Into the Woods

Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png
A soft breeze tumbled over the lush, rolling land, the swaying of the grass following the curves it grew upon. The faint shimmer of moonlight wavered atop the green; shadows swept across its surface as each blade turned in tandem. Bella fancied it rippled and rolled like waves.

“He was,” she answered with a glance at the golden flicker of Jaron’s watch. “For about forty years, I think. He owned a port and a small fleet of ships. He used to sail with them as a captain, too, before he married my mother.” A wistful note slipped into Bella’s voice, her eyes fixed on the shallow engraving of the boat that she could only just make out in the low light. “He brought lots of fine things back from far away places. I got to learn about them, the places and the crafts, and a little about boats.” She smiled amusedly, met Jaron’s gaze. There was little thought given for the information she divulged, for she had no qualms about sharing it; although, she might have if she was aware just how much he actually knew, courtesy of Liza.

Rarely it seemed she talked about herself. So few people ever asked, but why would they? She was nothing special, certainly no one worth knowing. The only people who ever really cared to know her were her own family; and they already knew everything there was to know.

“Maybe you will get to see it, one day. The ocean, the sunset on the water.” Before she quite realized she was thinking out loud, she added, “Maybe we could see it together.”



“Yes, of course.” Jaron replied instantly, unsure of what he had just agreed to. He immersed himself in Bella’s twinkling irises, her gentle tone of voice and the intimacy in her words and could not dare to or even conceive of invalidating Bella in the acquiescent state she entranced within him in that instance. The prince realized how agreeable he had become about as soon as he noticed he was quietly staring into the subtle glistening of Bella’s soft, light-gold eyes, and perhaps he ought to say something. “I mean, maybe.” He corrected himself, a twinge of embarrassment playing upon him, marked by his wincing face.

“What a fool she’s made of you. The ocean?! You must have lost your head.” In a hot flash, Jaron felt a distinctly familiar sensation boiling inside him, coursing through his cold veins as if sensing his weakness. He found it enticing, eager to welcome the passion of his rage like an old friend. The prince wanted to ignore the impulses. “Your father sounds endearing, he must be a good man.” He began, hoping to distract the pendulum of his temper. “Why don’t you go and see him? He must be worried sick. Why must you be so careless?”

Jaron could hardly ignore his caprice of anger towards Bella. He did find her careless in more ways than one and was beginning to think if left unchecked, it wouldn’t be long until she was prattling on about fantasies, hopes and dreams and other such nonsense again. He wanted to disappear then and there, leave her with Fritz so that he might find himself some vacant patch of grass to wallow in his misery and rage relatively undisturbed. And yet, something peculiar kept Jaron there beside Bella, having lingered in the back of his mind for quite some time. He hadn’t yet the opportunity to speak of it, and could sense perhaps there on the hilltop overlooking the shimmering blue field surrounding them, it would be enough to silence the demons in his head.
“What ever happened to your mother?” Jaron asked, genuinely curious, in as light a tone he could muster, peering out to the rolling blue field this time, so as not to lose himself in Bella’s aura again.



“Fool. Fool! What did you just say to him?!” Panic rose in Bella, a wave swelling to crash into the shore and flood everything that stood on it. “How could you say something so idiotic?! Of course, he can’t see the ocean! And why would he ever do so with you? How insensitive and childish can you be?!” Her propensity to overthink took charge, chastising her thoroughly for her thoughtlessness. By some miracle, Bella’s expression didn’t betray her. She appeared calm, composed even, as she directed her golden eyes to the shimmering field below. Her teeth clamped down on the inside of her lip to keep her composure from breaking.

“I think so.” The redhead agreed softly. Did her voice crack a bit or did she just sound creaky to her own ears? There was no telling. Every impulse bid her to hide as long as Jaron’s gaze remained transfixed on her and she turned her head away, shamefaced, as though simply observing a different spot. That brief moment of silence allowed her most unfortunately to reflect on everything else she had said. What did he really care to hear about her father’s business? Surely not at all, but she had told him, anyway. She wanted to crumble in on herself.

“She passed away a long time ago. She-” Bella started to explain, cut herself off before it devolved into another long-winded rambling. “She was ill.” She shrugged, finishing quickly. If she thought it wouldn’t bore him, she very well could have continued to talk. Now, her mounting insecurity nearly choked her mute.
 
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Thick and heavy the air hung atop the hill then, signifying the shift in mood, the once sensational breeze now oppressive, almost cruel, as if it were responsible for carrying away every serene quality the night inspired. It grew silent atop the hill, albeit not in the same way Bella sat quietly to read a book, or how Jaron, seated in the den, gazed at the flickering shadows of his hearth without saying a word. They both had swallowed their tongues, it seemed. The silence was awkward, but it was odd too, and unexpected. Only last night was Bella speaking freely to the prince more than he could ever remember, more than she ever had. Had he struck a sensitive chord? Or could she sense the blind anger coursing through him, disconcerting the prince?

Jaron waited, but the silence would not budge. It swallowed the air around them instead. Gradually, the prince followed the downward slope of the grassy hill with his eyes until he found Bella’s skirts and could see out the corner of his eye that she was evidently distracted, looking elsewhere. Jaron could see her full of regret, wishing to wake up as if she were simply living a bad dream. He wondered if they most unfortunately had more in common than he thought. Whatever the case, he felt guilty, but more so responsible. He could see himself too lying in the garden, desolate on the brink of destruction, ready for the world to end, and Bella right there, pulling him into her arms to comfort him, reminding him of better days.

Jaron scooted closer to Bella. “Is everything alright?” He asked before placing a gentle hand upon her shoulder. She appeared unusually reserved, like a turtle hiding in its shell hoping to protect itself from harm. “I don’t mean to bring up any painful memories.” Even in his deep tone of voice, there was an unusual hint of tenderness. So rarely would Jaron ever speak in such a manner, the last time he did, he was still human. “We can return to the castle, if you wish.” He proposed. Perhaps she wanted to be alone, he could understand that.


The hand on her shoulder caused Bella to flinch, pulling her from the riptide of insecurity and self-loathing she unwillingly found herself drowning in. It seemed she didn’t do as good a job of hiding her expression as she thought. There was a part of her that wanted to retreat to the castle, to throw herself across her bed and bury her face in a pillow; however, there was a part of her that wanted to blurt out what she was feeling. She turned her head, meeting his eyes, poised to deny any fault on his part; and found herself speechless. At once and for a moment, she was back in the dream ballroom, in the study, staring into those eyes.

“No, it’s alright.” Bella closed her eyes for the barest instant, mustered a sympathetic smile. She couldn’t bring herself to say what she was thinking, only her expression reassured that it was no fault of Jaron’s or the line of conversation. Rather than linger on it any longer, she continued. “I don’t really have many memories of my mother. I was really young when she passed. Mostly I remember the stories she told and how she loved music. Papa says that I’m a lot like her.” Her voice dropped off on the last syllable. The image of the young blonde woman with kind, tired eyes sitting before her vanity was fresh in her mind. It was a memory she hadn’t known she had before the dream.

“Still I don’t really feel the loss much. I had Loretta; I guess you could say she was my mother. She raised me, after all.” The redhead crossed her arms atop her knees. Despite that she couldn’t very well miss someone she barely knew, it would be a lie to say that she didn’t long for her mother at all. Her governess had largely filled what would otherwise have been an empty space in her heart and Bella loved her well. Her heart ached to recall the day the woman left and the promise that they would some day meet again, a white lie to soothe the pain of a half-grown girl. Bella felt that loss and it showed in her eyes.

“She was called away on a family emergency some years ago. I waited for a year for her to return, but she never did.” She traded the sorrow for a smile, added with a conspiratorial tone, “The cake was actually her recipe.”



“I see, well…” Jaron leaned back, stretched his arms, pushed down onto the somewhat damp grass with his hands for support as he searched the stars, “Bless Loretta.” The prince thought aloud, he could almost taste the piquant pound cake just thinking of it, how the taste soothed his nerves. He cared little for the flavor, Jaron knew sweets would never taste half as good from anybody else. The cake was irrelevant, it was the time and consideration Bella put into it, how she chose to share it with him. She was the only one who had that choice. Despite how the prince’s staff cared for him in their own way, they had no choice or say in the matter. The prince saw them as prisoners, but Bella was free.

