The sky looked particularly grey on the day of Charles Wainwright's funeral. Once again there was a sea of muted black and once again I stood near the eulogist as I listened to him proclaim how Charles would soon join Our Father in Heaven. Ah but there is where you are wrong, good sir, I wished to say, Charles was a man of sin if ever I saw one. He wished to kill his own son, his own ward and almost killed his own wife. He cast out an innocent man into a terrible fate and turned his own son into a man full of hate and revenge. He would not go to Heaven, sir...that is, if he were dead.
Most had been told of Charles's unfortunate 'accident'. The story was that he had gone to take a ship to Ireland but had fallen off and drowned. Not exactly plausible, but much better than the truth. That Charles was a deranged murderer who had run away after he'd shot his wife...that story would not bode well with the good people of Huntsville. So Lily, now fully recovered and looking quite beautiful in the black dress of mourning she wore, had concocted that story and now we were sticking by it.
Few knew what exactly had happened the night Charles had almost killed his wife, and the few who knew did not wish to talk about it. For there were whispers of another absence at the funeral of Charles Wainwright...the absence of one particular Prince Morgenstern.
There was no story for him. He was simply not talked about. I knew the truth, however. I'd seen him the day after the night of the Blood Moon. He'd been laying in his bed, still as a stone when all of a sudden he'd opened his eyes, looked at me quite rationally for a moment and had gasped out "Faerie" before returning into his cold, wintery death. He was trapped along the borders of life and death and none but the Philosopher's Stone - Alphonse Wainwright - could revive him. Alphonse's absence from the funeral was hardly noted. No one had even known he'd existed besides myself, the Wainwrights and the Morgensterns. And none, especially myself, wished to talk about him.
Once again, for the third time in a little more than a month, I listened to the eulogist. I listened to the sounds of the funeral. I did not feel death, however. Death was not here...he was far away, with someone else today. In his place was vengeance. I looked straight across from Charle's empty casket (for they had never found the body of dear Charles Wainwright, how tragic) to see Wren Morgenstern staring at his grave with stone eyes. When she looked at me she lifted her chin and openly glared. I was used to it.
I wished I could have told her what I knew - that Prince never sacrificed himself to save Lily for me. He fancied Alphonse, and for that brief moment had wished to make him happy. That was why he'd done it. That was why he'd sacrificed himself. What good that did. Alphonse was gone now, with only hatred in his heart. He said he would come back. It had been a week and I no longer believed him. He would never stop searching. It wasn't as if a week was a long time to me, it was that I'd finally realized that Alphonse could have no room in his heart for love while he was so intent on finding his father.
To Wren's right stood Lucy Morgenstern. She was in black as well, but wore a dress with a plunging neckline, as she always did. She was frowning at the empty casket then lifted her head up. She smiled at me then and winked. For a moment, I remembered one time before when she had done that. Last time she had, it had been to remind me that I was on the outside of whatever clique they were a part of. Now this wink was to remind me of the fact that I would never escape that clique. I couldn't decide which one I loathed more.
Wren Morgenstern would not forgive me for what she believed I had done. Alphonse would not love me for he was too intent on hating his father. But something had dawned on me, not too long ago. If they could not love me, then I would have to learn how to love myself. If they could not forgive me, then I would have to learn how to do that, too. The guilt that weighed upon my shoulders was of my own making. If I wanted to start moving forward, I would have to let it go. No easy feat, but after all, I was a lady now.
As the funeral ended and I was pushed along by Lily, I straightened my back. This was not me channeling Wren Morgenstern anymore. This was me channeling myself. My responsibilities, my burdens, my secrets...I could run from them no longer. I would have to meet them straight on. I realized now, this was the truth path of a lady. A lady did not run away in the face of danger. A lady met it head on, with her chin held high and with impeccable manners.
I would do that, too. With a heavy heart, I knew I would have to give up on finding Wren's trust and getting Alphonse's love. It no longer mattered what I did. I could do nothing. All I could do was be myself and make my own way. And, as I stepped into the carriage that would take Lily and I back to Deathcreeke for the funeral banquet, answer all the questions that still hung around my head. How could I help Prince without the use of the Stone? What was the meaning behind the faerie looking-glass that someone had left for me at my vanity table in London? Who was the White Woman who screams had matched my own that night? And finally, who was the man with green wings and tattered clothes who nobody had seen the face of?
