Welcome to the Valentine’s Day Blog Hop! Special thanks to Nicki J. Markus, who invited me to play in this holiday hop! To see all the players and explore this Valentine extravaganza, go to http://www.nickijmarkus.com/2017/01/valentine-author-blog-hop-sign-ups.html
I’ve got a special segment of a tale from the Navel for you all. Part of another one of Christopher’s adventures at the Navel, when Duessa Ashelocke decides to woo him. Christopher doesn’t wish to be wooed by anyone, other than Damian, who is missing. (Curious what happened between Christopher and Damian? Tune in on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to read their story in ‘Waiting for Rebirth’.) Peter, a recent employee taken on by Gabrielle to fill the void left by Damian’s absence, has been trying to do so, unsuccessfully. Alas, to accept the advances of an arachnocratic lady is very dangerous, especially when she’s Duessa Ashelocke. For one’s Valentine is often one’s snack. It’s very unladylike not to show any interest in devouring a comely youth, when he offers himself so willingly.
“Be my Valentine?” Something soft and silky brushed against my cheek, exuding the scent of a freshly picked rose.
“Isn’t that what you call all of your lovers, Lady Duessa?” I asked. I studied the lady, who’d reached out one of her eight arms to offer me a single flower.
“Certainly not,” she said. The lady smiled, exposing one of her sharp canines. “The roses I usually offer are red as blood. I consider it a subtle warning about my ultimate intentions.”
I didn’t make a move to touch the flower. Any gesture of acceptance could be dangerous.
Duessa smiled a little wider and nodded her head in a courtly manner. She lowered the rose, so I could see its color. Its petals weren’t read. They were a beautiful ruby purple. Exactly like the flowers which grew in the place where I’d first seen Damian, touched his hand. The very same color as his eyes.
I gritted my teeth, trying to keep anything too rude from escaping my lips. Duessa Ashelocke was Gabrielle’s former mentor. She was also a lady and a regular customer at the Navel. Most importantly, she was Damian’s aunt. I ought to be afraid of her. At the very least, I ought to respect her.
“I don’t know why you’re offering such a rose to me, Lady Duessa,” I said. I kept my eyes fixed upon a store shelf. All the skulls Damian had created out of clay rested upon it. They grinned at me with all the mischievous merriment of their maker.
I’d found these lost skulls in storage and brought them out of hiding. Some customers found their empty eye sockets terrifying, which was why Gabrielle had packed them away. I’d once found their grins comforting, but I was learning to appreciate their empty stares. They saw nothing and expected nothing in return. Right now, their bared teeth reminded of a bright, sparkling smile Damian used to dazzle and confuse others with. Just another little piece of him to hold close to myself, since the rest of him had slipped through my fingers.
“Ah, but the color matches your eyes, so prettily,” she said with another little bow. I watched her sides warily, but her extra arms had faded into the shadows. She looked quite human right now. I had to remember she was not.
“That’s not true,” I said, glancing at the rose.. My eyes might have a purple cast, but they were nothing like Damian’s. Nothing. “My eyes are only a pale lavender shadow of that vibrant hue.” I didn’t even bother to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
“Ah, poor little Christopher, abandoned in this shack of a store by the one who brought you here,” Duessa said, pressing a free hand to her chest.
I gave her a sharp look at that comment. Duessa had suspected from the moment she met me I wasn’t truly Gabrielle’s son, although she treated me as if I was, bless her generous heart.
“Why reject me?” Duessa asked. She softened her voice, even as she narrowed her lips in a knowing smile. “I could keep you in far greater splendor than Gabrielle does. You could quit working in this absurd monstrosity of a shop.” Contempt dripped from the word ‘shop’, as Duessa regarded the Navel’s shelves, rack, and counter. Gabrielle referred to this place as ‘the center of things bizarre’. Truly, the Navel did sell some bizarre things. Metal and wicker models of chicken gods occupied places of prominence on the shelves and counter. An open wardrobe carved with scowling demons was filled with ritual robes embroidered with smiley faces. Oh, there were more easily identifiable things, such as books, crystals, and candles, but there were also items which would appear suddenly when a particular customer came in. It was just one of the ways of the Navel, which I’d come to accept without question.
My favorite items in the shop were Duessa’s least favorites; Damian’s skulls. Anything he’d carved, drawn, or painted drew my eye, or my hand. I couldn’t resist to urge to touch the box he’d created to hold a deck of cards he’d painted.
“These images mean many things,” he’d said with a cock of his head and a twitch of his lips. I stared at the pictures on the rectangles of paper, showing a boy at the edge of a cliff, an egg in fiery waters, of a robed figure with a scythe. I could be absorb myself in their imagery for hours. None of them were the equal of his painting, ’Waiting for Rebirth’. The one I’d modeled for, which had ultimately taken Damian away from me. ‘Waiting for Rebirth’ was no longer in the store, or anywhere in this world. Not that Duessa missed it. She had disliked the painting even more than the skulls. Duessa took offense to all of her nephew’s artistic endeavors. A strangely sensitive attitude, since there were far more offensive things in this shop.
“Come, why are you bothering our shy little blossom?” Speak of the offensive and he will grab you. I’d asked Peter not to, many times, yet he still dug his fingers into my shoulder, as if it belonged to him. Peter was the replacement Gabrielle had found for Damian. Actually, he wasn’t a bad person, when he wasn’t grabbing, or flirting. “Especially when there’s a rose in full bloom present, irresistibly drawn to the flower in your fair hand?”
Reveling in his own purple prose, Peter nudged me slightly to the side. He wasn’t much bigger than me, but much more confident about his slightness. He had fair skin, not as pale as Damian’s, but milky, exposed in careful patches through his poet’s shirt and open red vest. Peter was like a little bird, strutting and showing off his plumage to all possible mates. This meant just about everyone. You never would have guessed this, from the way he fixed his dark, soulful eyes upon Duessa Ashelocke.
In all fairness, I can understand falling for Duessa at first sight. She has the same luminous skin as her nephew, the same heart-shaped face, the same delicate, clever hands. The problem is that there are eight of them, instead of two. She keeps the additional six hands, as well as the arms they’re attached to, hidden. How? I’m not entirely sure. At first glance, she looks like nothing more than a beautiful human woman. Eventually, you’ll see her true form, if you truly look at her. Not only does she have eight arms and hands, but eight pairs of eyes. Each eye appraises your beauty, power, and flavor.
I doubted Peter saw anything, besides a beautiful woman. I wondered, if I should warn him. Flirting with Duessa could be dangerous. She might take Peter’s advances seriously.
Liked this story fragment? Let me know if you’re interested in reading more.
Some of you may be wondering, “Just who is this #$% moving in on Christopher?” Here’s a little fragment introducing Peter and how he first came to the Navel in ‘Unwilling to Be Yours’ at inspirationcauldron.blogspot.com.
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