On September 28, 2022, P.T. Wyant posted at ptwyant.com a Wednesday Words prompt involving a strawberry, a ring of keys, and a spoon.
This freebie story for my Work in Progress On the Other Side of Mask was the result…
A strawberry was bold enough to peek out from the vine, defying the chill which permeated Lord Ruthvyn’s grounds. A tasy treat for a hungry boy. Not nearly as tasty as the boy himself, pressing his hands against the glass, mouth slack with wonder.
Nathaniel could happily eat him up with a spoon, but such a treat wasn’t for a doll as himself. All of Lord Ruthvyn’s songbirds were for the master. His lordship didn’t share with his staff. No matter how much they came to care for his charges.
“Is it spring?” Shelley asked, not turning away from the sight.
“You know it’s never spring in Paradise.” Nathaniel wondered if his own words were true. The eternal chill the pale lords preferred filled the air, but fruit and vegetables still grew in their gardens. The lords needed it to feed their human sheep, working in the factories which smoked their offerings to the Goddess above.
The set of keys in Nathaniel’s hand jingled. The doll hadn’t realized his hand was trembling.
The boy fixed his gaze upon the ring. “Do those unlock our cages?”
“This entire estate is a cage.” Why was he saying these things? It wasn’t his place to terrify his lord’s songbird. This was a privelege belonging to Lord Ruthvyn alone. “These open a door to a little room in which a songbird sulks.”
Shelley’s luminous blue-green eyes widened. “Byron?”
Oh, Nathaniel was playing a dangerous game. Olympia will scold him if she caught him. How envious she’d be. “He keeps demanding to see you. He refuses to sing unless he’s at your side. He’s becoming quite tiresome.”
“Allow him to do so.” Shelley dropped his hands, turning the force of his liquid gaze upon Nathaniel. “We sing better together than when we’re apart. His lordship will appreciate our song more. As will you, Nathaniel.”
The doll was oddly touched that his master’s favorite remembered his name. “It’s not for me to decide if you sing together or apart. Nor is it for me to decide when Byron’s punishment ends.”
“You have influence over the one who does. More than Byron or myself.” Oh, this child knew how to flatter his master’s servants. “Please, Nathaniel.”
“Not nearly as much as I’d like.” Why was he telling the truth to this choir urchin whom his lord had plucked from the church like ripe fruit? “I’m a toy made for Lord Ruthvyn’s pleasure. As is Olympia. If we have any influence, it’s of a mercurial nature.”
“Please.” Shelley took his hand in his small fingers. How warm they were. Warm and alive.
Did this child feel how cold Nathaniel was? He might live to see a hundred Shelleys come and go. Until they disappeared and a new painting, statue, or piece of furniture became part of the residence with what was left of them screaming silently within the inanimate object.
Nathaniel would never be warm, no matter how many tender young boys held his hand. Neither would his master.
“Don’t beg for mercy, songbird.” He pulled his hand away from the child’s grip. “It’s beneath you to plead with one of your lord’s toys for favors.”
He turned away, refusing to look back at that vibrant child. He wouldn’t last. None of his lord’s songbirds or other entertainments did. Only Nathaniel and Olympia remained.
It wouldn’t hurt to ask his lord about the two boys singing together. It had been their song which attracted his interest.
Hearing that song again might bring color to Lord Ruthvyn’s white cheeks. It would only whet his appettie.
The doll swallowed, not looking at any of the paintings on the walls of the various children, staring back at him. One day Shelley would be one of them.
Why did that distress him?
Best not to dwell on that either.