We hope you’re enjoying your Saturday!
This week’s prompt was:
Write a story about revisiting one’s childhood home.
Today’s story is from Cheryl Mahoney, writing a follow-up to her story about finding something hidden, one enchantment and 100 years later.
Rose was back at the castle for many days before she returned to her old bedroom. She wouldn’t have visited today, if Edward hadn’t suggested it.
He stopped her outside of a council meeting. “I understand I’m living in your old rooms,” he said, smiling. “I appreciate that you haven’t demanded them back—but I’ve been meaning to ask if you’d like to visit them?”
She hesitated. She didn’t trust Terrence’s brothers, not even this one, who smiled more than the older two. Was it merely chance that he’d happened to remember to make this invitation at a time when Terrence wasn’t around? She let her eyes drop, and murmured, “I wouldn’t want to impose on you.”
Edward’s grin only grew. “It wouldn’t be an imposition at all. I only feel bad I didn’t invite you sooner. I knew you’d be interested to see the place.” He took her arm—but politely, unthreateningly—and steered her down the corridor. “It’s right this way—well, you know that, of course.”
She could have said no. She could have yanked her arm away, and she thought she probably would have, if he had gripped it any tighter. But it was a polite, even courtly hold, and she wasn’t entirely certain she didn’t want to see her old bedroom.
“I quite like the place,” Edward remarked as they walked. “So quiet, so removed. Gives me plenty of room for thinking, you know.”
Sometimes she had liked the quiet. Sometimes she had wondered why so many stories put princesses away in a tower, all by themselves, and why her own life had to conform to that particular narrative.
The spiral stone stair seemed unchanged from the century that had elapsed since she had climbed it. Maybe the worn places in the center of the steps were a little smoother. Some of the wall-hangings were different but she recognized others, more faded, more ragged on the edges. They hadn’t been new in her day.
She shivered partway up, just as they passed a tapestry of a knight slaying a red dragon.
“It’s a bit of a drafty place,” Edward said, in concerned tones. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” she said. She wasn’t cold, but she wasn’t all right. She had climbed these steps hundreds, thousands of times in the before time, before the garden, and she had climbed them on the last day, the day she was enchanted. She had started pleading with her father not to go through with it just as they passed that tapestry with the dragon.
Edward pushed open the wooden door at the top of the stairs, and she took a deep breath before she stepped inside.
“I suppose it looks entirely different,” Edward said.
“Not entirely,” Rose answered, stepping past him into the room.
There was the big old fireplace, the two windows with distant views of the mountains in the west and the much closer ocean in the east. Edward had his bed in the same place hers had been, though this was a heavy affair in dark wood, not like the one she’d had. She wondered if the morning light still hit the head of the bed early every morning, and if he minded that. Probably not. He could probably have his bed moved, if he wanted it somewhere else.
“It must be very strange for you,” Edward said, “coming back after all these years. Back to this room, back to this castle. So many things different. So much change.”
“And a surprising amount the same,” Rose said, almost absently, glancing past his wardrobe and desk, looking for familiar things still remaining.
“It was never supposed to be this long, was it? You were supposed to be back here in, what, a few weeks?”
“I suppose,” Rose said. The enchantment had happened here too. When all the enchanters had gathered around her, speaking words she couldn’t understand, stealing her away from the life she had known, placing her down in an unexpected haven. She still didn’t know why or how that had happened. Why her worst fears had never materialized.
“It would have all been different, wouldn’t it?” Edward continued, conversationally. “If someone had got in to rescue you back when they were supposed to.”
It certainly would have been different for all the men who died among the thorns, died trying to claim her. ‘Claim’ seemed so much more accurate than ‘rescue.’ But she didn’t want to think of the champions, alive or dead. “Did you know,” she said abruptly, “there’s a loose stone there, in the center of the room?”
She didn’t think Edward was a man who was frequently disconcerted; she had seen enough of him to realize that already. But she didn’t care if this topic change was not what he had expected; she didn’t want to talk about his topic.
“Just there,” she said, toeing ineffectively at a rug covering the place she meant. After a moment she knelt down, to roll the rug back. She reached for the stone she remembered, prodded and found that it still rocked, just a little. Perhaps even more easily than it had decades ago.
She had learned the trick of lifting it out in her childhood, and her fingers remembered even after all this time. In moments she had lifted the stone up, set it to the side, revealed the empty hollow beneath.
“Well, aren’t you full of surprises?” Edward said, voice dropping into a lower tone.
She looked up, one hand already reaching into the hollow, to find that he had stepped closer to her. Suddenly she wished she hadn’t knelt down because he loomed so tall above her now. He was still standing between her and the door. Almost without thinking, she set her free hand back on the loose stone, fingers gripping its rough edges.
“You certainly surprised everyone, just by arriving here,” Edward continued, “just by still being alive.”
Her hand within the hollow touched cloth; automatically her fingers grasped the bundle, drew it out even as she rose to her feet, stone clutched in her other hand.
“I should really be going,” Rose said, heart beating hard, trying to keep her voice steady.
“Without even looking at your find?” Edward said, and smiled again. He held out his hand, palm up, open. “Let me unwrap it for you.”
Something in his smile looked a little like Terrence’s, and she cautiously handed the bundle over. She held onto the stone though.
He peeled back dusty cloth, layers falling away to land in a heap by his feet.
What they revealed surprised her so much that she actually moved closer to him, wanting to see what he was holding.
“It’s my statue,” she said without thinking, staring down at the ceramic woman with the lion beside her. The goddess Mariqwe as a woman warrior, something she had never seen depicted anywhere else. She had found this statue in this hollow, hidden away by someone else, perhaps generations before. It had been there in her garden, another part of the magic she had never been able to explain, and it had vanished with everything else when the spell had broken. Had it returned here? Or had it, somehow, been here all along—and in her garden too?
Sometimes magic made her head hurt.
“A woman warrior,” Edward said, with a slight laugh. “What an unusual notion.”
“It’s the goddess Mariqwe,” Rose said. “You see, the lioness with her—”
His hand closed on her wrist, on the hand she had been using to point to the statue, and she looked up into his face, suddenly realizing she had come closer to him than she had ever intended.
“I don’t think that would be a very popular idea,” he said, voice soft and even friendly, while his fingers were still tight around her wrist. “It might make some people uncomfortable. Rather like a princess who disrupts a line of succession.”
She still had the stone in her other hand, if she had to she could—
He released her hand as suddenly as he’d taken it, offered her the statue. “Just a friendly warning. Be careful who you show this to. Not everyone is as…open-minded as you and I.”
She stared at him for a moment more.
Then she snatched the statue out of his hand, backed away towards the door. “Thank you for the tour, I think I’d best be going,” she said in one breath, just in case, just so he wouldn’t think she was entirely mad if she had read this all wrong.
She was out the door and on the stairs before he could respond, hurried down two or three turns of the spiral before she took in a full breath and remembered she was still holding the stone that belonged in his floor.
She looked up. No sign of him coming behind her, but she wasn’t about to go back up. She set the stone down on the step, to the side so it wouldn’t trip anyone, and continued on down, statue clutched in one hand.
She rubbed at her wrist. Had he known he was holding it too tightly? Had he really intended a friendly warning, or was the warning not friendly at all?
It was all more confusing than Terrence’s oldest brothers, than the king. At least she knew where she stood with them, even if it wasn’t in a good place. This…was harder to read.
But she knew she wouldn’t be going off into empty rooms with Edward again. Just in case.