“She must be where you get your kindness from. I’m in her debt.” Jaron began, his eyes glistening as they reflected the moonlight in his stargazing. Bella was kind, so kind that sometimes Jaron wanted to cry, albeit as stubborn the prince is, surely he’d feel more inclined to vandalize his castle and denigrate the nearest person instead. That was his way of shedding tears. Everything about Bella conflicted the prince, the myriad of emotions she inspired paralleled every reason he had to resent her and himself. Only when he laid eyes on her did he feel the noise fade; fierce winds, dark clouds and heavy rain dwindling until the skies grew calm and still as the sun's golden rays finally seeped through the storm.

“I’m fortunate to have you around, it means a lot to me.” Jaron began. He sat up straight, focused on the forge house maiden again. “I hope that someday, I can help you the way you’ve helped me.” He felt he spoke too solemnly, looking towards the horizon now, he added,
“Unless you want me to bake a cake, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png

A faint hum of agreement lingered on Bella’s lips as she envisioned the woman who was nearly a tangible presence there on the hilltop. Plain as day, she could see in her mind’s eye the bright chestnut tresses pulled neatly up, the warm brown eyes set in an ivory pale face, even the light freckles that dotted her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. She could almost hear the exasperation in Loretta’s otherwise soothing voice calling Bella by first and middle name. It took a special kind of woman to be able to raise another’s children, more so to love them as if they were her own. There weren’t enough blessings in the world to wish upon her all that she deserved.

“You give me too much credit.” The redhead murmured, her snickers at the Prince’s wit subsiding. She couldn’t bring herself to refute his sincerity with her old self-deprecating habit; albeit she couldn’t simply accept it, either. How could she have helped him? What had she done that was especially noteworthy aside from bringing him back from the brink of death? She had kept her promise, which in her mind was about all she could do. There were only a few things she could offer, her company being the primary as well as the base the others stemmed from. How long would it be before he tired of her and hid himself away for days or weeks on end? The thought made her stomach sink.

“But, thank you, nonetheless.” Her eyes shone like molten glass. Her hand came to rest partially over top of his, a gesture of friendship and gratitude though a bit timid. Regardless of everything, it was still nice to hear that he at least felt she had helped him in some way, even if she wasn’t sure she believed it. It was enough for now. She pulled away, hoping she hadn’t fumbled the timing, and brushed her hair behind her ear to play it off. Perhaps she merely felt emboldened or didn’t think it through; it was debatable. Her expression suggested gentle curiosity. Whatever the case, she dared to ask, “Did you have someone like that, growing up?” Hastily she added for his comfort, “Of course, you don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, but I’m here if you ever need someone to talk to.”



Jaron did hesitate to answer, fortunately Bella was quick to reassure him he needn’t share unless he wanted to. ”Someone like Loretta? No, not necessarily. My mother….” He began, trailed off for a moment. For all the similarities betwixt her and the prince, a vast difference lingered. He was a man after all, and she was a fair maiden, albeit she didn’t seem to think she was. Jaron was oblivious to her those feelings, and Bella couldn’t begin to fathom how the weight of an entire kingdom might feel upon one’s shoulders. That responsibility came with a price, despite even the vampirism and bloody death; those things were fairly unusual.

“She was around.” He finally admitted. Like always, Bella’s presence, the gentle aura of her company, prompted the prince to see things differently. He could hardly remember a time his childhood came to mind without feelings of disdain and regret, often induced by the blind rage that consumed him. Most of his life as a grown man was spent feeling that way. In fact, the last time in a long time Jaron had ever looked back to those earlier days with any semblance of fondness and nostalgia, Bella had been holding him in her arms in the garden. Realizing that, Jaron grew quiet, it was his turn to be crippled by his own thoughts, and yet still whilst being stifled by himself, there was something therapeutic in sharing with Bella. He could see she wasn’t bringing him pain by listening, he was already hurting. It felt good to share, even while being damned for eternity.

“She was always kind. You’re kind of like her, too.” He finally admitted, a bittersweet observation of the copper-haired lady, as usual. It was quite mad, really, to resent Bella for being so wonderful. “You should be more careful in the future, Bella. Not everyone is so deserving of your company. Given the chance, someone will take advantage of you, eventually.” Jaron instructed dutifully. “I may never be able to repay you.” He somberly added, and could not bring himself to say anything further, lest he drive Bella away or make her out as a burden. Truthfully, perhaps even selfishly, he only wanted what was best for her, even if it doomed everyone to Inverness. Knowing this, he fell silent again.




Bella turned her eyes heavenward, locking them on the stars as intensely as she had the night before. She was glad for Jaron to have had his mother in his life, that she was a kind person. Some part of her wondered where the violent temper came from then; however, she easily chalked it up to nearly a decade of misery. She forbore to press him with any more questions, choosing instead to revel in what seemed to her a small victory. Jaron told her something about himself, even if he was doing his duty by the conversation, mostly one-sided as it was. It was the first personal thing he told her, too, which made it all the more meaningful. Of course, it would go unmentioned, lest he become self-conscious and decide to reveal nothing else ever again.

"I'm not worried." A half smile drew one corner of her mouth up. "So few people ever asked for my company, anyway. I preferred books to social gatherings.. but that's neither here nor there. I'll keep it in mind." That last was mostly to acknowledge the Prince's concern and to show appreciation. The scorn Bella felt for the back-stabbing gossip and fake sincerity of her peers in the city returned fresh to memory, accompanied by the image of a young duchess mad as a wet hen in a tea-stained dress and her own righteous indignation. It was so fresh, in fact, that Elizabeth's remembered bat-like screeching might have prevented her from hearing the young man beside her. "You don't have to repay me, really. This, this is enough."

Bella considered reaching out again, wondering why she was so eager to touch him and shoving the urge down. Luckily, a distraction came by way of the black stallion. She heard his hooves on the soft grass and turned, coming face to face with his nose. She laughed as Fritz breathed warm air into her face and investigated her hair. "I think he's done grazing. We should probably head back." She said, rueful at the idea. She would have been content to sit there on the hill with Jaron all night and very well could have if not for the horse's interruption. Pushing to her feet, Bella brushed herself off, slid her feet back into the silver slippers; and stood holding the reins, feeling a little like she was about to wake up from a dream.
 
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The day began like all the others. Quiet, undisturbed and unbearably peaceful. The birds sang their morning tune as a cool summers night breeze lingered in the air after a long journey from the sky to open country, through the dense forests and fields of swaying moon tinted grass that, from the right angle, looked like the sea. There would be no shift in the balance of elements interchanging night and day, nothing extraordinary or unexpected to speak of. And that was fine, the people of Esterwell would be content with that. Some even relished in it. Others preferred it over the hustle and bustle of city life. Truly, if there was but one soul that could find fault in an otherwise perfectly perpetual town in the country, it would be Benjamin, who stood upon his balcony and watched with tired eyes as the sun painted plum streaks in the sky until it rose above the horizon, enveloping its canvas with a vibrant amber hue as golden rays rained down onto Esterwell.

Ben was particularly peculiar in his aversion towards the unvarying lifestyle of Esterwell. He used to think he was unique, that he wanted more than country life had to offer. In the time since, he's learned that he was only half right in that he is unique, but not for 'wanting more,' as he might have put it. Despite even the inherited luxuries of owning a successful business, Ben was beginning to see that he didn't want for more than everybody else; he was living with much less than everyone. Whereas folks in Esterwell typically had a loving family to speak of, Ben was alone. His father, halfway across the ocean setting sail towards foreign country. His mother, god knows where, Ben certainly had no idea.

Of course, Ben was old enough, and doing more than well enough, to take care of himself, but what good did it bring him, or anyone else for that matter? He was not one of a kind, nobody was depending on him. If Ben up and disappeared, Esterwell would continue to persist almost as if he were never there. There were more than enough capable men that could run his business, they'd be down from the cities in a weeks time. Maybe they even had families to speak of, wives to take care of, children to raise. Ben had nothing, and as he gazed at the morning sky and watched Esterwell stir, he knew this. It showed in the bags under his eyes and all over his face, he was especially tired after another sleepless night because it was Sunday, his day off, and he had nothing to distract himself from the unbearably peaceful day ahead of him.

