Please read this
Hello, this is a collab story written by Wolf985 and I. She writes some, I write some :) NOTE: Please refrain from reading if you HAVEN'T read a Little Night Music!
PS: I'm aware I made some mistakes early on in ALNM; but have recently corrected all the ones I could find (but there may be more) In this story, my errors will not happen again, and everything relating to it will be as clear and as original as I can make it. Thank you.
It was a quiet, somber day for an estate sale but there was an estate sale going on anyway under the murky gray skies of Malkariss. Various oil portraits, swords and longbows were propped against a magnificently-carved oaken table, as well as a blue family crest depicting a black crow with spread wings above a gold crossed banner.
There were torture devices too: A huge, decaying wooden breaking wheel, a brass-and-silver cat’s paw for tearing flesh, and a pair of sharpened tongs for ripping out one’s tongue, as well as an ornate little set of fancy daggers lying on a faded velvet cushion.
A few creatures milled around the great lawn of Gideon Blair’s estate, selecting a few choice items that they liked, paid the appropriate amount of gold and hurried off before it rained. This was the estate sale of Gideon’s infamous former mate Vilaya- the Sable Quean.
One of the creatures still lingering was a somber tan-white wildcat clad in a black cloak and tunic, with a faded whitish scar above one eye. He walked with a slightly arrogant step, but there was a cold and slightly haggard look on his face even though he was still young in his seasons. He glanced quizzically down at the fine rapier in his paws that he’d just bought and gave a slight shudder, remembering who had owned it.
The wildcat looked up, feeling a light touch of claws on his shoulder. Turning around, he saw a male otter in a deep blue tunic somewhere in his mid-thirties standing in front of him.
“Looks like we’re the last of the stragglers.”
He shook his head.
“Some crazy sale…What’s yore name, cat?”
Naturally a loner and not used to the company of others, the wildcat took a moment to reply.
The otter shook his paw warmly.
“Tad. Tad Jenkins-Strong.”
“My old dad knew her…. Skelton; the Sable Quean, I mean.”
“From what he told me about her, she was one strange an’ real evil beast all right.
Isaac hesitated before answering. So this creature’s father knew the Sable Quean. So had he, then again…….The cat paused to reflect on this. He had known Vilaya, but was uncertain if he had actually known the REAL her. In the month they’d spent together, for the most part, the sable had been grim and quiet, bearing her pain well but rarely if ever speaking about her life and past.
“I knew her too.”
Tad looked surprised.
“Did ye now? Well then, matey, I think I have a story t’tell…..”
He cleared his throat.
“It all began way before I was born, when my father Matty was a youngbeast….It all goes back to the Skeltons and their bad blood…. Oh yes, the Skeltons….”
And so the otter began to tell his story…..
One unfortunate summer day.....
Southern Mossflower (also known as Malkariss for its most famous resident) was a place of prosper and decadence; inhabited by many noble vermin families, each with their own territory, all of whom had blood-inherited titles. In those days of prosper, everything was feudal. (until one of the many peasant revolts, which we’ll get to later)
But the most wealthy of these families, was unquestionable the sable family, the Skeltons. They made everybeast in the whole territory look poor.
The original Skelton estate was a vast, conspicuous mansion located in a meadow near a lake. Because of the fog that shrouded it each night; it became known over the years as Grey Gardens.
One season, it was July and it was hot. The temperatures were just so stifling that nearly all of the hired servants took a leave from work and suffered through it in the safety of their own homes, with their own families.
On the afternoon of that long day, Amanora Skelton sent for her seven-year-old son, Greengate. Amanora was propped up in her silken-canopied bed, a babe in her arms, little more then a bundle of wet fur over bones. Vilaya.
Amanora stiffened as there was a knock on the paneled oaken door.
“Would you like to see your new sister?”
The door squeaked open. In crept a narrow-boned, green-eyed sable of seven. Beneath his endearing, innocent surface there was slyness and mischief that nobeast ever saw.
The first thing Greengate did upon entering the room was stare. And stare. It is often said that most land mammals are born blind and deaf for the first few weeks of their life. According to folklore, this was not true for Vilaya.
Her piercing dark blue eyes were open from the beginning and they took in everything around her, beautiful dark eyes with flecks like turquoise and ice and bleached bone. Her brother was uneasy, seeing all this. Nonetheless, Greengate edged forward and touched his sister. She bared her small fangs and bit him upon the finger, breaking the fur and drawing a small fountain of gushing blood. “Yeeow! Little monster. She bit me, mother! She bit me! She bit me!”
Amanora shot her son a contempt-filled glare.
“Oh, Greengate! If you’re going to live up to your name you’ll need to toughen up. Your grandpa Saul didn’t flinch at the sight of a babe!”
Greengate was nursing his bleeding finger by sucking it in his mouth.
“Buhht ah’m’not lyke grandpa Sawl.” He mumbled around his finger.
“And so it appears that you aren’t. Leave. I want to have a word with your father.”
Greengate hurriedly loped off, not bothering to close the door.
Ephraim Skelton was indeed one of the most wealthy nobles in the southlands. As he was walking down the hall of his mansion, his younger son, Greengate came up to him sucking on his finger. "Greengate take your finger out of your mouth. you are no longer a babe."
He reluctantly took the bleeding appendage out of his mouth and said," Father, Momma wants to speak to you. Watch out for da baby though. She's a real monster. Ephraim rolled his eyes and went to see his wife.
