Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animals!

I just want everyone to know that I am boycotting Starbucks.  Just as I have been since I discovered Dunkin Donuts.  The design of the cups does not in any way change the fact that they are over-priced and pretentious.  Besides which, I never expected the evil corporation selling me my syrupy, pompous cup o’ Joe to celebrate a Christian-appropriated pagan holiday.

And also, I dislike the phrase “keep the Christ in Christmas.”  If you mean that we should keep the spirit of love and forgiveness taught by Christ during a time when most of the country is focused on buying as much stuff as their credit cards will allow, then God bless you.  If you mean that it’s a Christian holiday and by not saying Merry Christmas people are persecuting Christians, I’ll ask you to do some reading into the history of the season (especially where a majority of the ‘Christmas’ symbols come from, like Christmas trees and Santa “Coca Cola” Claus) and look up the definition of persecution.   Let me know when Starbucks starts lighting Christians on fire to light its gardens.

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Minimum Wage

I’m certain many of you have noticed the debate concerning minimum wage.  I don’t know the figures, so someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation and cost of living increases over the last forty years.  This means that someone working full-time earning the minimum wage cannot afford to live in this country.  This upsets people because the idea of “minimum” should be equal to the least amount a person can earn and still support themselves, yet many are living below the poverty line in the riches nation on Earth.

Now, let’s take into account that since the 70s, almost all households have become supported by dual earners.  Everyone of working age in the home is expected to make money to support themselves.  So two minimum-wage workers in a house now should certainly be making as much as the a single earner in the 70s, right?  By that logic, raising the wage to $15/hr is ridiculous.  With dual earners, the house is already making that wage or close enough.  In reality, you’s be raising the wage to $30/hr!

Of course, not every home is headed by a pair of adults legally bound to each other for life.  Obviously.  So what do you tell the single parents out there?  Get married?  Well, no.  We tell them to get a better job.  Which is dumb.  First, find me one person in this country who wants to work min wage jobs.  It’s a job.  It pays the bills until my album goes platinum.  Every min wage job out there sucks.  It retail/service/dirty crap that we like to pretend is only good enough for teenagers and lazy people.  The amount of disdain we heap on the working classes is disgusting considering how much we rely on them.  Deciding that people don’t deserve to be paid a living wage just because their job is beneath us?  Is that what this country was founded on?

Someone is going to say that those people are just not budgeting properly.  They’re to lazy or stupid to get a real job, so they’re sitting back, getting fat on gov subsidies, and complaining because they can’t use their food stamps to pay for their new iphone.  Yes, and ENTIRE class of workers is cheating the system.  Does anyone have the numbers for how many people that would be?  While we’re talking about the lazy people doing an easy job and expecting to be able to live on their paychecks, how can anyone call fast food an easy job?  Is it only people who have never worked in the service industry who can say this?  In my experience, there’s no such thing as an easy min wage job.  They can be fun, rewarding, engaging, sure, why not?  But easy?  Standing over a hot grill for 8 hrs on a greasy floor.  Carrying fifty lb bags of frozen fries around.  Dealing with customers.

You know what I mean when I say “dealing,” right?  There are plenty of polite, generous, cheerful, or at least indifferent people who frequent establishments as customers.  But there are also rude, entitled a**holes, snappy, ungrateful b*tches, and people who are simply in a bad mood and don’t have the inclination or the ability not to take it out on everyone around them.  And it’s not like you can, I don’t know, smack the sense into them.  Beating customers is frowned upon.  So you deal with them.  You placate them by apologizing for things not in your control, you sympathize with their BS complaints, and you act upset when they explain how you’ve lost their business because you were incredibly busy on a holiday weekend.  Aw, we were making so much money from everyone else that we couldn’t dote on you!  Gosh, we’re sorry.

