Another three part story set over the downtime period. Moving on from this point, we are all caught up in archiving past stories, and while new posts will be fewer and far between, they’ll be new content. Bring on the winter player event season!
Springborne Curses, Pt 1
Tassato Regario, Autumn-Winter 380YE
The doors fling open with a loud bang, as her skirts swish into the entryway to the Villa Madeira. Bags are left where the porters stack them neatly, their owner already halfway up the steps to the upper floor before she stops, turns, and shouts.
“Yes, yes, Signora! What is it? You are home safe, I see.” The woman slid out a side door from the kitchens, and went over to oversee the unpacking of bags, tutting at the traces of Anvil mud already tracked in onto the mosaics.
“Yes, home, and safe,” and there’s a little hiccup of hesitation in her voice, “but never mind that.” Vitória’s feet skip down the steps two at a time, nearly tripping over her skirts just before the bottom of the staircase. “I want you to send the ivy box under my bed with all the things inside, and my Rose mask, to Serena, soon as possible. Now, in fact. And the pageboys, Nica and Salerio, give them a holiday once it’s done, three months, with pay. Tell them to be scamps, or something, but I don’t want to see them until Midwinter when they can tell me all the trouble they got into — ooh, when the canals freeze I will take them ice skating!”
“It will be months until the canal freezes, even assuming they do this year, Signora–” Marcella tutted as her mistress raced back up the stairs. “And, the boys will be thrilled at the pay, but–”
“The rest of the servants can have a holiday, too– and you. See your families. Spend time with them. Hold them close.” The doors are flung wide open to her bedroom, immaculately cleaned just as it always is when she goes away to Anvil and Marcella can do her job without Vitória undoing all her good work.
“Vitória, why are you sending us away? Won’t you sit down, change from your travelling dress?”
“No!” Her fingers cling to the folds of her skirts, stubbornly, and Marcella can see the new verses in pale thread just about visible from the distance. “This one is my favourite, I like this one.”
“Why are we being sent away?”
“Because I don’t want you to hate me, and after this season you will. Because I want you to be happy, to hold your daughter and wife close. Because I said so, do I need a reason for–”
“Yes, you Barossas always need a reason! And it’s always a stupid one, with you!”
Vitória’s eyes widened, shocked and stunned, before her eyes crinkled and she leaned on a poster of her bed. With tears filling her eyes, “Yes, I suppose we do.”
Marcella watched the short briar slide down the bedpost, into a puddle of skirts and silk on the floor.
“You’re cursed, Vitória. Aren’t you.”
“You have no proof of this.”
“I decline to comment.”
“Why isn’t your family with you? Why aren’t they keeping you distracted, as Adelina was?”
The briar opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
Vitória sat down, straightening her skirts over her knees and getting comfortable, tossing her things aside.
“I’ve been trying to catch you for a chat for awhile now.” She exhaled in a huff, frustrated at the delay but pushing onwards regardless. “It’s about what I did, how I feel, and how I need to progress, what I need to do going forward. And it’s important that you be part of this discussion, because I can’t do this without you. I know I can’t do this without your blessing.”
Her fingers tapped anxiously at the wooden surface before her, then begin to fidget with her necklace, the heavy metal favour around her neck. She sighed and put her head in her hands, leaning against the dressing table on an elbow as she eyed her distorted reflection in the mirror. Her reflected image kept trying to get the attention of shadowy family members around her, to no avail.
“No, it’s okay. You’re busy. I’ll catch you all later.”
“I thought I dismissed you, Marcella,”
“Three times this week. You used to be such a good priest of Loyalty.”
“So you won’t go.”
“No, I will not. You’ve got a client tonight.”
Vitória’s eyes widened, as she reached for her prayer beads, nervously twitching them between her fingers. “I-I can’t see them.”
“Shall I plead you are indisposed?”
“Forever; all clients. I have already explained my change in profession to my patrons in Anvil.”
Marcella dropped the glass bowl in her hands, both women gasping at the shattering crash as it hit the floor. Vitória knelt down, observing the shards of blue-green glass and the patterns of chaotic broken splinters it made on the floor, mesmerized, again distracted.
“Apologies–Forever, Signora? Surely not. You are one of the foremost cicisbeo in the League– oh don’t look at me like that, it was in the Looking Glass and all– do you not just mean to let this season, this curse, pass? No, let me tell him you are away this season again, he is such a rich man–”
Vitória picked up the largest shard of glass she could see, palmed it, and squeezed. “Oh. Look. I’ve gone and cut myself.” Her eyes looked up to Marcella’s as the blood dripped out from between her fingers, voice cold and tightly clipped. “Clean this up, would you,” she asked before sweeping out of the room.
She sighed, splashed at the bath water as fingers ran over her skin, poking and prodding as she takes the latest account of herself.
‘The patch on my thigh; the first patch, the won’t-go-away patch. Look at it, another deep groove splitting the bark and skin. If it meets up with the bark on my knee, I’ll begin to lose flexibility. Andrea had that problem.’