These questions I would figure out in the next chapter of my life, I knew. For this chapter had closed. This chapter had ended. A new chapter was beginning. What twists and turns this chapter was going to take, I had no idea. But I would meet tomorrow with a winning smile and a clean dress. But under that winning smile would be a face that never shied away in the wake of danger.
"You are all right, then?" came a voice from the carriage. I realized it was Lily. I smiled at her graciously and realized with a lifting heart, it was the first real smile I'd shown in days.
"I am, thank you." A pause. "And yourself?" Lily touched her stomach then, possibly without even her own notice, the place where Charles, her own husband, had shot her only seven days ago. She looked far away for a moment and there was pain in her eyes. She had lost her husband and son in one night.
She took a deep breath. "I shall be okay, I think." A smile came over her face. "I'm just glad you decided that you wanted to come to London to have a season. You will..." she exhaled deeply and sat up straighter in the carriage, "be able to find a suitable husband now. And we shall go to the best dressmaker in town...just think, you will be presented in front of Prince-Regent George! I remember when I was presented at court. Very nervous...almost tripped. However, I was able to manage all right. Got an extra smile from King George." She smiled at me.
"It will be nice," I started with a small smile, "to have someone helping me through this time. You are...almost like my second mother." Lily burned with happiness at that one and started tutting out her denials. I said nothing, however, because I knew secretly it made her happy. To still have someone throughout this time of such loss. And maybe I needed someone, too. Maybe we could find each other in this dark period. Maybe we could help the other out.
Deathcreeke sparkled with a new shine when we entered. This would be the last large party Lily would entertain before we departed for London. She had told me how Charles had secured a townhouse for us before he'd 'died' and that his younger brother, who was to take everything that Charles had left behind - because Charles had never had a son, had no intention of throwing us out of that townhouse. He hadn't even asked to have Deathcreeke estate. I was not surprised. That place was a curse I'd wish on no one. In fact, Charles's younger brother didn't seem to want to have anything to do with Charles's assets. Again, my surprise at this fact was little.
There were guests all around and once again they toasted to life and once again I knew they were simply toasting to the fact that it was not them who was dead. I raised my glass high with a particularly wide smile at the irony of it. Charles was not dead and these people seemed to me toasting to their own demise.
When the toast was over there was eating and finally Victoria found me. She grinned when she saw me and looped her elbow around mine. Then her face struggled to become solemn. "I am truly sorry for your loss," she said slowly and directly. I cracked a smile. Her solemn face left. "Terribly sorry, Mama told me I had to offer my condolences or she'd never speak to me again. But what I really wanted to talk to you about was the season."
I found myself laughing, an odd and almost unrecognizable sound. "Well of course. There is nothing more interesting than the season, you know. All the parties, soirees, dancing..." I eyed her casually, "handsome young men..." I saw Victoria blush.
"I just wonder who will steal my heart..." she heaved a sigh, "I've long since given up on any of the Morgensterns. None of them are coming down to London for the season. Not even Prince." She almost whimpered and I felt my body clench just a little. "Although I know he's sick and everything-" she looked at me, "did you heart of that?" I shook my head quickly. Maybe a touch too quickly. Victoria, however, seemed not to have noticed. "Yes, well, some have been saying he's off on business, but lord knows what they actually do, those Morgensterns, but Mama has learned that he's got a terrible bout of the measles. He's expected to live, of course, but apparently he's going to take the season off to rest up."
A smile passed through my lips. "Glad to hear the verdict is against his death."
"Aren't we all?" asked a new voice. I turned to see Olive standing there, a grin as big as anything. She too, attempted to look solemn for a moment. "Right, of course, Faerie, this must be a terrible day for you, so I offer my sincerest apologies." I laughed and her faced relaxed. "But onto more important things..."
