My Goodreads Quotes

Allison’s quotes


"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right--in the way that's best for us."
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
Yes," she said, "I do believe it--almost always--except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I don't believe it, I know it's true--and I try to believe it."— E. Nesbit

Monday, March 9, 2015

Firn and Furan-- Part Three

Hello again, readers!  Today's post continues my novella, Firn and Furan, which you can find here.  Or, if you like, you can read my other novella, Hespera.

I didn't intend for Firn and Furan to be allegorical.  I wasn't, in fact, aware of the allegory until after I had written it.  But as I edited and reread and edited some more, I noticed a trail of significant hints scattered subconsciously through my writing.  Like how I always capitalized the word Father when it referred to the boy's Father, but not when it referred to the princess's.  How the novella begins with a Father sending his Son into danger.  And how the novella ends.

Like all allegory, it depends on how the reader looks at it.  But it made me realize how much I was inspired by a book I frankly did not enjoy: The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri.  Although I only directly reference it three times in the novella, its triple structure, the epic descent through Hell, and the eventual ascension to see Heaven can, I believe, be easily seen in my work-- although it might be better described as starting in Purgatory.

There are other little references in Firn and Furan.  For example, I based the princess's appearance on the cover model of Five Enchanted Roses.  And like Hespera, it has bloopers, like how the butterscotch ponies magically teleport themselves to wherever the plot demands the presence of a horse.

On with the story!


Chapter Six:

 

T

 

he dream of tea in a castle chased the boy from his dreams long before his body had its fill of rest.  He dressed carefully before the princess fetched him for breakfast, but it was different than he imagined.

            “Thank you, son,” the king said as the boy poured the royal tea.

            The boy didn’t trust himself to answer.  His hands shook, and he set the kettle back in its place, tucking the cozy over it and seriously considering eating his cravat.

            Then it was time for the foxhunt, and the boy followed the prince into the dry, musty, low stables to find the princess’s old pony, whom the prince had decided would be docile enough for the boy.  It wasn’t a small horse like he had expected.  It was stockier, with more hair growing in unexpected places like above its eyes or upon its hooves.  The liquid brown eyes were wickedly intelligent; the boy half-expected it to wink at him.  Timidly, he stroked its muzzle, silky hair punctuated by rough bristles.

            “Here you are,” the prince said brightly.  “Saddled and all.  Now—we’ll just—“

            In a motion the boy couldn’t follow, a groom jolted him up until he sat on the pony’s back, perched uncomfortably on the leather saddle, hands constricted around the reigns.  The pony lurched into motion, and the boy swayed.  He held on tightly as his mount jolted rhythmically to each side in a more or less forward fashion with a few detours to sniff at other stalls.

            He spent the morning being thoroughly bullied by the pony and completely outstripped by every other hunter.  The pony decided he was completely inept and trotted off as it pleased, spending several happy hours rooting through a snowy field for the remains of the summer grass.  To cap his humiliation, the boy somehow contrived to fall off without technically moving, so snow smeared his fine red hunting jacket.

            Eventually a ragged cheer rose in the distance, and it seemed to be the signal that they could all go home now.  A rider broke from the tree-line, trotting smartly through the weathered winter landscape.  His coat was starkly red against the snowy greyness.

            “Boy!” the prince cried in relief.  “I was sure sissy would kill me.  How did you get inside the fence?”

            The boy shrugged, and the prince fumbled in his breast pocket for a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his brow.

            “Does your highness feel well?” the boy asked curiously.

            “Tired,” the prince admitted.  “Y-you arrived late last night.”  His hands trembled as he gathered up the reigns.  “I’ll be right as rain after a good meat tea.”

            The boy’s stomach grumbled at the thought.  Wearily, they turned their horses back to the castle.

 

 

Were the whispers real, the princess wondered, or did she imagine them?  She wasn’t mad, but she was a topic of gossip, and that meant virtually the same thing.

            She quickened her pace through the press of well-dressed figures that always seemed to clog the outer hallways of the castle.  She told herself that no one really looked at her oddly.  Every time she came to court she remembered why she loved the woods.  Soon she would leave this place that had always brought her misery.  She would return to the close, guarded forests where she belonged.

