Conversations with Christopher: Sister Austere

Christopher sits facing a woman concealing herself within a shapeless, dark blue monk’s habit. Little can be seen of her face within the hood other than her pale cheek, narrow nose, and thin lips which look like they’ve been sucking on a lemon.

Christopher: You’re Sister Austere, a character making her first appearance in the expanded version of At Her Service, correct?

Sister Austere: Of all the cheek! The only reference that scribbler makes to me in the original publication is in a stray thought Cinders has about a stuffy order of monks her mistress swindled a valuable tome from! I happen to be Ariella’s aunt, her mother’s younger sister. I might have been living in that drafty chateaux with the lot of them if I hadn’t taken vows!

Christopher: This is the Order of Silent Laughter, correct?

Sister Austere: Laughter can be found in surprising places, although my niece has a somewhat romantic view of what our goals should be. Stuffy, indeed! That girl wouldn’t have gotten to work half of her mischief if not for the tome she supposedly swindled me out of. I made a perfectly good trade for the book; the right to harvest pumpkins from the chateux’s garden in return for the book. Now I’ll be able to keep evil spirits away. (She makes a warding sign with her hand.)

Christopher: You’ve got a problem with evil spirits?

Sister Austere: Well, perhaps evil is too strong a word. They’re always knocking things about within the cells, the chapels, popping out at the monks in the halls. My sister Ariella was certain it was the ghosts of our ancestors unable to rest until we took possession of our heritage, the chateaux. Why they were bothering the descendant who was a monk sworn to celibacy instead of the first-born daughter and heiress to their legacy she could never explain. It was no surprise that the spirits continued to be restless after my sister took possession of the chateaux. My niece thinks it’s the ghosts of the horses the prince rode to death, but these spirits don’t seem quite big enough to be horses. Even though I suppose they no longer have bodies, so their living shapes wouldn’t matter, but why would they be haunting my sisters and myself? Why not the prince?

Christopher: How do you think the pumpkins will keep evil spirits away?

Sister Austere: We’re going to hollow out the pumpkin and carve frightful faces into them. We’ll light a candle inside each pumpkin and place them in our windows. They should frighten off the spirits. Ariella seems quite sure of this. 

Christopher: I see.

Sister Austere: And I see what you’re thinking. This was the swindle referred to in the original story. I happen to believe these pumpkin lanterns will be effective, plus I was more than happy to have an excuse to give my niece the book she wished to keep. Let her work her mischief, playing her games with the cinders girl. 

Christopher: You don’t mind? Claude seems to worry that Cinders is too much of a distraction for your niece. 

Sister Austere: Claude worries too much. Distraction, indeed! As if marrying a prince would solve all of Ariella’s problems any more than marry the lord of the chateaux solved her mother’s! Let Ariella have her cinders girl. Maybe she will calm my niece down. 

Christopher: Does Ariella need calming down?

Sister Austere: She has too much of a temper, mixed with way too much of her father’s mischief. Oh, he was a charmer, that one. I can see why my sister lost her head, forgetting about revenge and recovering the chateaux when she met him. A pity he died so suddenly. He might have made my sister happy. Instead Ari clung to ambition and vengeance once more to keep her going after she lost him. If this cinders girl makes my niece as happy as Ari’s husband made my sister, I’m glad she’s at Ariella’s side. Even if that cinders girl truly needs to stand under a waterfall for an hour. 

Christopher: Yes, everyone seems to agree about that. Except for your niece and Cinders herself. 

Sister Austere: I marvel that my niece doesn’t ask that girl to wash herself more often. She must leave smudges everywhere. 

Christopher: I guess everyone is in agreement about that, too…

#RainbowSnippets: Wind Me Up, One More Time

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To read a wide variety of samples from LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets

For my own, Nathalie and Grace will pick up where they left off last weekend in Wind Me Up, One More Time…

“The danger is when a human does catch up, only to be caught in the machinery.”

“How does she get caught?” Horrible images of being stretched into a thin being with legs and arms no longer capable of moving, pulled into a deformed thing danced in Grace’s head. “Does a human become a monster?”

“Of the worst kind.” Nathalie reached out a finger to tap on the window. 

