Chapter 49: The Lies of Faith
The sun had not yet risen when Lady Helena crept out the front door of the Turnbell mansion. She clutched at the folds of her cloak and pulled the hood low as she headed towards the barn. With no servants or slaves to order about, Helena was forced to saddle and bridle a mare herself. Thankfully, she still remembered how given her love of riding during her adolescent years.
She cringed at the memory as she patted the mare’s neck and climbed into the saddle. Recalling her childhood meant remembering her father and the last words of warning he had gifted her.
“You will regret chasing the empty promises of a penniless rogue!”
Those words had pricked and clung to her fading pride over the years as her wild romance flickered out, and the choices she had made suffocated the carefree girl Helena had once been. Nothing kills a woman’s youth and independence quite like marriage.
Josiah had spent the previous evening drinking his way through their last reserve of alcohol to celebrate the return of the Turnbell mansion’s deed, and with it, his precious title. He also made several overly confident statements about reclaiming his business—but Helena knew that was the drink talking.
Sophya, her dear sweet but cruel Sophya, remained locked up in her room weeping and lamenting her fallen state. They might have kept their title thanks to the Earl’s change of heart, but mother and daughter knew they were destitute all the same.
However, it was not the financial troubles of her family that drove Helena from her home under cover of darkness. As she dismounted to push the mansion gate open, Helen wondered whether she would be better off not returning at all this time. Neither husband nor daughter had expressed an ounce of concern for her since Maura had fled their home.
‘They don’t understand. They don’t know what Maura is capable of.’
Helena whipped the mare mercilessly as she raced towards the capital, desperate to speak to the one person who would understand her terror and desperation.
The small chapel came into view at the edge of the capital’s sprawl of buildings. The lanterns kept lit along its exterior stone walls beckoned the lost and hopeless into the loving arms of the Saints and the Sisters.
Helena reigned in the mare. She ignored the foam at the tired beast’s mouth as she quickly dismounted and tossed the reins towards a startled nun who appeared through the front door.
“Is Abbess Mercy here?” Helena asked as she moved briskly towards the open chapel door.
“No, my lady, the Abbess was called to the palace—but she will return in the morning.”
“Then, I will wait here!”
The bewildered nun stared after her then turned to lead the heaving mare around to the stables.
An uneasy quiet fell over Helena as she entered the chapel. Her memory played back the first time she’d run to the divine protection of these holy walls nearly sixteen years ago. Helena twisted her wedding ring anxiously as she walked towards the large marble pillar of the Saint and wolf at the head of the church. She knelt upon one of the pillows below the statue and folded her hands as she attempted to pray.
‘Merciful Saints, when was the last time I bothered to pray? Do the Saints even listen?’
“It’s been a while, Lady Helena.”
Helena spun towards the familiar matriarchal voice and hastily rose to her feet. “The nun said you were at the palace?”
“The nun was told to say that,” Abbess Mercy replied coldly. “And I was until a few hours ago. While I was there, I also had the pleasure of meeting your half-blood daughter.”
Helena paled and dropped her gaze to the floor.
“You told me she was cursed by a blemish that covered her entire face,” Mercy continued as she closed in on the trembling noblewoman. “And yet the face of the young woman I examined today was remarkably pure and even pretty.”
“I—we were fooled,” Helena said helplessly.
“And the poison I gave you?”
“I—I only had one chance to use it—when Lincoln—my son, whipped her.”
“O-on her back.”
“And you’re certain you used it correctly?”
“I—had my maid apply it to the wound immediately after,” Helena whispered.
“You trusted such a task to a maid?” Mercy’s voice dipped dangerously low. “Useless!”
Helena composed her quivering emotions and faced the Abbess squarely. “Don’t put this on me. I asked you to help me remove that problem all those years ago, and you—you convinced me to give birth to a witch!”
“You sealed your fate the moment you crawled into bed with that child’s father,” Mercy returned with a cruel smile. “Don’t blame that child or me for your sins!”
“I made a mistake,” Helena whispered. “I have regretted it every single day since—I have already lost my son! I am about to lose—my daughter as well! How much more punishment must I endure?”
Helena sank to her knees and sobbed brokenly. The Abbess sighed and extended a white handkerchief too her.
“Never mind, what’s done is done,” Mercy said calmly. “I shall have to test Maura later myself. It will be difficult to interfere in the Selection with the Countess and Dowager watching.”
“But—what about me? What do I do? Josiah is talking about divorce!”
“Have you saved up money like I told you to?”
Helena blinked up through her tears and nodded.
“Then divorce him. You’ve been chained to that swine for long enough.”
“But—” Helena stammered. “I don’t have that much, and where will I go? I can’t return to my father.”
“The Church would welcome you if you came willingly, but I doubt you’d last long inside the humble walls of the Sisters.” Mercy straightened and folded her hands against her robes. “Why not use your money to marry your daughter off and then set yourself up with her until you make peace with the Viscount.”
“I—I don’t know that Sophya will want me,” Helena wept bitterly.
The Abbess knelt beside her and lifted her chin. “You are her mother. Now that Josiah has fallen and lost everything of value, use that to your advantage. Sophya only needs money to marry that young Baron of hers. I will lend you the additional funds you need to ensure that marriage happens.”
“Abbess!” Helena grasped the woman’s robes and kissed them. “Thank you, Abbess!”
“In return,” Abbess Mercy replied with a cold smile. “When I come to collect a favor from you in the future—”
“Yes, yes!” Helena nodded eagerly. “Anything I can do for you, Abbess!”
Abbess Mercy saw the fragile Lady Helena off on a fresh horse with a purse of 10,000 crescents.
‘More than enough to buy the marriage of a Baron.’
“Abbess?” the nun beside her whispered. “What will you do about the half-blood?”
“Lady Helena mentioned that her son, Lincoln died,” Mercy replied coldly. “Look into it. See if there was anything suspicious about his death.”
“Yes, Abbess,” the nun murmured and turned to leave.
“Well,” Mercy sighed as she adjusted her robes. “I suppose all I can do now is keep Maura hidden from her father for as long as possible. But really, Tsk!” She watched Lady Helena’s figure vanish against the rising sun. “Some people shouldn’t become parents.”