            Her knees felt weak as she ascended the steps to the king’s study.  She had come to this room countless times as a girl, nervously wondering what he would say.  She readjusted her hair and dress and tapped on the door, ignoring the sudden feeling that she was eight years old and had stolen jam on her lips.  She only had to wait a moment before the king’s valet opened the door and let her into the genteel, unused sitting room into the king’s office.

            There were faint signs that it had once been a handsome room—tall windows, the strong curve of a desk, marble-capped fire tools—but papers fell like snow and covered everything, even the carpet.  A few of them fluttered dangerously near the fireplace, but the valet didn’t move to adjust them.

            “Good morning, dear,” the king said from where he sat behind his desk, toying with the golden threads in his purple coat.  Some minister or another—perhaps an ambassador from the foreign cut of his coat—waited near his elbow, face set in stern irritation.  The king looked less than pleased with his company.  “This will only be a moment.”

            He adjusted a stack of papers on his desk and smartly flicked out a fountain pen.  The king of the northern isles was not a slouch.  He’d raised his country from a little-known chain of islands to the strongest, most powerful kingdom in the world.  The princess almost felt a stab of pity for the ambassador.

            “Your trade offer is absurd, sir,” the ambassador said, an accent slipping so cunningly from his tongue that she couldn’t tell if he was genuinely offended.  “I have half a mind to return home and say you’re still robbing Vikings.”

            The king sighed.  “You misunderstand me.  I do not insult you because you come from a country of drunkards and pig farmers.  I insult you because you’re a blithering idiot.”  He brightened.  “How about this.  If we make this trade agreement, you can marry my daughter.”

            The princess made a noise like a stepped-on cat.  The ambassador’s mouth fell open as he stared at her in awe.

            “But… no,” the king was forced to decide.  “Although that would solve many problems, I do not fancy you as a son-in-law.”

            “We have no agreement,” the ambassador said firmly.

            The king’s face fell into stillness, and any who saw him now would not doubt that the princess had inherited that look from her father.  The ambassador, with only a passing acquaintance with the king’s moods, shifted.

            “Valet,” the king said, “kindly escort the ambassador to the wharfs.”

            “My ship isn’t in harbor today!” the ambassador objected.

            “Then toss him into the bay,” the king said lightly.  The valet caught the ambassador by the arm and pulled him from the study.

            The king rubbed his nose.  “Sorry, dear.”  He grinned.  “He tried to put a quick one over me, but I’ve been signing trade agreements for longer than you’ve been alive.  You can’t fool me.”

            “I believe he is properly sorry, sir,” the princess said stiffly.

           

           

The king wanted to talk about the boy.

            “He seems like a nice young man,” he said approvingly.  “Young, strong.  Stable.”  He smiled.  “Your brother says he’s educated.”

            “He’s a good friend,” the princess said.

            “I’m glad,” the king said, glancing away.  “I worry about you, all alone in the woods.”

            “I’m not lonely.”

            He gave a pained smile.  “That’s why I worry.”

            “Well, I’m not alone anymore,” the girl said.  “I am in very good company, and I’m h-happy.  Your majesty.”

            “I’m glad,” the king repeated, watching her.  “What family does he come from?” he asked keenly.  “Is he of the faith?”

            “Um—“  The princess saw where this was going and smoothed her face.  She opened her mouth, thought intently, realized something, and changed her mind.

            “He attends Mass each Sunday,” she said, “and I understand that his father works in the… coal industry.”  A headache cried out in her temples.

            “A flourishing business, coal,” the king said, nodding.  “How did he come to be your page?”

            “I rather bullied him into it,” she admitted.

            The king grinned.  “You always were strong-willed,” he said.  “Like your mother.  I remember you demanding elaborate dinners for your birthday, and ponies, and snow out of season.  You know,” he said hesitatingly.  “I—we could always find work for the boy.  In the castle.  If you—wanted to stay.”

