By the next morning, I felt energized. I could have run until it was night if I could. Whatever I had done –or perhaps eaten– yesterday, certainly had affected me. I had thought to fetch Blaire, as her reading skills were greater than mine, and spend time at the Grand Library. Perhaps with her keen eyes, we could finish up on my search for the Shadow Reaper, but waved it aside. Today was such a glorious day to waste in a drafty library!
Just as I planned an exhilarating ride with Coal around the battlements, Lady Yael arrived at my chamber door. The old noblewoman invited herself in, looked around, and then turned to me. I was thoroughly perplexed by her coming. I had not visited her in some time, so perhaps she arrived because she felt lonely.
“A duchess needs better living quarters!” she finally said to me. Her statement was unusual to hear. Certainly Lady Yael had lost her wits.
“Pardon?” I said, but I did not intend to stay to hear what she had to say. I made my way out when she glared at me, catching me by surprise.
“You are not going anywhere, young lady. Her Ladyship has ordered me your new instructor. Where are your maids?”
“Instructor?” I echoed. “My maids...oh...they...” My mind went back to my last encounter with them: each giggling away with their respective palace guard in some secluded place. But I knew telling the truth was not going to please Lady Yael, so I made something up. “I told them they did not need to come in today,” I said with a firm nod. Lady Yael began to screech in response to what I said.
“Have mercy! How can you be Duchess when they treat you so? You are their superior! You are the one to do as you please and they to follow. I shall send for them later. Now, do you know how to sew?”
“Sew?” I repeated, getting a sinking feeling in my stomach.
“That is what I said. No need to worry, you shall be sewing quilts in no time. Sit down and I will have some thread and needles sent here.” I gawked at her as she firmly had me sit down in a padded chair.
“But...I am not a noblewoman. Surely, you know only noblewomen do such wasteful—er, talented arts.”
“You are the Duchess of the Solstice Palace, dear! Far better than any noblewoman.”
She then criticized my posture as we waited for my maids and the materials she had asked for. When a maid came by with the supplies, Lady Yael handed me a spool of thread, a needle, and a piece of cloth. Everything in me wanted to shout. I did not want to squander away, sewing. My life had to be far better than this.
She took the seat beside mine and addressed me in a stern voice. “Now, listen to me carefully or you will be pricking your delicate little fingers sore from all the needlework.”
Within minutes, Lady Yael turned from an old, nostalgic lady to a strict mentor with zero tolerance. If I paused for the slightest moment, she would slap my hands. And if I ruined a stitch, or did them improperly, she would make me start all over again.
Even gone, Selenah found ways to ruin my life, and this, perhaps, was the worst she had dealt. I would rather force myself to smile and welcome pretentious aristocrats who looked their nose down upon a common-blood Duchess and pretend to enjoy their company than do this!
When my maids arrived, they hung their heads low as Lady Yael gave them an earful about their station and responsibilities. They then tended to errands that should have been done days earlier. And were told Lady Yael would punish them should they not follow the strict formal code a lady’s maid were to follow. We had one last encouragement from her: she had her Ladyship’s support in all that she did.
Sadly, when Tiran came by, he too, was given a lengthy speech on his duties and when to visit a duchess. He gave me a sympathetic look as he walked out, and I wanted to run out the door with him. But Lady Yael saw my advancing movement and stepped to close the door, scowling.
Minutes slipped into hours, and all I ached to be outside, in the open, free from duchess duties. There was just so much of this I could handle, and I felt I was on the verge of madness. I wanted to be outside, feeling the sun on my skin, or the breeze through my hair. I did not care if were alone or in company, but as long as I was not here, trapped in Lady Yael’s grasp, I would be fine. How the noblewomen could spend their lives like this, I would never know.
“Again, Duchess! Hold the needle with care. It is not a—”
“I have had just about enough of this!” I finally shouted, putting down the needle and thread. Lady Yael and my maids stared at me in shock.
“Ladies do not raise their voices, nor do they talk when—”
Ignoring her, I threw open the door and walked out of my chamber without a second glance. My feeling of imprisonment instantly dissolved away as I continued towards the stables.
Coal greeted me affectionately, rubbing her muzzle against my shoulder. I smiled as I unlatched the stable door to walk her out, glad that at least I was welcomed, if not by a person, than by an animal.
I noticed that someone must have changed her saddle and reins, for they were now dark green, and not their usual black.
As I lead her into the stable paddock, she lifted her head up and let out a joyous whinny. I patted her neck, grinning now, before stepping onto the stirrup and mounting her.
Coal started a full gallop out of the stable and we sped off into the yard. Before I knew it, Coal jumped over the yard fence with outstanding grace and speed. The exhilaration of it all made me feel like a bird learning the true splendors of flight.
Coal’s hooves rhythmically beat the cobblestone ground as we circled the palace grounds, trotting with pride as onlookers furrowed their brows at the sight of us.
I then thought about going into town on my own. It seemed like a grand idea and I turned Coal towards the main entry gates, ignoring the frowns the Guards had at my approach.
As Coal stepped a few paces away from the gates, her reins seemed to glow. I dropped them and blinked. Coal came to a halt and the reins stopped glowing. I took them back in my hands and urged Coal forward. My eyes must have been playing tricks with me after spending so much time staring at small, unending stitches.
Passing through the archway, she reared up and whinnied, tossing her head into the air. I held on as tight as I could to prevent myself from falling off. Once on four feet, she raced out faster than I could have imagined. I tried to slow her down, but the now glowing reins controlled her.
Coal galloped faster and faster, and all I could do was hang on for dear life. Before long, she stopped mid-run, and I flew off her back, landing on the ground hard.
I gasped as I tried to breathe, my chest and back momentarily paralyzed from the fall. Thoughts formed and broke in my mind, my head buzzing. I cringed as pain shot through my neck when I turned my head to look for some passerby who could aid me.
Hearing the sound of footsteps, my mind suddenly cleared. Thinking this to be of my own recovery, I tried to call out to them for help, but no sound escaped my throat. The footsteps grew louder, approaching my way.
The person then squatted down at my side, the pains in my body subsiding at his nearness. He pulled down his green hood and the face of the Shadow Reaper appeared. I could never mistake his green eyes or his chilling, yet comely features.
Had I any air in my lungs, I would have screamed.