B.O.S.S. — Evil Stepmother

Here’s a brand spanking new story starring a new Protagonist.   Hope you enjoy it.

birdcage

Is the cage real? …or merely perceived?

 

I hate the color pink, and yet I find myself surrounded by it.   Even worse, I find myself drawn to the color.   It denotes weakness and pride.  A consuming self loathing lingers about anything and everything that is unfortunate enough to covered in it.

Skin most of all.  Why couldn’t I be born a stronger color, like a rich green or even a royal purple.   The message would be so clear and profound.   People might fear me, but fear would be better than reverence discolored by envy and spite.

The closet is such a terrible hiding spot.   It would only last for minutes, until the smell set in.  There had been the small joy of discovery, the fleeting moments of shock and surprise.

A knock at the door disrupts my thoughts.

“Tess?” The voice of my ‘mother’ comes from the other side.   I stand from my bed and straighten my dreadful pink dress, one she picked out for me.

“Your grace, if you would give me a moment.” I call out to her.

“Of course.   Take all the time you need.” I do not need to see Lady Demitra to have a clear image of her look of false concern.   She will stand, hands folded, outside my door waiting like a coiled snake.    She has no need to be insistent, as she has her claws kneaded firmly into my father’s favors.

I tighten my hands into clenched fists, claiming two fistfuls of the frilly fabric of my dress.  How irritating that she so quickly won the heart of my father, the nobility, and the people of the nation.

I sit in silence, buying time I don’t need.   Hopefully the nature of her visit would be unimportant,  merely lording over me in her smug manner and seeing to it that I am disposed of properly when the time came.

“Come in.” I said, finally.

Lady Demitra strides into the room wearing her irritating smile.   Her purple finery amplified her natural beauty.   Long raven hair, sharp green eyes and a figure any woman would kill to have, me included.   I had always been all knees and elbows.   At the tender age of seventeen, I had no hope of being anything more than a gangly disappointment of a princess.

My hand tenses against the fabric of my dress again.   Demitra is common born, a witch born in the woods to the north.   Perhaps there lies the blame.   Only in tales and song would one ready about glamorously gorgeous princesses and queens.   Well that and this harlot that seduced father into taking her as his queen.

“Tess.   Are you well?   You’ve been in your room all day?” Demitra stands, folding her hand, patient and benevolent.

“I am fine, your grace.   I simply needed some quiet time,” I say.

“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that.” Demitra’s false smile fades.  “I understand you might feel odd calling me mother, but at least call me by name.  If I cannot be your mother, please allow me to be a friend.”

“I would like that,” I say with a gentle smile.   My stomach churns against it though, she only seeks to have me drop my guard so I would be an ingredient in her soup.

“Do you mind if I do your hair as we speak?   I had some things I wanted to run past you.” Demitra approaches, waving a elegant hand.

I only nod.  I turn quietly and let her butcher my hair as she wishes.

She sits behind me and draws her hand across my auburn hair.

“I do wish you’d take better care of your hair.” Demitra plucks a comb from my dresser and gently works through it.

This comment is particularly irritating, as I have spent no less than an hour on it, taming my curls to no avail.   But I say nothing.

“It’s such a lovely shade.   If you’d like I could come every morning and do it for you.”

“I can do it myself.   I don’t want to bother you on it,” I say, “You must be very busy with your duties and all.”

“Oh please Tess.   If I can’t make time for you.   Who can I make time for?” He free hand rests on my shoulder.   “Oh my, you’re so skinny.   Are you eating properly?

Soup I tell you.  I tense against her touch.

“Yes your gr–  I mean Demitra.” I say the last part with gritted teeth.

“See?   Is that so hard?” She continues to work at my hair.

Yes.   It is.

“So I have some concerns regarding the unsettling rumors going around the castle.” Demitra maintains her pleasant tone.   “Something about you being cursed?”

“I don’t know any of the details,” I say, “Someone explained it to me that a hex was placed on me as a baby.   Likely from some filthy forest wi–.”

I bring a hand to my mouth.

Demitra merely laughs.   “No offense taken.   I understand that many of our order can be seen as extreme.   But only a few of us are misguided.   It makes the rest of us look bad.”

I narrow my eyes.   I think I would prefer if she had been offended.

“I’m not much of a witch myself.   I know a few beauty spells and love tinctures, but nothing malevolent.   We are taught to offset such things though… and that is what I wanted to speak to you about.