‘Stomach, thankfully no bark, but they used magic there. The veins are getting darker, deeper, like infection setting in to healthy flesh.’ She prodded her abdomen, remembering when the spear had been driven deep and twisted, when she had screamed out Frederick’s name, when she had clutched at Gabriel as he tried to staunch the bleeding, sobbing for the pain to stop. The memory of burning Summer magic coursing through her suddenly made the bath water feel cold by comparison.
She picked up a small handheld mirror, following the veins as they stretched like vines around to her newest deep patch of new formed bark. Her back still ached, still burned, where they had removed shards of metal, digging deep into her spine. ‘It’s all my own fault, isn’t it? Must not have repaired my chainmail properly, the way Rodrigo had showed me to.’ She picked up a bottle of perfumed oil, threw it across the room where it smashed against the panelling with a satisfying crash. ‘Do it properly or don’t do it at all. Didn’t he teach you that?’
Vitória’s fingers ran over her face with a washcloth, catching on the new patch on her cheek; she had forgot this spot. ‘Another line on my face. Thanks, Lupo.’ It was always the right cheek, her reflexes good but never quite timely enough to fully avoid a blow, a punch, a blade. ‘Good enough to avoid dying, not good enough to outrun the hurt involved.’
‘More on my arms, more on my chest, more on my face, until soon what will be left of me?’ She sank into the tub, splashed once more, then rose from the scented water in revulsion. She missed her Rose mask, sent off to Serena. Without it, there were too many thorns and too much bark.
Marcella watched the briar pace erratically, skipping and dancing about the stairs in the courtyard in one of her finest dresses, as if waiting for something to happen.
It was exhausting to be witness to Vitória’s ceaseless energy and mood swings, so much worse than ever before. She adjusted the writing desk on her lap, ‘my dear Duarte, it clearly is progressing much more rapidly under the effects of the curse,’ her pen scribbled across the page, ‘and due to her unbridled penchant for anarchy there is little I can do to calm or distract her.’
The rolling of a cart nearing the house paused her pen a moment, before she passed it off as nothing. ‘It breaks my heart to hear her distress echo the halls when she eventually manages to sleep, ever plagued by nightmares; I thought she was beyond them, after so long, but they’ve returned with a vengeance. Is there not anything medicinal that would ease her–’
Vitória’s movements stopped, her body held taut, unnaturally still; Marcella noticed it first, then heard the quick knock on the thick doors to the Villa. “How odd, we are not expecting anyone to–” it was then she stopped, noticed the rosy glow that was rising in Vitória’s cheeks, the brightness in her green eyes sparkling, the nervous energy in her hands being clasped firmly together before her.
“He’s here. He really came!” Vitória’s voice is warmer, lighter, softer than Marcella had ever heard it. She turned her head towards the door, then moved to answer it, and is surprised at the young man at the door in red and gold, clearly Dawnish by the flower crown and sword which he won’t relax from his grip.
“Hi… I’m looking for Vitória Barossa.” It only took him a moment before his eyes found Vitoria, standing on the stairs with a bashful smile on her lips and a shy little wave.
“Won’t you come in, Ser.”
“You might not want to look in that mirror,” she said as she grabbed for Lord Frederick’s hand, tugging him away. Trust him to find the mirrors– she had forgotten to cover them, to warn him, during his stay.
“Why not?” His hand resisted against hers, attention drawn.
“It’s the… Well, the Masquerade and mirrors, they sometimes interact funny.”
“Well I don’t know how, only it just does. It’s a hearth magic thing.” She tugged at his hand again, urging him away from the looking glass on the wall. “It’s not your hearth magic, you might find it upsetting. Come on, let’s go to the gardens…”
His eyes return to it, and she pulled more forcefully. “Please, Love,” she called to him, trying to keep her voice light, yet it sounded strained.
“I want to see.” She dropped his hand then, stepping back from the sight he might catch of her.
Vitória turned, looking away so as not to see his reaction at the mirror showing his true reflection, without magic and without girding and without bark.
It’s too soon to see such truths, and she doesn’t want to pry.
Vitória’s feet mindlessly led the way down the dark and dirty streets, too crowded and too busy even for this time of night. The celebrations were over, and this side of Tassato was back to its usual pastimes and pursuits, on a grander scale due to the armies billeted within the city. ‘Still stinks. That’s Mestra for you.’
“How do you keep the city streets straight in your head?” Lord Frederick asked, ducking through the crowd to keep up to her, to not lose sight of his guide.
“Don’t know. If I thought about it, I might get lost.” She nudged his sleeve and took his hand to pull him through a narrow gap between two warehouses. “When you’re home in your room, in the middle of the night, can’t you mostly navigate around your room without bumping your shins?”
“So it’s like that. My room is just, the size of two cities.”
“But you hit your knee on a balustrade yesterday–”
“THE BALUSTRADE WAS BEING A JERK, FREDERICK.”
“OY! BAROSSA! YOUR KIND AREN’T WELCOME HERE!” She paused, mentally checked the map in her head, and smiled, before she turned to Frederick, who was already bristling at the danger.
“You are absolutely sure you want a brawl, yes?”
“Absolutely.” Both briars grinned.