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Divided: A Tale of Wonderland

By Bethany R. Lindell All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy

Aamira of Red

Aamira of Cataran was as Red a Wonderlander as had ever lived.

She felt no shame in admitting it, like others did. Not all Reds were like the long dead Queen of Hearts. Besides, Aamira’s family was from a different shade in the spectrum entirely and in all her twenty-six years she had never even seen the Crimson Palace. Never even seen the Dyed Fields, stained by the blood of the executioner’s ax, where so many lives - Red, Black, and White - had ended.

She lived leagues away, in Woodwind Hall, ancient home of the windsong folk, Reds gifted with the ability to understand what the wind said as it sighed across the Winding Way and in turn ask it to lift them from otherwise lowly lives. The Hall itself was built into the Cliffs of Cataran, its walls shaped so artfully that when the wind blew through its many doors and high windows, it created a music that Aamira couldn’t help but dance to.

That song was strong today, a veritable orchestra pit practicing their breath for the big performance. The sun shining with all its might and the day was beautiful — too beautiful to stay inside! — and Aamira had escaped her mother’s endless preparations and snuck up to the roof of the Tower Soprano, the highest tower in the Hall. From here she could see everything worth seeing, the whole of the Realm of Red. The Winding Way, where the wind liked to play in the waist high tickling grass, was just close enough that she could jump to it, if the wind would deign to carry her across the empty air that separated them. A river ran through the Way, rollicking and free before leaping into the air and over the cliffs as the Diamond Falls, the spray glinting and twinkling as earnestly as its namesake. The roar of the falls nearly drowned out the sound of the wind, but Aamira felt it as it blustered against her, flattening her to the red tiles of the roof and whipping her vivid hair into a scarlet frenzy.

Aamira closed crystalline colored eyes and rested the back of her hand against her forehead. “If I didn’t know any better,” she told the wind with a sly smile, “I would say today is a very good day.”

But she did know better. Today was the day the Cacophony met.

And it was her turn to go.

The young Lady sighed, the wind whipping the unhappy sound away and chiding her with a fierce gust to her tan face. She smiled, showing white teeth, and flapped a hand at it.

“All right, all right, I’ll cheer up. But only if you come with me when I leave!”

The wind slowed, circling her athletic body in wary eddies. It wasn’t through winding yet…

Aamira rolled her eyes, smile not fading. “Fine, be that way. But you’ll miss all the fun…” She trailed off and gave an exaggerated shrug.

The wind perked up. Fun?

“Oh yes,” Aamira assured it. “There will be screaming and shrieking galore. No one shrieks better than a Red. Those Blacks are far too silent for their own good.”

The wind gusted agreement. Perhaps it would join her after all.

A band of worry loosened in her chest and Aamira’s smile faltered. She had not realized it had grown so tight. But it was good, good that she would have a friend with her when she met again with the many-times fragmented rulers of Red. They were a passionate people, the Reds, and only the most passionate rose to rule, but when you gathered so many of them together in one place…

It becomes difficult to decide anything. We are all too stubborn for our own good.

“My lady? My lady! You must come down or you’ll be late!” A pause. “My lady?”

Aamira rolled her eyes. “Time to go,” she murmured in a sing-song voice. The wind caressed her face in goodbye as Aamira stood, and she laughed. “My oldest friend,” she reassured it.

And then stepped off the roof into open air.

There was a moment of being buffeted like a falling acorn, of her hair and breath and voice being ripped away from her and joining the sheer force of air moving of its own accord, and then it swept her inside the Soprano’s highest window.

She landed inside with a laugh, remembering to bend her knees as her bare feet found wind-chilled stone. Under her laughter she heard a startled shriek.

“Goodness my lady, you should not take such risks!” the same voice that had called her down chided her. “What if you fell and broke your neck while you were up there? Then where would Woodwind Hall be? We’d be in trouble, that’s where we’d be. Those haughty Diademi folk would swoop down here and set up camp faster than you could say slithy.”

Aamira straightened up, smiling at the stout, plump woman standing at the top of the tower stairs. She was dressed in black and white, long time official colors of most non-suit offices of import, with thick horizontal black bars on a white skirt that swept the dust from the floor when she moved. Her bodice was laced too tight to counteract the gravity on her middle aged body and a black wimple with white trim hid all but her round, double-chinned face. A pin in the shape of a treble clef was pinned at her right shoulder, aligning with the five black lines wrapped around her upper body.

“Of course they would speak faster than I, Maestro. I’d be dead.”

Maestro Ductora, caretaker and conductor of the Hall, threw up her thick little arms with a cry of, “Callooh callay! Don’t say such terrible things Lady Aamira. Saying things might make them come about. Just think, if your brother hadn’t said, ‘What could it hurt?’ well he might not have hurt at all and you would still be running amok like a half-grown girl.”

Aamira’s good mood curdled. She knew Ductora well enough that she would prattle on like this, causing harm where none was intended but smartly felt, unless some outside force impeded her forward momentum.

“Thank you, Maestro,” Aamira said perhaps more smartly than she needed to. With effort she softened her voice and said, “But I really must get ready or I will be late. And I have even less time for a lecture from Mother today than most, so-”

She padded to the stair, twisting half around when Ductora shifted tracks and continued rattling on. “Oh dear me, yes. Get going my lady, or you will be later than a rabbit’s pocket watch! Dearie me. Oh my. Oh hearts. Oh stars-”

Her voice faded into more indistinguishable exclamations as Aamira skipped down the stairs down in to the rest of the house, her mind focusing now on what must be done before she departed. She would have to change, though she didn’t want to, and Mama would insist on having something done to her hair, though it would be ruined by the time she arrived anyway. As for more political preparations…

“This whole thing would be easier if the Duchess would tell us why she called us together in the first place,” Aamira muttered to herself as she left the Soprano and strode across the Flutish Corridor, the windows lining the left wall looking out over the rolling hills of her family’s set until they met up with the tamed and elegant space of Diademia. Beyond that was the sweet lake country of the Archduke of Affection (one of Aamira’s distant cousins), and then his neighbor the Crystal Countess, and on and on it went, Hearts next to Diamonds next to Hearts and back again until they butted up against the White Cliffs far to the north and Wonderland simply ran out of room.

