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506 [Year Spring]








Trakehner/Gypsy Vanner


17 hh





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5 hours ago


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in dreams: rafa'el of the golden-laurels
You’re not much to look at.

This had been Lady Red's first evaluation of you, when she’d found you curled up behind the charred skeleton of what had once been a wood-framed boarding house:

“Not much to look at, is he?”

There is a thin man crouched behind her, though you wouldn’t be able to pick him out from a lineup. Just that type of a face. “I daresay he has potential,” he replies mildly. Humming, she concedes, “I suppose you’re right. Perhaps he shall grow into his looks.”

You crack open an eye to stare hollowly up into a pale, inquiring face. It is a pretty face. Finely lined, sharp-jawed, almond-eyed. Obviously moneyed. A white star is pressed high on her blotted forehead, and you stare at that star, silent as the dead. Gingerly, she tilts your head back to peer into your eyes, a line forming between her brows at what she sees: a calculating grey, somewhere between stormcloud-brooding and bone-ash insubstantial. You reckon she’d expected something better.

“So you were awake after all,” she says tartly, relinquishing hold of your chin. “Come now, child. Get up.”

Slowly you push yourself up to sitting, though you don’t get up. (Even then, you’d possessed a knack for rebelling in the most convoluted of ways.) She recognises this rebellion but refrains from commenting. Instead, she runs her eyes—a startling vermillion—from the ridge of your spine to the hollow of your cheeks. You feel like you've been scraped raw.

Dump you into a tub for washing, and you’d come out of it a rich dun. A splotch of white spilling jaggedly around your abdomen, an uneven blaze down your arrow-straight nose. But beneath her appraising gaze, you fidget. You know that what she sees on you is not dun, but a coat the color of mud. There is no white in sight, and the ibex horns that crown your head are dull with dirt and ash.

You have never looked more an orphan—and for reasons you’ve yet to understand, this is an unspoken insult.

The slim man behind her hands her a lace handkerchief. You flinch when she brings it to your mud-caked cheek. Yet her touch is surprisingly gentle, so, unthinking, you lean into it. She rubs at the mud until your tiger stripes see their first light of day in a week. This seems to satisfy her, though you remain sulking and mystified.

Your face full of dark, thin stripes doesn’t seem to satisfy her for long, though, because the handkerchief begins to angle towards your neck. Suddenly, you know what it is she’s searching for. Your teeth snap shut on air. Though she pulls away swiftly, her expression remains wryly serene. “Clever thing,” she murmurs. The man besides her coughs politely. “Hmm. Hold him down.”

And then you are held down by a surprisingly strong grip, though you give it a good fight anyway. You manage to bite off the tip of an ear. Your mouth fills up with blood.

Unperturbed to the suffering of her companion, she waves for him to continue and says, “Should be on his left. I'm sure I saw a trace of it glowing, from behind that nest of hair.”

When the blue triangle on your neck is found at last, you are torn apart by a violent shudder. A chanting starts up half in your ear and half in your head and it is in that strange, garbled tongue you sometimes catch at the edge of your dreams. You can’t understand it, until suddenly: you do.

Do not let them sully you! Snarling, you writhe out from under the firm grip, kicking at a head with a frantic hoof. You are Sacred. Your fury is a thing on fire. And they are Profane.

The last thing you recall in this memory you so seldom revisit, is Lady Red's parting words as she'd pressed a cloth as soft as swan's down across your flaring nose.

Suhail.” Your name, back then, was not Suhail. “It is time to stop acting so difficult.”

an awakening
in a world of red and blue —

the character —

sly about the mouth, guarded in the eyes. dryly unbothered, yet uncannily perceptive. indolent in a theatrical way. (an insomniac.) restless. unplaceable. reproachful of flattery, wary of compliments. a self-proclaimed rationalist. (a guilty idealist.) blasé yet secretly weak-stomached. merciful, for a red. fond of half-truths and storytellers.

the scene —

When you blink up into the watery grey stare of a girl pressing a butcher’s cleaver to your throat, nothing inside you responds as it should, except for maybe a tendril of irritation at being woken. That’s normal. No one likes being dragged awake before the first blush of dawn.

If there is anything like fear in you, though, you don’t feel it. Instead, your tongue sinks behind your teeth and you manage a swallow with some effort. Your mouth is desert-dry, and your strangled windpipe could be better.