Like what you’re reading? Want to read more? Here are buy links…

Mischief Corner Books/Shenanigans Press: https://www.mischiefcornerbooks.com/wind-me-up-one-more-time.html#/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081LPX2WH/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Wind+Me+Up%2C+One+More+Time&qid=1573974211&s=books&sr=1-1

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wind-me-up-one-more-time

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-me-up-one-more-time-ks-trenten/1134959345

Apple:

https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1488235515?fbclid=IwAR1_ox2T5jIHibPFBHUqTck0SNaP3pcZIgNM4DS3VAjU47mn3o5iu260bMA

Paula’s Prompts: Wednesday Words

On October 14, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a water bird, a bow, and a flower pot.

This story was the result…

The things she saw when she came onto the deck to water the flower pot shattered some of her illusions of about the innocence of animals. Or perhaps this was innocence. If so, innocence could be a terrible thing.

Ducks swam after each other, which should be a lovely, idyllic picture except for savagery with which they bit each other’s tails, hissed at each other, holding each other under water. She’d guessed what happened under that water and it happened to both the willing and the unwilling whom came up spluttering. Drakes did it to females, each other, and females held each other under too, sometimes cackling in protest after being chased. 

She should judge animals by human standards. Still she couldn’t help muttering: 

“If you featherheads were human, you’d be in jail.” She smiled a little in spite of herself. It was still cheering to see the ducks swimming around the pond, even if they could be quite nasty to each other. 

She sat down on the deck with a length of ribbon and began to play with it. There’s been a way to tie a bow, a proper way which most most people used. A way that was sturdy. She no longer remembered that way. After a few moments of trying to see if her hands could recollect those old movements, she tied the bow the way she’d been doing it all her life. An unconventional way involving two loops, but it made a perfect bow.

Was there really any reason to remember the traditional way? Her way worked just as well. She’d never mastered the traditional method. Her failure vexed her a little. 

If the bow looked good, did it matter?

She gazed at the ducks swimming after each other and smiled in rueful appreciation. 

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Quartz and Claude

Quartz sits facing a slender, wiry individual dressed in a black tailcoat, a blue tunic, and a white waistcoat, a dark blue cravat knotted neatly around their neck. Black leggings and white stockings enhance the shape of the legs rather than conceal them. On their feet are a pair of slippers sporting sapphire buckles. 

Quartz: Nice slippers.

Claude: Thank you, sire. They were a gift from my late mistress, the Lady Ariella senior. 

Quartz: The mother of your current mistress, right? 

Claude: There have been a lot of Lady Ariellas in their family, sir, going back to the first Lady Ariella. I believe she built the chateaux my mistress lives in and planted the grounds. This was before her uncle convinced the king the chateaux was his by rights, turning the lady and her daughters out. Her daughters swore they’d never forget their mother’s wrong, so the eldest named her daughter Ariella and her daughter after. There has always been an Ariella ever since. 

Quartz: Ariella is Cinders’s name as well, isn’t it?

Claude: (stiffens in his seat) It’s the name her mother gave her, an attempt at making peace between my former mistress and her husband. Such a peace was doomed to fail.

Quartz: Wait, Cinders’s mother tried to make peace between Cinders’s father and your former mistress? This was before Cinders’s father married your former mistress, becoming Cinders’s stepmother? 

Claude: One of the things my late mistress never forgave Cinders’s father for was marrying Cinders’s father. 

Quartz: Because she wanted Cinders’s father for herself?

Claude: Quite the contrary, sir. In my late mistress’s opinion, he seduced and destroyed a good, lovely woman, a precious friend. She never forgave Cinders’s father for that. It was one more evil she blamed him for.

Quartz: And yet she married him.

Claude: It was a twisted attempt to regain what was rightfully hers on my lady’s part, seducing the man whom seduced her friend. It was an equally twisted attempt on the part of a man determined to avoid all responsibility and to find a clever wife whom could take it on for him. The man’s daughter is his last legacy of irresponsibility, saddled to the Ladies Ariella in all her grimy glory. 

Quartz: Sounds like you don’t care much for Cinders. 

Claude: I don’t dislike her, sir. Indeed, I can’t complain about her disposition, only her condition.

Quartz: Her condition being a dirty one, eh?

Claude: It’s her choice to sit in the cinders. It’s a better choice than she might have made, but it doesn’t stop her from leaving smears and smudges everywhere. 