But here, let’s do a real world analogy.  I grew up in a double-earning household.  My dad was a college professor, which is the type of job one should be able to support a family on, but that’s another show.  In order to feed and clothe all five of her children, my mom worked at Hardees.  She got to be the asst manager, so not exactly min wage at that point, but there’s more.  At the same time, my mom also worked at a diner/restaurant down the street AND ran her own business teaching ballet and music lessons.  And we weren’t swimming in money, either.  Then dad got a job in the big city as a senior computer programmer for a big company (another job one might expect to be enough to support a family but somehow isn’t).  We moved.  Mom got another Hardees job, but eventually moved to the more genteel environment of Wendy’s before finding her true calling as a financial planner.  Moral of the story, I didn’t see my mom much in my youth because she worked long, unpredictable hours.  She missed concerts, competitions, and all manner of juvenile milestones so she could work an easy job.  So she could risk walking on grease-slicked floors on her artificial hip in shoes that hurt her feet because the heat and grease had curled up the toes like elf shoes.  So she could come home smelling like french fries.  So she could take crap from dumb teenage kids who had been raised to look down on service jobs but had to do them anyway to earn their way, pay their dues or whatever.  So she could have grown adults treat her like a failure.  Yeah.  Easy.  Exactly the type of crap a lazy person would go through to get a piddly paycheck.

“If you don’t like being unable to feed yourself, why don’t you get a real job?”  Oh?  How?  Ah, yes.  Go to college, get a degree, and spend the rest of your life digging your way out of crippling debt.  Provided you can get a job with a mere Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in a job market bloated with fancy degrees.  That is also another show.

What really set me off today was an oft-repeated meme that compares the possible income of a $15/hr Johnny Fry-Boy with the pay rates of military personnel.

Why indeed should someone flipping burgers make more that someone sent to die in a war by old bureaucrats making six figures?  Well, first off, the math is wrong.  Yes, E-1s make sh*t.  However, s/he isn’t paying for sh*t either.  Single soldiers are put in barracks, for which they pay no rent or utilities.  They get meal deductions taken directly from their paycheck so they can have three-square meals at the DFac.  When they’re sick, they get free healthcare at the clinic.  They also get to have sick days and paid vacation.  Not to mention the lump sum they get every few years to buy new uniforms.  And if they’re married, they get extra pay for their dependents and they get a house on post, paid for by the Basic Allowance for Housing added to the regular paycheck, or they can find a place off post and the BAH boosts their pay enough that they shouldn’t have to pay for anything out-of-pocket (key word: shouldn’t).  No, they’re not living high on the hog.  But that’s why a private can make so little and stay off welfare.

What’s infuriating about posts like this is that it’s basically poor people squabbling against poor people.  Having lived on E-5 pay alone and as a dependent of E-7 pay, I can say categorically that our military is not paid enough to make up for the type of crap we put up with and the risks we take.  But using me and my friends as a foil against other poor people with sh*t jobs is frankly insulting.  I didn’t put my ass on the line so everyday Americans could starve because their job isn’t glamorous enough, while sleazy, bloated, patronizing, smug, over-grown children natter on about how entitled the poor are getting and then voting for their own pay raise.  Again.  Stop asking why we should suddenly double the min wage for “unskilled labor” and start asking why our gov has seen fit to continue raising the pay of people who only work 120-some days a year while ignoring the sky-rocketing cost of education, the crumbling infrastructure, and the staggering wage gap, not to mention archaic race relations, gender bias, global warming, and the increasingly pathetic and embarrassing reality TV show that is our political system and the lamestream media.  Maybe start comparing the paychecks and benefits of government officials to those of the soldiers/sailors/marines/airment they send to get blown up every day and stop picking on the people struggling to make it by while working two or three jobs.

In conclusion, minimum wage should be a living wage.  Not living with four other people, eating ramen and poptarts because how else will you afford the car you need to get to the job you have since [no one is hiring/you can’t afford school/your other entry-level job isn’t sufficient to pay off your student loans and the rent] because the public transit system is so inadequate as to be almost entirely useless.  Please, please, stop looking down your noses at people because the work they do is beneath you.  Those jobs are not “designed for a kid in high school.”  They’re jobs, plain and simple.  If you want to compare fry-boys with privates, why don’t you point out their similarities.  Both require a bare minimum in education, skill, and experience.  Both get paid the bare minimum as dictated by the gov regulations.  Both have to put up with a certain level of BS on a daily basis.  Both are demoralizing and demeaning in their own ways.  And while you chirrup about how our military risks their lives everyday, you forget that we signed a contract and took an oath to do that, which means it is a choice freely taken and with our full knowledge and consent.  Plus, we are financially compensated for hardships (as a single E-5, my paycheck effectively doubled when I deployed).  If anything, the above argument advocates for a higher min wage, or at least an increase in entitlements for min wage workers.  Here’s the deal McBurgertown, we’ll continue to work for $7.25/hr so long as you pay our rent, utilities, meals, healthcare, and buy us new clothes every three years.