“Who are you?” you murmur. Your voice is rough with sleep and thorny with the irritation of being awake. The edge of the cleaver slips as your throat bobs, drawing a line of beaded blood. You don’t really feel this either, though you wince anyway.

“Shut up.” The girl’s growl is guttural and punctuated by a hacking, blood-filled cough. She is skin wrapped around bones wrapped around a pair of lungs made for breathing blood instead of air. So, not much different from you, except that your lungs are better. Less blood, more air.

Numbly, you look through her curtain of knotted hair towards the sealed window, the twice-locked door, the unsprung tripwire tied to the foot of your bed. “How did you get in?” You ask her questions you know she won’t answer because in the grimy dark, your telekinesis is reaching for the dagger you keep behind your pillow. Maybe, you think wearily, you should start clutching it besides you like a lover.

“A thief shouldn’t be asking another thief how she got in,” she spits. Her snappy ferocity manages to choke a snort out of you and this irritates you more than the waking. Breathing out evenly, you pull sleep-crusted lids over sleep-bleary eyes and set your smile to freezing. “And a thief,” you say mildly, “should keep from drawing needless blood. Industry advice.”

You’re far too young to be giving industry advice. She notes this grimly, a little sadly, and wrenches the cleaver tighter against your steady pulse. You grimace, disappointed.

“Ease up or you’ll really kill me. I know what you want.”

“Then make my night easier and hand it over.”

“Didn’t say I had it.”

She frowns and it is as mild as your voice. Maybe she is serious about slashing your throat to ribbons. She sighs. “So you’re wasting your breath. Careful, Suhail. You don’t have many more of those left.”

It’s your turn to frown, when she says what you know to be your name. Your name has never felt like your name to you and this is what makes the offense go down easier—that a girl with blood-filled lungs and a kitchen cleaver knows this about you while you, with the clean lungs and the double-edged dagger, haven’t a clue about hers.

What you do know is that she’s a Blue. Lady Red’s children are easily distinguishable from any of Blue Finch’s, the rival collector of orphans and disinherited waifs, because unlike her your mentor-mother arms her young wards semi-respectably and keeps their lungs free of consumption.

“Did you know, Blue—” you say tiredly, your horns scraping like nails down the wall when you sink back against your pillow. “That you’re the third one to visit me in a month?” The cleaver’s edge tilts again, slippery from your blood, and this time its grey-eyed wielder is too distracted to put it to rights.

“That can’t be tr—”

You are on her so quickly her cracked lips only manage a half-formed ‘o’ before you gag her mouth with your bedsheets and run your thin dagger dispassionately across her fluttering left eye. She is too shocked to cry out, her right eye watching you as you mark her, a wide, grey window. You have done this only once before. A hooked slash across the left eye by a Red meant try again, lose another. Lady Red herself had been watching, then, and to avoid disappointing her, you had hooked the slash perfectly.

In the deep black before dawn, the faint glow of the sigil on your neck paints your shadowed eyes a ghostlight blue. Quietly you wipe the blade clean on the only fabric left unsoiled, which is your new pillow, the one with the silk coverings. It was too good for your head, anyway.

“You show her this mark, and maybe your Mistress Blue will take pity on you.” Gently, you wind your silk pillowcase around her slashed eye in a way that tells her you’ve never learned how to tie a bandage well but that you are doing so anyway because you are a little sorry for slashing her eye.

When you blink, you think you see golden leaves and a pale corpse rotting besides a skin of green armor. You swallow, unmoored. Your dreams have a habit of springing themselves on you when you are at your most self-loathing.

“And there’s always Lady Red,” you say quietly, when the girl thrashes like a trapped animal beneath you. You roll off her chest, but she doesn’t get up. You’ve winded her, and her lungs are weak. “Consider it, Blue. There’s nothing much else better out there, for the likes of us.”

Slowly, she struggles up to sitting. Through a film of pain, she stares for a long time at your face. You stare back. If she is searching for any morsel of regret in your expression, she’ll leave well dissatisfied. You’d spent everything left in you binding up her eye with your pillowcase.

