Chapter 4 : Free Until They Cut Me Down
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“Oh, here he comes. It’s about time,” Penelope frowns. She had been pacing between her bookshelf and her desk, from her desk to her window, and from the window to the door, her patience waning with the moon.
The young woman hurries to open the tower window. October gusts sweep around the castle, searching for an entrance. They struggle through the window, blowing Penelope’s curly black hair, and dragging with them a tawny owl.
Solomon, Penelope’s owl, nips lightly at her hair as he rests on her shoulder. She walks over to her desk, pulling from a drawer a bit of bread. Squawking happily, Solomon takes the offering and sticks out his legs to which is attached a thick and battered parchment.
Quickly untying her letter, Penelope tears it open and reads:
Oh, how we’ve missed you! Roland and Sylvester moped about and moaned for a few days. I think you should write to them, dearest. They’re a bit miffed. The classes are infinitely worse than last year. Professor D- is a nightmare. THREE rolls of parchment on the Draught of Peace, that in itself is enough to insight madness. It is lonely without you, Penelope. There are no decent females in this entire place. You’ve left me with the boys. Oh, how I wish you were returning! I wish I wasn’t a year behind you and had graduated as well! How are things? What’s it like to be back in society? How are the men? Any handsome prospects? Or are you already betrothed? If you’re getting married, I daresay that you will tell me immediately or I shall hex you into the next century.
We miss you, Penelope. Write back.
With all of my love,
Despair wraps its tendrils around Penelope’s heart and she begins to cry. The tears flow freely, landing on the precious letter. Her brown eyes change to green, much like spring rains transforming barren winter soil. Putting her head in her hands, the young woman gulps for breath, attempting to again become calm and serene. There comes a soft voice - it is her mother’s, reminding her that a lady, especially a Prince, must always contain herself lest she be thought hysterical.
But I am hysterical, Penelope thinks. She wants badly to be in the Ravenclaw common room, telling Alice the secrets of the summer months. She is tired of meddlesome siblings and insistent parents who ask her to traipse to every feast and ball (It’s proper, darling, she hears her mother’s voice again). There are no material possessions that can replace the understanding pat of Alice’s hand or her muffled squeal of excitement. Penelope smiles half-heartedly as images of her other friends, Roland and Sylvester, crowded around Alice become visible in her mind. She pictures their smiles, the indecorous comments and jokes.
Penelope uses the backs of her fingers to wipe away her tears, the letter clutched tightly in her hand. Sighing, she sits and picks up a quill. The quill is rare and expensive, it’s plume from the radiant mute swan; the white coloring glows in the candlelight.
Between very unlady-like sniffles, Penelope begins to write a response:
My dearest Alice,
Oh Alice, how I miss you! I’ve had the worst time being away from you. It’s dreary and simply morbid without all of my dear friends (of course, you the most!). Do tell Roland and Sylvester that I send my utmost apologies and will write to them upon the morrow. Mother and Father have been adamant that I attend every social function within thirty miles. I daresay that I’m not yet betrothed, but it could come at any time. Oh Alice, I will fulfill my duty and be content, but I want something more - risk, mysterious and dangerous magic, love and hope. If I marry, he’ll be spontaneous and adventurous and we’ll fight dragons on our honeymoon. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? See if Professor F- will allow you to travel here for a weekend, will you? It would mean the world to me.
My love always,
Tenderly, Penelope kisses the seal of the rolled parchment. It is the love of a lonely girl that permeates from lips wet with salty tears to the ink and parchment, a promise graciously given.
The heaviness of sleep, coupled with the exhaustion of weeping, urges Penelope underneath the woolen blankets of her four poster bed. She shivers, only to realize that the window remains open and the flames within the fireplace have been extinguished.
“Alvina,” Penelope calls.
A small elf appears as Penelope summons her. The tiny servant jumps upon the bed so that she may stare lovingly at her mistress.
“Alvina, it’s cold - stoke the fire.”
“Oh yes, Mistress! Can I get you some warm milk or maybe a bite of sweeties from the kitchens?”
