Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Paula's Prompt: A Cinders Freebie Story

On February 7, 2018, P.T. Wyant posted at Wednesday Word prompt the line, "I refuse to let her hurt me."

Inspiration pulled me in two completely different directions at these words.

One raced off with Cinders, exploring more of her emotions in dealing with Ariella's mother in a At Her Service freebie story.

The other split its perspective between Phaedra and Alkibiadea for a pair of A Symposium in Space tales.

Here is the Cinders story.

I refuse to let her hurt me. 

No matter how much she slaps me, screams accusations of pretender, leech, manipulative whore. 

My father was a whore, too. She never tires to telling me this. He seduced her soft hearted cousin, the weak willed lady of the manor. 

The lady lady is always her cousin. Never my mother. The current mistress of the manor refuses to acknowledge any kinship with me. No, I’m always ‘that man’s daughter. 
Strange. I never knew my cousin. My memories of my father are slipping away like a misty dream I can no longer recall. 

What’s real is her fists, her insults. 

What’s real is the warmth of Ariella’s hand, pressed against mine. The glimpse of Ariella’s ankle beneath her skirt. 

I try to keep my head low to the ground, not meeting anyone’s eyes. The one thing I can observe without drawing too much attention to myself are people’s feet. 

Ariella calms me, soothes me in a way nothing else can. Watching the hem of her gown trail across the floor, trying to catch a glance of her foot makes my heart race. 

I didn’t think anything could ever excite me or make me happy after my father died. 

Back when I was a lady, I recall tedium, a repetition of days. A loneliness emptiness I tried to fill with books and my solitary wandering. 

Something sparked within me when I first met Ariella’s dark blue eyes. My heart began to beat a little faster. The air around me tasted a little better when I breathed it in. 

That sensation hasn’t left me, although I keep it hidden while bending my head and looking at the floor. I’m still exhaling with a natural ease even while my heart aches within my chest.

This is why I cannot let her hurt me. Pride, insults, what’s the meaning in any of this? 

All I need to do is press my hand to my breast and remember the warmth of Ariella’s hand. Heat rushes to my cheeks, warming my body like nothing else can. 

I refuse to let her hurt me. She’s not allowed to become a monster, no matter how hateful the current mistress of the chateau might be. 

She’s still Ariella’s mother. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Secondary Characters Speak Out: Interview with Sokrat

Quartz: Well, once more I’ve been shunted to the side. Pushed out of the scribbler’s imagination to make way for other characters in a project that was supposed to be published and done with. Watching while others get a new release. Here I am at my montly blog, ‘Secondary Characters Speak Out’ with Sokrat. She’s one of the others. 

Sokrat: Now, now, A Symposium in Space is hardly a new release, is it, my dear Quartz? (twirls a sidewhisker in a fetching fashion) Besides you can hardly blame our scribbler, can you? Jason of Nine Star Press asked her for an expanded version of our symposium. Plus, it’s not like our scribbler didn’t want our story to be longer back in 2016. The only reason A Symposium in Space is as small as it was to make the Theory of Love word count, correct? 

Quartz: (mutters while his nose and ears turn red) I thought I was the only one who called our creator ‘scribbler’. Besides Paula. 

Sokrat: Well, it’s a very apt term, is it not? (regards Quartz with a dark eye, lively with attentiveness) In truth, she is our scribbler, yours and mine, along with every other character she’s ever created. She belongs to us all, does she not?

Quartz: (trying hard to maintain his usual grumpy manner and failing) Do you always answer a question with a question? 

Sokrat: Questions are the only true answers. (taps a wrinkled finger against her nose) Each question asked bring us closer to the truth. 

Quartz: That’s important to you as a character, the truth?

Sokrat: (dropping her finger to spread both of her hands to either side) Well, I am inspired by Socrates in Plato’s original The Symposium, am I not? Is it so strange that goals would be similar? 

Quartz: About that. In the original The Symposium, one could argue that Socrates was the main character. At the very least he ended up taking central stage, while you take a back seat to Phaedra in this story. How does that make you feel?

