“Come down from the tree Cat.”
“Cat, you can’t stay up there forever.”
“Yes I can.”
“Cat…” Daniel’s voice takes on a sharp tone. “This is a social function. It might not be one from your Reality, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show the same etiquette.”
“Since when do you care about manners?” I retort.
“Since about now. Now get down!” he snarls.
“Fine.” I jump out of the tree and land on one leg on the blue grass. I walk past Daniel back to the castle without saying a word.
He follows me, equally silent. “Would you like to tell me why you’re in such a foul mood?” he asks, his voice quiet, even though there’s no one around.
I ignore him. He just sighs. “Just promise me you’ll behave,” he says, and leaves me at the door to his chambers.
I enter, and I slam the door behind me. When I turn, I’m startled to see someone there. She’s just as surprised as me, and she drops the large pile she’s holding when I open the door.
“Oh!” I exclaim. “Jhaq, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know-”
She nods hurriedly and resumes to pick up the ocean of fabrics at her feet. “Here, let me help,” I tell her, scooping up a couple of the items. “Who is this for?”
Jhaq looks down as she speaks. “Miss Madigan, certainly,” she says. “His lord sent them for Miss Madigan.”
I grimace. “He shouldn’t have…” It’s too pretty. I pick it up from the bodice, and I can see that it is embroidered with bronze coloured leaves. I run my hands over the fabric. Velvet. The softest, silkiest velvet I’ve ever touched. Fuck. “Jesus Christ…” I murmur.
“Who is Miss Madigan talking to?” Jhaq asks.
“No one. I…” I turn to her, and she flinches away. “What is happening tonight?” I ask her.
“It is the celebration of His Grace’s first day of age,” she informs me promptly. That’s what I could rely on from Jhaq. Unlike Daniel, she would tell me anything I asked, providing she was capable of understanding my question. Not about Daniel of course; whenever I so much as mentioned him she’d go black in the face. I figure that’s their own form of blushing, but when I first saw it happen I thought they were dying.
“I see…” She’s holding out the dress for me, so I reluctantly take off my clothes -my school dress and shoes- and step into it. She ties the laces for me and steps away with her head bowed.
I walk up to the mirror and look at myself. The dress is the colour of the grass I walked on earlier; deep navy blue. The leaves of bronze cover the bodice and short sleeves, and when I turn around, they fall down my back, like a train. This is not meant for a rude little girl, this is for a princess. “People will look at me,” I say aloud. “I don’t belong there. I won’t ever belong there.”
“People will look at Jhaq too,” Jhaq reminds me. Instantly, I feel horrible. Jhaq’s face has tattoos running from her eyes to the ends of her jaw, like tears, and her dark bruises scarring her cheek and collarbone are easy to see. Jhaq’s face shows nothing. Like me, she doesn’t show sadness easily.
“Should we go?” I ask softly.
She gives a sudden gasp. “Miss Madigan’s head firstly,” she says, and rushes off. She returns quickly with a box. “This is for Miss Madigan’s hair,” she tells me.
I open up the box, and Jhaq pins more bronze leaves in my hair. She lets my hair down so that it trails down my back, and Jhaq nods in approval. “You have been good,” she tells me, her eyes sparkling in a rare moment of amusement. “Other girls huff and scream at Jhaq when she does their hair.”
I shake my head. “They’re only pins, and they don’t hurt,” I told her. “How is your talking coming?”
“My…talking is good. A lot better.” She inclines her head and speaks in a whisper. “Thankyou for my words, Miss Madigan.”
“If you ever want another lot of words, let me know.” Daniel has many ‘words’ in his bookcase, and he won’t miss them. “Shall we go?”
“Miss Madigan shall go,” she confirms.
I frown. “Where do I go though?”
Jhaq sighs. “It is down these rooms,” she tells me. “Follow, if you would please.”
Jhaq leads me out, and we walk together down the long hallways. I find it cold and unwelcome here. Grand, certainly, but not beautiful.
We walk past a tall one and Jhaq turns her head away. He walks toward us suddenly, and I raise my arm across my face in a moment of habit. He walks past me however, and toward Jhaq.
And he hits her across the face.
“You’re not to be wandering these grounds at this time,” he fumes. “Foolish slut, get away from here!” He raises his hand again.
Before he can strike, I step between them. “She is guiding me by my own request,” I tell him. “She has done nothing wrong, and you have no reason to harm her.”
He glares at me. “Oh, it’s you, little freak,” he sneers. “What are you all dressed up for?”
“Daniel wants me by his side tonight.” Even though he knows that I hate the idea of a party with these people, and I’ll be in a bad mood the whole time. “I don’t want any trouble. And neither do you, if you know what I am.”
“I’d be a fool not to,” he retorts. “Freak.”
I meet his gaze and smile. “You’ll have to come up with something better than that,” I tell him. “Freak is no longer an insult to me. Now…” I gesture to Jhaq. “If Jhaq isn’t allowed out here, perhaps you can show me where to go?”