“Is that why you’re so pretty?  Spells?” I say.

“Maybe.” Demitra smiles gently.  “Your father married me on his discretion.   I politely declined his advances at first, but his persistence won me over.”

“Is that true?” I slip away from her gently and offer a skeptical look.  “How do I know that you haven’t seduced father with a spell?”

“That sort of spell is fleeting, darling.” Demitra idly taps my comb in her palm.  “It couldn’t be maintained to convince one to wed another.   Magic is something that nurtures and strengthens nature, it doesn’t mock it.  I have skepticism that you have a curse hung over you at all, but if it is true, I’d like to help.”

Or make it worse  I have a feeling you would.

“That would be lovely,” I say with a bright smile.   It almost feels genuine.

“In the mean time, let me help you in my field of expertise.” Demitra waves me back close.   Grudgingly I submit to her grooming rituals once more.  “You’re tall and thin, but that doesn’t mean you cannot be elegant.  If we are going to diffuse the illusion of this curse we need to make you glamorous.”

“That seems like making a carriage out of a pumpkin,” I say, “I’d settle for just presentable.”

“How old were you when your mother passed away.”

“Five,” I say with no hesitation.  “Since then it’s been a recurring thing…”

“Oh?” Demitra smiles humorlessly.

“Once I start calling anyone mother… they tend to die.” I clench my hand on the bedsheet.

“Oh.” Demitra falls silent.  “Perhaps calling me by my name is best then.”

“I could always resume calling you ‘my grace’.   It does fit your station after all,” I say, relaxing a bit.

“That won’t do at all.   Even if it means the risk of death.   If you need to call me mother I will endure that risk.” Demitra gives me a firm pat on the shoulder.

“That means a great deal to me.”  I smile, genuinely.

Demitra stands and walks towards my closet.   I find myself distracted, thinking of possible fates for Lady Demitra.   My natural mother died in an accident.   Death by a tossed carriage wheel.   Somehow I survived unscathed, but mother died quickly and painlessly.

“I think we should have you wear a different dress today.   Maybe the blue one.” Demitra reaches for the closet, but hesitates.  “Oh.   Wait.   We should pick the jewelry first.”

I watch her quietly.

My first step-mother died in a fire that broke out in the kitchens below her quarters.   Technically she died from smoke inhalation, but there had not been enough of her left to fill a pail once the fires had their way with her.

Demitra holds up fine silver jewelry.   She gravitates to the necklace I find the absolutely most hideous.   And as mockery, alternates between my favorite choker and it.   Almost as if she intentionally wishes to see to my discomfort.

My second stepmother died by hanging.   She fell out a window and tangled on curtains.   Unlike the first, it had been a long and drawn out death.   Ten servants watched in horror as her life had been squeezed out of her.

Demitra carried the silver necklace back to the closet with a content look.   She reached for the door handle and I realize the folly of that.  But the handle turns and the closet opens before I could draw a cognitive thought.

The limp body of by hand maiden falls forward.   Eyes glazed over in death and shifts against being hastily propped inside the standing closet.   Demitra wears a delightful moment of shock as the body began to fall forward slowly.

The body falls to the floor with a dull thud.  My expression is blank, devoid of shock.   After all, I knew she was in there.   I put here in there.

Demitra looks to me for explanation.   I do not offer one.   I avert my gaze and shake my head dolefully.   Poor girl.   She didn’t need to die.

If only she had a scrap of taste in jewelry.   She wouldn’t have needed to die.

But Demitra does not read that as such.  The curse, that is all she sees.    This poor innocent shackled with an aura of misfortune.

“I’m sorry you had to see that, Demitra,” I say, “I would have preferred you stay close to me… as a friend, or a mother.”

Demitra’s eyes hardened, taking in the body of the girl.   Fifteen years of age and more beautiful than I would ever be.   Or rather she was more beautiful… before she had become a corpse.

“N..no.” Demitra placed two fingers to her lips.  “I’ll find a way to get to the bottom of this.   No one should have to suffer for this curse.  Mother will make everything right.”

I gape quietly.  The woman does not scream or damn her.   Instead she offers her aid.   This was new.

“Come Tess,” Demitra offers a hand towards me.  “I want you to stay close to me.   We can get help together, then… we get to work in dispelling this dreadful curse.”

I take her hand and she hurries me through the halls of the castle.  I watch her carefully and resist a smile.

Whatever her intent, I can rest assured the ‘curse’ will claim her before any real damage occurs.

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