Sokrat: First off, the original narrative of The Symposium wasn’t from Socrates’s point of view, although you could argue he was the main character or became more of main character as he spoke. The Symposium began as a narrative within a narrative. Glaucon catches Apollodarus of Phalerum and asks him about Agathon’s party. Glaucon and Apollodarus’s dialogue turns into Apollodarus’s account of Agathon’s party after he meets Socrates at the baths. To make her own story more focused, our scribbler tells A Symposium in Space from the first person perspective of young Phaedra. Phaedrus was the name of one of the actual speakers in The Symposium. This was why our scribbler decided on the name of Phaedra for my comely young companion to the dinner party, whom gives me a lift in the Timea to the symposium. 

Quartz: (rubbing his red nose) You still haven’t answered the question. (mutters to himself) Such a lovely voice, almost like gravel. The scribbler really outdid herself with this one. 

K.S. Trenten: (from backstage) Thank you!

Sokrat: To return to your question, my dear Quartz (cocks her head). I don’t really feel like my position has changed all that much from Socrates. Ultimately, I am an elder, a wanderer, a seeker of the truth, whom encourages others to discover the truth. Phaedra is an enquiring young soul whose path crossed mine at the right moment for the two of us to go to the symposium together…yes, this is something that’s different in the new edition. We’ve only just met in the body of the story itself, which is adapted from a freebie story our scribbler posted back in 2016. In the original published version, readers got the impression we’d been together for a while. We haven’t in the extended version. We meet each other in the course of the plot. Regardless, I’m still delighted to help Phaedra find her way to the truth and for the universe to experience that discovery with her, through her eyes. 

Quartz: (trying to glower instead of blush) Aye, you’re a silver tongued charmer and no mistake. I can see why a space pirate decided to chase you across the universe.

Sokrat: Why, thank you, my dear Quartz! Alkibiadea is a good girl and a great woman. Or lifer, if you prefer to use the terminology from my universe. 

Quartz: I don’t. You are a charmer, aren’t you? (finally manages a glower) You’ve actually got me curious about your story when I should be pushing for my own. 

Sokrat: And might I say, I look forward to your own story, my dear Quartz? (with another fetching tug at the side whisker) Whatever form or shape it may take?

Quartz: (turning red again) Right. This was Sokrat from the scribbler’s A Symposium in Space, currently being expanded into a larger story for Nine Star Press. 

Sokrat: (waving to everyone who stopped by to read this) I look forward to seeing you all at Agathea’s dinner party!

Quartz: (his ears turn even redder)

Nimmy Not: (from backstage) He likes side whiskers. Got to remember that. 

Quartz: (rubs his nose and looks uneasy)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Paula's Prompt: Hidden

On January 17, 2018, P. T. Wyant offered at  for her Wednesday Word prompt a blanket, a path, and a talking picture.

The talking picture triggered thoughts of a long neglected Work in Progress, 'On the Other Side of Mask'.

I submitted a short version of it to Lethe Press's 'Gaslight and Gents' anthology. I got one of the nicest rejection letters I've ever received for this story. The anthologist had been conflicted about rejecting it, since he really enjoyed parts of the story, but he felt the City of Paradise and its denizens hadn't been quite fleshed out.

I've been trying to flesh it out ever since. Other projects have pushed it out of my crowded imagination, but I never forgot 'On the Other Side of the Mask'.

This freebie story is one of my attempts to continue to flesh out Byron, reacting to the strange manor of Lord Ruthvyn he's trapped in.

No, he's not the famous poet Lord Byron from our world. Nor is his Shelley the same Shelley who wooed the world with his own poetry. They're simply using their names to give themselves strength and individuality in a trapped society ruled by the pale lords. A society in which both boys are in constant danger of disappearing.

This can be an advantage as well as a peril.

He huddled under the blanket on the landing between staircases, peeking out from beneath its darkness. 

All the while, the boy’s painted eyes watched him from the portrait hanging on the walls. Lips which should have been motionless swirls of white, pink, and gray moved. 

“You think you’re on the right path?” Blue eyes dabbed with green and yellow regarded him from shadowed eyelashes. Too perfect to have ever been real. Too cruel to be anything but. “Do you believe if you keep climbing this staircase, you’ll find your precious Shelley?”

“It is the way,” Byron muttered to himself as much as anyone else. “It’s my way because I choose it.”

A bold, possibly futile statement in Lord Ruthvyn’s manor. Everything here belonged to the master. Everything might be a mad illusion, meant to lead Byron into further delirium. 

“It’s my choice.” Byron balled his white gloved hands into fists beneath the blanket’s shelter. “Not his. This staircase will take me to Shelley. I refuse to allow to lead me somewhere else!”