Amanora Skelton held out the babe to her husband and he took his tiny daughter. Her wicked blue eyes glaring at him. "What should we name her?" asked Amanora. Ephraim thought about this and smiled when the babe bit his finger and drew blood. "Vilaya, yes, Vilaya Regina Skelton. that will be her name." This was only the beginning of Vilaya’s reign of terror that would last as long as her own lifespan- thirty-seven years. Nobeast, least of all her poor parents knew what would be in store for them in the present and what would be yet to come. Let us REALLY begin our story, here…… From now on, Vilaya will tell the story. Let’s hope you survive…..
Part One: A Shot in the Dark
The earliest thing in my life I can remember I barely still remember at all. I couldn’t have been older than two; and I sat on the water-lily patterned carpet of Grey Gardens’ second-best parlor, holding myself and giggling. I had been wearing a little white dress with a cameo of my great-aunt Rosaline (newly dead then) pinned to the collar. It thumped against my neck and chest when I moved, and I liked the cool feeling it brought to my fur when it did.
There was a slight squealing as the door was eased open and Greengate (who was nine) walked in, that mischievous smile of his on his face. He had with him a ferret rag doll wearing a miniature version of my dress. Feeling a surge of babe’s anger rushing through my veins, I tried to leap up as much as my wobbly legs would allow me.
“Greenga’e, h’that’s V’laya’s toy!”
I squealed in the lisping speech of babes.
Greengate said nothing, just smiled again. He placed the doll all the way on the other side of the room; black satin armband slipping as he bent down. I blinked in horror, sitting forward. I was barely two, had just learned to walk and now Greengate expected me to walk all the way to the other side of the room to get my toy! A typical punishment from him.
I stared in disbelieving horror at my brother. He winked and said endearingly:
“You go get your toy, Vilaya.”
It looked like I had little choice otherwise. So I squared my shoulders and half-crawled half-stumbled across the long parlor room. Once there, I scooped the doll up in my arms and hugged it to my small chest. Greengate leered down at me, before leaving the room, calling over his shoulder:
“Jeez, Vil, you’re a smart little horsefly after all!”
He shut the door and walked out.
I swore to myself that Greengate would pay for his cruelty towards me. Little did he know that shortly after he left I went into the kitchens and saw the weird otter servant who always carried around that stupid powder that made your mouth burn in a pouch on his belt. While he was working on preparing this evenings dinner I toddled up to him and tugged on his apron. He looked down in annoyance. “Wat do ye want?” I gave him my sweetest look and pointed to the pouch. “Want!” “No. It’s not fer young uns. “ I stuck out my lower lip in a moody pout. “Want.” “No.” I started screaming. This freaked the servant out and he quickly gave me what I wanted. I knew he feared to lose his pathetic job. After I had acquired my ingredient for revenge I put it in the pocket of my dress then began toddling back out of the kitchen and back to my nursery. Waiting for dinner.
Dinner time came soon enough and I was carried down to the dining room by my nurse. She sat me next to my brother and he shrank away from me. I smiled. That’s right Greengate; be afraid! The servants brought out the food which was some kind of soup with a light salad. My parents talked as they ate; making them oblivious to my brother and I. Greengate poked at his salad as if examining it for poison. I poked him and he flinched. “What?” he hissed.
I whispered while pointing a chubby claw at the window. He looked and I poured the red powder into his soup and stirred it with my claw to make it dissolve. I had just finished when he turned back to me.
“There ain’t nothing out there, Vil, you're such a liar!”
He then ate a spoonful of the soup. As soon as the liquid touched his tongue he screamed and dropped his spoon. Greengate gulped his glass of water, but the burning sensation still wouldn’t go away, and I could tell. I laughed at his stupidity.
When would he learn to never mess with Vilaya Regina Skelton? I could tell my father was angry because of his shouts of rage and irritation that were aimed directly at Greengate. My mother shook her head.
“What in hellgates is wrong with you boy?” My father screamed.
The huge amount of spice had left Greengate unable to talk properly. “my ‘ung! ‘ts on fire! ‘Ake it spop! “ Tears streamed down his face as he pointed to me. “Dat mo’ster did dis ta me!” Again that word, monster!
Even though I was so young I was very rapidly beginning to hate that word. And I also knew what it meant.
Three years passed. I got bigger and a little more muscular; lost the stumble when I walked, and spoke normally. Even though he was now twelve; Greengate still wasn’t above harassing me, and continued to torment me whenever he saw fit.
Because my other brother, Samson (two years older than me at seven) worshipped Greengate like a living idol, he usually listened to and obeyed whatever Greengate said. It was just as well that Samson wasn’t very smart and didn’t really have a mind of his own to make decisions with.
It was a cool August evening. I was eating dinner with my parents and brothers. Greengate sat across from me, glowering as he ate his quail. I pulled leering tongues back at him. Samson rolled his eyes and laughed oafishly, nudging Greengate. They spoke in low whispers but I could still hear them anyway.
I looked to my parents. They were talking about adult things I didn’t even try to understand, but the word Redwall Abbey kept coming up a lot. The word seemed pretty important to them, so I listened and hoped to understand more as I did.
“Really Ephraim, really?”
My mother laughed, a sound like the ringing of high-pitched bells as she stood up and crossed the room to the marbled fireplace, leaning on the mantel.