Quartz: Your mistress doesn’t seem to mind.

Claude: My mistress doesn’t have to clean up the smears and smudges, sir. 

Quartz: (nose turning red, perhaps thinking of all the smears and smudges he and his brother have left for his surrogate daughter to clean up) Aye, I can see how that would get tiresome. 

Claude: In my opinion, my mistress is overfond of the cinders girl. She lavishes time upon her which could be spent in more congenial company.

Quartz: And what congenial company would you have her keep, eh? Yours?

Claude: Certainly not, sir. I am not the cinders girl, leering over my lady’s ankles every chance I get. I know my place.

Quartz: And where would that be, eh?

Claude: Serving my lady and my prince. Securing their futures. Seeing the prince becomes as charming and congenial as he can be. Seeing that my mistress comes to see and appreciate these qualities. 

Quartz: You want your lady to marry this prince, eh?

Claude: (slumps a bit in their seat, looking deflated) It’s an endeavour in progress, sir. 

Quartz: And how does your lady and your prince feel about your endeavour?

Claude: Less enthusiastic than I’d hoped, sir. My mistress is entirely too fond of the cinders girl and my prince is entirely too fond of everyone else, including me.

Quartz: Hah! Maybe you ought to marry this prince.

Claude: Certainly not, sir. I’ve chosen to serve the Ladies Ariella. Almost everyone thinks I’m a man. My prince insists that I’m a woman. The truth is I’m neither, yet it’s wearisome explaining this to everyone. I’m not sure if our people could accept an individual such as myself as their queen.

Quartz: Do you care about your people’s acceptance?

Claude: Very much, sir, although I’ve learned not to count upon it. At present I’m helping the prince plan some wide-spread reforms to provide a free education for all in spite of wealth and birth, giving everyone in the kingdom from the lowliest beggar certain rights as citizens. If only my mistress could see the prince when he speaks of these things. She’d realized he’s not that bad. 

Quartz: These reforms were your prince’s ideas?

Claude: No, they were mine, sir, but he’s been very agreeable to them. He’s wanted to meet me in private to talk more about them.

Quartz: I’ll bet. Maybe the prince’s own choice of a companion will be for the better of the kingdom, eh?

Claude: (flushes) I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, sir. I try to be a positive influence on our prince. 

Quartz: (smirking behind his beard) I’m sure you are. 

Claude: If only my mistress could see how much the prince has changed since her last encounter with him. He feels terrible about the horses. 

Quartz: Right. I don’t want to know.

#RainbowSnippets: Wind Me Up, One More Time

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To read a variety of samples from LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets

For my own, Nathalie and Grace will pick up where they left off in Wind Me Up, One More Time…

“That depends.” Nathalie squatted down, fixed a solemn, hazel eye upon her little sister. Grace gazed into the dark center of that eye, lightning into warm brown while the green swam between, like something sleek and playful. “Cogs and gears move much faster than human fingers, so they can accomplish wonderful things. It’s impossible for humans to keep up with them, but sometimes they try.” She turned her head in one slow movement of tumbling coppery curls to regard the mannequin in the window. 

Like what you’re reading? Want to read more? Here are buy links…

Mischief Corner Books/Shenanigans Press: https://www.mischiefcornerbooks.com/wind-me-up-one-more-time.html#/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081LPX2WH/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Wind+Me+Up%2C+One+More+Time&qid=1573974211&s=books&sr=1-1

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wind-me-up-one-more-time

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-me-up-one-more-time-ks-trenten/1134959345

Apple:

https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1488235515?fbclid=IwAR1_ox2T5jIHibPFBHUqTck0SNaP3pcZIgNM4DS3VAjU47mn3o5iu260bMA

#QueerBlogWed: Unwelcome Morning Song

On September 30, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a bed, an early morning, and high hopes.

This A Godling for Your Thoughts freebie story with Danyel and Tayel was the result…

Danyel lay in bed, breathing softly in perfect time with Tayel lying beside him. It was hard to tell if his twin was awake or not. Eyelids were shut, golden lashes dusting the curve of his cheek in the early morning light, but he’d open them when he was ready.

The peace of moment was shattered by a boisterous voice raised in song, full of high hopes. At the same time several hammers hit wooden plans, the sound carrying and ringing in Danyel’s ears whether he wanted to hear it or not. 

