Monday, 12 March 2012

Out From The In-Crowd

The carriage rattled to a stop below, door opened at once by a cloaked figure with regal precision, allowing a stream of excitable human flowers of youth to step out into the foggy darkness, blinking with nervous awe up at the imposing castle Skaersjborg, for once alight with inviting warmth from many burning torches and luxurious carpeted pathway that rolled right to their slippered feet. This was a rare occasion for the castle and the human villages that surrounded it, an esteemed gathering, celebration of some chosen passage of the moon or sun, the ever guiding influences of the northern most tip of the world. Tonight was the Festival of Everlasting Night, for the sun had begun its half year hibernation from the expanse of ice planes and the small pockets of dense forest that adorned the mountains of the valleys that sheilded them. And now for six long months only the faint glow of the low hung moon and the flicker of many a candle would light the way of those too rightfully wary of following pathways now shrouded in darkness.

Amidst playful giggles and last moment checking of blushed cheeks and rouged lips in reflection of discreet looking glasses, the small crowd ascended the grand staircase, each vying for the attention of their roguish hooded greeter as he scattered them with careful compliments and promises of an evening to remember. But Blaze had seen enough already and let the rich velvet curtain fall back to obscure the view from her high tower window. Foolish humans, she thought sadly to herself, delighting in the attention of their mysterious hosts, lapping up their momentary sense of importance for they had something that each occupant of the castle wanted and for now that made them worthy of luxury and royal treatment.

As she turned from the window with a sigh an icy grasp on her mind made her freeze on the spot as it held her a moment. “Yes I come” she muttered to herself as she checked her own reflection in the long gilded looking glass. She looked of course beautiful as she ought to; raven hair spun like silk flowing to her waist that framed her face and bare shoulders in all their milky glory. Yet she could see, as they all could, those rosy inclinations, ones that made her different, lesser, unworthy in the eyes of most. Her piercing blue gaze cut like glass as she glared at herself in confusion, watching the way her dark skirts clung to her youthful curves. Her scrutiny was broken by a stern and impatient rap at the door. Fumbling with her necklace she moved to open it “Yes...I know!” she snapped looking up into the equally piercing eyes of her page. Merrick smirked slightly and gave a somewhat mocking bow, over flourished and cocky “Our Majesty summons your presence Milady” he replied standing straight and stepping to the side a little so she may pass, leaning against the wall as if he was already bored.

Fixing the clasp and setting the pendant perfectly between the curve of her breasts, as she knew would be expected and looked for, she sailed past him with what she hoped was a regal arrogance to mask her insecurities. She knew he was paid to watch her behaviour and report back to her uncle. She felt his eyes leer at her as she moved to the top of the winding stone stairs, feeling disgusted and yet also a small sense of satisfaction that he found her infuriatingly different. She knew he thought he had drawn the short straw with being assigned to her guard; she knew he was teased by the others of his command for having to answer to the half breed. Yet she also knew that he was given that job for he was too well liked by the queen and that stood him high in esteem regardless of the mocking he suffered for it. She knew it helped to inflate that pompous ego he kindly exhibitioned everyday that she was forced with his company.

Merrick pushed away from the wall, eager to get back downstairs where he knew Gabrielle was waiting. He followed Blaze as she wound her way down, careful not to step on the train of her dress. The others may fall about laughing if he regaled them with stories of how he sent her crashing to the stone floor below but he knew his head would be had for it also. His eyes watched as her hair swept along the base of her spine, hating how he was captivated by her and loathed her all the same. There was vulnerability about her he wanted to corrupt and yet he also knew she was feisty as well as being royal and favoured by his queen which meant he could only push his lip and his luck so far.

The noise from the festivities below began to loom in her ears as Blaze crossed the darkened courtyard and descended another flight of stairs to the central hall. Merrick stepped before her at the last moment “Remember...” he warned with a sly fanged grin “what is expected of you” he chuckled and opened the doors presenting them both with a vivid scene of grandeur. Blaze gave him a distasteful look and yet she knew he had caused the reaction he sought from her, a nervous twisting of her stomach, foreboding and discomfort.

