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

Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Lover Tag + Updates

Jemma from the Sherwood Storyteller tagged me!  I thought it would be a lovely way to end my accidental hiatus.  Thanks for tagging me, Jemma!

1. What book are you currently reading?

I've just cracked the spine of The Glorious Cause, by Jeff Shaara.  I'm a history nerd, and I'd love to brush up on the Revolutionary War, but textbooks can be so boring.  This novel will be a fun way to study.

2. What's the last book you finished?

A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans, by Michael Farquhar.  Double-nerd!  Actually, I'm doing research for a writing project.  Nothing inspires me like history!

3. What's your favorite book you read this year?

Ugh, hard question!  After perusing my Goodreads list, I would say either The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, or The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater.

4. What genre have you read the most this year?

Definitely fantasy, with a side of the classics.

5. What genre have you read least this year?

Does graphic novel qualify as a genre?  If so, definitely that.  I love a well-written graphic novel as much as anyone else, but I'm fussy about the art.  (My taste in art is much more exclusive than my taste in writing.)  The three webcomics I follow are The Silver Eye, by Laura Hollingsworth; The Dreamer, by Lora Innes; and my absolute favorite, Daughter of the Lilies, by Meg Syverud.  I'm obsessed with it.

6. What genre do you want to read more of?

I'd like to read more nonfiction.  I consistently forget how well-written and entertaining it can be.  Whenever you attach the concept of 'improving yourself' to writing, it strikes me as less fun.

7. How many books have you read this year, and what's your goal?

I've read 82 books this year, with the rough goal of reading 100.  I don't buy into number-of-books goals; it adds stress to reading.  I only set one on Goodreads to track the number of books I read.

8. What's the last book you bought?

I have been very good and not bought any recently.  The last book I bought was Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande.  It's the summer reading for UNC Chapel Hill.

9. What books do you have out from the library?

Approximately sixty books on American history.  I'm excited about this project.

10. What books can't you wait to read?

The Cursed Child, by J. K. Rowling, comes out in two weeks!  Not to mention I've already reserved The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, and Ghostly Echoes, by William Ritter.


I've been squashed getting ready for school.  I've bought dorm supplies, signed up for classes, gave notice at work, and am ready to move in-- let me check my phone timer-- twenty-six days, not that I'm counting.  I'm a declared English major, but I plan on switching to the classics or double-majoring.

Good things, all.  But it does put me seriously behind in blogging.  I know I've said this before, but guys?  I promise I'll blog more during the school year, when I have a reliable schedule.

Anyway, I tag Hannah at the Writer's Window, Ghosty at Anything, Everything, Emma Clifton at Peppermint and Prose, and Sarah at Dreams and Dragons.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Of the Wood: Part Four

Alas! the final chapter.  For those of you who haven't yet begun my retelling, Of the Wood, start here!  For those of you who have, I'd like to tell you about the final element of this story: the heroine, Elizabeth.

I knew right away that I wanted Elizabeth's character to drive the plot.  After all, the story takes place in a sleepy village.  There is no quest, no coveted magic object, no conquest-bound overlord a few counties over.  I wanted this to be a deeply personal story about the place-- this magical wood that connects different worlds in its shadowy waters-- and this confused, unhappy girl who inherited an ancient position just as the world was coming into its modernity.  This is, above anything else, the story of Elizabeth.  (Its original title was Elizabeth of the Wood, which I changed to Of the Wood for reasons still obscure.  I'm thinking about changing it back.  Thoughts?  I also considered Wychwood and Under the Wood.)  (Fun fact part deux: Elizabeth's original name was Evienne before she became so resolutely English, and Anaïs was originally Laetitia before I decided on a theme for the Faire names.)
 So I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the character development.

And hit a wall.  Almost immediately.

I have a theory as to why I struggle so much with characters.  I am a reserved person.  I infrequently answer direct questions about myself, and when I do, I generally give a cursory answer.  (I blame my Myers-Briggs personality profile for this.)

Which makes creating believable characters difficult for me, because the only tried-and-true way I have found is to foist on them whatever nastiness is currently in my life.  I like to keep this nastiness private, and the thought of sharing it makes me want to hide under my covers.  Forever.  (So, naturally, I'm posting it on my blog like a properly petulant teenager.)

However, I had another major character who could use some personality: Elizabeth's younger sister, Anthea.

People quite familiar with my family will observe something here.  My name is Allison.  I have an older sister, whose name is-- well, for the sake of her privacy, suffice it to say it is a classical English name that begins with an E.  Those who know my sister and I personally may realize that both of our personalities play a prominent role in this story, passed between the characters of Elizabeth and Anthea.  I am meticulously organized with a family background in accounting, whereas my sister is more assertive than I.  My sister is an excellent musician, but I'm the one who sings.  If we weren't sisters, people would probably call the cops on us during one of our fights.  But at the end of the day, like Elizabeth and Anthea, we still love each other!

My sister probably isn't reading this.  I don't think she ever reads my blog.

Love you too, sis.

Anyway.  On with the story.


The music stopped.
The dance whirled to a halt.
The fragile, spun-glass thing that was her mind crashed off its pedestal and shattered on the floor.
            “Who are you?” she managed to say, because she did not believe in miracles, and one was holding her cold hands in his warm ones and smiling at her like Lochinvar at his sweetheart’s wedding.
            “Elizabeth,” he said quietly, and he was smiling until he thought he would break with the joy of it.  “I’ve come—“
            He didn’t finish, because she leaned up and kissed him.
            It was a shockingly inappropriate thing to do at one’s wedding to another man.  The townsmen would talk.  She didn’t care.  She did not care at all.
            “Please don’t say anything,” she said quietly.  “Because I’ve just been handed a miracle.  And I d-don’t see how this can be r-r-real—“
            “I don’t, either,” he said softly.  He reached up and wiped away the tears on her cheek.  “But Elle”—he grabbed her hand in his warm, living one—“it is.”
            He glanced over her shoulder, and something tightened in his face.  “For about five more minutes.  Elle, the Faire are here.”
            “I know,” she whispered.  She was rattled by joy and shock, but she forced her brain through its paces.  “How can they be here?”
            “Anaïs says—“
            “It’s a sort of long—“
            “That harpy!”
            “She’s not, really,” he said desperately.  “She’s just—it’s complicated—she says the Faire are dying.  There’s too much iron and disbelief here, and hardly any magic left.  They need us, Elizabeth.  They’re coming back tonight, using your curse as the pathway.  So.  What’s the plan?”
            “You always came up with the plan!  Why am I supposed to—“
            “Excuse me.”
            Elizabeth dropped Abelard’s hand guiltily.
            “Fulgence,” she wanted to say, “I’m terribly sorry, but I can’t possibly marry you because my true love is back from the grave, and he hasn’t drowned, and we’re going to marry and live happy ever after, yes?”
            She almost said it.  She wanted so badly to say it.
            But she couldn’t, she realized.  There were times when the truth was all you could give.  And there were times when the truth was far too extraordinary and time-consuming, and too unbearably real for words.  And there were some people, like Fulgence, who spent their whole lives looking for a prettier, simpler lie, because they wanted prettier, simpler, uncomplicated lives.
            She opened her mouth to speak, but he beat her to it.
            “Elizabeth,” he said.  “I don’t mean to frighten you.  But this room seems to be eliding with the Faire Court.”

