Born to a heavy hearted solider Roger Arianedale and the lady Dame Reynalda Arianedale, Catalina never truly went for wanting from even her earliest years. She was an infant when her father left for his crusade, so she felt only a meager attachment to him based on the knowledge that the lands and funds that supported her and her mother came from this faceless figure. When he perished, she went into mourning as was only to be expected of her, but the few tears she shed were more for her mother than the man she did not know.
Still, he left them with a pleasantly large amount of land, and men enough to run it. And so life went on, and all was normal in the house of Arianedale… aside from the Lady’s daughter. Very early, it became apparent that Catalina struggled with even the most simple of feminine tasks. Needlework bored her to the brink of tears, her fingers made only screeching from even the simplest of instruments. In fact, the only thing that she had talent in was singing. But that wasn’t enough, growing up with a mother and aunt immersed in the arts of being a lady. And so she continued to struggle miserably, her eyes always on the horizon men practicing with staves and wooden swords.
When she came to marital age, she found herself wandering into her mother’s rooms one night. Her mother and aunt Isolde were entertaining guests, and knowing she would not be disturbed Catalina hurried over to the bed. From underneath it, she pulled out the chest she hadn’t seen in a great many years.
Her fingers fumbled clumsily with the latches, and she found herself holding her breath as she threw back the top and revealed the contents within.
She knew then that her mother had opened the chest with her father’s sword many times, for even then it was polished so the blade shone like liquid fire in the candlelight. The grip was bound in soft blue leather, the pommel silver shaped into a leaf. She reached forward, running her fingers over the veins of it. Before she could stop herself she was pulling the sword from its case and stood. It was heavy – heavier than she could have guessed. She couldn’t hold it for long, but in the moments she did – fingernails biting into the leather to try and keep it high – she felt more in herself than she ever had before.
With a gasp she let the blade drop, hitting the mattress where it leapt a little higher again then settled amongst the dark furs. She stood, hands trembling, watching the blade. She pictured a older visage of herself, clad in glistening armour. There was fire all around her, and with unshakable strength she raised the blade high overhead, streaming red and singing the ends of any who dared defy her. And then she became unexplainably frightened, and stashed it away as quickly as she could, fleeing to her room.
She was married by the next spring, a few short months from her fifteenth summer. It was not a match of love, like all the servants of the house cooed that it was. No, Catalina knew it was the offspring of a depleting wealth, and a worried mother. Reynalda had not sold her daughter to any cruel, or openly disagreeable man – to give credit where it was due. To all those who observed the merchant he seemed as palatable a young gentlemen as could be desired. But Catalina’s soul reeled from the marriage, and she went to the alter with eyes rimmed in red, and lips pressed to a fine white line to keep in her sounds of distress. Her mother was trying to save her from the indignities of poverty. Catalina would have embraced them happily for her freedom.
And as Catalina foresaw, the price was indeed her freedom. No longer was she permitted to ride alone in the woods, or as fast as she liked. Avoiding her needlework was out of the question, and the ladies who did so with her were far less pleasant than the ones who had flocked to her mother – they had been gentle, and kind, and full of knowledge which they so readily shared. Catalina had only two joys. The first was in the brief visits her mother made whenever possible. The second, was in shared conversation with the elderly poisoner of the household, who was tasked with insuring no substance of harm ever reached her or her husband.
He was an odd man, as one might expect from someone who knew so much of such dark things. But he became the closest thing Catalina had to a friend within her home, and only he saw how much she strained under the control of a husband who was often not even within the confines of the city but rather hunting, or seeking new partners for his merchanting business.
On one occasion, while her husband was away, Catalina went to visit her mother and aunt. Her mother was hosting a small party, and there was a new man Reynalda and Isolde had become acquainted with that Catalina was told she absolutely needed to meet. After her time being caged by a man her mother had once said the same of, Catalina on the spur of the moment made a request of her old friend. That night, she arrived with a new piece of jewelry – a fine ring of Egyptian silver, oval in shape but adorned with no jewels and no embellishments but a rim made of half circles. No, the thing that made this ring most precious of all those she owned, was the very finely concealed hinge, which allowed the oval to come back, that one might place certain substances within the hollow.
Catalina was the image of agreeable social behavior as she met with the many guests she knew well. She complemented the ladies on their new gowns, and made a fine show of being in good spirits. And then Reynalda found her.