“Conquering Redwall Abbey is a fool’s ambition.”
“James and I are not fools!”
I knew that James was my uncle Bones. I kept listening, getting more eager by the minute.
“Did I ever say you were?”
My mother sighed raggedly.
“Ephraim you and your mad brother tried to take Redwall years ago and you failed; what makes you so certain you’d win now?”
“Nothing, Ammy darling.”
My father assured her, holding up his paws in a joking surrender.
“It’s just a thought.”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
Soon, the conversation had strayed to other things and my interest had began waning. I stood up from my chair (which was a duplicate of my parents and brothers’; just with a few velvet cushions on top so I could reach the table)
“Can I be excused?”
My father smiled fondly.
I needed no further bidding. I pushed my plate in and ran from the dining room, into the front hall and out onto the porch.
I’ve always loved the porch of Grey Gardens. It’s fairly huge, long, and with two twin granite pillars supporting the front. I hid myself in the cool shadows of the pillars, and busied myself with playing with a wooden ball for a few moments… Until Samson and Greengate emerged in the doorway, with their typical snobbish grins.
“What do you want?”
I said, a bit angrily, and stood.
“Just to spy on you!”
He slugged Samson in the arm.
“Leave me alone.”
“Why should we when you’re so much fun to torment, O precious Villy?”
“Don’t call me that!”
“I can call you whatever I want. I AM the eldest, after all.”
Greengate smiled toothily. I didn’t bother disputing his claim; after all, he was right about being the oldest and I couldn’t argue with him on that matter. Not that he WOULD take me seriously!
Anyway, I felt my temper mounting slowly. Silently and without a word, I leapt off the porch and headed off east, towards the lakefront and the neighboring woods. I heard Greengate’s laughter as I went, but I ignored him.
Glancing around the meadows in the rapidly-darkening sky, I struggled to find what I wanted. But I did, at last, spying a long, rust-colored centipede crawling through the tall grass.
I grabbed it up in my paw and ran back to the porch, grinning in satisfaction. Greengate and Samson were clearly struggling not to laugh as I showed them the writhing centipede in my arms.
But in one quick motion, the paw that once held it fast to my chest lunged forward. It tore off the centipede’s head in a quick, vicious motion. I paid no attention to the amber fluid that squirted forward and made my paws wet. I just dangled the head in front of their terrified faces, and watched, as they silently walked back inside, not knowing what to say.
For the next few years, it became one of my pastimes, torturing small insects and seeing how long it would take for them to die.
I hope I’d made my message very clear that evening: That what I could do to a centipede I would one day do to my brothers…..
A year went by. I was playing in the parlour with my two younger cousins, who were visiting at the time. I never liked them; but they were better than my BROTHERS; that's for sure! I looked out the window and saw that night was falling fast. My mother came into the room and said,
"It's about time that you three got to bed." this was met by groans and "Do we have too's". My mother nodded nodded.
"Go on. Off to bed with you. you can come back and play in the morning." I sighed; placed my doll on the horsehair sofa then went upstairs to bed. The next morning the three of us got up early and ran down stairs. I ran into the parlor, and my heart skipped a beat. The couch was gone. Leaving Olivia and Elena to explore the situation alone; I fled, my mother's words echoing: Grey Gardens does have its little quirks; my dear....
The next morning came with a gloomy drizzle. I yawned and climbed out of my bed, dressed, and went down the stairs to the parlor to retrieve my doll. As I made my way into the room I was distraught to find that the couch had disappeared! And my doll was gone with it! I ran back out into the hall and saw our family’s otter butler named Matthew Jenkins-Strong (but to my family and his 19 coworkers; he was just Jenkins; sometimes Matty).
Jenkins was tall with dark fur and a deep voice. I angrily went up to him and pulled on his jacket. “Jenkins! I want my doll!” He gave me an annoyed look then sighed. “Where did you leave it last?” he asked. “It... It was on the sofa. But it's gone!”
“Gone? What do you mean it’s gone?”
"Milady what did you leave there.....?"
‘What an idiot.’ I thought.
I pulled him to the parlor and he gasped as he saw the empty spot...... “By dark forest it is gone!”
“I want my doll!” I screeched.
“I don’t know where it is.”
That was it. He had asked for it! I threw myself on the ground and began throwing a fit. I rarely did this now what I was older; but if you'd asked me at the time I would have told you the situation called for it. I wanted my doll and by the seasons he was going to get it for me. I bit his tail with my sharp little teeth and the servant yelped, swearing under his breath.
He grabbed me by the back of my dress and lifted me off of his rudder. I looked him in the eyes. “Alright you little brat. If I get your doll you stop acting like this. You’re going to get me fired and I need to support my own children. And my wife.”
“Hmph. Fine. Get my doll. GO!”
Jenkins put me down and went to begin his search.
For the rest of that day I followed Jenkins around the mansion making sure that he was actually searching. If I didn’t think he was looking hard enough I started another fit. By evening my doll still hadn’t been found and I was getting rather impatient. I crossed my little arms and glared at him.
“Don’t give me that look brat. I’ve looked everywhere. Maybe your brothers took it?”
“Those dunderheads couldn’t move a couch. You didn’t check the attic.”
“There's nothing in the attic.”
“How do you know? You didn’t check!”
He groaned and went up the stairs to the attic. I followed him close behind. We came to the door of the attic and it seemed like an eternity before Jenkins got it open.
