OK, so I might have a wee problem with exaggeration. Whatever. As promised in my last post, here is an outtake of my (as yet unnamed) current project.
David Williams, fifteenth Duke of Mondragon, escorted Olivia to the Blue Parlor, near the front of the Winter Palace. The large room stood empty, silent – a constant reminder of my madness, for this is where I was toppled. The rumors of my death are, of course, greatly exaggerated, but we shall deal with that another day.
Pray forgive me. It seems I must be constantly reminded that this is Olivia’s story, and not my own.
The large room stood empty, silent. No reminders of mad queens or throne-stealing… Ahem.
The large room stood empty, silent. No fire burned in the grate to dispel that icy grip of winter. Outside the long wall of windows, snow fell upon the manicured green lawns. Snow in May. That definitely never used to happen.
“What is it sir? Are you not to escort me to the ceremony?” Olivia’s voice trembled. The fear evident gnawed at His Grace’s conscious.
A nobleman with a conscious. What an oddity. Regardless of the person upon the throne.
Lord Mondragon shifted from one foot to the other. The problem was obvious – how to allay her fears, prepare her for the trials of the Blood Court? Releasing the breath he did not realize he held, he realized nothing could prepare her for what was to come.
“Of course I am, child,” he said rather forcefully. Clearing his throat, he continued, “Before we descend, however, I want you to know that -”
The cloying scent of too much lavender filled the room, seeping through the walls, through the vents, sinking to my room below. “Not thinking of sharing Court secrets with the uninitiated are you, Your Grace?” asked Lady Woolverton.
Lady Woolverton. I growled, low in my throat, and the winds whipped into a frenzy, hammering at the windows of the Blue Parlor. That filthy courtesan who seduced my consort, setting into motion my freefall. All at the behest of Adaline, the usurper. My sweet Albert was rewarded with a new Queen and eternal youth while that treacherous bitch, Maud, was rewarded with the hand of a lowly baron.
Unaware of the sordid past of the court or her inhabitants, Olivia was intelligent enough to be wary. Pasting a smile onto her face, she turned to the older woman. “Well met, Lady Woolverton. Will Lilliana join me this night?
She refers, of course, to the sweet girl the old harpy managed to birth after years of lost babes. A plain girl with none of her mother’s flash – or coarseness, she was also one of the few to treat Olivia with kindness. And Lady Woolverton could not speak well, or often, enough of her.
No matter the cost of the silk trappings, a cow is still a pig. No. That isn’t right. You cannot make a silk purse with a… oh, nevermind. Lady Woolverton was gauche, and no amount of education since her elevation from tart to married tart would change that.
Momentarily forgetting the duke’s presence – or perhaps choosing to willfully ignore it – Lady Woolverton snorted. “Heavens no, you simpleton. My sweet Lily was initiated into the Court on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, six months ago. As are all ladies of breeding.” Wrinkling her nose as if offended by the presence of Olivia, the great she-beast turned to Lord Mondragon and added, “Do see that the girl arrives on time. And no sharing secrets. Not all who are invited are chosen.”
With a shrug of one silk-clad shoulder, Lady Woolverton turned to leave. “Or even worthy,” she tossed out before disappearing.
The implication was clear: even the plain daughter of a lowly baron and his coarse wife had more value than the blind orphan girl of unknown origins. Olivia had made the mistake of allowing herself to believe the Court would actually welcome her, despite years of evidence to the contrary. The callous words of Lady Woolverton reinforced her worst fear: the invitation had only been extended because her foster father was the Queen’s only brother.
Were it not for that connection, she would still be stored away in the attic, a monster to be kept from society at all costs. And imperfection, a blight.
The Blood Queen would tolerate no imperfections, after all. Especially within her Court.
Had I not made the mistake when I presumed much the same thing? Damn that meddling bitch, and her need to poison everyone around her. And that worm of a foster father? That coward?
He reached out to squeeze Olivia’s shoulder, to offer some small bit of comfort, but the dear girl moved away from his touch. Allowing the small rebellion, he twisted a small statue of Neptune sat atop a marble pedestal near the empty fire grate. Across the room, an oak panelled wall slid away, revealing a dank corridor.
Taking Olivia’s arm, he led her into the dark alcove. Summoning a ball of aether, he used the blue flame to illuminate his way. “Come child. We have some stairs to descend. Left hand upon the railing and step down. There’s a good girl. Forty-two more steps of the same size, then.”
Olivia smoothed a palm down the front of her gown, the intricate black stitching a sharp contrast to the soft pink bustier. A massive dragon, in honor of her foster House, wrapped around the leather bustier, trailing down the weightless folds of orange and pink organza piled atop buttery yellow taffeta. Her white blonde hair curled softly over a bared shoulder, cascading to her waist.
Next to the duke’s severe black, Olivia was the golden dawn. Pride swelled his chest, though he had little to do with the vision at his side. Securing her hand on his arm, Mondragon led his young charge into the bowels of the castle, the sun into dusk.
At the bottom of the steps, Olivia stopped, waiting for Mondragon’s next instructions. She did not wait long.
“At the end of this hall, about ten yards, we will come to the entrance to the Initiation Room. Beyond that entrance, I can do nothing for you. Do you understand?”
Olivia could not stop the tremble that crept into her voice. “C – can you not not even guide me about the … Where, exactly are we, sir?”
“Beneath the Crystal Lake, child. I do wish you could see it, Olivia. It is best at dawn, but even under the light of the moon, it will be breathtaking.”
“I see more than you realize, sir. But, Crystal Lake, your grace? Is that not a myth?” As a child, she had been regaled with tales of a mythical lake deep within the cliffs into which the castle was built.
“No, but it is a place of great power. All the leylines of the Empire converge there, so it is a forbidden place. Queen Adaline will have her fun, however.”
“Yes, your grace. You did not answer my first question.”
His Grace sighed heavily, guilt sweeping across his face. “No, my child. I cannot escort you beyond this door.” He brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes. The gesture was familiar, as if he had done it a million times instead of one, calling forth comfort and love.
Olivia faltered. “Can you describe the room to me, sir?”
A smile tugged at the corner of Mondragon’s eyes. The Crystal Lake was once a special place for him, too. “The likes of this room cannot be found anywhere else. Not even outside of the reaches of the Empire. The water will cast the most amazing prisms of color and light across the floor.”
“I don’t understand. Where is the water in relation to the room?” Olivia interrupted.
“It is all around us, Olivia. Even now. The Initiation Room is within the waters of the lake. It is protected by magicked glass that rises from the lake floor to form a dome. Opposite this door, there will be the Queen’s dais. No other chairs are allowed, of course.”
“One does not sit in the presence of Adaline,” Olivia said, echoing a lesson she had learned early.
“No,” he agreed.