Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chapter 4

IV

“Miss Senna of Hednes, and le Comte et la Comtesse du Fromage,” bellowed a voice, announcing their arrival at the palace.

The palace itself loomed upwards into the sky, being a bastion of pale grey stone and a smattering of warm, glowing windows. The sky was a deep midnight blue as it wasn’t entirely nor utterly dark yet, and was pricked with glittering stars while being framed with green-black greenery nearly lost in the night.

At the entrance, cast entirely black against the yellow backlighting of the indoors, was Fangline. It wasn’t until Camilla lighted to the top of the stairs that she saw his details, which were impeccable.

Fangline was always a remarkably fantastic dresser. He had a way with fashion; always being miles ahead of everyone in style and mode. It was only too bad in Camilla’s mind that he insisted on wearing green all the time, but she allowed herself to forget it for a moment in order to leave her appreciation of his form unsullied.

Tonight he was wearing deep green, with his overcoat made from light velvet. It was cut perfectly to his torso and was long, extending nearly to his knees. At either hip was a slit, and a pair of delicate golden chains hung lopsidedly, carelessly, around his waist. At the casually open neck was a high-collared shirt made of stiff crinoline that was patterned gold and ivory like brocade, and his knee-high boots were sable against his ivory breeches. He wore his hair pulled back in a queue and fastened with a dark velvet band.

He wore all of this in a very casual way, as one shoulder was leaned against the frame of the broad palace entrance, and might have been wearing a sack of broadcloth for all he seemed to care. Despite his apathy, everyone would look eagerly to see what Prince Fangline would wear to the ball.

Camilla also knew eyes would be on the Fromages, as well. The Duc and Duchesse would be arriving in half an hour, she figured, in order to be fashionably late, but Camilla had to maintain some semblance of punctuality for the benefit of the impatient prince.

It was Al’bert Fangline greeted first. Al’bert, who nearly matched Fangline’s finesse with fashion, but not quite, nonetheless looked marvelous and heroic in his overcoat of rich purple and silver embroidery with a white undershirt to set off the darker shade of his skin, and the rest of him was clothed in various dark grays and black. Camilla felt Al’bert looked best in extreme sorts of colors; black, white, red. However, he preferred purple above anything else, to bring out the unusual blue-lavender hue of his eyes. He was vain, but then again, so was she.

“Al’bert,” Fangline said, shaking Al’bert’s hand and smiling, which didn’t happen very often. “There you are. I was wondering if you’d decided there was a better party to go to tonight.”

This was a joke in and of itself, because everyone in Schloeffelonia wanted to be at the spring ball.

“I’d considered going down to the Rusty Barrel, but then, I realized your feelings would be hurt, so we turned around.”

“I am a man of feelings, to be sure,” replied Fangline, very dryly, and then he noticed Camilla.

“Camilla,” he said, intently, as a greeting, and as a way of pondering her and her attire.

He had a way of making her wonder what he was thinking and what sort of deductions he was making about her as he was doing so. She gave him her most oblivious smile and curtsied lightly. “Prince Fangline.”

He drew a breath after a moment and said:

“Yes, well. I suppose we should go inside.”

After this, he offered her his arm.

As the four of them made their way into the palace ballroom proper, Al’bert and Fangline talked and entirely ignored Camilla and Senna. Camilla didn’t mind, because she was completely embroiled in making mental notes over the location of everyone at the ball and who they were talking to, dancing with, and in some cases, who they were not talking to and not dancing with.

The ballroom was a lovely place, only mildly rococo in style and with very airy architecture, and the entire room was a palette of gold and ivory in all of their varieties. As they entered the room, she made note of the King, who, being a reserved man, wore what was traditional for his station: a white overcoat with a pale blue sash. His sister beside him wore gold and a similar sash.

Camilla didn’t linger long on the royal family, which she found to be admittedly very dull, except for Fangline who came up beside her and asked her to dance.

Fangline was, in fact, a very good dancer, and he did all sorts of extra things while dancing with a woman which most men don’t think of. He seemed to enjoy it, as long as he could find something new to do with it, but he had a tendency, as were most things with Fangline, to grow quickly bored and end it all abruptly. Camilla attempted to belay this inevitable ending with conversation.

