Flickering Embers

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Chapter 8: Memories of past

"I feel you are being a touch overdramatic Henry," Mabel replied, sliding her hand out from where he held it despite how nice it felt. She let it fall softly onto her yellow dress, still speckled with splashes of colour that threatened to take the beauty from it, although Mabel was not one that held such an opinion. In fact, it felt more beautiful to her in its current state of disarray, the mix of colours transforming an otherwise blank, muted canvas into a work of art that told a silent story.

"Overdramatic? I am being no such thing. One does not tend to gain an audience with the dead unless they are close to it themselves. And did you not say that you saw your mother?"

"So you do believe me?"

"I do, but I couldn't exactly state that in front of your father" he replied his gaze finding hers as her smile grew, her eyes twinkling, " That is not cause for celebration. It merely warrants my fearfulness. You almost died Mabel. Truth be told, I am not sure how you did not."

"I did not do a spell, Henry. I simply lay with my father, nothing more," Mabel continued, confusion causing the bridge of her nose to crinkle.

"I think you and I both realise that one simple word is enough. Your magic is incredibly strong Mabel, the strongest I have ever seen. Words carry a weight, and magic itself has a heavy price to be paid if the incantation warrants it. Life magic, like you performed, usually takes an entire coven and a sacrifice."

"Life magic? I have no idea what that even means let alone how to do it."

"And therein lies the problem. Have you ever seen your mother before this day? After her death I mean?" Henry asked as Mabel's hand automatically fell to her wrist, fingertips trailing the white scars that speckled across them like unwanted freckles.

"Yes. But Henry...this doctor....he does not-" Mabel began but the words alone were too heavy to spill, so they fell silent on her tongue.

"Does not?" Henry inquired, his gaze following to where Mabel's lay. But her attention was elsewhere and she had not heard his question.

Her mind had transported her back to when Mabel had just turned 14. The anniversary of her mother's death had passed by four times, a constant reminder of the loss she felt with every breath. Her mother's visitations had become more and more infrequent and Mabel desperately searched for a way to talk to her properly, to feel her touch once more.

She had heard from Ava, the healer's daughter whom she played with from time to time, that if you broached the veil then there was a place the spirits played. A place she could spend time with her mother. Ava had told her she had to go to the river and hold her breath under the water, even went it burnt her lungs, she must still hold it. Ava had been very precise on that point. Mabel remembered at the time the inclination to tell the healer's daughters she did not quite know how to swim but she had decided against it, planning to stay in the shallows anyway. Mabel had asked Ava how she would get back afterwards and she had simply shrugged her shoulders and said, "the same way you came I guess."

Later that day Mabel had snuck out of her family's cottage, excited and nervous at the chance to see her mother again. Thankfully, unbeknownst to Mabel at the time, Gretchen had seen her unsubtle attempts at an exit and followed her, presuming she was meeting a boy. To her surprise, Mabel had instead raced down to the river's edge, hesitating but a moment before striding straight into it. It had been deeper than Mabel had anticipated, her dress instantly feeling weighted, her shoes giving little grip against the muddy bottom. She had slipped almost straight away and her body became engulfed by the water within a second. Panic had clawed at young Mabel, her arms and legs thrashing about her to no avail, the water suffocating her as her limbs became entangled with her now heavy dress. She had desperately tried to hold her breath like Ava had instructed but the water had already started to drown her.

"Mabel?" Henry's voice once again wrenched her from a memory, her hands having travelled to her neck, the recollection of drowning flooding her senses once more.

"My apologies, caught in a daydream," she lied, not wanting to burden him with her troubled youth. After that day many acted as though she had planned to take her own life despite her words to the contrary, Gretchen mistaking her movements for self-destruction when in fact it had been a grieving child's drastic attempt to spend just a moment more with her mother.

"Share it with me?" he asked, his hand finding hers once more as they fell to her lap.

"Another time perhaps," she replied, forcing a soft smile to her lips before resting her gaze beyond him, out the carriage window as the streets passed by in unison. She didn't exactly want to talk about that time of her life, the time that Dr Sanders had entered and left deep scars in his wake.

"Well, whilst I have you as my captive audience," he smiled after a short silence had spread out between them, "I must mention that my mother returns tomorrow to the Manor. I know she will be delighted to meet you."

"Your mother," she breathed, her gaze floating to his, her heart feeling like a trapped butterfly.

"Yes. She cut her visit with her sister short, I am unsure why. But I'm sure she will fill me in once she is home, no doubt she will reach me before a letter would have anyway."

"And she will not mind me staying with you? She might find it incredibly improper?"

"She will find no such thing. I have already stated to your father my intentions and she will be told the same thing. Although she will also be privy to all that we know, seeing as she too is a witch, head of our coven to be precise."

"Your coven?"

