Chapter 5 – Voyage To Hell (I mean the Mall)

The Kingdom’s only shopping mall, the BudgetMasher, sat above a vast stagnant swamp.  The entire complex loomed like a village built on stilts over brackish waters.  Normally having your prime retail area positioned over a fetid marsh would be a problem, but the fact was, the unwelcomed presence of snakes and mosquitos motivated shoppers to stay indoors, spending coin. That is until pesticide carriages swept through and dumped toxic quantities of insect and reptile repellent on the streets and sidewalks.  While that may seem extreme, it also provides a natural defense against other malignant pests of society, namely lawyers and politicians.

Despite this rather unusual setup, the mall did a brisk business, and most anything that folks wanted (but did not necessarily need) could be found in the multi-storey shops.  Rachel’s carriage rolled to a stop in front of Diana’s Dresses and Corsets.

Carleen led the way.  “Rachel Dahlin’, we must get you some decent formal wear, and a corset.”

Rachel’s skin prickled, and her hands grew clammy.  OMG!  A corset?  “You are joking, aren’t you?”

With a toothy but cold smile, Carleen replied, “My dear, I don’t joke.”

Why do I believe that?

Drek slid out of the carriage and straightened her back.  “Oi, I need a stiff drink.  Is there a pub nearby?”

Carleen frowned at her.  “Certainly not.  A lady never finds herself in such a den of inequity.”

Shrugging her shoulders, Drek looked around.  “Oh my, there’s Mike’s Dry Cleaning.  I’ll see you later.”  With a wink at the girl, she slipped toward the store, eyes gleaming.

Rachel eyed Carleen, who smiled thinly. Ugh, now it’s just you and me.  The woman held open the door to Diana’s, and in she marched. Rachel followed like a convict being led to the executioner’s block.  The next couple hours reinforced that impression and gave the girl enough subliminal nightmares to never again set foot inside a high fashion store.  On the other hand, Carleen beamed with malicious delight as Rachel squeezed her pre-pubescent body into form-fitting dresses, and narrowly avoided having her internal organs strangulated by a corset.

Then, of course, came the shoes, foot born terror and torture devices designed to tip Rachel up on the balls of her feet, and make it impossible to walk without stumbling into walls, and fracturing a pelvis.  At the point where she quite literally wanted to jump out a window, Carleen declared victory, hauled the detritus of the shopping massacre to the clerk. There the damage was calculated and added the Kingdom’s budget deficit.

As Rachel stumbled out of the storefront, she looked around but did not see Drek.

Carleen whizzed past and started for the carriage.

“Have you seen Drek?” Rachel asked.

“No, and I suspect we won’t.  She probably fell into the swamp trying to find something to drink.  For our part, I hope so, as I don’t wish to share a coach with that dreadful mess of a woman.”

She pulled the door open and was immediately greeted by a loud snort.  Inside sat Drek, pitched over to one side, a blissful smile on her face, and a puddle of drool running down the front of her frock.

“Oh my,” Carleen said, recoiling in horror.  What is this?”

“I would say Mike has some pretty serious dry cleaning chemicals,” Rachel replied, trying desperately to conceal her grin.

They climbed in, and Carleen sought to squeeze into the furthest corner from Drek.  Unfortunately for Rachel, she had to sit next to Carleen, because as the coach started to move, Drek slid further and further down in her seat until she lay sprawled across it.  Her loud snores rattled the windows and door, and breath carried on it the scent of several types of liquors, none of which Rachel was familiar with. Still, watching the gag reflex on her “handler” was quite entertaining.

“How long before we get to Summer Camp?” Rachel asked.

Carleen sighed, giving Drek the stink eye.  “Probably another three hours, by which that point, maybe that …” she pointed at the Drek “… will be awake, and be convinced to eat a breath mint.”

 

Time passed slowly, as one can imagine when stuck in a carriage with a snoring witch and an arrogant fashion diva.  Rachel tried to keep things light.  “So, how long have you been a Princess preparation specialist?”

“That’s Specialist in Princess Preparation And Matchmaking,” Carleen corrected. “You forgot the matchmaking part.”

I was trying too.

“But to answer your question, seven years.”

“And before that?”

“Real estate, I flipped castles on the market, which was fine till the bottom fell out.”

“Was the market that bad?”

“No, the bottom fell out of the castle I was selling, and it sank into a swamp. After losing my fortune on that one, I quit my career and instead focused on the two things that I’m excellent at.”

“Which are?”

“Fashion and marital incarceration.” She giggled with a surprised look on her face. “Oops, I meant marriage.  Speaking of which, who are you betrothed to?”

“Excuse me? Betrothed?”

“Certainly. Haven’t your parents arranged your marriage?”

“I’m twelve. Boys are smelly and stupid.”

Carleen waved her hand dismissively. “Believe me, they don’t get much better on that as they age.  The same can’t be said for their earning potential.”

“Wow, you’re absolutely mercenary.”

“Why thank you, dahlin’.”

Capitalia Bloom (part 4)

Capitalia Bloom (part 3)

Sobs drifted into Larah’s bedroom. She put down her book and walked toward Melinda’s study. The Head Mistress sat looking out the window, her hands caressing the curled form of Passion, their sixteen-year-old cat.

Larah approached her desk. “Mother, is something wrong?”

Melinda turned and looked at her. Tear tracks glistened on her face. “Passion is dying.”

