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House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 4

September 27, 2019 10:41PM

The House with Kaleidoscope Doors

Maria V, let's revisit your question at the end, but I'll just say now that hedgemagicians don't know enough to recognize magic, even when they are the ones doing it. (Suspenseful music)

Lucy J, Eleanor is a great Austenian wingman, so much better than Col. Fitzwilliam.

Chapter 4: Troublesome Doors

Catherine woke to the sound of birdsong and the hush of conversation. The words were nonsensical and she was so comfy in her bed, but something warned her to pay attention.

“You may have lost your mouse, but at least I have brought you someone else as a replacement,” came the higher-pitched voice.

“They are hardly interchangeable, not with a curse like this” said the second voice, lower.

"Did you not notice a lack of feathers despite all the magic you used to save her heart? If you cannot find your first choice, Granny Bonnet at least has the advantage of being here."

“I have not given up on my little mouse just because it's been a few days. And even if I had, Granny is too old," came the gentle protest.

Once Catherine realized that the wizard and the demon were talking about her, all drowsiness drained away and she listened intently.

“I don't think she's very old.”

“Well, you're a fire demon. I'm sure your ideas of young or old are quite different from mine.”

“She is younger than --” The first voice stopped abruptly. With the sound of falling soot, the fire demon dropped into the tiny fireplace in Catherine's room.

“Are you awake, Bonnet?” inquired the demon.

“Yes,” said Catherine with a voice rusty from disuse. She pushed back the covers and sat up, feeling weak. “How long have I been sleeping? It feels like I've slept for weeks.”

At least the pain and the crushing fatigue were gone but she was a little nervous about getting out of bed when every limb felt like it had forgotten how to work.

“It's only been a few days,” answered the fire demon helpfully. “Let me tell the master that you're up.” With that, she leapt up the chimney and disappeared.

A few days! It was unbelievable at first but perhaps that was how the curse worked. She wriggled and stretched, waking up muscles that had apparently had a small hibernation. As she swung her legs to the floor, Eleanor appeared in miniature again in the fireplace.

“The master wants to speak with you if you are up for it,” the creature said and there was a knock at her door. Before Catherine could grant permission to enter, there was a rattling sound and a cascade of colored light under the door, then it creaked open to reveal the wizard.

“Granny,” he greeted with a slight bow of his head, “it is good to see you awake again.”

Catherine nodded in return. “Yes, thanks to you all for looking after me.” She owed them probably more than she knew. “Allow me to join you out there in just a moment.” She wanted to get up by her own power.

He cast a side glance at Eleanor to alert him if aid was needed. “Then let me put the kettle on.” With those words he backed away. The door closed on its own a moment later.

Catherine groaned her way into a standing position while the fire demon watched from her vantage point in the hearth. Catherine felt weak but it was manageable, the sort that would fade with time and motion.

“Are you feeling better, Bonnet?” asked the demon. “You are definitely looking better.”

Catherine wondered what the demon knew of people and how much weight to give that comment. “I am feeling better,” she decided as she stretched her back, listening to the joints pop and crackle. “Although I wouldn't mind a mirror to see myself.”

As if at her command, a mirror appeared in the wall near her bed. “Will that suffice?” Eleanor asked.

“Oh,” said Catherine in mild surprise. She could get used to living in a magical house that was managed by a fire demon. “Oh,” she said again, taking stock of her reflection. The bonnet was still on, and should probably remain. It hid what was no doubt as rat's nest of hair and Catherine couldn't imagine how she could wash or even brush it without killing herself. But at least the wrinkles on her face were no more pronounced than when she had first been cursed.

“May I have a bowl of water to wash my face?” she asked the demon.

“I cannot work with water,” Eleanor admitted apologetically.

Catherine shrugged. It was just as well. A little water could not wash away the groves and lines in her skin.

Eleanor opened the door for her and was sitting fully grown in her seat in the main fireplace when Catherine walked into the main room. The wizard was puttering about the stove, arranging things on a tray and humming to himself.