"Was I too direct?" He wondered, dreading each step there was left to take up the cobblestone road that lead to the Perryweather Inn. Pierre, the local baker, swept dirt away from his shops front door, stopped for a moment to step back as he heard footsteps approaching. "Good morning, Benjamin!"
"Good morning,"
Ben did well to fake a smile and return the bakers cheerful enthusiasm as he passed by. The smile lingered a moment, he was happy to greet Pierre. Albeit his mood was sour, Ben felt he shouldn't let it keep him from being kind to others. "You would feel the same, wouldn't you?" Ben thought, and as he saw in his minds eye a pair of amber eyes staring back at him, their brow slightly hidden beneath a copper fringe, he could see Bella's smile warming her features as they enjoyed his balcony together, and his own smile began to wane as he continued up the street. Stepping into the Perryweather Inn, he was greeted only by the cackling of the hearth. It was still quite early, and many of the patrons were still asleep in their beds. Ben shut the door behind him, was hesitant to face the bar. There would be no point in faking a smile for Lucinda, she knew by now what to expect whenever Ben walked through the door, and it had been nearly two weeks now since he last made his way through.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
ItW_2_HS.png

The morning was fair, despite the lingering damp from recent rain and the chill of the night that lasted into the early hours. Among the few residents of the quaint town who were up and about as the sun rose were the Montagne's. There was work to be done and too few hours in the day for all of it. Robby and Hugh had extra work with the collapse of a corner of the stable. The already old wooden structure had a couple of beams that rotted with time and the rain only made the inevitable happen the sooner. The blacksmith said that it would surely have collapsed come winter when the roof was piled with snow. Better that it was still warm and they wouldn't have to freeze while trying to rebuild it.

With the stable deemed unsafe, Betsy and Farren were moved to Lucinda's large stables; although it was only the back of the cow's side that had fallen in. It was safer, lest the rest of the building suddenly fall in on the beloved stallion. As such, in order to get milk, Celine had to trek the half-mile walk from the isolated forge house and back again. Fortunately, the milk from each trip lasted a couple of days. She usually came and went from the entrance outside, but today she entered the inn, a covered basket on one arm and a bucket full of milk on the other. Her eyes scanned the great room, the couple of patrons who were seated near the fire, in search of the boisterous inn-keeper. Perhaps Lucinda was in the kitchen, since the smell of cooking porridge filled the dining room. Well, she wouldn't go back there and get in the way; she'd just leave the basket on the counter.

Placing the basket as she passed, Celine made for the door, pausing a moment at the sight of the young merchant. She brushed aside a stray lock of hair and smiled. The low light couldn't quite obscure the color in her face or the prominent round bump of her stomach. It had been a while since she last saw Ben, for he hadn't come by the house in the majority of the past couple of months. Of course, why would he, when the reason for his visits hadn't been home in two months? No one could blame him, though the family of the lost lamb was sorry to see the young man's spirits so dampened by her absence. They could only proclaim their certainty that she would be home soon, however uncertain they actually were.

"Good morning, Ben." Celine greeted, her voice rich and melodic. A little sympathy crept into her smile for his sour expression. She would have encouraged him to pursue her sister. He was estimable and well-off; there was no doubt he could provide for Bella. Perhaps his good sense would have grounded her. Or perhaps Bella would have become more like a caged bird, gazing with longing into the sky and mourning that she couldn't fly into it however kind and good Ben was. Celine shut her eyes for the barest instant, shoved the thoughts down and away. "How are you holding up?" She asked, sparing no pleasantries or feigned ignorance, and adjusted her hold on the handle of the heavy bucket. She knew his intent from the first; she had seen it many times in young men in the city.
 
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"Oh, Celine." Ben pursed his lips, embarrassed to have run into Bella's older sister. The timing felt awkward; for not having seen the Montagne's over the course of a couple months, he just happened to find Celine on the morning he'd grasped enough courage to inquire Lucinda regarding Bella's absence. "I've been...well, I was just looking for Lucinda. I wanted to catch her early, before it gets busy-I wasn't expecting to find you here." Ben's eyes scanned the Inn as he spoke, a faint twinkle in them as they fell on Celine. Albeit slightly, she forced a smile on the merchant's face, a genuine one at that. She could draw out a warm, delightful feeling in anyone, it seemed. Nevertheless, Ben was all the more grateful that Celine was sharp as well and wouldn't beat around the bush. He could hear the forge housewife bearing sympathy for him in her tone of voice, it was a relief not to continue his composed façade if only for a second. It also meant he must have earned Celine's approval, something that was invaluable to him. Still, he had spared her the pitiful details of his wellness, or lack thereof. That was not to say bumping into Celine wasn't a blessing in disguise.

The young merchant's eyes were drawn downward, unable to resist Celine's belly, or rather what, no, to be precise Ben's eyes could not resist who was persisting therein Celine's belly. They pulled his gaze and pushed his eyelids apart. "My word, are you expecting?" He would ask politely as he could, a delighted air having filled Ben, dispelling his worries and woes for the time being. "That's simply wonderful, Celine. You look amazing. Here, let me walk you home." He gestured to the milk pail in her hands, holding out his own, "It would be my pleasure, trust me. I don't mean to keep bothering Lucinda, but..." Ben trailed off before he could say too much.
Bucket in hand, the young merchant held the door for Celine.

"Why the long walk for a bucket of milk anyways, did something happen to your cows?" Ben asked curiously as they stepped down the Inn's porch onto solid ground outdoors. To help pass the time, Ben reluctantly enthused over his affairs as he carefully made his way down the dirt road. The hum drum of his day to day was almost palpable as he carried on about the likes of inventory and accounting and eventually the young merchant found himself sadly glossing over the details of his employees lives in lieu of his own. Truthfully, the young man was stalling. As grateful he was to have run into Celine unexpectedly, he had yet to grasp the courage to ask the Montagne's about Bella's affairs and thusly avoided them altogether, lest they bear terrible news for him, that some charming man had swept the maiden off her feet. It was an absurd idea, yet however still the worst fate a young mans active imagination could conjure. Someone or something certainly had Bella's attention.


With the forge house in sight drawing closer, Ben abruptly asked, "Celine, was I perhaps too...direct with Bella? Have I driven her away?" He peered into Celine's eyes, reading them, searching for an answer, for Bella. A stones throw from the forge house Ben desperately persisted, "Where is she, again? Perhaps if it's not too late, I could pay her a visit. Truthfully, I miss her dearly. I've never met anyone quite like her."
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
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"I am." Celine confirmed, the color in her cheeks deepening with happiness and flattery. With profuse gratitude and relief, she handed Ben the bucket, glad to have the weight off her arm. Her eyes, the green of a forest in summer, squinted in the growing light, setting themselves upon the dun-colored house just visible over the grassy rise of the first field. The walk was much more leisurely without the weight of the bucket, with nearly no trudging on Celine's part; however, it was no less purposeful, for the young mother-to-be didn't wish to occupy too much of the busy merchant's time.

"Oh, Betsy's fine. The corner of the stable collapsed after the rain. Robby and father are working on rebuilding it. In the meantime, she and Farren are just there in Lucinda's stables." She relayed the surprise her family had woken up to almost a week earlier. Much as she liked to talk, for Celine was skillful in the arts of conversation, she was an equally good listener. Her blonde head nodded in acknowledgment of Ben's words, eyes making brief sidelong contact to show that she was paying attention. All the while, the gentle smile warmed her face, though the corners turned down a couple of times as her brow furrowed in commiseration. For all the talk of work and his colleagues, and the avoidance of admitting his feelings, it was obvious that Ben was unhappy. Only her manners kept her from saying as much, instead leaving it a silent understanding between them.

"Not direct enough is more likely." Celine answered, a tremor of wry humor creeping through. It was not directed at Ben or his plight, but at the peculiar maiden she called her younger sister. "Bella never played the courting game. Despite the eyes of any young men she may have caught in the city, the only things that caught her eye were books and horses. I can't fault her empathy or compassion, but when it comes to relationships.. well.." Her lips quirked as she searched for the right words. She didn't want to say her sister was dense; although, that was the only word that seemed apt to describe Bella in regards to the opposite sex. "She will be your friend forever, unless you tell her that you want to be more than friends. She won't recognize your feelings for her otherwise, whether it is simply that she can't or doesn't want to."


"As for your methods, forgo the parties. Afternoons spent sitting in the meadows, staring at the sky and dreaming, that's what she likes. That's what speaks to her." Pausing there on the path, she placed a delicate hand on Ben's shoulder. She had watched them the many days they spent together before Bella left. Surely, Ben had learned after the party that her sister was not the partying type, but it seemed useful to at least warn him. As she pulled her hand away, Celine faltered. Many times she was asked about where Bella had gone, by Lucinda and others; and every time, she told them the same thing, putting them off as best she could. It was practiced and rehearsed and she fed the excuse to Ben yet again. "Oh, she went to help that poor family she said she met when she got lost. An elderly man and his three grandchildren, she said. She made it sound like they live in the middle of the woods, but I don't know if they do, exactly. I think it's a little south of here?" It was times like these where her talking came in handy. She played it off with ease, composing her expression despite her uncertainty. Perhaps she hadn't really faltered at all and it was just a trick of the imagination? "Thank you for helping me get the milk home. I've to get breakfast ready. Would you like to come in and eat? It shouldn't take too long."
 
