Sequel to Ashes to Ashes. Please read it first.
Panic and a feeling of having forgotten my lines--
Anger at some man who is trying to steal my role--Lust for another stagehand who wants none of it--
Fear of the stage manager because there are only eleven pairs of shoes on the stage and not an even dozen--
Mixed humor and disgust at two of the actors because they are missing some of their cues to make eyes at each other--
Chaos in a powder room as someone has discovered someone else's heroin stash--
I block their feelings out, wincing at the absolute chaos of the feelings of the actors and the flittery, butterfly-like thoughts and emotions of the Court. The girl outside is probably streets away by now, certainly out of my range unless I am truly desperate, and at the moment my thoughts can't find her.
"Milady," Ronald breathes in my ear, "you look quite pale. Are you all right?"
"Yes, Ronald, I am fine." I shoo him away, still annoyed with his attitude towards the prostitute earlier. The woman--girl, really--had bumped into me on the street--she was older than I by only a few years at most. I had known just by looking at her and then by touching her hands directly that she had been terrified almost beyond rational thought when she had realized who I was. She had been terrified and also quietly desperate. Quiet desperation and terrible sorrow at something I couldn't quite decipher.
As the play continues--a large-scale production involving twelve princesses who every night were closed in a locked room but were found each morning to be exhausted and their shoes danced to pieces--I think upon the fate of the girl and where she might have gone following our altercation outside the theatre. Was she home yet? I knew she had a home--had seen it in the blue of her mind. Was she cold, hungry? Had she been robbed and killed because of the gold I had pressed upon her? Guilt surges though me until I remember that no one had been close enough to see me give her my pocket money, and I relax. Why had I felt such a deep connection to her when I had looked into her honey eyes?
A burst of music startles me out of my thoughts, and I realize that the resident hero has strode onto the scene, determined to solve the mystery. I give up on thinking of the prostitute--for now--and settle into my seat to impatiently await the end of the play. Then I summon wine to make it go faster, and wish to be free of the private box.
When it finally ends after the soldier has chosen his princess, I rise and my attendants follow. The audience does not applaud because I have not applauded. It is too late now, and they rise in respect as we take our leave. The carriages are waiting outside to take us back to the Palace.
I dig my fingers into my eyes slowly, dragging them down my cheeks and smearing my makeup, and it looks as though I have been crying for an eternity. Then I pick up the bubble made of the thinnest blown glass and cup it in my hands, ignoring the fact that my fingers are dirtying it with kohl. It doesn't need to be pristine. I breathe onto it, hoping that she hasn't run too far--hoping that my slight, odd obsession with her will help me find her.
In the gleam of the orb I get a slight glimpse of a beautiful, tearstained face in dark surroundings that don't quite come into focus, and then my relief at seeing her causes me to lose that extra burst of power, and the image disappears.
My heart rejoices; she is safe.
In the night I go to him. My gift is that of deeply knowing emotions, and more rarely, entering dreams; since Midsummer that second gift has been used every night. I fear that I am slowly dying because of the overuse, but I cannot resist the call.
Father's gift is to call thoughts to the surface; to hear true emotions, though I think his illness has warped it into calling people--more specifically, me. Almost every night my dreams are his, and almost every night we talk about everything and nothing. He speaks of walruses and kings, and I speak of Mother, and how she misses him. She doesn't, but I had hoped that perhaps that thought would call him outward instead of remaining sheltered in his mind--in the coma that he has been in for the past three months.
I am beginning to think that mentioning Mother is a mistake, since he looks at me oddly lately, and my clothing has been warping into something resembling Mother's, only more close-cut and revealing in all the wrong places. I have tried in vain to add more cloth before I enter the throne room he usually inhabits, but it always vanishes into wisps of wishful thinking the second I cross the threshold.
Tonight his throne room has been draped in older banners--the kind that decorated the castle before I was born, and before the war where Father lost his left hand. I step inside warily, for the room has never been like this before. Father is waiting at a table behind the throne; a table that has been draped in a red satin and which is dressed with paper-thin ceramic plates and silver forks. It is a clearly meal fit for royalty--and less obviously a meal meant for a couple.