“Rise everyone!

The day is coming

The foundations are being laid

The air is thrumming.

Rise everyone!

You’ve got a wish in your heart

Rise yourselves from your sleep

And make a fresh start!”

Danyel didn’t rise. He lay in bed, stared at the ceiling and spoke to himself along with his twin. “Am I still dreaming or is there actual meaning in Ashleigh’s song?”

It was impossible to miss the twins’s mother’s voice, more powerful and twice as loud as the rest, even if Danyel couldn’t bring himself to call Asheleigh “Mother”. Yes, she had the same shaggy golden hair as the twins, the same slender build, and the same violet-blue eyes, but she seemed like a completely different creature than Tayel and himself. Not to mention the fact that she’d been missing for most of their lives. 

“Ashleigh conceals herself within a veil of enigma.” Tayel spoke without opening his eyes. “Even if she has to paint smiley faces, fanged bunnies, and laughing canteloupes on her veil to distract everyone from her truth.”

“Coming from an avatar of enigma like yourself, that’s almost funny.” Danyel rolled over to face his twin. “Should we get up?”

“Too swift a reaction feels imprudent.” Tayel opened eyes glimmering with silver light. This meant he was upset, frightened, angry, especially moved or happy. Danyel doubted it was the last two. His twin valued his peace and quiet even more than Danyel did. “To watch, to want, to see what stirs gives a clearer impression of Ashleigh’s intentions.

Tayel wasn’t about to call Ashleigh “Mother” either. Why would he?

“You don’t trust her.” Danyel studied his twin’s face, so like his own, only Tayel was capable of far greater stillness. When emotion rippled through his face, he had many a little trick to conceal it. 

“A legend for opening Doors, breaking Map’s heart, and leaving us all behind should inspire some measure of caution.” Tayel rolled over to face his brother. Their noses and mouths were very close. “She left a history of hurt, a history I’d rather didn’t repeat itself.”

“I agree.” Danyel felt the side of his face growing numb. Now his body was itching to get up. “What are we waiting?”

Tayel’s response was to sigh and shut his eyes once more. 

Danyel slipped out of bed, waking up more as his feet hit the floor. It looked like he was getting up, in spite of his intentions…and Tayel’s…to delay.

Ashleigh had a way of getting hers, whether people trusted her or not. 

Conversations with Christopher: Claude

Christopher sits facing a tall, slender individual trying to assume the unassuming demeanor of a servant in spite of the way they hold their head a little too high, even as they’ve pulled their long, straight blue-black hair away from their face with a bit of dark blue ribbon. This servant wearings a black tailcoat over a white waistcoat, an indigo cravat tied at their neck. Matching slippers adorn their stockinged feet, ascending into shapely calves and thighs concealed within black leggings. Large, lustrous dark eyes gaze at Christopher from a face with sharp, severe cheekbones, studying him with careful consideration.

Christopher: You’re Claude, correct? The Lady Ariella’s servant in At Her Servant?

Claude: Both of the Ladies Ariella, sir, mother and daughter. I am very grateful to the elder Lady Ariella for getting me out of a spot of trouble. They are distant kin, yet I am happier to serve them than the needs of my nearer relations. 

Christopher: Why is that?

Claude: My parents were distressed that I was neither male or female, refusing to identify myself as either. They decided to force me to choose by marriage. Oh, they’d marry me well, to either a Count or a Countess. The Count was very handsome, yet all of his mistresses and a few of his favorites sported bruises, those who survived his attentions. The Countess was a forceful person of shrill determination to make a man of me who’d buried quite a few failures in her former husbands. Needless to say I wasn’t inclined to either. The elder Lady Ariella gave me another option, to join her household and run the estate. To my parents, I’d disgraced myself, accepting a position as a mere servant, but Lady Ariella didn’t expect me to be anything other than competent. 

Christopher: Have you enjoyed a life of service, running her household?

Claude: It’s a challenge which requires all of my energy, sir, but I enjoy challenges. We’ve had to let go of quite a few servants and settle some of the most ridiculous debts incured by the late lord’s hobbies. We’ve had to sell off part of the land. I’m thinking of opening the estate to walking tours, warning visitors to wear a thick coat in the upper rooms. 

