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A v a r i c e | T w e n t y T w o

T w e n t y T w o

❝Brothers will pick and they will play;

but beside you is where they will stay.❞

THE NEXT DAY WENT BY TOO quickly for my taste, and soon it was the day of Marquise Trill’s test. Today would determine whether Lydia’s mother would live or die.

My flesh crawled with that thought.

My parents awoke me early in the morning to get ready for the witch’s trial test. I delayed as long as possible before truly getting up. I was required to wear something nice. I didn’t wear the dress I would wear to the ball, however. I wore my second best one upon my mother’s request.

I groggily moved about my room, getting ready. At one point, my mother came in, all ready herself, and helped me to get on my corset and do my hair. She parted it in the middle, flattening the top half and then put it in a top knot. The rest of the hair was curled and frizzed. She put little accessories in my hair, too. She mostly put in green and red accessories, to match the green dress I was wearing. I stared blankly into the mirror while she did this.

Mother looked up, meeting my eyes in the mirror, and sighed. “Cerise...“she whispered. “I know that you and Marquise Trill were...close,” she said carefully. She went on quietly, serenely, “I know this is painful for you, sweetie. Like losing another piece of Lydia. And if you don’t want to go, Father and I could always-”

I shook my head immediately. “No. I want to go. I want to see it with my own two eyes.” I needed to see Marquise Trill perform magic. I need to see her to believe she would betray me, the townspeople, and her own daughter. Otherwise I would never be able to get the vision of her being dragged away, crying for help, out of my mind.

Mother nodded in understanding. “Alright,” she finished my hair and took a stand. “We’d better be leaving soon, then.” She smiled at me. “Your brothers are in town.”

I frowned at her and turned around in the chair to give her a look. I raised an eyebrow. “I’m aware, Mother. Lenny and Ralph have been home for a while now.”

Mother tilted a head to the side. “Well, yes, but your other brothers are here now. I meant to tell you sooner...but you were never home.” Mother gave me a look, then, too.

I instantly smiled. “All of them are here?”

Mother nodded, smiling too. “Every one of them. They’re picking us up in a carriage soon. Ralph and Lenny, Margaret and Melinda are coming too. And the boys’ fiancées and wives.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And we’ll all fit in one carriage?”

Mother shook her head. “No. We’ll be splitting up into two. It’ll be tight, but aren’t you excited to see your brothers?” Mother’s smile was wide. She hadn’t seen her sons for a few months, and was no doubt overjoyed for them all to be together. Usually, my youngest brother - Samuel - would come to visit once a month, but he’d strayed from that ordeal as of late, instead sending letters.

We were all saddened by it, but happy for him. Samuel had an apprenticeship to attend to, and a very important one at that. We could not be prouder of him. He was to be a court physician. Perhaps not this court, but it was still very amazing.

Before Samuel was Zachariah. Zachariah had been married not too long ago to a sweet girl named Sarah. Zachariah and Sarah had been planning to move back here, but haven’t gotten around to it. They’ve been travelling the world. Last I heard, they had visited the Mediterranean. Perhaps now they would come home, but I doubted it. Zachariah’s job was, essentially, to travel the world and journal what he discovered. Zach and Sarah were very adventurous spirits. I didn’t expect them to settle down any time soon, much to my mother’s dismay.

My middle brother, Michael, was engaged to a woman named Genevieve. I had met her only once, but she was petite and blonde and pocket-sized. It was laughable, the contrast between the two. Michael was a very large man; not fat, but muscular. He was a knight, after all. He had moved away when he was about 22 and saved a royal somewhere, resulting in him being knighted. He has since stayed there and married Gen - a royal servant girl. He hardly ever came up to visit, so this was a real treat.

I applied some makeup, heavier than last time (I’d gotten an earful from mother). I made my skin paler, my cheeks pinker, and colored my lips with some red rouge. When I was finished, I fetched my cloak and met my parents in the main room of the house.

Mother and Father were all made up as well. They both looked dapper and of an upper class. We were ready to go to the castle.

Ralph, Lenny, and their wives were first to arrive. They planned on taking a carriage with Zachariah and his wife, so waited with the rest of us. Mother, being the good hostess and overbearing mother that she was, kept them busy and always asked if they wanted anything to drink.