“How is the palace these days?” she asked him.

He turned his vibrant green eyes on her and said, “Fine.”

That certainly wasn’t working, so she looked around her to see Prince Sangwine dancing with Hope, and they seemed to be having a giddy time. He was dressed in royal blue, and she in pink. They really looked like they’d been cut right out of a ray of sunshine.

“Your brother certainly spends a lot of time with that fairy,” she said.

Fangline glanced over his shoulder at his brother, who, due to a stumble or something similar had fallen into laughter with Hope. He rolled his eyes.

“He prefers her company over anyone else,” he said. “Except Father.”

“You don’t think they-“ she began, but he chuckled at her.

“Of course not,” he said. “First, he’s far too oblivious to notice she’s female, and secondly, she’s a fairy.”

He had a point. Unfortunately, at that moment Fangline got distracted and quit dancing with her, rudely leaving Camilla in the ballroom floor so he could follow the object of his distraction, which happened to be the Royal Chief Mage.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chapter 3

III

As Camilla lighted into the carriage on the night of the March ball, Al’bert had to take note of the impeccable cut and make of her gown. It truly was remarkable, in that it suited and framed her form down to the very last painstakingly wrought detail, and the color was possibly the most beautiful color he’d ever seen for his sister’s complexion.

“Camilla, you look absolutely stunning,” he told her honestly. She smiled openly at him in reply, pleased with herself and the gown fashioned by Master Bellafringe at the same time. Mostly, though, she was pleased with herself as she plopped down amicably beside her brother, becoming a lovely puff of damask and lace.

It was with this general feeling of goodwill and happiness she and Al’bert rode towards the palace. It was how it nearly always was with Al’bert; growing up on the Fromage estate and being isolated made them remarkably close, and it was safe to say that Al’bert was the only person Camilla truly loved, and vice versa.

Love for the Fromages was quite differently defined than for nearly anyone else in the world. They were both happily involved in their diversions, as it was a queerly natural occupation for their blood, but though they were embroiled with others, there was no one they ever truly cared about. Not even their parents, mostly, for the Duchesse was cold and the Duc was distant. However, they reserved that part of their heart which grows attachment and dependence for each other, and this is how they blithely continued their affairs all the while nourishing a solid foundation.

“How’s Senna?” she asked after a while, watching the retreating snow on the mountains out of the carriage-side as they descended to Schloeffelonia proper.

“Mmn…” he said, “She’s well. A bit oblivious. Very innocent.”

“I guess she doesn’t know about you and her mother?”

“Not an inkling, I don’t think,” said Al’bert. Madame Hednes had been the first to teach him a great deal of what he knew about love and womankind, and Al’bert, although forever grateful, had eventually moved on. It had been years at least since then, and Senna was a pleasant girl who was just the right level of unobservant to take to a ball, where there would be countless throes of subtleties batted about.

Apparently Madame Hednes was also blessed with the gift of discretion. Al’bert felt a moment of fondness before his sister broke his train of thought.

“Ah, here we are,” she said, pointing out they’d come to the Hednes holdings.

Upon arriving at the door, Al’bert was ushered inside by an old butler with an air of family about him.

“Al’bert, le Comte du Fromage for Miss Senna,” called the butler, and Al’bert paid special attention to his posture for a moment. In strode Master and Madame Hednes, arm in arm, and she hardly looked at Al’bert at all, which caused him to wonder with a vaguely injured ego.

He didn’t have long to nurse his poor id, however, for shortly afterwards Miss Senna descended the curving staircase like a true debutante. She was wearing pale pink, and reminded him strongly of the petals of an apricot blossom.

“She is to be home by eleven o’ clock,” said Master Hednes.

“Yes, Master Hednes,” said Al’bert, bowing to him.

“And not a moment later,” said Madame Hednes with a very firm, disconcerting degree of insistence.

Al’bert smoothed his countenance and smiled agreeably.