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Ben listened intently, doleful eyes focused on Celine as she imparted family wisdoms to the young merchant, as well as Bella's whereabouts, committing every word and all of his senses to memory. "I would love to, but I haven't much of an appetite." His eyes fell and as he turned back round, he added, "It was my pleasure." With that, Ben made his way home. It was safe to say a speck of hope glistened in his eyes, illuminated by the sun rising from the hills to the east.

"Sophia?" Henry called, having knocked thrice upon the princess' bedroom door. Being a typical Inverness morning, Henry stood outside
Sophia's bedroom in the east wing of the castle at precisely ten in the morning, on the dot, as he always did. Breakfast would be served by the time they reached the dining hall. The mighty steel-clad man let himself in, only to find the princess missing. It was quite unusual for Sophia to turn scamp before she had her breakfast, unless she had raided the pantry, an unlikely feat given the consequences; that she should be made to have her meals in the dining hall without Bella. "Must I hunt you down, princess?" Henry wondered out loud, oak-colored eyes glossing over every nook and cranny in sight. Hardly a minute was necessary to search the entire room, including the generously spacious closet therein. It was nothing like the princess' bedroom back in the capital, comprised of three separate rooms twice the size of the one Sophia slept in now, one of which included a loft.

Out of options, Henry proceeded to check underneath the queen sized bed and the adjacent dining table riddled with teacups, a teapot and a three tier cake stand, each level connected by a golden stem and housing a deep plate that was smaller in diameter than the one below it, the bottom tier being the largest. If Sophia were hiding, surely she was smart enough not to pick the most obvious spot. Still, it wouldn't hurt to check. "Tch, it's one of those days, then." Henry muttered to himself as he stepped out of the bedroom, eyes landing on the window across the wide twin doors, specifically the drapes. A prominent bulge emerged from the rich silk, sticking out like a sore thumb. The dim lighting of the hallway made it difficult to spot, if not for the sunlight pouring out from Sophia's bedroom, Henry might have missed it twice. In no mood for games, he approached the drapery with heavy footsteps and bent down to lift the curtains from the ground up.

A pair of black, lifeless eyes stared back at him; they belonged to a white, nearly child sized plushie bunny rabbit who was always dressed for the occasional tea party, sporting a cream colored bowtie and vest. As Henry peered at the stuffed animal, the faint sound of closing doors echoed down from the vast hallway whence he came.
"Ah, I see." Grasping the plushie rabbit with steel-clad force, Henry stood upright and turned his portly figure down the hall, not particularly impressed by the princess' antics, but nonetheless slightly amused with the textbook execution of her decoy. In the grand scheme of things, she was only delaying the inevitable. There was only one place she could be off to.

With her hand resting on Bella's bedroom door handle, Sophie pulled down as lightly as possible, inching forward whilst peeking inside. With her free hand, she brought the mouthpiece of her
sapphire colored ocarina onto her mouth and proceeded to play random notes on the wind instrument one handed, shifting her fingers back and forth between a variety of holes, twelve to be exact. Stepping inside the bedroom, she brought her other hand to the ocarina and played as best she could; head bopping left and right about as sporadically as the notes she played. Sophie's lack of practice was evident, but she played gently and sent soft notes into the air from the vessel flute. The idea was to rouse Bella from drowsiness, at any cost, it seemed; she finally drew in a deep breath, blew as hard she could into the mouthpiece, her own breathe shooting out from the ocarina's holes, pushing her bright auburn bangs off her forehead, an obnoxious din emanating throughout the bedroom incessantly as Sophie's eyes seemed ready to pop out of her head at any second.
 
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Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png

Gold and blue edged the tops of the scraggly trees surrounding the vast estate by the time Bella dozed off. Upon returning to the stables, she gave Fritz a proper grooming, brushing the dirt and leaves away until his black coat shone like the surface of the shadowed lake. Every movement exuded unbridled enthusiasm, surely the first of its like that any of the castle residents had yet seen, if they weren't already asleep by the time she returned from the stables. Her spirits were lifted, her heart took its proper place in her breast, fluttering like a bird in the cage of her ribs. She could have run to the ends of the earth, or at the very least to the far end of the prince's estate, until she crashed.

It was only for a moment that she sat on the bed, with no intention of falling asleep. Yet the springy mattress and soft blankets claimed her. She lay across the bed still dressed, copper head resting on her arm. The child princess's entrance and subsequent jaunty playing didn't stir her in the slightest. Only did she wake when the sudden harsh cry of the instrument assaulted her ears, sending her scrambling upright with all the panic of a rabbit fleeing for its life. Amber eyes wide, Bella scanned the room. Her gaze rested finally on Sophie, taking in the shining blue thing in her hands, and she released a breath as realization set in.

"I see. Good morning to you, too, little sister." A note of wry humor crept into Bella's voice to match the half smile that quirked her lips. She inclined her head, narrowing her eyes and looking down the length of nose at Sophie with a seraphic air that was almost threatening. "Do you know what happens to little sisters who play such pranks?" A rhetorical question. Bella wrapped her arms around the child, not giving her a chance to escape. "They get tickled!" She attacked Sophie's stomach and sides as Celine used to do to her when they were children. The difference was that Sophie could wriggle away if she wanted to, whereas Celine had been a relentless tickle tormentor with a vice grip. Laughing, Bella let her go, slid from the bed. Her bare feet were soundless on the lush carpet as she approached a wardrobe.


"I'm sure Henry is looking for you." The redhead said over her shoulder, perusing the choices of dresses. She still frowned over the selection; however, she started choosing dresses outside of her usual taste. The garments still were simple compared to those which were encrusted with jewels on skirt and bodice, but nicer still than the limited supply of plain dresses she had already exhausted. Plucking a dress from the colorful, incongruous myriad, she disappeared behind the screen set in the corner. It was blue, perhaps the same hue as the prince's eyes, with short puffed sleeves that sat just off her shoulders and three tiers of ruffled skirts. The silk taffeta caught the light and shone when she stepped back out. "Well, what shall we do, today?"
 
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Unabashedly the princess' whimsy bent her forward, yet she could not take her eyes off of her sister's perturbed face. She had to keep from falling to her knees and had there been enough air in the lungs to spare, would've burst into a rambunctious cackling at the sight of Bella springing herself up in bed like a grazing deer near a rustling bush. Sophia squealed and her rollicking chortle finally came forth from the chest, her shoulders heaving as the rest of the princess' body was seized by spasmodic stumbling. She sat patiently upon the edge of the bed, legs dangling off the end as Bella stepped out from behind the screen. "Cinnabons!" Sophia sang the sweet roll's name into the air tunelessly, arms shooting up and out. A knock thrice upon the open bedroom door shot a yelp from the princess' throat and she was hiding behind Bella in an instant, hand clasping wrist whilst the arms wrapped around her sisters waist.

Imogen's dreary eyes oddly wandered into the bedroom. She hadn't spoken to Bella much since she had awoken. In fact, she couldn't seem to remember if they had said a word to each other apart from typical greetings and how do you do's. Quite vulnerably the housekeeper stood before Bella all of a sudden,
"I'm at the end of my rope, Miss Montagne. Tobias and Amarinda are not anywhere to be found. At first, I didn't mind the their truancy so much. I suppose they deserve a break from their studies, after all, what with your...long nap and, everything else."

The housekeeper brought a fervent desperation into the air. She felt conflicted pouring her problems unto Bella and surely wouldn't have without good reason, yet still she appeared visibly anxious and spoke hastily, couldn't seem to get the words out fast enough. "Now they've gone and hidden themselves away somewhere, oh, it's just terrible, this, they've never acted like this before, it's just so disrespectful, Landon works so hard and, oh, this errant transgression cannot stand, Bella! It's simply unbearable!" At last, Imogen drew in a deep breath as her pleading eyes fell from Bella's gaze to the floor. The housekeeper began wringing her hands to keep them from trembling and pacing backwards and forth from where she stood to the door, ready to dash out of the bedroom. She lifted her dreary eyes and opened her mouth to speak, hesitating as Sophia poked her head out from behind Bella, arms still wrapped around the maidens waist. "I know where they might be."