            The princess did not respond.  She listened intently to the part of her heart that cried out, but she couldn’t be sure what it wished for, or she didn’t know how to attain it.

            A trumpet screamed from the courtyard, vibrating the blurred panes of glass in the windows.

            “The hunt,” she said in relief.  “I—the boy—dinner?  Goodbye.”  She hurried from the king’s study, knocking papers to the floor in her wake and trying to pretend that there wasn’t a sensation in her middle like dread.

           

           

Chapter Seven:

T

 

he boy hurried into the princess’s suite only a few hours before the ball.  Roses bloomed in his cheeks from the cold, and a smile spread across his face.  He wore the clothes the king had sent him: a smart black jacket just shy of a glossy sheen and a vest of deep, rich fabric: gold, caramel, chocolate, wheat.  The princess knew implicitly that it looked wonderful on him.

            “Such strange colors,” she exclaimed.  Her head ached as a maid pinned up her hair with steady hands.  Curls trailed across her brow and fell in spirals down her back.  Despite her cramping neck and the long hours it had taken, the princess found herself wishing that the boy had not come until the maid was finished.

            “I think we’re supposed to be summer and winter,” the boy said, glancing at the silver-blue gown laid out on her bed.

            “How queer!” the princess remarked.  “I suppose I’m winter, then.  Does that mean I’m cold and unapproachable?”

            “No,” the boy declared, and she laughed.  “It means you melt and get people’s shoes wet.”

            She smiled as they examined their reflections side by side in the mirror.  The beautiful girl with the plain face and the dark young boy.

            “We’re a foreigner and a witch,” the boy said, and he laughed.  “We’ll be the most socially unacceptable couple at the ball.”

            “Boy,” the princess said hesitatingly, glancing down at her worn hands.  “I’ve been meaning to ask you—“

            “I had a wonderful time,” the boy said earnestly, a smile splitting his face.  “Father was so surprised; you should’ve seen him.  And we took the money you gave us—thanks again—and we had supper in a dining house.  It was the nicest meal we’ve eaten since we came here.  And now he’s renting new rooms where they allow foreigners, and he has coal for heat, and it’s all thanks to you.”

            “To my money, you mean,” the princess said dully.  The little fire in her breast snuffed into a wisp of smoke.  “I learned a long time ago that it’s never about me.  My beauty, my parents, my station—those all matter.  But not me.”

            The boy was silent.  The maid pinned the last curl in place, curtsied, and hurried out.

            “Princess,” the boy began, but he stopped, aghast.  “Are you crying?”

            “No,” the princess said, and she put her head into her hands and burst into tears.

            “Princess!” the boy said.  He touched her shoulder, but she turned her flashing, red-rimmed eyes on him.

            “Go,” she said quietly, “away.”

            “No,” the boy said, hurt.  “Not when you’re sad and you won’t tell me why.  Is it what I said?”

            “I think you’d better go,” she said.  “Back to your father where you’re clearly much happier than with me.”

            “I didn’t say that,” the boy said flatly.  “You’re being unreasonable!”

            She gave a cold, tinkling laugh, so like the cultured one she used with all company but not the boy, never before.

            “Unreasonable?” she said lightly, tartly.  She reached to smooth her tears away with her fingertips.  “I wish only to please, dear page.  In fact, I—“  She stopped, because her fingertips encountered cool glass.  Trembling, she cupped her face in her hands.  The mask was mockingly solid.

            “No,” she whispered.

            “Princess!” the boy cried, pulling her hands from her face.  He looked searchingly into her face.  “What is it?”

            Her lips twitched into something that might’ve been a smile.  “You can’t see it,” she said.

            “Can’t see what?” the boy asked, almost crying.

            But she laughed silently and sickeningly and sent him away.  She waited until the door clicked shut.  Then she waited minutes more, until the faint daylight from the window drained away to darkness.  Only then did she rise from the vanity and wander to the veiled bed.

            The dress the king had given her lay there, tossed aside like a discarded corpse.  It was palely white, or maybe blue-grey, with small clusters of crystals at the breast and wrists.

