Tall, Silent & LethalR. L. Mathewson
“Your sister tells me that you’ve been fighting again. ”
Christofer’s hand stilled in mid-slash over the backside of the parchment that he’d been forced to reuse, the fresh charcoal lines blurred by the stains seeping through the thin material from the other side. After a slight hesitation, he continued making the line, duplicating it from the image seared in his mind, only making the jawline longer than befitted a six year old girl’s face.
“There’s nothing much to tell, Father,” he said, shifting slightly closer to the fireplace so that he could see better, but far enough away so that the heat wouldn’t curl the parchment in his hands.
“I see,” his father mused as Christofer registered the sounds of one of the crystal decanters on the side table being picked up. “Did you at least win?” his father asked, sounding thoughtful as he poured whiskey into a crystal glass.
“No, Father,” Christofer answered, not bothering to look up as he reached for the glass that he knew was waiting for him.
“But you didn’t run,” his father clarified as he lowered himself to sit by Christofer in front of the fire.
Chuckling, Christofer looked up as he took a sip of whiskey, welcoming the soothing amber fire down his throat as he studied his father, still in his well-tailored suit, sitting by him on the unforgiving stone floor of the great hall. In any other castle it would have been an unusual sight to see the lord of the manor sitting in his finest on the cold stone floor, but not here.
His earliest memory was of his father with an indulgent smile, sitting down by his side late one night after he’d sneaked out of the nursery to draw horrible chalk figures on the smooth gray stones that made up the great hall’s floor. Since that night, his father and he had created a tradition of sorts. He would sneak out of his room when the need to rip the images that haunted his thoughts out of his head and place them onto parchment became too much. For his part, his father would sit by him, quietly watching him work while he pretended that the most taxing responsibility in his life was to sit by his son and watch him make the images inside his head come to life.
“No, Father, I certainly didn’t run,” he said, shifting a bit and trying not to wince when the movement tugged at his sore ribs.
“Good,” was all his father said as he took a small, satisfying sip from his glass.
Christofer didn’t bother to tell his father that the boys had all been younger than him by a good five years, or that they’d taken great pleasure in tormenting the great Lord’s son, the village freak as they liked to call him when his father wasn’t around to hear them, and he never would. His father liked to pretend that he was a normal sixteen-year old boy on the cusp of manhood and Christofer cherished that feeling too much to give it up even if it meant that his father would put an end to his daily torment.
Moments like this, late at night when the only sounds came from the crackling fire, the parchment shifting on his lap, and the occasional sounds of a servant making his way through the halls lighting candles and adding wood to the fires that burned low throughout the house, they could pretend that Christofer had his entire future waiting for him. They could pretend that he would be leaving for University soon and that it would be time to talk to him about all those things that young men needed to know before they started to make their way into the world, but that time would never come for them.
Christofer was a sixteen-year-old man stuck in the body of a ten-year-old boy, a weak ten-year-old boy. There would be no discussions of which University to send him to, what he should study so that he could ensure the continued survival of his family’s wealth. There would be no talks about women, serious or teasing, because no woman in her right mind would have anything to do with a man that was destined to remain a boy for the rest of his life, no matter how rich and powerful his family was.
He was nothing more than a burden to his family. His birthright passed down to him from his mother would be the only thing that would remain in his grasp. Everything else would go to the babe in his stepmother’s womb, God willing this one was a boy. Otherwise all their hopes to carry on his father’s line would rest with six-year-old Marta and the man that she would one day marry.
It was a humiliating existence for a first son, for any son for that matter. He honestly couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating than knowing that one day he would be able to pass for his younger sister’s child. He would never be a man and they all knew it….
“Is this Marta?” his father asked, undoubtedly knowing where his self-pitying thoughts were taking him.
“Yes,” Christofer said, placing his glass carefully on the stone floor before he continued drawing, needing an escape more than ever even if it only came from drawing on a piece of used parchment.
“She’s going to be beautiful,” his father said with a fond smile as he shifted slightly to the side so that he could get a better look.
“Yes, she is,” Christofer agreed with a bittersweet smile as he gazed down at the woman with kind eyes and a sweet smile, relieved that this curse, whatever it was, had passed his sister over completely.
One day she would have the life that she deserved, be the woman that she was meant to be, and not stuck frozen in time like him. He was sure of it. She was growing at a normal rate, appearing to be a healthy six year old girl that loved to follow her older brother everywhere and bug him at every opportunity for stories, drawings and tea time with dolls. She was, much to his relief and to the relief of his father, normal.
“What’s on the other side?” his father asked, making everything in him go still and making him wish that he’d chosen any other parchment than the one on his lap.
“It’s nothing,” Christofer answered, but it was too late. His father, always curious about his work, was already reaching out and taking the parchment out of his trembling fingers and turning it over.
For a moment his father didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to, the resemblance to Christofer’s mother and her father was unmistakable. Unwilling to look at the man that he would never be, Christofer picked up his glass and finished off his drink, wishing that his body wasn’t so damn small so that he could handle more than one glass of whiskey.
“This will be you one day,” his father said, his tone firm as though he truly believed it.
“No,” Christofer said, shaking his head as he looked at the fire, “it won’t. ”
“The doctors could be wrong,” his father quickly explained, repeating an old argument that was better left off dead. “Once the war is over we could bring you to Berlin, Austria, London and maybe to America to-”
“To what, Father?” Christofer asked, wishing that his father would finally give up the dream that he would one day wake up and be normal like everyone else. “To spend a fortune? To get poked and prodded and called a freak in a dozen new languages before they finally turn us away with the news that there is nothing that they can do?” he asked, hating the bitter edge to his voice.
“They could-” his father pushed, his tone as desperate as Christofer’s was bitter.
“They can make me grow?” he asked, chuckling coldly as he reached over and took the parchment from his father’s hands and flipped the image over so that he didn’t have to see what should have been and continued to work on Marta’s image.