The poorly tied bandage unravels as she teeters to the grimy window, which you’ve propped open for her to leave through. Lady Red refrains from commenting on your strange courtesies but you know she finds them distasteful. Your mentor-mother dislikes anything that fails to serve a purpose, and courtesy on a thief is about as useless as it gets.

You swallow under the sight of that open-faced gash, hooked perfectly at the cheek. But you are remorseless and gaunt. She gleans nothing but cold apathy from you. You glean nothing but pained apathy from her.

“Nothing out there at all,” is all she says, before her shadow pools around her like water.

You know that the blood left behind on your sheets is the last you will ever see of her.

a lady and her handmaiden
or: sarai del seville & the demon ludmila
“I feel as if I am always being watched.”

Lady Red, known by only a select few as the alias of Lady Sarai del Seville, crumbled unhappily into a pile of neatly folded silk capes placed at the edge of her bed only moments ago, by a handmaid as pale as a snowdrift.

The maid, stabbing a poker into a small gilded hearth in an attempt to rouse its fire, pursed her lips yet said nothing. She allowed her Lady her moods because since infancy there had been none more skilled in the art of tantrums than Sarai, and tonight, at least, the maid wished to take dinner at a reasonable hour.

“Finch’s spies spawn by the hour,” she replied mildly. “I shall dispose of the newest crop come morning.”

Sarai sighed as she pulled listlessly at a heavy black braid coiled around her dainty clavicle. “No. I don’t mean by Finch,” she said, distastefully. She disliked admitting of Bluefinch’s existence outside of regular business hours. “I mean by the child.”

“The one who—”

“Yes, him. The one who bit off your ear. Must I apologize again, Mila?” she added quickly, when the maid’s benign smile began to look vaguely reptilian. “He almost took the glamour away with it,” the maid Ludmila murmured, pushing herself up to standing. The fire was revived, and as it leaped up behind its golden grate, threw shadows around the cabin room with glee. “I expended much energy fixing myself.”

When Ludmila drew to her full height, her limbs glacial and spidery, she gained a quality about her that could only be described, politely, as vampiric.

At this Sarai only smiled, her cheeks kept flushed with ochre and roses. She was immune to being intimidated. “Well, you look a treat now. I prefer you in this form, anyway.” Ludmila’s eyes narrowed, their corners crinkling like paper held up to a flame. She was immune to being flattered.

Flicking a wayward spot of ash from her starched lapel, Ludmila murmured, “Now that you have him, Lady Sarai, what will you do with him?” Though she had served at Sarai’s side for as long as she could remember, never once had her Lady’s thoughts been easy to glean.

Sarai’s powdered brow wrinkled. “Raise him, I suppose.” This displeased her. Her talents ran high in everything except in raising children. “I hadn’t intended to find him so—” she shrugged, before reaching up to stab a winking diamond pin into her hair, “—young. More troublingly, it seems his magic expended itself burning down that boarding house.”

“The poor dear,” said Ludmila. Her bloodless lips twisted into a crude imitation of sympathy. (Though she was used to walking this form by now, work its web of bones and muscles and tendons deftly enough, it would take her many more years to master the art of mortal expression.)

If Sarai was in any way disturbed by her handmaiden’s toothy grimace, however, she was far too captivated by her frowning reflection in a bevelled silver mirror, set into the wall above her pillows, to mind it. (In any case—she was hardly one to be disturbed by so minor a defect. There were worse faults to be had in a handmaiden, like crooked teeth and a propensity to bleed out when stabbed.)

“I do not believe he meant to,” Sarai hummed, thinking of the boy’s swirling ibex horns and how they had been coated in ash and—at their tips—dried blood. “I certainly will not tell him, if he doesn’t already know. I think he’ll be horrified. Do you think he’ll be horrified?”

Ludmila blinked. Sarai sighed. The boy had slept through the entire caravan-ride back to the berthed ship. She’d had to rely on Ludmila’s acridly-given assessment of him while her handmaiden had grown back her halved ear.

“He is like shed skin. There is nothing in him for me to read,” Ludmila had stated coolly, before moving her glacial limb from the boy’s head back to her pulsing ear.

Either Mila was still angry with her, even next to a crackling fire, or she had spoken the truth as it had appeared to her, leaving Sarai to piece together the rest. Vexed, Sarai cleared her throat and continued.