“Anaïs!” Abelard hissed, ducking through the crowd.  He glanced up into masked faces.  All had the square angularness of the Faire, but he needed one in particular.  “Anaïs!”
            “Be quiet,” she whispered back, dragging him into the dance.  Her green skirt billowed around them as they spun.  “All right.  Not going to according to plan.”
            “We don’t know what to do.”
            “She’ll know when the time is right,” Anaïs snapped.
            “Well, it had better be right in the very near future!”
            She tossed her head but didn’t pull away as they danced.  Abelard watched the Faire over her shoulder.  They hadn’t moved yet; they were still dancing.  Things would be all right as long as the Faire kept dancing…
            His eye landed on another couple in the throng: Elizabeth and Fulgence.  They were dancing in the same, half-focused manner as Anaïs and Abelard; she gazed up into his face, and they both talked rapidly and almost silently.
            Fulgence’s eyes flicked over her sleek head and watched the dancers.  The same way Abelard did.
            He stopped dancing.  Anaïs stumbled, tripping on her skirts, and two other couples nearly collided with them.
            “Sorry!” he said.  “Ah—cramp.  In my foot.  Carry on.”
            “What is it now?” Anaïs said snappishly.  She was never this short-tempered, never this out of control.  She was afraid, Abelard realized, and his breath almost stopped.
            “After you pulled me from the bog, you said I had a gift,” he whispered, dancing.  As long as the Faire still danced…  “You told me I could see the Faire, and that I would need this to save Elizabeth.”
            “Yes, but do we have time—“
            “Fulgence can see the Faire, too.”
            She didn’t answer.  Her face was solemn behind her forest-green mask.
            Abelard’s heart sank.
            “You don’t know if I’ll save her.”
            He had stopped dancing again, but they were on the edge of the crowd, so it bothered no one.  He felt his thin, fragile eggshell of hope crumple into airy nothing.
            “The future never reveals itself that fully,” Anaïs said at last.  She wouldn’t look at him.  “Not even to me.  I only know that she can be saved, and I will provide every opportunity for someone to do so.”  She gave him a hard look.  “Even if he’s isn’t you.”

“Explain,” Elizabeth said.  “Now.”
            “I was awoken early this morning by a woman in my bedroom,” Fulgence said.  “She said if I wanted to save you, I had to leave now.”  He sniffed.  “It was rather inconsiderate of her, seeing as I got here hours early and haven’t had any call to save you yet—“
            “What did she say?” Elizabeth demanded.
            “She said the Faire hated your family and would be at the wedding tonight.  She touched my face and said I would be able to see them.  And”—he sounded nauseous—“I can see them, Elizabeth.  They’re horrible.”
            He broke off as Abelard burst through the crowd, Anaïs scarcely a step behind.
            “Hello, Anaïs,” Elizabeth said coolly.  “It’s been a long time.”
            “I gather,” Anaïs said.  “What were you playing at, saying my name over and over?  I could tell it was you.  No one else knew to do it.”
            Elizabeth blushed.  “I wanted to hurt you,” she said, feeling a twinge of shame.  “I wanted you to suffer.  And I remembered what you said, how the Faire need belief because they’re only as real as we let them be.  And I remembered how saying a word over and over again makes it meaningless.  So I did it to you.”  She swallowed.  “I’m sorry.”
            “It made my time in my mother’s prison much harder.”  Anaïs grunted.  “It was clever, at least.  You’re forgiven.”
            “And you,” Elizabeth said, eyes flashing.
            She gazed up into Abelard’s face and thought, this is wrong.  Everything was so wrong.  They should have time together, time to celebrate their love.  But they didn’t have time.  They’d never been given much of it.
“How long do we have?” Elizabeth asked, instead of words of radiant love.
            “The ball always ends at midnight,” Fulgence observed, looking deliberately at the clock above Abelard’s head.  “And it is your wedding, after all.”  Abelard tried to ignore the bitter irony in his tone.
            “But what if I don’t get married?” she said.
            Abelard glanced around the ballroom, at the swirling, dancing Faire.
            “I don’t think they care,” he said.  “I think it’s gone far enough already.”
            “So I’m going to prick my finger on a spindle soon,” Elizabeth said, turning pale.  “And sleep for a hundred years.”
            “No,” Abelard said firmly.  “I’m not going to let that happen to you.”
            “Elizabeth, go to the stables,” Fulgence said, as calmly as he could.  He and Abelard stood side by side: one fair, the other dark.  One big and towering, the other small and slender.  “Take a horse, and ride to my home.  My family will take care of you.”
            “Don’t be ridiculous,” Elizabeth said.  “This is my own kettle of fish.  I’ll boil in it if I have to.”
            That hit a chord, somewhere in the deep, primordial part of her, the part that had been sitting patiently in the tower all evening, turning the problem over in her hands and spinning.
            “Kettle of fish,” she said aloud.  Not fish.  Eels.
            Her gaze landed on the banquet table, and sure enough, there was a platter of eels in wine sauce.  It was, impossibly, steaming.
            There are times when the story takes over, and I’m not writing it anymore—it’s writing me.  Like the force of the story is so great it can tell itself.  It only needs me to hold a pen.
            Your story isn’t over yet.
            All right, Elizabeth thought.  If this were a ballad, how would it end?  There would be hints along the way, clues dropped at every turn.  And even if she had missed them, the deeper, older part of her had been patiently gathering them and now held them up for her inspection.
            Ballads were predictable creatures, once you’d sung them long enough that they’d gotten into your blood.  They might seem random and insensible, but they weren’t, really; they were perfectly logical, as long as you knew what rules they were following.  And it was a rule in ballads that there were always second chances, but they only came once.
            Elizabeth knew she could save the town.  She knew she could save herself, if she tried to.  And she knew the solution would be simple and poetic and that she was holding it her hands already, and she just couldn’t see it.
            And then she remembered the last rule of ballads: they never wasted anything.  Every detail was important.  And there was one massive detail in Elizabeth’s life that hadn’t been resolved yet.
            Slowly, she raised her eyes.  They met Anaïs’s.
            She knew exactly what to do.
            The great clock in the hall, the clock that Maelӱs had made with Anaïs’s help and this night in mind, pointed only a few minutes ‘til midnight.
            “We’re too late,” Fulgence whispered.
            “No,” Elizabeth said, and she laughed.  “We’re too early.”
            Because the final rule of ballads was that they always came full circle.  And they practically sang themselves, so that the singer only needed to hold the tune.
            “Fulgence, Abelard,” she said.  “Thank you so much for trying to save me.  But I don’t need it now.”
            She spun around, hiked her rosy skirts above the knee, and ran up the stairs to the tower.