He lit a candle in a wall holder and we both gasped as we saw the horsehair sofa sitting in the middle of the empty room. My doll had been repositioned to a sitting position and seemed to be staring at us. I shuddered and moved closer to Jenkins. He put his big webbed paw on my head as if to comfort me, but he kept looking at the couch.
“How strange…” he looked down at me. “Let’s find your father. Perhaps he knows something about this.”
We both went back downstairs to find my father, but as I stole a glance back through the attic door I could’ve swore that the doll was waving goodbye to me.
Later in the afternoon, (the one following the incident with the couch of course) my cousins went home and I was terribly bored. Like a little shadow in a fuchsia dress, I crept up the staircase, making a game of dodging in and out of the afternoon shadows bathing the broad hallway.
Vilaya Skelton, explorer of the vast unknown!
I thought to myself, and stifled a giggle. At the end of the hallway however, I stopped just outside the door to Jenkins’ office (which was mostly where him and my father would debate over unimportant territorial issues, or have a little to drink.)
I froze dead in my tracks completely at the voices resonating from behind the door.
“…..Matthew this is intolerable! I’m disappointed in you! And to think that I thought you were one of my best employees!”
There was a faint sound of paws on a carpet.
“My lord……It….It was all an accident! If I see anything of the sort again I’ll simply resign if that makes you happy.”
“No, no, Matthew the next time you won’t need to resign.”
I could almost see my father’s sly smile.
“Er, my lord?”
“I mean that next time, if you leave it won’t be voluntarily!”
My father’s voice changed, and became smooth and sweet, as though he was talking to a babe or someone who wasn’t mentally competent.
Jenkins was a bit puzzled by my father’s mysterious over such a simple matter.
“So you’ll be firing me?”
“No, not firing my dear Matthew…..I know you have Tanya and your children to support….. But if there is a next time, I have my ways to make you er……Forget.”
Now my father’s voice was edgy, and mysterious, and he was obviously guarding something that wasn’t for Jenkins to hear.
The otter seemed wary, but apparently accepted his judgment to get the conversation over with.
“I understand, my lord. Next time I’ll be more careful.”
“Good! I’d hate to lose you, Matty!”
A bit of a cold chill ran down my spine. I had no idea what my father and the servant had been talking about, but in a few years I would find out for myself. Not wanting to hear anymore, I hurried back down the hallway just as the doorknob turned.
Two weeks had passed since conversation I had heard outside Jenkins office; and it had been pushed to the farthest reaches of my mind. It was a sunny day which was rare for Grey Gardens. I couldn't wait to go outside and warm my fur. All of my plans were ruined however by Jenkins. The otter butler had brought his eldest son to work with him. For what reason I had no idea. Jenkins had come to the parlor this morning with him and told his son to play nice with me.
Nico Jenkins-Strong was a thin lanky otter that had pale brown fur and warm brown eyes; five years my senior at eleven. He was quiet and shy. As soon as his father left to work he sat down in an armchair and started drawing in a sketchbook. I peered over the arm of the chair to watch but he hid the drawing from me. "show me what you're drawing!" I demanded.
"it's none of your business."
I stuck my lip out angrily.
"oh yeah? I can get your daddy fired!"
Nico gulped and gave me the book. I took it and flipped through the pages. The same image kept appearing. A young ottermaiden. I looked at him questioningly. "
Who is this?"
I asked. Nico shyly looked away.
"can you keep a secret?"
He whispered. "yes."
He sighed and said, "That's Julia Malvern. The most beautiful otter in all of Malkariss."
I knew the Malverns. Fifty miles east; they were among our nearest neighbors, and every once in a great while the head of the family, Samuel Malvern would invite my father over for dinner. Here it was not so unusual to see such close relations between woodlanders and vermin; unlike farther into Mossflower.
"I've met her once. She's pretty but not very smart."
Nico just shrugged.
Just then my brothers Greengate and Samson came into the parlor.
I did not like being a scapegoat, and I admitted their presence made me feel intimidated. Especially Greengate. He was thirteen now and ox-strong with well-muscled arms and good stamina for practicing swordplay outside for so long.
Samson, always his subservient, watched the scene with little interest. But I cringed as Greengate approached me.
"Ye got a drawing book, Vil?"
"No, it's his."
I said, indicating Nico.
"And you ruffians get out of MY parlor!"
I snapped, choosing words that might've been more appropriate coming from my mother.
Greengate laughed raucously.
"Oh Vil why would I EVER listen to a little runt like you?"
"I won't always be a runt."
He jabbed me in the stomach with his metal, dull-bladed practice rapier. It still hurt.
"Says you, spoiled brat. Ever since you were born it's always been about you and not ME, the firstborn!"
"What does age have to do with this?"
I decided to try a different tactic.
"Greengate...Get out of here or...I'll tell our parents you disrespected me."
"Then tell them!"
I glanced over at Nico. He had a paw clamped over his muzzle and was watching the whole fiasco with muffled laughter.
"And you, otter...."
Greengate turned to Nico.
"Unless you work here, go home. S'not your job."
"My father works here. That's enough."
Nico's dark eyes flashed.
I glared at Greengate.
"You and Samson get out of here or..."
I thought of the worst threat possible.
"I'll tell them you were playing in the basement."