"Strawberry?" The boy held out the plump heart shaped fruit out, held tightly by his index finger and thumb. "You sound like a broken record. How many times must I tell you no?" Amarinda barked, not taking her eyes off the storybook in her hands. Tobias remained quiet as usual, staring into the woods for a long minute before finally taking a bite out of the thick juicy fruit, more so out of boredom than hunger. His deadpan eyes were unlike those of the prince's and Amarinda's in that they seemed more vacant than impassive or snooty, as if no soul lingered behind them. The two recusant youths sat upon a silky blanket, having disregarded its value entirely in favor of a comfortable, unruly morning picnic hidden amongst the trees. Amarinda eventually spoke up after turning a page, not taking her eyes off the book, "We should make a trip to town. I'd like a new dress." She suggested, having already planned ahead by bringing along more than enough legal tender to cover the costs of such an endeavor. A pensive silence ensued and the duchess shot an irritable glare at her cousin, "Tobias? Are you listening?" The boy met Amarinda's fiery gaze, but did not deign to acknowledge her plans in lieu of plucking another plump fruit from the wicker basket that sat between them. "Strawberry?" He asked again for the fourth time. Amarinda scoffed, albeit not without conceding, and swiped the fruit from Tobias' fingers.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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Posting Speed
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  2. Multiple posts per week
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  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
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  2. Primarily Prefer Female
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Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png

"Oh, Imogen!" Bella looked up from where Sophia's arms were wrapped around her waist to find the excitable housekeeper standing in the door that the child had neglected to close. There was an air of distress about her, which struck the redhead as typical for the woman by that point, with her tired eyes and furrowed brows. They hadn't spoken much since the morning Bella made her promise, when Imogen had mentioned repaying her before falling asleep in the den. Of course, they made their courteous greetings and some light conversation at dinner, but that was about it. Guilt came knocking at the realization. It wasn't like she went out of her way to not talk to Imogen; however, she certainly hadn't made an effort to the opposite, either, focused on the prince as she was.

"Don't worry. We'll have them back at the table in no time." The maiden attested confidently, regardless of whether or not Sophie actually knew where the two had gone. Did it really matter? They couldn't have wandered too far and surely hadn't gone all the way to town. Would they really be so foolish? Bella ushered the princess out of the room, followed her through the corridor and down the stairs and out the great front doors. The farther they went, the more she frowned. It couldn't be safe for them any more than it had been safe for her. Liza was a testament to that. If Bella ever got it in her mind to wander so far unsupervised, in her youth, Loretta would have blown a gasket and seen that she wasn't allowed to leave the house unless she was on the end of a lead rope.

"Perhaps three children is just too much for one woman to handle. They ought to have a proper governess at their age. Then, maybe they did before....." Bella thought, rounding the bend of a cluster of trees. Hidden behind a tree on a blanket that was most certainly not meant for picnics sat the runaways. "It's a little rude to run off for a picnic without even asking, don't you think?" She asked, crossing her arms loosely over her chest with an expression of vague amusement. "At the very least, you should have talked to Landon first. He works hard to make your meals every day." Without hesitation, she bent to close the basket and hung it on her arm. "Besides, Imogen is worried sick. You should tell someone when you're going out, if not where. You wouldn't want to wind up dead in a ditch somewhere, where no one would ever find your body, would you?" Grasping the edge of the blanket, she yanked it off the ground, simultaneously shaking the leaves from it before draping it over her arm.

"But I'm not here to offer discipline, just to make sure you get back." The redhead raised an expectant brow, jutted her thumb in the direction of the castle. If it came down to it, she supposed she could ask Jaron to intervene. If no one else, the children ought to listen to him; and he would undoubtedly be sour if he had to correct their misbehavior. As disinclined as she was to bother him for such things, it was clear that Bella would do so if necessary and the tone of her voice suggested the threat. "Come along. Breakfast is ready." She gestured the children along in front of her, keeping them close. She didn't like being on the outside of the gate that she, at one time, almost dared not to enter; she felt very exposed there and shot a nervous glance over her shoulder into the trees, ears straining after any noise despite that it was morning and not well after nightfall. No rotting undead things or wine-haired vampires or whispering forests bothered her inside the gray stone walls of the towers up ahead or on the walled-in land surrounding them.

Her nerves didn't settle until they were well within the closed gates. Once breakfast was cleaned up, Bella looked again to Sophie, good spirits renewed. "Do you want to play hide and seek? Or maybe you want to go outside? We could jog Fritz around the yard."
 
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"Miss Montagne," Imogen interjected, her tone sharp and firm as the sound of the plates she slid into their respective slots on the modest dish rack upon the countertop. She was biding her time in the kitchen helping the adorable pair of redheads clean up whilst mustering the courage to address them, Bella specifically. A brief silence ensued in the kitchen, despite the sound of fervent discourse from that of the young duchess in the dining hall. "Games and horses must wait. I understand Sophia was in need of a break from her studies, but I'm afraid she's played truant long enough."

Despite her wavering voice, the housekeeper spoke loud and clear, her hands folded atop the countertop as she peered out the kitchen window to the garden. Sophia could see how tired and anxious Imogen became when she disobeyed her, and now even Tobias and Amarinda were beginning to fancy insubordination. She had clearly inspired the behavior and thusly felt guilty, however that hardly made the idea of sitting through more lectures any less dreadful, subsequently prompted Sophia to ask, "Oh, Miss Imogen, could Bella join us, please? She won't disturb us. You'll come too Bella, won't you?" the princess posed the questions with pleading eyes.

"I thought you might ask." Imogen began, assuming a tender tone, "Quite honestly, I meant to ask Miss Montagne the same thing." She turned to face Bella, eyes tired as ever as they rested upon the copper haired maidens own, "Henry and I seem to be losing our influence on the children. I'm afraid they don't respect us like they used to." Imogen briefly glanced at Sophia, albeit not sternly, instead the housekeeper seemed defeated in some sort of way. "Obviously I don't blame them," She continued, gaze shifting back to Bella's, "but you must understand, we cannot leave them to their own devices. It's simply improper. They do, however, seem to like you, in their own way. Maybe you’ll have better luck, ah that is if you aren’t busy, of course."

As if on cue, it seemed the discussion in the dining hall had escalated into berating breaths, courtesy of the young duchess. “Have you gone deaf, you giant oaf? Perhaps if your brain was as big as your arms I wouldn’t have to repeat myself! NO MEANS NO! I’m not some artless cow milking schoolgirl! I’ve had enough of the maids antiquated lectures!”

“I, er- well,”
Bella stared down into the puppy-dog eyes that had just enough sparkle in them to stir her sympathy. She didn’t want to refuse; however, she hesitated to agree. She had yet to see Jaron that morning, a fact that drew her eyes to the doors separating the kitchen from the dining hall as though she could see through them to where he had likely just been sitting during breakfast. Of course, that was assuming he had come down at all, which he must have since she would have heard elsewise. Then again, if it would keep the children out of trouble, why should he object? At least, they wouldn’t be raising a ruckus or pestering him.

“Oh, alright. If that’s the case, how about we do something different today?” The redhead smiled between Sophia and Imogen. There wasn’t a soul for miles who hadn’t heard Amarinda’s declaration. She was tired of the same old lectures. Perhaps something new was in order? Without preamble. Bella closed the distance to the doors and pulled them open. “I’ll take it from here, Henry.” She offered not even a glance at the young duchess until he had gone. “I can understand wanting a change, but that’s no reason to be mean or disrespectful, Amarinda. Henry and Imogen and Landon are stuck, too, and their lives are dedicated to serving you three and His Highness. It’s not fair to treat them like that.” Clasping her hands behind her, Bella turned to the girl who ought to have been about her own age. “C’mon. I’ll be helping with your lessons, today. It’ll be fun.”

Henry's dreadful face lit up at the sight of the redhead, yet quick he was to firmly maintain control and authority of the situation, along with the lack thereof, "Absolutely not, Miss Montagne, this is none of your concern." Henry's stance remained unyielding, albeit not unsusceptible to gentle persuasion, "Henry," Imogen's lofty voice chimed in, the same one that always gave the housekeeper her way with the stubborn knight, she even placed a hand on his steel clad shoulder for good measure, "You should check on Landon, he seemed upset earlier. I think somethings bothering him." At once the burly mans austere composure melted away. He hesitated to look Imogen in the eye knowing full well there would be no denying her then, yet also knowing the effort was in vain and would make no difference. Henry submitted and turned for the door without a word.