Senna sat across from Camilla in the carriage, and they talked of their gowns, hair, and whatever else adornments could be nattered about. Al’bert had chosen instinctively to sit beside his sister and he found himself comparing their beauty. Senna was pale and fresh, and altogether very spring-like. Camilla was dark and beautiful, although her skin was as fair as Senna’s, and she always seemed somewhat mysterious. It seemed right to Al’bert that she should be going to the ball with the future king of Schloeffelonia, although he wondered if the reason Fangline had hung onto Camilla for things like this was only for convenience, as she was the sister of his best friend. Fangline had never shown any interest in any other women, and barely any in Camilla.

Al’bert knew within himself that if Camilla, with all of her feminine power, could only barely register with Fangline, that there was absolutely no hope for anyone else.

He was broken from his reverie to notice Senna looking somewhat disappointed that he hadn’t sat beside her, so he rectified that immediately to her satisfaction. She took his arm with a warm look and nestled close beside him, while Camilla gave him a secret smile that smacked of mockery.

In silence, gazing out of windows, they passed the rest of the time towards the palace.

Chapter 2

II

Camilla’s mother was an exceedingly tidy person, so when she came into the third parlor to find swatches of material all over the place, she was visibly dismayed.

“Camilla!”

Camilla decided to pretend to be oblivious to her mother’s irritation and opted for distraction, instead.

“Mother, I’m so glad you’re here!” she exclaimed in relief. “I can’t for the life of me pick out which material to have my gown made of, and of all things, I have to match green.”

She spoke the offending color with a definite twinge of loathing, as it wasn’t one of her favorites at all. Fortunately, the ruse worked, and her mother’s interest was instantly piqued.

“Well,” her mother said, falling immediately into the mode of consultation, “I don’t envy you, matching green. I’ve no idea why Prince Fangline is so set on it all the time. What can any self-respecting belle wear that matches green to any degree of satisfaction?”

“Besides more green, of course,” replied Camilla morosely.

Her mother heaved a sigh of deep thought. From Camilla’s perspective, her mother was an exceedingly beautiful woman with silver hair neither she nor her brother had inherited, except only in the case of Al’bert’s singular silver forelock. She was always dressed to perfection, and seemed to spend her life concerned with making sure everything around her was perfect as well. To Camilla this seemed like a very dull occupation, but she wondered on it and decided her mother had to have some sort of motivation. The Fromages did keep up appearances, and she suspected it was her mother who was the immoveable driving force behind it.

The opposite door opened and Al’bert came in, with the tailor trailing dutifully behind. A contract from the Fromages was always very profitable, and this tailor evidently knew it. Unfortunately, the Fromage estate was rather distantly removed from mainstream Schloeffelonia, and the tailor would only be there for one day. This meant, for Camilla, that she would have to choose her fabric today.

“Can you get your hands on any silver thread, Master Bellafringe?” Al’bert was asking the tailor as they reached Camilla and the Duchesse du Fromage.

“I think I can,” Master Bellafringe replied distractedly, thoroughly embroiling himself in the act of scribbling with a pencil fragment into a small notebook.

“Good. That’ll make a nice embroidery,” said Al’bert. “Mother, Camilla,” he greeted, and then sat near them on a lounge while turning his attention in an expectant way, along with the tailor, to Camilla.

Camilla sighed and threw several swatches away from herself with abandon, noting her mother tensed with the need to tidy up the instant she did so.

“What about this, Camilla?” asked Al’bert, holding out a swatch of deep burgundy brocade to her.

“Does that match green?” asked Camilla sarcastically. “I don’t think so,” she finished, “Nothing does!”

Falling into utter despair, she slumped down and hid her head beneath a comfy pillow trimmed with golden fringe and tassels. The tailor turned a papery page in his notebook. She could hear her mother shift on the chair nearest her.

Master Bellafringe coughed very politely and said, “If I might offer a suggestion-“

“Yes, please do!” cried Camilla, sitting upright and dropping the pillow aside in her anxiety. The tailor was only briefly taken aback by her zealousness, but soon recovered and adjusted the spectacles on his nose, which action suddenly struck Camilla as adorable.

She instantly saw Master Bellafringe in a whole new light, but ignored it for the time being in order to listen for hope in his suggestion.

“Well,” he began. “If you were to make a gown of burgundy, but trim it with, say, green ribbons… in a tasteful way, of course, by adding perhaps some white lace and so on, well… then you would match green, more or less, wouldn’t you say?”

