These Wicked Revels, страница 1часть #2 серии Fairy Tale Heat
These Wicked Revels
Copyright © 2017 by Lidiya Foxglove
Cover image © 2017 AM Design Studios
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Fairy Tale Heat Series
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About the Author
On my sister’s wedding day, my mother permitted her to wear white. Alexandra had never looked so beautiful, the snowy color like a beam of light in our midst.
My mother still wore gray, and so did I. I was fourteen years old, and it was my first year fully dressed as a grown woman. I still wasn’t used to the long skirt, the high collar, the stiff corset, the long lace shawl that covered my hair.
As a child, I only knew my own limited world. I thought every princess, in every kingdom, must wear gray dresses and shawls and pray every morning and every night. I thought every princess must be forbidden from reading novels and going to the theater and the balls. But one by one, my sisters came of age, and something happened to them.
I was the youngest of the twelve of us.
In fact, I was the half-sister of the other eleven. Their mother had died. My mother had replaced her. They didn’t care for her, but they did care for me. I was four years younger than Alexandra, and sixteen years younger than Beatrice, who was the oldest—she married when I was only three. I was their darling. Growing up, there was always someone to braid my straight black hair and explain a troublesome bit of schoolwork. Always someone to exchange a private grin with when the priest droned on, and someone to laugh with when we were supposed to be sleeping.
One by one, they went away to new kingdoms, new husbands.
When Alexandra got married, I would be alone.
I grew up in a swirl of bittersweet celebrations. I carried flowers at Beatrice’s wedding when I was little. I was in the procession for Tatiana’s. I watched my older sisters marry handsome princes, and a few ugly ones too. There were only so many princes to go around. I admired their beautiful white gowns and the piles of flowers, wishing I had such beauty in my life more often. I waved their carriages goodbye, knowing I might never see them again, as they went away, scattered to kingdoms all over the realm.
As Alexandra said her goodbyes, she leaned close to me and said, “Eva, I must tell you a secret. Some day, you will understand. Listen closely, all right?”
“Never give your mask away.”
I nodded like I understood. “You mean, never let my guard down?”
“Someday you will know exactly what I mean. Have a wonderful time, but don’t get too caught up in it. But this is a secret. So just remember that.”
“Does it have anything to do with your worn-out dancing shoes?”
“Shh.” She squeezed my shoulders. “You’re too young to talk about such things. Just promise me.”
“I promise,” I said solemnly, although my interest was already piqued. Masks? Was I going to find out the secret of the worn-out dancing shoes?
“My poor little dove.” Alexandra hugged me. “I’ll miss you so much.”
But she would be glad to leave.
All my sisters were.
My mother was very religious. She was from the tiny kingdom of Ondalusia, which was isolated by mountains and somewhat behind the times. The women of Ondalusia always wore a lace shawl over their head and a demure dress. They didn’t believe it was proper to wear bright colors, and in fact, to be on the safe side, maybe it was better just to give up colors altogether. It was hard to tell the royalty from the nuns, they said. When my father married her, she imposed her ways on his kingdom. Torina was also quite small, a fairly inconsequential kingdom—to my father’s chagrin—and had changed hands more than a few times. The people were adaptable to the whims of the new queen.
It was funny to think of my mother imposing anything. She was so very quiet. She always told me to be quiet too. But silence is imposing in its own way.
I think my mother was very content in her religious devotion. I admired her, in the sense that she never wavered from her personal path. She was very small and fair and delicate. My father was certainly in love with her. Everyone said she looked like a painting, casting her huge blue eyes to the ceiling when she prayed, sometimes weeping prettily. She also had a beautiful singing voice, and she used to sing me to sleep when I was a little girl.
Maybe that was where I came to my love of music. From a young age, music called to me. But it wasn’t just my ears that took delight in the church organ. The music went straight to my feet.
I dreamed of dancing, even though I knew it was an indulgent sin.
My mother didn’t go to the balls, and we were all strictly forbidden. If we dared to sneak down to the ballroom, just to catch a glimpse, she would lash us and make us pray for forgiveness. The only reason my father the king held balls, she said, was because the court—the decadent, corrupt court!—expected them, and Father had to keep them happy. She said that dances were something that the faeries had started, a long time ago, as a way to woo and ‘indoctrinate’ human girls.
But something curious happened to each of my sisters, when they reached their eighteenth birthday. Every morning, their slippers would be worn out as if they had danced the night away. Their door was locked; guards posted outside…nothing made a difference.
My mother would question them, and they denied everything. She could never find anyone who had seen them at the ball. And yet, without fail, the worn shoes kept appearing.