His face is no longer angry. It is emotionless and cold as a statue. “Of course,” he says shortly. “If you will follow me.”
I turn to Jhaq and incline my head, like I’ve seen Daniel do. She curtseys slightly and hurries away. I trail after the rude man, and I don’t take my eyes off him for a moment. He is wearing a silver robe, as bright as his hair. His eyes, however, are black as ink. One of these things is not like the other… I mused.
It’s all too grand. Everything is done up in gold and bronze. Even servants are painted in gold. I stand next to the man, on top of glossy, golden stairs. I manage to stop myself from wrinkling my nose at the lack of taste, if only just.
“You like it not,” the man says.
I turn to him. “This is all new to me,” I inform him.
He nods. “Your name is short for Catherine, is it?”
“Why do you wish to know?”
“Daniel’s mentioned a Catherine.”
I shake my head. “That’s not me. I am Cat, simply Cat.”
“Lady Cat. It does not sound as easy on the ear as Catherine.”
“Then what about Lady Madigan?”
He sighs. “Very well then. Start down the stairs.”
“After you sir.”
He bows and starts down. When he reaches the bottom, I start walking too. I spot the back of Daniel’s head; his hair is tied back, and he is dressed all in black. When they call out my name, I see him start to turn around, but suddenly, everyone starts walking forward, and I can’t see him any more.
Someone walks up to me and takes me by the arm. I freeze, unsure what to do, and he laughs. It’s a loud, clear sound, and he smiles at me. “Peace,” he says. “You must be nervous.”
I don’t trust myself to speak, so I just incline my head. Keep it up Cat Madigan. “A shy young thing, aren’t you?” he enquires. He does not let go of my arm, and he walks me across the hall. “Contrary to everything I have heard about you.”
“One would hear many things in this place,” I say as clearly as I manage.
He laughs in response. “Is it true though, that you kicked over my advisor?”
“Do you mean…” I nearly say ‘Fat man’, but I correct myself at the last minute. “…Thommand,” I finish.
“Yes. He has a certain dislike for you,” he tells me merrily, stopping at the edge of the giant room.
When I say nothing else, he talks again. “This is the first I have seen of you,” he says. “Why do you not leave your chambers more often?”
“…I don’t get along with people well.” That’s as honest as I get.
“I disagree. You are conversing with me, and I believe, if I may dare say, that we are getting along at least somewhat well.”
“I suppose,” I admit. I look around the room and I catch people quickly glancing away from me. “Still, there are plenty here who would have nothing to do with me.”
“So why are you here today?” he enquires.
“Daniel,” I tell him.
“Ah…yes. How loyal of you,” he says. “I suppose that is another reason why you never leave your room.”
It takes me longer than it should’ve to understand his implication. “I do not know your name,” I say, changing the topic. “I know nobody here, and I should really remedy that, shouldn’t I?”
“Of course.” He sweeps a bow to me. “Christan, though, I think it would suit everyone else better to call me Your Grace.”
Oh….fuck. “Just as well, Your Grace,” I said, quickly recovering. That’s why people were looking before….Cat Madigan, you stupid bitch… “I know only one person called that, and he is a….” I struggle to come up with a ladylike word. “I do not enjoy him,” I say finally.
“As you wish.” He is handsome, in his own way, I observe. He has silver hair, like the man from before, but he has golden eyes, which shine like the sun, and a permanent smile on his face. He is the image of Prince Charming. If Prince Charming was lacking eyebrows.
I didn’t trust him.
Not a lot, anyway.
It wasn’t anything he did. I simply don’t trust handsome strangers who flirt with me for no reason.
He started talking again. “So, when can I expect your first day of age?” Christan asks me. “Of course, it doesn’t matter much, but if you allowed me, I’d be happy to bestow upon you a gift. Or Daniel perhaps.”
I start panicking in my head. What does Day of Age mean? I screamed inwardly.
I just said, “In two years.”
“I see. And how many moons?”
Moons? Wait, does he mean months? I restrain from laughing at the term. “Six.” If it means what I think it is.
“Very well then. Well, I believe I shan’t keep you from Daniel any longer. I wouldn’t want to cause a scandal here tonight,” he laughs, taking my hand.
Suddenly there is a loud bang. “What is that?” I ask, immediately on guard. I feel my hand burning, and I’m grateful that Christan is holding the other.
“The prisoner,” he says, a touch of exhaustion in his voice. “Do not worry, my lady, this isn’t the first time this has happened.”
I take the opportunity. “I was wondering, Your Grace,” I started.
“Go on.” He looks at me with his golden eyes.
“Might I have your permission to see him? The prisoner, I mean.”
Christan frowns. “He’s wild, my lady,” he tells me. “I wouldn’t want to compromise your safety. Besides, we are still trying for information from him.”
