The Destruction of Beautiful Things

"They give our Master a crown of thorns, why do we hope for a crown of roses?" - Martin Luther

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8. Chapter Seven

The day the girl arrived was a sunny day, much like her presence was when she arrived. Nathaniel had been stuck on the island for the past few months with no human contact apart from the select group of people he could interact with. So, it came as no surprise that when the girl showed up at the front door, Nathaniel was delighted. He watched from his window as she was escorted into the manor house and shown to her room in the guest quarters. From the brief details his Uncle had given him, the girl was only here for a blood test, and staying only so that she could collect the results the following day and save another trip across to the island. Nathaniel was surprised that his Uncle had stretched his hospitality that far, because even Nathaniel’s mother had to beg to let him go and work at the manor house. Nathaniel was starting to wish she hadn’t.

Hours passed without any sign of the girl, and Nathaniel expected that she was having her blood draw in his Uncle’s office. He waited another twenty minutes, pacing around his kitchen as he decided what he wanted to eat for lunch. His stomach grumbled at the thought of food, but instead of making his own food he paced some more before deciding that he would walk around the grounds until the next boat to Shalom arrived. He hadn’t visited the city since arriving at the island, and Nathaniel thought what better time to do it than lunch time, when he could buy a nice sandwich and a slice of chocolate fudge cake and stroll through the city streets. Nathaniel crossed the kitchen to his bedroom where he stopped at the wardrobe and picked out a pair of trousers, a shirt and a brown tie. He then pulled a sweater vest over the top of his shirt and smoothed out his hair with a brush. Nathaniel looked at himself in the mirror, smiled, and left his rooms.

His Uncle, upon arriving on the island, had already shared his views about Nathaniel visiting Shalom. He said that it was a dangerous place, and that Nathaniel would be much better staying on the island. After all, his Uncle had said, why would you want to go to that shithole? Nathaniel brushed off the comment and make his way down the main stairs and down the corridor, where he was too focused on thinking about the massive slice of cake he was going to buy when he bumped into somebody.

Nathaniel turned and started to apologise, “I’m so sorry, gosh I wasn’t looking where I was going I’m so sorry.”

The girl smiled at him, “It’s okay.”

Nathaniel blinked a couple of times. It was the girl who had arrived at the island that morning, and he hadn’t realised how beautiful she was until she was stood in front of him. Her hair was short and curly – not the crazy kind of curly, but her hair tumbled past her freckled cheeks in waves of dark brown. Her eyes were a bright green, the kind of green you’d expect to see if you looked around a forest in the middle of summer. Nathaniel noticed then that he was staring at her, and he turned away and cleared his throat.

“Um, I’m really sorry for bumping into you,” he said.

“Really, it’s okay,” replied the girl, “I was just heading off to my rooms to wait for lunch.”

“Oh, well, I was just about to go and grab lunch if you wanted to join me,” Nathaniel offered.

The girl shrugged a shoulder, “Sure.”

The two of them turned towards one of the many sets of doors that led to the lands surrounding the manor house. The girl walked behind him as Nathaniel held the door open for her, and she thanked him with a smile.

“So, what’s your name?” Asked Nathaniel in a lame attempt to make conversation.

“Millicent, you?”

“Nathaniel.”

The girl, Millicent, fell into step beside him and let him lead the way around the manor house grounds. They were spectacular, and although the island didn’t seem big, around the back of the house there were cattle and crop fields and massive storage houses that contained everything from food to medicine. Millicent seemed to be in awe of it all, as if she never knew how far the island extended behind the manor house.

“So,” she began, “why are you on the island? I mean….I saw you the last time I was here on my way back to Shalom.”

Nathaniel cleared his throat, “Doctor Ellsworth is my Uncle. My mother, who lives on the continent, sent me here to work with him.”

“Like an apprentice,” Millicent suggested.

“Yeah, I guess.”

Millicent looked at him as if she were trying to figure something out, and then shook her head as if clearing her thoughts.

“Where were you planning on getting lunch?” She asked him.

“Well, um….” Nathaniel stuttered, hoping she wouldn’t laugh at him, “I’ve never been to Shalom, so I was thinking that I would catch the next boat.”

Millicent made a sound that sounded half like a laugh and half like a scoff, “Why have you never visited? You can see the city from here.”

Quite right, if he looked out over the ocean he could see Shalom twinkling in the daylight, waiting for him to explore it’s streets.

Nathaniel, although never speaking to Millicent until now, felt as though he could trust her, and so he told her about what his Uncle thought of Shalom, all the while she listened intently. When he had finished, Millicent walked over to a grassy bank at the edge of the island and plopped down on the floor, her peach colored skirt spreading out in a circle around her. From here, Nathaniel noticed a boat leaving the docks at Shalom, and guessed that it would arrive at the island in the next half an hour. Nathaniel sat down beside Millicent and watched her as she picked the grass and twiddled it between her slender fingers.

“What do you do?” Asked Nathaniel.

Millicent looked at him and said, “I work for the Mayor.”

“You’re not his bodyguard, are you? Well, I suppose that’s a strange way of putting it, but I mean….I’ve heard stories about the girl he keeps close by his side.”

Millicent laughed at that, “Yes, I am. And I do suppose that is a strange way of putting it, but I’m more intrigued about these stories.”

Nathaniel went on to tell Millicent all he’d heard about how she’d come into the employment of the Mayor, including how her brother had been sent away to the prisons Beyond Shalom, and how he’d heard stories of her husband and how he betrayed her and what she’d done to him because of it.

After a long time sitting in silence, Millicent finally spoke.

“My husband was….a bad man. And when I’d heard about how he betrayed my brother, betrayed me….well to put it bluntly I killed him. I killed him on the steps of the town square and left his body for the crows to pick apart, or maybe for the Cracks to find. But I suppose you’re not surprised, given that you know I’ve killed before from your stories.”