She locked the door behind her, fingers shaking on the key.  She’d had nightmares like this, where things were rushing up the stairs and she had to struggle to lock the door before they reached her.  Never in her most fevered nightmare had they been Abelard and Fulgence.
            “Hey—what—Elle, you’ve gone and locked the—“
            “Elizabeth,” Fulgence said sharply, voice muted by the wood.  “Unlock the door.”
            “Can’t.  Sorry, boys,” Elizabeth called desperately over her shoulder.  She picked up her skirts and hurried to the spinning room.  There, turning serenely with only a hiss of gears, were the Spinning Jeannies.  Papa’s pride.  The only things that kept the town from sinking into a gloom of magic and despair.
            “All right, how do you turn these things off,” Elizabeth muttered, hunting through the controls.  She was embarrassed that she had no idea how they worked.  She still did all her spinning on a treadle wheel because it was wonderfully distracting.  Her fingers couldn’t work the latches and gears.
            “Elizabeth!” Fulgence yelled, pounding on the door.  Abelard had gone silent.  “Open the door!”
            “I can’t!” Elizabeth said hysterically, and she was crying after she had promised herself that this wouldn’t be hard, it wouldn’t hurt.  It did hurt.  She saw now more clearly than ever that she had never really intended to leave the town with Fulgence.  It would be like cutting off her hand to escape the manacle.  Maybe in a hundred years she would be glad she’d done it, but she still wouldn’t have a hand.
            She cried over the machinery, because she didn’t know how to stop it.  She cried for herself and Abelard, but mostly she cried, ridiculously and inexplicably, for the tower room, because she knew she couldn’t stay there much longer.
            “You won’t be able to turn them off in time,” someone said.
            If Elizabeth had a fingers-width of space left in her heart, she would’ve been surprised.  But she didn’t.  So it felt perfectly natural when she looked up to Anaïs.  She had left her mask downstairs, and her face was raw and bare like a boiled egg.
            “Anaïs,” Elizabeth said, and her voice cracked.
            “I’m sorry, Elle,” she said, and Elizabeth realized that she was uncomfortable.  She, Anaïs, the Faire princess.  “I’m really sorry.”
            It was a day for miracles.
            There was a lot they would’ve liked to say.  In a way, they did, only silently—or perhaps it all came out in Anaïs’s words: “There’s a shovel in the closet.”
            “I’ll get it,” Elizabeth said, rising.
            “No, I will,” Anaïs said.  “You have something else to attend to.”  Her eyes were unfocused, past Elizabeth.
            Elizabeth steeled herself.  “All right,” she said nervously.  She ran to the door and called, “Abelard?  Fulgence?”
            “Elle, if you could possibly hurry with whatever you’re doing in there, because the Faire have—“
            She unlocked the door, and Abelard tumbled out in a graceless heap.  He was, she realized with a pang for lost time, slightly shorter than her; she could see the top of his dark head.
            “Stopped dancing,” he finished.
            “We three need to have a talk, and I’d like it to be very sensitive and kind and worthy of forgiveness, but I don’t have time,” Elizabeth said, pushing them into her sitting room.  “First of all, Fulgence, I’m sorry, you’re a good man, but I can’t marry you, because I’m in love with Abelard.”
            “Sorry,” Abelard said.
            She had been dreading this part of the conversation.  She did not know how he would take it.  She could see in the shape of his eyes that he was both surprised and not, that he had both seen it coming and never believed it would come to pass.
            He shrugged.  It was not quite so graceful a gesture as he might’ve wished.
            “Ah, well,” he said, after too long a pause.  “It’s been fun, Elizabeth.  But there are plenty of fish in the sea.”
            “Yes,” Elizabeth said, “and I wish you the very best of luck with them, and would you mind exiting via the window?”
            “Best of—what?”
            “There’s ivy on the wall.  You should be able to climb safely; I know Anthea’s done it when we were littler.”
            “Oh.  Right.  Didn’t know you wanted me to leave quite so—“
            “That is not the reason, and you know it, Fulgence,” she snapped, feeling close to tears again.  She had never felt so much as she had in the past day.  “I’m about to make a terribly unfair decision for all the people in this keep, and I don’t want to make it for you, too.  So—you’re a wonderful friend, and I’ll miss you, but the very best thing you can do now is return to Brittany and forget this ever happened.”
            He lumbered to the window and was gone.
            “Did I miss something?” Abelard said.
            She had forgotten something.  Elizabeth froze and thought hard.  What had she forgotten?
            Someone tapped on the door.
            “Elizabeth,” Anthea said.  “Could you open the door?”
            “Anthea!” Elizabeth cried.  “What are you doing?”