Or we could continue to blame the poor for being poor in a system set up to keep them poor and admire the rich for being selfish, greedy gits.

Rage is spent for now.


15AM00000032011 · 03:48

Lady Bertram to Fanny

Yesterday, I found myself explaining to an incredulous teenager why I chose to get a P/T job.  I must have something to keep me sane.  I was so BORED.  House to empty and quiet, no one to talk to but the cats.  I picked up crochet again, to a pretty insane level.  And I watched a TON of TV and Netflix.  And I slept too much.  And it was boring and depressing.  I wanted a job in books, still do.  But while I was waiting around for responses from publishers and internships, I was going crazy.

And applying for P/T work felt like giving up.  Getting a retail job is not what I wanted at all.

But I spent 6 months not contributing to my own life.  Not needed.  Not wanted.  And now I am useful and helpful.  I have coworkers who are already addicted to my food.  Everyday, I get to help people.  I get to color-code fabric, put buttons on the correct hooks, and in general feed my OCD-ish need to keep stuff tidy.  It is enough for now.  I still have time for my hobbies.  And the commute is getting me through a ton of audio books.

So, teenagers, be advised.  Your dream might be to have a permanent summer, no school, no job, no responsibilities. But I’ve done it and it gets old.

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Regency Heroes 5

Miss Abigail Simpson was by all accounts a prodigious beauty.  She had a fine figure, bright eyes, and a voice frequently compared to all manner of musical instruments.  In fact, she would have been the most desired lady in the neighborhood but for the fact that she was ever so poor.  Daughter of a gentleman who had squandered the fortune on gifted fighting rings, she was only fortunate that her mother’s sister was not so stupid in her choice of husband and therefore had the funds to take in the poor orphan girl when her father met his rather unfortunate end.  The aunt, Mrs. Rockworth, had been exceedingly fond of her sister, and quite desirous of having a daughter, especially after bearing four sons, so the arrangement was suitable on all sides.  Miss Abigail was still poor, there being very little to bequeath her after the rightful heirs, but she had the benefit of a fine education, good breeding, and the influence of high society to recommend her.  For most of the year, she lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in a modest manor less than a mile from the Forster estate.  She was brought to the neighborhood shortly after the unfortunate death of Lady Forster and was of an age with Miss Elinor.  The two naturally became intimate friends and confidants.

“My dearest Elinor, can you forgive me?  I would have come as soon as I heard, but it was not in my power.”  The two girls embraced in the breakfast room the very morning she returned from her annual holiday in Bath (for her health).  Her affection was such that she had not even been home, having insisted that she be left at the Forsters, dirty petticoats be damned.  Her vanity was not so high as to forestall immediate condolences just to change from riding clothes and tidy her hair.  “I was still so ill when the word came and Auntie refused to depart until she was assured of my blooming health.”

“She was correct in detaining you, for you look quite the picture, even if you are dirty and unkempt.”  Abigail feigned insult remarkably, and then confessed to a desperate hunger for something besides inn food and hard biscuits, to which her hostess quickly obliged her with breakfast tea.

“You cannot imagine my torment.  Every day spent at the beaches, with only my toes to dip in the waves and then the evenings spent at balls and parties and dinners until I could not dance a wheel or even tell what card game I was playing.”

“Yes, sounds excruciating,” said Elinor with a small laugh.

“You laugh, but I do not in any way exaggerate.  I was simply exhausted by the frivolity.  How could these people dance and gossip and eat when my dearest friend in the world was suffering?  It was intolerable for my nerves and I daresay it delayed my return a whole fortnight.”  Despite her famished state, Abigail ate the tea biscuits and cakes with remarkable delicacy considering how quickly they disappeared from her plate.  Elinor had to order another tray rather sooner than she had expected.  “But be honest, my love,” she continued between bites, “how do you fair?”

