Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Flower

by Lisa Kwan

Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Unromantic (February)
 Medal words: candelabra, eccentric
She was annoyed.
Despite it being the morning, she had awoken in darkness.
She pushed herself off the bed and padded in her bare feet towards the ceiling-high windows of her bedroom, her translucent nightgown almost trailing the floor. They were still tightly shut, the windows, probably the work of some ill-informed servant—she hated them closed like that, especially in the mornings.
She pushed her tiny hands against the wooden shutters, and they creaked as they opened, as if protesting most enthusiastically. As she had suspected, it was a beautiful morning in Willow Vale. A special day. She wondered if today would be different. And a tiny part of her dared hope. It was, after all, their first anniversary.
There was plenty to do before her husband returned home. But at that very moment, her stomach growled.
“Melyra,” she said.
A young girl came beside her almost immediately. “Yes, m’lady.”
“Downstairs, m’lady. I will escort you.”

They walked silently down the winding stairs, the stone walls dark and cold and depressing. Couldn’t these stones have any other colours other than grey, grey and grey? She wished she could spruce up the place with colourful banners and silks and flowers, which she’d tried, once, while her husband was away. She lightly brushed the side of her left cheek before she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

They finally arrived at the dining hall. The high-back chairs were neatly arranged in long rows on both sides of her as she sat at the head of the table. She imagined them all greeting her “M’lady,” splintering as they bowed like wooden lords and ladies.
Out of habit, she traced the edge of the table with her fingers, galloping stallions that ran all along the sides. As in almost all their possessions, there was some form of a horse motif, reminding anyone and everyone who her husband was.
Even before they were wed, she’d heard stories about her husband—stories of how his horses had been trained to walk through fire, swim across Red Lake and run a hundred yards in mere seconds, whose coats shone like gold. And when she had seen those magnificent beasts for the first time, she never doubted. They were creatures people would kill for. Creatures people would sell their daughters for.
There were stories about him, too. That he grew up with horses, ate and slept with them, had sexual relations with them and even fathered human-horse aberrations that became his prized horses. “You’re wedding The Centaur,” they told her. Half man, half horse.
She had seen her husband ride, flying across their fields as if one with his steed; fully man, and an admirable one at that. She knew the rumours were rumours. Her husband was only…eccentric.

Although breakfast was rich and looked appetizing, she barely touched it. Her taste buds had yet to get accustomed to the food on this side of the Red Lake. She pushed her plate away. “M’lady,” the young girl said.
She pouted. “I don’t want this.”
The young girl nodded and said no more.
Then she stood up and announced to the rest of the waiting servants, “We have plenty to prepare before my lord arrives. So let us begin.”

The rest of the day flew by as she directed the servants to clean, dust, polish, wash, and cook. Nothing but the finest linens, the smoothest silks, the softest pillows; the most tender meat, sweetest figs, the strongest wine. All the gold-plated candelabras were brought out, now sparkling. The servants lit them and more candles as the sky grew dark, arranged them on the overflowing dining table, and in their bedroom.
As she looked over the feast awaiting them in the dining hall and the entire castle lit with candles, she hoped she’d done it right. She prayed he would be pleased. Now, there was only one last thing to do.

She returned to her bedroom with Melyra wordlessly following behind her. She stripped herself of her clothes, damp with sweat. She stood before the mirror, staring at her own naked body, wide-eyed. Her budding breasts had flowered, and her hips had taken on more womanly contours. Hair had appeared on certain parts of her body, much to her dismay.
She could only imagine what doing it would be like, her knowledge of such matters only as deep as the forbidden romance novels she used to read secretly in the outhouse under the light of a dying candle as a child.
She ran her hands all along her body, from her chest, down to her belly, picturing his big strong hands, hands she had seen pull a foal out from its mother, touching every part of her. Caressing her, kissing her softly, and gently. It seemed to be full of passion, love, lust and desire. She wondered if when you made love, two really did become one. Would she be part of him, become half horse as well?
Maybe she could win his heart this way. Then maybe, he would stop.

“What are you doing, child?”
She swung around, startled, and saw her husband had returned. From where she stood, his graying hair shone almost silver. Melyra hastily excused herself and left, leaving the two alone.
“I was getting ready…for you, my lord.”
He frowned as he looked around at all the flickering candles in the room. “I am tired from the riding. We’ll speak in the morning.”
She took two tentative steps towards him, placed her shivering tiny hand on his hairy one. “I had my first bleed while you were gone,” she whispered. He stilled. She continued, “I..I thought maybe we could…” and she leaned up against him, as all her heroines had done when it begins.

He struck her hard across the face, and she reeled back, instant tears in her eyes. He grabbed her petite body and threw her on their bed, laid with the soft silks she had the servants place earlier that day. Before she could get up, he flipped her onto her front, her face buried in the pillows; but not before her face had tasted the strength of his hand several more times.
Without a word, he mounted her like he mounted his horses, and she cried out from the pain. As the tears streamed down her face, she looked up to see the horses, those damned horses galloping and frolicking gaily on their headboard.