            A delicate lady’s mask sat atop it.  White feathers in a ghostly arrangement, small, pleasing.  A snowy owl.  She pinched it between her fingers, admiring its paleness in the shadows like moonlight on snow.  Then she tossed it aside, almost laughing at the thought that her father should give her another mask.

           

           

The boy did not have to help serve at the ball, which he found a relief beyond words.  Instead he sat next to the prince, an honor that surprised him.

            “It’s because I threatened to stab myself with a serving fork if I didn’t have some decent company all evening,” the prince said.  The boy knew he lied and that it had been because no one wanted to sit beside the foreigner.  “And I’m sitting next to sis, so I need a strong contrast on the other side.  Nice waistcoat, by the way.  What’s your mask supposed to be?”

            “I think it’s a sun,” the boy said, fidgeting with it so it fell less heavily across his nose and cheekbones.

            “But it’s shaped like a crescent,” the prince said in fascination.

            They thought about it.

            “A really bright moon?” the boy suggested.

            “A lemon slice?” the prince guessed.

            It was a mystery.

            The princess did not come up to their table, which relieved the boy.  She stood in stiff conversation with a few of the queen’s ladies.  She wore the beautiful dress the king had commissioned for her, and the color suited her well.  Maybe too well.  It drained the color from her skin and hair so she looked like a queen of ice and silence, and the maidens around her shifted uncomfortably.  The boy tried to reconcile it with his memory of the blushing scullery maid and couldn’t.

            Bubbles of conversation rose through the crowded room of silk, velvet, and masks.  Servants offered shining platters of baby squid, whole fish, delicate kelp salads, and thick, hearty bread.  And, ridiculously, a whole shark baked and stuffed and carried by staggering servants on a monstrous platter.

The boy drank a shining flute of golden wine as warm and sweet as spring sunshine.  The prince stared into a deep goblet of red wine.  A drop of sweat rolled from the curved tip of his nose to land with a plop in the wine.  He scrabbled for his handkerchief and ran it beneath the mask, crafted carefully from sharkskin.

“Are you all right?” the boy asked.  It was the prince’s first glass of wine.

“Yes.”  He waved the boy’s concern away.  “Go rescue poor sis before she kills those ladies, won’t you?”

            The boy wished the prince wouldn’t joke about it.  He rose from the table, past the queen who giggled at the strange costumes and the still, silent king, down the dais.  The two ladies, both dressed as pretty canaries, murmured adieus and stepped away as he joined the princess.  She had a beaker of wine in her hand but didn’t drink.

            “The prince wants you,” the boy said.  “I think he’s tired.”

            She didn’t answer.

            “I’m sorry about earlier.  I made you angry.  You know I would never leave you, princess.”

            Silence.

            “Princess?”

            The faintest movement of her head, or perhaps only her hair, turned her mask to him.  It was glass—translucently clear but faintly distorted, so the face that stared at him was foreign and horrible, with lopsided eyes and a long, thin, hungry mouth.

            “I—it’s the mask,” the boy stammered.  The flute of wine half-slipped from his hand, and he clenched it so hard it creaked.  The monstrous eyes, blued by glass, blinked at him.

            “Your brother wants to see you,” the boy said, mesmerized like a songbird before a snake.

            The eyelashes rustled closed, but the face was still.

            “Princess…” the boy said.  “Is that the mask your father gave you?”

            “I had an epiphany earlier today,” the witch said quietly.  “When you told me about your visit with your father.  I realized that you are young and happy and free.  And I realized”—she raised a hand to her face, then let it fall—“that I cannot take this mask off.”

            “Is the ribbon knotted?” the boy asked, bewildered.  “We can cut it.”

            “Yes,” she agreed.  “We could cut it.”  And she said, “I know why I took you.”

            The room went silent for the boy, even while conversation buzzed and the prince called for another drink.  She swept past him to the dais, and the king flinched when he saw her face.

            “Good grief,” he said.  “Is that the one I paid for?  It’s hideous.”  He searched around the pockets of his royal coat.  “Did I keep the receipt?”

