Springborne Curses, Pt 2

Part 2 of the downtime triptych. These events take place between King’s Stoke Wassail IV and Mindforged Manacles I Hear player events.


Springborne Curses, Pt 2
King’s Stoke / Tassato / Necropolis, Autumn-Winter 380YE

“So what does it feel like?”

Her hands flailed while she stuttered, trying to find the words to explain. “It’s like…. Endless frustration? No, worse, more… It’s….”

Fingers ran through her hair, trying to calm her, yet the flustered feeling in her stomach continued to grow, until Vitória felt ill, rushing up to open the window, the cold biting air stinging  her cheeks.

“It’s…”

***

Everything came on suddenly–that was how it was with briars. There was no stealth, no subterfuge; it was direct and blunt and that was how she liked it. It was odd to remember back –it felt like a lifetime ago, when she wasn’t one– what was she like then, can she even recall? Vitória remembered it being different. She remembered that the perpetual confusion only came on after the ritual, after her wounds grew bark.

Suddenly, Briars! Suddenly there was this support network that drew her in, cared for her, wanted to help her. She could rely on that, she could count on it.

But there, like a missing stair — sometimes, suddenly, there WEREN’T briars anymore. And then what?

Suddenly, Vitória had very few people to count on, to be direct with, to be herself with, unreservedly. With anyone not of the lineage, there was always that attempt to hold back, to be ‘normal’, to be what they wanted to be. All the briars who had her back, kept her grounded, sane… they were all gone now.

Suddenly, she had no one to admit to, that she was struggling.

***

They hitched a ride along the road back to Tassato, curled up in the back of a cart in a mound of blankets and cloaks. It sheltered them from the biting wind that’s coming down from the north.

“Are you okay?” He asked, searching out through the blankets for her hand. Her fingers were cold, and he tucked them tightly into his warmer palm.

She thought about the question a moment, her eyes tearing themselves away from the forest around them, the forest to the southwest specifically. “Um… no…” She mumbled distractedly, her eyes peeling back to the woods.

“You’ve been eyeing the south since we’ve left.”

“Yeah. I just, am getting a weird feeling about the forest. It might be from Felicity.”

“A remnant?”

“M-maybe? No, probably,” she acquiesced. ” I don’t think I really realised, before… how young she was. And,” her head tucked down into the blankets. “I just want to keep her away from the forest.”

“Maybe it’ll pass once we’re outside the Mourn.”

“Maybe.”

***

Vitória normally knocked on the door; this time she shouldered it open. She untied the heavy cloak around her neck that still smelled of wood smoke and Stoke, and tossed it on the workbench that smelled of iron shavings and oil and charcoal.

She didn’t say anything, and her brother said even less, just looked up from his work, then back to it, continuing the obscure project he worked on– Vitória was too distracted to try and figure it out, and any guess she’d make would probably be wrong. But he made no comment, let her pace in the far corner, hop up onto the drafting table and kick her legs out, climb and swing from the overhead rafters. She watched him work, then lost interest; she meddled in the projects that she knew he wouldn’t yell at her for disturbing; she swung around a couple of his new-fashioned weapons, and packed up a set of armour that’s to be shipped off to its purchaser.

It’s only much later, when he wiped sweat from his brow, took off his apron and changed his shirt, and sat down for a moment that she moved across his workshop to hug him.

“Want to tell me what’s wrong, Sister?” He mumbled over her head, hugging her with one arm, messing up her hair with the other hand.

“Only everything except what’s right.”

He was the only one who knew that the only time she actively wanted to talk, is if the answer to “Are you okay?” was “No.”

***

“Marcella!”

The housekeeper ignored the call for the moment needed to place the last bag down by the door, then turned her head at the sound of rushed bare feet above her. Vitória barrelled into the banister on the upper floor, peering out over the stairwell.

“Here, Signora.”

“Did you send that letter I asked you to earlier?”