The elf busies herself with stoking the fire. Alvina finishes and returns to Penelope, tucking the woolen blankets more securely around the young woman whose eyes have grown heavy with sleep.
Alice’s letter is still clutched tightly in her hand as Penelope slips into troubled dreams.
It is midday and the family is gathered around the hand-carved cherry table. A family crest of purple and gray hangs over the vast fireplace, a knight in armor symbolizing the fierce power of the ancient and magical Princes. The clatter of silverware against china muffles the scraping of the elfs’ feet upon the stone floor.
“Penelope, we will be traveling to the Bartletts’ tomorrow.”
Penelope looks up from her treacle tart to her mother. Her mother, Kynborow, is a lovely woman. Part of her long black hair is carefully arranged across the right side of her plump face, covering the scar that Penelope has seen only twice in her eighteen years.
Beside Kynborow sits Penelope’s younger siblings: the boys, Griffin and Godfrey, and the girls, Dionisia, Crestian, and Benet. The family shows airs of refinement, particularly at the dinner table and in the presence of company, despite the young ages of the children. Crestian and Benet, merely three and four years of age, eat quietly at their places, occasionally poking the other in the arm. Godfrey places another lamb chop onto Dionisia’s plate, drops of grease peppering the table.
Penelope responds to her mother, “It shall be a pleasurable visit - the Bartletts are lovely.”
The mother smiles at her daughter as Otwell Prince walks into the great hall. He is short and beefy with graying hair tied at the nape of his neck.
“Good morning, Father!” The younger children call out.
“Good morning, children. And to you too, my dear.” Otwell touches Kynborow’s shoulder lightly and sits beside his wife. House elves materialize out of the neighboring kitchens, piling food atop Otwell’s plate and filling several goblets with a variety of drink. He dismisses the elves with a flick of his wrist.
“How was your trip, Otwell?”
The man regards his wife for a moment and then says, “Good. We’ve reached an agreement, at last. He demanded the Chestershire estate, but that was to be expected.”
Nodding her head seriously, Kynborow turns her attention to Penelope. She reaches for her daughter’s hands, squeezing them firmly. “Penelope, your father and I have an announcement.”
The young witch says nothing, waiting.
“Your father has reached an agreement concerning your dowry. You are to become a Bartlett.”
A china teacup falls to the stone floor, its delicate pieces shattering. Penelope does not watch the elves as they appear to sweep away her favorite, and now broken, tea cup. She should have realized her parents intentions and silently chides herself for surrendering to denial. Penelope feels the chains of apprehension wrap themselves around her bones, wending through the tissue of her veins.
“Penelope is getting married?”
Otwell and Kynborow both look at Godfrey, their ten year old prodigy. The disapproving glares from his parents silence the boy. “Do not interrupt your elders during a discussion, Godfrey.”
“It is time for you to return to your studies.”
Ruffling his brown hair, Godfrey rises from his seat and heads for the staircase at the end of the room, grumbling. Her brother’s reprimandation has momentarily steered all thought and conversation away from her impending engagement, but the anxiety building inside Penelope’s chest only increases with each passing minute. Everyone has returned to their meals.
She speaks, “When am I to be officially engaged?”
“Lady Bartlett and I have been working for the past several months on your engagement party. It is to be held tomorrow. The entire family will be attending, as well as other prominent members of the magical community.” Kynborow’s excitement is far from contagious as she continues. “The elves have been constructing your gown for the engagement. You will be ravishing.”
The young woman inhales deeply, knowing that she is about to take a risk, her words inciting rage. “Oh, Mother, will you and Father not change your minds?”
A chill runs up Penelope’s spine as the atmosphere around the table tenses. It seems as if the stones of the castle amplify the severe, glacial expressions of her parents. Griffin excuses himself and his younger sisters from their places, taking Crestian by the hand.
The horror and disgust emanating from Kynborow shows in her pursed lips and the faint crow’s feet at the corners of her black eyes. “I expected more of you.”
“Mother, I simply wish to meet my fiance before the engagement announcement.”