Christopher: The chateaux is as drafty as Cinders claimed?

Claude: Indeed, sir. The cinders girl may secured for herself the warmest spot in the chateaux…the hearth. Not that it excuses her dirty state, but she is the cinders girl.

Christopher: She was once the lord of the chateaux’s only child, wasn’t she?

Claude: Yes, she was, sir. I’m relieved that she’s not the difficult creature her father was. I hate to speak ill of the late mistress, the elder Lady Ariella, but her hostility towards the cinders girl was quite excessive. At the same time, my late mistress may have had cause for concern. The cinders girl can make the younger Lady Ariella smile like no one else can, for which I am deeply grateful. At the same time I worry. My young mistress may like the cinders girl too much. I fear this fancy may interfere with other relationships which are crucial to her future.

Christopher: Such as?

Claude: Her upcoming marriage, sir. 

Christopher: I didn’t realize the Lady Ariella was engaged. 

Claude: She isn’t, sir, not yet. I have hopes of her being so in the future.

Christopher: To a prince? Your mistress doesn’t seem interested.

Claude: If only she’d give His Highness a chance! He’s not so bad. He simply lacks direction.

Christopher: Is that all?

Claude: And compassion. And taste. I don’t believe these faults of his own character but the result of the company he keeps. He could be guided in a different direction. 

Christopher: What makes you think this?

Claude: His Highness is a very different person around certain people in the royal court. Some of his cruelty and thoughtlessness has been deliberately encouraged. It could be discouraged. 

Christopher: And you think the Lady Ariella is the person to encourage him?

Claude: Well, she seems to bring the worst out of him. And he brings the worst out of her. It doesn’t have to be that way! My mistress is the cleverest person I know, far cleverer than me! If I can influence His Highness, surely she can. 

Christopher: Do you have influence over His Highness? 

Claude: I have been able to persuade him to give way to his better impulses. I was the one who convinced him to accompany the party the Ladies Ariella were riding together in. I’ve contrived to bring them together. 

Christopher: Only they don’t seem to want to be together from what you’re saying. 

Claude: No, sir, they don’t. It’s very odd. Prince Charming usually is amiable to all ladies and they swoon at the sight of him. Only he’s disagreeable to my mistress whenever he meets her. You’d almost think he was disappointed at meeting her. 

Christopher: Perhaps he was.

Claude: I can’t believe anyone would find the Lady Ariella disappointing or the prince not charming. No, I fear this has less to do with my mistress disliking the prince and more to do with her liking someone else more. 

Christopher: Would it really be so bad if your mistress liked someone else more? Even if it was the cinders girl?

Claude: The chateaux is far draftier than either of my ladies thought it would be. My mistress can do better. She could be far more than just the heiress to a shrinking estate. She could be a great queen. 

Christopher: Claude, might have been a great Countess or Count. You didn’t want to be either of those things. What if Lady Ariella doesn’t want to be queen?

Claude: It’s not the same thing, sir.

Christopher: Isn’t it?

Claude: Perhaps there are similarities, sir. I just wish for my lady to be happy and to achieve all she’s capable of. I don’t want any opportunities to slip past her. 

Christopher: Opportunities may come in surprising forms. 

Claude: They do indeed, sir. If only my lady knew what an exciting challenge, what meaningful work running a kingdom could be. The prince has taken me into his confidence, introduced me to the royal staff, revealed to me some of the wheels turning within wheels of the machinations of the court. It’s fascinating, how it all connects. Plus there’s opportunity to do a lot of good. 

Christopher: Perhaps you’ll have a chance to someday take up that challenge.

Claude: Me, sir? I’m just a servant. 

Christopher: As I said, Claude, opportunities may come in surprising forms. 

#RainbowSnippets: Wind Me Up, One More Time

Welcome to Rainbow Snippets!

Every Saturday or Sunday, those participating post and share six sentences of LGBTQIA+ fiction on their blogs. It can be their own. It can be someone else’s. It just needs to be LGBTQIA+.

To read a wide variety of samples from LGBTQIA+ stories, go to…

https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets

For my own, Nathalie and Grace will continue where they left off in Wind Me Up, One More Time…it’s just a little longer than six sentences, forgive me, but it’s a very short additional sentence.