“Ah, but is your will stronger than your lord and master’s?” The mocking voice faltered a bit, trembled in uncertainty. Perhaps even hope. “How can you promise to do better than any of the rest of us?”

“I can promise nothing,” he growled, glaring at the painted face, one of many faces in Lord Ruthvyn’s many halls. All of them were arranged according to the master’s design. All of them created a reality meant to thwart him. “Only that your master’s desire can’t be stronger than mine.”

“You? What are you?” The full lips of the painted boy twisted into a sneer, but something like hope gleamed in the sheen of his eye. 

If it wasn’t just the reflection of the candlelight off the canvas. 

“He’s one of the pale lords chosen by the Goddess to rule Paradise and its outskirts.” The voice uttered the hopeless truth which bound everyone trapped in this haven. “He’s Chosen by Her to represent us all. What makes you mad enough to think your will can prevail?”

“The fact that I was able to hide beneath this blanket.” Byron didn’t bother to keep the triumph out of his voice before it faded away. “The fact that you actually thought I was here.”

He withdrew his presence away, allowing himself to disappear. 

It was a power Byron had never wished to use again, to become one of the invisible, faceless masses. Not since he’d faced the Court of Paradise and claimed his name. 

It was a power every single ordinary person possessed. The problem was you risked losing all sense of self whenever you vanished. 

He shivered, no longer Byron, no longer even a boy. Just a ghost, floating amidst the other lost souls trapped within these walls. 

It was worth it to hear the gasp which ran through the house, the realization of every other forgotten child that they, too had the power to vanish. The very thing that made their master lose interest in them could enable them to slip through his grasp. 

The timbers of the estate quivered with the shocked outrage of the master, whom just sensed the flaw in the trap he’d created for his victims. 

“Ah, Lord Ruthvyn, you truly are one with your estate as you claimed.” Byron couldn’t resist making his boast. “That’s interesting to know.”

Silence fell, but the master couldn’t be as quiet as a non entity could. 

This was the price of being one of the chosen. 

Byron grinned, delighting in his enemy’s weakness. Not that he could savour his victory for long. 

Somewhere Shelley was in this place, trapped as everyone else was. 

Byron had to find him before he faded away, like everyone else. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Paula's Prompt: A Tale of Omphalos

It's been a long time since I've thought of the World of Omphalos and my Work in Progress, 'A Suitor's Challenge'.

Kyra Nevalyn is a character whom first came to me when I was twelve years old. I abandoned for years until I resurrected my childhood ideas in 'A Suitor's Challenge'.

All of these childhood ideas became the World of Omphalos. It's a world Rhodry became a part of.

Rhodry is one of the first characters I ever truly loved in a roleplaying game. I revised him and loved him even more when he became Rhodry Mavelyne, one of the protagonist bishounen in a yaoi fantasy interactive writing project called The Keep.

Yes, this is where my nickname rhodrymavelyne, which I use here, at, NaNoWriMo, Camp NaNoWriMo, Twitter, tumblr, Archive of Our Own, and my Facebook Author Page comes from.

I resurrected another version of Rhodry (people who've known him for a while remember that he's ever changing :)) for a Work in Progress I began in the early 1990s. Its bare bones became The Keep. I decided to bring back that long ago project, include it in the World of Omphalos, and call it 'Trouble at Caerac Keep'.

'Trouble at Caerac Keep' would take place centuries after 'A Suitor's Challenge'. Rhodry would in that story, along with Faith, Ariadne, and Varwyth. (All of these characters have appeared for the past couple of years in the Blogging From AZ April Challenge, here and at )

These two projects have been neglected for far too long. I hadn't even thought of them until P.T.Wyant  posted her 1/10/18 Wednesday Words prompt at, involving a lizard, a mug of cider, and a broken box.

This story popped into my imagination as a result. :)

Rhodry took a drink of cider from the mug on the table before taking a closer look at the broken box. 

The splinter was right in the middle of a carving of the moon, the sun, and a skull surrounded by roses. 

Bones were often symbols of the undead. A skull surrounded by roses meant vampires. Especially one particular vampire. 

“Corwyth,” Rhodry murmured, reaching up to rub his shoulders, scratching the rough material of his tunic against his skin. 

What was it about that particular vampire lord that chilled his blood and made him sweat at the same time?