There are never any servants; items are there and then not there when I turn around.
The only one there is Father, and he is standing almost nervously behind the table when I blink. He looks only a little younger than he had been last night, and the look in his eyes is almost desperate, though it brightens when hit eyes light upon me. I look down and my dress is a little more opaque than it might have normally been--only a little of the valley between my breasts is showing tonight, and the hem is long enough to cover my feet instead of high enough to show my delicate ankles. It shushes across the floor as I walk towards him, and his eyes begin to gleam.
"Come, sit down with me, my dear," he says almost eagerly.
"Father, why the draperies?" I ask.
"Please, call me Peter," he says, and I know I am in trouble. No one is ever allowed to call Father by his given name, save Mother.
"Father, I--" and then I stop. What can I say that will stop this and quell the sinking feeling in my gut?
"Sit down," he says a bit more forcefully, and I am compelled to sit in the chair that is now pulled out from the table.
Dinner passes slowly, torturously as he watches my every movement, and I can barely meet his eyes.
After a period of time where I have barely picked at my food it vanishes, and so do the table and chairs. The entire room vanishes, which is new. He has never been able to change where we both were at the same time. Now we are in a sitting-room replete with plush blue couches and mirrors and a fireplace.
Wine is on a side table, and with a jolt of dread I recognize the vintage. Father had had the royal vineyard specially make the entire month's wine to commemorate his and Mother's wedding, and then every year there is a special bottle of wine made; a special bottle which only they are allowed to drink. The grapes used are of the rarest vines, imported from the far country of Pantheon, and always have to be forced in a specially-made hothouse. This wine is the bottle he had never gotten to drink; last month was their anniversary.
And tonight, apparently, was the celebration.
Father crosses the room and pours wine into two fluted glasses and hands me one. "Drink up, my love," he purrs, confirming my dread. "We've things to do, and the night grows older."
The illness that has addled his mind has done what I feared; he can no longer tell the difference between Mother and me.
"Father," I insist, "I should go. There are. . . important matters of state to take care of, and you are ill. Please let me take care of them."
"Not until we take care of each other," he murmurs, and steps closer.
"Father, please." Please don't do this, I plead. Not you, not my own Father. Not my own King.
His hand catches the swell of a breast and he looms very close. I cannot take it anymore and bolt for the door, only to find that it is locked.
"So you want to play the maid, Sela?" My mother's name. Not mine. Never mine.
I pound at the door. "No!" I cry as he pulls me away from the door. "Father, it's me! Your daughter. Kyria! Father! Father, please!"
"Come to bed, my love."
"Father, please don't!"
I try to leave the dream forcefully on my own, which would have left me with a splitting headache when I woke up, but this was his dream, not mine. And in the end, his want was too strong.
I wake up sobbing.
I'm developing an intolerance for men, I decide.
Ronald has not come near me since I accidentally gave him an emotional backlash from the--things--that happen at night. I have not approached my father in weeks. Physically.
Mentally I am drawn to him at night, and the "things" continue.
I cannot bear the sight of any man by the time one month passes, and I do not ever want to leave my rooms.
But I must.
I make another foray into the streets of Tyme Ago, this time seeking out the woman from the streets. I do not find her in the gutters, and I do not find her in the scarce shelters that have little room and littler funds.
It is a tiny thread of familiar emotion that leads me to a poor treatment center called Tayle, run by a man with only one name: Doc.
The second I walk through the door, there is a terrible scream from the back of the one-room clinic.
It is not the woman I have been searching for, but she is near to the screaming woman; too near. As I push my way between the beds to her side, narrowly avoiding the grasping hands aiming for the hem of my cloak, a woman crouched next to the bed that my street woman is next to begins to sob.
The screaming woman continues to wail, clutching at a still form on the bed. It is too still.
I gape as I look down on the woman in the bed. Crumpled wings poke from under the blankets, and pointed ears thrust between the too-thin hair. She is a fairy, obviously far from home, and obviously dead.
Fresh, red blood still stains her pale lips, and the screaming woman shakes her, wailing for her to return. It is from these words that I learn that the dead fairy's name is Tinkerbelle, and the three women gathered around her are named Punzel, Beauty, Rose, and Sin.
