Days passed and I have yet to see the Duke’s face. I guess he may want me to seek him out but I don’t want to. I just want to know what he looks like, chew him out for not being an appropriate host, and I want to see his special abilities. And the few times I’ve insisted on understanding how I went into a coma or why I need to be put back together, I am never answered.
I’m told that the Duke has to answer my questions. So I eventually sought him out. I’ve asked to speak to him & explore the property, believing that I would eventually find him but I’m always found and redirected to my side of the estate. He has to be avoiding me. And when I do insist on leaving the grounds to explore the city I am denied. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve died and am trapped in some sort of purgatory.
Most days I explored the estate. There were too many vacant rooms so I requested that the staff move out of their shoe box quarters to the extravagantly tacky bedrooms. That spurned a heated argument between Abigail and I on societal norms which I gladly relayed that I don’t care. Everyone else was pleased and Abigail remained in the maids’ quarters. My favorite areas became the library, garden, and the Duke’s cigar room. I’d often sneak in to smoke a cigar and drink his scotch. I thought I would eventually find him there one of these but the room exists for entertaining guests.
I’ve also had the opportunity to see more magic. I’ve watched dishes wash themselves and floating utensils preparing meals. On some occasions I am found by staff singing “Be Our Guest” from that movie about a dog and his bookworm owner. They seem to be confused but entertained by me at the same time.
“You’ve changed,” said Jeffrey. He pulled me out of my thoughts. I was plotting my way to the outside world if there is one.
“How so?” I ask.
“You seem to care a bit more than you did before. You don’t usually take interest in anyone or thing,” said Jeffery.
“Is that so? Is this prior to being in coma?”
“You’ve been that way for a very long time.”
“I see. That sounds like me. When am I going to see the Duke?”
“When he has the time.”
“We have loveless marriage?”
“Headache complicated and not my affairs to meddle in.”
“You’re shutting me down again?”
“Indeed milady.” At this point he looked a bit exasperated but a tiny bit amused.
“Call me Victoria. I don’t like this milady stuff. I know it’s appropriate for this setting but call me by name when we’re home.”
“Victoria,” he smiled. Jeffrey smiled because it meant we were getting closer. “When we don’t have any guest present I will do so.”
“One more request. I want to explore.”
“Absolutely not.” And Jeffrey went off before I could push any further. I was left to drink tea alone in the seating area. With all my chutzpah I could probably really push my two swords to take me out on the town.
“Operation, escape purgatory,” I chuckled.
It didn’t take long to realize that Cassandra and Pearl were sort of like pets or small children. They love to be coddled and I didn’t mind. I liked them. So it was only natural that I withhold my attention to get what I wanted out of the two. Repeatedly, I was told that leaving the estate would not be safe.
“But aren’t you guys the the king and gatekeepers of hell? My swords? Absolute bad asses?” I ask.
“We are,” Cassandra and Pearl said simultaneously.
“Then the both of you could protect me on the outside. Otherwise, I might actually be dead and trapped in purgatory. That may explain why I’m here,” I pout.
“What is purgatory,” asked Cassandra.
“Really? It’s a place between heaven and hell. My theory is that Jeffrey and Joan might be angels. And all of you are competing for my soul.” I give a heavy sigh for exaggeration sake. “And the Duke is the ruler of purgatory.”
“Where we are from there isn’t a purgatory. There are just two places for the decent and the bad,” said Pearl.
“So I’m really in another world then?” I ask.
“We wouldn’t lie to you miss,” Pearl smiled. They were being honest so I decided that I would accept what they were saying.
“Please let me see the outside world,” I pleaded. I put on my best puppy dog face. “I just want to feel like I’m alive. Like I’m not in some dream or that I’ve passed on.”
“We’ll go and explore the town but you have to do as we say,” said Cassandra.
“Fine,” Pearl exclaimed.
The three of us rushed to my chambers. We decided that we’d disguise ourselves as young males from the countryside. I could easily hide my frame in baggy clothing. Pearl and Cassandra had the luxury of shapeshifting but they just transformed into the male version of themselves. To prevent me from having to speak I will pretend to be a mute. We’re just some lads exploring the city of Ambry for the first time. According to Cassandra, there’s been a lot of interest in me since I rarely ever leave the estate. Apparently, my abilities are unstable. However, the household had been assessing me since I’ve woken up and have found my abilities to be dormant. That kind of sucks.
The ladies led the way as we travelled underneath the estate. Pearl explained that the grounds is protected by a strong barrier but there is an intentional weak point located beneath the estate. The Duke has a lot of enemies and if one of them were to ever infiltrate the estate there needs to be escape routes. One of these routes is attached to my bedroom but I can’t utilize magic to open up the pathway. So there won’t be any random outings on my own. Not yet at least.