She started obsessing over it until my father offered rewards to any man who could figure out what happened to his daughters’ shoes. First it was a horse from the royal stables, and then it was gold and then more gold.
But no one ever figured it out.
My sisters never answered my questions, although I couldn’t help but notice that they seemed happier when their shoes were worn out. They glowed with an inner light, as if they had seen something marvelous.
Where were they going?
Sure enough, when I turned eighteen, the invitation came the very next day following my birthday. I had just put my head down on the pillow when I felt something stiff inside the pillowcase.
I reached inside and found an envelope, sealed with wax that bore a picture of a harp.
It was not a small envelope either. How had I not noticed the imprint of it even before I put my head down? How had the chambermaids not noticed when they made my bed?
It was as if the envelope had appeared out of nowhere. Magic.
I carefully slid my thumb beneath the seal.
Are you content, trapped within the walls of your castle? Do you ever wonder what it might be like to dance the night away to wild song, to hear drums th
If you do not, then toss this letter in the fire.
If you do, then join us! These wicked revels are meant for girls such as you. Leave the letter under your pillow and wear your slippers when you come to bed tomorrow. The gate shall open at midnight.
—The King of the Revels
I glanced over my shoulder, masking my excitement with my most proper face. This must be it. This was my invitation and tomorrow night I would find out where my sisters had gone to wear out their shoes.
I sobered. I was the only blood daughter of my mother. She wouldn’t like this at all. In fact, it might break her heart, for me to disappoint her like this. If I was a dutiful daughter, I should give her the letter and confess.
Drums that pound in time with the beat of my heart…
Even the phrase itself was like poetry. It was what I dreamed of, to lose myself in music…
With a man’s warm embrace?
I had never considered that. My mother had kept me well away from young men, kept me innocent. I had never dared to think of an embrace. It was hard to even imagine anyone embracing me. When I was dressed in my stiff gray garments and shawl, I was not like a flesh and blood person anymore. I felt like a wooden figure.
I shivered. Who was this King of the Revels? How did he sneak this letter into my room? And how would I get to the ball? There were guards posted in the hall outside my door, and more guards outside watching the palace walls.
I dropped to my knees beside the bed, clasping my hands to pray for an answer, but instead of praying, I just held the letter. My breathing was heavy, straining against the corset that Mother insisted I wear to bed, to keep my figure. My nightgown was tight around my neck and wrists.
With one thrust of my small hand, I shoved the letter under my pillow.
I shut my eyes and bit my lip. I have done something very wrong, haven’t I?
I lifted the pillow, but the invitation had vanished. I looked everywhere, to make sure it hadn’t just fallen behind or gotten caught inside the pillowcase somehow. Once I knew it was gone, I got to my feet. My body swayed slightly, as if against my will.
It felt like surrender.
The next night, as I dressed for bed, I could faintly hear the musicians playing at the ball downstairs. Father was entertaining a prince and princess from Dorvania, a kingdom known for its passionate music. He had hired extra musicians just to please them. He was particularly anxious to welcome them, since they had been on the opposing side during the recent war. Now, we were at peace, and the bonds of good will were in need of strength.
The walls of the palace were thick, so I could barely make out what the song was actually like. It was torture to me, that I could never really hear the music, all the worse since my sisters left. We used to gossip and giggle on nights like this, helping each other bear the fact that we couldn’t join the festivities.
I kept my slippers on. It seemed a little wrong to have shoes on beneath the covers. My feet wriggled. It was hard to sleep. Midnight…
I had to wait until midnight to see if anything would happen.
Downstairs, the music went on. It was very bouncy and rhythmic but it also had a frenzied, dangerous edge to it. I had seen the Dorvanian princess earlier. She was dark and beautiful. Very demure at the official dinners, so Mother was comfortable around her—but now, I imagined her feet flying to the songs. Mother would be locked in her room, far away from it all.
I wondered if it would be hard to learn how to dance. I felt as if I knew, deep down in my soul. But there were steps to be learned. Maybe I would make a fool of myself.
Outside, the moon rose. It was almost full.
The clock in my room ticked quietly. I kept trying to read the face in the moonlight, counting the minutes until midnight. So many long minutes…
And then, when the hour came, I heard something beneath my bed: a grinding sound, not unlike the sound of the castle gates opening. A light appeared. I looked under the bed and saw a stairwell with burning torches. The stones that made up the floor had opened up into a passageway.
“That’s impossible,” I whispered.
