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.

 

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Where did we begin?

Warning for Find-Out-In-Play headspace.


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There has been a shift in my perception, so subtle and so unobtrusive that I am unaware of its happening, of when it began and how it proceeds more and more with time.

I try to think back, map out and chart our interactions, our passings, our conversations. Such slight things. So small, unobtrusive, that now I look back in wonder: where and how and why and when?

When did we meet? I don’t rightly know, cannot remember a moment where we were formally introduced. I remember I played you, in the performance you commissioned for Wassail, when you were grieving, when you had a story to tell about your love now lost. I played your role in the tale: the Dawnish lover, the surviving lover. I didn’t even know you. I didn’t understand the depth of love, then, but I still cried for your loss, after removing the mask.

I think the first time I sought you out, was to ask you, afterwards, if you had liked the play, whether we had succeeded in fulfilling the commission. You didn’t really meet my eyes. It was a short conversation, awkward, and you left soon after. You were a patron, I did not take offence.

When did you learn my name? Was it for myself, or was I just another Barossa, therefore a name worth knowing. Did we pass each other in Anvil for a while afterwards, were there glances, did we say hello?

I remember… though I don’t like to think of it, I remember the time spent in the Barrens. I remember the flashes of knives, and the searing of brands; I remember the torture and the slavery and the fighting for freedom– and I don’t think I even really knew you then, but, you came with the others to save me. And I even now don’t know why you did it, whether to right the wrongs of your brethren, or whether you came to help Serena free me, or you did it because it was the right thing to do. But it couldn’t be for me, myself.

Afterwards, I should have thanked you. I don’t think I did. But I was in shock, I was ungrateful and scared and hurting. I should have thanked you.

I think, from this moment, we were aware of each other. I knew little of you. I knew your name, and that you were a friend of Serena’s.

There’s a brief, vague memory of you and your sister, your fearful, trembling sister; I remember trying to help, trying to calm Eleanor’s soul and ease her fears with an anointing. I remembered the same fear, that twice-instilled fear, still shake from it even now — of course I would help her. Did you ask me to help? Did I ask to help?

I learned that you were a priest of Loyalty, sometime after this; I thought of you as a rival, and I was jealous. Such a stupid thing — Gabrielle, then Robbie, mentioning talking to you about issues of Loyalty, as if I hadn’t always been the family’s priest, that my life’s work, that all my ambition in life –to always be theirs, and support them, and remind and reinforce our family’s loyalty– was for naught because they were going elsewhere with their problems. That hurt, stung bitterly. I felt as nothing, not good enough. I didn’t know then, as I do now; now I only have gratitude that they had such as you to go to.

I remember, the second time I met your sister, and could still see the fear in her. And I bit my lip, and I hid my own fear, and I tried to be as gentle as I could in discussing it with her, with you standing at her side. I hated myself so much during that conversation, as one faced with one’s own hypocrisy. I think… I think I helped her. She seemed to confront… something, in those discussions.

Then, we were discussing theology. Were we colleagues, by this point? There’s no chance that I impressed with my mighty verbose skills. But, you didn’t dismiss my questions, my hypotheticals, you actually listened and heard what I was trying to say. And you didn’t make me feel like a failure, or a fool, for my brain working along lines that not everyone understands.

I didn’t know what to say, the next day, when you were suddenly before me, and giving me a pendant. Beyond the fog of a Winterskin tonic, I was so doubting of my merit that when I learned it was a favour– for the thought that anyone would ever value me to bestow anything like that– I don’t remember what I said. I really hope I thanked you. I turned to Gabrielle then, and asked what it meant. She reassured, she smiled; I think she was stunned too. Was this when we became friends?

But I survived, that battle. Broken, yes, in agony at each step, yes — but I was alive. I think, then — I think, then, for the first time in how long? Ever?–I think then, I felt hope. It was faint, it was suppressed, but it was there. You helped carry me back to camp. I grabbed at my chest, only reassured that your favour was still there protecting me. Gosh, but then Sylvia was dead and I was in shock and the tonic made me numb, and you found me another priest to Testimony her soul, because I couldn’t move. I had forgotten this.

I was not used to such kindness, unbribed. I think it was then, I began to make an account of your kindnesses, and the tally was long.

In each stitch, in every bead that I thread onto my needle, in each curve of embroidery and each twist of thread, I am tallying every change in our relationship. Then the favour –when did it become a favour?– is finished and I am placing it in its box, and tying the ribbon around it, and placing it into my travel sack. And I’m still wondering, when and how and why and when.

I don’t know what we are now. But I want to find out.