Chapter 1 : The Pavilion
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Desiya Ravenclaw nervously adjusted and readjusted her silver necklace and long, silk gloves. She curled her toes inside her snow white dancing slippers that matched her full-skirted gown. She had bathed, soaking in scalding water that was richly perfumed with scented oils, and then had sat by the fire while Lucetta, her maid, had combed through the snarls her elbow-length auburn curls. Her face was flushed from the heat of her bath and the strain of her corset, and her hazel eyes shown brightly against the foggy mirror.
She was sixteen this year, which meant she was now of age, and this year's Christmas ball was being hosted in her honor. Being one of twelve girls, there had been balls given for her sisters, but even peaking through the doors in years past couldn't prepare her for tonight. Her older sisters had been lucky. Mother had been there for Adella's ball, and Beatrice and Clara had gotten to have their balls together, because Beatrice had had to wait to have hers. Her sixteenth birthday had fallen during mourning, and giving a ball was not allowed then. Desiya remembered how the grand ballroom had been draped in black, thick curtains blocking out the sunlight.
She wished her mother could have been there tonight. She remembered that bleak morning three years ago, when they had woken to Adella's hacking sobs. When they ran to Mother's room to see what the problem was, they found their sister kneeling at the bed. Their mother had looked so peaceful laying there, still wearing her white nightgown with her auburn hair strewn across the pillow. A sharp knock at the door interrupted Dezzy from her thoughts.
"Desiya, are you ready yet?"
"Just a minute," she called, her voice shaking.
The door opened, and her oldest sister, Adella, came in.
"Father is waiting for you downstairs," she said.
"I know," Desiya replied, nervously fidgeting with her necklace again.
"Don't worry, Dezzy. You'll be fine," Adella said in a soft voice.
"How do you know? What if everything goes horribly wrong!"
"Trust me when I say that Bea, Clara, and I will make sure you have nothing to worry about," she replied, retying the sash on Dezzy's dress.
"Do you have to wear black, Addie?" Dezzy asked.
"Of course she does. She's the one who takes the excitement out of everything. Someone has to do it, so we left it up to Addie," Beatrice, the second eldest, said as she came in the room.
"Hello, Bea," Dezzy said, giving her sister a small smile.
"Hi, Dezzy. So you're finally sixteen, eh? How does it feel?" she asked with a wide smile.
"Nerve-wracking. I have the opening waltz with Father, and he dances like a fencepost."
"Not to worry, young chit. Just add some turns here, and flourishes there, and nobody will even notice him. You were always the best at dancing," she replied, giving her younger sister's shoulder a gentle squeeze.
Desiya took another deep breath, examining her reflection once more in the tall mirror. She knew the nerves would pass, and by the end of the night she would be dancing to her heart's content, but at the present moment, it was hard to imagine such a thing even possible.
"Well," she said, turning away from the mirror. "I suppose it's time to go."
"You look lovely. Now go show everyone what a beautiful dancer you are," Adella said with a sad smile.
With a deep breath, Dezzy walked through the door of the sitting room, and stopped at the top of the stairs. Her father stood at the bottom waiting for her. She gripped the banister in her small hand, and slowly descended the steps. She could hear her dress rustling behind her, and her heart was beating rapidly in her chest. She got to the bottom stair, and took her father's outstretched arm, feeling the fabric of his jacket through her glove. They came to the entrance of the ballroom, and the doors slowly opened. As they came to the center of the room to start the opening waltz, Desiya looked around her and saw a familiar face in the crowd.
"Mother?" she whispered, but her mother's form was already fading, the trace of a smile on her lips.
Desiya shot up in bed, breathing heavily. She untangled her legs from the sheets, and got up, feeling the shock of the cold stone floor under her bare feet. It was just a dream. Her hand went to the small, silver pendant around her neck, and she stood looking into the dying embers of the fire.
"What are you doing up?"
Desiya turned to see her sister, Clara, looking at her. "I could ask you the same question," she answered.
"I was cold, and couldn't sleep. And you?" Clara asked.