They were all she could see.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Sanguine

by Lisa Kwan
Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Sanguine (January)
Bonus words: "saucepan" or "croissant"

Their march-like footsteps could be heard around the corner. We ducked into a nearby alley, hearts pounding. They trudged safely past. Any second later and they’d have caught us. I shivered. I gripped her small hand tighter.
We crept along the walls, barely daring to breathe. Her small bag of belongings swung heavily around her slight shoulders as we swiftly turned corners and darted between the shadows. I remember fleetingly wondering what she’d brought with her, knowing there was no return; if one of the contents was regret.
She suddenly pulled me back, gripped my cloak. We’d arrived at a dead end. I must have taken a wrong turn; it was too dark to see. It wasn’t the same way I’d come by. Still, I pulled her closer, and silently made way towards the main road. It was our only path out of the town.
Merely a few steps later, a guard headed in our direction, his armor reflecting tell-tale moonlight. I felt her squeeze my hand ever so slightly. We were exposed. Quickly, we slipped into one of the houses through a side doorway. I thanked the gods that these people never locked their doors.
We found ourselves in a kitchen. We stayed deep in the shadows by the doorway, watching for anymore incoming guards. She leaned back and knocked over a saucepan which clattered to the ground, a deafening sound that made my stomach shrink.
I grabbed her and we ran. Ran until our lungs felt like it was about to explode. But I heard them coming after us; first the one, then several, their shouts getting closer. They must have realized, too soon, that she was gone.
Against my better judgment, I turned back to look. The street seemed like it had been lit on fire—blazing torch flames danced and rose high to the roofs; the smell of smoke and their fury equally choking.
She tripped, and her legs just gave way beneath her. She collapsed in a heap; even so, she fell as gracefully as if she were doing a dance. As my heart sank together with her, I watched everything in slow motion. Mid-air, she smiled a sad smile, as if knowing this was goodbye.
I ran to her side, tugged her to her feet; but suddenly there were hands surrounding us, grabbing us, clutching at us. We were pulled apart, and I cried out her name. I only saw my name on her lips, noticed the cut above her eyebrow from her fall before she was taken away, disappearing into the crowd.
Several successive blows landed below my ribs, and I doubled over from the pain. My eyes teared up, clouding my vision. But as I looked up, I recognized the face—the chief of the Sanguines. Her father.
As he stood in front of me, six-feet tall and in full armor, the mob diminished to a hush. Without warning, he bent down and tore my robes at the shoulder, revealing my mark of the Earth—of a Melancholic.
“A Melancholic,” he spat. The crowd grew restless. “So it’s true,” they murmured. “The chief’s daughter and a Melancholic were together…”
I pushed myself up, albeit shakily, with the little strength I had in my arms. “Please,” I begged.
I was completely blindsided by the chief’s ensuing blow. “You know the law. All of us, be it Sanguines or Melancholics, Cholerics or Phlegmatics—we do not mix, mingle, or socialize with anyone outside of our community. It is absolutely forbidden. You know that. Yet you chose to seek out my daughter, a Sanguine.”
I wiped the blood off my mouth, my hands shaking.
“What reason on earth,” he bellowed, “—would a Melancholic have with a Sanguine, other than to spy on us and to have us destroyed?” He took a shuddering breath. “You took advantage of my daughter. You used my Zethora for your own agenda.” The murmurs rose.
Even though it wasn’t true, I kept silent. Now that I had been caught, I needed to make sure Zethora would be safe.
“Add to that the fact that you have been captured on Sanguine land. That, too, is punishable by death.”
“Please, sir. I would never hurt her or any of your peo—”
“LIES! All lies! Silence your deceitful mouth, or I shall!”
I hung my head. I thought of the day I first saw her, watching her in secret, in awe, and vowing to have her; so what if she were a hated Sanguine, and I, a Melancholic.
And I remembered growing to know her—her kindheartedness, optimism and spontaneity a stark but welcome contrast to my wariness, pessimism and rebellious nature—and eventually, inevitably, to love her. And I realized that, unlike what had been ingrained in us since birth, Sanguines were people too, with hopes and dreams, full of love and compassion.

“…and we’ll live in a small little hut surrounded by fields filled with flowers of all kinds.”
“I hate flowers.”
“It doesn’t matter. I love them. They’re beautiful.”
“You would.”

We were silent once more. I gently traced the mark of the Air on her shoulder, burned into her soft skin at birth. As was mine.
Earth and Air.
Day and Night.

“We will…could…one day. Right?”
I turned to her. Her eyes glistened. And against my better judgment, I promised.

“Now, any last words, Melancholic?”

I wish I could have held her face once more, kissed her once more. I wish I was stronger. I wish things could have been different—perhaps another time, another place.
As they dragged me away, I somehow heard her voice. Almost a whisper in my ear, “I’m coming with you.” My eyes searched the crowd for one final glimpse but could not find her.
           I prayed she was safe, that she would live on.

*Author’s note: Story inspired by the theory of the Four Temperaments.