She realized that the events thus far had been a game.  A warm-up match.  The Faire had shown their hand: they had her parents.  They had her lover.  They had her curse.
            She’d thought they had played their entire hand.  But they had one ace left, the one that could’ve ended the game at any time but that they’d saved for last.
            She didn’t move as Abelard darted to the door and carried her in.  Her little figure in white.  Her little ice maiden.  The white was red and red all over, but it couldn’t be Anthea’s blood, because Anthea was made of ice and ice didn’t bleed…
            Anthea’s dance partner had carved the roast.
            She sat down in a billow of pink skirts and moved so that Anthea’s head rested on her lap.  She looked down into that serene face, white as paper except for red, still as death but for a fluttering of butterfly wings at the throat.
            It was like life had been a dream, and she had woken up.  Like a veil had been lifted from her eyes and she saw light.  This was real.  This was truth.  There had never been anything but her sitting on the floor with Anthea’s head in her lap, their dresses running with blood.
            Her little sister, whom she’d believed she’d hated.  Whom she’d believed had hated her.
            “Anthea,” she whispered.
            Abelard was saying something to her.  She didn’t pay him any mind until he reached up and slapped her.  “Stop, you’ll hurt her!” she cried, and she realized she hadn’t said anything at all.
            But he caught her attention.  “Elizabeth,” he said, “if you have any plan at all, we need it now.  Please.  Let me carry Anthea, and do whatever you have to do.”
            She had to stand.  That was what she had to do.  Abelard lifted Anthea out of her lap like she was the skin of a paper doll or a bird resting from flight, and Elizabeth gathered her legs under her and stood.  The world did not end.  It would not end for—she checked the clocks, but they were dead and gone—until midnight.  However far away that was.
            The ball always ended at midnight.
            Carefully, Elizabeth slipped the dreamlike veil over her eyes again so that she could bear the moment.  Anthea was hurt, yes.  But she could handle that.  Wasn’t that what she had always done?
            “Your shovel, my lady,” Anaïs said.
            “Thank you.”  She accepted the shovel.  It was heavy and glinted silver in the dull light, like a sword.  It was her sword.  “Anaïs, you understand that I want to destroy your people’s claim on mine, raze their holdings, and salt their fields?”
            “Yes, my lady,” Anaïs whispered.  “I would do it, too, if I had the strength.”
            Elizabeth knew she had to hurry, but she asked, “Why?”
            “Because we were not meant for this,” she said simply.  “No creature was.  We were not meant to live this long or this emptily.  We were not meant to have the power to move stars.”
            “Some would say that everything is already in perfect order.”
            “And I do believe that, my lady,” she said.  “But we are not meant to be anymore.  We must step back from this place.  You must grow without us now.”
            She took a deep, shaking breath.  “If it means anything to you, we only did it because we wanted to be loved.”
            “I’m sorry,” Elizabeth whispered.  “And I do love you.”
            Anaïs glanced up.  Elizabeth caught one last glimpse of her green eyes through her veil of pale hair, gleaming with something she could never say but now thought was, perhaps, humility.  “Thank you,” she said, then she was gone, and the tower was empty save for Abelard, Anthea, and Elizabeth.
            Elizabeth took a deep breath to keep her heart from breaking.
            “Abelard,” she whispered, “do you know what I mean to do?”
            “Yes, my lady,” he said, and she could not tell what was in his gaze.  “Do what you must.”
            “Flavie is in my household.”
            “I know.”
            “Abelard, I’m afraid.  I’d just decided that I wanted to stay, and now I have to leave again.  I hate to leave everything.  And I’m scared.”
            “I’d like to tell you there’s no reason to be,” Abelard said finally.  “But there will always be something for us to fear, Elle.  It’s better that way.  Else we’d have no reason for courage.”
            “Life has been unkind to us,” Elizabeth whispered.
            Abelard leaned forward and kissed her.  “Don’t say that,” he whispered back.  “We haven’t seen the ending yet.”  His breath was warm against her cheek.  “Do what you must.  I love you.”  She felt more than saw his smile.  “See you in a hundred years.”
            And he turned away from her, to the splintering remains of the door.  He set Anthea down gently on the loveseat and plucked down Papa’s sword from above the mantle, the one he had never wanted to use.  It glittered red in the firelight as though already stained by blood.  He gave a wordless cry and rushed from the room as, on the landing, the door splintered and gave.
            Elizabeth wrung the remaining strength from her muscles, holding nothing back.  With a cry, she brought the shovel heavily down on the first Spinning Jeannie.  It cracked and snarled as it kept spinning, splinters hurled through the room.  Elizabeth stood so her body shielded Anthea.  Then she raised the shovel again and, howling with bloodlust, pummeled her Papa’s pride and joy until it was useless splinters on the carpet, the room was silent, and mankind was undefended.
            A sliver of wood lay on the floor.  Elizabeth snatched it up and, with only the smallest hesitation, drove it into her hand.  It cut deeply, drawing blood.
            She tasted the snap and curl of magic as the curse came upon her.
            Her vision dimmed until the twilight looked golden like a summer’s evening.  Almost overcome with weariness, she staggered over to the loveseat and curled up beside her sister, her arms around her neck, as she had when they were both little girls.  Through her haze, she could hear Abelard’s cries, the ring of steel on steel, the humming of magic—but it dimmed and slowed into a lullaby.  Elizabeth lay her head on the pillow beside Anthea’s.
            A hundred years may pass, but they would only be a moment to her.  She had only to close her eyes.  Then Abelard would wake her, and they would have all the time in the world.  A lot could happen in a hundred years.  There was so much to look forward to.  There would be iron, of course; more iron than she could dream of now, heaped and strung like jewels in a dragon’s horde.  And iron meant there would be no Faire, no wolves and no bog, no babies lost on winter evenings.
            And iron and no Faire meant progress, and progress meant wonderful medicines.  It meant that people with terrible wounds would not die but would live on, healed by something far greater than magic, for when had magic ever brought life?  There was a whole new world just beyond her fingertips, and in her last moment in the time wherein she had been born, Elizabeth wondered if they would have sheep there.
            I’m ready, she thought.  I’m ready to see it.  I want to see the time in which I’m meant to live.

            The voice of Maelӱs’s clock sang out midnight.  In her tower room above the moorland, the last Lady of the Wood fell asleep.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Of the Wood: Part Three

Hello, readers!  Welcome to the third part of my retelling, Of the Wood.  If you're lost, pop back to this post to start at the beginning!

I told you yesterday how those strange, lovely little border ballads inspired the plot and particularities of this story.  Today I'd like to tell you of an adventure that tied these elements together into the final part of the story, the climax.

I love dancing.  I love dancing with other people, especially when it's an actual dance, and we're all not just jumping and flailing about.

I love it most when it is a costume ball.  I got to attend one last summer, at-- you guessed it-- Governor's School, when James Joyce's strange poem and the even stranger border ballads were swimming around in my head.  I wore a black dress and a silver mask shaped like a crescent moon.

It.  Was.  Magic.

All my friends were there, turned weird and unfamiliar in the masks and half-light.  We had lemonade and cheap cookies, turned to nectar and ambrosia in the candlelight.  (There were no candles, but there was still candlelight, such was the extreme magic of the evening.)  We were dancing in the dining hall with the chairs pushed aside.  My feet were bare and stuck to the disgusting carpet.  It was still magical.

And thus I learned the third part of my story.  Like any good fairytale, it concluded with a ball.  But it would be a ball in costume, with the guests disguised.



