Author: Narc PM
Nan's station in life has changed for the better due to her mother's advantageous marriage to the prominent Sir Jerald. But when her new stepfather accuses her of being a changeling, she's forced to flee from everything she's ever known.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure/Drama - Words: 2,166 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 5 - Published: 11-11-08 - id: 2595092
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter 1: The Changeling
The train rushed through the city, passing over and through buildings. The glass windows on either side extended down to the floor. When Nan leaned forward and pressed her face against them, it felt a little like flying, if one could fly sideways. They passed over the golden, sharply peaked roof of the cathedral. She imagined flying down to perch on the top of that peak.
"Nanette. Get away from the glass. You're leaving fingerprints."
Nan's mother sat on one of the benches, her back erect and her hands folded neatly across her lap. She spoke with a sweet tone, and didn't look at her daughter. No need to draw any unnecessary attention to her lack of ladylike behavior, Nan supposed. Ladies enjoyed the view from the seats. They did not lean over the windows in order to catch some exhilaration.
Nan joined her mother on the bench and tried to mimic her pose. It would have been easier if she had felt as glamorous as her mother looked. She wore a royal blue gown that hugged her tiny waist and hips. It had a generous neckline that drew attention to the silver pendant she wore. A gift from her mother's new husband. Her light brown hair was pulled back, with a few perfect curls trailing down her back.
Nan knew she paled in comparison. Her light blue dress, although elegant and mature, only made her childish figure more obvious. She could already feel her curls begin to escape from the hairdo that was supposed to be identical.
And she fidgeted. There was only so much sitting like that Nan could take.
"This is an important occasion for you, Nanette. The young man you will one day marry will most likely be at this ball," her mother stared out the window, still not looking at Nan.
"Of course, mother. I've been to this ball every year and that's always been the case, hasn't it?"
Her mother turned her head, just a fraction. "Well, yes. But if you do well, your … prospects may increase."
Nan twirled a curl around her finger. "Because of Sir Jerald?"
"Your father has many connections I never had. He's friends with many of the city's Lords."
"He's not my father."
Her mother reached out and placed a hand on her arm to stop her fidgeting. "It won't do you any harm to admit it, at least in polite company. They will think better of you for it."
Nan pulled away and stared out the window, trying to see if she could recognize some of the buildings by their roofs. She didn't dislike Sir Jerald. She didn't really have much of an opinion one way or the other. Although he was now married to her mother, the man was still a practical stranger to her. So how could she call him 'father'? No one would be fooled. It would be a great embarrassment.
"I do know what I'm talking about," her mother said, as if she knew exactly what Nan was thinking.
The buildings grew taller as the train neared the center of the city, until the rooftops were no longer visible. Then, without warning, they slipped into darkness as the train entered the Barlow Tower.
The compartment doors opened and the other passengers began to exit. Nan started to follow suit, but her mother reached a hand out to stop her. "Wait," she said, watching the other passengers intently.
"Because only commoners take the train."
"But we are commoners, mother."
There was no response, but Nan understood. If they entered when everyone else did, there would be nothing to set them apart. If they waited, it would seem like they were wealthy enough to afford horses. Never mind that the sky train was a luxury not many in the city could afford. The point was that everyone attending this ball could.
So they waited, only exiting when the engineer informed them that the train had to leave.
The marble hall was quiet when they arrived, except for the echoing of their footsteps and the distant chiming overhead. Nan stared up at the bells that were laced through thick strings of goosevine. It seemed a bit overdone, having so many charms in one place. Surely one would have the same effect as twenty? But Barlow Tower was an important building with frequent important visitors, so she supposed it was better to be safe.
Her mother, as always, was right. By the time they reached the staircase leading down to the ballroom, the crowd from the train had already been passed through and been introduced.
"Mrs. Gabrielle Trent and her daughter, Nanette."
When the herald made his announcement, there was a brief lull in the dancing. It started right back up again, but her mother smiled. The point was that they were noticed, unlike the continuous stream of guests who had most-likely been introduced in one stream of announcements.
Her mother led the way around the dance floor. "Should we wait for Sir Jerald?" Nan asked.
"Your father's a very busy man. He might not be here for several hours."
Nan stared up at the domed ceiling. It had been repainted this year. It was more ornamental, she supposed, but it reminded her too much of the painted eggs her mother used to keep away evil spirits.
Out in the middle of the floor, dancers spun in time to the music. The gowns made whooshing noises as the long hems trailed the ground. The wide range of people who attended the ball made for a wide range in the styles of gowns, from simple and old-fashioned, to gowns covered in frills and lace, with little charms hanging from the hems.
The ballroom, despite its immense size, had a thick smell of mixed perfumes and cologne, as if every person in the other room was trying to overpower the others with their fragrance. It did nothing to help Nan's mood, and she was determined not to enjoy herself at all this evening.
"Dear lord, would you look at that neckline? It's positively scandalous," a girl said from behind her and then tittered.