Marcella picked up her skirt as she climbed the stairs, as the briar rushed to meet her at the top, taking her hands in her own. Her fingers trembled, her eyes pleaded, as if clinging to a shred of Courage. “Did you send the letter?” her voice warbled out, stressing each word.

“Yes, of course I did–” Vitória’s fingers, so cold, recoiled from her, her eyes fearful, immediately filling with tears. “Signora, what’s wrong?”

The briar just shook her head, hiding her face before she turned and ran off back to her rooms, fleeing.

***

It was over a dozen hours before anyone could find Vitória. Marcella knew the usual places to look when Vitória disappeared — the theatre, her brother’s workshop, her office at the Chantry, her usual haunts for drinking or bar fights. It was only as the list dwindled that Marcella admitted to a shred of worry forming in her heart. Vitória ran when she was upset, but she ran to very specific places.

Eventually she returned to the Signora’s bedroom, following a trail of disorganization to the window, which was left open. Anyone else would have read the room and thought the occupant had fled via the window, and the trellis that climbed down to the gardens from there. Marcella knew better.

She walked into the adjoining closet, tucking down underneath the shelves of boxes neatly stacked and dresses hung amid sachets of vanilla. She very nearly missed the stock-still woman, curled in a tangle of skirts and a pile of folded winter-weight blankets.

“Vitória… Signora…” The glassy eyes stared back at her, unseeing.

“Why’d I say yes?” The voice was mechanical.

She edged closer, gently picking up a dagger tucked under a box within easy reach, and tossing it out of the way. “I don’t know Signora. Why did you say yes?”

Marcella approached cautiously, as one would to a wounded animal frightened in the corner, which might not have been that far from accurate. She tucked her frame into the space beside the briar, still too still to be anything other than worrying. Her fingers reached out to Vitória’s hands, clenched too tight for too long against the woman’s side. Her fingers were ice, and a touch to the cheek showed it too lacked warmth. Arms held still for hours were stiff, and there was no way to cradle Vitória in Marcella’s arms, too paralyzed was her form, unable to move.

“Why did I say yes?” Again, the hoarse croak from her lips.

Marcella couldn’t tell. She just sat by her lady, trying to warm Vitória’s form, frigid from either shock or fear or some combination of both, staring at the door like ghosts from the Labyrinth were going to burst through.

She would call for a physick later on.

***

“You should not go.”

“I have to. Help me with these sleeves.”

Vitória clumsily slipped the warm travelling dress over her head, while Marcella picked up the sleeve from the dresser.

“You’re not well. Please, Vitória, do not go. Frederick will understand. The Militia will understand.”

“I already said yes, things are already packed.”

Realizing her mistake, Marcella’s hand grabbed Vitória’s, holding it firm. She turned the briar towards her, made her meet her eyes. “Squ–erm, whatever you do, do NOT squeeze my hand.” The conflict in Vitória’s eyes burned dimly as Marcella waited for the return pressure on her palm that never came. “You can’t, can you? Your fingers are numb again.”

“Of course I can!” She waited, defiantly, yet still no pressure was returned. The briar’s face crumpled, a shaky breath the signal that she was distraught. “Why does this keep happening?!”

Marcella sat her down, perched beside her on the bed to slip the sleeve strings through their loops. Vitória stared down at her hands, loose and limp in her lap, as if her eyes could will them to react. “I do not know, Signora. Shall I go fetch Lord Frederick?”

“No. You shall NOT,” though her shoulders fell a little more, “Though I could not stop you.”

“Shall I discuss this with Duarte? He would be kind, understanding…”

“No… he’ll want to run some experiment.” She hiccuped, drew her knees up at the thought, and whimpered.  “Why did I say yes?”

“Vitória. As your friend,” Marcella took her weakened hands in hers. “Please, I really….” She paused to think of her wording, but Vitória shook her head, hearing nothing.

“I have to go. I gave my word.” But her fingers remained cold and still in Marcella’s hand.