Kynborow pauses and runs her finger down the hidden scar. It is a move of frustration.
“You’ve met him several times - once at the Waters and twice at the Dudesons. The two of you should be well acquainted by this point since your coming-out.”
Penelope opens her mouth to speak, but Kynborow holds up her hand. The young woman is disgruntled. Now, as she stares at the matriarch of the family, Penelope is torn between familial loyalty and anger. She does not like to be silenced as if she was a mere child. Protestations and insults cling to the back of Penelope’s throat. She wishes she could consult Alice.
“Triamour Bartlett is a pureblooded wizard with much power and money.”
With the tip of her fingernail, Penelope strokes up and down her forearm, trying to find an acceptable response. She does not want to agree so quickly - Penelope has no objection to the marriage, but after eighteen years of lectures about tradition and upholding the family honor, she is tired. Obedience is exhausting and marriage is imminent. Kynborow and Otwell have underestimated the attitude of their eldest child. While Penelope knows the choice is hers and she can and will never be forced against her will to marry Bartlett, she knows how disappointed her parents would be were she to deny the proposal.
It is my life and I will have my way, she tells herself. In these moments, the young woman promises herself that she will make the next several months stressful and difficult for her parents. The lure of adventure and the habit of entitlement create a frenzy; her heart pounds fiercely with each beat, the walls of each vein and artery expanding to accommodate the steel beams of Penelope’s resolve.
“Mother, Father, I beg of you to reconsider.” The effort it takes for Penelope to contain a perverse laugh is almost overwhelming.
“Penelope, goddamn it!” Otwell roars, his red face at odds with his auburn beard.
His anger is unsettling, but Penelope is determined. She is weary, and frankly sick to the point of disgust and physical illness, at the demands of her surname, the expectations of her parents, and tradition. To hell with tradition, by God - I am entitled to the life I choose for myself, Penelope thinks, her eyes narrowing. Unbridled fury is mirrored in the eyes of the father and daughter.
Otwell stares at Penelope, enunciating every word, “By God, the blood and stature of the Prince family will remain pure!”
Before he can continue, Kynborow rests her hand upon Otwell’s arm. She sends her daughter a look of warning. The patriarch of the family slams his knife into the flawless cherry table. The strands of violence and rage distill themselves through the grains of wood. Money, power, and legacy, albeit not her own, have colored Penelope’s youth - her father’s anger is diluted by a sense of privilege.
Penelope resists the urge to let out a laugh. Her father may believe the eldest of his children is obedient, a well-trained member of his family, but in truth, she’s a successfully deceptive witch; lies often grace her lovely pink lips. Of course she remembers Triamour and thinks him worthy, even of her. Her journey of adventure starts in this moment and it is consummated with unscrupulous defiance.
She begins to form a plan.
“I apologize, Mother, Father. I am...happy to marry Triamour. It is an honor to continue the magical and pureblood line of the Prince family.”
Kynborow says, catching the glimpse of rebellion in her daughter’s eyes, “You will do us proud, Penelope.”
Author's Note: Hello lovelies! Thank you so much for reading chapter four! I'd like to explain a few things to you: there are going to be two storylines/timelines in this novel - that of Eileen and Tobias and that of Penelope and Reynold. Expect for every third chapter to surround Penelope and/or Reynold. Your questions will be answered, of course, as the story progresses, so I ask that you have a little patience and faith in me and enjoy the story! I'd like to thank Jami (Jchrissy) for her patience, support, and amazing beta skills! She's amazing! ♥ A special thanks to Arithmancy_Wiz for giving this chapter a quick look! She's equally amazing!
What did you think of the new information and story of Penelope? Does her characterization surprise you? What kind of plan do you think she's forming? Do you have any thoughts about the curse? Please leave a review and tell me what you think!
Thank you for reading and reviewing!
**Disclaimer: Everything you recognize is property of JKR. Everything else is original material. The title of the chapter, "Free Until They Cut Me Down," is a song by Iron & Wine (can't you tell I simply adore them!).
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