pointing towards his chest and then at Derek’s, ‘Nothing! We’re just following orders which of course include making sure you don’t leave this place’
‘Why? Who would—?’
‘Why? You know better than anyone why! Who? You know the answer to that question too! But I’ll humor you anyway! Lord Zachary, of course’ Derek answered with a sly smile around his lips.
‘Lies—!’ she yelled, ‘Zachary would never!’
‘Why?’ Julian mocked, ’because you grew up together? Or is it because you love him? Growing up as the playmate of a Lord does not give you even a lick of importance let alone allow you to call him by his name! It’s LORD Zachary to YOU!’
The force of his slap echoed in the stable and throbbed on her face. Caressing her sore cheek she thought back on the wonderful times she had with Zachary. He was her friend, her lover, her everything and she knew she held a place in his heart despite what they were saying. It was she who comforted him whenever he was scolded by his father, her company he sought whenever he was feeling lonely… The words: ’you love him’ rang in her ears. Julian didn’t know… No one other than Zachary and she knew what they felt for each other. They just wouldn’t understand…
‘He does love me!’ she said with a weak voice.
‘Sure he does! That’s why he’s marrying her instead of you! You, a servant’s daughter, with nothing! While she; Lady Eleanor—’ Derek spoke her name with so much respect and elegance; almost as if addressing a queen, ‘she is the sole heir to her family’s fortune. A proper woman with a title that gives as much respect to Zachary’s as his can give to hers’
‘Zachary would not—’
‘Of course, he would leave it all for you! Run away from the luxury of his family’s name just so he could be with you! Are you even listening to yourself?’
‘Who could ever love a servant?’ Julian added.
She remembered Zachary using those words once, when he was surrounded by rich boys of his own age, ‘I bet he told you he only said it to throw off suspicion. Am I right?’
Strengthened by each other, they continued to attack her with words Zachary had used, twisting their meaning to suit their purpose. Making her doubt every word her friend and lover had whispered to her whenever they were alone.
‘Face it, slave! You were a convenience. A plaything when we weren’t around. And occasionally a warm body when he needed to dip his wick. Well, Lady Eleanor will be all that he needs after today; a loving wife to give him comfort and support. The kind a well-brought up woman is supposed to and in time bear him children to carry on the family name…That’s why you’re here now. To make sure it all goes according to plan; starting with the wedding’
Tears were streaming down her face. ‘And what of my baby…’ she thought, lowering her head to gaze at her stomach… it wasn’t visible yet. She didn’t even get the chance to tell Zachary… It dawned on her that they have been in that stable for so long already. Why wasn’t Zachary looking for her? The realization hit her hard and the tears flowed nonstop. The hurt… the betrayal… She got to her feet and tried to run when the men were talking amidst themselves, only to be stopped by Derek’s hand around her throat; cutting off her air supply.
Derek laid her unconscious body on a hay bail at the far end of the stable. ‘That’ll take care of that’ he said, watching Julian light a match. He threw in the hay bail at the opening of the stall to close off any means of escape. The flames were high very quick and they left the stables. Outside they halted and waited for it to be completely engulfed by the flames. The smoke and heat must’ve woken up the girl before the flames consumed her. A spine-chilling scream rose up along with the smoke that even made the men’s skin crawl. They quickly moved away from the scene and started for the main house.
They bumped into two servants on the side of the house and put on an act. ‘Hurry, we saw a fire in the old stables’
One of the servants ran into the kitchen to get the others, while the other panicked and wanted to walk up to the wedding party and tell the master.
‘No, we should get the fire under control first’ one of the women from the kitchen yelled. They were all running with a bucket in hand to take water from the well.
‘Has anyone seen Razia?
Julian and Derek watched the servants struggle with the fire before removing themselves from the scene entirely. They slipped back into the hall the reception was held in and mingled as if they never left. Zachary’s father, Duke Jonathan Azalea’s eyes however were permanently fixed on his nephews. Julian answered his gaze with a small almost unnoticeable nod. The corners of the Duke’s mouth rose in a sly grin before he took his wife’s hand and let her to the dance-floor.