My bed started to move of its own accord, sliding sideways, revealing the passage. I looked around warily before descending. Everything had gotten very quiet. I didn’t hear the music of the ball anymore. And the clock…it had stopped ticking, frozen at the midnight hour.
Am I dreaming?
It was somewhat comforting to think that it was a dream. If it was a dream, I wasn’t really breaking any rules at all.
I walked down the stairs in my nightgown and slippers. When I reached the bottom, I was standing in front of a woodland path. Behind me, the stone steps led upward into the shadows of my room.
Surely I am dreaming now…
In the distance, I heard the most beautiful music. Bells and drums and flutes and strings, a whole band playing an ethereal dance with an irresistible pounding beat. It compelled me to push forward through the forest.
The leaves of the trees had a silvery hue that caught the moonlight. Insects and frogs trilled and chirped in the shadows. I walked into the center of the grove, and a faery maiden was waiting for me. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on, tall and slender as a willow, clad in a long pale gown. Her hair was a brilliant red, and while my hair was always pulled straight back into a knot, hers flowed loose and thick down her back, and her eyes were slightly slanted, her expression both wise and mischievous. She was standing very still, waiting for me, with a faint smile.
“Welcome, Princess.” She held out a hand.
I felt homely beside her. I was so small and bound up, with my hair and corset. My nightgown was even a little too big for me. It used to belong to my sister Elizabeth, and was passed on to me when she got married and had a fresh new trousseau. Waste not, want not, my mother said, even for princesses.
“I am to dress you for the revels,” she said. “Take off your nightgown. Take off everything.”
“Right here. I don’t have a changing room, if that’s what you’re thinking, but I have seen it all. Think of me like one of your handmaidens. Oh, no, I remember. Your sisters told me, none of you have handmaidens to dress you in the morning.”
“I do, actually,” I said. “Because all my sisters are gone and there is no one left to fasten my buttons.”
“Still, you are not spoiled in the least, are you? Well.” She tapped my nose. “That will end tonight. In this realm, you can have everything you have ever dreamed.”
“I just want to hear the music…”
“And you shall, in just a moment. But you can’t bring anything with you from home except your shoes, so I will give you a beautiful dress.”
I wasn’t used to anyone seeing my body. I wore a shift, which I changed myself, before my handmaiden entered the room, so I was reluctant. Especially when the faery woman was so beautiful and I still felt like a girl, pale and naive and nothing special. I reminded myself that this was a dream world, anyway.
I pulled off the nightgown, and the faery woman took it from me.
“I need help with my corset,” I said.
“Of course.” She made a tsking sound as she unlaced it. “I remember these Ondalusian corsets. They are the most unattractive garments I have ever seen.”
Some corsets exaggerated curves. Some corsets raised up the bosom. The Ondalusian corset went around my shoulders, my breasts, and down to my hips. It didn’t really enhance anything, but was purely modest. It resembled nothing so much as a cage of bone, to imprison me in perfect posture. Without it, I immediately felt downright naughty, as if I could wriggle. Wriggling was not a proper motion for a woman.
She produced—with a funny twist of her hand, like a magician’s trick—a dress out of nowhere. It reminded me of a dancing costume. Unlike the long gowns that wom
“Hold out your arms.”
She pulled the dress down over my head until the skirt sat at my waist.
The white fabric of the dress was so thin that it clung blatantly to the small swells of my breasts, while the dark shape of my nipples was plain to see. It had no back at all, but went around the back of my neck, plunging low in front, but even lower in back. The skirt felt like wearing some kind of flower with many small petals. It puffed out more in the back than the front, and fell longer. In the front, beneath the skirt, my legs were bare from knees to slippers. I felt like a swan.
I covered my breasts, and the faery woman pulled my hands away. She laughed, and her laugh was like bells. “Shy little girl. You’re beautiful when you blush. Don’t worry. The King will be so charmed. Go on. He’s waiting.”
“What about— Shouldn’t I have some underclothes?” I had not been wearing anything under my shift, but that was because it was thick and long. This dress was another matter.
“You won’t need them.”
I kept walking, although the dress made me feel like I was a different person. I had never walked around with so much of me showing. I could feel pleasantly cool night air caressing my arms and legs. When the wind blew just right, it even tried to blow up my skirt, gracing my bare bottom. I planted a hand on the back of the dress to keep it from flying upward.
I passed through the grove of silver, into a grove where the trees had leaves with a golden shimmer. I could hear the music getting louder and closer. Here, another faery woman waited for me. She had golden hair that fell to her waist, and a blue dress adorned with fresh flowers.