She and Grace could see it easily between the various small wooden buildings. “All this demand needed more than hands.” Nat lifted Grace’s own, lowering her tone as she did to an ominous note. “They required cogs and gears.”

“Like in the clocktower?” Grace peeked at the gray tower, covered with old numbers and one slowly, one fast-moving hand. “It’s not bad, is it?”

Like what you’re reading? Want to read more? Here are buy links…

Mischief Corner Books/Shenanigans Press: https://www.mischiefcornerbooks.com/wind-me-up-one-more-time.html#/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B081LPX2WH/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Wind+Me+Up%2C+One+More+Time&qid=1573974211&s=books&sr=1-1

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/wind-me-up-one-more-time

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-me-up-one-more-time-ks-trenten/1134959345

Apple:

https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1488235515?fbclid=IwAR1_ox2T5jIHibPFBHUqTck0SNaP3pcZIgNM4DS3VAjU47mn3o5iu260bMA

#QueerBlogWed: A Taste of The Hand and the Eye of the Tower?

On September 23, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a brisk wind, a staircase, and tears.

This prompted an entire potential rewrite of the beginning of The Hand and the Eye of the Tower, the second book in my Tales of the Navel: The Shadow Forest, one I’m seriously thinking of using.

Enjoy this potential taste of one of my novels under revision. 😉

A brisk wind sliced through the cracks in the stone walls, following Danyel up the spiral staircase, leading to the rooms, to the doors above. 

What was behind those doors? He wiped the tears away with an impatient hand. Something wonderful. Something which would explain everything, answer all the questions his twin was so afraid of. Why did Danyel, his mother, and his brothers live alone in a empty field near a garden between forests in the shadow of a ruined tower, away from all the major roads? Who was the mysterious lord his eldest brother served and why was Leiwell so reluctant to speak of him? Why was Leiwell becoming so pale and sickly, drained of all his strength each time he visited his master? Above all, what could Danyel do to help his brother recover his strength?

All of the answers lay above. Danyel knew even as he knew he lay dreaming, dreaming of climbing the stairs. All he had to do was reach the top and find the doors. Behind them lay the answers to everything. For those doors were actual Doors, portals to other worlds, the likes of which Ashleigh Beyond the Door was always searching for. Open door after door, you’d eventually find a Door. Open a Door and it would lead to your heart’s desire. Not that his heart’s desire would be cheap, judging from what he’d read of Ashleigh’s adventures. Ashleigh was always leaving pieces of herself behind in one form or another. Danyel would need to give something up in return for answers. 

If Tayel was aware of what he was doing, planning, he’d try to stop Danyel. All he had to do was pause for a moment on the staircase and listen. His twin’s warnings would echo in his head. 

What you offer must be of equal value to what you’re asking for. Greed kindles in the heart at the presence of willing need. You’re making the Door hungry with yours. 

As far as Tayel was concerned, Danyel was poking the darkness, a hungry darkness with teeth in asking questions and reeking with the desire for answers. 

How could Danyel stop asking questions? How could he not wonder about all the mysteries in thier lives? How could he let Leiwell go on suffering, getting paler and weaker if there was something, anything he could do about it?

No matter how much Tayel begged him not to ask questions, Danyel couldn’t stop thinking about these things anymore than he could dismiss the tower whose stairs he climbed as a pile of rocks! The stones breathed, whispered, and begged for him to listen. To help them. To remember. 

Please, we hunger for half-life, any life, and you, you who stand, dream, and breathe, you whom were given such a half-life, you give us hope. Bring us more. 

The pleas didn’t just carry upon the brisk wind from the rocks, they crept into his fingers from the railing he clung to, sucking at his fingers with tiny, greedy invisible mouths.

Danyel woke up, sweating. He gazed up at the ceiling of the attic, felt the sweat-stained blankets of the bed beneath him, listened to the soft breathing of Tayel lying beside him. 

He sat up in the darkness. It was just beginning to give way to the faint glow of morning light coming through the single attic window. 

“I have to go to the tower,” he murmured, not sure if his twin heard him.

“Don’t go.” 

Danyel stopped at that soft plea filled with bleak sorrow and a hint of fear. 

Tayel turned over in bed to face him with eyes gleaming with silver light, brighter than any coming from the window.