I wonder which one is my street woman's name.
"Excuse me," I say, placing a hand that I try not to make tremble on my street woman's shoulder. Her shock and grief flood through me like water through a dry gully, matching my own too-recent trauma, but I soothe hers gently with a wind made of calm and acceptance, carrying soft feathers of hope and warmth.
Hope. That precious feeling that I have too little of. I have to fight not to snatch back every bit that I gave her.
She turns and sees my cloak--obviously cannot see farther--glares at my intrusion into what is obviously a private moment swamped with sorrow. Without taking my hand off of her bare shoulder, I reach up my other hand and push back my cloak just enough so she can see my face.
Her blue eyes widen, but to her credit she doesn't sweep into a curtsey. "Princess," she breathes, just loud enough for me to hear. "What are you doing here?"
She glances around furtively, looking for I don't know, and then looks back at me. "Where are your guards?"
Ah. "Not here," I say. "I came alone."
Her eyes widen further, and her lips part. Then a whimper sounds behind her, and her eyes dim. "Pardon me," she says, and turns back to her friends.
I catch her wrist. "Please wait."
I don't say anything, but I do for her friends what I did for her. For the wailing woman, I do it threefold.
She is dazed and unfocused when I finish, and all of the surviving women are calmer now.
"Come," I beckon, and they turn toward me with disbelieving faces. I move forward to pick up the fairy's body, but one of the women beats me to it; a farm-wife looking girl who hefts the body in her arms easily. The women galvanize, and the fairy's dead wings dangle limply as they follow me out the door.
I ask my street woman where she lives, and she brings us to a dingy, filth-encrusted flat that I instantly know to be hers.
We troop silently up the stairs, and everyone gathers in the only room in the flat.
The fairy's body is laid reverently in the center of the room and draped with a dingy sheet--possibly the only clean thing in the room.
The beauty of the still form doesn't deserve that.
I pull off my cloak and drape it over the sheet-swathed corpse; it looks better now; a little more noble in repose.
I give up a silent prayer for her soul, kneeling beside her body.
My spell of calm is still running throughout the room, and when I am done and vacate my spot, fleeing to the edge of the room, the other women gather around the body and pray as mutely as I did.
I watch them noiselessly for what seems like hours; watch my street woman bow her head and offer up prayer to who knows what god, and I wonder whether her name is Beauty, Rose, Punzel, or Sin.
She is beautiful, that is for sure. Is her name Beauty? It could be Rose; she has beauty on the outside, even through all of the layering of makeup like petals.
Punzel does not fit her, but since I do not know what the name means it could still be it.
Sin does not fit her at all; she is most likely a whore. I am not stupid. But she still seems too--something--to be Sin.
And so nameless she remains for the next five minutes.
Then she finally rises; turns to me as her friends draw closer to the body and the woman who wails no longer cradles the draped fairy's head in her lap.
She draws me outside into the dirty hallway with the cracked wallpaper. .
"Why are you here?" is the first thing she asks.
"I wanted to see you," I say.
"What do you need to see a whore for?"
That stops me. "I don't know," I say.
"You don't know?" She seems unconcerned that she is talking to royalty, and that gladdens my soul; that she will speak with me without fearing retribution.
"I--" I hesitate. Should I tell her of my father's misdeeds?
"Out with it," she says roughly.
"My father has been--" I do not want to say it. Why should I say it? What can a whore do?
Instead of telling her, I lower my walls and bury myself in the warm red velvet of her mind, and show her.
"Oh," she says when we part. Something of me wants to stay buried in her mind. I felt safe there. With me I have taken her name--Cin. Cinderella. An unimaginative name, to be sure, but it resonates within me like the tone of a bell.
I say nothing.
"I'm sorry," she says.
I wave it away. "Can I stop it?"
"I don't know," she says truthfully.
I want to beg her to make Father cease; to make the memories go away.
Instead, I say, "Can you help me cover over it?"
"What do you mean?" she asks, though I see the dark light of knowledge in her eyes and chuckle gently.
