GENRE: YA Fantasy/Romance
Agony shooting through every limb. Noiseless screams in her throat. She fainted to escape a pain that would otherwise drive her mad. She woke, still stiff with pain, and realized with rising horror what she had become. And wished that she had gone mad rather than face this.
She fled the world of humans, no longer one of them. After a year of blind and hopeless wandering, she came upon the forest, a secluded place where the Other World was very close. She ended her journey there.
For the first few years she searched and struggled for a way to restore her former self. Fruitless. Sometimes disastrous, wracking her with worse pain and endangering her life. Eventually she gave up on that as well.
She gave up on everything but bitterness.
Everything changed on the seventeenth day.
The day began like any other, when Alain came downstairs to discover he was nearly alone in the house. There was only Gustav, polishing the silver in the kitchen, and Maria, on her way out to the market to purchase the roast for tonight's dinner.
"Master Nicolaus has gone to call on Sir Charles," Gustave informed Alain as he examined a piece of cutlery. From his tone he might as well have added, And his daughter.
"And Father and Henri?" Alain asked. They would have gone somewhere together; they always did. Henri didn't trust their father to make business decisions without him, believing him an over-lenient creditor and the most gullible of bargainers.
"They have gone to the riverport." Gustav looked up from the silver. "Would you like something for breakfast, sir? I might remind you that you neglected to eat yesterday morning."
"Oh." Alain glanced about the kitchen. He hadn't meant to miss breakfast; he never did, but sometimes a book drew him in so fully that when he finally sighed and shut the cover, he found that the morning had passed. Today he had been puzzling out a passage on the qualities of courage in Hutton's "On Virtue."
His brothers teased him mercilessly that he could be so absent-minded, so removed from the real world. Maybe when he left and began his studies at the university, he would finally find others who didn't think this was odd. Seventeen more days.
Gustav cleared his throat. "Oh," Alain said again, apologetic. Speaking of absent-minded. "I'll just have bread and jam."
"Hm." Gustav could express his disapproval very eloquently in brief noises. Nevertheless, he prepared a plate of sliced bread with a square of butter and a bowl of jam, as carefully arranged as if it were a seven course meal. Alain thanked him and ate at the small wooden table in the kitchen, something else Gustav disapproved of. Silly, when he could see it was the most convenient place. Alain had started on a second slice when there came a knock from the front door.
Gustave put down his polishing rag with a sigh. Alain stopped him. "Don't worry about it. I'll answer it."
"Hm. If it pleases you, sir."
Alain pushed back his chair and left the kitchen. On his way down the corridor the knock sounded again, an insistent rap.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," Alain murmured. What could be so urgent at this time of day? He came to the door and pulled it open.
He was greeted with the sight of de Montmercy, one of Father's clerks, in a state of high agitation. His clothing was in disarray as if he had dressed in a hurry, his wispy graying hair strayed about everywhere, and his eyes appeared ready to pop from his head.
"Is your father here?" he asked breathlessly, and hurried inside without waiting for an answer.
"Wh- no, not at the moment," Alain said. "He and Henri are at the riverport; I expect they'll be back before noontime."
De Montmercy paced the front hall, his shoes clacking furiously against the tile. "I must speak with him as soon as he returns. It is a matter...most urgent...quite unexpected...a serious matter indeed..."
Alain shut the front door, thoroughly alarmed now. "What in the world has happened?"
A headshake sent the wispy hair flying. "No, no, this is a matter for your father to hear first. Might I wait here for his return?"
"Yes, of course." Alain swallowed the dread that was rising in his throat and directed de Montmercy toward the study. "Please, make yourself comfortable. I'll send my father in as soon as he returns."