Master Bellafringe waited very breathlessly for approval from the silent Fromages. Camilla stood at last, and approached him.

“Oh, Master Bellafringe,” she exhaled gratefully, her cheeks flushed and her smile benignly cheerful. “What a wonderful idea!”

To this, the tailor himself seemed relieved, and spared for Camilla an appropriately pleasant smile before he dove into the workings of his notebook and pencil again.

Camilla glanced at her mother, who spoke in an instant.

“Al’bert, I was curious if you would look over some letters for me,” she said, rising.

“Of course, Mother,” he replied, and they left together rather suddenly, leaving Camilla and Master Bellafringe entirely alone before he could realize what had happened. As it was, he looked up from his notebook in a somewhat bewildered way at the door where the other two had just exited.

“If that is all, I’ll be on my way,” he said to Camilla, very politely.

She stopped him by lighting her hand on his arm.

“Well, I…” she said, thinking rapidly. “Don’t I get to choose what sort of lace you decorate my gown with?”

She made sure to fix him with her large deep blue eyes, but only in a mostly innocent way. He looked at her, and seemed very cognizant.

“Of course, Comtesse,” he said to her. “Let me call the Duchesse to view the samples as well.” He smiled briefly at her, then began to make for the door.

It was to her chagrin, and so she stopped him with her voice.

All of them had it to some degree or other, except for her mother, for it ran through the blood of the Fromage line. It could be described as the power of suggestion, or charisma, or glamour, as some called it. It only varied in the way it was focused in them. For Al’bert it was carried through eye contact. For her, it carried through the timbre of her voice.

She was used to getting what she wanted, and in this case, she was determined to have the most perfect gown, created with the blood, sweat, and tears of one of Schloeffelonia’s finest tailors. Besides, she really did think he was remarkably cute in a stuffy sort of way.

“Master Bellafringe,” she said, her voice full of a myriad of colors and warmth. He stopped, halfway between her and the door, and turned to look at her with a small measure of fear in his expression. She found this curious.

“What is wrong?” she asked him, normally, but moving towards him again.

“I have been warned about you,” he said to her, not without hesitation over stating something so accusatory and blatant. Camilla, for her part, actually found it very flattering, and smiled in response.

“What were you warned about?” she asked.

The tailor’s expression grew stubborn and he chose the door as the better action, to which she was forced to use it again on him.

“What were you warned about?” she said, with a resonant, soft timbre that sunk all the way to his bones. He drew an uneasy breath as she turned him to face her with almost no force from her delicate hand.

“Please, Comtesse…” he said, full of the anxiety of one about to spill things he’d rather not; which he’d very much rather not. However, she did not relent, because she was very direct with her prey, once she’d decided on it.

“Tell me,” she said to him softly as he realized he’d been backed against the wall by the Comtesse. She was nearly half a foot shorter than him, but horribly powerful for some reason he couldn’t define exactly, and wasn’t even remotely comfortable with.

She insisted again, pressing him; pressing until he felt as if he were holding back an ocean’s tide with only two hands.

“Comtessa,” he said raggedly, “This does not lie within professional boundaries…”

“Boundaries…” she said with a smile, her voice casually tearing through him like the teeth of a lioness.

A wall suddenly fell away in his mind. He saw it fall and might have grasped after it if it wasn’t already too late, but instead he only watched it crash devastatingly to the ground. He was bereft of will.

He looked into her eyes as if seeing them for the first time, and knew they were depthless and beautiful.

It was in this raw and exposed state that he found himself confessing anything and everything the Comtesse would ask of him with willingness and even pleasure.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Chapter 1

I

The estate of the Fromages was on a very picturesque hill. It was surrounded by the best of aspen groves, and even had a small lake to mirror it, just in case the expansive beauty of merely the estate itself wasn’t enough and the viewer needed to see it twice, in reflection of its perfect self, to drive the senses to a state of nirvana.

Properly, the estate was made of a surrounding wall, which was built of smooth, gray stones quarried with just the right amount of rough to look pleasantly rugged, and rose to a height that balanced with the tallest tower at an exact 3:1 ratio.