Nathaniel felt a twang of empathy for her then, but brushed it away and asked “What did your husband do?”

For a second he thought she wouldn’t reply; after all, they had barely been introduced for an hour and the question was more than personal. But to his surprise, she told him.

“It’s no secret that I love my brother, despite his and my actions against the city. For now you’ll have to trust me that I trusted my brother, and believed he had good reason to rebel against the powers in the city despite not knowing anything of the issues myself. He told me I was too pure to know the terrible goings on, and wanted me to stay innocent of the knowledge.” She chuckled at the memory, “My husband worked against the city with my brother and his rebel organization, helping him plan attacks and whatnot. But, what my brother nor I knew was that my husband was working with the city against us, and my husband was responsible for leading the city’s armies towards my brother which led to his eventual capture. When I’d heard that my brother had been taken Beyond Shalom, I was full of rage, and I knew that the only person close enough to my brother to be able to reveal his location was my husband. I found him in the town square, and you know the rest.”

A tear fell down her cheek and she was quick to brush it away with the back of her hand, “I’m sorry,” she said.

Nathaniel furrowed his brows in confusion, “Don’t be. You did what you thought was right.”

Millicent nodded and pointed across the shore, “We should get going if we’re going to catch that boat.”

Nathaniel stood up and held his hand for her, which she took. Millicent brushed off the remnants of grass from her skirt and walked beside him.

“So, what’s your tragic story?” She asked jokingly, “how did you end up here?”

He told her the story of his mother living in poverty, and how his Uncle had persuaded her to let him come and work with him. He told her of his childhood playing in the sewers with his friends and trekking up the mountains on the continent to find clean water.

When he’d finished his story, they were at the edge of the boat. Nathaniel grabbed her wrist to pause her, and she turned towards him.

“My Uncle….he isn’t the man he seems.”

Millicent, surprisingly, nodded as if in understanding. The two of them boarded the boat, and just as if the conversation had never happened, they stood together on the boat and Millicent started to point out certain places in Shalom as they began to move towards the city.

“That is the best bakery if you’re looking for cinnamon buns,” she said, “and those are the Mayor’s offices. And that over there is the clock tower, although nobody uses it anymore.”

Nathaniel stared at her in awe as she continued to ramble on about the city and where they should go for lunch. At least, he thought, she seems to be enjoying herself. Maybe she was also glad to spend time with somebody else too, and she seemed to be open with him. Nathaniel smiled at her, and Millicent smiled back.

A few hours later, Millicent and Nathaniel were back on the island. The sun had dipped below the horizon, casting brilliant shades of orange and pink across the water. They were stood on the shore where the boat had dropped them off, and they had been talking ever since. Millicent had told him of her apartment in the city and how she had it converted from a warehouse. Nathaniel told her of the delicacies back on the continent, and how Shalom was unlike anywhere he had ever seen. They had walked around the city briefly, stopping for lunch in the town square and eating cheese stuffed baguettes and then chocolate cake from the bakery next door.

All the while, Nathaniel had thoroughly enjoyed himself. He took pleasure in talking to Millicent, and admired the way she would listen to him and laugh at his stories.

After standing in silence for a while, Millicent finally spoke, “I should probably head back to my rooms.”

Nathaniel nodded in agreement and turned to face her, “Thank you for joining me for lunch, and taking me around the city.”

Millicent smiled that beautiful smile again, “Thank you for spending the afternoon with me. Many of the people I speak to either here or in the city are cold, but you are different. So thank you.”

With that, she turned away and began to walk towards the manor house. Nathaniel watched her go, and felt a warmth in his heart that stayed even when he climbed into his own bed that evening, staring out of the window at the city beyond and the adventures that waited.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Millicent had no idea what had come over her. She had never spoken about her husband or what she had done to him to anyone since that night, but yet she felt as though she could speak to Nathaniel. For a moment, there was a warm flicker in her heart as she looked back at him standing on the sandy bank watching the sunset, but it left again as she went inside and remembered her purpose here.

She needed to find out about the temple, which meant gaining access to Doctor Ellsworth’s office.

Once she was at the bottom of the stairs, instead of going up Millicent took a right down the long hallway towards Doctor Ellsworth’s office. She kept her footsteps quiet, but did nothing else to hide her presence in the house. After all, that’s where she was meant to be. At the end of the corridor was Doctor Ellsworth’s office, and by sheer luck when Millicent nudged the door handle, the door fell open and she slipped inside before anybody saw her.

She felt strange to be in his office without him sitting behind that massive oak desk that took up half of the room. Millicent went around to the back of his desk and started riffling through papers and books haphazardly, not quite sure what she was looking for. If anybody was going to know something about the temple and whatever resided within it, it would be the Doctor. After all, he was the one that studied the Cracks, so surely he would know if there was a new kind of monster roaming the streets of Shalom. But what if he didn’t? Would they let this new being terrorize them, just like they had with the Cracks?

Millicent shook the thought from her head and opened the drawer behind Doctor Ellsworth’s desk. There, she looked through the papers stuffed into the drawer and was about to leave the office when she spotted a book at the bottom of the drawer. It was bound in brown leather and the pages had browned with age, but that was not what had caught her attention. What had caught her attention was the lettering on the front, which read:

KING OF KINGS

She blinked, taken aback. Millicent remembered what the altar had said when she’d visited the temple, and immediately closed the drawer, taking the book with her underneath her arm. Her heart was racing, and kept the book close to her as she left Doctor Ellsworth’s office and back to her bedroom. All the while, Nathaniel stood outside and watched the sun dip below the horizon, completely oblivious to Millicent stood in the window watching him, the stolen book tucked underneath her arm. 

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