Rhodry bit his lip, took a closer look at some ancient letters around the symbol. He recognized the ancient wyrm tongue, but he could only make out a word or two. 

“Danger…fire…release,” he muttered, squinting at the last character. “If anything was sealed within, it’s already been freed.”

He laid a finger against the cracker with cautious reverence. 

The box split into two at his touch. 

Rhodry withdrew his hand, staring at the tiny, golden lizard whom popped up its head.

“Freee!” It flicked out a forked tongue in Rhodry’s direction, tasting the air. “Curse the Dark Lady for trapping me, but at long last I can take my revenge!”

The voice was tiny, girlish, and slightly shrill. 

“Um, excuse me?” Courtesy seemed a good idea for dealing what appeared to be a magical creature. “Who are you?”

“As if I’d give up my name lightly!” The lizard stood up on her hind legs to wave her claws in Rhodry’s direction. “Especially to one who’s obviously serpent spawn…and why are you so huge?” 

She looked up and down at Rhodry, a glint of almost human panic in her slitted green eyes. “No, why am I so tiny? What is this shape?”

The lizard turned her head, gazed up and down her small, scaled body, only to tremble all over. “What’s going on? Where am I?”

“Daeric’s tower in the Library, which is currently in Rowenda.” Rhodry was relieved to know the answer to one of her questions. “What do you last remember?”

“Fighting Her.” The lizard shuddered all over, tried to wrap its tiny arms around its small body in an almost human fashion, only to flail its small limbs in a helpless fashion. “I chanted a spell at Nevalyn, which should have separated her power, only it recoiled on me.” She blinked at her tiny hands. “Perhaps because I myself was a part of her, whom she tried to absorb.”

“Nevalyn?” Rhodry tried to wet my lips which had gone totally dry. “You fought the Great Serpent? You were there before the Empire failed?”

“The Empire failed? Oh, I’m delighted to hear it!” The lizard nodded her head. “Only I can’t imagine it collapsing that easily. Serena would never allow it.”

“Serena.” Rhodry swallowed at the casual mention of one of the greatest rulers who’d ever unified the fractious lands. “You’re speaking of the Imperatrix, back when the Jasior family controlled the rivers and borders, creating roads that ran from Kalanthia to every other nation?”

“Kalanthia? I’ve never heard of that place.” The lizard cocked its head at Rhodry. “You speak of Serena as if she’d been dead for centuries. She was alive and still causing trouble when I left her.”

“Alive and causing trouble.” Rhodry raised his hands to cup his cheeks. “I can’t believe this. This is madness, even for me in the Library.”

“What’s this Library you keep speaking of?” The lizard lashed her golden tail to the side, twitching. “You say I’m there, but I’ve never heard of it.”

“It was founded by Corwyth Nevalyn centuries ago.” Rhodry took a deep breath, moved his hands to knot his fingers behind his head. It kept them from shaking. “I think it’s my turn to ask you some questions. Where were you, when you fought Nevalyn?”

“The Dark Circle.” The lizard dropped down to all four legs. “A friend and I went there to save another friend who’d fallen in the power of the Serpent. It was a desperate move, but we were fairly desperate.”

The Dark Circle. A pair of friends braving its maze in order to save the kidnapped Prince Stephen from the serpent. The lyrics of several popular songs about Kyra Nevalyn and her adventures popped into Rhodry’s head. 

Kyra, a hero who’d appealed to him, for she, like Rhodry had been golden-haired and eyed, part of the Serpent’s brood. She’d been a hero for all her cursed heritage, whose legend lived on for centuries. 

“Your name isn’t Kyra, by any chance?” It was madness to even think this, that the sorceress who’d inspired so many songs and poems, who’d disappeared long ago might actually be this odd little lizard. 

Only Rhodry had seen stranger things, working at Daeric’s side in the Library. Madness was often normal here. 

“How do you know my name?” the lizard hissed, recoiling from Rhodry if he’d struck her. “Who are you?”

“I’m Rhodry.” He gazed down at the tiny creature and remembered to breathe. “I think I may be your descendant.”
“That’s not a character reference.” The lizard inched away from Rhodry. “You mentioned a Daeric in a tower. Would that be Daeric Nevalyn?”

“Yes. He’s my guardian and mentor.” Rhodry tried to make his voice as soothing as possible. “You’re currently in his Place of Power.”