            “Don’t bother,” the witch said, striding past him without a backward glance.  “Some things you can’t return.”

            The prince’s hand was shaking on the stem of his glass.

            “You look hideous,” he said, grinning weakly.  “Like a goblin.  Has Dad seen it yet?”

            She knocked his goblet off the table.  The glass shattered upon the dais with an unlovely shriek that dragged silence from every throat.  Red wine stained the hem of the winter dress.

            “Sis,” he said, laughing with surprise.  His mirth didn’t last long.  “What are you doing?”  Anger rose into his voice as he stared at his hand as though it might still have a glass in it.

            And now her brother was mad at her.  Behind the protective layer of glass, the witch felt tears rise, ridiculously.  Furiously, she forced them back, patching the dam.

            “Can you please pretend to be a decent person for my party?” the prince asked, and now tears glistened in his eyes, too.  “I am so tired of putting up with y-your eccentricity, and pretending not to be angry when people make fun of you, and pretending you don’t tarnish my name at court.  You are so selfish!” he cried, mindless that his voice was ringing through the hall into silence.  “You’re afraid that Dad and I will let you down the way Mother did, so you hide away until we can’t even touch you, and you’re too proud to admit that you’re miserable, you coward!”

            The quiet drip of wine from the dais steps filled the hall, along with the quiet flickering of lamps.  The boy felt the terror of déjà vu as he saw the witch standing above another man, prepared to strike him down.  And the princess, cool and safe behind her mask, demanded raggedly, “Why are you sweating so much?”

            A new sound pierced the silence.  A quiet sound from the king.  It might’ve been a sigh, or a cry of pain.

            Grey touched the prince’s face, and his eyes widened.  He forced his lips into a smile, grimacing at the effort.

            “The mask is too tight,” he said with false, almost demonic cheer.  “The fires are blazing.”  He stared at her defiantly.

            The boy moved to touch his arm, but she barred the way.  She was drowning in an icy puddle, but her arm was firm.

            “Don’t touch him,” she said.  “He has the sweating sickness.”

            Her words broke the silence like the stone did the prince’s goblet.  Ladies screamed and tripped over their skirts as they piled through the doors.  Tall, dashing men flung them aside in their haste to flee.  A servant dropped one corner of the massive silver platter, and the shark crashed down and burst into a heap of tender meat and stuffing.  The smell was oddly delicious against the chaos, and improbably, the witch’s stomach growled.

            “How,” she said softly, ignoring the rising insanity.

            “I visited our brother and his new wife,” the prince said hollowly.  The defiance drained form him, and he shuddered, his forehead shining as sweat ran down his temples.  “They said she had a cold.  I thought… that they were telling the truth.”

            He stared at her, wide-eyed.  “They’re dead.  They both died yesterday.”

            The king hadn’t left the room although the queen had fled.  He leaned over his still-full plate, his head in his hands.

            “We should leave,” the boy whispered, and he tugged on the witch’s arm, but she ignored him.

            The prince stared down at his plate.  “I’m going to die,” he said.  He poured another glass of wine, smiled horribly, and toasted his sister, laughing, “To life!  To death!  To Firn and Furan, who are it all!”  He was still laughing as he tipped the wine down his throat, and his eyes widened as he choked on it, coughing.

            The boy grabbed her arm again, and this time she let him pull her away.  They were running from the stifling throne room out into the night, where snow fell in bitingly cold flurries.  It sounded like weeping.

           

 

Chapter Eight:

A

 

 candle flame glowed in the dimness, a soft curve of gold.  It stood tall without flickering although the door opened and a tall, awkward creature came in.  Her impractical, unwieldy dress was crusted in snow, and a mask froze to her cheekbones and brow, so cold that it smoked faintly in the warm air.

            The white-clad nurse beside the bed whispered for her to be quiet, not to touch him, and not to stay long before she slipped away, closing the door behind her.  The candle didn’t waver, even in the draft of air.

            The princess settled uneasily onto the chair the nurse had vacated and, tentatively, pried the mask from her face.  It did not want to go, and when it finally parted, it took a thin layer of skin with it.  It was the cold, the princess told herself.  It didn’t really fight to hide her face.

