Odir realised then that he had never really known why she had agreed to marry him. That he’d been so focused on what she could bring to him, what good he could do with her connections to the British establishment, that he had simply assumed she was in agreement.
‘Including selling his daughter for the connections to royalty it would bring. The deals he could make once his daughter was married to the Sheikh of Farrehed.’
Her words matched his own thoughts so closely that he felt something horribly like shame rise within him.
‘You could have said no.’
‘Not really. My mother didn’t adapt that well to the climate of the Middle East. Oh, she enjoyed the parties, the social gatherings. But, contrary to popular opinion, they don’t happen every night. My father left her alone for long periods of time, and without friends, without that crumbling aristocratic family she had left in England, she was confined to a life of boredom and solitude.’
Like I gave to you... The thought erupted in Odir’s mind.
‘But instead of finding something to do, making something of her life without him, she sought escapism. Nothing so uncouth as alcohol, but pills. Lots and lots of mother’s little helpers. Not that she was much of a mother. Not really,’ she said sadly. ‘In each placement I would be sent to English-speaking schools, often boarding rather than being a day student.
‘I don’t think I really noticed anything until the summer when I was about fourteen. My father was off attending the petroleum conferences, and my mother... Meal times were the worst. Watching her shuffle food that she had no stomach for around a plate. The sound of cutlery scratching against china still sends shivers through me.
‘I tried to find things for us to do together, but she wasn’t really in a fit state during the day. She’d spend a lot of time in her bed. At first I thought she was ill. But then, when she was high, she’d be overly bright...false and forced laughter would echo through the halls. But through that cracked, jangly exuberance would be a thread of neediness, a constant search for reassurance that...’ she shook her head in shame ‘...that I despised. That I was embarrassed by.’
Shame and guilt warred within Eloise. She hated herself for that. For sharing emotion with her father and feeling embarrassed about her mother. Hated to think that she was anything like him.
‘I went back to the UK for university and plunged myself into my studies. I thought I was being a good student, but in reality I was just hiding. In Zurich, working at the medical centre, I learned of the psychological effects both before and after addiction had taken hold. I began to see why my mother had turned to pills, given her life with her husband, given my father... I began to wonder if there was something I could have done if I’d been present...if I’d been allowed to be.’
The helplessness in her voice took hold of something deep within Odir. It echoed within a bruised heart he would have denied to any other living soul.
Slowly things began to fall into place in Odir’s mind. Those painful dinner conversations at the palace, when her mother’s pale, drawn face and her almost constant silence had been so at odds with her daughter’s desperate attempts to take the focus from her, to fill the silence, to be the plaster over a wound so deep and infected with hatred.
‘When I came to Farrehed after university I confronted my father about it—about why he didn’t force her to get help. He said she was beyond help. I threatened to take her away, and that’s when he showed me the videos. He’d recorded them on his camera. Times that even I hadn’t seen her. Erratic, horrible, slurring... She was...she was like a wounded animal. Begging my father for pills, screaming at housekeepers. Raving at imaginary slights from strangers.’
Images rushed through Eloise’s mind—blurry, jerky images placed there by numerous videos, captured for posterity by a father who would blackmail his own child. Hatred and despair warred within her.
‘He threatened to cut her off, to go to the press and publicly denounce his “druggy wife”. He said that he’d sever her financial support under the guise of cutting off her access to drugs, but that he would really just leave her to the mercy of the health service.