Girl With Golden Eyes
It was some years ago she moved into the sleepy town of Belmoor, and no one knew where she came from or what she had done before. Most assumed she was royalty of some sort: a princess, duchess, or baroness of some foreign country. This was assumed because she held herself with a grace and beauty beyond the common citizen, as well as possessing a wealth they could only ever dream of. This wealth was in full display as she resided in a decadent, crimson manor resting at the far-end of town, one towering in the distance from behind its expansive cast iron fence.
Even after years of residence, little was truly known of her: her thoughts, her feelings, history, habits. Few things had been picked up over time, though. Through the constant and endless parade of suitors, it became apparent she was one not easily impressed, especially by material things. That she was someone who was hard to make laugh or smile. Many things could be seen making her smile, like watching birds fluttering in the sky, but people rarely could.
It was known she had a love of flowers, and seemingly possessed a truly gifted green thumb in making life blossom and bloom to her touch. The large expanse of land between those iron fences and her crimson manor was filled to the brim with a rainbow assortment of flowers. Many flowers growing far longer than they seasonally should, many blooming that shouldn’t in the town’s climate, and all of them persisting in their beauty by her hand alone. For despite the huge grandeur of where she lived, not a living soul seemed to work there on the grounds. The only person ever seen in her service was her carriage driver, but even he wore a porcelain mask which covered all his features.
Another of the few clear things known was her deep love and affection for cats. The town used to be filled to the brim with strays and ferals, but over the years they had all been taken into her fold, so looking through the gates, one could see endless cats roaming those flower gardens. Some would say she must have had a hundred cats all to herself, and that there was no surer way to forever lose her favor than being cruel to one. That any who disliked cats had learned to keep that fact deeply buried inside, or else find her forever looking coldly on them.
Over everything else, though, it was her eyes that struck the deepest into all hearts that longed for her. Her eyes were the color of gold, shimmering like starlight, and seemed to hold a depth to them like the universe itself. That it felt like breathing in the bliss of life, like the warmth of falling in love, to have those eyes gaze into yours…or so it was spoken of. Spoken of like her name—Parisa Blackwillow—a name falling from the lips of countless hopeless suitors and their broken-hearted love songs.
One of those hopeless suitors, the young noble Benedict Lawson, was speaking to the town’s blacksmith, Isolde Tremain. Benedict was a scarecrow of a man, dressed prim and proper, with finely combed hair and mustache, and a top hat firmly on his head. This hat remained on instead of respectfully taken off, Isolde nodding as his eloquent voice kept on talking.
Isolde was known in the town for her agreeableness and gentleness, despite the harsh nature of the work she did. Yet, despite a usually soft demeanor, strong work ethic, and being in what most men viewed as those prime mid-twenties age of a woman’s life, unlike Parisa, barely ever a suitor would come knocking on her doors. She very much knew the main facts of this were most certainly her appearance.
As a child, a horse had violently kicked Isolde while she was helping her father with putting on horseshoes. The kick had crushed and broken bones all across the left-side of her face and head, which had unleashed a torrent of blood that seemed to bathe the whole world around her red. She was lucky to escape with her life and no damage to her mind, but great scars abounded across the left half of her face, which had healed malformed. Along with the striking scars, her left eye had gone blind, struck with an empty, glass-like stillness and murkiness to it, the pupil of it stuck in a perpetually undilated state. The nerves and muscles were all damaged on the side of her face she was struck in as well, terribly restricting movement there: that made it a sad sight for many to see the light in the half smile on her right side, while the left remained frozen down in a frown, creating an unsettling dissonance. Not only that, the pinky and ring fingers on her left hand were almost completely missing, severed in a terrible accident only a few years prior. All in all, many did not seek one whom they couldn’t even slip a wedding ring on.
Still, some suitors had tried, but most quickly wilted away. She had a way of being very reclusive despite her usual gentle demeanor, and seemed to be so much quieter when you talked with her in person outside of her work. Or that when she did speak, it was always so much more bumbled than the strong assurance in which she could explain all the details to crafting a work from metal. They tired her anyway, those that’d come knocking on her door, especially when she’d want to hold someone’s hand. They’d never take hold of her left hand, and when they’d take her right, there was always that subtle look of quiet disgust that flashed onto their faces. Because her hands were hard, rough, and calloused from her work, not at all soft like they’d wanted. She loved soft hands too—the sensation of silken skin—but there was no way to have those in her line of work, but all those men always seemed to take it so personally. Like those things were all her own fault, like she’d chosen them for herself, even though none of those things were ever wanted. Just accident and circumstance, as most things are.
“Do you think you could make that for me?” Benedict asked Isolde, and she blinked, realizing her mind had been somewhere far away.
She often daydreamed while working alone in the forge, but had the bad habit of sometimes falling into it with people around. It felt horrible in her, because she knew they thought she was spacing out because of something wrong with her head from the injury, thinking her mentally damaged.
“What was it you wanted again?” she asked, unable to remember his words.
“I was wondering if you could make me some golden horseshoes.”
“Why would you ever want golden horseshoes?”
