What, more guests at the Cauldron? How delicious! I so enjoyed the ones that first visited. I am Una, humble servant to my Lady Duessa Ashelocke.
Or she thinks. She believes she’s broken me after all these centuries.
Once I was a lady riding at the side of a knight. I’ve learned a little more about my knight after all this time. It appears he was in the service of Lord Stefan Ashelocke. Yes, the Lady Duessa’s first husband and marriage feast. Devouring his life force gave her an addictional pair of arms, bringing her up to four. Stefan now stands, motionless and eternally beautiful in her garden. My poor knight, I thought Duessa drained him of all life quickly. It appears I still have more horrors to uncover about my dreadful mistress, what she did to both of us. I fear she may have turned my knight into one of her Valentines, dangling from the ceiling. I didn’t recognize him, nor did he recall me. He only has eyes for my mistress.
As for me, Duessa transformed me into this mockery of fae creatures with shredded wings and sharp teeth, sharing some of her appetities.
I’ll never forgive her for this.
My hatred amuses the Lady Duessa. She thinks her contract with the Spider, which created the enshrouded realm of Arachnea, transforming herself and other ladies into arachnocrats makes her invulnerable.
Ah, she’s not. I’ve seen her weakness. I’ve watched him grow up, bless him for being a cheeky little peach, even if he is one of the hated Ashelockes.
Duessa truly underestimates Damian. She indulges him, because he’s her nephew, because he’s found a soft spot in her cold heart, merciless in its lack of regard for males. Duessa allows Damian to learn things she’s never revealed to the other arachnocratic boys. Yet she made an enemy of him. Taking that little cousin of his, Christopher as her third husband was a mistake, even if it gave her a fourth pair of arms.
Boys aren’t allowed to grow to manhood in Arachnea. They’ve drained of their life force when they show the first signs of a beard in a ritual called a marriage feast. What’s left is a motionless statue, never aging, a beautiful, immortal shell to stand in his bride’s garden. Other boys bring him offerings of flowers, praying that they’ll be devoured one day in turn by a powerful bride.
Such hypocrisy, these marriage feasts, the statues of bridegrooms past worshipped by future generations. Duessa believes she’s created a paradise for women by keeping it free of men, not allowing males to grow up to become men, the ancient enemy of women in the patriarchal world she was once came from. I’m not sure if the Spider understands Duessa’s reasons for making a contract. As Duessa becomes more and more Spider, she forgets the bitterness and fear of the woman she once was. Only Duessa is still human as well as monster.
Besides monsters as well as humans make mistakes.
Christopher Ashelocke isn’t in Duessa’s garden. She’s said little about her marriage feast with him, but something happened.
I think he disappeared. He’s not the only one.
Vanessa Ashelocke, ambitious kinswoman to Duessa took a youth called Dyvian as her first bridegroom, Duessa’s own brother. He stood in the garden for a while, unnerving the boys with his eerie stillness. Christopher claimed that Dyvian’s eyes still moved, showing signs of life which shouldn’t be once his marriage feast was over.
Not long after Christopher’s marriage feast, Dyvian disappeared from Vanessa’s garden.
Something is happening, something the arachnocrats did not anticipate. Something which I may be able to use against Duessa.
Not that there aren’t other tools besides Damian and the missing bridegrooms. Vanessa Ashelocke is ambitious, hungry, and only too pliable. There’s Duessa’s charming daughter, the Lady Melyssa, who is so delightfully deviant, shocking the other arachnocrats with her behavior.
It’s just a matter of whispering in the right ears, nudging a pawn here, a pawn there. I’ve learned this game from watching Duessa herself and I’ve learned well.
I live in anticipation for her fall. It’s the reason for my continued existence. I want to see Duessa fall from the pinacle of power and land in the dirt. I want to see her lose.
It’s a dangerous game of treachery I play. It may very well cost me my life. The potential reward is worth it.
Before the end, I will see my enemy fall. I will laugh as I watch her ground down into the dirt.
I simply must be patient and watch for opportunities to move my pawns into places which in turn move Duessa toward her fall.
It’s a dangerous game, but it’s the only one worth playing.