That sent them running. It was common knowledge that the basement (accessible from the front hall) was strictly forbidden territory for my siblings and I; and anyone who let us down there would suffer dearly.
Nico looked at me incredulously.
"Vil- Lady Skelton,"
He corrected himself with the proper form of address.
"You really saved my rudder there."
"I can be friendly when I choose."
I handed Nico back his book and started to walk out.
Nico got up.
"Where are you going?"
I smiled vaguely.
And with that I hurried out to enjoy the early September afternoon while I still could.
Two years passed and I was now nine years old. Few things had changed at Grey Gardens. My brothers were still bumbling idiots and Jenkins was still his moody self. His son Nico now works in the kitchens. Nico is a great creature to talk with because he listens to every word. He can also be quite entertaining at times. He's taught me a few things about art as well.
Anyways as the days go on it seems that my father, Ephraim, is expecting much more out of me. He keeps telling me tips on how to be a proper lady. But today however he brought up a whole new topic. How to act at noble parties. I went down to the parlor this morning and he was there smoking a cigar with a glass of whiskey and water nearby.
"Vilaya dear," he said, "come here and sit." I did as I was told and instantly regretted it. I knew a lecture was coming. "Tomorrow night is the yearly ball. I expect you to present yourself as a high-ranking lady. One bad impression and our family will be looked down upon. Do you understand?" I nodded.
He stretched, rising from the chair.
“And remember Vilaya….”
He rose and draped an arm around me.
“Balls are how the ruling class STAYS the ruling class. I expect you to behave like a lady in the future; go and find yourself a mate from another family. This is a preparation for your courting days in a few years. You know I expect a lot of you. So do well.”
I muttered a hasty ‘agreement’ under my breath and departed.
To make a long story short; the ball came and went, and I behaved suffice to my elders’ expectations. Having been a student at a distant boarding school called East Point for the past two years; I saw less and less of Greengate, but as he got closer to adulthood I bitterly saw that our father favored him a lot more than he did me.
I also dreaded the approach of December of that same year; since that was when my only living uncle, Bones made his biyearly visit. (I said living since my OTHER uncle, Frederick Skelton, jr. died mysteriously the year before I was born) We all knew how crazy Bones was; he claimed to hear voices in his head that told him what to do, and that a slew of dead warlords all had prophecies and great plans just for him.
According to my father, Bones had been mad long before their debut as warlords, when they’d made their brief debut as thirty-three and thirty-year old warlords, respectively. Bones and Ephraim had had great expectations to follow up to, their own father having helped end the territory wars outside of Malkariss; officially making it a territory and not just an isolated part of Mossflower.
However, we creatures of Malkariss were known for our hostility (at least the upper class; most of us coming from noble bloodlines) and now, we simply fought with ourselves during the now once-in-a-lifetime occaisons when we had war.
Now, the story of my uncle’s insanity went that a three-year-old Bones had seen my grandfather, General Frederick Skelton (senior) having hung himself upon a rope in the upstairs attic, and had been completely deranged ever since. I believed this.
It was a moody December day; the kind where you think there will be snow, but there never is. I was glad for that. Winter is definitely my least favorite season, and I could never wait for spring to come. I sat slumped on a porch chair, wearing a thick fuchsia dress with a gold-leaf covered belt.
I was alone, and that was how I liked it. After a while, however, my hackles raised at the at-first distant sound of deranged laughter and racing footpaws. So Bones was coming already. Damn.
Infamous for arriving spontaneously and with little to no fanfare (as well as traveling by footpaw), Bones was by far the most utilitarian of our very wealthy and of course noble-blooded family. I tried not to flinch as Bones came sweeping up the walkway, his bare footpaws crunching on dead grass.
“Vilaya! My strange little niece!”
He roared upon seeing me in the chair.
I muttered under my breath before turning over, resting my head on a tattered cushion.
Moments later the door flung open and I could hear Matty and both my parents greet Bones warmly as he came in. I think I dozed off for a while as the adults chattered on about trivial things; but come evening I was awoken by a rough shake.
“Lady Skelton? Dinner.”
I recognized a familiar face suspended over mine.
I stretched and got up from my chair and entered.
“I’ll see you later.”
I told him honestly, and went off to what would be a boring and overly-decadent meal.
The dining room was nearly empty except for my parents, Samson and Bones. Greengate was not there; not yet being home on winter break from East Point. I paid this little mind and lingered in the doorway before sitting down on a cushioned chair.
I glanced at my parents. My father was dressed in a black tunic with a creeping tattoo of the family crest artfully carved into his left arm. My mother had overdressed per usual; and was wearing a crimson, medium-skirted gown with lace ruffles, a high collar, and a tight bodice.
My mother had been getting a little fat of late, which I found odd given that she usually liked to keep her figure slim. I had no idea why this would be, but I ignored it and tried to eat my baked salmon and ignore Bones, who leered eerily across the table at me as I ate.
After the meal was over, my mother clutched her stomach and fanned herself, muttering:
“Ephraim, I feel ill….”
And hurried out of the room before he could so much as support her.
“Vilaya may I have a word with you? Please?”
Bones was grinning at me again. I felt the fur at the back of my neck rise.
My father smiled too; and Bones led me out of the room by the arm. He led me up a twisting flight of stairs to the far left that led into the second floor. They were carpeted heavily, and we stopped at the landing; by the intricately-decorated stained glass window.
