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.

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