Philip arrived in the village of Arum on a cold evening in the early stages of winter. Frost was settling it’s icy coronet atop the rooftops and windows of the quaint little town and even the water of Amaranth Bay had begun to freeze over with a pale veil of ice spiraling atop it’s murky depths.
He waited in the cargo hold of the great ship, the cold from the bay making the air around him freeze up and his breath puff out in clouds of ice. He let out a shaky breath straightening his collar in the mirror and running his hands through his nut brown hair. His dark eyes were hung down by dark shadows and his usually swarthy skin had gone deathly pale over the course of the journey, his brown silk shirt hanging untucked over his trousers. He elegantly tucked his shirt back in, running his knuckles down the buttons to check if all of them had been done up.
One more swipe of his fingers through his hair sent a crease through his eyebrows as he noted a strand of pure white amongst the brown. Very gently he moved to pluck his scissors from the unopened barrel of salt in front of him. He snipped at the strand and let it fall to the floor.
Easton’s must always look like gentlemen. Because they are. His father’s voice in his ears, loud and insistent. He rubbed at his earlobe, where the loop of a silver earring had once hung.
He could almost smell the cold tang of metal along with the sharper odor of blood as his father wrenched it out of his ear. It lay on the rose carpet by the fireplace for ten minutes, before Philip knelt down and picked it up. He had thought of throwing it in the fire when he saw his father’s darkened gaze, but the longer he held it by the flames the more he imagined his mother.
Her heart shaped face and her dark hair, tucked underneath a lace handkerchief. She had spent half an hour sitting by him, holding a needle to his ear, waiting patiently for him to let her press it against his skin. Blood had dripped down his neck like rubies, merging with his tears. She had wiped them both away with a lace handkerchief and kissed him on the forehead, holding him tight to her chest. She had felt like warm fires and gingerbread and love.
Then all too soon he was reminded of her fingers cold and lifeless, the lace of the hospital bed soiled with blood, her usually vibrant hair, threaded through with the daisies of the dead. She had looked so peaceful.
The distant drone of the sailor’s cries stopped him in his reverie and he blinked back at up at himself, dropping his fingers from where they had been anxiously tugging at his earlobe.
Sadness and hatred had creased his face up, hardened his dark eyes and made his under eye circles nearly black. He splashed at his face with water from a bucket under his cot and slung an azure blue coat made of fine wool over his shoulder.
One final breath, a quick adjustment of the laces of his shoes before he started climbing up the ladder to the deck.
The wind blew cold and harsh, sending the mast fluttering and snapping in the breeze and Philip moved to collect his large leather briefcase that several sailors had brought up on deck before. It was a familiar weight against his palms and he relaxed into it as he handed a sailor a silver piece for carrying it up, his other hand finding its grip on the worn brown leather.
He walked down the gangplank, his coat snapping at his heels, the other people walking down the length of the gangplank, moving carefully away from him. Their soft whispered words were not lost on him.
“Did you hear he’s the son of Laurence Easton?”
“I heard he ran away from home to study medicine?”
“Not medicine. He works on the mad.”
“Then why did he come to Arum?”
“Arum’s the maddest village this side west of Sorrelia.”
Their laughter was as harsh and sharp as the needles of ice wedged through the wood of the ship.
“I heard his mother died of the Scarlet Death.” The words trickled like cold water down his spine, summoning up memories that he had pushed away for as long as he could.
Memories of a cold cot and a woman with dark hair and a pale brow, a strand of daisies braided in her hair.
He pressed his nails against his skin, wishing so desperately to forget it it almost completely consumed him.
The black wood of a funeral bier, a man with a red coat putting his hands on Philip’s shoulders.
Another pinch of his nails on his flesh, the world was beginning to spin around him.
A voice whispering: Easton’s don’t cry.
He twisted his nails so deep into his skin that they began to bleed, the sharp stinging pain slamming Philip back into the present. Blood trickled down his wrist and he absently swiped at it with his thumb, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his coat.
He quickened his steps, nearly tripping on his own feet as he stumbled down the gangplank, nearly knocking over a lady’s great lavender skirt and a man’s parrot cage. The wind nipped at his nose and he began to regret not bringing a scarf along with him as his eyes began to well up and his lips started to chap.
The docks were surrounded by people, wide skirts and sweeping wool coats and scarves blocked his vision and filled the air with the scent of wet wool, salt and a sharp fishy tang. Philip shouldered his way through the crowds of people, clinging to his briefcase as tight as he could, swallowing thickly and trying not to breath through his nose.
He pushed his way through the docks, winding his way past a group of merchants selling expensive wools for the winter and a vendor selling steaming tankards of mulled wine and cranberry jam tarts. His mouth watered, but he could hear his father’s voice, sharper than steel in his ear.
Easton’s don’t eat with the commoners.
He pushed past the vendors until he could see the village proper, all the houses lined around the streets like carefully arranged pieces of gingerbread, women and men alike, crowding under shop awnings and pointing and gesturing to windows filled with towering pastry confections or hats made out of sculpted velvet and ribbon.
It was preparing for winter and decorated with candles lining themselves atop wreaths above doorways and below windows. The smell of mulled wine and winterberry pies and fruit cakes pervaded the air with their rich invitations. Invitations to hearth and home and the glowing yellow windows of the carefully thatched houses and cottages.
As he moved down the streets, a light falling of snow began swirling through the sky, alighting on his shoulders and between his eyelashes, making him wrap his coat tighter around himself and his nose glow a cherry red.
He maneuvered past an apothecary shop and a boutique selling fine coats made of velvet and wool, finally reaching what appeared to be the more residential part of town. The cobbled streets were scraped with dirt and women swept the snow out of the door fronts, a few looking up at him and frowning, as if his presence had offended them in some way.
He carefully looked down, suddenly wishing he had brought a cap along with him.
He felt long and gangly and awkward, an outsider of the highest degree who seemed to have the audacity to think that he would ever belong.
You will never belong
The words burned, harsh and cold in his ears as he wandered between the alleyways, suddenly desperately aware of how alone he was.
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