“You’re very pretty, Vilaya. Don’t you know that?”
“You look so much like them both.”
I’ve always been told I was a bit of a mongrel of my parents: I had my mother’s beautiful almond shaped eyes, (with both my parent’s signature royal blue; with shades and undertones of turquoise, gray and white.)
“Now Vilaya. There are things you must not do when you become an adult.”
“Because they’re bad. You could get sent to the jail colonies in the northland or even the big house.”
Even at nine years old I knew that ‘big house’ was a euphemism for prison.
“So you, young lady must NEVER, EVER: Vandalize public property; write threatening letters, go out at night with unkempt fur, beg without a license (Although given your status I don’t know why you would milady!) and especially don’t write threatening letters. D’ye hear me?”
“Yes Uncle Bones. But what happens if I DO do those things?”
Bones laughed nervously.
“Then you’ll be hauled off to the big house for a bit. That’s what they call the prison. Or the colony. Oh yes; the colony….The northlands are a frightful place, you know? Scorching summers, bitter winters where your limbs rot off from frostbite……Cold, cold cold! And you know what they make you do in the colony? They shackle you to the other prisoners and march you through the labor yard; and give you fake pikes to wave. And then you have to chant things like “MY ONLY MASTER IS LORD VULPUZ AND LORD VULPUZ’S GATES I SOON AM BOUND!’ Oh seasons. Vilaya darling I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sorry.”
It was then that my only living uncle attempted to kill me. Producing a slim dagger from his pocket, Bones lunged for my throat. I leapt behind him like a lithe shadow.
With all my might, I shoved my weight into my uncle’s back and pushed him out the window. Bones screamed as he fell; a terrible drawn-out screech that only seemed to stop when he hit the dead and frost-covered grass, his neck twisted at an odd angle.
A few creatures, my father among them had already hurried out to see what all the commotion was.
Hurriedly, I leaned out the shattered window frame and tried to act frightened and alone; as I WOULD be playing the role of a traumatized young child, after all.
I screamed to my father over the roaring wind.
“Uncle Bones jumped!”
I don’t remember what my father’s response was, but it wasn’t important. That cool day in December was the day I committed my first murder. Even if it was in self-defense. From that day forward; I knew I wanted more.
A month has passed since the murder of my uncle Bones. My mother has been acting very strangely lately and has grown quite fat which was unusual for her. I tried to push this to the back of my mind but as I passed the door to my parents bedroom I heard shouting.
I pressed my ear to the thick oak door and was just able to make out what they were saying.
"I can't believe this! Amanora you wench!"
"Ephraim please! I'm sorry it wasn't my fault!"
"NOT YOUR FAULT?! What were you drunk off your paws?"
"Amanora I want an answer and I want one now!"
my father shouted. I heard the sound of metal against stone and peered into the keyhole to see my father holding a blackened poker that had been neer the fireplace. He held it like he was going to beat my mother with it. Amanora groveled at his footpaws.
"Please Ephraim no! I'm so sorry!"
I couldn't see it but tears streamed down her face.
"I'm sorry really! P...please believe me!"
"Who was the father..."
"Byron Deveraux. Don't hurt me Ephraim!" My heart skipped a beat- Byron Deveraux was a pine marten, and the margrave of all Malkariss! My father lowered the poker.
"What are you going to do about the pregnancy?" he asked forcefully through clenched teeth.
"I..I'm going to go through with it....I c...can't kill it..."
Ephraim turned on his heel and threw the poker at the wall where it stuck. He headed towards the door and I quickly got out of the way and hid behind a vase as it was slammed open and my father stormed down the hall.
From inside the room I could hear my mother's sobs. So she had had an affair. I was surprised that she wasn't killed for this, but that was all that surprised me. I wondered what the brat would be like.
A roaring winter came, dissolved and slowly disappeared into spring. I was happy for that. Winter was my least favorite season for a lot of reasons I won’t go into. The more time passed, the more noticeably pregnant my mother became. She began to curtail her official duties as Lady Amanora Skelton and began to spend more time indoors what with the impending birth of my half-brother or half-sister. Finally, on May 10th, Hannah Leigh Deveraux was born. (my father didn’t even try to disguise the fact that she wasn’t his daughter) All the servants knew our secret, but dared not to gossip less they lose their jobs- or worse- any single one of their heads. My father knew from his warlord days (however brief) that the best way to scare an enemy into submission is to tell them that you could strike at any time and kill off whoever you pleased. I liked this school of thought myself.
Moving on, you could tell almost from her birth that Hannah was an odd hybrid; something that should not be yet is: She was neither sable nor pine marten but both; a kidas. They are a rare mixture, and usually infertile when they occur- I only knew of them from long-ago servant rumors and my father’s angry dinner table curses. Hannah was pretty; but in an unconventional way: She had dark cream-colored fur, darker tipped-ears, and yet they were smooth and oval-shaped like mine, Samson and Greengate’s were; and not pricked like a pine marten’s. Her ears were also long, and she had a short tail, a splash of odd orange fur at her throat, and blue eyes that looked more like glass in sharp comparison with mine; which were cobalt flecked with turquoise and shades of gray and white.
