Flickering Embers

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Chapter 7: A serendipitous meeting

The next memory Mabel made was an unexpected one. She awoke already standing, the floor beneath her feet feeling oddly warm, comforting almost. Her eyes took in the scene around her until they landed on the ground, slightly confused when her toes wiggled freely, her shoes having disappeared somewhere along the way. Grass tickled her ankles despite there being no breeze, dandelion seeds swirling in the air around her like swarms of birds. Mabel reached her hand out to touch them but the movement seemed to spook them, darting away from her fingertips as though they were living, breathing entities.

She twirled about herself, a beautiful lilac gown billowing at her sides reminding her of the shape a maple seed makes as it falls through the sky. Mabel brought her hand up to shade her eyes from the blinding sunlight as she looked skyward yet she could not feel it on her skin. The whole place felt rather odd, as if Mabel didn't quite fit there, unable to connect with her surroundings like she was trapped in a bubble. She wondered a little further forward, trying her best to figure out this new, strange environment.

"Mabel?" A sing-song voice reached her ears easily, like a melody on the breeze and Mabel spun towards it, instantly recognising who it belonged to.

"Mama?" She asked despite it not being a question. Mabel's eyes collided with her mother's as she sat on the ground a little while ahead, under a beautiful willow tree exactly like the one from Mabel's childhood. The grass beneath her mother seemed to breathe with each movement she made, the white lace dress she wore flowing across her knees as she sat cross-legged on the floor.

"Will you come and sit with me a while my darling Mabel? Let me see how big you've grown," her mother asked as Mabel reached her, her legs almost collapsing beneath her as she sat in shock.

"Is it really you?" she breathed, reaching out tentatively to touch her in case she disappeared beneath her fingertips like before.

"Would it matter even if it wasn't?" her mother smiled, her hand coming up to meet Mabel's. Mabel beamed when their hands connected, solidness greeting her fingers as they intertwined with hers.

Mabel shook her head, not wanting to waste any time caught up in whether this whole situation was real or not.

It was her mother.

"Where are we?" Mabel asked, twisting to lay her head in her mother's lap like when she was younger, breathing in their connection. A humming sensation seemed to thrum through Mabel everywhere her mother touched, bringing a warmth that trickled through her like a warm river.

Long summer days had been spent in the same position that the pair now mirrored, her mother's fingertips trailing tiny paths through her hair, the two of them deciphering clouds as they passed overhead.

"That's not the question you should be asking," her mother stated, smiling down at her, touching a finger to her nose.

"Am I a witch? Were you one too?"

"You are many beautiful, beautiful things. You are my daughter, my heart that still walks the earth, you are so much more than just one thing," her mother explained, her eyes sparkling like stars hid behind them.

"But is a witch one of those things?" Mabel pressed, not liking how she felt as though her mother's answer wasn't actually one at all.

"You are destined for a great many things Mabel. Focusing on one tiny aspect means you cannot see the picture that's being painted in front of you. If you focus purely on the blacks of a canvas then you can not appreciate the vastness of the stars that glitter upon its surface. A masterpiece ends up looking empty, as if there were nothing."

"Are you saying I'm nothing?"

"I'm saying you are a masterpiece. Don't focus on the tiny details, step back and appreciate the vastness and beauty of the night sky, darkness and light," her mother soothed, planting a soft kiss on her forehead, silencing any other questions on Mabel's tongue. She relished in the feel of her touch, the scent of vanilla and apples as they drifted up to her nose, her mother's brown hair tickling her cheek. Every ounce of her mama Mabel wanted to savour for as long as she could.

In the sky above them, white clouds contorted to different shapes. One was a castle, another a boat, tiny puffs of fish floating in the sky freely as if they were alive. Her mother sung a soft rhyme that Mabel remembered from her childhood, hands still combing through her hair gently, Mabel's curls pooling about her mother's lap.

"Am I allowed to stay?" Mabel asked after a silence had stretched between them for a while.

"Not this time," her mother said, her voice soft as her eyes sparkled, although differently than before.

"What if I want to?"

"That's not your choice to make."

The colour of the sky started to dim as her mother answered, the world around them both fading as if the light was being stolen from it.

"Mabel... Mabel...can you hear me, Mabel?"

Henry's voice broke the peaceful world apart, cracks appearing as the world continued to dim. Mabel felt a pull towards him but she fought against it, desperate to stay with her mother.

"Mabel, my heart, I thought we'd have more time. But you have to remember when the time comes, do not make the choice," her mother stated, suddenly no longer cradling her head, but stood beneath the willow tree, whilst Mabel had been ripped to the middle of the field they had lain in.

"You said it wasn't my choice to make? If it is I choose you, I'll always choose you," Mabel screamed as she reached out towards her mother, her fingers finding only emptiness.

"I wasn't talking about me..."

Mabel's eyes shot open, her gaze falling upon a very worried Henry and her father, both crouched on either side of her father's bed, hands covering each of hers. Sobs escaped her, a vast feeling of loss threatening to overwhelm her although she was unsure why.

"It's alright my child," her father soothed, his hand gripping her left one tightly, "you are back with us."

Mabel pulled her hands from the pair, wiping furiously at the tears that were falling without cause. She tried to sit herself more upright but Henry's hands came to a rest on her shoulders, stilling her movements.