“Not exactly reassuring, but not as bad a spot to be in as others might be.” The lizard rocked onto its hind legs once more. “I need to speak to Daeric as soon as possible. He ought to know something I can do about being trapped in this shape.”

“Unfortunately, he’s not around right now.” Rhodry unlaced his hands and dropped them to his legs to dig his fingers into his thighs, trying to stop them from shaking. “Daeric, um, disappeared recently.”

“That’s not good.” The lizard regarded Rhodry with a steady slitted eye. “Anything that could make him disappear is almost as dangerous as Nevalyn herself.”

“Some say it might have been the Vampire Corwyth.” Rhodry fixed an equally steady gaze on the lizard’s snout. It was hard to read the expression of it. “We’ve had a lot of people disappearing in Caerac Keep lately.”

“Caerac Keep? That’s another place I’ve never heard of.” The lizard let out an almost human snort. “Exactly what part of the Empire am I in…no, wait, you were saying the Empire failed. Um, what is the land we’re in currently called?”

“Rowenda.” Rhodry gripped his thighs and rocked in place in his chair. “It’s north of what’s left of Kalanthia…er, the Empire.”

“Sss, so Kalanthia is Serena’s former domain.” The lizard bobbed her tiny head. “What land is the Dark Circle in?”

“We’re not too far away from it.” Or entirely too close, depending on one’s perspective. “The Keeps, the walled cities were built by former adventurers to keep monsters out. Like the ones that hunt from the Dark Circle.”

“Hmm, I’m not too far from home.” The lizard lifted a claw to examine it. “This was once part of the Empire, heavily patrolled by the Dragons, an elite force of clerics who dealt with monsters or anything that threatened the balance of power which existed between the Imperatrix and those who governed her domains.”

“These days, it’s the Unicorns, only they’re supposed to protect the walled cities from all monsters, not some balance of power.” Rhodry was surprised at how defensive his own voice came out. “Not that they always succeed.”

“The Unicorns?” The lizard’s eyes widened. “They were only a minor sect when I last visited one of their temples.”
“Well, they’ve grown.” Rhodry didn’t bother to keep the sourness out of his voice. “You can find a Unicorn temple in every civilized area these days.”

“Surely you jest.” The lizard peered intently at Rhodry’s face. “I can’t imagine the Dragons ever allowing them to have that much power. Not even the Imperatrix could move without being checked by the clerics.”

“Let isn’t exactly how I’d describe the Unicorns’s takeover.” Rhodry glanced over at a shelve, the golden sheaf on one of the book spines. “The Dragons didn’t have much to say about it, nor were they able to, once the Unicorns hunted them all down.”

“Hunted them down?” The lizard dropped her head. “How could they do something so foolish?”

“Why are you asking me that question?” Rhodry snapped. “You called me serpent spawn. Did you really think the Unicorns would share their reasons with a creature such as me?”

“No, I, ah, forgive me.” The lizard bowed her head further. “It’s, well, being here, centuries ahead of my own time is an unpleasant shock.”

Rhodry studied the small, golden creature. It was hard not to react to her as if she was a person. There was something so human about the forlorn way she slumped her scaled shoulders. 

Not that one could call Kyra or any of House Nevalyn human. Not completely. 

“I’ll help you.” The words slipped from his mouth before he could think better of them. “I’ll try to figure out a way to return you to your true form without the centuries, err, catching up to you.”

“How do you propose to do that?” The lizard raised its tiny head to flick its tongue in his direction. “For that matter, why would you do that? I’m a stranger to you.”

“You’re not a stranger.” Rhodry lowered his own head, so he was on an eye level with the tiny creature. “You’re family.”

“All the more reason not to trust me, or for me to trust you.” Kyra withdrew her forked tongue into her mouth. “Unless House Nevalyn has changed greatly over the centuries.”

“I’m not House Nevalyn. I’m Rhodry.” Rhodry extended a finger, careful to offer it, yet not intrude within the little creature’s personal space. “I’m more with Daeric and the Library than House Nevalyn.”

“Again with this Library.” Kyra regarded the finger without accepting it. “What is it?”

“A collection of books Daeric and other mages, scholars, and lovers of knowledge have gathered together behind walls of protection.” Rhodry fumbled for the right words. “No one can harm anyone else within the Library. Its spells protect it from external and internal assault. It can appear in different places of the world, depending on whom needs it.”

