... ... Elsewhere ... ...
Frost clings to the panes like albino orphans begging for shelter. The pale glow of the fireplace, the only light in the room, casts the icicles in crimson, like blood running from the eaves.
No less crimson are the many towels and blankets covering the parlor floor. The blood that seeps through the fibers is no trick of the light.
"There, there, precious. The pain's all gone now," says the man as he reaches out to gently stroke one sweat-soaked strand of hair from the woman's brow. She looks up at him from the divan, her young face flushed beneath her blonde locks and her bosom aching from both strain and exhilaration.
The man is cast in darkest shadow as he turns his back to the flame, pouring a thick burgundy liquid into a goblet. The girl's pink garments lie folded neatly over a chair, leaving her in her stained chemise even as the man's black silk shirt shimmers along the edges in the flickering light.
"I remember so little from before," he muses, as much to himself as to his bride.
"If it was not for Mordelus, why, I suspect I would never have known anything of my former life at all. How strange it is, to be so sound of mind, yet know so little of yourself. That is no way for a hero to live...but then, I am no hero."
"My first memory is seeing the remains of that woman lying at Mordelus's feet. There was a broken urn in the wizard's hands that, for some reason, chilled me far more than the sight of a green-skinned hag lying dead on the cottage floor."
"Truthfully, I suspect Mordelus did not tell me all I needed to know of the person I once was. What was I like then? I wonder."
"The woman at his side looked so familiar to me. Her ebony hair and pale skin was so much like my own I cannot help but think we are related."
"Still, she said nothing of it if true. She only seemed a bit sad as she told me, 'You are free'."
The man turns at a sound. It is a small whimper from the direction of the divan.
He shakes his head to himself, as if to banish his musings, and steps back to the woman. He places the goblet to her lips and bids her to drink.
"Apologies, my love. Here you are, in the moment of your glory, and I sully the air with my self-absorbed prattle."
"No, this is a time for celebrating the prospect of the future, not to lament the past. ... Oh, but I see you are tired."
The wine trickles from the corners of the young woman's mouth as her head lolls oddly to one side. Her blue eyes stare up at the man, unseeing and beyond any further care.
A look of concern, of true sadness, crosses the man's face. He trails one finger along the lines of the girl's cheekbone, as if to remember her all the better.
The whimper issues again, staggered at first. But then a small petulant cry splits the silence of the parlor room.
Outside, the howl of wolves matches the cry; rising to a crescendo that sends the bloody icicles raining outside the iron-crossed windows. The man shakes his head, though a smile now crosses his face, wiping away the melancholy of loss only a moment before.
"Hungry already, princess?" he asks, lifting the newborn from her dead mother's breast.
He swaddles her in the clean pink pinafore, the only clean cloth in the room. The infant seems to take comfort in her father's embrace, her cry dying to a momentarily content coo as she looks upon the only face she may ever love.
He regards her eyes; the right a brilliant blue and the left a deep jade green. She cuddles to her father's chest, her tiny fingers wrapping around the very finger of his hand that had touched her dead mother a second before.
Her smile is one of absolute adoration and devotion as her chosen name slips from Marcus's lips.