She didn’t know what to do.  Her path, so straight this morning, was no longer clear.  So she did what she had always done: she sat at Papa’s desk, beneath the red-gold flame of Papa’s sword, and she worked her way through pages and pages of paperwork.  Here was a report on the sheep flocks; she read it quickly, then signed it.  You shouldn’t be signing this, a voice whispered.  You’re not the lady anymore.  But she needed something to do with her hands.
There was a new-fangled theory in the city that men were descended from primordial apes.  Elizabeth didn’t know enough about science to believe or disbelieve it.  But she could easily believe in the hidden brutality of mankind.  Humans were refined creatures of morals and wool and jewels.  But if you scratched the surface, the raging, uncertain creature was there, just beneath.
            Perhaps it was because she thought this.  Or perhaps her own instinctive center was closer than she believed it to be.  But even while her brain worked, the part of her that was more than her brain said: Something’s wrong.
            She looked but couldn’t see.  She listened and couldn’t hear anything, but that was what was wrong, because the clocks were above the mantle, and they-- weren’t—
            She’d felt grief before.  She’d lost before.  She’d buried her loved ones before.
            It hadn’t felt like this.
            It hadn’t felt like the world had jarred on its axis and came to a screaming halt.  And stood and stood endlessly, staring as she did at the two clocks above the table who, in the same breath, had ceased to beat.
            I wound them this morning.
            I’m sure I wound them this morning.
            But this morning her world had ended.
            And, because the universe will always kick you when you’re down, this was the day that Flavie finally cooked lunch and decided to bring it up herself, and now was the moment when she opened the door to see Elizabeth, crouched before the mantle, staring at the two clocks, too miserable to cry.
            “What are you doing?” Flavie asked, which took just enough of the edge off the misery for the tears to flow in great gulping sobs.
            I must now take a moment to give Flavie the credit she is due.  She truly did not like Elizabeth.  She hated her, even, because nothing is as strong as absolute love that has been betrayed.  But enough of that love lay in a cold, dormant corner of her heart for her to lead Elizabeth to the armchair, sit her down, and hand her her own handkerchief.
            “There, there,” she said unconvincingly.
            Elizabeth had never cried this hard before.  She sat there, rigid, until Flavie grew genuinely concerned and bustled off to fetch her a glass of water.  She sat patiently on the bed beside Elizabeth, as she had when they were young, and she continued to be patient even when the tears showed no sign of slowing.  She glanced at the clocks on the mantle to see how long this took, and her eyes widened.
            No matter how deep their grief, a person has only so many tears to cry, even though the number is far greater than one would imagine.  When the afternoon had worn to golden shadows and the handkerchief dripped glumly onto the floor, Elizabeth stopped crying, although each breath still hitched and hiccupped in her chest.
            “This is where I would normally say something like ‘are you okay?’” Flavie said conversationally.  Elizabeth had half-expected her to leave when the storm abated, but instead she tucked her feet up into her skirt like she planned on being there for a while.  “But at this point that would, I feel, be redundant.”
            “Yeah,” Elizabeth said.  She felt like her insides had been hollowed out, like a peach without a pit.
            “Those clocks.  Maelӱs made them?”
            “Out of your parents.”
            “We looked and looked for them, through the bog and the wood and the moorland.  And just before we gave up hope, we found these on the front steps.”
            “And today they stopped ticking.”
            “I think I forgot to wind them.”
            “I see.”  Flavie was quiet for a long time.  “Elizabeth.  You know those weren’t your parents, don’t you?”
            “No.”  Elizabeth looked up at her hopelessly.  “Nobody knows that, Flavie.  The Faire killed so many people to make their art.  How can we say if they died, or if they’re lingering still?  We can’t know… so all I could do was assume it was them, that there was something still worth loving and guarding in these clocks.  But… I forgot.”
            Her eyes landed on the delicate twists of gold and the stern lines of silver.  She thought of Anthea.  They never talked about their parents.  It seemed like picking a scab, prying open an old hurt for the world to spit on.
She had never told Anthea about the clocks.
She wished she had drowned in the bog, too.
Elizabeth fumbled in one sleeve for her handkerchief.  She only had the one, which was a gift and bore the initial A.  It was a large, scarlet A, and Flavie could not fail to see it.  A flush rose in Elizabeth’s skin.  She had been selfish.  She was far from the only one who had cause to grieve.  She was far from the only one who had loved Abelard.
“Flavie,” she said, her voice thick with tears.  “I’m sorry.”
Flavie’s orange eyebrows vaulted up.  “I beg your pardon?”
“I’m so sorry,” Elizabeth whispered.  She felt like she was drowning in misery.  “I’m sorry I didn’t save him.”
At worst, she’d imagined scathing words and a quick exit.  At best, a tearful scene of forgiveness.
She was surprised, then, when Flavie picked up a pile of papers from Elizabeth’s desk and threw them at her.
Sorry?” she screeched.  “That’s what you want to say, you harpy?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said, amazed.  “Don’t—those are sorted!”
But something had sprung lose in Flavie, like a breaking dam or a falling tree.  She shoved Elizabeth, who tripped, off-balance, and landed on the floor in a poof of skirts.  Flavie gathered up the stacks of papers and threw them about the room so they fell, fluttering like snow, papering the carpet, drifting out the window, and sizzling in the fire.  It was insanity.  It was beautiful.
Something uncoiled in Elizabeth’s throat, and she thought she would cry again.  But instead laughter—warm, slippery laughter—spilled out, until she was clutching the back of the chair and howling, eyes streaming.
“Um… Elizabeth,” Flavie said.  “It’s not that funny.”
“It is,” Elizabeth howled.  She had never lost control like this before.  “I put so much work and care into those papers.  They were alphabetized, color-coded, perfectly assembled, and you just threw them out the flipping window, how is that not funny—“
She gasped for breath.  She couldn’t breathe.
“All right,” Flavie said.  “Sit down.  Sit down, and don’t move.”
It took the better part of an hour for Elizabeth to calm down.  Flavie sat her down in a corner, facing the wall and quietly sipping tea.  Then she gathered up the papers, the books, and the records and hauled them downstairs.  Elizabeth was glad she couldn’t see it.  More than ever she had the sense of picking a scab so the blood stung and ran again.
Flavie didn’t let her turn around until the room was clear.  It was amazing what a difference the lack of papers and the clocks could make.  She could see the bones of the study it had once been, a space for reclining in the evenings and writing down one’s thoughts.  It was a pretty room.  But it left a bitter taste in Elizabeth’s mouth.  She wondered, suddenly, if she had spent too much time here, if she had ruined it forever.
Flavie sat down on the floor next to her, holding her own mug of tea.  For the first time in years, Elizabeth properly looked at her.  The bones of the childhood face were still there: a certain boniness that excluded prettiness, the freckles on her fair skin, and of course her indomitable orange hair, tucked and braided into a semblance of order.
They sat in companionable silence for a while, drinking their tea.  Then, as Elizabeth had known she would, Flavie broke it.
“Elle,” she said, “why did you apologize?”
Elizabeth blinked, astonished.  “Why?  You know that I loved Abelard.  And… I failed him, didn’t I?  If I’d loved him enough, I would’ve found him in the bog.  But I never did.  I searched and searched, and I almost drowned.  But I never found him.”
“But why did you apologize now?” she asked.  “Why here?”
Elizabeth was still astonished.  “I thought,” she said slowly, “that it might mean something to you.”
“Mean something to me?” Flavie asked.  “But Elle, you’ve apologized before.  To me.  To the town, the county, the Faire—to everyone.  And we’ve all forgiven you.  You were the one who could never let it go.”
“But—no!” Elizabeth cried.  “You can’t—don’t pretend the townsmen don’t hate me!  I can see it in their eyes.  They blame me for not saving him!”
“They do,” Flavie allowed.  “And it’s wrong of them.  But Elizabeth, they don’t blame you the way you blame yourself.  And it’s easy to hate someone when they never talk to you, never leave their tower.  It’s not your fault.  It wasn’t your fault that your parents died or the town went hungry or Abelard d-- was lost.  But Elizabeth—“  She set down her mug with a clunk.  “It’s your fault that you never forgave yourself.  It’s your fault that you never picked up the pieces and moved on.”
“I’m trying to,” Elizabeth said, stung.  “I worked so hard for this place.  And now I’m working so hard to leave it.  I think—I think that if I can just get out of here, I can be happy.  Somehow.”
“Maybe that’s so,” Flavie allowed.  “But if Brittany can turn back the clock and heal old wounds, I think more people would go there.”
“I hate it here,” Elizabeth whispered.
“No, you don’t,” Flavie said.  Her eyes blazed.  “You hate yourself, and you think that’s the same thing.  But Elizabeth, if you go to Brittany, you’ll be bringing yourself with you.  It won’t change anything.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth.  She closed it again.  She could think of nothing in this world to say.
“I get that you’re unhappy,” Flavie said, staring down into her mug.  “I get that you’re sorry, and that you think no one knows how you’re feeling right now.  But Elizabeth… if you can’t forgive yourself, if you can’t love yourself, then how is anyone else supposed to?
“Try it.  Forgive yourself.”
“I don’t know how,” Elizabeth whispered.
“Just say it.  Humor me.  Say, I forgive myself.”
Elizabeth reminded herself that she did not believe for an instant that Flavie had found the root of her unhappiness.  But, for the sake of her childhood friend, she said experimentally, “I forgive myself.”
A shiver ran down her spine.
“Good,” Flavie said, pleased.  “Thank you.  Now, miss, I’ll fetch your dress.  You’ll want to get ready soon.”
Elizabeth watched in amazement as Flavie bustled out, apron floating behind her.  She said one more time into the silence, “I forgive myself.”
She’d picked the scab clean off, but it didn’t bleed as much as she’d supposed.  In the end, it had been more like lancing a boil or picking off a tick.  Ridding herself of something that she didn’t need anymore.


