Digital Collage- Self Portrait with a Dream by Christian Aquino
ADEMIR BY CAT JOHNSON
Dark and gloomy was the day he came. I personally believe that the sky saw the burly man coming and sent clouds to cover the precious sun, to protect its light from his shadow. He came in his luxurious, ornamented carriage, drawn by horses as dark and large and lumbering as the bears deep in the woods. As dark and large and lumbering as the man himself. He came to my father’s door, and, using his power and high value, he requested a wife, otherwise known as one of my father’s daughters. Myself or one of my two elder sisters.
A moon later, Bluebeard, named so for his beard so dark it occasionally appeared to be the night sky, held a wonderful ball. Many in the neighborhood came to see who Bluebeard would take as his next bride, the fifth one in eight years’ time, though I am unsure if they came only out of curiosity or if fear brought them as well. I chose, through much of the night, anyways, to stay on the sidelines, despite my father’s encouragement to participate in the festivities. My sisters had less fear of Bluebeard, seeing him as someone who could give them endless riches, and that he could, but I couldn’t help but wonder where his previous lovers kept going.
There was speculation that the late wives in all of their frailty simply couldn’t survive the nature of the woods around his grand northern castle. Bluebeard had the tendency to hold his weddings under the fall leaves, a few mere moons before the treacherous winter. The city had its own fair share of winter deaths and disease, but living in isolation, away from the most modern medicines of the city, would greatly assist the progress of any illness. This reason was plausible, but it just didn’t sound right. Why would the great Bluebeard live in such isolation if he had no secrets, if the smell of womanly death only hung around his home due to illness? After long thought, I decided I had to find out.
I was torn away from my thoughts by a large, gloved hand reaching out me.
“You’ve been awfully quiet tonight. Are you not enjoying the ball?” Bluebeard asked, his voice as gruff as a withering cough and deep as a lion’s roar. Not wanting to displease him, I sweetly replied,
“No my lord, I am. You’ve been so generous with all of these festivities,” I smiled up at him, laying my hand in his comparatively massive one.
“Then I suppose you won’t mind a dance with me,” Bluebeard rumbled. I quickly agreed and let him lead me out to the center of the room, where neighboring couples danced. As we danced, Bluebeard eventually spoke.
“That dress is beautiful,” he said, his hand moving to my waist, “A wonderful color as well, like the forest.”
“Thank you, my lord,” I mumbled, before thinking to myself, no wonder so many women go with him. He’s quite charming despite his rough appearance. I glanced up to look at his face, and not unattractive despite that massive beard.
We danced for quite awhile, and it was clear he was taking a liking to me. I suppose he didn’t appreciate my elder sisters throwing themselves at him. By the end of the ball, he had made his decision. Standing proud and tall before the crowd, my father puffed up by his side, he made his choice, his deep voice echoing throughout the ballroom:
“I shall take young Emilia to be my bride.” My sisters gasped, the second shooting me a glare. I never had much of a relationship with my dear sister Charlotte. She practically raised me since my mother passed away when I was a child. She gazed fondly at me, sadness flickering in her eyes. She knew she would likely not see me again I gazed back, giving her a small smile, before approaching Bluebeard.
The wedding was very small, especially when compared to the ball. Only my sisters and father were in attendance beyond the necessities of a priest and cooks. Nearing the end of the celebration, I noticed my father pull Bluebeard to the side in front of a large chest with a sack of coin sitting atop it. That’s my dowry, but why all the coin? Half of my mother’s old jewelry is in that thing! I thought, but I was ripped out of my thoughts by Charlotte.
“I’m going to miss you, Emilia,” she said, bringing my gloved hands into her own, “but I can’t help but wonder why father is letting you get snatched away so soon. You’re hardly out of your youth, and you remind him so much of mother.”
“Perhaps father decided I was costing him too much money,” I joked, but Charlotte still looked concerned. “At least you’re going to miss me, I reckon Anne is just excited to steal my half of the room,” I added, referring to my sister who was only three years my elder. I released her hands to pull her into a hug, and whispered, “I’m going to miss you too, dear sister.”
The carriage ride was long, and I let myself doze off for over a quarter of it. By the time I woke up, the chilled air and whispering breeze told me we were approaching Bluebeard’s dwelling. My boots crushed the autumn leaves as I stepped out of the carriage; my hand tucked in Bluebeard’s massive paw of a hand. His castle towered over me, its’ dark structure penetrating the grayed clouds above. Bluebeard’s servant shuffled behind us, my bags in tow despite my insistence that I carried at least one or two, and we all walked through the tall entryway. The foyer was incredibly grand, with a massive chandelier hanging over the stairway. The house was seemingly empty and quiet, until the large doors shutting alerted someone inside.
“Ademir, is that you?” came a sweet-sounding voice from upstairs, and seconds after a young woman was descending the steps, eyes lit up with joy. I blinked in surprise, hardly anyone used Bluebeard’s true name, and the girl who was so excited to see him was…beautiful.
“Johanna!” Bluebeard, or I suppose Ademir, exclaimed, before the two hugged. Ademir then turned to me, “Emilia, this is my sister, Johanna,” he said with a smile, the first genuine one I had ever seen cross his lips. I went to shake hands with the woman before me, but instead she wrapped her arms around me in a tight embrace. The flowery smell of her perfume wrapped around me, and I was in a daze by the time she let me go. She cupped my face in her hands, and the intimacy of the gesture made me feel weak.
