Flickering Embers

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Chapter 10: A motherly meeting

"Mother?!" Mabel yelped, instantly regretting her decision tenfold as she stood there in the soft, but relatively thin, nightgown. A blush crept across her cheeks, Mabel feeling the heat as though she had stayed out in the sun for too long.

"Mother?" Henry's voice seemed to echo her own, his tone one of confusion not embarrassment like Mabel's.

"Yes, dear. The journey was shorter than expected and Johnathon carried on through the night for me."

Henry arrived at Mabel's side at the perfect moment, pulling his mother's gaze towards him, leaving Mabel to calm herself a little. She could almost feel his arm upon her skin, a hum of electricity seeming to trickle down her forearms.

Henry lent forward and planted a soft kiss upon his mother's cheek before continuing their conversation.

"There really was no rush mother. We haven't even begun to test her abilities yet."

"Oh, hush. Am I not the head of the coven? Or have you relinquished me of my title in my absence?"

"No mother," he soothed before turning his attention to Mabel, "this is Mabel."

"Well, I assumed so. Unless you have a collection of women running about in their nightgowns?"

"Only with the promise of tea," Mabel interjected but the second the words fell out of her mouth she regretted them. Emelia looked at her with utter confusion, her gaze once again travelling slowly over her dishevelled appearance.

"Ha," Henry chuckled, his blue eyes sparkling at their inside joke. His smiling face upon her helped Mabel to relax a little, a small smile pulling at her lips as she stood next to him.

"Emelia, please accept my apologies for my, somewhat shocking appearance. It seems as though my case has been lost since my arrival," Mabel smiled, her gaze flickering to a rather sheepish looking Henry.

"Lost? Well, now, Henry. How can that be?"

"It's simply been misplaced. I have the servants looking for it at this very instant," Henry replied, holding her gaze. Mabel squeezed her nose up at him, fighting the urge to stick her tongue out like a rude school girl at his blatant lie. He had hidden it to ensure she wore the dress. Although, perhaps she could see why he wanted her to look presentable. For he had had in mind for her to meet his mother.

"Well, that won't do. Come now, Henry. What sort of host have you been in my absence. Why did you not purchase this poor young lady a dress to wear?" his mother inquired, brow furrowed, shaking her head as she took Mabel's arm in hers, walking off before Henry even had a chance to answer.

"I am awfully sorry, it seems my son has forgotten his manners," Emelia continued hushedly. Mabel tried to answer but decided best to just fall silent, "you can view some of my old gowns. I'm sure we can find one that will fit you beautifully whilst you wait for your case to be found. It can not of gotten far."

"That's very kind of you," Mabel replied, forcing a small smile to her face despite her discontent. She took a moment to fully appreciate Emelia's beauty this close up. Her stunning black curls were mirrors of Henry's but hers were woven with grey strands. They sparkled against the darkness of the rest, giving it depth and added beauty. Lines danced around her emerald eyes and cheeks, especially when she smiled, showing the toll life had had on a once youthful magnificence. It was the same for all humans, even those embroiled with magic. So many fought against the symptoms of age but to Mabel, those lines merely showed her that life had bestowed a lot of happiness upon Emelia, as if they were physical memories of the smiles and joys that Mabel hadn't been a part of.

"Nonsense. You are our guest. We can't have you running around in a nightgown. Heavens, think of poor Harold," Emelia laughed, a sound so soft and joyous that it instantly pulled at Mabel to do the same. Henry was very similar to his mother, in looks and mannerisms and Mabel couldn't help but feel comfortable in her company.

"One gown will suffice, merely for today. This evening, if my case is still not found, then I will send word to my father. He will send Gretchen with another," Mabel replied, wishing for as little charity as possible.

As she allowed Emelia to lead her back up the stairs, her eyes travelled slower this time, taking in yet more grandeur. The staircase was breathtakingly beautiful, white spindles carved intricately, perfectly spaced, drawing her gaze downwards as her hand trailed upon the brown rail. The blue damask wallpaper flowed upon the walls like an ocean, effortlessly transforming into the white and blue painted hallway when they reached the top of the stairs.

"You really do have a beautiful home," Mabel continued, when her stipulation was met with silence. A big part of her wished she could go back 30 minutes or so and have not been so stubborn and saved herself the embarrassment she was feeling now. She had intended to make a good impression on his mother, in fact, has spent a good chunk of the Twilight hours musing over it. Mabel had never thought much about flattery, in her opinion it was a waste of air. But something inside of her had felt perhaps, this once, it would be an acceptable use of it. She had pondered how she would stand, would she courtesy? Many a small detail. But in the end, the impression she had made upon Henry's mother was of a wild child in need of dressing.

"You are too kind dear. It's not as grand as the Thomerson estate up in Whistledown, but it's comfortable enough for our stays in Keppleswitch."

Mabel bit her tongue, suddenly aware of the stark differences in opinion the pair of them held. This house was far from underwhelming and vastly above what Mabel would consider comfortable. Her father's cottage was comfortable, with a few odds and ends that fell slightly below. Like when the winds came and the roof trembled like it was readying to take flight and the hallways sounded like they were haunted, ghostly wails echoing as the storm seeped inside. This, well, was a palace in comparison.