The whisper of those words still ran through her head while she sat in front of the mirror, Flavie’s brush running through her hair.  It was washed and scented faintly of roses.  Her dress was a dusky, shimmering pink, because she didn’t want to wear white again.  It wafted and billowed at the slightest movement until she was surrounded by twining, petal-like fabric.
            The roses crowning her hair weren’t pink.  They were red as blood against her dark hair.
            She stared at her reflection for a while after Flavie left.  Her face looked raw and untested, like half-baked bread.  Or like clean white sheets, scrubbed clean and bleached fair.  Like something that had been uncovered.
            She’d never realized it before, but she really did look like Mama.  They had the same bones, the same width across the cheekbones and narrowness of her chin.  But she could see Papa in her dark orange eyes, and she could see the townsmen and Anthea there, too.  But mainly she saw Elizabeth, and the thought did not disturb her.
            She liked the look of her face.  She did not consider it the ideal of beauty.  But she liked it just the same, because it was hers.  It was with reluctance that she picked up the delicate mask, with its curved angles like rose petals, and placed it above her cheekbones, the ribbon sliding through her hair.
            Her mouth tugged in the barest shape of a smile.
            “Miss!” Flavie was calling.  “Master Fulgence is here to take you to the ball!”

Fulgence was in the first sitting room, reading a heap of papers.  His coat was scarlet and his mask was a tin soldier, or something similarly shiny.  He didn’t look up when he said, “I found these out on the lawn, but I can’t imagine what they were doing there.  I say, the double structure of your accounts is truly…”
            He looked up.  He stopped talking.
            Elizabeth’s face tugged again as she smiled, and then she laughed.
            “That,” she said, squeezing his hand, “is an acceptable response.”
            “Is that linen?” he said, dazed.  “Or—no, it can’t be—“
            “It is,” she said, smiling.  “Wychwood wool.  Thank you for noticing.”
            “Yes, it’s nice, isn’t it,” he said, and the look of wonder in his face was glazed over by a sharp, analytical eye that unsettled her.  “Spring quality, but the heft in the weave leaves a little to be des—“
            “I think it’s perfect,” she interrupted him.  “Absolutely lovely.”
            “Well, if you like it,” he said, offering her his arm.