“Do you need any help?” he asked belatedly, although Catherine supposed that the demon would have called for him if he was truly needed.

“I feel much better,” she said, and she meant it. “But I have been told that I slept for a couple days straight.”

“Four days,” he clarified, bringing the tray to the chairs arranged by the hearth. “No one dared to wake you with that curse upon you but, as I said before, it is good to see you with your eyes open.”

Four days? Catherine frowned. That was too long!

“I've given Allen the task of breaking your curse,” continued the wizard, “but his progress has been hampered for obvious reasons. And now I've sent him out for the first time in days and you wake up.”

He smiled in commiseration for their mutual bad luck and handed her a cup and saucer.

“While we are waiting for him to return, do you mind if I ask a few questions?” he prodded.

“No,” said Catherine. “That seems more than fair. Two heads are better than one.”

“Do you remember what you were doing when you got that curse?” He began. “Did you see the magician who cursed you?”

“Why, yes, I--” She stopped. She had what? She remembered being in the... the place where Sally worked. And she had come back from visiting Jamie earlier. And then someone came into the… the place, and he had insulted... the place or the things or Catherine herself? And then he was gone and Catherine had the bonnet and…

“Did you see that, Eleanor?”

The fire demon murmured over the lip of her crucible. “Her memory has gone sideways, addled with the curse.”

“I'm not addled!” cried Catherine, indignant.

“Not your wit, but your memory,” explained the wizard. “It makes the curse harder to break when you can't discuss it. This is in many ways standard, but it is much easier to just prevent you from speaking of it, forcing you to speak gibberish or losing your voice. Playing with memory like that is fairly complicated, which tells me that we're not dealing with a novice or a prankster. You've offended someone deeply. How, I wonder?”

Catherine sipped her tea in irritation knowing she could not answer.

“How did you end up wandering around the mountainside?” the master asked casually.

“I… I was…” The only thing that stood out was the shock of finding this house.

“How old are you?”

“I'm… I'm…” She remembered the cake Sally had made for her last birthday party, when she was… when she was older.

“How do you like your tea?”

“It varies through the day but for morning, I prefer black tea, strong, with honey and lavender syrup, just a little cloudy with milk.” The words came so easily that she clapped a hand on her mouth.

“I don't care for honey, but I love to burn dried lavender,” the fire demon contributed.

“How do you feel about the war?” continued the wizard.

“It's stupid,” Catherine admitted. “The king should care more about his subjects than imagined slights. He acts as if the suffering in every family is unimportant to him. It's a shame.”

“Are you fond of the shore?”

“It can be inspiring, the way the light plays on the water.”

“Did you never go to just splash in the water as a child?”

“Mama never had the time, and there were too many of us for Papa to safely take all of us at once.”

“I have one brother and one sister.”

“I have three of each.”

“There were seven of you?” Eleanor interjected. “However did your parents manage?”

“Mama would…” Her words trailed off as she tried to remember the detail that had appeared with startling clarity in her mind until she opened her mouth. Her mother did what?

“My father is a bit of a taskmaster,” the wizard said to distract her. “I know he had very valid reasons for being so strict, but it cannot change my memories of a cold father.”

“That's sad,” said Catherine. “My mother was always the stricter of the two, but she had to be. And I always knew I deserved any punishment I got. Papa, on the other hand, was the mischievous one, getting into trouble right along with us.”

They would have kept talking, with her accidentally giving away information that they might use to learn about where and how she was cursed, but the fire demon suddenly announced, “Allen is coming.”

Again Catherine distinctly heard the rattling noise, as if rocks were being spun in a tumbler. The light under the front door seemed to coordinate with the sound, stopping on something dark and dreary. With no additional warning, the front door flew open from a gust of chill wind and the young apprentice came in dripping with rain.

Eleanor jumped around in agitation and slammed the door behind him as soon as his ankles were clear.

“Terrible weather we're having,” the young man observed, shaking off his magical cloak and splattering large drops all over the floor.