Nan spun around, her hands flying to her own neck. She recognized the girl, who had jet-black ringlets piled on top of her head. But the young Lady Emmeline was looking at someone else. She leaned over and whispered into Nan's ear. "She looks like a prostitute."
Nan sighed with relief and returned Emmeline's conspiratorial grin. This was easy. Saying nasty things about other people was a talent she had long since mastered, mostly due to following her mother's example. "She very well might be," she whispered back, holding her hand up in front of her mouth. "I heard her father lost all of their money through gambling, but look at all that gold!"
"It's so gaudy anyway. Why, she must be wearing every piece she owns."
Emmeline continued to remark on the other girls around them. Out of the corner of her eye, Nan spied her mother, who was already talking with a ring of older ladies and their husbands. Her mother gave her a nod and a small smile.
So she was right. Her mother's marriage to Sir Jerald had boosted their social status. Lady Emmeline never would have taken more time with Nan than to exchange polite greetings. For all Nan could guess, before this year she would have been at the other end of this conversation.
"Now that's I dress I wouldn't be caught dead in, not anywhere in public, much less here," Nan said, pointing to another young woman's gown. It wasn't that bad, excepting the fact that it was bright orange and out of fashion by about ten years.
Emmeline giggled with delight and before long, Nan found herself in a circle of girls, all saying the most outrageous things about the most mundane social mishaps. It was just so easy. She was careful to make sure that the people she gossiped about were fairly unknown, or had already been brought up by one of the others.
Their chatter was interrupted when the conductor quieted the orchestra and the herald began to announce another late arrival. A few faces turned up to see if it was anyone noteworthy.
It was Sir Jerald. His blond hair was pulled back into a sleek tail and he wore the brand new set of coattails that Nan's mother had picked out for him just the other day.
"Ladies and gentlemen—"
Sir Jerald placed his hand on the herald's shoulder and shook his head. The rest of the ballroom turned its attention away, assuming then that the arrival wasn't important. The rest of the girls struck up their gossip again, but Nan excused herself.
"Excuse me." The orchestra quieted again. "Excuse me!"
The orchestra stopped playing. Nan stopped looking for her mother and looked up to the staircase, where Sir Jerald was now standing. He glared down at the crowd. The dancers stopped with the music and the conversations died one by one as the guests noticed him.
Sir Jerald cleared his throat. "I am deeply sorry for this interruption, but it's necessary. You're all in grave danger."
Murmurs and scattered exclamations came from around the ballroom. "Jerald!" Nan heard her mother exclaim. Now that everyone was still, it was easy to pick her out, not far from where Nan was standing.
Sir Jerald held out his hands, attempting to quiet the room again. "Please, there's no need to panic. I just need your cooperation and everything will be fine. I have discovered a changeling child, and that child is among us tonight. This entire building is well-protected. She cannot harm you."
Hands flung to pieces of jewelry that held charms to ward off evil creatures. The men pulled them out of pockets, no longer seeming to feel the need to hide their caution. Nan pulled the beaded strand of goosevine out of her hair. Clutching it in her fist, she ran to her mother's side.
Her mother slipped a hand into hers. "Don't worry," she whispered to Nan. "It will all be over soon. Jerald knows what he's doing. He's dealt with this kind of thing before."
Nan turned to see Sir Jerald walking up to them. The expression on his face was grave, with his chin tucked down. He walked slowly, placing one foot in front of the other.
"Gabrielle, I need you step away from Nanette."
Her mother's grip tightened. "Jerald? What is it?"
He took another, slow step forward and put his hands out. "I'm so sorry, Gabrielle. I know how terrible this must be." His gaze turned on Nan and his expression hardened. He wasn't comforting her. She took a step back.
"No," her mother said.
Nan felt her eyes grow hot and forced back a tear that threatened to break free. This was insane. How could he be saying this?
"Jerald, this must be some mistake," her mother said, gripping Nan's hand so hard it hurt.
"There's no mistake. All of the signs are there. I hide seven fey posies in her room yesterday. And this morning, all of them were already dead. Turned black. Just … let her go, Gabrielle."
"You're lying!" Nan yelled, and broke away from her mother. She picked up her skirt and ran, tears now streaming freely down her face.
"Stop her!" Sir Jerald yelled. But no one stepped in to block her path. No one reached out an arm to grab her. Every person she passed jumped away and clutched at their charms, terrified expressions on their faces.
Grabbing at their charms because of her.
She tripped on the stairs. As she scrambled to get back up again, she felt a hand latch around her ankle, pulling her back. She turned and saw Sir Jerald, an angry, wild expression on his face. But he only had a hold of her with one hand. The other was holding a charm. She pulled back her free foot and kicked him square in the face.
Blood spurted out of his nose. Nan stared for a moment at what she'd done, then came to her senses and got to her feet. She ran from the ballroom without looking back.
So, this is a new story that started out as my NaNoWriMo idea, except that I hadn't plotted much in advance, and I decided not to rush it to much, since I actually like where it's going. For Roanoke fans, don't worry, I'm still writing that as well. Let me know what you all think.
Music I listened to while writing this chapter: "Silence" by Delerium