Abelard gazed at his face in the mirror.  Cobwebs streaked it and dust covered it, but then, the same could be said for all of his old cottage.  No one had moved in in the four years he’d been gone.
            His mask was an eagle, with real brown and white feathers and a hooked, flashing beak.  It drew out the sharp angles of his cheekbones.  It made him look, curiously, more human.
            A simple mask, green like pine boughs, appeared beside his.
            “They’ll be in masks, too,” Anaïs said.  “You can recognize them because their masks are too good.  They’ll become the creatures they’re imitating.”
            He fidgeted with the ribbon on his mask.  “Anaïs…  Why are you so sure the Faire will be there?  I thought they were gone.  There’s no more magic left.”
            “Yes, there is,” Anaïs said unhappily.  “There’s Elizabeth’s curse.”
            His heart stopped.  “She’ll prick her finger?  Tonight?”
            “No,” Anaïs said quickly.  “But it leaves a trail of magic between two worlds.  And they can use it to find their way back.”
            “On the eve of her wedding,” Abelard said, not without a pang.  He’d always imagined that he would play a more prominent role than gatecrasher at Elizabeth’s wedding.  “Did you know?  Did you see, that long ago?”
            “I have known that the Faire must be stopped,” Anaïs said quietly.  “Even if I am one of them.  I knew there was a curse, and two young men.  And I knew that it wrapped around Elizabeth as tightly as wool around a spindle, and that I couldn’t separate her from them no matter how hard I tried.”
            She looked at him.  Her eyes were green like glass.
            “I’m sorry,” she said frankly.  “My mother tore you out of this world and threw you into another.  There are consequences to that which you are only beginning to understand.  There are years of your life that you will never get back.  This struggle has not used you fairly.  Neither have I.  And I’m sorry for that.”
She took a deep breath.  “But when you want to blame me for this, please remember that my home is a thousand years away, and I will never see it again.  I’m too human for them and too Faire for you.  I have a gift and a purpose, but I don’t know why.  I don’t know what to do.”
            She lowered her head.  Rain pattered on the long-closed, long-covered window, open to the dim grey light for the first time in years.
            Abelard said, “This is rotten, isn’t it?  For everyone.”  Without looking at her, he held out a handkerchief.  Her metal fingers closed on it.  She blew her nose.
            “Yes,” she said.  “But it finishes tonight.  One way or another.”
            As though heeding her words, the clock in the town square rang six times.  Maelӱs had made that brassy, deep-voiced clock.  She’d made every clock in the town.  He wondered if she’d had this night in mind.
            Anaïs raised her head.  “Time to go.”

It would not do for Elizabeth to be the first to arrive at her own ball.  The guests needed time to simmer, spicing up conversations and moods until the moment would be right for her to descend, led like some toy poodle by Fulgence.
            She waited on the landing, fidgeting with the fan looped about her wrist.  It was heavier than it looked; she felt she could hit someone with it quite easily and was disturbed by the path of her thoughts.
            “Are you ready?” Fulgence asked.
            Elizabeth didn’t answer at first.  She gazed out the picture window, where the amber light of the setting sun flamed into bright gold.
            I don’t think I’m ever ready, she wanted to say.  I don’t think I’ve ever been at the right place in time.  I’m the last traces of a dying tradition.  I’m a lady and the guardian of a town that does not need watching anymore.  I am the last in a line of kings, and I will be the one who loses the crown.  I do believe there is a time and a place from me.  But Flavie was wrong.  I don’t think it’s here.
            I don’t know where it is.
            That was what she thought, and what she might’ve said.  But she looked up into Fulgence’s face and saw the beginnings of dread and non-curiosity.  He did not want to know what she thought.  He did not want to know what she believed.  He asked if she was ready, but only so he might receive assurance that she was fine.
            He does not want to know me, Elizabeth thought.
            I can’t marry him.
            It was like a floodgate had opened in her heart and relief poured out, spilling through her veins and bubbling intoxicatingly.  She felt revitalized; she felt alive; she felt like she’d opened her eyes and saw the light.  The past few years were stripped away, and she felt like the girl who had been a shepherdess, and who had loved and lost and lived despite this.
            She was Elizabeth Lawley.  The last guardian of the flock.  And the one who would see it safely into the future.
            She wanted to laugh, because she was not going to marry Fulgence of Brittany.
            Then she wanted, desperately, to be sick right there on the landing, because he was offering his arm to escort her down to the ball that would celebrate their marriage, and she was, at some point, going to have to break it off.
            She saw the future in a glance then.  She saw herself as the lady of Brittany, in a house by the sea, not busying her hands with work because she didn’t have to anymore, raising children to be just like their father and never speaking her mind.
            This is not what I want for myself, she realized.  I want so much more than this.
            “Fulgence,” she said, “I really think we need to—“
            “It’s time,” he said, and they swept down the stairs into the ballroom.

It was like magic.
            Elizabeth had been in the ballroom hundreds of times before.  It was not technically a ballroom.  For the majority of her life, it had been a school room.  There were hundreds of years of memories ingrained here.
            But this evening, they were all swept away.
            A chandelier crowned the room, and from it swirled sewn ropes of braided roses, their thick scent overriding all others: the braised mutton on the high table; the rich perfume the ladies wore; even the faint crispness of the string quarter, which seemed to throw off a precise aroma of its own.  It all swam and drowned and curdled in the scent of roses.
            There’s something about roses, Elizabeth thought.
            But even more magical were the people.  There was the mayor in a crimson mask; his wife trailed behind him, a bluebird.  Fans swung and clacked from the wrists of swans, luminaries, mice, princesses, warriors.  Elizabeth was amazed at the variety and decadence of the costumes.  She bloomed as a quiet summer rose, and she felt as tawdry as if she were a mushroom.  They did not look like the townsmen tonight.  They were too strange and otherworldly.
            It reminded her of Wychwood in the days when the Faire guarded it, when she could slip from her lessons into the heady summer evenings, thick with the heaviness of the bog and the lemony sharpness of magic.  And there had been roses there, too.
            Someone was saying her name.  She looked up to see Flavie.
            “Elizabeth,” she said, “I think something’s—“
            But the clack-clack-clack of fans awkwardly batting together as their owners applauded drowned her out, and then Fulgence was leading her to the high table.  She felt drunk and confused by the perfume lingering almost visibly in the air, and she couldn’t remember what Flavie had said.
            Then everyone was quiet, and she realized that she was expected to speak.  She seriously contemplated palming it off on Fulgence, but it was, after all, her house.
            It’s a good thing this is a long skirt, she thought practically.  They can’t see my knees shaking.
            “F-friends,” she said.  “Thank you v-very much for coming tonight.”
            Could that be it?  She paused for applause.  None came; she must continue.
            “This evening has been a long time in coming.”
            That was not the right thing to say, and they certainly had not expected it.  It brought everything too close to Abelard.  She could see it in their veiled eyes as some half-turned away.
            And suddenly it crashed down on her that they were never going to forgive her.  She could be the perfect guardian and administrator; she could lock herself in a tower for untold years until she grew grey and withered, and at her funeral they would say, “Nice girl, but a shame about Abelard, isn’t it?”
            I’m sorry! she wanted to say.  I’m sorry I’m not sorry enough!
            She was practical.  She was sensible.  She was just the sort of person you would trust to do paperwork.  She was, in short, a nice girl.  She was not the type who would be plunged into a tragic, romantic adventure, spelled and ensnared by danger and magic.  She was a cold lady.  She wasn’t supposed to be one who could mourn and move on.
            I’m not sorry, she thought.  I’m not sorry that I never was the girl you wanted me to be.  I loved him, and he died, and I’m not sorry, because I couldn’t have prevented it.
She remembered the night in the bog.