"Our coven. Consider it like a... political party of sorts. There are two separate parties...one of night, one of light. Our coven is of light, we are called Dawners. The other party are Nightbringers. They practise dark magic, call forth demons from hell to wreak havoc on the living. Dawners keep the balance, protect others from the darkness."

"And I'm a...Dawner?"

Henry hesitated before he answered, his brow crinkling a little before he spoke, "Yes, you are a Dawner, for your mother was one before you."

"Oh. Do you not decide what one you wish to be?"

"No," Henry continued, rather firmly, his gaze narrowing and his brow crinkling further. He spoke no more on the subject for the remainder of the carriage ride, although his hand stayed firmly wrapped in hers. Mabel mind wandered anyway, as if merely her body was in the carriage, the rest of her back in the field with her head in her mother's lap.

The carriage came to a rather abrupt stop outside of the Thomerson manor, the sight of its grandeur still making Mabel's breath catch in her throat. Henry slid out gracefully from the carriage, hand outstretched as he helped her down. The heavy oak door once again opened as if by magic the moment their feet hit against the stone steps, Harold's face greeting them as it revealed his stern gaze.

"Harold, can you prepare the guest bedroom? Lady Blacksmith will be staying with us for a few days," Henry instructed, Harold's stern gaze transforming as shock rippled across his face.

"Really my lord? Do you feel that is wise?" Harold continued, clearly not learning his lesson from earlier, overstepping once again. Mabel understood why but that didn't mean she liked the reason. If she had been a woman of higher birth then this question would likely have never left the butler's lips. A birthright she was entitled to but denied merely because her parents had found themselves in a similar situation yet others never seemed to grasp the irony.

"Harold, please prepare the guest room for Miss Blacksmith," Henry repeated lowly, his gaze severe, squeezing the hand he still held of Mabel's gently when she tried to subtly pull it free.

"Of course my lord," Harold replied, tipping his head slowly, opening the door wider so the pair of them could fit through easily. Mabel avoided his gaze despite his judgement being the wrong one, she had nothing to feel shame for. She looked at Henry gratefully instead, joy blooming in her chest at how quickly he defended her and how right her hand continued to feel against his warm palm.

He led her through to the drawing-room, sitting her upon the gorgeous green double chair before taking the space next to her, not choosing the singular chair opposite.

"Is the doctor..." Mabel forced herself to ask, panic clawing at her edges, making them feel exposed and raw as her eyes darted from Henry's.

"There is no need to fetch for the doctor. I am sure rest is all you need. In all honesty, it was merely the first thing that came to mind to get you out of there."

"Out of there? That is my home?"

"That may be true but it's not an entirely safe place for you to be at the moment. Not since Clara. And I would feel much better if I had you close, ensure that you are well."

"I am well, Henry."

"But you almost were not. So would you grant me but a few days where my fears shall be eased, even if just a little?"

"I will do as you ask, for now," she replied, trying to relieve the concern that was still deeply etched across his face.

"Well, that surely is cause for celebration. I do not know about you, but my stomach is demanding to be filled."

"Sounds perfect."

The next morning the sun gently woke Mabel from her restful sleep, her body rejoicing at the feel of the soft mattress beneath her. A fresh linen nightdress had been laid at the foot of the bed the night before, the soft, clean fabric feeling cool against her skin.

The room she had the pleasure to be a guest in was exquisite. The walls were decorated in perfectly striped wallpaper, muted greens and creams lay in soft lines down each wall. A large brown and light pink rug covered the wooden floor beneath her feet, the wool feeling odd against her bare soles when she walked. A beautiful four-poster bed had captivated her attention from the moment she had entered the room, four strong walnut legs stretching almost from floor to ceiling. Delicate curtains bloomed from the corners at the top, soft shades of green flowing down at the top half of the bed, tying in gracefully with the rest of the room.

Sarah had entered a short while after the morning light had stirred Mabel, the sound of water being poured into the basin startling her a little.

"Oh, beg your pardon, my lady, I did not realise you had not yet woken," Sarah apologized, stilling the silver bucket she had in her hands.

"No need for an apology, you did not wake me," Mabel replied, although the yawn that followed her words didn't exactly reassure the maid.

"I just thought you would like some fresh water to bathe in, my lady. Also, my lord sent for a new gown, he hopes it is to your taste," Sarah said, her gaze flicking to the solid pine chest at the foot of the bed that no doubt housed this gift.

"Mabel, if you would. And please thank Henry for me but I am sure Gretchen has packed enough for my stay, a fact I already informed him of last night at dinner. A new dress will certainly not be necessary."

"As you wish but I fear my lord knew you would say that," Sarah replied, a smile on her face as she did a quick curtsy, clearly eager to leave the room, "and he says to send his apologies but your case has unfortunately been misplaced."

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