"Oh!" proclaimed Victoria and we looked at her, surprised at her sudden outburst. She turned to me seriously. "Yes, Rupert Townshend...your Rupert Townshend," she started and I raised an eyebrow, "has been seen courting a Lady Elaine Rollingforth. I read about it in the society section of the Times. This time of year it's a bit dusty, but there have been some sightings around town. I thought you might like to know. He will not be bothering you, I don't think, during this season, then."
I was sincerely glad to hear it. A feeling of normalcy spread through me as I talked to my friends. These were girls who had nothing to worry about other than who would steal their heart and what dress they'd wear to so-and-so's ball. Maybe now I, too, could have that feeling. The heartache and the sadness would never truly leave me, I knew, but I could find ways to dull the pain. I could take my mind off of things by doing things that made me happy, discovering the answers to the questions that kept popping up into my mind. As we chatted about who we thought might ask for whose hand in marriage, we strolled about the manor. However, when we reached the foyer, the North Wing caught my eye.
Looking to my friends, I dipped my head in a curtsy. "You must excuse me. Lily and I are leaving for London tomorrow and I think I might have forgotten to pack one thing."
Victoria and Olive laughed. "Yes, you cannot forget anything! It's not like you can simply pop back up here to get it!" Victoria said. I laughed along with them and turned away. My laughter died quickly but the lightness in my heart didn't.
Stepping down the stairs to the North Wing, I conjured up memories of this place. The first time I'd come I'd been so scared and I'd tried to protect myself with old Norse evil-spirit warding off spells. I laughed at my own stupidity and naïveté. Then I thought of all the other times I'd come rushing down here just to see Alphonse, to hold him close to me, to kiss him. I passed the spot where we had confessed to each other our feelings and I felt my heart beat loudly and quickly unexpectedly. These were all memories I could never run away from. Then again, I was not trying to. I gathered them up, I held them close to me. They were all as dear to me as any memory I had with my mother.
"If I could do it all again," I whispered to the white walls as I got nearer to Alphonse's room, "I would change nothing." They seemed to have heard me and the dust that drifted in front of me in the pale light of the day seemed to dance. Smiling, I found the door handle to Alphonse's room, turned it gently and pushed the door open, half expecting Alphonse to be sitting on his bed like he used to, waiting for me. He wasn't and I was all alone in the room.
Trying to smile seemed to difficult but I didn't feel like crying either. Instead I simply wandered around the room, thinking of my past. Not just with Alphonse, but with my father, with my mother...I'd never felt so sad before and yet so calm. And then I looked on his bed and saw something I hadn't noticed before. Alphonse's white violin case sat on the bed. I sat down on his bed and ran a hand over the white wood. I opened the case carefully. Inside, sitting in a bed of white satin, sat his pure white violin and bow. With tentative hands, I picked up the violin and the bow and put the violin to my neck, the way I'd seen Alphonse do it. I held the bow with hands that fumbled, and I ran it against the strings of the violin. A screeching sort of noise came out and with a bark of laughter, I pulled the violin away.
"Well, if you were expecting to be a musical genius, I'd say you were sorely mistaken." Lily's voice came from the doorway and I looked up with a smile.
"Oh I know. I just wanted to see how I'd do." Looking back to the violin, I said on an impulse, "you know, I think I'll take this with me. I think I'd like to learn how to play."
Lily did not go any farther into the room. Her black dress contrasted strangely with the white walls. Then I looked down at myself. How odd I must look, too. The only black object in a place of pure white. Strange, that was. When I'd first met Alphonse, that had almost seemed to me how it was. I was flawed, I was distraught, with a black heart and I'd entered upon a place of pure white, a place of innocence. I knew that the fact that Alphonse was no longer innocent was another burden I must place on my shoulders. I did not let that hurt me, however. "That is a wonderful violin," Lily told me, "and I'm sure you'd pick it up quickly. We can get you lessons, if you'd like," she said.
"I'd like that very much," I answered. I looked down. "I think that maybe if I learn how to play it...and I learn how to play the song Alphonse played for me...maybe he'll come home to me, then. Maybe if I play it loud enough, he will hear it and return to me."
There were tears in Lily's eyes. "I'd like to think that, too," she told me. There was a silence. "Well," she started and clasped her hands together. "To London?"
I took a deep breath and looked her straight in the face, squaring my shoulders. "To London."