The rest of the brothers and their partners arrived ten minutes later. Mother squealed when she saw their carriage stroll into sight and raced out of the house to give everybody a big hug. The rest of us were slower to go outside. It wasn’t that we weren’t excited - just that we didn’t want to overwhelm them too much. Mother tended to accomplish that all on her own.

I couldn’t help the small smile that etched across my face when I caught sight of my brothers. I hadn’t seen them in forever.

Mother immediately hugged Zachariah and Sarah. Father shook hands with Michael, and Samuel gave me a tight hug when I stepped out. We switched multiple times, greeting one another, until Mother finally said that we needed to hurry up and leave so we could be early to the castle.

Mother and Father got in their carriage with Ralph, Lenny, and their wives. I couldn’t help but notice Melinda and Margaret were quiet; they usually never were. I wasn’t very surprised. We were about to go watch their mother - most likely - get the death sentence.

I got into my carriage. It was a tight fit, but we made it work nonetheless. My brothers and their partners mostly chatted amongst themselves for most of the trip. They hadn’t seen each other for a long time, either, though I was sure they kept in good contact.

“...don’t tell Mother, though,” Michael was saying.

I glanced up from looking out the door window of the carriage. “What?” I asked.

Michael smiled at me and reached over, petting my head as if I was still a child. “Head in the clouds, Cerise?” he questioned in amusement.

I shrugged in answer. “What do you want kept from Mother?” I asked instead of giving him an actual answer.

Michael glanced at Genevieve before looking at me again. “I came to town a little while ago, actually.”

I raised an eyebrow. “How long?”

Michael tilted his head to the side in thought. If he had to think, than it must not be very good. “Err...about a month. A little more, maybe.”

Both of my eyebrows went up in surprise. “And you didn’t visit?”

Michael shook his head. “I wanted to, believe me. Genevieve would’ve went to let you know I was here, but she didn’t come with me.” Michael gave a playful glare towards Gen. “I was called here on duty with a few other knights. About the lycanthropes.”

The entire carriage went silent after that. Finally, I asked, “Why?”

Michael sighed, ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t think you’ve realized just how bad the lycanthrope problem is. And I don’t think your king really knows, either. Over thirty deaths, and hundreds of sightings and attacks. It’s spread to other kingdoms, too.”

All of our eyes were wide in shock. “It’s spread?” I asked in a whisper.

Michael nodded, his jaw clenched. “That’s why we were called up. Your king has... neglected to take care of the problem, for the most part.”

“But the lycanthropes can’t be killed,” I defended my king, shaking my head.

Michael pursed his lips. “Perhaps, but he didn’t until now caught the witch that’s behind it all.”

“Don’t talk about Marquise Trill like that,” Samuel snapped at him.

Michael glared at Samuel. “She protected the lycanthrope, Sam. A lycanthrope that helped kill her daughter.”

Sam looked away, glaring out the window of the carriage.

Michael turned his attention to the rest of us. “Even now, he’s favoring Marquise Trill. If it were anyone else, she would’ve had her trial already. Hell, she’d be dead by now. And the lycanthrope problem would be taken care of.”

I looked down, letting this sink in. I thought it had been weird that they were going to wait three weeks before taking care of the problem, as awful as that may sound. Now, I was happy about it. It gave me time to find a way to make the witch powerless, try to help save all who were cursed.

“Even now, we’re patrolling the forests to try and limit the attacks and deaths.” Michael looked at me knowingly, glancing at my wrist.

“Were you the one that saved me?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

Michael shook his head. “No, another knight, Elliot, did. But the second I heard, I wanted to make sure you’re alright. I just didn’t want mother to see me too early.”

I smiled at him. “That’s alright. Tell him I said thank you, please.”

Michael nodded. “I will.”

We were all quiet for a bit, until Sarah and Gen broke the awkward silence and asked me about the upcoming ball at the palace. My brothers got in on it, making fun of me about courting and men, as they always did. I just rolled my eyes at them.

Things went back to normal, the tension gone for the most part.

Sam was still sulking in the corner, but that was Sam for you. He wasn’t one to let things go very easily.

“Have you met anyone?” Sarah asked me quizzically, always the romantic type. So was Zach, so they fitted together quite nicely.

I smiled at her, rolling my eyes. Michael and Zach both faked a girly gasp. “So she has!” Zach said in a dreamy voice.

“Hardly,” I laughed. “To be honest, I’m not looking. With everything that’s going on...it just doesn’t seem like the right time.”

