So... I cheated on my NaNoWriMo story. I had a dream last night, and the dream wouldn't let me go, and I had to write this before it got away.
To sum up: Me + laundromat + Tide + sniffing too many dryer sheets = inspiration.
The good news is, there's a contest I can enter this excerpt into, so maybe I didn't completely waste the time I could have spent on ELEGY! Maybe I'll expand this when ELEGY's out for critique and I need something to write alongside FOTL...
It was late into the night when Freesia broke the first fundamental law of her country.
Thou shalt not seek, practice, contemplate, or have faith in the evil art of magic.
How many times had she heard those words, sitting in the great chapel with bowed head and aching heart? How often had she witnessed her father sentence a villager to death merely for speaking of the unnatural?
And yet here she was, swathed in black cloth, creeping through the corridors. She slipped down a flight of stone stairs, avoiding the torchlight, and peered around the corner.
As expected, no sentries stood guard in front of the royal library tonight. It seemed that her father had summoned all of his men to the war council, from his greatest general to his lowliest lackey.
Freesia could have danced for joy. The way was clear. She tiptoed to the double doors and pushed them open, thankful to whomever had ordered the grumbling servants to oil every hinge in Copernyck Castle. Once inside, she eased the doors shut and turned to face the darkness.
The cavern of books yawned ahead in stifling shadow, though ribbons of moonlight managed to trespass around the drapes. Silence smothered the air, as though she had just entered a sacred mausoleum of the written word.
Freesia had never liked the library. When she was a child, her father – as light and laughing then as he was cold and stern now – had informed her that women had no business reading. He and his advisors often spent days in this cathedral of languages, where the walls were made of dusty volumes spelling the secrets of men.
Now, she advanced, footsteps muffled by the thick rugs. She had always gone through the great hall on her way to the gardens, but tonight that path was shut to her. She pictured her father perched there on his throne like a great predatory bird, listening to his captains – hovering crows to his towering eagle – argue and strategize. Perhaps talk of the war would distract him enough that he wouldn’t notice her disappearance, even if she was his last remaining child. At least for a few days.
I’ll be long gone by then, she vowed.
By this time, she had reached the doors on the far side of the room. She pushed aside the drapes – hunter green in the daytime, ink black at night – and turned the handle, enjoying the light breeze on her skin after the stuffiness of the library.
The gardens were closed in on all sides by the castle, but the weeping willows would ensure her safe passage. Freesia spied a guard or two passing by the windows, but she knew they would not see her if she stayed low to the ground. She pulled her makeshift cloak tighter about her body and crept to the center, where the little pond lay.
Her mother had loved flowers, trees, and water, and when she had been alive, the garden had been a thing of beauty. Now it was overrun with weeds and grass, and no flowers grew… except for three.
It was these that Freesia had come to see.
“Hello, Aster,” she said softly, approaching the first plant, a blooming scarlet beauty that stood taller than the others. “I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. I knew you’d be angriest of all if I had.” She cupped her hand in the weed-ridden pond, gathering a handful of water that she sprinkled in the dirt.
The next plant, a soft white lily kissed with gold – much like the hair of the maiden it had once been – swayed gently in the breeze, beckoning to her.
Freesia bent and kissed its petals. “Lily,” she said. “How are you? And you, Delphie?”
The blue delphinium bent away, toward the pond, as though miffed at being addressed last. But it turned back all the same, swaying close to Freesia with concern.
“I’ll be all right,” the youngest princess murmured. “I promise I’ll find a way to bring you back. To return things to the way they were.”
She shivered in the grass. Somehow, speaking it aloud made it all the more real. In the shadows of her bedroom, her plan had seemed nothing more than a fantasy, a fairy story.
The delphinium moved even closer and Freesia stroked the long green stem, trying not to cry. “It should be you going, not me. You were always the brave one, Delphie.”
She remembered how, at sixteen, Delphie had disguised herself as a knight and attempted to enter their father’s jousting match. To the relief of everyone – especially the male competitors who would surely have killed her – she had been discovered by Gerald before she even mounted her horse.
“He’s fine. As handsome as ever,” Freesia added, smiling a bit, remembering the budding romance between her sister and the bravest of the king’s guard. “He misses you. And loves you still.”
But not enough, she added silently, regarding her sisters, once women whose hair blew in the wind, now neglected blooms rooted to the earth. Prisoners of nature. Not enough to believe me when I tell him that you’re still alive, when I tell him what you’ve become.
It had been the witch’s last spell before she died upon the guards’ swords, died laughing as the breath left her body.
Died laughing because the king’s response to the murder of his wife and the curse on his elder daughters was to outlaw magic completely, to thrust its veil from the eyes of his kingdom.
Died laughing because with hardened eyes, he had banned the one thing that would save them.
Freesia squared her shoulders. The only thing that witch hadn’t bargained for was me.
Yes, she might be far too young. Yes, she might be terrified of everything – spiders, heights. Darkness. But she was all that was left, with her father frozen by grief and her valiant brothers in unmarked graves far across the sea, their blazing lives snuffed out by another meaningless war.
And if no one believed that the eldest princesses were still alive, and that their only salvation lay somewhere in the Forsaken Lands, then Freesia would go. And she would go alone, though the mere thought of the darkest reaches of the forest filled her with a choking terror.
She hastily swiped at her wet cheek and stood up. “I’ll be all right,” she repeated, though it was more to convince herself than anything. She turned her back and melted into the sighing trees.