Larah had noticed her getting slower over the last few days, and that she had lost a lot of weight over the last year, yet the words still made her chest tighten. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Melinda confirmed. “She’s too weak to move; nothing more can be done.” Her hands slowly stroked its long golden fur. She stared at the floor before speaking, “Do you know how I got her?”

Larah shook her head. “No, you’ve always had her.”

“Passion was originally Anya’s cat, who came to be mine when Anya passed away. That happened on the same night you came to me, and I became Head Mistress.” She paused as her eyes became unfocused. “I gained and lost much that night.” Shaking her head, she continued. “Anya was my mentor and my best friend. Other than my memories, all I have left are Passion – and you.” She looked at Larah, lips trembling. “And I love you both so much,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Yet, it’s so painful to lose another piece of Anya, once again.”

Hurriedly wiping her eyes, Larah rushed over. Oh, how she wished to take the pain away. The older woman shook with sorrow, as Larah embraced her tightly, wishing the distance between them could disappear.

Finally, Melinda took a breath, cupped Larah’s chin and kissed on the nose. “It’s okay.” Together they looked at the cat.

Melinda scooped Passion up and laid her on the window sill. “I am going to let her watch the sunset as she often liked to do, one last time.” Leaning over, Melinda kissed the feline on the head and gave her a last petting. “Goodbye, my dear. You will always have a place in my heart.” With that, she left the study.

Larah walked over and stroked Passion’s soft fur, and felt the weak, but still noticeable purring. Sniffling back tears, she recalled Passion’s antics, and how Melinda had always appreciated the cat’s soft, quiet presence. Glancing up, she watched the sun setting over the waters of the Gulf.

Later that night, as Larah lay in bed, the image of the Thrush chick flashed into her mind. She sat up, considering it, and then raced into the study, and sat next to Passion. Gently, she touched the cat’s feeble body, and still felt a slow, hesitant pulse. She closed her eyes, placed both hands on the animal, and mouthed the words of the mending spell. A blue glow surrounded her hands, her fingertips grew cold, heat raced through her bones as a scream ripped out of her lungs.

* * *

Wringing her hands, Melinda stared at the unconscious form on the bed. Why did Larah do it? She’d been told never to try a mend spell on an animal. The infirmary nurse laid a hand on Melinda’s shoulder.

“Will she survive?” Melinda asked, holding her tears back.

“If she wakes up, I believe so,” the nurse said. “But she should be dead.”

Melinda blinked. “Why do you say that?”

The nurse fixed her with a serious expression. “No one has ever survived what she did.”

“What do you mean?” Melinda asked.

“She almost brought your cat back from death. The animal would be alive if it were able to survive being called back.”

“That is not possible,” Melinda replied as a chill raced down her spine. Such capabilities belonged only to the immortal Caretakers, or the practitioners of the darkest magic.

“Under other circumstances, I would agree. Regardless, Larah survived because she had passed out before the pull of death reached her. Otherwise, she might have died too.” A groan rose from the bed. Melinda turned from the nurse and leaned close.

The young girl opened her eyes, “Mother, what am I doing here?” She noticed Melinda’s tears. “Please don’t cry.”

Melinda smiled, “These are tears of joy, my dear.” But even as she squeezed Larah’s hand, a shudder ran through her. She had almost lost Passion and Larah on the same night.

 

Capitalia Bloom (part 3)

Capitalia Bloom (part 2)

Larah looped through the Ogamah Grove, running fingertips across the smooth, silvery bark. Warm, briny breezes rustled the shiny leaves. “Hello Lilibeth,” she murmured passing around the trunk of her friend.

Off to the east, the sun rose above the waters of the Gulf. Breathing in the warmth, she leaned back against the tree. On the edge of the horizon lay a green line, marking the Dunharraw coast. Staring hard, she tried to imagine what it looked like. From the other girls, came talk of exotic plants, animals, sounds and smells. Whole other communities of people lived there, though, as she understood it, not as harmoniously as the Druids did in Avalir. If the rumor was to be believed, that was mostly due to those ghosts of fear and violence: men.

A squawk and a chirp shifted her attention. Above her in the outstretched boughs, she saw a Thrush nest and in it, the fuzzy gray heads of chicks. After that, each morning she sat under Lilibeth, watching as the mother bird fed her brood and anticipating when the chicks would fledge and leave the nest.

But one morning flapping and squawking sound came from the base of a nearby tree. One of the chicks lay on the ground, panting, and at intervals flipped itself into the air, attempting to get airborne. For a time, the bird continued to fail. When it stopped moving, she walked over and scooped it up.

With wide eyes, the creature flapped one wing, but not the other. It must be broken. A mend spell would heal the creature. But should she?

She knew the answer. No one was to interfere with wild animals. Still, no rule said she could not return the animal to its home. Tucking the bird into the pocket of her robes, she climbed and placed it back into the nest.

Yet the next day, the bird lay on the ground again. Larah picked it up, caressed its head, and fed it seeds. The bird turned its face to her as if to say thanks. But clearly the wing would never heal on its own. She agonized over the decision, then with misgivings, placed it back into the nest.

All the next day, a storm raged over the island, keeping her indoors, but the morning after she raced into the grove. Her heart sank seeing the feathered form lying motionless on the ground. With care, she scooped it up, and buried the remains, but not the memory of what could have been done.

Capitalia Bloom (part 4)