by jennifer broughton
visuals by rhoda
catherine made her way slowly and without incident down the corridor to the end of the east wing. she turned the handle of the door on the left and it opened easlly and noiselessly. the room was filled with a large four poster bed and a ladies dressing table.
the dressing table and its accoutrements looked very grand indeed for a ladies maid, but from the size of the room - and its location, in the topmost corner of the house - catherine judged it to indeed be aurelie's.
a small fireplace looked dangerously close to the four poster, and in any case catherine was not inclined to the labor of building a fire.
rain was now coming down harder and the wind was lashing it against the single small four-paned window.
catherine lay back on the side of the big bed and looked up at the canopy. it had a shadow or stain on it that seemed to take the form of a wolf.
as she did not care for wolves, she turned over on her side, and as she did so, she noticed a piece of pink paper or envelope sticking out from between the edge of the blanket and the floor. she reached over to retrieve it.
it was indeed a pink envelope, opened but with a letter still inside. the envelope was addressed in blue ink, in a very elegant handwriting, to madame pauline percival, mistress of malvern, etc. as catherine was alone, she had no hesitation in opening the enclosed letter.
it was in blue ink on cream colored paper in the same elegant handwriting. what sort of person, catherine wondered, puts cream colored paper in a pink envelope?
but this question faded from her mind as she perused the contents.
my dearest pauline -
so you are mistress of malvern at last! it would seem that your endless plotting and infinitely arcane machinations have borne finally fruit. had lucifer shown one half of your determination surely he would be master of heaven today. but , my dear, i can not forbear asking you, have you in fact found true happiness?
catherine yawned. could the wretched creature she had glimpsed in the kitchen possibly be the diabolical "pauline" referenced in the letter? and what was a letter addressed to the mistress doing on the floor of the maid's room? she let the letter slip from her hand and back on to the floor , whence she did not bother to pick it up. the pattering of the rain began to make her drowsy...
she was the wing of a green dragon flying over a castle on a mountain crag in the middle of a dark rock-strewn plain ...
the last defenses were crumbling. the four princesses - alambo, iana, alome and blue star - had gathered in the chapel in the topmost floor of the castle.
a few surly soldiers in dust spattered uniforms stood between the windows of the chapel and the scarred battlements overlooking the plain. the soldiers were laughing among themselves and glancing back at the chapel. one rawboned fellow, a little less starved looking than his companions, stepped forward and made a ribald comment that brought a blush of fury to the cheeks of madamoiselle yolange, the princesses' governess, who stood between them and the window.
"back to your post, fellow," cried mademoiselle. "and don't be spying on your betters!" the four princesses shrunk back although one, blue star, managed a half hearted glare at the miscreant.
"and would it be you, mum, to send me there?," he responded with a growling laugh. he looked up at the sky and the green dragon circling overhead. "it seems to me one spot down here is the same as another, to big bird up there as well as us. he's not asking our leave to climb the walls, is he?"
even as he spoke the green dragon was joined by another, whose purple wings and body flashed in the darkness.
"is that for you to decide?" mademoiselle demanded. she stepped out of the chapel on to the roof of the castle. "where are your officers'?"
"why i do believe they all be dead, mum."
"your grammar is as ill-gotten as your personage!" cried alambo from inside the chapel. iana grabbed her arm and tried to shush her, but the soldier was ignoring her.
"you must not have been paying attention," he went on to mademoiselle. "what with the dragons, the flaming pitch and the enemy arrows there be only festus, towser and myself left. it seems to me we done quite enough duty, ain't we, chums? last man, last arrow, all that sort of thing."
festus and towser glanced nervously at each other and up at the circling dragons.
"enough of your insolence and your unsightly grammar," the governess answered. "there are - not be - opportunities still to do your sworn duty. you can begin by getting the princesses some water."
but the soldier laughed at her. "how can grammar be unsightly, mum? i asks you, now. yes, we might risk life and limb to get the princesses their water - after we have had our fun with them, ain't that right, lads?"
mademoiselle yolange's voice trembled. "you talk of fun in the face of eternity? you have arrows left - why do you not loose them? one or two well placed missiles might still bring these monsters down."
"but there still be the devil's army down below. no, mum, the game is up. fate is not with us this day." the soldier leered and moved a step closer to her.
"i beseech you - be true to the end! be true to the end and i promise you good saint harry himself will welcome you into the gates of heaven!"
"oh you beseeches me, does yer? well, good st harry may or may not be in heaven, but i am still here on earth for a little while, and i see some tasty little morsels on my plate. and i means to have them."
the young man he had addressed as towser looked on in terrified bewilderment. in the days and nights of the siege he had developed an unspoken but pure passion for the princess alome, and had sworn in his heart to serve and protect her to the end. the sudden mutiny of sergeant iango - whom he had considered a loyal soldier and good mate - unsettled him as nothing in the siege had.
"why - why don't we get some water, sergeant?" he managed to gasp.
"water! why not your mother's tears, you squalling lamb?"
but the conversation was cut short by the green dragon, which descended suddenly and with its wing - which was catherine - swept the sergeant, towser and festus, and mademoiselle yolange all off the castle roof and screaming into the air.
the four princesses rushed out of the chapel.
catherine stood before them at the edge of the roof. they looked into her one eye.
catherine woke up. someone was knocking on the door of aurelie's room.
"come in," she called, instantly awake.
the door opened and a small person in a housemaid's uniform entered, her face concealed behind a stack of neatly folded blankets. she put them down on the bed and catherine saw a young woman who might have been her own twin, but with red hair and two eyes.
"so," the girl said. "you must be aurelie's new plaything."
it was the second time catherine had been called aurelie's plaything to her face, but she judged it politic not to box the offender's ears.
"just leave what you have to leave," she replied in what she intended as a mild voice, but which came out a little sharply.
"ooh. no need to get your fur in a ball, puss." the girl put one fist on her hip and looked past catherine out the window. she seemed in no hurry to leave.
"aurelie is letting me stay here, until the weather improves."
"yes, when england turns into india. aurelie has always used the wind and rain as her accomplices in wickedness." she lowered her voice. "i know."
'yes indeed. what is your name?" the girl sat down on the bed.
"i'm daisy. shall we be chums?"
"perhaps. will you bring me some tea?"