To her credit, Elinor took her time in replying.  The first month after Sir Christopher’s tragedy, she had automatically responded to solicitations that she was fine.  It was sad, to be sure, but one cannot expect strong feelings from the seventeen-year-old near-widow of a man of five and forty.  And strong feelings were so dreadfully embarrassing for everyone.  She was still young, plenty of prospects, and should not fret that no more offers will come her way.  Certainly no reason for emotional outbursts.

“I am better,” she ventured at last, allowing her artificial cheer to dissipate.  It was a profound relief to drop the pretense.  “I won’t deny that it pained me a great deal.  I did not think I would ever recover from the disappointment.”

“Well, losing a fortune and a title is a decidedly large disappointment,” Abigail said archly over her tea.

“Do not deliberately misunderstand me, you wicked girl,” exclaimed Elinor, reviving somewhat from her melancholy, which had become a near constant companion to her in recent weeks.  “I cared little for either except that it meant my future security.  And if he had been a disagreeable man, I shan’t have cared what he was worth, as you well know.”

Leisurely sipping her tea, the guest nodded her acknowledgement of the truth and awaited further enlightenment.  Elinor’s gaze dropped to her folded hands.  “He, he was a very good, very kind man.  He offered me what was most dear to my heart: a place in his family with no, no expectations.  Do you know he was the only man of my acquaintance besides my father with whom I felt totally safe?  He didn’t, I mean, I never felt his eyes on me.  He never wanted,” she trailed off, words failing as she tried to express that which she barely understood.  Abigail shifted to sit next to her and grasped her hands.

“I know precisely what you mean.  There I was, sickly and weak, obliged to attend gathering after gathering.  And you know, I could not say a word to a gentleman without ten ladies insinuating that we were courting.  To be expected to flirt with every dance though I had barely the strength to concentrate on my steps!  I swear, every time my hand brushed with my partner’s, even by accident, it was a proclamation that I was interested in his advances.  And some were, quite frankly, abhorrently forward in their remarks, especially if they learned how destitute I was.  Patronage is not so formidable a protection as genuine privilege.”  They sat in silence a moment, listening to the racket of busy birds outside the sill and the clanging of pots just audible from the kitchen.  “My cousin Edmund proposed just before I left,” Abigail confessed with a sigh.

“Edmund?  But he is not yet twenty!”

“Yes.  I refused, of course.  He has no profession to support himself, nor any idea of getting one, though his inheritance will be a pittance.  Has no mind for practicalities.  And his mother would kill me.  I was not brought into her home as a future wife, whatever her affection for my mother.  Besides, he is abominably short,” she chuckled.  “But were he the richest and finest looking of my cousins, his manners would speak so thoroughly against him in any case.  He imagined that he did me a favor, that I was certainly pretty enough to be a good wife, and that my filial love would grow to a more substantial attachment over time.  Also, he had hopes I might pass my affliction on to a son that we might gain preferment on the coast.”

“Thinking well ahead of himself, I see.”

“All this he dared say while odiously gripping my hand and staring deep into my eyes as though he were most seriously afflicted with love.  It was most unsettling.”  There is a loud noise from the second story and then the galloping steps of a young girl fleeing the schoolroom.  Nanny would not be pleased.

“It isn’t just the loss of situation that hurts, Abigail,” Elinor said suddenly.  “The idea of a safe home, a marriage without…obligations, these were the chief tempters at the beginning, of course.  But I confess to a fondness for him stronger than I have felt for any man, young though I am.  I cannot guess if that might one day have burgeoned into love.”  Her voice breaks gently and she must pause to repair it.  “When I heard the news, when it first became real to me, there was a hollow comprehension that I would never know if I could love him.  It was nearly a week before that hollowness eased enough that I could cry, and all the while my well-wishers consoled me that I was too young to feel the hurt.  How unfeeling they thought me, to stand on the banks of the river as he was sent downstream and assume that my heart couldn’t break for an old man who was so very, very kind to me!”

