I tugged on the stiff blue fabric of my dress as we walked up the long white staircase to the grand entrance of the castle. This was the fanciest thing I’d put on yet, but Peony insisted. With her big, pleading eyes she had insisted. What could I do but give in? My still-thin figure was hardly flattered in the layers and layers of gentle night-sky folds. I think I would have looked better in the simpler lavender dress I has picked for myself. But she was right on one issue: this one supported my ribs better. I do have a small, weak heart to think of now.
I looked down at myself, still amazed at how I stood so strong and tall. My hair had been caught back, and I barely looked like the myself I knew. Scarred, pale, stumbling Emryn had been replaced with a tall, regal-looking Elf woman. This wasn’t me that I had beheld in the mirror and passing windows. It couldn’t be. My scars were covered by gloves and a peacock mask. We were going to the masquerade ball at the palace. How the Michaelsons got invited, I didn’t know.
Someone brushed my black-gloved hand with theirs. I felt myself smiling. “Hello Nori. Come to escort a lady in?” I laughed, the freeing sound bubbling from my throat.
Nori nodded. “But of course.” He tugged on his gemstone sleeve buttons as he came to stand at my side to offer me his elbow, which I took. In all his ridiculous finery—collar pressed, navy blue velvet waistcoat, shined shoes—he, though only the son of a Duchess, looked every bit a prince. I had seen the ruler of this kingdom—well, the acting ruler—and Nori looked even more royal than him.
He met my eyes in the low candlelight from within the palace entrance, the blue of my dress bringing out the night skies and day lights that ringed his pupils and the light of the candles tinting the rest a bright, shimmering gold. My eyes unfocused.
Blood. Pain… No! Charon!~
Words echoed in my mind, faces and people and blood-stained walls flashing before my eyes.
I steadied to find my head and shoulders tucked solidly against someone’s chest, a heartbeat thundering in my ears. It was not my own, but I knew it. I knew this person. Nori. Of course Nori. His white-gloved hands took mine as he helped be back on my feet. I shook my head to clear it. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, weakly, as if some of the feelings from my visions had become my own and stolen my body.
“Shh, Emryn. You’re all right.” Nori’s voice brought me back to the present. “This was always your favourite Autumn event, the Masquerade. People come all the way from Oya Baer to attend. Can you believe it? So far away. I hear there is a special guest performing tonight along with the usual plays and musicians.” His voice was soothing as I regained my sense of presence and composure.
“Don’t be.” He smiled again as I re-took his elbow and we walked into the ballroom.
The whole room was filled with the country’s finest. Ball gowns and suits in all colours, representing any and all things they could. A white cat, a fairy, and a dragon were all spotted among the many, many ruffles and flounces. I didn’t like this at all. In fact, a growing feeling of detest was growing in my stomach. All this finery and fancy for the highest of society to parade around their wealth. I frowned, scowled even, as Nori and I curtsied and bowed respectively to the announcer and other guests.
Nori led me by his elbow, the rest of the group following, to our seats in a box to the left and slightly above the mock stage in the middle of the room, where a small band practiced some happy songs to which couples danced.
“I do not see why I would enjoy this.” My tone was far harsher than I’d intended.
“You will.” Nori patted my hand gently as Peony, dressed in a velvet green dress with a gilded parrot mask, smirked in my direction. Johnathan, a childhood friend who had insisted on bringing her this year, though he had to fight about twenty other potential matches to catch her affections, sat by her side. Martha had been forbidden to attend by the invitation—no one was happy about that—and Roena had chosen not to attend.
“Trust us, Emryn,” Peony said, “you’re going to love this. Just, let me enjoy all the fancy things, yes?”
I rolled my eyes and nodded. “Of course. It’s all yours.”
In a sudden whoosh of air the doors slammed shut and all the candles blew out. A collective gasp was heard from the audience as they scrambled to find seats. Excitement grew in the room to meet that which was tingling in my own veins at the sudden darkness.
A single light appeared above the stage, and a… well, I don’t actually know. A form in a long black cloak sat leisurely, as if floating in mid air, a large black hood covering their face. Black eyes twinkling from within the hood seemed to reflect the singular light like a mirror.
“I am a river.” A beautifully rich voice echoed out from the hood, filling the room and making everyone’s blood run cold. “I have music, yet I don’t sing. I give life, yet never breathe. I have colour, yet no light.” They paused, like the whole room drew in a breath, “When I run, you live, when I spill, we die.”
“What am I?” I spoke in a quiet whisper along with the figure’s final words.
The form was quiet, the question hanging in the air like it demanded an answer. “You of all people, Sigma, would know.” The form stood, movement like water as they turned their mirror-like eyes to me. They flashed purple, and red and gold for a minute.
My mouth went dry. Me? Why should I know?
“The peacock is silent. She sings not.” A slow, deep laugh echoed off the walls of the room. The room had never felt bigger than when the laugh grew, as the form whipped around to face the Prince on his elegant throne.
“And you, ruler, would you not know it of yourself? Having let it spill too far and wide?” A grin appeared in the hood, white in the twinkling candle the form held.
No one could see the dark Prince, but every Elf in the room picked up on the waves of fury that thickened the air like fog.
“Perhaps an easier riddle is in order.” The speaker cried. “What has one face and two arms, yet no eyes and no legs?”
“A clock!” someone cried in the darkness.
“Oh good,” said the figure, “now we can begin!” They clapped and the whole room lit with fire and flame. The figure in the middle cast off her—as it was revealed to be female—cloak. Underneath she wore a long black and red dress with a glittering red mask. Her long golden hair in its many intricate braids and twists seemed to be set aflame itself in the sudden rise of light, her eyes lighting even brighter, like they too caught fire and glittered in the rainbow of excitement that filled the room.
A dance, a song, rose in the room. I found myself grinning and clapping along to the performers as they told a tale of an old, glorious battle in song and dance. A ballad from a far away land.
They were followed by actors, playing out a sad, forbidden romance tale, which left all the men in the room annoyed and all the women in tears.
The love story was followed by a comedious play that left everyone’s sides hurting from laughter. All masterminded by this mysterious girl dressed in black and red, her blood-red cape billowing with her movements. She was a queen of the stage, her commanding voice narrating every act played. A true mistress of ballad and song and tale. I found myself grinning and laughing at the stories told. Even singing along to some of the songs with the others, though I didn’t know how I knew them.
Now I understood. This, indeed, was my favourite autumn event.
Woo! 😀 I’m pretty sure I think this every time, but I’m pretty sure this was one of my favourite’s I’ve written. I hope you enjoyed Emryn’s view on Masquerade.
I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day! D: Nooo. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week, but at least there is still one more prompt, yes?
Have a great Friday!