"Make new memories," I say.
She catches on. "But you're the Princess!" she cries.
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much," I say teasingly.
Cin raises her eyes to mine, half-lidded. She doesn't say anything.
I press my mouth to hers.
When I kiss her, she pulls away initially, but I press forward and pursue her again. I snake my hand around the back of her head, fingers tangling in her unwashed hair.
Her lips part under mine as I deepen the kiss, taking what could be mine by right. But I want it to be given freely.
I tear myself away from that sweet rosebud of a mouth which offers distraction from the living nightmare that my Honorable Father has bequeathed upon me, and step back a few paces--hard to do in the narrow hallway, but I manage. Only then do I look her straight in the eyes.
"My lady," I say, though the words feel absurd coming from me and not a boy. "May I have leave to court you?" The excuse is thin, and all I want is her.
She seems terribly flustered and gropes for words. "I--I suppose you could. But this really isn't the time to discuss this--"
"Good." I close in on her. This time she is a little more prepared for the onslaught of my mouth, and I cling to her desperately, praying that she can wipe away the taint of my father's hands.
My hands hesitantly rise to her bare shoulders, resting gently there, feeling her bones poke through the too-thin layer of muscle, skin, and fat covering those scrawny bones.
Her own hands move to settle on my waist, and as I kiss her--slowly and lingeringly this time--they tighten around my corseted midsection, and her little and ring fingers drop a little to splay over my tops of my hips.
I slide my hands over the tops of her collarbone to pull her closer to me, and as her friends mourn the loss of someone I don't know, I temporarily beat back the memory of my own father's touch on my skin with a woman I barely know.
The next time I see her is scarcely a week later. My father has done it again; he has--No. I can't even think the word, so I settle for that he has done "awful things" to me again, and with a firm destination in mind and a woman in my heart, I steal away from the palace--and the questioning eyes of my dear mother--for the slums of the city.
I find her waiting in the apartment she shares with the other girls, who are not there. The fairy's body is gone. I assume they have buried her.
Cin is cleaner today, and her hair has been washed and brushed. It slides through my fingers like silk as I drag my hand through it, but I do not kiss her. Not yet.
"Cin," I say. The words almost stick in my throat like congealed remnants of honey, but I force them out regardless. "Why are you not out?"
"Out doing my job?" she asks bitterly, shaking her head. "I should not stop for you. We were barely making ends meet before, as it were, and now we struggle to pay the rent for the week. But I cannot bear the touch of any man for you."
Her voice lowers, as does her head, as if she expects the executioner's axe to fall at any moment. "I know I am not worthy of your attention, Princess, but I cannot get you out of my thoughts. In one hours time spent together you have wormed your way into my mind, and I cannot work any longer."
I say nothing, but instead rejoice inside. She cannot bear the touch of men! She is like me!
Then, I do not have to share her!
And then I remember that the "sharing" is how she makes her living, and that she will not survive if she does not have money for a place to live or food to eat.
I pull her gently to me, and as I move my face closer to hers--who knows how far this will go?--I reach behind myself and pull out a fat sack of silver coins and silently slip it into a pile of skirts I know to be hers.
Then I lose myself in her bare skin and hands and chest that do not belong to any man! and spend the next few hours alternately sobbing and working the both of us into a frenzy that more than makes up for the uncomfortable tears.
As we hurtle towards toward that final peak together, our eyes remain locked as we exchange quick, intense kisses and touches that further strengthen my resolve to keep her mine, and when we finally fall, screaming, over the abyss, I cling to her in a way I have never clung to anyone.
It is a long, long, time before I finally come back to myself. Cin is next to me, shuddering and still spasming with the little, uncontrollable following tremors of the experience. We are both bare on the dirty floor, but while I am with her I do not care where we are. I am a princess on the filthy floor of a room belonging to a prostitute, but she makes it not matter.
We could be on the floor of the ocean with an audience of mermaids for all the care I give it, and when she finally comes down from that high, I kiss her again. And in the drugging kiss she returns with interest, we are agreed on one thing; I am home in her. And I can come whenever I like.
She is my only solace, but she is glad of it. As am I.