A cat seemed to have grabbed Amarinda by the tongue all of a sudden, she sat quiet and curiously at the grand table watching as Bella came to the knights aid with Imogen and Sophia on her trail, almost amused by the sight. Only when Bella invited the young duchess to be lectured by both a housekeeper and, for all intents and purposes, a stranger from the woods, did Amarinda finally scoff at the forge house maiden, "Oh, what a superb curriculum! Will you teach us to wander around in our pajamas, or will we all get lost collecting firewood instead? Perhaps you'll tell us what its like to sleep all day and flirt with a prince!" A sharp scowl escaped Imogen's throat as she crossed towards the young duchess so as not to raise her voice, "Amarinda! How could you speak so detestably to Bella? You owe her a great debt, as do we all!" Unsatisfied, Amarinda ignored Imogen and kept her eyes trained on Bella's, "Have you any clue who you're speaking to, girl?! Do you know how old I am?! You are sorely mistaken and a fool to think I've any wisdom to gain from your meandering through the forest and playing dress up in my families castle!"

"Oh-you're so...incorrigible! You will cease this behavior, now!" Imogen strictly ordered to no avail, only further aggravating Amarinda and tossing firewood into the flames of her tirade, "And YOU! I am sick of you the most! What makes you think you can order ME anymore?! You are at my service, you're not even my bloody governess, she's dead! You're just a MAID!"
"Amarinda..."
Imogen muttered, her voice wavered and her skin grew pale, looking as if she had seen a ghost. Amarinda swiftly noticed, stood up and drew in a breath and held Imogen's gaze fast with narrowed, deprecating eyes and spoke in calmer tone, albeit no less ruthless, "I'm not daft, woman. This isn't even about Sophia, Tobias or me, especially not me, I can take care of myself just fine. This is about you, you've nothing better to do other than play teacher and student, I will play a part in this perverted diversion of yours no more!"

The young duchess clenched her fists whilst stepping right up to Imogen to be heard loud and clear, "You think you're the only one here who's lost something? Look around you! Does this table look empty to you, or are you stuck in a sick loop? Do you take the three of us as fools? I know you're a widow, we all know that poor soul was here with us that night, but he's not here now. Pretending to be someone you're not won't change the fact your bloody husband is never coming back!"

From the kitchen door to the stairs that lead to the east wings upper floors did the assault of Imogen's right palm across Amarinda's pale frail cheek echo through the dining hall, instantly followed by the young duchess's shrill cry of pain as she stumbled backwards, then finally a pensive silence. Both assailant and victim looked as horrified as the other whilst holding each others gaze, tears swelling in both of their eyes, neither one believing the young duchess had just been struck upon the face.

Imogen's arm hung briefly in the air, frozen post strike until finally receding against her chest, the top of her right hand curling into her other palm. She felt simply mortified, yet could not discern whether it was Amarinda's vile words or the action they provoked that left a sickly feeling in her. Regardless, her face grew hot and tears spilled down her cheeks, she drew in a sharp breath as Amarinda reeled backwards against the wall, caressing the red mark on her face before finally bursting into sniveling snobs and sliding down onto the marble floor. "Mmmm-mama! Mommy!" wailed the young duchess, despite her bold claims that she could take care of herself. On the contrary, she sat sniveling, calling for someone who was surely never coming back, and this sent Imogen scurrying for the door, brushing passed Bella and Sophia, eyes glued to the floor as she aimlessly left the dining hall.
 
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Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
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  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
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  2. Primarily Prefer Female
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Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png

The kind and composed demeanor Bella addressed the young duchess with was shattered, albeit not by her scathing deprecation. It was a single accusation that broke the habitual smile and shocked her out of even assuming her practiced air of detachment. Amber eyes widened, a thin line appeared between her brows; she looked affronted. Is that what Amarinda thought, that she was flirting with the prince during all the hours she spent with him?

"'Flirt?' I do not flirt with Jaron! Why would I?! Of course, he is handsome - but I'm not even worth his time!" Anger and disgust, offense and disbelief passed over her face like shadows in quick succession. She and Jaron were just friends, nothing more. They could never be more, even if her family was still wealthy. He was a prince and his very blood demanded that he should have someone of equal standing. Bella knew a moment of panic as her stomach panged almost painfully. Who else thought that? She recalled the question Sophie posed to her in the dressing room: "Do you love my brother?"

The rising tide of horror in Bella's gut ultimately didn't get the opportunity to crash over her. Another of Amarinda's remarks seeped into her overthought, diverting her attention. How old? The redhead blinked, scanned the brunette with a sweep of her gaze up and down. If she had to guess, she would have said that the girl was in her early to mid-teens. What did her age have to do with anything, though? There wasn't time to contemplate it between the child's vitriol and Imogen's rebuke. It happened so fast, Bella was left reeling.

Imogen's hand met Amarinda's face with surprising force, filling the dining hall with the sound of flesh hitting flesh. In that great room, it seemed to echo, drowning out even the sharp breath Bella drew in between her teeth. Never in her life had she been struck out of heat, as such, it was equally horrible to experience it happening to someone else. It was inconceivable that such a gentle soul as the excitable housekeeper could do such a thing! Yet she had, right before the maiden's own eyes. Her heart wrenched to see their tears, for Amarinda's forlorn wailing, for Imogen's pain and horror. Bella turned, mouth open to call the maid back; although, no sound left her throat. With a glance at Sophia, she moved to sit against the wall next to her sister's sobbing cousin.

"That was a wicked thing, Amarinda, to say something so hurtful to Imogen." Bella's arms slid around the girl's shoulders, pulled her into Bella's chest. "All of you have experienced a terrible loss that no one should ever have to live with, not just Imogen or you. Everyone copes with loss in different ways and you're both hurting. Don't let that tear you apart, let it bring you together. You don't have to hurt alone." One hand stroked the child's dark hair as she spoke, the other caressed her back. "Imogen can't replace your mother or your governess, but she cares about you - not just Sophia or Tobias, all three of you. She wants what's best for you, even if you don't see it. She was wrong to strike you and you were wrong to say those things. She may be a maid, but you owe her respect as your elder. There's never a reason to treat someone cruelly."

"It will be alright, in time." The words were soft as her touch, nearly swallowed by the new silence that pressed around them. Sitting with Amarinda took Bella back in time, to the days when a pair of loving arms held her the same. Almost absently, she hummed, then the words tumbled forth, spoken at first then sung. It was something said to her once in her childhood that she thought, hoped, might help the young one understand. Setting Amarinda upright as the song reached its end, Bella swiped her tears away with her fingers, careful of her red cheek, and smiled sympathetically. "Come now, you and Imogen need to talk. You can't leave such a wound between you unredressed." She stood, helped the girl to her feet, and gently ushered her the way Imogen had gone.
 
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A hush unlike the stillness of a typical day inside Inverness enveloped the dining hall, carrying Amarinda's meek whimpering as far across the grand table as it could reach. Bella's effort to console the young duchess sufficed to lull the sobs and sniveling and for a moment she seemed to have Amarinda under control. Could the forge house maiden see the girl was so heartsore she cared not who consoled her nor what Bella had to say? Suddenly, the young duchess brushed Bella off and stepped aside, "No, I'll not speak to her! I-I just want to lie down." Amarinda querulously declared, and thus made it rather difficult to tell whether the wisdom in Bella's song had been ignored or acknowledged. She held both hands against her red cheek, ready to burst into tears again at any moment. It wasn't quite obvious, but she was beginning to hold her tongue and tried not to berate the housekeeper further.

Finally Tobias, who was nearly invisible, stood up from his seat at the grand table. He shot a glance first at Sophia who returned his quiet gaze with her own. It was the children's unspoken way of communicating, not often put into practice. Sophia read the boy's cue and they approached Amarinda together, "We'll find you a sofa to lay on." Tobias offered casually. Amarinda glanced at her cousins, first Tobias, then Sophia, and began to relax. She was the first to start for the door. Sophia quickly turned round to steal a glance at Bella, mouth agape with a puzzled look about her, unsure what to expect and whether she ought to say something to her sister. As Sophia watched Landon poke his head into the hall from the kitchen door, she took it as a sign and dashed out of the hall to catch up with her cousins.


"Where did they go?" Landon asked the redhead bemusedly. "What happened? Imogen is hysterical." He focused intently on Bella, giving her his undivided attention. "Oh, dear." The chipper, wise-cracking chef found no humor to be spun from Bella's explanation. He offered no quick witted quips, no sarcastic remarks. The man simply stood across Bella crestfallen and speechless. Before he even stepped foot inside the dining hall, Henry's hefty steps could be heard from the kitchen. He rushed into the hall sternly demanding answers. "What happened, what did the child do!" Landon was uncertain whether there was a guilty party worthy of discipline. "Bella, could you check on Imogen for me?" He asked, seeing as a passionate Henry with a soft spot for Imogen may not be ideal for exercising justice, the blonde decided to keep an eye on him.

