“Lady Juliana will live,” a male voice said. “Not as she did before, of course. I doubt the young king will have much use for her now, despite her charms. It’s too bad about the scarring. She was a beautiful woman.” The dispassionate tone contradicted any hint of concern implied by his words.
Was? She was a beautiful woman? I lay flat on my back, too weak and dispirited to demand that he explain what he meant. I tried to force my eyelids open, but I hadn’t the strength even for that. Trapped in a nightmare world, I huddled, shivering, waiting for the ogre to appear at the door. I pushed and twisted, but my arms weighed heavy as granite on the bed and my feet stuck to the mattress.
The doctor’s callous verdict echoed in my head. Too bad about the scarring? She was a beautiful woman?
Tragedy bared its teeth, sucked me into its vortex. Without my face I was nothing. I had no purpose, no means of survival, no self. I existed to mirror the desires of men, to fulfill their passions while expressing none of my own. My beauty was the only currency I possessed. If I couldn’t use it to draw men to me, I would starve. What point, then, in living?
Tears slid from the corners of my eyes, wetting the linen beneath my head. I lacked the power to wipe them away. “Oh, look,” another voice said. My maidservant, Hanna. “She’s crying. Do you think she heard you, Doctor?” A soft cloth touched my cheeks.
“Perhaps.” The doctor still sounded indifferent, as if discussing my case at some society of physicians. If I had the energy, I would slap him. “I see no sign that she’s awake, but I’ve had other patients report things I said under similar conditions. Smallpox causes extreme exhaustion. She may be able to hear but not respond. Just in case, you should talk to her, reassure her, like this.”
Garlic-inflected breath passed my nose, and I guessed he had bent closer to examine me. “You will recover, Lady Juliana,” he said, and this time I heard actual kindness in his voice. “The worst is over.”
But I knew he was wrong. The worst lurked somewhere down the road of a bleak future, waiting to pounce when I was least prepared to resist.