“Come meet meet our new acquaintance.” Her mother had a creeping flush to her skin, Catalina noticed as she was dragged across the hall. She’d been drinking. She was so busy watching her mother that she almost forgot to look at the gentleman in question as they stopped before him and her mother cheerfully announced, “Gabellotto, I would like you to meet my daughter, Catalina. Catalina, this is Gabellotto Mizak Perado.”
The man towered over Catalina, and all she could think was ‘I think I’d need a great deal more poison.’ His clothes were of a notable quality, and yet something about him made him seem poorly placed amongst the nobility. Perhaps it was the openness with which he smiled, or the boom of his voice as he spoke saying he was pleased to meet her and something about her being as lovely as her mother. Without thinking about it really she thanked him, holding out her hand. He bent to kiss it, and then paused as his eyes met the ring. Almost unnoticeably, he shifted her hand and kissed the empty finger instead then released her hand.
Catalina felt herself flush as they met each other’s eyes, and understanding passed between them. Too jolly to noticed, Reynalda bid them fairwell and went wandering off to play hostess. Catalina cleared her throat. “It seems I misjudged you.”
And so began a mutually beneficial relationship. The more she learned of Mizak, the more she came to understand her mother’s fondness for him. Despite his highly questionable connections, he withheld no opinions for the sake of manners. Catalina began to think of him as a friend as well, and nearly forgot her ring which she buried deep within her jewelry. She quite willingly began to lend her aid to Mizak in his affairs, when it was within her power to do so and her husband was away. She found pleasure in defying everything she knew her husband expected, and her new associations quickly drove off the ladies who once visited her only for the expectations of society.
But all this was but a pane of glass, which shattered when her husband finally learned of her dealings. It was the first time she’d ever been struck, but the blow was fierce enough to leave a ugly mark indeed. Perhaps, if he had done so when she was newly his wife and innocent in things, she would have done as he asked. But something had grown inside Catalina she did not entirely understand, and as her husband stormed from the room an ancient memory returned to her of a sword, and a woman with the knowledge to kill and the will to do it.
She cleaned the blood from her cheek and changed into her finest dress and, on a moment’s thought, found her ring. Dinner was a silent affair, which was good. She needed to think. But it was also a brief event, and abruptly her husband rose and barked, “I think I’ll retire.”
She raised her eyed from her hardly touched dinner, and then held out her hand. He hesitated, and she wondered a moment if he knew of the rage roiling inside her. But then he walked over, and gave a quick kiss upon the ring.
He strode past her, and she waited. He did not make it from the room before he collapsed. She closed her eyes at the noise of his body dropping. He let out a wheeze, and the heels of his boots scrapped noisily against the floor. She took her napkin, dabbing at the corners of her mouth before she rose and went to him. She stood, watching with bent brows as he lay there, staring up at her. He was still breathing. The stubborn bastard wouldn’t even let her kill him properly. She went back to her meal, and picked up her dagger from the plate. She’d seen men die in her time, and even seen a man kill. She somehow expected it to be a more emotional experience. And yet as she raised the blade high and drove it into him, the only thing she felt was a swell of relief.
Red blossomed over his chest, and he twitched a few times as she pulled the blade out and sat back. She moved back until she was against the stone wall, and she sat there with her crimson hands at her sides. And suddenly, a nervous gurgle of laugher bubbled out of her. But then the door burst open.
Mizak was inside before she could even conjure up a explanation. His eyes found her husband on the floor, and then searched until he found her. With a rueful grin, she held high the dagger. “Look here, I’ve discovered freedom’s color.”
She didn’t remember him guiding her from the house. But she did remember packing, and writing the letter her maid would find in the morning instructing her that all the funds of herself and her husband were to go to her mother, along with the estate. She also could recall writing a small scribble to her mother that didn’t explain half as much as she wanted it to. Mizak’s men had removed any evidence that her husband hadn’t simply walked out the door by the time she was ready to leave. And then somehow she was in a carriage with him, going down to the docks. He was telling her about the new world they were going to, and explaining he was going to begin a new company of mercenaries there.
“What will you do, Catalina?” He asked.
She blinked, looking back from the window. She’d washed her hands, but they remained stained. She’d entirely forgotten the dagger sitting at her waist. She pulled the dagger and held it up front of her, observing it in the poor lighting. It had seemed lighter when she’d first drawn it out, surrounded by candles and the roaring fireplace. But here in the darkness of the carriage, the color was unmistakable. A smile found her, and she lowered the blade. “I’m going to join you. And please… call me Scarlett.”