Just a short walk from the kitchen, visible from the grand dining hall's tall row of windows, Imogen sat upon a marble bench, identical to those in the rose garden she overlooked. She fiddled with a ring she never wore, twirling it between each of her fingers and thumbs, then gazed at the approaching copper haired maiden, staring deeply into the amber hue of her irises, telling Bella many things whilst saying nothing, it was written all over the wrinkles on her forehead and her glossy tear pooled eyes. Only when Imogen began to speak did she look back down at her ring.
"I didn't mean to, I would never lay a hand on the children." She was calmer than Landon had described, however there was no mistaking the housekeeper was absolutely devastated. "I would never." She repeated, at a loss of words it seemed. No, a glint in her eye flashed as she turned her focus back to Bella, "Why are you still here, Bella? Why don't you just go home? There's nothing here, just...nothing. You should be with your family, while you still have one..."
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png

"Alright, alright. I won't force you." Bella conceded, hands raised in surrender albeit there was nothing really to surrender to. It was more or less that she simply wished to demonstrate that she didn't intend to push the girl beyond her comfort zone. If Amarinda wasn't yet ready to speak to Imogen, very well then, she was certainly free to wait until such time. An attempt was made in the right direction and that was some sort of progress in her book. At least, the child was more or less calm now. All that remained was the housekeeper.

"Go rest." Her hand left the young duchess's shoulder blade as she sauntered after Tobias. For a moment, Bella's eyes lingered on her, dropping to Sophie's nonplussed expression. Her waning smile lifted at one corner of her lips, just in time for the little redhead to see before taking off after her cousins. Turning finally to Landon, Bella entered the kitchen, divulging to him the tragically avoidable event she bore witness to. She didn't try to hide her shock or the sorrow she felt on behalf of the two castle residents. Each were both assailant and victim, equally wrong in their actions that resulted from immense hurt; yet, she couldn't bring herself to say that either one was at fault.

All the while, the copper-haired maiden watched out the kitchen window, as Imogen had just before the fight. From there, she could see the housekeeper sitting on a bench. Rather than try explaining to an upset Henry, Bella took the out that Landon presented and slipped out the door of the kitchen, slowly coming to stand beside the bench and Imogen.

"I know." Bella watched the ring turning over and over between Imogen's fingers, the morning light glancing off of its shiny surface. "You were both wrong; and in your own pain you hurt each other." She paused, opened her mouth to speak again. There was no mistaking the stab of pain in those amber eyes, brief as it was, at Imogen's words. Of course, she wanted to be home with her family. She missed them dearly; although, she didn't let herself think about them often. She smiled, an ambiguous smile that didn't reach her eyes, and held her finger to her lips. "That.. is a secret." The words held a surprising note of humor and teasing. Whether or not she was being serious was anyone's guess, but evidently she wasn't going to tell one way or the other for she changed the subject.

"I know you care about the children, but they need to know that, too. You don't need to try to be their governess or tutor or to replace what they lost. You'll only make things harder on yourself. Just be firm and kind and be there for them. They'll realize how much you care and come to appreciate it one day." Taking a seat beside Imogen on the bench, Bella looked up at the sky, memory reflected as clearly in her eyes as the clouds they observed. "Give it some time; it'll blow over. Perhaps you two can talk when you're both ready." She placed a reassuring hand on Imogen's shoulder. "Let them have today off, so things can cool down. We can resume lessons tomorrow; or if you don't feel up to it, I can try taking over for a while. Maybe they just need something different? A change of pace."
 
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strummy
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moth
Bella's answer only inspired more questions, surely such a puzzling admission was not intended to enliven her, Imogen thought. Then, how could she complain? It was her own unbridled disorder that summoned a sympathetic Bella upon her; it was more than she deserved. Imogen drew in a sharp breath and silently conceded, evident by a gentle nod as her eyes shut. "Of course, the day off, and a change of pace." She thought. Unbeknownst to both the housekeeper and the copper haired maiden, no change of pace would be implemented. The affairs of Inverness's royal denizen's demanded complete reform; perhaps a lowly housekeeper could suffice to continue fostering them, albeit one so humiliated and stricken with grief anew as Imogen was out of the question.

The sky, a dull grey blanket, seemed to sense this and began to weep for those heartsore denizens of Inverness who chose to bear their tears instead. The first patters of rain marked the afternoon's end, the sun tucked beneath a vast stretch of clouds where its deathly rays could not scorch the prince as he observed the castles surroundings behind the window. Droplets trickled down the tall glass pane of the only window with drapes drawn apart from the many a vast hallway had to offer. Jaron stood still before the window and waited. Across the hall Bella slept, separated only by her bedroom door; a few mere inches of sturdy white wood, both sides meticulously carved with simple patterns, distinguishing the work from amateur craftsmen. Patiently, Jaron stood just a handful of paces beyond the door, kept company by the fresh memory of Bella's song and the view of the castle grounds and surrounding wood.

Quietly he had listened to Amarinda's tirade, hidden behind the interior archway connecting the grand dining hall and the staircase to the upper east wing. Even still he remained as the young duchess berated Bella. How could he be angry with the girl? In her raving he heard his own voice unhinged, pouring scorn on anyone in sight, regardless of anything and merciless to no one. Perhaps being so indifferent to the children's affairs made him responsible for the young duchess's outburst, not a soul lingered for miles that was more qualified than he to oversee the children, his own blood and legacy. Instead he left them in the hands of one timorous housekeeper. Fortunately, Bella was there to soothe Amarinda's pain, just as she soothed the prince's. Finally he heard Bella pull the door handle and turned round to greet her,
"You're finally awake. I've been waiting, wanted to ask you something." Jaron appeared like a silhouette before the tall glass of the undraped window, distinct from the rest of the hallway that maintained its dimly candlelit air. The angle did well to hide the prince's weary gaze. Despite the protection rainclouds offered the prince, the sheer intensity of the sun could still be seen and felt through the vast grey veil that rained upon Inverness and surrounding wood. So long as the sun lingered above the distant horizon, it would sap him of his energy and provoke ill-tempered thoughts.

Jaron stood quietly by the window for a few brief seconds, hoping to coax Bella towards the view. He faced the glass again, peering outside, too exhausted to maintain eye contact as he spoke to her,
"I had no idea you could sing. Where did you learn to use your voice like that?" He asked blankly, yet genuinely curious. Besides the patter of raindrops, Bella's answer was met with pensive silence. Briefly the prince remained quiet, secretly taking a moment to enjoy her company. "What else can you do?" The question was posed with an air of detachment as Jaron silently wished Bella had slept a few hours longer, at least until the sun had fallen passed the horizon. He was beginning to look paler than usual, an uninviting rosy tint glimmered in his eyes.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png

The bright blue morning disappeared behind gray clouds like wet wool, turning the afternoon the color of dirty glass. The sun still stretched thin rays across the bedroom floor when Bella returned and splayed herself across the bed. With the children having some downtime, she thought to reflect upon the events of the morning, feeling strangely vulnerable. The last thing on her mind was falling asleep; however, she closed her eyes for only a moment and was instantly lost to the world for the majority of the day. Surprisingly, no one came to rouse her. Not even Sophia came to insist her sister get up and play as she had before breakfast. If they had, Bella somehow managed to sleep through it.

Her eyes opened upon the window pane, awash with rivulets of rainwater streaming down the glass. She picked her head up off her mostly numb arm and gave the room a precursory glance, cursing herself. How could she have slept so late? She gave little thought to her hunger and having missed lunch, concerned only with whether or not Jaron was well. She hadn't seen him all day. Another curse and she was up, rubbing the bleariness from her eyes and stumbling into her shoes on her way to the door.

"Oh!" The single syllable left her lips, barely more audible than a breath. The last person she expected to see lingering outside her door was the prince. Bella felt guilty at once and smiled meekly when he turned to face her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sleep so long.. or at all, really." She pulled the door closed behind her and leaned back against it, the handles jabbing into her back. He was all shadows standing before the window, limned in the glaring overcast. It lit the fine line of cheek and jaw and throat just enough for her to distinguish them in his silhouette. The light that shone past him paled her colors so that she may well have blended into the grayness. She bit the inside of her lip and moved to join him at the window.

"I suppose it kind of came with piano lessons. Some songs had words written on the sheet music, like hymns, for which singing while playing is proper. Juxtaposed like that, it was simple enough to learn." Bella shrugged bashfully, watching the vague shapes of flowers and greenery swaying in the winds that pelted rain on the glass. Had he been near enough to hear her singing to Amarinda? Engrossed in memory as she was in that moment, he could have been standing directly in front of her and gone unnoticed. Her cheeks flushed though she couldn't say why she was embarrassed. "Let's see.. well.." She named things off to herself, indicating each thing with a finger like counting. "I can play piano, sing - I suppose, bake, sew - but I don't know if that counts, and I know five waltzes. I mean, nothing special, really." She shrugged again, letting her shoulders droop. Evidently, she didn't think those were anything of significance. Her eyes timidly met Jaron's face, wondering if he was perhaps disappointed that she wasn't infinitely talented or perfect, mildly surprised at his red irises.