The fire demon hissed at the water, not knowing whether it would be better for her to blast heat into the room to evaporate all the unwanted moisture or to flee to a different room entirely where nothing was wet.

Catherine stared at him, then out the window where the sun was shining too brightly for any clouds.

“Where did you come from?” she asked. Her curiosity was too strong to keep her in her seat and she was past Allen and at the door as quick as a thought. The damp apprentice tried to congratulate her on waking up -- her curse was his assignment after all -- but she paid him no heed.

“How does it work?” she asked before opening the door. The outside was not the rainy location Allen had just come from, but the sunny mountain near where she had first found the house. She shut the door with a twinge of disappointment.

“How do you do it?” she asked. Not waiting for an answer, she merely thought really hard on being able to find someplace else before she grabbed the doorknob again. As she held it, she could almost feel little notches. When she twisted the knob from one mark to the next, a rainbow of light rippled over her boots and the world spun around the house like a kaleidoscope.

The master said something like, “Bonnet, no! Stop!” which didn't make much sense to Catherine at the time so she paid it no heed. She opened the door to find a yawning black void.

The room seemed to tilt like the house had decided to spill its contents into that nothingness. Catherine felt her feet beginning to lose their purchase and slip forward. The blackness tugged at her dress and bonnet. She screamed, and the noise came out like a stupid, foolish girl.

With the rustle of wings the master was there, intervening, putting himself bodily between her and the non-existence, shutting the door with a forceful slam, glaring at her over his shoulder, pressing his mouth into a grim line.

“I'm sorry,” she breathed, wiping away tears. When had there been time to cry?

He shut his eyes and sighed. “This is a magical house, Granny,” he explained, keeping his voice kind. “It doesn't follow the same rules as the buildings you've been inside all your life. As a safety precaution, you should let Eleanor open the doors for you in this house, at least until you've gotten control of your magic.”

Catherine swallowed and nodded contritely. The wizard hadn't yelled at her, but she was sure she would feel better if he had. A firm scolding would at least explain why she was still shaking like a leaf. That encounter had aged her just as much as her curse. Whatever that infinite blackness was, she had no desire to experience it ever again. “I'm sorry,” she repeated.

She was still ready to burst into sobs so the wizard shepherded her back to her chair as Eleanor heated the kettle and Allen hopped about like a terrier trying to say comforting words.

Soon Catherine was ensconced in her chair with a blanket across her lap and a hot cup of tea in her hand. The urge to cry had faded but she was still trembling. The two men told stories of how their own magic had almost gotten them killed a few times but Catherine was in no mood to find the humor in such talk. At the bottom of her cup, Catherine realized that all she wanted to do was lie down but she was afraid she would fall asleep and never wake up again.

She tried to run a hand through her hair but knocked into her bonnet instead. The bedraggled thing rested haphazardly on her head with most on her flowers crumpled or missing. She probably looked a fright, which would be embarrassing if she wasn't already so ancient.

“Oh, my poor bonnet!” she whined in the middle of Allen's tale about a bull. “It's a mess!” She didn't need a mirror to know that. In fact, it was probably best that she didn't see how low she had fallen.

“Do you want to fix your hat, Bonnet?” inquired the fire demon, not too invested in the apprentice's storytelling.

Oh, what Catherine wouldn't have given to be back in her shop with no inkling that curses like hers even existed beyond the pages of a book, working away at her hats and training her own apprentices while Sally ran the shop! She'd even be content to marry John Thorpe if it meant she never had to meet the black void. But she had run away from all of that, left her gingham and satin behind, her grosgrain and feathers, her beading and mesh. No more felt, no more straw. No more brims and trimmings.

“What I wouldn't give for some coresolis or Alpine roses or troll's tears,” she said softly, thinking of the flowers she could weave in the cap or wrap around the crown. “And maybe some lavender and stregiss. Oh, and a great big pincushion if I can find it.”

“Are those all flowers?” asked the demon who never really got to appreciate anything verdant.