As she grew older however, I tended to pay less attention to Hannah; really all she did was make strange whimpering noises, eat, and nap in my mother’s reedy arms. Eventually, the lush days of Malkariss spring gave way to June; ushering in summer, as well as Greengate’s birthday on June 16th (which was one of my least-favorite days of the year)
I found myself drifting further from Nico and more within myself. He seemed more focus on being alone and drawing, and so I avoided him and tried to focus just on myself. Eventually, July 14th came around, and suddenly I was ten. It was an unusually cool day out, so I was trying to enjoy the shade, sitting in the cool shadows of the lake and dipping my footpaws into the damp water.
I was dressed simply in a white cotton dress with a pattern of floral red blocks, grateful for having light clothes to wear in the heat. I was not expecting, however, Greengate to come swaggering up; something concealed behind his back.
“What do you want?”
I growled, standing up.
Greengate mocked in a high, falsetto voice.
“What’s that behind your back?”
I asked, straining to see.
Whatever it was, Greengate pushed it completely away.
“So you really want to know…Do you….”
He smiled and pulled a decorated sword from behind his back.
“That’s my fencing rapier! I was looking for that!”
“Yes, the one that dad got you for your birthday today….”
Greengate mused, and held the sword just out of my reach. I didn’t move an inch, not about to fall for his cheap trick.
“You won’t be needing this, Miss Skelton.”
He said in a low voice.
“It’s not like you’re going to get into East Point anyway!”
“East Point? Says who? It’s still five more years before I’m old enough to go anyway!”
“Says me! I’m sorry Vilaya, but I don’t think your request can be obliged.”
“I can oblige whatever requests I want. If I try.”
“So you have ambition. Precious.”
“Greengate, for seasons’ sake STOP TAUNTING ME!”
I felt hot liquid rush into my eyes, but it didn’t hurt. I glared at Greengate long and hard, sides heaving, all fury.
“Just give me the damned sword.”
I grated, cursing to add emphasis.
Greengate looked like he was about to fall over out of fear, but ran off without dropping it anyway. I was very angered and annoyed; but I reassured myself with the statement that I could always sneak up and get the sword whenever Greengate had wandered off and abandoned it. The sword forgotten, I stalked back to the house to see if there was still any cake to be had.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first time I had ever experienced bloodwrath. It wouldn’t be the last.
A few years after my half sister’s birth everything seemed to be going normally. My brothers were still pains and thought they were better than me, and my father had gone back to his businesslike self and avoided my mother at all costs. He was one to hold a grudge for a very long time. Jenkins was still the grumpy otter he was and his son Nico was doing more work around their house because of his father’s arthritis. I heard a rumor about Nico’s mother being sick but I don’t know; I never visited their home, and I felt no sympathy anyway.
And my sister Hannah acted very strangely. She grew into a very quiet child and sat in her room all day playing by herself and doing math problems out of my old school books. What an odd child. Why my father hadn’t killed her is beyond me.
But eventually, Grey Gardens was trapped in the throes of summer again, and Hannah was now three and more of a bother than ever because she followed me around constantly. Nico and I had wary relations at best, though we still talked; and I felt more secure having more of the house and grounds to traverse now that I was more alone: Greengate was now just over twenty and had since graduated East Point, but not before visiting home and promising our parents that he’d do the family proud.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at how silly and over-the-top he sounded, knowing that I myself would be going to East Point in a few years’ time. So on a hot, sickly day in August with a low wind blowing, I sat on my haunches on the grass, hacking at blades with a wooden practice sword while watching Hannah play with dandelions. Nico came over, and the two of us exchanged greetings- we’d been less than close lately now that he’d been expressing interest in leaving home as soon as he was old enough, though what his father’s thoughts on that were I did not know.
The three of us sat there for the longest time, that one day in the summer. I don’t know why but I never will forget that day.
That night, I could hear my parents arguing through the thin walls again. It was about Hannah, as usual.
“Amanora, you silly feebleminded wretch!”
My father thundered.
“How many times must I tell you this? You must return Hannah to her father’s custody.”
“Or else what, Ephraim?”
A long silence.
“Ephraim, or else what?”
Again, no answer. A slamming of a door. Silence.
A week later, my mother left the house holding Hannah by the paw and said they were going somewhere. She returned a few hours later without Hannah, looking as though she’d been crying. I did not ask what had transpired, it would probably seem impolite.
It would not be till years later that I found out what happened, but this is what did: My mother had bent to my father’s demands and sent Hannah to live with her father the Margrave. But my father had sent assassins after him anyway, so Margrave Deveraux had had Hannah spirited away to live with close friends of the family. I would not know of what became of that strange, strange child for sixteen years to come.
The fall I was fifteen, the time had come for me to enter school, specifically at East Point Military Academy. I was incredibly nervous, and it didn’t help that Greengate had come to visit either.
I was packing my bags when Greengate came in. "You won't last a week at East Point." "I will to! I'll be the greatest warlord that ever lived!" "Ha! you a warlord? What a joke." I growled in irritation. "Get out of my room!" "Make me Vil." I threw a book at him which missed his head by a hair. He flinched and ran out. What a coward. i thought.
The coach ride to East Point was long and dull. I slept a little on the way up, my carpetbag clutched beside me on the padded seat. When I woke, it was early afternoon. The trail ahead was clear and unmarked, and shafts of sunlight poked in through transparent, green-glass tree leaves. Pretty.
Hungry, I opened up my plaid-patterned carpetbag and found a loaf of bread, dried fish packed into a tin, and some too-chewy peppers. I ate them quietly, and had bitten into an apple (the last edible item there) when a small envelope with the family crest on the seal caught my eye. I broke the wax and slid the letter out.
