The day everything ended

The day caught on fire.

There was no warning. The people went through their motions. Nemissa prepared her report to be sent to the marquis, comforted in the knowledge she had successfully protected her position. She may have married the Baron, but she would not be removed. Maybe not even for her son. He would do well in the future.

What a future it was. Tumelo came to her, not even excusing Fletcher from where he sat in the corner proofreading for her.

“My lady, there are unknown ships in the distance.”

Curious, Nemissa grabbed her scope and advanced on the window. Putting it up to an eye, she tried to spot them.

Instead, she heard Tumelo gasp at the same moment a loud explosion occurred. Pulling it away, she looked down upon the town of Castlehaven.


Where is my son? came her first thought.​

But she encompassed that concern in the larger picture. “Hurry! We must defend!”

If only she could.

Tea time

“Did you come up here to see my son?” the Baroness asked.

Dahlia nodded, even though it wasn’t true. Not that she didn’t like to see him. She came up often enough to do so. But sometimes she had an ulterior motive. And that was the real reason she was up here today. Though she hadn’t expected to be found out so quickly.

“I think he is with Fletcher in his chambers. You know where that is?”

Dahlia nodded again. The Baroness smiled at her, then returned to her drink and papers. Dahlia swallowed.

The woman looked up again. “Would you like some tea, Dahlia? Yellow chrysanthemum.”

Dahlia nodded a third time. Nemissa gestured to another seat as she gave Dahlia her cup.

Completely comfortable, Dahlia took a sip.

Nemissa’s moments

There were times​ she could put everything else aside. Castlehaven, her son, Fletcher… everything. Those times were few and far between, but they did exist. Sometimes Nemissa needed a minute to herself.

And it would be only a minute. A single minute to take in a breath, one that didn’t submit itself to another person, another concept, another anything. In that minute, she would miss things. She would miss submitting herself to those other things. How much Castlehaven had become a part of her since she had been sent here! How much her son meant to her, how she could not imagine life without him! How Fletcher somehow had become a part of both of those things.

A minute was more than enough time away from those three things.

The knock on her door came at exactly the time she expected it. “…my lady?”

She took in another breath of the sea air. “You know you don’t have to call me that. Come in.”

Fletcher did.

Washing hair

“That won’t do at all. Did no one offer you a bath?”

Someone had, but Dahlia had made sure to avoid it. There were plenty of other children around. It was easy enough to be overlooked as long as no one saw her.

The woman made a tutting sound with her tongue, looking her over. “I refuse to see hair like this. We will fix it. Come.”

Unfortunately, unlike the adults who watched over the children normally, the woman who would come down to see them, who would come down with that boy with the longest of hair, was harder to be overlooked by. Dahlia followed the woman to the baths despite her hesitance.

The woman with the abundance of hair had her scrub herself down first before she began to work on Dahlia’s hair. Dahlia waited for the tugs, used to them. However, even as her scalp became sore, she felt as though the tugs became less and less painful. The woman was able to put her fingers through it without catching against anything. Dahlia wondered how long they had been in here.

“Much better. Where I come from, hair is a symbol of your life. Make sure to take care of it and it will show the world who you are.”

That didn’t make any sense to Dahlia. All she knew was that she hadn’t been dragged here by her hair and that it didn’t feel like a handle on her head anymore.

She felt new.

The day he came

“Can I come too?”

He had wanted to ask the first time, or the second, but Tumelo always appeared to have something for him to do and his mother, while usually patient, sometimes would not wait for anyone.

She squatted down in front of him, glancing about conspiratorially. “Let’s see if we can get out of here before anyone notices.” She took his hand and they quickly made their way out. He loved it when they did things like this. When they would leave the castle and head out into town. This time though, this time it was to one specific place. These were the children that had come without parents.

He couldn’t imagine.

“Ready, my flower?” She stroked his hair back in the braids they were contained in.

He nodded and they entered the orphanage.

Keeping Warm

Winter watched the woman and her gorgeous hair, long curling strands well kept, at a contrast to her rough palms and occasionally chapped lips. When the rest of her was made for work, this woman kept her hair perfect.

“Winter. Are you and Summer keeping warm?”

“Yes’m.” She nodded, watching the woman set down the bundle of something she had brought with her.

“Well, I hope these will help with that. Simply being cold outside shouldn’t keep you in all the time.”

She brought out two coats. Winter’s was a little big, but the woman said she was certain it would last longer that way. The two of them helped Summer put hers on, as she didn’t want to wait. Then she wanted to run around in it.