Catherine smiled. “Yes, all of them. I always loved flowers, could never get enough of them. I could make some decent sweetener for my tea and maybe I'd make you a dried posey that you could burn.”

Eleanor was excited. She danced about the hearth, crackling and twirling. “You have to, Bonnet. You have to make me a posey! I've never had one before. What is it?”

“Well,” chuckled the master, “it looks like things are back to normal here. And that means I must crack on. Eleanor, keep the house safe while I am gone. Allen, look after Bonnet. Bonnet,” he said with the ghost of a smile, “stay out of trouble.” As if she had any control over it!

With a shrug he transformed into a hawk and flew once around the room until Eleanor could open the door for him and send him on his way.

Catherine sat mutely for a while as the door swung shut magically. “Does he always do that -- leave so abruptly?” she wondered.

“Pay no attention to him,” said the apprentice, trying to distract her. “Let’s have Eleanor take us to a field of flowers and you can make her a posey.”

Catherine agreed and the front door swung open to a colorful new place. “What a beautiful garden!” she breathed. “However did you find such a place?”

She didn't wait for an answer. Any reticence or fatigue was forgotten as she got up and gravitated toward the doorway, pulled by a far less sinister force than that which had nearly dragged her into the void. Allen followed with a basket and shears.

For the first fifteen minutes, she was too busy calling out the names of flowers she recognized and marveling at the blooms she had never seen before to notice anything else. But at last she called Allen over to inspect a particularly fragrant patch of white blossoms. He was at her side quickly but she kept looking for something else, something missing.

“Where is Eleanor? Where is the door?” She felt a cold stab of panic. This was a far more pleasant place than the emptiness but she still felt abandoned.

Allen, however, was calm. “She's waiting for us to call the house back,” he said. “We only have one front door, you see, so if Master Tiln needs to come home but we already have the door open, he'll be stuck waiting until we're done. Eleanor likes to keep the door shut when we're separated just in case. But all we have to do is give her a shout.”

Catherine looked around, spinning slowly, searching for a sign of where the house might be, but all she saw was clumps of flowers and bushes swaying in the breeze. She couldn't even tell where she had walked that she could trace back her steps.

Sensing her unease, Allen prompted her to try summoning the house. She frowned and tried to remember how she had done it the first time when she didn't know there was a house to summon.

“Show yourself!” she spoke in a clear voice then watched in awe as the house reappeared and the door swung open.

They went inside briefly to explain why Catherine had called for the house so that Eleanor wouldn't worry, then went back outside. They wandered through the meadow for hours, periodically going inside so they could empty the basket. They stayed at that task until they were both wilting in the heat. She even wove necklaces which they draped over their shoulders, and another band which fitted around the crown of her bonnet. Sometimes Allen would ask her things and sometimes he would just observe. She knew he was trying to measure the bounds of the curse but she didn't mind.

Once the sun had set, Catherine began to organize the flowers, hanging bundles to dry by the mantle while Allen prepared a simple meal.

When Allen announced that supper was ready, Catherine made a moué and asked when the master would be back. The apprentice only shrugged as the fire demon said he would probably be gone for a few days; it was pointless to wait for him. As the two humans sat and chewed, Catherine tossed the promised posey to Eleanor. The flowers immediately began to blacken and curl but released a strong aroma.

“Oh, Bonnet, it's lovely,” enthused the demon. “How did I go so long on this planet without knowing such delight existed? You must make me another one for tomorrow.”

The apprentice clucked a toothless warning against spoiling the fire but they were all too content to commit to any sacrifice. If Catherine had thought the evening’s perfection was lacking in any way, she would not have complained about her curse but the absence of Master Tiln.

House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 4

NN SSeptember 27, 2019 10:41PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 4

Christina KSeptember 29, 2019 07:31PM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 4

Maria VOctober 01, 2019 09:08AM

Re: House with Kaleidoscope Doors, 4

PetraSeptember 29, 2019 12:15PM


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