On May 16, 2018, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt at ptwyant.com, involving a bully, lace, and a fence.
This inspired a huge Tale of Omphalos, which I split into two.
Part 1 was posted last Wednesday. Danyel picks up right where he left off, freeing himself from the constriction of the lace collar…
“Danyel, what are you doing?” Ashleigh shot her son a scandalized glance.
“The same thing as you.” Danyel took a deep breath, reveling in his throat’s freedom. “Ah, that’s much better!”
“No, it’s not!” Juno clapped her hands to her cheeks. “Boys never untie their cravats in a lady’s presence, not in Arachnia!”
“How fortunate we’re not in Arachnia.” Leiwell undid his own tie, loosening his collar.
Not to be left in discomfort by his brothers, Tayel did the same.
“Ashleigh, stop them!” Juno wrung her plump, beringed hands. “They’re your sons. Are you going to permit them to show such a complete lack of propriety? Especially in the presence of ladies!”
“Well,” Ashleigh hemmed, fiddling with her own loose cravat with guilty fingers. “I’m not exactly in a position to lecture them, am I?”
“Come, Juno.” Leiwell lowered his thick eyelashes, offering their neighbor a coy smile. “Do you truly think we look so terrible?”
His collar opened to expose an indentation upon his slender, white throat. The coin he always wore glittered against his fair skin.
Juno gazed at his exposed flesh, mesmerized. She licked her lips.
Meggie fixed round, shining eyes upon Leiwell, nose and cheeks turning bright red.
Maggie reddened as well, only she remembered how to speak. “Not at all.” She made Leiwell a gallant little bow, similar to Ashleigh’s. “If anything, you’ve improved the look of the tunic.”
“Ah, hem, you’re an admirable model.” Meggie found her own voice again. “If I had you, I’d never want for inspiration. Ah, as a model that is.” She turned even redder. “I might not rely so much on my husband. In designing and tailoring clothes, I mean!”
Juno and Maggie grinned, nudging each other in a conspiratorial fashion, winking at Meggie’s red face.
Meggie flushed and fumbled with the ties of her own tunic. Like Maggie, she hadn’t chosen to wear her creation.
Ashleigh examined her foot, avoiding the gaze of her oldest son.
“Thank you, Meggie.” Leiwell smiled at the tailor’s wife, unruffled by all the winking, nudging, and blushing. “You honor me with your praise.”
This made Meggie blush and hem all the more.
“Did you design these lace collars yourself, Meggie?” Danyel glanced down at his loose cravat. It had been designed to knot into a tight bow. Too tight of a bow. “Or did your husband do it?”
“Ah, well, it was Gryluxx.” Meggie reached up to scratch her curly head. “I myself, ah, favoured a looser collar, but he insisted stiff and tight was better. Said there was a shortage of perfect throats in the world and the boys at the Old Cottage had all of them.” She dropped her hand, studied the hem of her skirt. “Um, he made me really want to see what the collar would look like on the three of you. “ She avoided looking directly at Leiwell. “I’m sorry. It, ah, suits you just as well open. Perhaps it should have been looser to begin with.”
“Never mind.” Ashleigh waved a hand, brushing away any possible objections. “It was very generous of you to make these lovely lace tunics for us. We all appreciate the gifts.” Silver glittered in her eyes, a silent warning to all of her sons against contradicting her. “Not that such fine garments are to be worn on just any occasion.”
“Oh, um, of course not!” Meggie shook her head in vigorous agreement. “This is just a way to thank Danyel and Tayel for all their hard work in our shop, my husband’s and mine.” She twiddled her thumbs with a bashful grin. “Not to mention everything you and, um, Leiwell have done to make us feel, err, welcome here.”
“Happy to oblige.” Ashleigh made another sweeping half bow, choosing to ignore Meggie’s shyness around her oldest son. “We strive to be good neighbors, those of us living in the Old Cottage.”
The Old Cottage. This was what their home was called by the other villagers of Omphalos who’d come later. The first cottage, which once had been the only cottage in a lonely field, outside the garden and below the hill, dwelling in the shadow of the ruined tower.
They’d been alone for so long; Map, Leiwell, Tayel and himself. Waiting for Ashleigh to return to them from the Door she’d disappeared behind. Her sons weren’t sure if she ever would.
Only Ashleigh had returned, thanks to Danyel and Tayel’s own trip beyond the Door. Eventually she’d coaxed an entire village to settle around her former home, with the help of their local lord.
Now they were expected to be good neighbors.
Not all of them had wished for neighbors. Particularly not Map, Leiwell, and Tayel. Only Danyel had wondered what it would be like, to have company. Leiwell had used every hidden power he’d possessed to keep them isolated and safe from the outside world.
Now his oldest brother was doing his best to be gracious, smiling through gritted teeth. Happily, Leiwell had almost as inexhaustible a wellspring of charm as Ashleigh herself.
Tayel and Map weren’t even bothering to try to be charming. The only reason Tayel had put on this tunic and come to the little gathering in the back of the Tipsy Hedgehog was because Danyel had.
Map had shut herself up in the cottage, avoiding the neighbors. Again. The only time she came out to mingle was to work in the garden. She kept to her herself, apart from the village community growing around them.
Map didn’t trust it or the lord responsible for it.
Considering who he was, Danyel couldn’t blame her. He glanced at the coin, dangling from a cord around both Maggie and Meggie’s neck, innocuous among the ties of their vests.
Juno’s was pinned to her bosom, a gleaming brooch.
It was identical, yet different to the one attached to the choker around Ashleigh’s neck. Not to mention the one glittering upon Leiwell’s breast.
No, there was a mystery going on with these coins and a lot to mistrust. Being a good neighbor might unravel part of this mystery.
Besides Maggie was so open and friendly while Meggie was shy and awkward, yet really trying to reach out to the residents of the Old Cottage. This was why she’d offered them the tunics.
“We’re not used to having neighbors.” He avoid the dull glitter of Meggie’s coin, forcing himself to look at her ruddy face. “We’re not sure how to act around people outside of our family.”
Meggie’s hazel eyes, muted and soft, peeked at him from under a brown curl.
Meeting her gaze eased something in his breast, letting the words come out. “We’re trying to learn.” A smile tugged at his lips, natural as drawing breath. “Please be patient with us.”
An answering smile spread across Meggie’s mouth.
More tension eased in Danyel’s shoulder and arms at her expression.
“Of course.” Maggie grinned, showing no awkwardness at all. She slung an arm over her sister’s shoulders. “None of us fit in where we lived in the outside world. That’s why we’re here.” She winked at Danyel. “To live in a place where we’re free to be ourselves.” She reached up with her free hand to finger the coin around her neck. “That’s all any of us ever wanted in Omphalos.”
Ashleigh smiled at her, glancing at Danyel. Some of silver in her irises softened.
Leiwell moved to rest his hands upon Danyel’s shoulders. Pride tingled in his slender fingers, warming Danyel’s shoulders and neck.
Only Tayel didn’t smile. He met Danyel’s gaze, his own violet blue orbs sober and serious. He shook his head in a tiny, almost imperceptible gesture.
No. They couldn’t relax their guard. No matter how friendly Maggie and Meggie seemed.
Danyel trembled, his moment of happiness quashed.
Why? Anger sparked in him. What’s wrong with enjoying our neighbors’ company? They’re here to stay, whether we trust them or not. Why not make living with them a more pleasant experience for everyone?
Tayel lowered his head, his golden hair falling forward, like a veil, separating him from his twin.
Danyel bit his lip, a lump of unshed tears swelling in his throat.