“Why?” He couldn’t help asking even though he knew his twin despised questions. “If that tower is just a pile of rocks, why shouldn’t I go there?”

“Rock and stone breathe purpose and intention, hungering for the warm and headstrong.” Tayel rose slowly from the bed. “Don’t feed the rocks, Danyel.”

“Meaning the tower is more than a pile of rocks or will be if I get too close to them.” Danyel drew a slow, shuddering breath. “Maybe whatever is in those rocks is reaching out to me in my dreams. Making me an offer of some sort.”

“Offers hide true intentions as mist hide shape and form.” Tayel fixed his glittering eyes upon his brother, violet-blue irises filled with tiny silver triangles. “Dreams draw mist around thought, concealing shape.” 

“I think I see the shape of this particular offer.” Danyel reached out to touch his brother’s cheek. “If I go to the tower, find the doors on the upper floor, see what lies behind them, whatever waits for me will show me a way to help Leiwell.”

“The price of opening a Door exceeds the value of what lies beyond.” Tayel leaned into his brother’s caress. “Leiwell is following his own path, his chosen destiny. No one has the right to hinder him.” He closed his eyes, shutting off the light, hiding whatever lurked behind it. “No matter how much we might want to.”

“We? Are you saying you want to stop him?” Danyel dropped his hand from his brother’s cheek to his shoulder. 

Tayel didn’t answer. He sucked in a slow, shuddering breath, only to release it, trembling while he did. 

“Please, Tayel.” Danyel lifted his other hand to take his twin’s other shoulder, making his brother face him, even if he wouldn’t look at him. “Help me stop Leiwell. Whatever he’s doing is sucking the life out of him.”

“A life offered to spare others, yet no one is spared.” Tayel opened his eyes. They glistening with unshed tears, sparkling in the strange light. “Such devotion only summons tragedy.”

“My devotion or Leiwell’s?” Danyel swallowed an answering lump rising in his throat in response to his twin’s tears. “Please, Tayel. Help me save Leiwell.” 

Tayel met his eyes, the strange glow dying within them so all that were left were tears. “This is such a bad idea.”

“Does that mean you agree?” Danyel dropped his hands, hopeful pixies fluttering about in his stomach. 

Tayel responded by sliding out of bed. He didn’t look at his twin. He just headed to the chest of drawers on his side, pulled one open. 

Danyel followed, having to circle the bed, his path lit by the early rays of the sun. “Thank you.”

“Thanking me for whatever lies ahead would be unwise.” Tayel rummaged through the clothing to pull out a tunic. “Save your thanks for something worthy.”

The ominous ring in his twin’s tone made Danyel shiver. 

Conversations with Christopher: Ariella

Christopher sits facing a tall, lean woman wearing a dark blue gown with an angular grace, her long neck conveying an air of beauty even if her features aren’t exactly beautiful and her wavy dark hair has been pinned in a rather untidy bun. 

Christopher: You’re the Lady Ariella, correct? Cinders’s mistress?

Ariella: I’m not exactly much of a mistress as you can see by how well I’ve trained my servant. (She touches her hair with a self-conscious grin.) I’m still not certain Cinders should be my servant which makes us both…uncertain. 

Christopher: You mean considering what she was…before she was your servant?

Ariella: She has as much right to be mistress of this chateaux as I do. Just as she has as much right to my name. 

Christopher: Excuse me?

Ariella: You’re excused but there’s no need. (She grins another tiny name.) Cinders’s true name is the same as mine. Ariella. My mother hated the fact that we had the same name. She’s the one who started calling her Cinders after Cinders started sitting in them. Cinders doesn’t seem to want the name any more than she does the chateaux.

Christopher: Would you give them to her?

Ariella: If she wanted them? It’s tempting. I might give her all my worldly possessions and join the Order of Silent Laughter, bring a little merriment back to the Sisterhood. At the same time, I would miss Cinders. I’ve tried to ask her if she misses her old room, if she’s curious about my duties as the mistress of the chateaux. She apologizes for how drafty and creaky her chamber is or asks if I’m getting another headache. 

Christopher: Do you think she’s hiding how she really feels? Or does she truly seem content with you as her mistress? 

Ariella: I think…I’m worried. Cinders seems to want so little for herself. I hope she doesn’t think she’s unworthy of having more. 

