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|This is actually an older piece that I refound in an old writing folder. It started out as trying to show passage of time by alternating between spring and winter. I ended up really liking the last paragraph since it kept the ending vague.||
The castle loomed up, metal fingers reaching for the sky. Behind the carriage, the iron portcullis slammed down, stood its guard against the outside. Wendy startled at the sound and looked out at her new home. It made her head hurt and she turned back into the carriage.
The Hall was the home of Duke Sosety, his wife, Sybil Lize Anne, and his many servants and children. They were the only nobles for a hundred miles around and ruled without trouble over the peasants who worked in the fields below.
Wendy was rescued from her death as an infant from where her parents had left her in the woods. Everyone else supposed she’d been a Gypsy baby; she supposed she just wasn’t wanted, whoever her parents had been. So she’d grown up raised in the village of Wilderville, about five miles from the actual castle. Now, with the deaths of the blacksmith and his wife who had taken her in, she was going to become a serving girl to the youngest and prettiest of the Duke’s daughters.
She sighed, folded her hands, and started to swing her legs against the rhythm of the carriage. It lurched to a stop in front of the grand Hall, which emerged like an iron fist, on the highest edge of the mountains that soared behind the castle.
“Perhaps to keep people in more than protect them, “ thought Wendy. A stiff serving man solemnly opened the carriage door and pulled the reluctant Wendy into the Hall.
“ Get away from the window. Stop daydreaming. You have to get your bags unpacked right away, “ snapped the head maid, Irene. She was upset because her daughter wasn’t picked to be the future Duchess Emma Liete Anne’s serving girl. Wendy sighed as she stared down at the town and fields where dozens of tiny figures toiled, then up to the clouds that floated in the sky like ivory swan’s wings. She dragged herself away from that view and opened her two valises.
Emma Liete was a sweet child with a heart-shaped face and quick-to-smile lips. She quickly made a friend in the clever Wendy. At night, while Wendy stoked the fire and laid back the blankets for Emma, she’d imitate the stiff butlers, gossipy chambermaids, and even tough, loud Irene, which made them both dissolve into little girl giggles. In the darker nights, they would wish each other “ sweet dreams” in whispers.
Warmth flowed into the castle with the spring breezes, but it couldn’t quite fit itself into the stones. Emma and Wendy would dress warmly and take walks together.
“ Look! I found the first robin of spring! “ Emma exclaimed delightedly as she motioned skyward. Wendy nodded, her eyes invoking the clouds with the hopes of wings. Spring seemed to be the time for freedom from the constraints of the castle. Wendy sighed as she shadowed Emma towards the gardens to look if there were any flower sprouts. She felt desperately the weight of her last two years at Sosety Hall heavy on her shoulders.
The iron fist held up the frosty blue sky. Snow had muted the surrounding hills and valleys. Wendy restitched carefully the seam on a red satin dress that Emma had just given her. Emma sat combing her own hair and glancing at herself in the mirror.
She turned to Wendy and frowned, “ do you think I’m beginning to look like my mother? Everyone else says so. I wish I could really be as regal and poised.” Emma corrected her posture. Wendy’s voice was strained as she answered, “ yes, you look a lot like your mother. But you needn’t be so queenly yet. You are more fun as yourself. “
Emma smiled and thanked Wendy for the compliment, but as she turned back to the mirror she kept her back straight and splendid.
The crowds hurrahed as another knight tumbled from his high saddle. The tournament was just what everyone needed to feel free from the winter’s grip. Wendy smiled wistfully as the banners proclaiming the noble houses danced in the early spring breeze.
As a young lady, Emma was being courted by many handsome young men, and had already handed out four ribbons, giving her favor to competitors in the tournement. Wendy stood behind her at every function, escorting her from the banquet halls to home, and, as Emma slept upon her shoulder, Wendy watched the countryside fly by.
She sometimes heard how she was so lucky that Emma often saved the best table scraps for her, when servants only got what their masters left. Emma gave her dresses out of her own closet, instead of the usual four person hand-me-downs. Wendy was tired hearing how lucky she was; she wanted to join the country with the skies that changed from spring to winter.
“ Wendy, “ Emma looked up from the map she was studying before her tutor arrived. “Why do you always spend so much time looking out the window? “
Wendy reluctantly turned from the wintery outdoors, “ why don’t you ever think about places far from here? I mean, we read those stories of Arabia, where the sands stretch for an eternity with great white cities rising from them as clouds. Or the jungles of Africa where native women swing through the trees with rainbow-plumed birds. Haven’t you ever wanted to go there? “
Emma laughed, “ Don’t be silly. “ Then her tutor arrived, and Wendy was sent to buy satin for Emma’s newest set of dresses.
Emma was going to a ball at the nearest neighbors to celebrate the coming of spring and she would be gone for a couple nights. Wendy carefully packed the satin blue dress, the one the color of the dawning sky. She sighed as she smoothed the dress on top of the rest of her mistress’ personal things.
“ How I do wish you could come too? “ Emma swept in. She was the mirror image of her mother, poised and civilized. Soon she would marry, perhaps one of the men that courted her tonight. She looked at Wendy with the memory of fondness. “ Wendy, dreaming of swans again are we? “
“ No, dancing on air. “ Wendy was startled to hear the first inside joke they had ever shared. It had been a long, long time since Emma could afford to pause for joking or for her. Wendy smiled wistfully.
“ Ah, well, “ Emma primped in the mirror. After a long pause she added, “ I think I dance on air when Beau dances with me. “
Wendy closed the valises going with Emma and picked up a gem-inlaid brush. “ He ‘s going to talk to Father soon…..” and Emma prattled on as Wendy combed and admired Emma’s feather soft, white hair, comparing it to her own earth smudged strands.
Irene’s howls echoed through the narrow halls of the upper house like cannon shots. Wendy quickly retreated to her room. Without Emma around as much to soften the insults, Wendy had a harder and harder time surviving Irene.
The night air was a caress on Wendy’s skin and she perched next to the window to look out at the courtyard below. She wasn’t sure how long she been sitting there but it got cold enough to see her breath. She stood and went over to look through her small closet to find warmer clothing.
She pulled out the first satin dress Emma had given her. It was robin’s breast red, and though not as pretty as the blue one, it fit Wendy like a second skin. On a whim, she changed into it and went back to the window, peering out into the darkest night of the year.
The lights of the village faded out, the stars even dared not to show their bright faces. Wendy slept lightly, perched in the window ledge, until she felt a sudden chill. Dancing in front of her, beyond the castle’s reach, was a small glowing light.
It shivered and drew runes in the air, but it didn’t look like a firefly. She supported herself and leaned out to view the dancing star.
It hesitated for a long moment, then away, as if teasing with its flight. Wendy was spellbound, and did not even realize that her grasp on the ledge was slipping. The light gave a last little twirl, a final bow, and vanished into the dawn that now separated the sky from the dismal ground. As the sun rose on what the calendar said was the first day of spring, Wendy fell.
“ Don’t be silly “ sighed the wind.
They say Wendy vanished into the dawn, like a Gypsy stealing away from jail. They say the red dress was found on her bed, laid out and covered in soft feathers. They say that a small robin landed beside Emma in the gardens of the masquerade, cocked its head to one side as if saying hello and good-bye in the same moment and flew off for distant lands. They say a lot of things in the castle, where the iron portcullis stands guard and the mountains lean off into the eternity of the skies.
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