Mabel forced a smile instead of forming words as Emelia turned right at the top of the staircase. They walked past a few half-open doors, but not slow enough for Mabel to glance inside, especially without her intrusion or curiosity being noticed. So she fixated her eyes on the door that lay in front of them, a maid, seemingly from out of nowhere, appearing to open the door.

"Now, you must sit here for a moment whilst Abigail fetches Sarah, my lady's maid."

Mabel nodded as she slowly lowered herself rather uncomfortably, onto the cream bedspread that lay upon the wooden four-poster bed, similar to the one she had slept in last night. The walls of the room were a pale green, the dodo rail a cream colour that seemed to partition the wall in half magnificently. As Mabel's eyes once again came back to the bedspread, she noticed gorgeous flowers that seemed to bloom around its edges, such beauty woven into the fabric. Mabel wished she didn't have to sit on it at all, worried she would crease its otherwise perfect surface. So she tried her best to perch just slightly above it instead, hoping Abigail had a long and quick stride.

"So, my dearest Henry has yet to tell me how the pair of you met. His letter was short and to the point, but much like his father, it missed out much of the important details," Emelia continued as she stood next to the bed, a soft smile on her face but a sparkle in her eyes that gave away her keen interest. Mabel's eyes flicked around the room before answering, worried whose ears might be listening.

"At the market," Mabel replied, no further explanation offered. Her legs had already started to burn from trying to awkwardly hold her weight above the mattress and Mabel's concentration kept flicking between the conversation and the unsettling sensation.

"Well, I know that much my dear. Seems you and my son are frightfully similar."

"My apologies. It's all...very...it's all very new to me."

"And for that I'm sorry," Emelia continued, sitting lightly upon the bed next to her. She covered her hand with hers as Mabel's legs gave out, making the mattress ripple slightly as it was commanded to suddenly bear her weight, "but it was your mother's wish for you to be protected."

"You knew my mother?" She asked, a mixture of excitement, confusion and sadness twisting inside her chest with every breath. Emelia held her gaze as she nodded.

"I knew her very well. Before you, she was a part of our coven, right here in Keppleswitch."

"You're telling me...My mother was a witch?"

"Oh yes. She was marvellous. Magic seemed to flow through her effortlessly," Emelia replied, her gaze fixated to something beyond Mabel, lost in her own memories as she spoke.

"I never knew. I mean, my mother would teach me about herbs and medicines to help the sick, but never anything further. Not even when she was ill herself, she left me not knowing the truth," Mabel said, anger trickling out from the core of her, threatening to stain the memories she had of her mother. If Emelia was being truthful, then that meant her mother had lied to her for all of her life. And her father had continued the lie long after she had been buried.

"She protected you from the truth. There is a difference," Emelia smiled, her gaze finding Mabel's again as Sarah entered the room, effectively ending their conversation. Mabel desperately wanted to find out more but Emelia stood sharply, the hand she had covered falling to her side.

"Sarah, can you fetch the red Mantua with the bell sleeves? I think that would suit our young Mabel here beautifully, don't you think?"

"Absolutely, my lady," Sarah replied, curtseying quickly and effortlessly before walking back out of the room.

"My mother..." Mabel continued but Emelia shook her head, her eyes darting to the still-open doorway.

"All will be revealed in time. For now, let's focus on the task of getting you ready."

"I don't need anything special," Mabel stated, wishing Henry would stroll in with her case in hand, rescuing her from having to wear any of his mother's no doubt beautiful dresses. She knew how expensive full-court gowns were and was starting to wish she hadn't been stubborn and had worn the gift she had been presented with that morning.

"Oh, nonsense. It is just sitting in my wardrobe and I don't think it has ever been worn. It's such a frivolity really, the number of dresses I own but do not have the time, nor the occasion to wear. So I will be in your debt, not the other way around. For my spending will for once hold some meaning."

"If it brings joy to you, then it is not a frivolity," Mabel smiled just as Sarah re-entered, holding a red dress that flowed like a waterfall across Sarah's arms before she delicately lay it upon the bed. The red seemed deeper against the cream bedspread beneath it, the light catching it in places and making it glisten.

"Oh, Emelia. I can not."

"But you must," Emelia replied, coming to her side and gliding a hand softly against the fabric.

Mabel didn't want to once again decline her offer, remembering not only that she wanted to make a better impression than she had at first but also, that she was still in the nightgown and to refute again would only show her trait for stubbornness. So instead she nodded and allowed Sarah to help dress her. Abigail entered again after Mabel was ready and helped fix the hair that lay untamed over her shoulder, pinning her curls up and away from her neck in a gorgeous plaited bun.

"My dear, I must say, you are simply captivating."

Mabel smiled at the compliment despite wanting to turn and blush. Her hands gingerly stroked at the silky material beneath her fingertips, her touch alone telling her how expensive this dress must be. The dress bloomed out slightly around her hips as white lace cuffs seemed to blossom at the sleeves that ended at her elbows. A strong boned corset stifled her midriff, the same white lace that graced her arms also lay around her neck and chest. Mabel looked like a lady yet felt like an imposter.

"I believe it's time for tea. Do you drink tea dear?" Emelia continued, Sarah and Abigail leaving the room as if the words had held secret instructions.

"I have developed quite a softness for tea lately."

"Tea is marvellous for sparking conversation, isn't it? And the pair of us have a lot to discuss. And even more to discover."

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