She was in Wychwood Bog on the night that ought to have been her wedding, drowning in the dark water, pulled down by yards and yards of pearly silk.  Her feet struck only mud when she tried to stand; branches tore the veil from her hair.  Water filled her mouth.  She sank…
            And there, every night, the dream ended.  But in life, it had kept going.
            Because someone had grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her from the dark water.  She coughed and spat out the brackish water, blinking.  She looked up into the face of her rescuer.
            Her heart stopped, because it was Anaïs.
            Elizabeth pulled away, not only because she found the Faire’s touch repugnant, but because she genuinely believed that Anaïs could not support her weight much longer.  She looked ghastly.  Shadows ringed her eyes, fluid crusted her mouth, and she held her arms like they brought her pain.  Elizabeth looked more closely and gasped.  They ended at the wrist.
            “I hate you,” she said slowly.  “I hate you more than anyone else in the world.  But I would not have had that happen to you.”
            “It is my punishment,” Anaïs said sardonically.  “For not giving you the curse my family wanted.”  She asked, “Where are you going?”
            “She took Abelard,” Elizabeth said, and the icy, furious bravery in her broke, and she started to weep.  “I have to get him back.  But they’re nearly gone; I’m afraid I’m too late.”
            “You are,” Anaïs said.  “The Faire are gone from Wychwood.”
            It struck her heart like a stone.
            “Then I’ll break them!” Elizabeth cried.  “I’ll break the Spinning Jeannies!  I’ll let them come back, I’ll let them hurt people again.  I just want him back!”
            Anaïs fixed her with a stare.  It was so reminiscent of the ones she gave when Elizabeth failed to attend to a lesson that Elizabeth shivered with the memory.
            “Do you trust me?” Anaïs asked.
            “Do you expect me to?” Elizabeth answered bitterly.
            Anaïs smiled.  Elizabeth expected her to point out, with her usual, prim logic, that this was not an answer.  But she was merciful and did not.
            “Go home, Elizabeth,” she said gently.  “The townsmen have the same idea as you.  Don’t let them destroy the Spinning Jeannies.  You do not want the Faire’s protection.  You are better off without them.”
            “But I’ll never see him again,” Elizabeth whispered.
            “No one knows the future,” Anaïs said.  “Not even me.  Go home, Elizabeth.”
            So she did.  She left Abelard in the bog and walked home, barefoot and sodden, Papa’s sword dragging in the mud behind her.  She saved the Spinning Jeannies and the town, and she hated herself for it.

But Elizabeth said none of this.  If she did, her audience would be shocked, but they would still clap politely.  She didn’t say it because they, in the end, did not want to know.
            She lifted her chin.  “Thank you for coming.”
            She sat down.  There was an awkward silence before people realized she was finished, then they clapped politely and mindlessly and sat down.
            “You have a way with words, milady,” Fulgence said, smiling cheekily.
            “Fulgence,” she said tightly.  “Be.  Quiet.”
            He obeyed, surprised.  She’d never managed to silence him before and marveled at the power of it.
            The soup course sailed out in the arms of maids hired for the evening.  Flavie, naturally, catered to Elizabeth’s table.  She set the soup down hard enough for some to smear on the edge of the bowl.
            “She doesn’t like you very much, does she,” Fulgence said thoughtfully.
            Elizabeth stared at him in astonishment.  He noticed!  He’d only just noticed!
            “No,” she said honestly.  “She doesn’t like me one bit.”
            “Why ever not, when you’re so charming?”  He’d already started on his soup.
            It was a trademark Fulgence remark.  It could be a compliment.  Or it could be a barb, so fine and lethal-sharp that she’d never feel the cut.
            She swallowed.
            “She thinks I hurt her brother,” she said, voice husky.
            “And did you?  I say, good soup.  A little too salty.”
            “No,” Elizabeth said, “I didn’t,” but he wasn’t listening anymore.
            She couldn’t remember the rest of the dinner very well.  The mayor, in a mask of crimson feathers, carved the roast, and all partook.  When the last course had been cleared away and the guests were drowning the last of the sparkling wine, Fulgence said, “I suppose we’d better dance now.”
            “I suppose we should,” Elizabeth said.  She stood and let him lead her clear of the tables.  She was a competent dancer, not graceful or showy, but she knew the steps.  He looked at a spot over her shoulder while they danced.
            It was the last night Elizabeth would spend in her home.  She had anticipated sorrow, at least; she’d deliberately stuffed a handkerchief up her sleeve in case she had to step out and have a cry.  But she didn’t feel sad, only tired.  So tired it pushed all the other feelings out.  So tired her bones ached.
            I’m sick at the heart, she thought, and I want to lie down.
            Her skirt billowed around them as she spun and twirled.  She had danced before, but not like this.  Not on a magical night, when the twilight came indoors and draped across the dancers like stoles, when it gathered in heavy corners, and the thick musk of moonlight filled the hall.
            It was a partner’s dance, and Elizabeth lost hold of Fulgence’s hand as she twirled into the arms of another man.  He had the face of a fox; it was the most exquisite mask she’d ever seen.  Every hair was picked out in minute detail; a dark light hung in his amused eyes.  His pale lip curled just slightly at her touch, and his breath huffed the fine hairs on his muzzle.
            It was perfect.  It was unreal.
            Elizabeth’s hand went cold.
            She knew only one type of creature that could craft a disguise that cunning.
            The dance swept her into the arms of a goat; he leered at her, head bobbing and warm, animal breath huffing against her face.  It was terrible, unnatural to see the face used so; Elizabeth stumbled, but the next dancer jerked her up as he passed.  She was buffeted and twirled and thrown between dancers, staggering through the movements of the graceful dance.  She caught a glimpse of Anthea in the arms of what she had thought to be the mayor, but the dance swept her away.
            This can’t be! she thought, then instantly scolded herself, because it clearly was.  She’d thought the Faire were gone for good, but here they were at her wedding.  They’re not gone, she thought.  They were only sleeping.
            She needed a plan.  She needed to think, and she needed to plot how to expel these creatures from her home.  Her mind latched onto scattered details: there was salt in the kitchen and iron nails in the stable, and the priest would have brought Communion wine for the wedding ceremony.

            Then she stopped thinking entirely, because she spun into the arms of the next dancer, and it was Abelard.