I hope you have a good trip to East Point. Good luck with your studies, I’m sure you’ll do the family proud. Write back when you have time, and don’t hesitate to come home on holidays or emergencies!
I smiled wryly. My mother always thought of me, even though I was fifteen now and far beyond being fussed over like a brat Hannah’s age. I put the letter back in the bag and glanced at my suitcase. It contained a few changes of clothes, and a few slim hardback books, but that was it. The only other thing I’d brought was one old rusty rapier strapped to my sheath. Not much, but traveling lightly was something I didn’t really mind.
About half an hour more, the coach pulled up in front of a massive stone gate, and there was the crack of a whip. Some snorting. The horses outside went quiet. I took my bags and paid the driver, feeling far too stingy to add in a tip. There was no gate in front of me, so I walked up in front of the main façade that was my new school.
Up until now I’d always been homeschooled all my life, so I had to stare. I couldn’t help it! East Point seemed infinite from the outside, to graze the sky, even. A three or four-story redbrick building, decorated with granite latticework and gothic window frames. There was even a widow’s walk. Seasons.
Feeling extremely awkward and more than a little nervous (and yes, frightened!!) I took a breath and trudged up to the smooth front steps by the oak door. I hesitated then. The knockers seemed to be solid brass and had a design of wolverine heads. I picked one up and rapped at the door. Then again. After a moment, a graying weasel flung the door open.
“Ahh, miss Skelton. Pleasure to have you here, I hope you’ll be as excellent a student as your brother! I’ll have you know we got your entrance exam just the other week.”
“How did I do?”
I held my breath.
“You passed, but barely. I’d recommend you study more. I’ll have you know we have quite a few exceptional students here, and if you want to be in that percentage, Miss Skelton, I highly suggest you do your bit.”
I cringed, blushing. Homeschool had always been hard for me, but the seemingly endless entrance exam for East Point had been the most difficult test I’d taken in my life. But I was infinitely relieved I’d passed at all.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll see to that.”
“By the way, I’m Eldon Wilde, the headmaster. I want to say that I hope I won’t be seeing too much of you from now on. At least, we can hope.”
He flashed me a subtle, toothy grin. I shrugged and prepared to step into the entry hall.
“Classes start tomorrow. In the meantime, your arrangements have already been taken care of.”
I stopped in my tracks now.
“What room do I have?”
“304, second floor.”
I entered into a plain, modest front hall and took off running towards a sloped set of stairs to the student rooms. Upon coming to 304, I glanced a the piece of carpet underneath the door frame. I flipped it over. No key.
Just as I’d done that, the door was flung open.
“Hello. You must be my new roommate?”
I cocked my head to take in the ferret I was staring at. She was fragile-looking, and very short. Like me, she had a fairly thin build and had blue eyes but that was where the similarities ended. The female ferret seemed to be around my age, and she was wearing a very pale pink dress with frilled sleeves, a white floral pattern, along with a very narrow skirt. Her fur was typical black-and-white, but seemed to have a slight blue-ish tinge. She was definitely very shy, so I stayed my distance anyway. I hadn’t wanted a roommate but it appeared I was going to have to put up with one anyway. So for the both of our sake, I forced on a pleasant smile and extended a paw.
“Yes. Vilaya Skelton.”
She took my paw and shook it firmly.
“Moreaux. Moreaux Saberfang.”
Shortly after, Moreaux (who’d gotten here that morning and knew the grounds just a little better) took me on an amateur tour of the campus so I’d at least know where everything was when classes started in the morning. It was more or less what I’d expected: More bedrooms, ornate classrooms with spit-cleaned floors, a very large dining room, and plenty of space outside the main building for outdoor activities and relaxation when students had the time.
We were just about to return inside and to our dorm room when Moreaux pointed out a creature to me, one who stuck in my mind. A tall, green-eyed male sable with a bit of fat around his middle, laughing as he thrust dashingly at nonexistent enemies with his fencing rapier. I rolled my eyes. I saw so much of Greengate there it hurt.
“Who’s that arrogant pinhead?”
I whispered, laughing a bit.
Moreaux shook her head.
“That’s Gideon Blair, tenth grade if I recall. I hear he’s very very uptight but an excellent swordbeast. He likes to run his mouth a lot though. I’d avoid him.”
Moreaux started to quickly rush towards the front door, but it was too late. Gideon had caught us gossiping already. He donned a large fake smile and strode imperiously towards us. I gagged a little.
“Hello there, Moreaux! Who’s this you’re with?”
He cocked his head, studying me a moment.
“Ahh, are you Miss Vilaya Skelton?”
“Yes I am.”
His smile broadened almost unnoticeably.
“I hear your family has quite the history with this school, how very endearing. Do you fence?”
“Then I’ll have to take you on sometime. Good day, ladies!”
He waved a bit and paraded off, leaving Moreaux and I alone.
“What a narrow-minded buffoon!”
I chortled once Gideon was out of sight.
“You should just stay away from him, he’s probably a terrible influence.”
“I’d imagine so.”
And with that, we disappeared inside and I began to think about Gideon Blair. A bad influence? Undoubtedly. But would he prove a fun rival, as well as stimulating to toy with? Well, we’d have to see. We’ll see, indeed…..