“In any case, the boy shall not be treated any differently from the rest of the children. I may have been hasty in getting to him—damn that meddling Bluefinch—but I won’t break him before he becomes useful.” Quick as a lark, Sarai drew herself up from the canopied bed and swept towards the open window, diamonds winking like stars from her dark braid.

“In your hands, my lady, I daresay he has potential,” came Ludmila’s mild voice from besides the merry hearth. As her glancing smile glittered in the firelight, one could almost swear that Ludmila’s shadow waned to an unfeminine thinness, in the hips and chest, into the figure of a long, thin man.

And one almost could swear, as Sarai pushed open the cabin’s porthole window, that her handmaiden as pale as a snowdrift flicked out a long, thin tongue, as if tasting the chilly sea air.

“That boy will either be the worst investment I have ever made,” Sarai said, her silhouette a picture in the doting moonlight, her painted red lips arcing in a wide, wide smile, “or our darling little — ”
a dream with the redolence of memory
golden-laurels, emerald-armor.
“Well,” says Nikolai, his smile thick with honeyed mead,
“the soon-to-be Green Knight. I have heard she is similar in age to you.”

Though seated at the far end of the table, Nikolai’s voice carries as clear as a lute’s song. Others have described it as an angel’s voice, though what they really mean is that Sir Lorne’s youngest son has an angel’s face and sits himself at table always with the fireplace crackling merrily behind him, setting his fair hair aglow.

You’d found him insufferable. He’d found you a bore. And thus makes for the most lasting of friendships, the King had commented wryly, when, as a young Heir, you were still ill-mannered enough to burden his ear with your troubles.

“The Priestess has told me nothing about the Green Knight save for her name,” you say evasively, swirling your spoon in a bowl of cream soup and avoiding Nikolai’s goading eye. “Though if you are going to say what I think you are, Nikolai,” you sigh through your nose, “I’ll ask you now to spare me.”

Nikolai snorts, tilting back his chair. “Your Majesty,” you stiffen at the title, though he pretends not to see, “rest assured that my intentions are entirely innocent.” You cannot help it; you scoff. “As you say every time—” you begin, before you are cut off with a dry cough.

“Fine, fine,” Nikolai laments loftily, “you are already wound up enough, tonight.” Sighing, his eyes flick towards your goblet, barely touched, and then to the bruise-black circles framing your eyes like kohl. “I’d wager our holy Priestess holds more humor in her femur bone than you, skin and all,” he mutters. You sigh inwardly when he dispenses with the formalities. You know you will never grow comfortable with it. “Are you truly planning on lasting until the knighting without drink, without food?”

You set your spoon down on a clean napkin, and press the napkin’s edges together. It is not possible for you to eat or drink. It is not possible for you to settle; but Nikolai knows this, so you do not tell him.

Instead, you ask him: “Do you think that she is looking forward to it?”

His chair lands with a muffled thump on the carpeted floor. He watches as you turn to the two seats you have left empty at the head of the table, before saying, his lilting voice suddenly dragging, “It is a great honor, you know. She must be.”

You cannot reply. You cannot reply because you cannot speak of their deaths, even weeks later, even when the Priestess had whispered into your ear at the coronation, almost kindly, that their souls are now freed from their bodies, from the burdens they had carried for decades.

Free to become a tree, or a creature of the forest? you’d nearly snarled in retaliation, before fisting your anger down to a gaseous ball and bending to your knees to receive her Blessing. It is not her fault. You must not allow your heart to become vicious, and believe instead, like she does, that there is no such thing as death.

That there is no such thing as grief.

So, you swallow. So, you lift your glass to your lips, your smile as faint as Nikolai’s firelit expression, and drink deeply. “Her name is Rowena. It is a pretty name, isn’t it?”

Quickly, Nikolai nods.

Tomorrow, you will meet her as a suit of emerald armor so massive she will be nothing but a pair of light-filled eyes.

Tomorrow, you will point your sword at her head and claim her as the Throne’s most venerable vassal.

Tomorrow, you will stop her after the ceremony and tell her, with a smile that will sicken you to your bones, that you are looking forward to your lifelong partnership.

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06/18/20 Username changed from Aquila to Ingemar at member request. -INKBONE
09/14/20 Username changed from Ingemar to Suhail at member request. -INKBONE