“Questioning would have loved this Library of yours.” Kyra relaxed a little more. “Ah, well, I suppose there are worse places to be.”

She reached out with her tiny paws to clasp Rhodry’s finger. “I accept your help…kinsman.”

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Romantic Snippet

Happy Valentine's Day!

To celebrate, I'm going to share a romantic moment from one of my Works In Progress. :)

'Aissa and Polyxena', my steamy rated m/m mythical tale of cross-dressing hasn't gotten a lot of attention here at the Forbidden Cauldron. It's spent much more time at the other Cauldron (, which is currently hosting an on-going prelude to 'Stealing Myself From Shadows' called 'Be My Valentine...Snack').

Time to change that...

 The youth opened his arms to catch me. 

I tumbled into his embrace, knocking both of us to the ground. He took the full brunt of the fall, shielding me from the stones of the street. 

I stared down at the strange youth, pinned beneath me. 

Our groins pressed together, separated by my tunic and his skirts. Proof of his manhood rose to meet me, even as he looked up at me with dazed blue eyes. 

“Have the gods decided to offer me the perfect gift?” The wonder in his face made it look very young. “Or has Ganymede himself willingly left Zeus for me?”

Friday, February 9, 2018

At Her Service Freebie Story: Becoming Cinders

This week, Nine Star Press released 'Once Upon a Rainbow 2', a second collection of LGBTQ+ fairytales.

Among them was my f/f version of Cinderella, 'At Her Service'.

In honor of the occasion, I'm posting an 'At Her Service' freebie story from Ariella's perspective long before she was the mistress. It's about how Laure ended up with the name of Cinders.


Not long after I met Laure, Lord Charles fell ill with a wasting, mysterious illness. 

I’m not sure if my mother had anything to do with it or not. I never dared to ask her. 

All I know is she seized control of the chateux as soon as Lord Charles breathed his last. 

“It’s finally mine,” she gloated, marching up the stairs in black, ignoring the procession carrying the former master’s body out. “Unspeakable that that man should have been able to wrest it from the female line.”

I didn’t say anything. I wondered about Laure, where she was. She’d just lost her father. Her entire world was about to change. 

Laure stood in the hall, her face red and puffy. She wore black and did her best to hold her hands in front of her with proper decorum, even though they trembled.

My heart went out to her. 

“Oh, it’s you.” My mother looked down her nose at the girl. “I suppose you’re my responsibility now.”

“I’ll take care of her.” I moved forward, wanting to get Laure out of my mother’s presence as soon as possible. “Where’s your room?”

“Her room?” My mother raised a hand to cover her lips, which twisted into an ugly smile. “She no longer has a room, or owns anything in this chateaux. Everything has returned to its rightful owner.”

“Are you going to throw me out?” Laure fixed her swollen green eyes upon me. 

“Of course not!” I said. I took her hands firmly in mine. “You’re family. We’ll take care of you.”

A stinging blow knocked me off my feet.

“Ariella!” Laure cried, only to let out a scream. 

I lifted myself off the floor to witness my mother, holding Laure up by the hair, hitting her face, over and over. 

“Never address my daughter by name again!” She shreiked. “We are not family, you are nothing to us! Be grateful I haven’t thrown you out the door, you lowborn wretch!”

“Mother, stop!” I cried. “Her father asked us to take care of her!”

“Oh, I’ll take care of her!” My mother yanked on Laure’s hair once more, making her cry out. “I’ll make her wish she’d never been born!”

“Mother!” I drew myself up. “Let her go.”

“What’s this?” My mother dropped Laure to the ground to stare at me. “What are you saying?”

“Don’t you have a hundred things which now require your attention, now that you’re mistress of the chateux?” I lowered my voice and my head slightly. “Let me attend to this.” 

My mother stared at me for a moment before glancing at Laure. 

“Don’t be beguiled,” she warned. “Don’t let whisper sweet words you’re too ready to believe. Remember what I told you.”

She stormed in the direction of the garden, calling to the servants. 

They came scurrying in all directions, trembling with fear. 

“Come on.” I offered my hand to Laure. “Let’s go hide in the kitchen. She won’t come there.”

“Really?” Laure raised a tear stained face to look up at me. 

“Really. Kitchens are hot, dirty, and she finds it beneath her in be in such a place.” I smoothed out Laure’s hair. “We can talk in there. Which way is it?”