"I had the same dream again. It was my Christmas ball, and Mother was there. It always seems so real."
"But you know it can't be, because Father-"
"Has forbidden us to dance, I know," she sighed.
She turned and looked around the room at her younger sisters, who were still sleeping peacefully. Ettie, Flora, Gertrude, Holly, Isabella, Julianna, Katherine, and Lenora. They had been named in alphabetical order, something their mother had found amusing, and their father had found practical. She wished that they could dance. She loved it more than anything, and her mother had taught her everything she knew about different steps and curtsies. The younger girls should have been able to learn, too, but her father had made it clear that dancing was not allowed in their palace. It reminded him too much of the girls' mother.
"You know he doesn't mean to be this harsh, it's just hard for him to think about her," Clara said gently.
"I know it is. But can't he see that it's just as hard for us? Lena and Kitty barely knew her, and he's the reason they never will," she replied, tears forming in her hazel eyes. She rapidly blinked them away.
"You mustn't think about it that way. She was the love of his life, and when she got sick, things changed. He couldn't help but put all of his attention into her."
"Why did they have so many children if he doesn't even care about us?"
"Desiya Ravenclaw, you know that isn't true. Father cares about us, he just doesn't know how to show it. You should try and get back to sleep," she added, walking back to her bed.
Dezzy crawled between the sheets of her own bed, but couldn't go back to sleep. She just laid there, letting tears drip onto her pillow. She knew Clara was right, that he did care about them, but couldn't he at least act like it, too? A little while later, as Desiya still laid awake, the girls started to get up. She stood and stretched, listening to the chatter that now filled the room. Girls looked under beds for single shoes that were missing their pair, and helped each other brush their hair and button their dresses. Desiya slowly got dressed, then brushed through her long, red hair. She absent-mindedly traced her toes in a waltz.
"Desiya," Adella said sternly.
Dezzy blushed as she realized what she was doing. "Sorry."
The girls went down to breakfast, making sure to be on time. Their father ran his kingdom very specifically, and had strict laws set in place. Things were no different when it came to his daughters. They each sat at their places at the large table, and ate breakfast in silence. After a few moments, a soft humming came from somewhere near the middle if the table.
"Miss Flora, what have we said about such noise at the table?" the King asked.
"That it is not allowed," she said quietly, dropping her eyes to her lap.
"Quite right. Make sure it does not happen again."
Gertie squeezed her twin sister's hand under the table, where the King couldn't see. After breakfast, the girls rose and went to their room for lessons. Their governess, a woman named Helga Hufflepuff, was supposed to teach them how to be ladies, so they could find suitable husbands, but she was a soft woman, who let the girls do as they pleased as long as it did not disturb the King.
"Clara," Gertie asked, "Would you please read to us?"
"What would you like me to read?"
"One of Mother's books?"
"Gertie, you know Father doesn't allow that."
"Please?" she asked, her green eyes pleading.
"Oh, alright. But only if you listen quietly, and don't tell Father or Mistress Helga."
"We won't, we won't!" the girls said in sing-song voices.
Clara carefully pulled a book from the shelf, opening it to a page that she knew by heart. Her voice filled the room as she told stories of Kings and Queens, of true love and heartbreak, and of mysterious lands full of magic.
"Were they really magic?" Isabella asked, interrupting. At nine years old, she was constantly curious.
"Yes. This castle was enchanted too, you know. But all of the enchantments were destroyed when our grandfather conquered this castle. The man who ruled before Grandfather was trapped using the magic that had once filled the kingdom."
"He didn't want it falling into the hands of the wrong people. The man he conquered used it for evil. Grandfather could have used it, too, if he so desired, but he was thinking of the kingdom," she told them as they looked at her, wide-eyed and enraptured by their sister's words.
She was about to return to the story when the clock chimed.
"Come on girls, time for dinner. You know how Father gets if we're late," Adella said, ushering them to the dining room.
After a long, silent dinner, the twelve sisters marched upstairs to their bedroom. They talked and laughed as they changed into their nightgowns, relishing in the chatter that was never present around their father.