Coming to the edge of the balcony she peered over. The hall was buzzing with activity and laughter, like a party in full swing though she felt much the outsider as she tried to hang on distantly for as long as she could get away with it. She watched as Merrick descended the sweeping staircase, still with that smirk imprinted on his handsome features. He came to the carpeted floor below and she saw him take a moment to admire the view before him. There were colours everywhere, the usually cold, sterile stone hall was adorned in the richest fabrics, swathed in rich curtains and hung with royal tapestries, Skaersjborg coat of arms emblazoned in a burst of deepest blue upon the main wall, overhung as a grand and imposing backdrop to the royal thrones. Long heavy oak tables sat in strategic parallel shape, weighed heavily with silver platters piled high with the most exotic of foods, lush fruit from the east and sugary treats baked and brought in from the village confectioner who must have worked night and day for a week at least to meet such demand. Flagons of rich red wine and decanters of amber infused spirits could be found in abundance, in various states of draining as the alcohol ran freely and topped up the moment last sip was taken.

With wine flowing came inhibitions dropping and as her eyes swept the room, Blaze noted how the mood was changing. The vampires of the castle slipped easily between the guests, conversing, laughing, some even dancing to the music that seemed to come echoing from nowhere. All about were delighted faces, young gullible humans lapping attention from clever and manipulative creatures that held all the cards in this facade. She knew each one of her kin were here for a reason, to find their next pet. With increasing threats from lycans, both human and vampire became ever more wary during the twilight months. Humans kept more to their houses, travelling only in numbers for safety, not so easy to pick off by predators. This made a vampires hunt all the more difficult plus with the added threat of wolves preying on them in turn. So the best answer was to secure a healthy and better willing supply and so here under the guise of celebration was each human vetted and compared for their potential.

Some had already made their choices, teasing their chosen into the darker secluded areas of the castle, to sample what would hopefully sustain them until the sun would hang feeble once again over the land. Taking their fill and then staking their claim via use of the silver vial-like pendant that hung at each of their necks. From her high position Blaze caught one such exchange from the shadows as a bright eyed yet now pale faced male looked on in smug awe as the vial was placed about his neck by a satisfied elder like a trophy, when in reality it showed all others that he was taken. He could not have been more than sixteen years in age and seeing such made Blaze’s stomach turn.

Her mind fell to Alexander for a moment. The Prince beloved by all her kin, far away scouting lycan in their neighbouring homeland, yet even if here she knew he would be willingly partaking in this claiming ceremony and he would have had the pick of them all, for none were chosen before the Prince took his share. But as it was he was out in the field, having to hunt to survive, but still treated like a dark god for he was the sacred first born heir. She missed him immensely, yet also felt she could be more herself, hiding away in her room or sneaking out to scour the mountain peaks trying to find a fresh scene to paint or merely gaze at for hours.

She felt eyes upon her and drew her gaze to the opposite balcony. There stood the Lady Athen, her kin and Queen, dressed in all her splendour yet her majestic dark aura rolled off her in waves without the obvious royal command of her appearance.
‘There there my little darkling, no need to be nervous’ came the words in her mind as Athen smiled graciously across at her, lips pale and unmoving. Blaze dropped into a deep curtsy and immediately stepped around the balcony to her side where she kept her head bowed slightly in respect. It always made her curious that feeling of safety and yet slight intimidation she always felt from radiate from her royal elder.

Athen surveyed her with a critical yet deeply fond eye. She could sense her nieces discomfort and awkwardness with the scene in the castle that night and though she understood in far less judgemental way than would be expected of the clan elder, she also grew slightly impatient of Blaze’s reluctance. She touched her lightly in the small of the back “It is something that must be done my you not wish to enjoy the splendour?” she spoke, this time aloud. Blaze caught the eye rolling from the queen’s two accompanying guards and felt a quiet shame rise in her, hating the fact that she could not hide it so well behind her snowy complexion as the others could. “Yes of course your majesty” she replied, hearing her obvious lie made her cringe. Athen sighed feeling pity despite her impatience. “Blaze...I understand your conflict but this is something you must do to survive...but I shall make it a little easier. Go back to our room, I shall send Merrick up with a gift” she smiled and gently pushed her like a mother bird encouraging her littlest chick to be brave and take flight.

Feeling a flood of relief Blaze smiled gratefully and turned back to the doorway “thank you your majesty” she said in a humble tone, not wasting in any time before curtsying low in a flurry and pushing through the door, breaking into a quick step back in the direction of the tower. But the feelings of shame and that she was ever a disappointment followed her, catching up and threatening to trip her retreat. Picking up the heavy hem of her skirts she crossed the courtyard, moonlight shining on her trailing raven hair as the bemused but unsurprised guards from the turret tops looked down on her, tutted and shock their heads to one another. She could feel their distain but refused to look up at them, waiting till she was back in her room before she would let her emotion out. She slammed the door and slumped down at her dressing table, looking at herself for a long moment. “It’s no use!” she exclaimed to her pale sad reflection “No matter how hard I try I cannot fit in!”

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