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

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.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

This just keeps getting better! Lovely work, Allison!