“To give to Parisa, of course!” Benedict huffed, and Isolde realized he must have already told her that. “It will be as a gift for the horses that draw her carriage, and it will show how thoughtful, caring, and considerate I am. It’ll set me apart from all those hollow men trying to win her with jewelry and flowers—she already has those. But this is a thoughtful gift.”
“But golden horseshoes are an awful idea,” Isolde said, washing her face in a nearby water basin, trying to get some of the soot and grime away. “Gold is an incredibly soft metal, and as such, it's horrible for what horseshoes are supposed to be for. If you’re being thoughtful, just get her some normal ones. Steel is a thousand times better for the job than gold.”
“You cannot give a woman like Parisa Blackwillow plain horseshoes!” he shouted like fact, Isolde amused by his furor. “Everyone wants to make her laugh…but they don’t want to be the one laughed at. I’d be a joke to give her such base things.”
“I think it’d be a very nice thing to give her.”
“Well, you’re a different kind of woman than Parisa is.”
Isolde froze in place, face close to the water basin. The little nubs where her fingers used to be were burning into her vision, and she could see a hazy reflection of her face in the water, broken, mismatched, and so very filthy. Her ashen-black hair dry and twisted from all the forge's smoke. She rose up, water dripping from her face, deep frown on her.
“If you pay me, I’ll make whatever you want,” she said. “I was just giving my advice on the matter.”
“Fine then.” Benedict crossed his arms, leaning against one of the support beams within the forge. “Other than horseshoes, tell me what kind of gift you would get Parisa if you wanted her to like you? If you were a man trying to win her heart, how would you strike?”
Isolde breathed in deep, her mind becoming light like it often did during her daydreaming sessions, falling into the dream of his question. She had never actually seen Parisa Blackwillow before. Isolde spent her days in the forge mostly, and they’d never crossed paths. All she had heard were the countless whispers, stories, and musings of love about her. Yet, on nights when the moon was bright, Isolde could spend hours outside those gates of Parisa’s. That she would stand outside and stare in at the flowers and how they danced in the wind, watching the shifting shadows of the cats moving like magical beings.
“The cats,” Isolde said, as if in answer to a riddle. “She loves those cats, so do something for them. Cats love bells. I can make them of all sizes, little balls they can bat around for fun. She must have close to a hundred cats, and they could use some fun toys. So I’d give her a hundred bells if I wanted to do something to truly impress her.”
Benedict seemed to be seriously contemplating the idea for a moment, which made Isolde very happy in her answer. That joy, though, was shattered as he started laughing wildly, a weezing cackle, something similar to how some of the other children would laugh after her face had first been broken. She never understood how they could find it so funny, her pain, and for so long the same joke played on and on. They loved to call her horseface for years.
“You’d give her a giant box of toys for her cats?” Benedict said, before bursting out laughing again. “This woman is like royalty! Would you give our queen toys? More than royalty…Parisa’s like some fiery, foreign goddess to behold, her golden eyes burning your very soul, and that’s what you’d offer at her shrine? It’s lucky you’re not a man, so you won’t have to know the pain of that outcome.”
“I sure am lucky not to be a man,” she said with a half-crooked smile. “I’d be terrible with women, wouldn’t I?”
“Probably just as terrible as you are with men!” Benedict kept cackling, his weezing starting to sound like a horse’s neigh. “Have you ever even been kissed by anyone, girl? Can you kiss with those crooked lips of yours?”
Silently and swiftly, Isolde picked up her smithing hammer and slammed it full force into the support beam Benedict was leaning against, it crashing in a mere inch from his face. The hammer cracked and smashed into the wood, Benedict screaming like a child and jumping back, his eyes wide with fear.
“I don’t want any job from you,” Isolde said, wiggling the hammer out from its place embedded into the beam. “You may take your business elsewhere.”
“It was all in jest, you crazed woman! There’s simply no humor in that malformed heart of yours, is there? No wonder no man wants any part of you! And no woman would want you either if things were the other way around.” Benedict huffed, taking more steps back, eyes stuck on the hammer, dusting off his top hat. “If I was your father, I would have put such an ugly and deformed creature as you out of your misery long ago. Too bad he died before he ever could.” He growled, then began to storm towards the exit. “My associates will know of your violence against me here today, and I will advise them to take their business elsewhere.”
Isolde’s face contorted in anger, her arm raising up with the hammer, looking like she might fling it at him, but she froze in place. He exited the forge with her arm locked mid-air, hand trembling holding the hammer. Benedict Lawson was a gangly, twig of a man, and her hammer would break bones. Not even for people as awful as him could she make her arm move to cause such pain.
Soon the hammer fell from her hand, tumbling into the forge’s earthen floor, and the anger on her face dissolved first into quiet sadness, then into stinging anguish. Her face began to crumple, and before she could stop herself, she was crying. She hated crying, because she’d always weep like a child: loud, violent, and painfully. The tears pushing out like little daggers, her hands trying to stop the floods, but the waters still flowing.
It took her half an hour to stop crying, and after that she worked the next five hours straight, not even stopping when blisters formed on her hands, or even when they started to bleed…her blood sliding out her gloves and sizzling upon the molten metal she was working with.