Had he not had any blood? Only good sense kept her from blurting out the question for she recalled how he disliked discussing the topic. She dared not offer any either, lest she offend him or chase him away. She turned casually back to the window, one hand involuntarily rubbing the other arm. Had he really waited just to ask her that or was there something else?
"Of course, feel free to ask me anything you like."
 
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marcy

strummy
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moth
"As it happens, I'd like to show you something. Come with me." The prince ordered as he started down the hall, eager to quit the sight of rolling clouds and rain. He moved briskly through the west wing, guiding Bella up a couple flights of stairs until they reached a floor unfamiliar to her. Jaron was silent until they finally approached a set of doors ajar, still he quietly gestured with his eyes for Bella to peer into the room. Amarinda lay curled upon her sumptuous bed in the dimly lit room that was her ornate bedchamber, her back to the prince and copper haired maiden.

The duchess would not typically be caught in bed so early in the evening, nor was she clad in a nightdress; even her shoes still taut upon her feet. "I should tell you," the prince began in a hushed tone, "I never speak to them, Amarinda, Sophia or Tobias. Oftentimes I'll even forget they exist. I'm their only trace of family left really, and I've abandoned them." Despite his confession, not a twinge of guilt or shame seemed to linger about Jaron or the way he spoke, albeit that familiar distant gaze of his remained as he painted himself the culpable one.

"I do feel responsible for everything that transpired this morning, and what I might have done to prevent it is still a mystery to me. I'm not fit to manage children, especially young girls. I know you and Sophia are close, and you do well looking after her. Perhaps that's another talent of yours?" Amarinda's half-lidded eyes remained fixed upon her plush blanket, trying to discern the words spoken among the quiet murmuring at her door. "You've also done well to look after me too, Bella. I should ask that you extend your good graces to Amarinda. It's the best I can do for her."
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
FOLKLORE MEMBER
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. Multiple posts per week
  3. 1-3 posts per week
  4. One post per week
  5. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Bella.png

Not even on that first day at the castle, when Bella spent from breakfast to lunch and after cleaning various places about the prince's vast estate, had she been on this floor of the west wing. There was enough first floor and ground level combined to explore; there hadn't really been a need to expand the search parameters for reading materials upward. This new territory pulled at her attention in much the same way the east wing had when she first followed Henry through it. Her first instinct was to go to the first set of doors she passed to test the handles and perhaps look inside if unlocked; however, her manners prevented her as well as her curiosity for Jaron's apparent sense of purpose in leading her there. Instead, she came to stand beside him in front of doors already partially open.

"Oh, Amarinda.." The redhead was overcome with sympathy as her eye caught sight of the young duchess. Where were Sophia and Tobias? Had they gone, out of their cousin's desire to be alone? She turned her gaze sidelong on the prince, not thinking to hide her surprise. On one hand, she could see how it would be possible for Jaron to forget when he spent so much time in isolation; although, on the other hand, she couldn't understand how he could abandon the only family he had left. Or perhaps she could understand? Why would he want to see a younger sister who so greatly resembled their late mother? Still, the children needed an authority figure, a role model. Who else was so qualified as a prince? Then again... "Well, perhaps he's not the best role model..."

Bella's lips quirked and she stole a glance at the younger girl through the crack in the doors. Amarinda's behavior was tame by comparison, but it was easy to draw the parallels between her and Jaron. The sharp tongue and scathing remarks, the unwillingness to back down, and the secret sadness. Amarinda seemed more like Jaron than his own sister. If one didn't know better, it would be an easy mistaken assumption to make. She drew in a breath, uncertain whether or not she would have the same luck with the raven-haired girl as she had thus far with Jaron; but she would try, for her sake.

"I will do my best." Wasting no time, Bella rapped softly on the door with a knuckle, opening the door only enough to slip inside. "How are you feeling?" She asked, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. "Well, I suppose I already know. Loss never gets easier to bear with each new one or hurts any less when you experience it; you just.. learn to cope with it in healthy ways. It stays with you, though over time the tears will stop and you start to look back on memories of the ones you lost with fondness rather than pain." Her eyes found a spot on the floor to transfix upon, though they were distant. "But you have to confront your feelings first. Be angry, cry - you're allowed to feel and no one can take that away from you, but don't hold onto the pain. If you do, you'll end up pushing away everyone that cares about you." Bella turned a sympathetic smile on the girl.


"Here, your hair is coming undone. Let me fix it for you." She guided Amarinda up, leading her to sit at the dressing table. Her hair was longer than Bella imagined, albeit such was difficult to determine when she always wore it up. It was thick and luxuriant as it was dark, framing her pale face with stark yet lovely contrast. "My, what gorgeous hair! You should wear it down, it suits you so well." Bella breathed, running a brush through said locks with the care she might use to weave with spider silk. She considered Amarinda in the mirror a moment. "Of course, I can understand why you wear it up... How about a braid?" Nothing more was said until the deed was done, Amarinda's hair intricately and meticulously plaited. "Very pretty!" She grinned, laying the thick braid over the girl's shoulder to accentuate the line of neck and shoulder. "Would you like to come down and have some tea?"
 
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marcy

strummy
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Amarinda continued to lay still and quiet, feigning indifference to Bella's company. The concern in Bella's voice alone was enough to soothe the girl, vulnerable and exhausted as she was. The young duchess sat up, drawn by the warmth in Bella's smile, the kindness in the copper hair maidens words resonated behind Amarinda's steel irises. Their wisdom was profound, but surely alone it could not lift the orphaned girls pain? And yet Bella inspired such a blissful solace in Amarinda, the young duchess felt she had found something in Bella, altogether oblivious she had ever been looking for it. Was that something a friend, an older sister perhaps? She didn't know or care and simply wanted as much of it as there was to have.

Amarinda blinked thrice, distracted by an unfamiliar warmness in her chest.
"My hair? O-kay." Bella reached forward as the duchess unreluctantly scooted to the edge of her bed. Amarinda sat speechless at her vanity, quietly nodding at Bella's proposal. She stared downward in the mean time, glossy eyes hidden beneath dim light as she focused on every gentle twist and tug of her hair. Bella's tenderhearted compliment finally evoked an unshakable catharsis; Amarinda's eyes shone like glass as she met Bella's amber gaze, tears swelling and ready to overflow onto her cheeks. "Be angry, cry - you're allowed to feel." The young girl recalled, bashfully looking away as she bat at the tears in her eyes with the collar of the very dress she wore, mumbling quietly to herself. "I'm not angry." She thought out loud, looked to Bella again and smiled, then happily consented to tea.

"Ah, splendid work, Bella!" Landon opined regarding Amarinda's braids. "I always thought it was a shame to see you bundling up that beautiful hair all the time." The young duchess smiled meekly as Sophia hummed and skipped into the kitchen, instantly mesmerized by Amarinda's splendid braids, eyes wide and mouth agape as she came to a halt. "Ooh, pretty! How'd you do that?" Sophia frowned, her young yet sharp brain quick to deduce the culprit that neglected to include the princess in the spontaneous makeover. A glance at Bella and she was all of a sudden smiles and sweetness, not hesitating to ask, "Can I have fancy hair too?"

Sophia sat patiently in-between dregs of the minty green tea Landon prepared. She remained that way until her head was as stylish and sophisticated as her cousins. "You look beautiful," Amarinda told her meekly, sitting across the princess at the kitchen table, grinning ever so slightly, not an ounce of condescending sarcasm lingering about the girl. "Huh? Have you hit your head?" Sophia asked, blatantly perplexed, then sighed and turned to Bella, "I always knew fancy hair made people weird." Amarinda took no offense to the remarks. No, quite the contrary, she found them amusing and began to titter behind her teacup. "Huh, if fancy hair makes Sophie more tolerable, I should grow mine out.." Landon mused from the island as he stared at the light reflecting off his tea, a typical witty smirk plastered on his face. Even the prince, who lingered out of sight around the corner of the kitchens open doors, arms crossed and shoulder leaning against the wall, almost felt a semblance of amusement. It was marked by a slight twitch of his mouth; he quickly pursed his lips, perhaps to quell a grin? Jaron lingered a moment longer before making his way back to the reclusive den where Bella joined him for tea and cake two nights prior.
 
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