Hope you’ve all had a pleasant holiday period of the denomination or non-denomination of your choice. We had a lovely 24hrs bouncing between our families and eating far too much in both locations – we are like the Christmas locusts. In fact, we are the Christmas locusts.
About to head offline for a good four days of reading, sleeping, reading sleeping, reading sleeping. I am also working on this – ’tis thoroughly rough at the moment, but will be getting a good polish soon, I promise.
White Bride, Black Bride, Raven-girl, Hare
The feathers were tiny and Emer rather hoped they would stay thus.
Indeed, she prayed they would fall out and go away all together. But they were black and not even downy little things – they were small but determined. Their shafts hardened swiftly as soon as they poked through her skin, calcifying beneath her touch as she stroked them in dreadful fascination. All day she’d felt something happening beneath the gloves donned so hastily after her morning’s escapade. The sight of those soft, blue things had seemed to warm the hearts of both her mother and governess, as if relieved to think she was finally listening. She’d told herself that she was imagining it, that nothing was happening; that the miraculous salve she sneaked from her mother’s workroom would put everything to rights.
But that night, when Emer closed the door of her room, and finally pealed the silken coverings away, she’d found that the wound in her palm was sprouting dark fronds around its ragged edge. They looked almost like the collar of one of her mother’s favourite cloaks – except those feathers were from the palace peacocks, with their vibrant eyes that seemed to watch everyone and everything.
It was, she reflected, fortunate that this had occurred today of all days. Had it not been the night before her fealty oath day when tradition decreed that an heir should be utterly unattended, she would have had to answer some interesting questions from her governess. The solitude, which harkened back to the days of solitary vigil-nights in dark forests, would put off the moment when she had to face the consequences of what she’d done.
It had been the madness of a moment, to sneak away and run through the gardens with the sky so blue, the clouds so white, the grass a pulsing, vibrant green. All on her own, and those flowers shining like delicate gems trembling in the breeze: wine-dark amethysts, sun-bright topazes, heavenly sapphires, rubies red as blood, beryl the colour of a storm-tossed sea and, stranger still, those roses.
She’d danced and run, bounded and rolled until her dress, once a concerto of blue and cream embroidered with golden daffodils, had its hem torn and trailing, one sleeve held in place by four tenuous threads, and grass and dirt stains had been added to the pattern. She’d long ago left the tiny manicured lawns upon which she was usually permitted a stately stroll, and wandered into the wilder, less tamed spaces where the demarcation line betwixt garden and myrkwood was nothing more than a flimsy boundary of aged briars. The smooth green stems and thorns of the roses – those roses black as ebony! – entwined with the grey and brittle ones of the brambles.
Emer’s attention had been caught by the burning glow from the heart of the blooms, an opalescent flashing of green and red and gold, orange and blue and magenta at their core. A living, shifting, shimmery conflagration in each floret. She’d reached out to touch the nearest one, careful to avoid its barbs. The petals were like velvet, warm and soft. As she pulled away, her palm open and facing upward, she felt a stabbing pain in her hand.
One moment the air was empty and in the next, a raven was occupying the space with regal mein, its claws fixed tightly around the briar line barrier. The crimson wound in the centre of Emer’s palm showed where the creature had struck, burying its long sharp beak into the soft flesh, and withdrawing it as quickly as the fencing master did his epee when he’d shouted touché at one of her brothers during practice.
Emer stared at the bird; its feathers glistened ebon-dark, yet radiant as if moonlight had been woven into their underside. The raven let out a harsh cry and Emer noticed that its eyes burned with the same fire as the black roses, colours flashing and sparking one off the other, burning then dying to be replaced by the next brilliant hue. The creature spread its wings and took off, flying higher and higher and growing smaller and smaller until finally it dove, plummeting straight at the child, then turning aside at the last moment and darting into the shadowy depths of the forest.
That was when Emer’s nerve had broken and she’d fled, returned to her rooms before anyone knew she was missing, found the gloves, changed her dress and hid the destroyed one before her governess saw the damage and demanded to know what had happened.