Seven sins for seven brothers
and a black-widow woman to bind them.
Locked in her cage, the bird so scorned,
sings of their sins to remind them.
Set in the late nineteenth-century, the novella Seven Devils follows Elizabeth Winterbourne through a bloody world of love, passion, betrayal, and sin as she seeks her freedom through the darkest means.
The Library Tower was his favorite room in the Winterbourne Palace. Built onto the south side of the structure, the echoing chamber allowed him to view sunrise, high-noon, and sunset without ever having to shift his chair. Large windows stretched from the floor to high-ceiling, illuminating the many bookshelves that did the same. Day after day, he spent his waking hours there, and at times even some sleeping hours, reading stories and histories from near and far. He preferred this precipice of solitude over the mundane lives his six brothers endured in the palace below. As the eldest of the seven Winterbourne brothers, he often shirked his duties as head of the family to entertain his own mind with worlds far away. After all, those worlds were indeed more interesting.
One morning, delightfully identical to the rest, he took his breakfast there. The sun shone bright as ever as it advanced in the sky and he settled into a chair at the small table where he took most of his meals. The seat opposite him was vacant, but he hardly minded. His wife only joined him on infrequent occasions and when she did she was irritable and intolerable as ever. Solitude seemed to call to him and he prepared his mind for yet another day lost in the volumes.
To his dismay, that call was interrupted. Appearing in the large arched doorway, she glided toward him, walking so lightly as to hardly disturb the fine layer of dust on the floor. She was beautiful, he thought, as the sunlight seemed to shine from within her. He only wished that her beauty sank deeper than her skin. Even how she sat down overflowed with grace and elegance. To the outside eye, she was the perfect wife.
“John, must you spend another wretched day locked away in this tower?” she asked him, as if out of breath. “Francis mentioned something last night about needing your approval on a new investment, and I thought we might go for a walk. I am your wife after all.”
He stared at her for a moment, implying his irritation without actually voicing it. He took the tea pot from the tray between them, poured two cups, and added the milk. “Sugar?” he asked her politely.
She looked out of the window, then back to him. “Yes, please.” she replied. Their marriage had been an arranged one, agreed upon a mere month before his father died of infection. Though he enjoyed women, his propensity for solitude had allowed him to elude matrimony well into his forties, but as his father’s health failed, the family line needed to be secure and his father had taken up the cause. They had only consummated their marriage a dozen or so times in five years, and no heir had come of it, so the whole thing had been for naught. Now, as he did often in her company, he wished that he had made more effort to pick a wife more to his temperament.
“Elizabeth, you were saying?” he asked, awaiting a song he had heard from her on more than one occasion.
“I feel I am a prisoner, John,” she said. “We never leave this palace. You never leave this tower. The only company I have is your brothers. I once dreamed of traveling the world and seeing the great sights.”
“Dear Elizabeth,” he replied, “I travel the world daily and muse upon the sights of which you dream. If you prefer to explore the reaches of this world, then I suggest you spend more time here in the library.” In his mind, though, he rather she wouldn’t. "Just before breakfast, I was exploring the lost catacombs of Italy. Yesterday, I climbed upon the Egyptian pyramids and watched shooting stars flash through the heavens. One need not leave the comfort of his home to go to these places. That is why we have writers. They do the going for us, and we reap the benefits without all the fits. It is a perfect arrangement, if you ask me.”
She wasn’t listening, he saw. She was staring out the window again. Why did his father have to pick a dreamer? He drained his cup and placed it back on the saucer, awaiting her reply.
“If you say so, my love,” she said. “What volume would you suggest?”
“I have just the one for you,” he said, rising and striding across the room toward one of the far shelves.
“More tea?” she asked, already pouring before he could answer. He pulled a tome off of the shelf and came back over.
“Thank you,” he said as he sat back down and handed her the book. “There is a wall in the east, in China that stretches over three-thousand miles?”
“Why would someone need a wall that long, John?” she asked.
“Why, to keep out your enemies,” he replied.
“Or to lock others in,” she said, offhandedly.
He glared at her for a moment. “The book explains it in vivid detail, my dear. If it’s far you want, then it doesn’t get much farther than that.”
“As you say, my love,” she said.
He finished his breakfast and drank his tea as she thumbed through the thick volume. It would take her some time to get through, he thought, which would give him more time before this same conversation repeated itself. After a while, she put it down on the table with a huff.
“I’ll read it later,” she announced. “I must go prepare myself for the day. Good day, John.” She rose and walked toward the door.
“Elizabeth,” he called to her as she walked away, “tell Francis that if he needs approval, he knows where to find me. I am not his servant.”
“As you say, my love,” she said and lightly as ever glided out of the room.
Silence and peace washed over him. She would not come back for the book today, he thought, though he would leave it on the table for the next time she grew weary of her
As he moved it to the side of the table, out of the way of any impending spilled tea, he noticed a page sticking out. It appeared she’d bent a page. “Vile woman,” he cursed her. Many of the books were the only copies and needed to be handled with extreme delicacy. Opening the book to fix it, he noticed it was a letter. He’d read through this particular book several times and had never noticed it. Unfolding the paper, it was a note from Elizabeth.
Thank you for your recommendation. As with the others you have suggested these past
five years, I am certain to enjoy it. Do enjoy your tea.
Sincerest love, Elizabeth
This was peculiar. He hadn’t seen her write anything during breakfast, which meant that she’d written the note before arriving. Was he so predictable? He finished his tea and moved over to his reading chair near the east window. Opening his book, he prepared to delve back into the Italian catacombs when a pain shot through his chest. The book fell to the floor and his throat began to swell. He tried to call out for a servant... for his brothers... for Elizabeth.
In the last few agonizing moments of his life, he lamented upon the betrayal of his wife. Poison was always a woman’s weapon, as he’d read a thousand times over. What had he done to upset her? How could she be so cruel? The agony of life left him as he sank deeper into his chair, with unspoken curses left on his tongue for Elizabeth.