Christmas Hiatus: Pause And Reflect

The blog is on hiatus for the Christmas season. New stories will return in January. Here’s one from the archives:

He pulled her from her burning home when the prince’s soldiers had left. He was dressed in the livery of a duke, gold jewellery shining in the sun. She was fixated by it, not wanting to look back at the wreckage of her parents’ grave.

The duke took her, in secret, to an apartment on the city outskirts. There he left her, with a servant to comb her raven-black hair, a cook to feed her well, and a tutor to rule her time, teaching her to dance with precise and unrelenting instructions. Only when her feet bled was she allowed moments alone, and she thought of her parents, and anger rose within her, and she returned to dance enraged.

When the duke visited he would watch from a corner. His eyes followed her form, bright not with the lust of young men her own age, but some colder spirit. It scared her, yet in her heart she danced for him, her rescuer.

Did he think of her as his daughter? Would she be announced at court as such when her tuition was complete? He had a daughter, she heard, blonde and pretty and impetuous. Perhaps they would meet.

After months of this regime the duke had a dress made, an angry red flame that twisted over her curves and would set fire to any man who gazed upon her. The dress concealed a secret, a poisoned blade wrapped in the folds. Or perhaps two secrets, as the duke explained…

***

“He’s gorgeous,” purred Isabelle to her father, the duke, who stood by her side. She tucked her golden hair behind her ear and drank in the prince, who alone occupied the centre of the dancing floor and the attention of all present. She shivered with excitement.

The prince stood dressed in black and gold, adored by every swooning young woman. He flicked a wrist towards his musicians, and they struck a lively piece. The prince, with graceful sweeps of his ring-laden hands, began to move in concert with the rhythms. He swirled, swayed, spiralled and swished in the traditional dance of the monarch-to-be.

“He’s so handsome,” Isabelle whispered to her father.

“He is a tyrant and a murderer,” whispered the duke in return.

“He understands power, father,” Isabelle hissed, glaring under furrowed brow. “He achieves glories that your restraint denies you.”

As the music ended there was applause, not just in deference but with appreciation of the prince’s art, practised to exquisite perfection. Then the prince walked into the crowd, a snaking path around each appreciative beauty, soaking up the adoration, seeking a partner. Isabelle stepped forward, eagerly… but her advance was checked by the grip of the duke upon her elbow.

Then prince had chosen, kissing the hand of an apparition of fantasy with raven-black hair and a fiery red dress. Isabelle choked with bitter frustration, wrenching her arm free, oblivious to the tears in her father’s eyes as they watched the couple begin the prince’s last dance.

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