Christopher: Why would she think this?

Ariella: Mother had a horrible temper and said awful things to Cinders when she lost it. She seemed to blame Cinders for everything that went wrong with the chateaux.

Christopher: Why?

Ariella: My mother had a venemous regard for Cinders’s ancestor, her father’s ancestor. The one who stripped his niece, my mother’s ancestor…and mine…of the chateaux I own. Cinders’s father inherited it from him, unjustly in my mother and grandmother’s eyes. I don’t think my mother ever saw Cinders herself. She heard the words “This is my daughter, Ariella” from the man she was trying so hard to seduce, yet always saw as her enemy. I could almost feel the air turn cold around my mother.  I saw the way she looked at Cinders. I could almost read her thoughts: “This girl is going to take everything from my daughter the way her ancestor took everything from me.” She saw Cinders through a scarlet haze of fear which nothing could penetrate, not reason, not pleas for mercy. 

Christopher: Pleas had no effect on your mother?

Ariella: It was frightening. My mother was not normally a cruel woman. Ambitious, yes, but not cruel. She gave members of our household opportunities a chance many wouldn’t have. Cinders’s father certainly wouldn’t have. I’m not sure if she would have married him if she hadn’t wanted the chateaux as much as she did. Cinders…the other Ariella…if only my mother could have seen her, really seen her. She’s the loveliest, sweetest maiden I’ve ever met, far more agreeable than I am. The moment I laid eyes on her, I wanted to be her friend. It was the last thing my mother wanted. 

Christopher: Maybe your mother thought she was too lovely. A possible threat to you, which needed to be ground down?

Ariella: It shames me to think of my mother’s behavior towards Cinders. She wasn’t cruel before she married Cinders’s father. She wasn’t always cruel afterwards. She took in Claude, gave them a household position, accepted them unreservedly for whom they are. She helped Claude cultivate a certain elegant style as well as contacts at court. Claude was devoted to my mother because of this. She could have been kind to Cinders, but she carried a grudge against Cinders’s family line, a grudge she hid when she seduced Cinders’s father. My mother gave full force to that grudge after he died. She stripped Cinders of everything. She couldn’t turn her out. Her ownership of the chateaux was conditional upon Cinders having a home, but she made that home as inhospitable as possible. 

Christopher: What did you do?

Ariella: Tried to stand between them, distract my mother. Suggested hiding in the cinders. Oddly enough seeing her diry seemed to mollify my mother. Some of her anger abated. She didn’t really work Cinders, just tried to keep her out of the way. I was often distracted, having to fend off my mother’s plans for me. 

Christopher: What plans were these?

Ariella: She conceived a romantic notion of marrying me to a prince, a particular prince. (groans) Never mind that her last romantic notion of being mistress of the chateaux ended in drafty rooms and debts. Never mind that I find the prince repulsive. 

Christopher: It sounds like you didn’t share your romantic plans.

Ariella: (sighs) All that fuss over the chateaux and was she happy once she got it? No, she got a pile of debts and a series of drafty rooms she was never comfortable in. I’m not exactly comfortable in them either, but I’d take those rooms any day over the prince. 

Christopher: Only if you married the prince, wouldn’t you one day be queen?

Ariella: This is something Claude never stops reminding me of. Maybe they should marry the prince. Claude would definitely be a good influence on him. Not to mention they’d keep the prince from doing something intolerably stupid which I fear is inevitable. 

Christopher: Does Claude fancy the prince or vise versa?

Ariella: Claude enjoys the challenge of organization, of solving problems, all the things the prince tries to avoid. As for the prince, he fancies everyone except me. 

Christopher: Ah. 

Ariella: An excellent reason for keeping the prince away from the chateaux and Cinders. I don’t want her catching his eye.

Christopher: What if the prince decided he fancied Cinders? Fancied her enough to marry her?

Ariella: I…I don’t like to even think about that. Claude thinks it’s every woman’s dream to marry a prince. I hope it isn’t Cinders’s. 

Christopher: Why not?

Ariella: I…I’m not sure. Maybe I’m being selfish. I would miss her if she left. I do want Cinders to be happy. This is why I’m arranging for her to have a little fun. Something special. 

Christopher: What did you have in mind?

Ariella: (smiling a mysterious little smile) It’s a surprise.