With a wave of her hand, Pearl opened the barriers weak point which led us to a forested area. When I looked behind us there was nothing but trees, as if we were somewhere else entirely. And as we walked out of the forest I looked back to see if I could spot the Duke’s mansion but there was nothing.
“The pathway serves as a portal. Once your magic is back in full bloom you’ll learn how to open, close, and destroy the pathway,” Pearl said.
We reached the town of Ambry within thirty minutes. And this city was not what I expected it to be. Everything appeared to be spotless. All of the people looked like they were dressed in the finest of fabrics, a lot of over the top clothing. It’s as if the fashion from the Hunger Games was mixed in with the Victorian era. There were people that wore simplistic pretty garments. Good to see that everyone wasn’t inclined to over the top fashion.
Another very noticeable feature of Ambry was that the city ran on magic. Everything does. It was apparent around the mansion. Staff used magic specifically for cleaning. At the time I didn’t realize that magic was also a source of energy.
Through the store windows I saw food floating through the air and gracefully landing on the tables of patrons. Gowns coming off mannequins and landing in the hands of consumers. Somehow, it looks like the use of magic allows for a different sort of experience. One where employees engage more and are easily available to the consumer.
I could hear power lines in close proximity. The buzzing sound was loud. I looked to Cassandra for an answer to this loud noise and she said that this was the sound of magic. It would go unnoticed at the mansion as it isn’t used in large quantities there.
We continued walking the plaza underneath the clear blue sky. There were street performers, mainly singers and puppeteers. Never having seen a puppet show beyond the Muppets on TV I sat along with the children to watch one that caught my interest.
“I now present to you The Rain Maiden,” said a thin frail woman. She looked sickly to the point where she could have probably dropped dead on the spot. The children clapped and the red curtains slowly opened. A brown puppet popped up with curly hair and it began to weep of its tail.
“I am a girl cursed with too much emotion. I feel them strongly to the point of instability. Woe is my tale of love,” said the brown puppet.
“This is lame,” I say under my breath. The kids seem to really enjoy it and adults start to gather around.
“Only love can can settle my heart. Only love can make me calm. Only love can break this curse,” said the brown puppet.
I gather myself to leave but then a new character appears grabbing my attention.
“Alexandra Martell,” a pale puppet appeared with black hair. “Tiny princess of Ambry. I shall always protect you.”
Cassandra and Pearl stood from a distance as I continued to listen to the story of The Rain Maiden. The tale speaks of girl who fell in love with an older man; a great wizard who served the royal family. The wizard never acknowledged her affections until it was nearly too late. She was betrothed to the Crowned Prince who loved her deeply but his love was unrequited. And as the wizard continued to refuse her advances she became more unstable. It rained for several days to point of the city flooding. As the maiden’s heart darkened it’s as if the sun no longer existed. There was nothing but a pitch black sky and rainy days. Even the great wizard couldn’t compete with her unstable magic.
And so the crowned prince was forced to make a decision. The maiden would have to die or he would have to give her up. He could not kill the woman he loved so he ordered the great wizard to marry her to which he had to oblige for the sake of the kingdom. It was not until their wedding day that wizard realized that it wasn’t just his love that she craved. The were both oblivious to the power that wizard held over the maiden. For all it took was a single touch to calm her and those dark blue eyes would brighten, resembling the sky. As the wizard grew closer to the maiden who became his wife, he gradually fell in love with her, and began to see her as a woman instead of a child he had helped raise. Through the happiness of the maiden the skies remained bright, flowers bloomed, and the kingdom prospered.
The clapping and hooting brought the big crowd to my attention. A lot more people were gathered, cheering on the puppeteer as he revealed himself. A small old man with thin frames. He bowed before the crowd before packing up his belongs. Before he left he wished the maiden happy birthday.
I gathered myself and we went to the nearest bakery. Cassandra placed a red velvet cake in front of me and wished me a happy birthday. I had almost forgotten. It seems like I’ve been here for over a month already.
We wandered around Ambry for hours. Avoided places that commoners wouldn’t be able to afford. Went into taverns to enjoy cold beers and watched street performers. I was drunk before sunset and had to be assisted, I could barely walk. Pearl wanted to get back to the mansion quicker so she insisted on carrying me on her back. I insisted on teleportation but she expressed that displaying that sort of ability would bring attention. Though magic literally makes the world turn here a majority of the population can’t wield magic to that level.
“Did she enjoy herself,” a Scottish man asked.
I was so out of it that I could barely open my eyes. He was just a dark silhouette in the deemed sky. I could hear horses in the background and some other noises I couldn’t quite make out. And then I was loaded into what I assumed to be a carriage.
The last words I heard that night was, “Happy birthday, dear wife.” Embraced and asleep in the arms of the Duke. I’ve finally met this man after asking for what feels like forever and I’m passed out drunk.