"It is better if you rest. You gave me...us...quite the scare," Henry instructed, fear still etched across his face. Mabel fought against his hold, batting his hand away as she continued to sit herself up.

"I am absolutely fine, Henry," she stated, her nose crinkling in confusion. Her gaze fell from Henry's and landed on her toes as they lay uncovered by the foot of the bed.

"Where are my shoes?" she asked and the second the question left her lips, her mind ricocheted her back to the world she had left behind.

"Mama! Where is she?" Mabel shrieked, her hands gripping the beige striped blanket beneath her as panic clawed at her, her eyes darting around the room trying to find her.

"Mama? No darling, you must have been dreaming," her father soothed, fear once again in his eyes at the mention of his dead wife. Mabel watched as her father's fearful gaze fell on Henry, his loud concerns breaching the distance between them despite being silent.

"No, she was there with me. You!" she yelled, finger pointed directly at Henry, "You ripped me from her! I didn't want to go and yet you pulled me away from her!"

Mabel's words were filled with anger and despair, the sense of loss flooding her as her sobs grew louder, her lungs struggling to catch their breath.

"Mabel," her father said, his tone soft in an attempt to pacify his daughters cries, "you were dreaming again."

Mabel's heart felt like it was breaking in two as she sat on the bed between them. Every inch of her sensed the tragic loss, as if she were now grieving her mother not once in her lifetime but twice. Her mind struggled against her father's words, telling her that her mother was yet again some apparition, some ghostly presence or of dream-like substance, when she had felt her beneath her fingertips.

"I am so sorry," her father directed the apology at Henry, "I fear she is unwell. Maybe I should fetch the doctor?"

"Do not apologize. If you would like, we could move her to Thomerson manor, momentarily of course, and can have our in house doctor keep an eye on her? At no cost to you," Henry offered and Mabel's glare shot across colliding with his sorrowful gaze.

"You know that to be a lie! I am not ill! I do not need a doctor! I was with her. Tell him I was with her!" She instructed, sobs and growls of anger twisting her words, unsure which fuelled them fully.

"Mabel," he soothed, keeping her gaze, his hand coming up to softly cover hers, "you know I cannot."

Mabel stared at him, tears blurring her eyes as she tried to silently will him to speak the truth. But his gaze was equally as unwavering, as if he too were trying to silently convey something whilst Mabel refused to decipher it.

"I will not go," Mabel stated, snatching her hand from his.

"Mabel, you must," Henry urged, his eyes full of concern.

"If you will not go then you leave me no choice but to fetch Doctor Sanders," her father pushed, Mabel's refusals falling silent, the memory of Doctor Sanders and his treatments making her stomach churn. The man had been of the belief that a sickness of the mind needed to be drained from the body, the tiny white knicks that marred her wrists evidence of his type of medicine. That man was the devil.

"No!" Mabel cried, her gaze falling to her father, "I will go but only to prove I am not ill father."

"You need not worry about that now. You have been carrying too much on your shoulders. Maybe a few days rest with Henry will make everything clearer," he calmed, his hand coming up to touch her cheek, his thumb smoothing away a tear that had fallen.

It was then that Mabel noticed his colour had greatly improved, his lips no longer holding a blueish hue but a lively rose pink. The grey that made his appearance sullen and lifeless had too been replaced by a soft warm blush that settled beautifully across his cheeks.

"Father," she breathed, bringing a hand up to his cheek in return, "you look so well."

"See, the rest can do a person good," he smiled, standing strongly to plant a gentle kiss on top of her head, "I will send Gretchen up to pack a few things."

Her father left quietly, leaving Mabel and Henry alone in each others company for a moment.

"Henry," she started but his gaze caused the rest of the words to fall helplessly from her tongue, silence replacing them.

"Not yet," he instructed, voice low, his gaze darting to the door where her father's shadow still remained.

The creak of the floorboards outside the bedroom door informed the pair when her father had truly left them. Mabel went to speak once more but Henry simply shook his head, taking her hand gently in his but not uttering another word. Once Gretchen had come upstairs and packed a rather worn-looking brown case, Henry slowly and gently led her down the stairs to his carriage, as if she were one of his mother's porcelain teacups.

Before she disappeared inside, her father planted another soft kiss on her forehead, his hand squeezing hers before releasing her to leave. Mabel was astonished at how well he seemed to be managing himself, walking the stairs and the street outside with ease, as if his lungs gave him absolutely no bother at all. It left Mabel incredibly thankful but bemused all at once.

"I will send word daily. And you are more than welcome to visit her whilst she rests," Henry said, interrupting Mabel's train of thought, tipping his head in thanks before manoeuvering her inside. She waved as the carriage jostled forward, forcing her father into the distance as it carried her away.

Once he had disappeared from her sight she twisted her body forward, although still slightly turned towards Henry. His gaze was ahead as if purposefully avoiding hers, so she reached for the hand he had rested on his strong, muscular thigh. His eyes landed on where the pair were joined, his free hand coming up to rest on top of hers, enveloping her hand completely in the feel of his skin.

"Promise me," he began, his tone small, eyes still avoiding her own, "you will not do another spell until you have your magic under control. You would not survive a spell of that magnitude if there were to be a next time."

"A spell? Henry I did no such thing."

"Magic always has a cost Mabel," he replied gaze finally finding hers and his tone chilling her to the core, "and you almost just paid the toll with your life."

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