Winter went to chase after her, but stopped to look back at this woman, this woman who had changed everything. “Thank you.”

Nemissa smiled.

How does your garden grow?

Like clockwork, the woman would arrive in the orphanage to play.

There was something about her that lessened the burden on Winter’s heart. Not the physical one, always there. That burden was lessened by the terrible tasting medicine she took every day. The woman made Summer smile and suddenly it didn’t matter where all of the children had come from. It didn’t matter what they had run away from. She had that reaction on just about all of them.

There were a few who remained wary. A girl about Summer’s age, who froze whenever anyone neared her, watched the woman with a distant form of curiosity. She replied, quiet yet firm, when the woman spoke to her. She did as any of the adults asked. Summer wanted to play with her and Winter wasn’t sure, because the girl named Dahlia was guarded by an aspect that was probably created by whatever made her face slightly crooked.

Then there was the boy she had dragged to Castlehaven in the first place. He spoke to no one, glaring at all attempts at conversation or even a nice gesture. If he hadn’t been so hungry, Winter was certain he would have snubbed the food as well, for spite’s sake.

With everyone that had come, everyone who had survived up until this point… These children didn’t have anything but what the people here gave them.

And then this woman would come.

Setting it free

The Baroness looked out the window, standing still as a statue. At least, until he approached. She looked down as he lifted the spider up for her to see. “How interesting. You catch that all on your own?”

He nodded with a smile.

She returned it with a smile of her own and pressed a hand on the top his head. “Now put that down, my flower. See? It’s scared.”

He didn’t know how to determine it was scared, but he put it down nonetheless. The both of them watched it skitter away. He climbed up on the windowsill to watch it as it escaped, his mother’s hand on his back to balance him. Once again, his eyes trailed away from the spider to the people down below. “Who are they, Ma’mer?”

“People who need help.”

It would be a long time before he understood what that meant.

To what can be closer

For someone whose body should have been considered deceased, Nemissa couldn’t decide what was dead about it. Perhaps it was odd, the lack of a heartbeat. Fletcher took her hand and placed it against his chest, allowing her to decide how she felt about it.

What she felt was his ribcage. Then again, there were plenty of people, well alive, who looked more skeletal than Fletcher felt. Or maybe those people had been undead too and Nemissa simply couldn’t tell the difference.

He wasn’t cold. From the magic, it seemed.

“Did you ever have a heartbeat?” she asked him.

Fletcher shook his head. “The spectrum of my kind is wide. For some, becoming undead is a process where they lose the aspects people consider as their humanity. For others, they simply are like this.”

Nemissa pulled her hand back, reaching for his instead and placing it against her chest. “Then feeling one must be very strange to you.”

Fletcher looked thoughtful, staring at his hand’s placement. The thoughtfulness dissolved into something else as he turned his gaze to her eyes instead. “Perhaps, but it is a very comforting type of strange.”

He pulled his hand away then, but some of Nemissa’s composure had already vanished. She turned her head away for a moment, feeling the warmth in her cheeks which didn’t show well through her dark skin. Then she faced him again with a smile.

Fletcher smiled back.

Stay anyways

For once, Fletcher looked uncertain. “I shouldn’t be here.”

Nemissa watched her son down in the courtyard, playing with the group of orphans. She didn’t respond to Fletcher fast, because she was too busy trying to understand what he meant. “You are always welcome in Castlehaven. You know this. Is there a problem?”

“A problem?” Fletcher pulled his ever-present cloak around himself. “You have been too kind. Your people even kinder. You know that the rest of the world would see me as a monster.”

“Maybe you are,” Nemissa said. “But what does monster even mean?”

“If only other peoples questioned the same concepts.” He walked away from the window, into the shadow. She recognized this tendency in him, something he did when he was even more aware of his separation from the living.

“Don’t worry about what they think. You are here. One of us, for as long as you remain.”

She turned from the window to look at him. He did not return her gaze. “You have no idea how I’ve longed to hear those words.” Nemissa could not restrain a growing smile, which faded at his next words. “Yet it changes nothing. I should go.”

Something twisted inside of her, something she hadn’t realized was there. At least, was still there. “At least tell me why. I’ve grown so fond of your company.”

“And I yours.” His shoulders slumped. “Perhaps too fond. If I stay, I will wish to overstep my bounds.”

Confusion overcame her, until he finally looked at her. A look she hadn’t seen in so long. A look she never thought to see again. It eased the scarring in her soul that she had thought she must endure forever.

Nemissa smiled. “Stay anyway.”

Perhaps Fletcher understood her then, because he no longer spoke of leaving.