The Man in the Hanging Tree: Redeye

He told her he knew her deepest desire. He told her he could read dreams in her eyes that she did not even dare whisper to the night. He told her he could make them all come true.

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5. Wine and chocolate

Lucy was waiting up for me. She was sitting at the kitchen table when I came home, staring into the flame of a single candle. Maybe she had been knitting, but now the needles lay idly in her lap. As I came in the back door, her head snapped up.

“You’re back,” she said.

I shrugged. She was obviously right.

“Have you eaten?”

“No.”

“There’s a plate for you on the stove. Here, let me get it.”

I sat down in her chair, as she went to get the food for me. It was cold, but I realized I had not eaten since lunch. I was ravenous.

“Who were you with?”

Lucy crossed her arms as she watched me from the counter. I noticed the awkward way she leaned against it, but I did not think much of it. Father was fond of corporal punishment. It was only to be expected, really, when she had forsaken her duties.

“I was not with anyone.”

“Oh, sure. And I am the lady of the house! Who was it? Those nasty fellows again – Tim and what’s-his-name?”

“George.”

“Well?”

I shrugged again. I did not want to tell her about Redeye. I did not want her to ruin the feeling that had been growing in my stomach ever since he pulled me onto that bridge.

“What are you smiling for?”

“Nothing.”

She pressed her lips together, but did not say another word. When I was finished eating, she took the plate to the sink and started washing it right away. I lingered for a while, looking at her work. I was not ready for the night to end yet.

Lucy finished the dishes. She wiped them over quickly and returned them to their place on the shelf. When she turned around to find me still standing there, a sad smile crossed her face.

“It’s late, Miss Maryann. You should head for bed.”

“I will.”

She studied me for a moment. Then she sighed.

“There are chocolates in the green box on the second shelf. The tea in the pot is lukewarm, but it’s still drinkable, or you’ll have to make your own. Goodnight, Miss Maryann.”

She left the kitchen without waiting for my response. I could hear her footsteps out in the hallway, surprisingly light considering her girth. A door opened and closed. Then all was quiet.

 

“Father?”

“Yes, girl?”

“Do you know the Taricanis?”

It was Sunday. Three days had passed since my last encounter with Redeye. We had just returned home from church, and my father had settled into his favourite chair to read the news before retreating to his office. He looked up from his paper at my question.

“The Italians?”

“Uh, sure.”

I fiddled with the hem of my skirt, trying my best to look like someone who had just happened to pick up on the name somewhere.

“Wealthy family,” my father said. “They own a large wine district down there. In fact, I believe we have a couple of their bottles down in the cellar.”

“Oh. So they’re… Wine merchants?”

“Yes. Old blood, as well. I am positive Jofroi mentions them in his catalogue. That one is five hundred years old. Why do you ask, child?”

“No reason,” I said, a little too quickly. “I just… Heard Mrs. Hewitt talk about them before mass. She said they were the best she had ever had, but now she feared she would have to go without. I got curious. I have never heard her speak passionately of anything.”

“Watch your tongue, young lady,” my father said. But he was not angry. I knew he disliked Mrs. Hewitt as much as I, what with her dry skin and even dryer humour.

Lucy came into the atrium with a tray. She arranged cups of tea and a plate with biscuits on the small table between us.

“Will the lady come down for tea?” she asked.

“No,” father said. “My wife is resting. She is not to be disturbed.”

Lucy curtsied. She was about to leave with the empty tray, when my father spoke up again.

“Oh, Lucy. Would you be a dear and go down to the wine cellar for me? I would like to send a bottle to the Hewitts…”

I stopped listening. The thought of my mother lying in bed made me uneasy. I could almost see her sickly skin and protruding cheekbones. She had been getting worse over the past few days. Always resting in the same position had caused wounds on her back and thighs, and now they wouldn’t heal. The doctor had applied several kinds of ill smelling salve, but nothing seemed to work.

I bit my lip. I tried thinking about Mrs. Hewitt instead. How surprised she would be, when she received the wine from my father. With all her customs and strict traditions, she would have no idea how to respond to a gift presented with such an illusion of intimacy. For all I knew, she might not even drink wine at all.

From Mrs. Hewitt, my thoughts wandered to Redeye. He seemed to be everywhere in my mind these days. I had not seen even the shadow of him since he bid me farewell at the gate, but his presence in my head was as vivid as if he himself was whispering into my ear. 

I remembered him at the apothecary. How he had kept eye contact even when he was talking to Lucy. He had made me feel so vulnerable. Naked. My name is Cecil Taricani, he had said. Was it true? Was he really the son of wine merchants? It seemed too earthly a trade, too grounded, to be his cradle. I thought of the Redeye I knew; the long, unkempt hair and the coat that had been patched more times than the knees of a farm boy. I knew that was not his true frame either, it could not be. There was something more to him, something that lay beyond scruffy clothes and wealthy families. A secret, latent in his crimson gaze.

That night, after Lucy had potted the last embers in the kitchen and my father had blown out the light in his office, I got out of bed.

I was not sure what I was doing, even less what I was trying to achieve. Still, I found myself wandering the halls, candle in hand. The light patting of my feet on the stairs was the only sound in the house. Once, I tripped in my nightgown and spilled hot wax all over my hand.

“Oh, for crying out–“

I clamped my mouth shut. What I was doing was not exactly forbidden, but I felt no desire of explaining myself. I held still for a while, listening intently. My outburst did not seem to have awoken anyone. Pleased, I continued onwards.

The library was on the first floor, adjacent to the living room and the office. No one came there except for my father, and the gentlemen he had over for scotch. But it had been a long time since anyone had called, and the whole room had an air of neglect.

I wandered the room aimlessly. My candle was not of much help in trying to get a complete view of the library. Instead, I resorted to illuminating random titles as I passed. I do not know how much time I spent that way. The night seemed eternal to me. The longing for Redeye had become almost painful, but at the same time I did not want to see him again. What was I supposed to say? Do? What did I expect would happen? What could ever happen?

There.

I reached for an old book. It was heavier than I had expected and the leather cover seemed to crumble between my fingers. I managed to carry both candle and book to a nearby table without breaking any of them. Tenderly, I flicked through the pages. Jofroi’s catalogue of wines and ales really was as old as my father had said, and I found it difficult to read even a single word. The lettering was far too intricate, and nothing seemed to be spelled quite the way I was used to.

About halfway through the book, I stopped.

Whoever had painted the picture was no artist. It took up most of the page; by all probability a copy of a real portrait, crude in its rendition. Even I, who had never had much patience for the aesthetics, could have made greater art of those nostrils and the sharp jawline. Still, the woman on the page bore an eerie resemblance to Redeye. The high cheekbones and the way the nose dipped towards her lips were so like him – features that must have survived generations. I could not read the text underneath the picture, but there was no doubt in my mind: This woman was his ancestor.

I studied her, trying to find a hint of the wildness I knew so well. Could she have had the same colours as him? Did all Taricanis look like demons, or was it a special feat only bestowed on a few? I stared at her eyes, willing them to yield to my questions. But the black ink told me nothing. I fell asleep there, huddled over the book. My dreams were uneasy, dreams of wine fields and beasts, of old women with flaming eyes and of real fire, scorching the world and removing everything I knew.

When I woke up again, Redeye was standing in front of me.

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