***

As quickly as she could amid driving rains, she picked her way through the monuments to the Virtuous, passing the few pilgrims and dedicants brave enough to weather the storm to marvel at the statuesque and grand tombs of the Necropolis. The weather made everything drearier than usual, and difficult to see. The way was only half remembered, and more than once she doubled back when the path became unfamiliar.

She wished Civetta was with her again, brawling and bashing her way through every tavern along the way. Problems were simpler, then. Not that Frederick was not welcome company, but Vitória had been lucky that the tavern keeper at the inn didn’t recognize her from her last visit.

Her feet finally found the path that she wanted, ducking around a plinth and into the Tomb in question. The door opened silently on well-oiled hinges when she unlocked it. Only the sound of rain outside echoed in the space, and the stone chilled her, sapping the warmth from the air around her. Vitória’s hand reached into the dim space, feeling for the wooden chest that should be by the door, which contained candles and torches. It was not quick work to light a candle with her weakened, numbed, frozen fingers, but eventually she could spread light around the tiny chapel, then shut the door to the outside world, so she could finally pray in peace.

‘This is where I end.’ The thought should not have been comforting. Yet — Here, there would be space for all their names, all their remains. Two new spaces had already been made. Some day a space would be made for her own ashes. Maybe she would be remembered, as each of the names already carved were. Knowing where the story ended, if not how, she could handle that.

Her sleeves served to dust off the mosaic mirrors around each candle holder, and she took painstaking care as her hands picked up each of the jars of ashes and cleaned them carefully.

She knelt on the floor, surrounded by the engraved names of her family, and continued her devotions, that she would find semblance of grace and Courage.

Though all before me is shadow,
Yet shall Virtue be my guide,
I shall not be left to wander the drifting twists of the Labyrinth
For my brothers and sisters shall find me
For there is no darkness in the Path of Virtue
And nothing that we have wrought shall be lost.”

***

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Springborne Curses, pt.1

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.

“Marcella! MarcellaMarcellaMarcella–”

“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.”

“Unfettered Anarchy?”

“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–”

Marcella.”

“But Signora–

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.”

“How?”

“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?”

“Well, mostly–”

“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.

***

Fingers

She was thankful that the sun has set, before she had finally managed to remove her armour, wash the blood from her fingers and take a moment to breathe and scream and sob. It meant that it was dark before she ran from her tent, where Robbie had slept the night before, within arms reach, where they had joked and laughed and talked as only briars could, openly and freely and pulling no punches. And it meant that no one could see her run from her tent in a state of un-League undress and with tears streaming down her face, desperate to find a family member.

She was thankful that the tent was dim, when she entered the back of the Foxes’ tent in her chemise, carrying her dress in shaking hands and trembling fingers that could not fasten her sleeves properly. It meant that no one could see her shock, or her embarrassment, no one could see the blush that sprang up to her cheeks at seeing Fred inside with the others, waiting for her. And it meant no one saw her slowly hug her dress closer to herself and feel utterly naked in present company.

She was thankful that none of the other Foxes said anything about it, if they noticed (and they surely noticed!), when she sat down beside Frederick with her dress tossed over her knees, struggling to make a start on the sleeves. It meant that she could sit here quietly with her mortification, and focus on getting dressed without embarrassing herself any further, without the usual snark and loving insults that, while normally a sign of acceptance and affection, would have pushed her over the edge. Only her fingers would not stop shaking, and the task would take all night at this rate if she couldn’t…

She was thankful when Fred’s fingers picked up one of her sleeves and set to helping her, his attention engrossed in fitting the ribbons into the tiny rings that held them along one shoulder, while she worked on the other side. It meant that from the corner of her eyes she could watch his fingers caress the ribbons of her sleeves, the fabric; she could compare her own trembling fingers to his assured ones, and wonder at all the things that fingers do…

She was thankful that the whole task did not take long, and that she could gracefully excuse herself to step out the back of the tent to put the dress on. It meant that she could try and get her mind off of the idea of what his fingers would feel like on her skin, of whether the world would stop and everything in the midst of the storm would fall into place, like in everyone’s stories. It meant when she sat down next to him again, she had mostly stopped her fingers from shaking, when she put her hand in his and he squeezed it reassuringly. His fingers were so warm.