“I am human,” I remind him. “Like he is. Maybe I could help?”
“A pretty face might prompt him to tell us something,” he said thoughtfully.
I snort, not at the flattery, but at what would be said in Reality about that. I could almost hear Slenderman sniggering “Heheheh, incest.”
“I’ll consider it, my lady,” he tells me. “Now, if you’ll come with me.” He and I walk over to Daniel, sitting in a dark corner with a cone in his hand. “Daniel!” Christan calls jovially. “So this is the lovely lady you keep locked away from us all. I don’t blame you, my man.”
Daniel sees me flinch, and his lips turn up at the sides. “I thank you,” he tells Christan. “And I thank you for letting me bring her, Your Grace.”
“Ah, it is my pleasure.” Christan was distracted by another beauty passing by, wearing pink and gold and far too much face paint. “If you will excuse me, I must attend to other matters. I hope you enjoy tonight, my lady.” He raises my hand to his lips to kiss and bows, before turning to another girl.
I sit beside Daniel. “Thankyou,” I said.
He turns to me with his eyebrow raised. “I am allowed to see him,” I say. “It’s probably more for interrogation, but I can see him.”
He frowns. “Really?”
“What? You didn’t think of this?”
“Actually, no,” he admitted. “You asked His Majesty?”
I shrug. “He must like you,” he muses.
Another shrug. “Would you like him?” Daniel asks, eyebrow raised suggestively.
I shook my head. “I don’t go for the Knights in Shining Armour,” I told him.
“Oh, you’re more of the Heathcliff type, are you?”
I wrinkle my nose. “Heathcliff is pathetic. He’d probably marry me and ship me off to somewhere dark to die, while he pined over a married woman.”
“Fair enough.” He takes a sip out of his cone.
“Whiskey?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “Cloud dew,” he tells me. “Want some?”
“Doesn’t that mean rain?” I ask, but I take the drink.
He watches me as I take a sip. “You’re behaving quite well, Lady Madigan.”
The drink is sickly sweet. “Thankyou. But if you didn’t take me here to get permission, why did you?”
Daniel smiles. “You like parties.”
“…when I’m around people I enjoy,” I amend.
“Do you enjoy me?”
“Occasionally.” I narrow my eyes. “When you’re not drugging me. What was that for?”
“I was saving your life,” he said mildly, taking the cone back and having another gulp.
“How can you stand that drink, it’s horribly sweet.”
“How appropriate,” he says drily. “It’s alright, I have you, my sour tongued shrew.”
“That’s a rhyme,” I smile.
He grins back. “You forgive me?”
“I will eventually.”
“Good girl. Now.” He stands up. “May I have this dance, m’lady?”
“Do I have to?”
“Well, everyone else is. And the alternative is His Grace, who is coming this way now.”
I look up. “I’ll take His Grace.”
“Whatever. Just watch out for his hands.” He winks at me as Christan appears and holds out his arm before asking if I would accompany him in a dance.
Two dances is all I have with him. Daniel was right, throughout the dance, I’d slowly become closer and closer to His Grace, and by the end of the second, when I asked if I could go back, he pressed a ribbon into my palm before bowing to me and kissing my hand.
When I showed Daniel the ribbon, he sniggered, trying to conceal his face from the crowd. “Please don’t tell me what I think it means,” I said flatly.
When he looked up, his face was straight, but his eyes were gleaming. “It’s a scarlet ribbon, you whore,” he told me cheerfully. “Since when is scarlet ever innocent?”
I grimace. “You’ve had too much to drink.”
“On the contrary. I’ve been feeding on only sweets and secrets all evening,” he said. “Of course, though, I’d like something more savory now. Come dance with me.”
“I told His Grace I was sitting out this one.”
Daniel smiles slyly and turns to whisper in my ear. “Dance, or I’m going to have to make a scene.”
“Hadn’t noticed,” he said dryly.
I stand up, and let him walk me over to where everyone is dancing. “I’m curious as to what sort of scene you’d make,” I start. “Would you care to divulge that little secret?”
“No dice,” he tells me. “If I start telling you all my secrets, how will I stop?”
“I have three I want to know. And you don’t know half of mine.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Trade for secrets, hmm? You’ve peaked my interest, Lady Madigan.”
“So what would’ve you done?” I ask.
“Something more public and more embarrassing than a scarlet ribbon.” He grins. “Number two?”
“Who is Catherine?”
He grimaces. “You don’t have to answer,” I tell him. “But I won’t judge.”
“Someone from a long time ago,” he says.
“You’re not going to tell me any more, are you? Fine then, I’ll be just as discreet with my answers.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less of you. And third?”
“What is the beginning of the end?”
He stops smiling. “Do I want to know?” He shakes his head. “How do you even know? Are you psychic?”
“That is more than 3 questions, Lady Madigan. My turn now.”
I braced myself. This would be painful.