            She didn’t feel any lighter with it gone.

            The small figure swaddled in sheets, pale, drawn, and wan, could not possibly be her big brother.  Because he was in her every memory a laughing, ecstatic figure, dancing around the rules, larger than life, nicking tarts and sweets from the kitchen and smoothing things between her and her father.  Picking her up when she fell off her pony.  Insisting she dance at his parties.

            When the sweating sickness struck, it first chilled.  The victim shivered, which might easily be glossed over on a hunt.  Then it brought fever and sweating, and if it made it that far, the victim had only hours.

            The princess wished she had the mask on, because when that thought came to her, she felt her entire being would shake and shatter like glass.  Gently, she smoothed his soft, dark hair, so much like hers, though the nurse had warned her not to touch him.

            “Hello, you,” she whispered.  “I must say, that’s a pretty cheap way to get out of a party.”

            His breathing quickened, and she wondered if he would either sink into delirium or wake, but he eased back into deep, death-like sleep.  She could feel the heat of his skin from where she sat.

            “I’m not supposed to be here,” she confided.  “If you—“  She swallowed convulsively.  “The king thinks that—if you don’t—I’m his last—I’ll be—“

            That hurt too badly.  She couldn’t think.

            “But I came anyway.  I wanted to make sure the nurses were treating you all right.  That they knew your favorite foods, and brought you the proper books, and—“

            Her face warmed as she lost the battle, the dam was swept away, and tears flooded through.  She choked back a wordless howl and buried her head in the pillow beside him, and she cried, drenching the pillow with her tears.  She knew without looking that he didn’t awake.  He would’ve comforted her if he had.

            “Firn and—Furan,” she wept, her voice cracking, tears and mucus clogging her throat.  She had never been more unlovely than she was in that moment.  Please!” she shouted, sliding from the bed to the floor where she sat, shaking, tangled in the curtains.  “Please,” she mumbled.  “Please don’t leave me alone….”

            The nurse did not return.  The princess thought she might after she screamed.  She sat, shuddering, for some time before, with difficulty, she hauled herself back up to the chair.

            She leaned forward and kissed her brother’s cheek.  “I love you,” she said.  “You know that, right?  Even though I never said?”

            And she sat there as the starry sky lightened to the deep jade before dawn.  Any moment now her little brother would wake the way heroes always do in stories.  He’d raise his head weakly and whisper his forgiveness, then a few words of prayer commending his soul to God.

            But this wasn’t a story, and he didn’t.  The princess sat by his bedside and held his hand as his soul sang out the last few notes of its song, then faded to silence.

           

           

She was cold.  Her brothers were dead, she was the next queen of the northern isles, and her frozen dress was melting in icy rivers down her cold white skin.  She eased the prince more comfortably onto his pillows, tucked the blanket tenderly under his chin, and gave him a lingering kiss on the cheek.  The candle stirred, then sank to a dim ember and a wisp of smoke as she brushed past.

            She almost tripped over the figure sitting in the hallway: a dark young man in a gold waistcoat, nodding off over a cup of tea.  He sprang up to follow her and said something, but she ignored him.  His words rushed past like trout up a stream, too quick and slick to catch but also graceful and distant, unconnected to her.  She saw him glance through the open doorway and cry out, but it couldn’t penetrate the layers of ice that were building up around her skin, around her heart….

            “Ready a sleigh,” she heard herself say, and he stared at her with horror, aghast.  He was afraid of her, then?  Good.  “Not a sleigh and four.  A messenger’s sleigh.  It will be quicker.”

            “The prince is dead,” the boy said, trembling, and his words pierced her deadness.

            “I know,” she said, and she knew that, impossibly, in that moment he understood her, mask and all.

            He didn’t move.  “Princess,” he said, his voice odd.  “You can’t run forever.”

            Fetch a sleigh!” she screamed, and she hit him across the face with the flat of her hand.  He stared at her.  His skin was too dark to show the mark.