“You poor thing, you’ve had an eventful past few days, haven’t you?” she said, her voice filled with empathy. Unable to say a thing with the girl so close to me, I nodded dumbly. She smiled, “Well that’s alright, let’s get you comfortable.”
The next hour or so was incredibly nice. Johanna and Ademir showed me my new room, which was, surprisingly, all my own. It was beautiful, with a large, comfortable bed in the center surrounded by stunning mahogany furniture. After I changed into “something a little more comfortable,” as Johanna put it, I was shown the kitchen, the bathrooms, the ballroom, and more before being led to a massive wooden door towards the back of the house.
“This may be a lot to take in, but I won’t leave your side if that will make you feel better, my lady,” Johanna said, and she laced her fingers in my own after I agreed. Ademir then opened the door, which, to my surprise, had five women in it, all of them leisuring in the living space. Some were knitting, but all were drinking tea and chatting, at least until they heard us enter. I recognized one of them, Lena, who had married Ademir a year or two ago and was presumed dead after the following winter when no one heard from her.
“Everyone thought you were dead,” I whispered, staring at Lena in shock.
“Indeed, they did,” Ademir replied, “but that’s exactly what we want.”
“What do you mean?” I questioned, looking up at him. Ademir sighed before leading me to an empty spot on one of the couches, sitting hunched over with his fingers laced together.
“You see, all of the women here, besides my sister, are women who I married and were presumed to be dead after no one in town heard from them again, right?” I nodded in response, and he continued, “Well, we want that because these women…” he looked around the room, “they were not safe where they were. Johanna and I wish to save women like yourselves from a fate of depression, murder, relentless childbearing, and domestic abuse. Our mother suffered that fate, and died from stress, a broken heart after years of abuse from my dreaded father. I don’t want that to happen again. And so, every summer I send one of my servants to seek out a woman in need, and plan to marry her in the fall, using my father’s fortune to convince the parents of these young ladies to let them go.” I stared at Ademir in awe for a few moments, before I thought of a question:
“Well, what were you saving me from?” I asked, and Ademir looked at his hands nervously before replying, ‘That’s for another time, in private.” I nodded and after a few moments of quiet, was then introduced to each of the girls.
Life in Ademir’s castle was bliss. Ademir was a politician in a city not too far away, his real name unrecognized in my hometown, and while he worked myself and the women spent our days relaxing and sewing garments for Ademir to sell and make extra money. As it turns out, the “servants” Ademir had were actually paid workers, as he believed servantry was no better than making a woman your housewife. Every day my fondness of Johanna grew, and appeared to be reciprocated, as she sometimes snuck into my bed quarters at night to “keep warm,” and I knew she did not do that with any of the other women. Ademir and Clara, the second woman Ademir brought to his grand estate, was the only wife of his who remained married to him after being brought home and learning his true nature, and the two seemed very happy together. Moreover, everything was wonderful. The meals prepared by the cooks were to die for, and all the ladies got on well with each other. The only problem I had was that my question from over a moon ago now was never answered. What was I saved from?
My question remained unanswered until one night, when a loud knock echoed throughout the house. All the women, myself included, rushed to the room I first met them in, as none of us were known to be alive to anyone besides each other and Ademir’s workers. Ademir opened the door, though he was sure to paint on his scary, brooding facade: Bluebeard, before he answered. I did not hear much until I heard my own father’s voice yell.
“You fool, I want proof of that whore’s death before I pay you the second half of our deal!”
My stomach dropped down to my feet, and Johanna’s arm snaked around my waist.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “we wanted you to get fully settled before you learned the truth.” I turned to face her, my voice shaky as I replied, “Why does my own father want me dead?”
“Hey! This is my home, I never invited you in!” Ademir roared, and I recognized my father’s footsteps stomping around the house, doors creaking open down the hall as he presumably searched for my corpse.
“I told you, I want proof that she is gone!” my father yelled back, and immediately after the door swung open. I stared at my father, a knife in his hand, in shock until Ademir tackling him to the ground and knocking his weapon out of his hand tore me out of my daze. Johanna stepped in front of me while my father writhed and spit underneath Ademir.
“I told you I wanted that wench dead!” my father snarled, before continuing, “her slut of a mother slept with another man to get her, and I knew she would turn out to be just as much of a lying whore as she was! She must join hell where I sent her mother.”
“You’ll be the one who burns in hell,” Ademir growled and lifted my father up, dragging him out of the house. Once outside, Ademir later told me that he broke the man’s neck.
It didn’t take much begging to convince Ademir to allow my sisters to join us, though I secretly only wanted Charlotte back at first. After returning to town with Ademir in secret and telling Anne and Charlotte the horribly long story, Anne had her doubts. She was father’s favorite, after all. That was all until we opened my father’s closet and found a bloodied chamber, the bones of my mother still shackled to the wall. We sadly put my mother’s bones to rest, and after mourning her for a second time, we all hatched a plan to burn the place we once called home down and to fake my sister’s deaths, along with my father’s as to not reveal Ademir’s crime. We succeeded, and before long my sisters’ had settled into their new lives in Ademir’s home, with Anne quickly falling for one of Ademir’s workers and Charlotte picking up a new hobby; painting.
We left my father’s treachery and his bloody chamber far behind us, preferring the life of bliss Ademir and Johanna gave us. All was easy, and all was happy. And that is my story, my new life after the dark and gloomy day Bluebeard came.