"Has anyone seen my brush?" Desiya asked.
She was answered with a chorus of "No!" and continued searing. She had moved to just behind her bed, when she heard a strange creaking noise. It seemed as if the panels in the wall behind her bed were coming lose. As she leaned closer she saw that one of them was, in fact, separated from the wall all the way up the side.
"Bea? Could you come here for a minute, please?" she called.
"What is it? Have you lost your left slipper again? Really, Dezzy, after the third time, I'd think you would take better care-"
"Beatrice! Look at the wall," she said, pointing at the loose panels.
"We really must get this fixed. I could fit my entire hand back here!" she said, and proceeded to slip her hand through the opening. "See! It fits and there's still room. I could probably-" she started, but was interrupted by a large crack.
The panel had opened another few inches, until it was stopped by the end of Dezzy's bed. The chatter around the bedroom stopped, and Adella rushed to Dezzy and Bea.
"Addie, I think something's back here," Bea said quietly.
"Nonsense. It's probably just a storage room," she replied.
"No, really. We should check," Bea said, and began to move Dezzy's bed.
Without waiting for an opinion from her sisters, Bea used all of her strength to shove the bed another few inches. Ettie, Flora, and Gertie rushed forward and helped her, and soon there was enough space for a single person to fit behind the bed. They turned to move the panel, but as soon as Bea touched it, it fell forward easily. The sight that met their eyes was nothing like what they had expected. A long, spiral staircase wound downwards into the darkness. Bea slipped through the opening.
"Beatrice, what on earth do you think you're doing?" Adella asked, in a tone that was shockingly like her father's.
"I'm exploring. Come on, Addie! Be adventurous for once in your life! You don't want to get left here by yourself, do you?" she replied, as the other girls followed her through the opening.
Dezzy followed Bea, not willing to wait for Addie's reprimand of her decision. As she clutched the banister, she slowly followed the line of sisters descending the spiral staircase. She heard their soft gasps as she finally reached the bottom, and the sight that met her eyes explained it all.
A forest stood before them, and the trees looked as if they had been completely covered in fresh snow. As they crept between the trees, she saw the it was not snow, but that the trees were, in fact, entirely silver. Crystals dripped from them like dew, and Dezzy was amazed as one melted in her palm after she caught it.
"What is this place?" she whispered.
The girls followed the pathway through the sparkling forest, and soon came to a bridge, over which they could see a pavilion that was bathed in warm light. Without waiting for anyone to say a word, Bea dashed across the bridge and into the pavilion. Dezzy walked slowly, somehow convinced that this was a dream, and she would wake up soon, losing the forest and pavilion. But as she came closer with every step, she found herself pushing away the voices in the back of her mind that were telling her to go back, and to be careful.
"Oh, Dezzy, look!" Ettie said, taking her sister's hand and pulling her to the pavilion.
"Come on, Dez!" Bea said, yanking her to the middle of the pavilion and moving through the first few steps of a jig.
Before she could stop herself, Dezzy joined her sister, jumping, turning, and flicking her toes, which she kept perfectly pointed. She skipped with Bea, and the younger girls watching with wide eyes. Dezzy and Bea collapsed in a fit of giggles, and looked up to see Adella raising her dark eyebrows at them, with her arms crossed over her chest.
"What do you think you're doing? You know we aren't allowed to dance."
"No one will know! You know you've missed it, Addie." Bea said, as she stood.
"Beatrice, you know what Father says-"
"I don't care what he says! He doesn't care about us, so why should we listen to him? Come on, Addie. Just one little dance won't hurt." she said.
She didn't wait for a reply, and instead grabbed as many little hands as she could and she and Dezzy pulled their younger sisters out into the middle of the pavilion. They taught them a reel, grasping hands and spinning about the room, skipping and jumping. The little girls were in awe of the older ones, watching open-mouthed as they danced. Eventually, Addie joined them, and Dezzy thought she saw a rare smile cross her eldest sister's face. It was only after a few more dances that they realized someone was watching them.