It was a long while before her mind successfully moved on from thinking about it.

E16 2016 – Prompts

Prompts from Empire 16 – Autumn Equinox.


Rose 

I am holding the rose, twisting its stem delicately between my fingers, as the sudden weight of the night curse weighs down my shoulders, presses me to my knees and my body into the ground with the weight of every emotion, ALL EMOTIONS. My rings burn on my fingers, my mask falls from my face– is there any clearer omen?– and the rose in my fingers blooms from its tight bud to the largest rose I’ve ever seen.

And then suddenly I am laughing, for the weight of the world is gone, and I am suddenly freed from everything, anything. A million and one paths extend forward, and I am truly free to choose where my feet shall go from this moment onwards. And I know where I am going. Perhaps I’ve always known. Perhaps this is a new path. All I know is that I must make a start down it now, before anyone tries to stop me or make me doubt. Without a mask to hide behind, without my rings to remind me, I am free — I remember them, and their loyalties, but I am not constrained by them. I laugh, I then want to cry, I grin and know exactly where I am headed, what I am going to do and no person can stop me, derail me or deny me.

I hold the rose between my fingers. I giggle as a thorn on its stem cuts deep into my finger. I smile as the hallow in my ears gently whispers all the tenets of Loyalty.

The path is before me, and I am free to choose, and I am set upon it.

What happened to my heart 

It had begun when she left Lord Frederick in the Barrens, to rush back to Tassato and to service and to armies that needed her. The longing, the missing a part of her heart, the sensation that she was being pulled in two directions by two Loyalties. She had started to wonder, ‘is this Love, that so many speak about? Is this causing my heart to flutter when I think of him?’

It started to become more pronounced when they set off for Anvil, the racing pulse, the skipped heartbeats whenever she thought of him, of that Loyalty, of all the things she could do, should do, must do, to make it right, to decide, to take action. ‘I’m going to see him soon. Soon.’

It continues, happening again and again; the breathlessness, the halted pause, the missed heartbeat that holds just a moment longer, the chill in her heart before it beats again. But she had spoken to so many, and they’d always assured her that ‘well, yes, if it is love that you are feeling, your heart can feel as though it skips a beat.’

It’s getting dark now, as she braves the party her family is shunning to try and find Lord Frederick. She can’t find her family –or any physick she trusts– to help, to reassure her but to do it quietly because she’s starting to get worried, as every missed beat is now taking longer and longer to resume, because it’s making her dizzy and it’s starting to hurt.

It’s a difficult thing to say, to go up to Lord Frederick and ask for help. It’s even more regrettable, once it’s done and others are just assuming that when he takes her off to one side, sits her down, it’s for amorous purposes and there are shouts for a chaperone that are just riling her up and making her regret her plea for help. But when she tries to stand she’s dizzy, her heart slows to a standstill, and despite her anger and frustration at being vulnerable giving her bursts of fuel for the fires, it hurts.

But her heart stops, when a razor thin spike is pulled from a surgeon’s kit and they’re trying to hold her down, pin her in place, and stab her in the chest as if it were the most normal thing to do in Anvil on a Friday night, and all she can do is try to fight them off and flee, and not even Frederick on one side and Robbie on the other can calm her down.

“THERE’S A WHAT IN MY HEART???”

I would go with you

Just when I think I can catch my breath, I lose it.

It happened the same when Felice died. We had broken our curse, we were happy Foxes in the rain, heading off to battle with the surety that we could do anything, that we could survive anything. So when she died the next day, I was broken. I was broken for a year.

I’m losing myself, in this curse. There is no time to catch my breath.