            She left him there in the hallway, striding past weak, mewling servants who cringed from her charge, nobles who began to bow before they changed their minds and held themselves with cool, untouched reserve.  They knew the prince was dead.  They knew she was their future queen.  They did not have to like it, at least not for long.

            A grand door loomed before her, the door to the king’s study.  The king was at his desk as she’d guessed, but he didn’t work.  He rested his head in his hands, gripping his hair with enough force to tear it.  He might’ve wept.  She didn’t care.

            “He’s dead,” she said, although she could tell he already knew.

            He flinched like she’d struck him the way she’d struck the by.  He stared, unseeing, at his neat papers with their neat columns of tidy figures.

            “Aren’t you going to say anything?” she demanded.

            “No,” the king said illogically, his voice muffled.  “I am never going to speak again.”  A laugh squeaked from his mouth.  “I made a joke.  Isn’t that funny?”  He raised his head, and his eyes frightened her.  Isn’t that funny?”

            Faint spider webs splintered the veneer of her mask.  The princess waited a moment to be sure she could speak.  Then she said, “This is your fault.”

            He reeled back in his chair.  Not like she’d hit him.  A mere blow couldn’t do this to a man, couldn’t grind his soul into meal.  Soul meal, the princess thought.  She could bake bread with it and drop it in the forest to find her way home.

            You’re disgusting, the mask said coolly.  Gather yourself before you confront this man.

            “I am, aren’t I?” she replied.  “I’m sorry.  But it’s his fault, truly.  My brother never would’ve died if he hadn’t gotten the sickness from our other brother, who got it because he had to live in the slums because the king disowned him.”  She became aware of another presence in the room and noted, “I think I’m scaring the boy.”

            Don’t you want him afraid? the mask asked.  It sounded almost curious.  You were happy about it earlier.

            She was drowning in a warm, well-lit room, indoors on a winter’s morning.

            “No,” she said.  “I don’t ever want him to be afraid.”

            “You’re mad,” the king said, rage biting into his face, tearing deep lines there.

            “But it’s your fault!” she cried.  “All of it!  My mother and my brothers and… and me….”

            He loomed over her.  He raised his fist with the scepter in it, the cruel, spiked ball of gems and gold stolen from some southern monastery.  She cowered.  She waited for it to strike her.

            It scraped across flesh, and a cry filled the room.  Not her flesh; not her cry.  It was the boy.

            The mask dropped from her face, unseen, as she ran to him.  He sat in a confused heap, staring at his hand.  The knuckles were scraped raw where he’d grabbed the scepter, and a ruby carved a thin furrow from the back of his hand.  Drops of blood flecked his gold vest, and he stared at it in disbelief.

            “Firn and Furan” the king whispered.  He stared in horror at his hand, as though it had acted of its own accord.  Then he stumbled to the window, jerked it open, and he threw the kingdom’s oldest artefact out into the snow as far as his arm could carry it.

            “Daddy,” she whispered.  And then the boy was helping her up because she couldn’t stand, because she was useless.  The king stared voicelessly at them as they tottered through the double doors.  No one stopped them.  The princess saw nothing until the warm, musty smell of the stable revived her.  A dog lapped at her hand with its bright tongue, and the boy helped her lay down on the fleet, narrow sled that would slice through the firn like a fireplace through a deep chill.  He leaned over to adjust her wrap, and she saw the raspberry flush on his cheek.

            “I’m sorry,” she whispered, reaching out to touch it, but he evaded her hands, and soon the sled was rushing along the firn as dogs pulled it, and the stable roof was replaced with the watery ink of early dawn, and she cried out even as she fell asleep.

3 comments:

Sarah said...

“How queer!” the princess remarked. “I suppose I’m winter, then. Does that mean I’m cold and unapproachable?”

“No,” the boy declared, and she laughed. “It means you melt and get people’s shoes wet.”

I like those lines. :) They made me grin. And then the rest of the selection, well . . . poor everyone, really. The boy, the princess, the prince, even the king.

Anonymous said...

This is so exciting!!!!!
Jemma

Allison Ruvidich said...

Thank you!! : D