The inner court was laid with gardens which looked effortlessly beautiful even in the dead of winter as the rose bushes laid leafless, reposed, and filled with graceful restraint. It isn’t necessary to describe the aesthetic of the interiors within the Fromage estate, for it should already be clear that the Fromages kept up appearances in every way possible. Rather, they not only kept up appearances, but they ran at the head of the pack.

However, within the walls of this estate there lived people who, to the intensive eye, were full of cracks and seams and poor housekeeping.

But for now, they were remarkably beautiful and fashionable, and surely the envy of all the world.

On this particular day, in the midst of winter’s grasp, the gardens held a passenger, driven out by the length of this particular winter. As Schloeffelonia was a mountainous country, winter lasted longer than in most places, and this person had grown tired of being inside all of the time, regardless of snow or cold, and had bundled herself against it. She’d held a vague optimism that it would somehow be warmer than it should be, and was currently having her hopes dashed as snowflakes fell to rest in her sable hair. Still, she was stubborn, and determined to stay for a while in the fresh, yet very cold, air.

A window opened in the part of the house nearest her, on the second floor.

Camilla! cried a male voice. Come in!

No! she replied, and went on with her wanderings, feigning a strong interest in the bend of a winter-dead rosebush. The window slammed shut. As she gazed around her, she noted the palette of winter; all cool pastels in snow and sky with thin strips of sharp black and darkest brown from the wreckage of life that once lived in the form of trees and shrubs, and would soon live again. She looked forward to the time in the late winter when the snow began to melt, and the sound of small trickles could be heard everywhere, unsuppressed by even the deadening snow. When that sound came, the birds seemed to hear it, because shortly after they would begin to brave breaking the silence, until by the time a patch of grass became visible here or there a cacophony of chirping would welcome the long-lost ground. By and by, the snow would lose again, melting away morosely as a shadow witch that cannot bear the sun.

In the dead snow’s silence, she heard heavy footsteps coming closer from behind.

Camilla, said the same voice from before, and sounded sublimely irritated. What are you doing?

She rolled her eyes and turned to face her brother, who had rashly bundled and was wearing a deep violet-red scarf.

What does it look like I’m doing, Al’bert? she asked. I’m taking a walk. People do it. Especially when they’re bored.

Yes, well, perhaps you wouldn’t be so bored if you were inside to receive this letter from Fangline, he replied, handing her the letter of which he spoke.

She blinked at it, fairly unsure of what to make of a letter from Fangline, now. He’d been acting in a sort of unorthodox way, lately, and she knew things weren’t going well at the palace. He hadn’t spoken to her in over two months, so she wasn’t sure why he would send her a letter now.

As she glanced at Al’bert, he apparently had no answers, but was obviously curious and intending for her to share whatever contents the letter held. She indulged him, and upon removing the deep green ribbon that bound the letter, she began to read:

Dear Camilla,

How are you? I’m fine. Look: I need a date for the ball in March and I wonder if you’d let me escort you. It’ll be a lousy affair, and I’ll probably sulk, but make sure to wear something that matches green. That is, if you want to go. Just send the bird back with your reply. If you want to. Either way.

Best Wishes,

Fangline

She looked up at Al’bert, who had a sort of half-smile on his face.

Well, women never were his strong suit, he explained.

I’ll agree to that, she said, dubiously eyeing the letter.

You should go, said Al’bert, in a coaching way.

Yes, it sounds like a lovely time, she wryly replied.

Look at it this way, said Al’bert, who knew womankind rather well already, despite his relative youth, You’ll get a new gown out of it, and it’ll doubtless have to be ravishing since you’ll be attending with the future king of Schloeffelonia.

The future king, she said thoughtfully. Well, that does have a nice sort of ring to it. I’m sure Father will be delighted at the prospects.

Her last statement brought about in her not only her inherent Fromage trait of ladder-climbing, but a sort of odd despair she didn’t expect to feel. She grew thoughtful.

What kind of king do you think Fangline will be? she asked her brother.

Definitely a very resourceful one, he replied, and after a pause: Come inside, will you? I’m freezing.

Coupled with the fact that she was also slowly freezing to death and couldn’t reply to Fangline’s invitation while standing outside in the snow, Camilla relented to follow her brother back into the inner recesses of the Fromage estate.