It happened when you died, Robbie. I had been cursed, with the most extreme form of emotions and chaos and energy there is in the Empire. But I was happy, driven to chase after the one thing I wanted with all my heart –you taught me to go for it– and I got it. I was so happy; I don’t think I got to tell you how happy I was. Am. But… but I should have been by your side, and you would be smiling and laughing still, and there wouldn’t be this heartbreak. You are so, so still.

I haven’t caught my breath since.

I try to carry on. I try to direct the driving force of this curse with the knowledge that if I don’t chase my own happiness now, I will die before I know what it feels like. So I carry on, best I can, losing myself to the flurry of emotions I feel. Because if I race after a moment of joy and love, maybe sorrow won’t catch me. So here I sit, beside the man I love, listening to conversation and joy and music.

But it only last until the first reminder of you, and your smile, and your energy, and your joy. They sing, ‘I could never go with you, no matter how I wanted to,’ and the wind is knocked from me, and sorrow catches up to me again, and I’m fleeing from the sudden turn of emotion.

Who will teach me to breathe now that you’re gone?

Chimes of the Chorus

The gentle chimes surround me with their chorus, singing out of the folds of my dress. They sing for my friends now gone, they sing out the invisible chains that will lead my soul to the right path, to future lives with beloved family. I hear their ringing in my ears wherever I go, but in this space, in our space, that I keep pure as a shrine to the Loyalty of my family? It is the most beautiful music of the soul.

So when I stand, suddenly, when I hear the melodious music shift and change to another key, a discordant key, Frederick halts the conversation. “Vitória, is something–”

“It’s all… It’s wrong. Don’t you feel it, in your soul? This is NOT Loyalty.” Everything else is forgotten; The Chorus screams a warning in my soul, at the invasion, at the severed link. “Frederick, they’ve changed it somehow, CHANGED IT–this is a space for Loyalty, not…”

He closes his eyes, feeling and listening, and he bristles with outrage. “Not chance… Not Luck.” He spits the word as a curse, his eyes hardening, his fists clenched ready to lash out.

We pull back the tent door to fix this and I am stopped dead by Gabrielle who stands at the doorway with thunder in her expression. In her hands, the joke that will never be funny; in her eyes a Reckoning debt is being tallied. From the tent, a dead fox carcass hangs.

I cannot hear the Chorus of Loyalty any more.

Embrace

I haven’t even truly spoken to my family, let alone his, for plans are beyond me, everything beyond me but the emotions and the feelings, all amplified. I am living in the minute, the moment, the now. What use in making plans when in a moment I might laugh, or cry, or fight, and then be swept away in the storm?

I’m in pain, and I hurt, and I’m on the knife edge when she approaches. There are no plans to guide me, and I don’t know what to do, to say, I don’t know what Eleanor knows, and suddenly everything hinges on this moment, this minute: I’m in too much pain to–

And then she wraps her arms around me, and a new minute begins. A fresh minute.

I will talk to her soon. When plans can be formed. Maybe… Maybe she’ll even help me. But in this moment, this minute, this hug is all I didn’t know I needed.

The gentle nudge of Courage

You are the one person who knows my secret, who knows my truest desire. You held the mirror as I looked deep inside, you could see reflected in my eyes just what my life is lacking, what I crave above all things. How odd, that you are the only person I could trust with that knowledge.

You gave advice you knew I would not follow. That, in a rebellious state, I would disregard your instructions, and be happier for it, would prove my Loyalty stronger than the effects of a mere curse, and my Courage stronger for taking the harder path.

You set me a challenge, a dare: you knew I would take you up on it, didn’t you? And in doing so, I would once again earn the one thing I desire above all, but this time you could provide it. And that when I fulfilled your task, it would be with the eyes of those I need to impress in future upon me.

You are the best priest I know; fools, all those who dismiss you, who cannot see you as you are, and who don’t realise that sometimes you just have to show someone the window and with the right words, they’ll throw themselves out of it.