March 17, 2024

Shades of Darkness

"You can't wear a yet another black dress, not tonight of all nights; I forbid it," Mother Dorgan proclaimed, walking into Alinor's bedchamber uninvited. Lady Bayford was only in her undergarments, standing before her mirror with her long hair down.

"Leave," Bess shooed away the lady's maid. "I will tend our Lady Alinor."

"Did you wash your hands?" Alinor demanded, still gazing upon her reflection. "I refused to attend the betrothal party smelling of meat."

"With juniper and lavender soap, just as you like," Bess assured her. She looked around herself. The stone floors were bare, save for a few old rugs. The drapes on the windows and around her bed were bland, faded velvet, and the walls were void of tapestries or paintings. "You've really got to redecorate this place, Alinor. The main hall I can almost understand, but this is your bedchamber."

"Exactly, my bedchamber," Alinor insisted.

"Are you wearing this?" Bess lifted a gown from the chair next to the vanity. It was black, velvet, and admittedly fine; it had an empire waist and was intricately embroidered with blue and silver thread.

"Just arrived this morning, specially ordered for tonight," Alinor nodded. "I think I shall wear my hair up. Summon Wilona."

"Wear it down," Bess cajoled. "You're a beautiful woman, Alinor. And you know...the King of Liria is a widower. If his son were to report back--"

Alinor shot her a look. "I don't want to be a queen."

Bess sighed loudly, rolling her eyes.

"I never want to marry again, Bess; you know that," Alinor reminded her, returning to her reflection. "Husbands lie. They lie their daughters, lie to your face, lie to themselves. At in end, when you've been a dutiful wife and mother, if you're lucky, you'll get a knife in the gut. If you've been a dutiful daughter, you get fed to a dragon."

Bess's eyes followed Alinor's hand as it absently moved to her lower left side. "Does it still hurt?" she quietly asked, knowing the wound had fully healed almost a year ago.

"Always," Alinor replied distantly, eyes on her own face in the mirror. "I close my eyes, I see the guards tear Floria from my arms. I move to protect her and the guard draws his dagger. I feel the blade go in, I clutch my side...I wait for death."

"But you lived," Bess reminded her. "You got a second chance, Alinor."

"You know why Elodie can't sleep, right?" Alinor suddenly asked her. "It's because every time she closes her eyes, she's jolted by the smell of her own flesh burning."

The blood drained from Mother Dorgan's face. Silence hung between them as she struggled to breathe. Once she could, she gathered herself and said softly, "Hair up then. I'll summon Wilona." She turned to go, but Alinor had one more question.

"What did the Ilesti call you?"

Bess turned back to her. "What?"

"Your's Ilesti, isn't it?" Alinor asked, finally turning away from her mirror. "I knew it was something Southern, exotic, but I had no idea until you told us the ancient history of Aurea. You first learned our tongue from the Ilesti, didn't you? What did they call you, back in those days?"

Bess was visibly shaken, but forced herself to respond. "Il'kur'anesh."

As if in a dream, Alinor silently mouthed the foreign syllables before asking, "Meaning?"

Bess was grim as she turned to leave. "Fire-From-Sky."


Medieval Tailor Shop
Gabriel had no formal clothing on hand, so he stopped by a tailor's shop. Like everything other building in Bayford, it part of the massive stone structure, so there were no windows large enough to show off wares.

However, Gabriel was assured once he walked it, for the shop was filled with silks, satins, and velvets in every color. There was an apprentice brushing furs and another embroidering a bodice on a mannequin.

The proprietor greeted Gabriel himself; he was a portly, flamboyant man with a bald head and a wildly colorful outfit.

"May I help you, sir?" he greeted, looking Gabriel up and down.

"Yes," Gabriel nodded. "I need clothes for this evening's festivities."

The tailor's eyes widened slightly. "The Viscountess's celebration?"

"That's right."

"And you are...?"

"Lord Gabriel Walling of Liria."

"Lord," the tailor chuckled slightly. "I am Oswald of Bayford. Welcome to my shop, 'Lord' Walling. It's too late to make any custom items, but anything you see here is at your disposal...for a price."

"Of course."