Cataran was much milder country than any of them (with Affectionate country perhaps being the exception) and Aamira at least, had never harbored any hope of having more than what she did. Let other fools envy what their neighbors had; she would much prefer to sit at home and watch and shake her head at their own stupidity.

She gave a loud, gusty sigh. “Now if only I could do the same when the Duchess of Diamonds calls the Cacophony together.”

Her room was empty when she got there, or relatively so given the disaster area she slept in. Discarded clothes flung over the red velvet chair in the corner. Castoff shoes abandoned under the curling legs of the wooden armoire. All her jewelry was in a netted tangle draped across her seldom-used vanity, earring posts sticking out like little cut spines.

She changed quickly, tossing her overlarge tunic over her vanity mirror and pulling on the least rumpled blouse she could find in the carnage. She grinned as she popped her head out of the neck and adjusted the tightly fitting top. Her mother liked to say she would note it looked like a tornado had blown through her room if it wasn’t so on the nose.

She stopped before her floor-length mirror for a quick inspection. She didn’t look too different from the girl on the tower rooftop, but certainly a nicer version. Her blouse was beaded and shoulderless, the baggy sleeves tightening at the wrist. A sheer gauzy tunic was over it, its hazy fabric distorting her lines so clearly defined by the blouse. She’d had to trade her leggings for her nicest pair of loose-fitting harem pants and, if she was lucky, her mother wouldn’t notice she’d ‘forgotten’ her shoes.

Aamira twisted side to side, making sure she hadn’t left any on the floor for a reason, but she saw no rents or stains standing out against the various shades of red - the rouge of the sheer tunic blending with the blush of the blouse above the deep crimson of her pants. She was a good daughter of the Realm of Red, after all, if not a rambunctious one.

She tussled her already wind tossed hair and threw as much of she could behind her and grinned at her reflection. “Not bad,” she commented.

Her reflection looked her up and down, and shrugged.

Aamira made a face it did not deign to copy. “Oh, what do you know? You’re thinking is far too two-dimensional.” she told it before leaving. She missed the irate look and the tongue it stuck out at her back.

She leapt from her balcony, not caring about the state of her hair as she fell. There was the brief, delightfully disorientating feeling of being surrounded by nothing before her feet found sharply sloping ground. She’d landed on the long path leading from the Hall to the plains that lined the river where it burbled gently across the board.

She stumbled forward before catching herself. She looked around as she dusted off her clothes. There were a few of the notes that tended the Hall coming and going in their black and white uniforms, but her mother was not among them. She did spy a familiar face though, leading one of the overgrown flamingos they would need to reach the Cacophony.

“Delphine!” she cried, striding across the yard. “Have you seen Mam around?”

Woodwind Hall’s beast tamer, and Aamira’s closet friend, looked up to see who was shouting at her like a newly hired eighth note. She was smaller than the flamingos, the top of her light brown hair pulled up in a tail on her head barely reaching the bird’s lower beaks, and eyes that seemed too big and too round sat above a pert nose and thin lips. The bird tossed its head as Aamira got close, and they both shied away from each other, Aamira giving the beastie a wary look.

“She’s in the garden,” Delphine told her as she ran a hand down the restless bird’s beak to soothe it. She eyed her friend’s outfit. “You know she laid something out for you, right?”

Aamira’s mouth thinned and she gave half an eye roll before deciding to ignore the statement. “Are the…beasties almost ready?” She reached a tentative hand out to touch the bird’s beak like Delphine had, but the thing snapped at her, nearly taking off her fingers.

She drew back. “Nice to see you too, Dorcus,” she grumbled.

“She would probably like you better if you stopped calling her ‘beasty’,” Delphine told her in her soft voice.

“Oh, but she calls me worse, I’m sure.”

Delphine gave her a look that told Aamira all she needed to know about Dorcus’s contribution to the conversation. “And, yes, we’ll be ready by the time you’ve talked with her ladyship.” Dorcus rubbed her head against her small singer, crooning when she ruffled the feathers along her neck.

Aamira snickered. “So proper,” she teased. “She’s told you a thousand times to call her Mam. Will it take a thousand more before you actually listen to her?”

The tiny woman rolled her own eyes to the sky. “No.” Delphine drew out the word. “You keep telling me that. And I still won’t do it.”

Red eyebrows creased together. “Why?”

“Because she’s your mother, Aamira. Not mine. Now-” She managed to free one hand from the demanding flamingo and flapped it at the entrance to the garden. “-go and see her so we can get out of here.”

“You want to be there that bad?”

A very unladylike sound escaped Delphine’s throat. “No, I want to be home again already. But we can’t do that without leaving first. Now hurry up or we’ll be done before you.”

“Fine,” Aamira grumbled. “But if I’m late please, by all means, feel free to go without me. You can tell me all about it. I’m sure no one will even notice I’m not there,” she said as she backed towards the garden hedge.

“Not when I tell them about your seventh unbirthday~!” Delphine called in a sing-song voice over her shoulder.

She rolled her eyes. “Well what more do you expect from a ten-year-old, Delphi?” she shouted after her before entering the garden to find her mother.

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