“Follow me.” Laure gained a little confidence and strength in treading a family path through the hall, away from my mother’s bellow. 

The kitchen was still warm with the ashes of the hearth. 

Without consideration of her gown, Laure sat down in the middle of them. 

“You shouldn’t do that,” I said, squashing a little envy. I was never allowed to get dirty. “Your dress will be ruined.”

“I don’t care.” She looked up at me. A few cinders now clung to her cheek. “Do you hear what she’s saying?” She balled her hands into fists. “The new mistress.”

My mother’s voice echoed as she ranted, calling whomever was in her presence spies, lackeys, traitors to the true owners of the chateaux.

“She’s dismissing the staff,” I said. My stomach turned over and lurched. “Anyone associated with this place, with you.”

“It’s not enough that my father is gone.” Anger rose in Laure’s eyes to melt once more into helpless despair. “She’s taking away everyone I’ve ever loved. I’ll be all alone.”

“Laure.” I took her hand in mine. “You’re not alone.”

“Perhaps it would be easier if I were dead.” She tightened her grip on my hand, as if it were a lifeline. “Your mother could have the estate. You wouldn’t be quarreling with her over me.”

“Don’t ever say that!” I kept a firm grip on my hand, looking into her eyes. “I want you to live. I want you to stay!” 

“Why? I have no place in this chateaux any more,” Laure murmured, but she didn’t release me. “I don’t belong here.”

“You could belong to me.” 

Laure shot me a sharp glance. 

What was I saying? 

“You could become my servant.” I continued what I was saying, a little hesitant. “Servants are beneath my mother’s notice. She’d leave you alone if you were.”

“Your servant?” Laure cocked her head and regarded me. 

It was a ridiculous suggestion. A lady reduced to being another’s servant? I doubted my mother would even be able to grasp such a suggestion. She’d rather take her own life, or be murdered than bow to another. 

This was why I thought it might work. Such a fate was worse than death for a rival. My mother enjoy such creative cruelty. 

Only I had to make certain it wouldn’t be that. 

“You could pretend to be my servant while you decide what you’re going to do.” I dropped my gaze to our entwined hands. “It would give you an excuse to stay in your home, one my mother would accept.”

“Your mother.” She withdrew her hand from mine. “I’d have to live under her rule.”

“I’ll do everything I can to protect you from it,” I promised. “Until something better comes along.”

“Something better?” Laure tilted her head and frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Well, to find a new home where you could live as a lady once more.” I fumbled with the words. “You could use the time to locate a distant relation who’ll take you in.”

“There are no other relatives.” Laure dropped her head. “The monks that once patronized my father will have nothing to with a girl, even if she’s a relative of a former student.”

The monks didn’t sound like they were any better than my mother. 

“You could find a husband,” I ventured. 

“A husband?” Laure stared at me as if I’d grown a second head. 

“Well, a lot of ladies seem to want one.” I didn’t, but I was considered a bit odd by my peers, who giggled non-stop over the prospect of being brides. “Marriage might improve your status.”

“All right.” Laure nodded with a decisive movement that was almost violent. 

“All right, you want a husband?” I blinked in confusion at her sudden change in mood. 

“All right, I’ll become your servant.” She dropped her head. “From this day forward, Lady Ariella, I am yours.” She glanced up. “Just grant me one request.”

“Whatever you wish,” I said with the careless recklessness I possessed at that age.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, my lady.” She dropped her eyes once more. “Give me a new name.”

“A new name?” Once more, I blinked at this. 

“The old me is dead. A new name will help me accept it.” She balled a slender hand into a fist. “What’s more, I can hide behind it.”

She reached into the ash to smear it across her face. 

“Don’t play with the cinders!” I murmured, reaching out to catch her hand, darkening my own fingers. 

“Why not? I feel safe among them.” She smiled, allowing a tear to run down her cheek. “Cinders.”

“Cinders,” I repeated her words, feeling them stick in my throat. “You’ll always be safe here. I’ll make certain my mother doesn’t follow you into the kitchen.”

“Cinders.” She let out a sigh. “Yes, my life is cinders now. I am Cinders.” She fixed her green eyes upon me. “Somehow, it sounds pretty when you say it.”

I swallowed. I’d never meant call her that. 

It still ended up being her name.