Had Gabriel arrived before speaking with Elodie, he would've been offended. But now he merely empathized, wondering how many false lords had maybe swindled this and other merchants in Bayford.

"Just a suggestion," Oswald shrugged, "you'd look quite handsome in blue."

"All right," Gabriel nodded. "Something warm though; I'm not used to your northern weather."

Oswald pulled some items while Gabriel moved to the near mirror, removing his cloak and tunic. When Oswald returned, he eyed Gabriel more carefully.

"Jasmine oil?" he asked.

"Grows all over Liria," Gabriel nodded. "We use it in everything."

"Hm," Oswald nodded, first handing him a doublet of very dark blue, embroidered in green, gold and red. It was too garish for Gabriel's taste. The second was slightly lighter, but the dye had too much green in it, causing it to seem rather loud. The third was an otherworldly shade of blue, much like the robes of the Blue Priestesses. It was embroidered in silver and contrasted beautifully with Gabriel's skin.

"Perfection," Oswald gasped. He helped Gabriel into the new clothes, even adding a spritz of jasmine perfume. And he sang as he worked, "Four little lords climbing a tree/One falls down and now there are three..."

"I thought only children sang that song," Gabriel remarked.

"Everybody sings that song," Gabriel snorted. "And we'll stop singing when the Viscountess finally weds one of her little 'lords'. Of course, for that to actually happen, they'll have to stop abandoning her or dying in ludicrous accidents."

When he was dressed and refreshed, Gabriel paid in full, surprising the tailor.

"My," Oswald's eyes widened at the sight of gleaming gold coins, "you are a real lord."

"So people keep saying," Gabriel nodded slowly, warily.

"You know," Oswald's eyebrow rose, "if things fall through with the latest lord, you could wed the Viscountess. Maybe even restore some dignity to her house."

Gabriel tensed slightly. "No, sir...I don't believe so."


"Not you too."

Bess entered Elodie's bedchamber to find the bride-to-be slipping into a black velvet gown and lacing it herself. She only wore simple dresses these days, gowns that didn't require assistance from maids. The Viscountess despised letting others dress her, unless they were her family, or Mother Dorgan.

"I love black, Mother Dorgan," Elodie sighed, turning and twisting in front of her mirror. "I like the way it looks, I like the way people look at me when I first walk into a room. "

"Speaking of rooms...," Bess turned round, taking in the drapes, the rugs, and tapestries.

"I'm not redecorating," Elodie cast a look over her shoulder. "Not again. I have changed the color scheme in this room at least seven times since we got back from Aurea, and you haven't liked any of them."

"The violet is all well and good," Bess conceded, "but I wouldn't mind if you chose a lighter shade, my dear."

"I don't like lighter shades," Elodie replied dully. "Not anymore. Is Wilona done with Mother's hair? I think I want to braid mine back with some ribbons."

"A good choice, dear," Bess smiled warmly, coming over. "I can do that for you." She patted Elodie's chair by the vanity.

The Viscountess raised an eyebrow. "Since when?"

"Since I've been practicing on my little birds," Bess laughed. "I do spend time with them, you know, contrary to popular belief."

Elodie obliged her, taking a seat and dabbing a cream under her eyes to lighten the circles. "Has Thorley arrived yet? I told Floria to sober him up this afternoon. He's only allowed water tonight."

Bess's eyes clouded over. "Perhaps, it would be better for Thorley if he--"

"He can drink himself into a coma after the party, Bess," Elodie insisted. "If I must endure this humiliation with my wits intact, so must he."

They spent a few more moments in silence, after which Mother Dorgan delicately broached, "You're not sleeping."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Why not?"

"Because there's nothing to say, Bess!" Elodie exclaimed, exasperated. "You heard what my mother said about the winter constellation. We are running out of time, and we haven't even completed the Ritual of the Ten Stars."

"If we fail," Bess said quietly, "then we fail. This family has suffered enough; you need to heal Elodie. You can't spend the rest of your life healing others when you yourself are hurting."

"I can't heal," Elodie's shoulders fell. "There's no 'healing' for me or any of us, Mother." After a beat she added, "Nobody heals from Aurea."

Next: Thorley

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