Gen tilted her head to the side. “Perhaps, but isn’t there anyone you’re interested in?”

I shrugged in answer.

Finally, after what had seemed to be forever, we had made it to the castle. The rest of our family waited for us because they had arrived a few moments before. We took turns getting out of the carriage, ladies going first of course.

The second I was out, my mother snatched my arm with hers, practically dragging me up the stairs. “What’s the matter?” I asked her curiously, looking around as if the answer would be easy to be pointed out. And it was. In the line of carriages, there was one unmistakable silhouette. Grandmother Lilith. “Oh,” I said, not really knowing what else to say.

That was enough for Mother. “Why is she here?” Mother asked angrily.

I shrugged. “Perhaps she was invited?” I offered.

Mother shook her head. “Why would she be invited? She’s an ornery, old lady - who is without a husband, I might add.” Mother sighed, closing her eyes and running a hand down her face. “I didn’t mean that. I’m sure she loved my father very much, and that’s why she has yet to remarry.”

I nodded. “I’m sure.”

We waited atop the stairs for the rest of our family. “Is that Grandmother Lilith?” Ralph asked, glancing down. Her carriage had moved up in line. It was clearly visible now that it was her. Mother groaned and turned around, marching - and dragging me - to the seneschal that stood in wait for us. “Your names?” he asked, looking down at the paper.

“We are the Victoire family,” Mother proudly announced to him. The seneschal just nodded, finding our names. “Marquise Victoire,” he said. “And Lady Victoire.”

Mother and I went inside the castle.

Because we were right on time and not early, we were ushered into the judgment room - really just a ballroom - where the royal family and a jury sat on their thrones and chairs upon a stage. The ballroom was rose-gold with beautiful carvings on the walls of women and men.

“How beautiful,” my mother read my mind, looking around. “I wonder if this will be where the ball will take place,” she wondered. I shrugged. It was mesmerizing, though. The lights hit the gold in just the right places, making a beautiful rosy golden haze all about the room. The carvings seemed to be telling a story all around us; a story of love and desire and betrayal. It was stunning.

The rest of our group came into the ballroom, only to split up and mingle with others. Mother couldn’t help but take me to the nearest family with a single male, as I expected she would. They were nice enough, and we chatted with them for a little bit until a hand on my shoulder pulled me away from the conversation.

“Hello, my dears.” Lilith smiled at Mother and me. The family we had been talking to dispersed, excusing themselves from the conversation we had been having.

“Lilith,” my mother said icily with a nod. “How are you?”

“I’m quite alright, my dear,” Lilith smiled back, just as icily. The tension was thick enough to cut through between them.

Lilith turned to look at me. “You look quite lovely, Cerise.” She smiled.

I smiled back warily. I glanced over at Mother, who was unabashedly glaring at Lilith. “Thank you. You do, too.” It was true. Lilith had traded in her usually frizzy and eccentric appearance for sophistication and class. She wore a long, stunning black dress that covered her quite modestly, yet fit itself to her curves. It was beautiful. Her unruly hair had been pinned and shaped to her head, and her makeup was done just right.

She hardly looked like herself.

There was something about her, too. Something that called for attention. A demeanor that demanded everyone to look at her, to watch her, to listen to her.

I blinked, clearing my thoughts. “Oh, look. Marquise Trill.” Lilith said calmly, nodding to the other side of the ballroom. The doors opened wide to reveal two knights holding Marquise Trill up.

I didn’t know what I expected her to look like, honestly, but I never would’ve imagined this. She stood with poise, just like how she used to stand. Her hair was done up, her makeup applied, and she wore a bewitching sunset orange dress that matched her hair perfectly. She was not what I imagined a prisoner to look like, indeed.

She was chained, however, and she was set in front of the stage, in front of the royals and jury.

“Marquise Trill,” the king’s voice quieted all who had been speaking. “You have been accused of witchcraft and sorcery; you’ve been prosecuted for the creation of the...lycanthropes that have terrorized not only our kingdom, but others as well, and your very own daughter.” The king looked around the room, his eyes skimming over us all until finally resting on Marquise Trill again. “How do you plead?” It was a simple question with horrible consequences.

Marquise Trill lifted her chin, straightened her back, and looked our king in the eyes. “Innocent.” And with that one word, the doors burst open once again.

And there stood a lycanthrope.

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