It was some moments before Elinor regained her composure, yet Abigail felt no urge to reprove her for losing it.  She rocked her friend and patted her curls, humming a soft melody until her breathing came easier and her trembling subsided.  Feelings relieved, Elinor felt more herself than she had since the tragedy and Abigail felt all the gratitude of being needed after months of feelings quite the contrary.The tea things were taken away at this point and Elinor, rather wetly, offered to walk her guest home, as she was clearly fatigued from her trip (requesting the carriage was out of the question unless they were to explain the guest’s travel-worn attire and the hostess’ blotchy complexion).  They strolled along the path amiably, arms entwined to support each other.

After a time Abigail spoke, “So what think you of the new Lord Riverton?”  This was said casually enough that her friend was immediately suspicious.  In truth, she had heard a great many things from acquaintances in Bath and was eager for more reliable gossip.

“I think nothing of him,” was the high reply.  “I saw him only at the service, where he performed his duty succinctly and left with nary a word to anyone and only a bow to the Riverton orphans whom he had supplanted.”

Abigail detected her eagerness to dislike this stranger.  “I cannot believe that.”

“As if I would lie about something so serious?  I tell you, it was the scandal in the village, where not days before he had been quite generously received.  All the young ladies were in a swoon over him before ever he descended his coach.”  Abigail smiled at this reference to ‘young ladies,’ many of whom were probably older than they.  Elinor was such an old soul sometimes, making even her elders seem bratty children in comparison.

“And after?”

“We were staying with Lady Mary’s cousins in the village, so it was difficult not to hear all about it.  At first, it was assumed that arrangements kept him secluded.  I was in regular correspondence with Mrs. Hempstock, Sir Christopher’s sister, at this time.  Along with her regular updates as to the health of the elder girls, who were still very ill, she told me how very disagreeable he was.  Standoffish to everyone, but the girls.  For them it was naught but kindest felicitations.  And then performing his duty to the barest minimum and retreating as though under attack, it was quite a disappointment to many fathers of eligible daughters.”

“I cannot tell if you are serious, dearest.  Your tone is so snide as to be unfeminine!”  Both ladies laughed at this and Abigail was relieved to see a genuine smile on her friend’s face.  “Do you mean to say he was agreeable in all but temperament?”

“Wealthy, titled, and single is all anyone heard before they started adding ribbons to bonnets and discussing courting strategy,” she replied contemptuously.

“What of his looks?”

“I did not notice them except that he was dark-haired and slender.  As to his age, I believe him five and twenty, no more.  Further inquiry will have to wait until the Solstice ball, for that is the next I expect to see him.”

“As you have decided so thoroughly against him, I suppose I shall make a try of him.”  She straightened her bonnet in mock determination, eliciting another torrent of giggles.  “Nay, I will not fix upon him the ignominy of a disagreeable temperament based on his behavior during such a difficult time.  His care toward the daughters certainly speaks well of him, even if his ceremonial actions were perfunctory.  I cannot imagine the stress of suddenly taking on the charge of a river when one hadn’t the slightest idea of inheriting a creek.”

Agreeing to the rightness of this supposition, the girls continued on the path, chatting aimlessly as they were wont to do before illness and grief had struck them.  Presently, they arrived at the gate for the Rockworth garden and parted, both the better in mood and health for having seen the other.  It is not to be underestimated how potent are the healing powers of having a friend with seemingly worse troubles than one’s own.

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Battle Hymn of the Republic

So this week, we are all offended by the Confederate Flag.  Either we are offended because it is still flying or because someone wants to take it down.

I’m going to be honest.  I’m glad to see it come down from government buildings, for reasons I will explain later.  First, the sides.

On the one side are people who claim it is racist and on the other are those who claim it is history.  Both are correct.

The flag we recognize as the Confederate flag was never an official flag of the CSA.  It was a battle flag for the Army of N. Virginia under Gen Lee.  There were many like it, but it isn’t the national flag of the South.

The resurgence of the flag in the 1950s was due in large part to the growing race tensions and the Civil Rights movement.  Some people felt that desegregation was a bad idea and they used the flag as a symbol to rally around.

Racist hate groups use the flag as their symbol.  Pretty sure we all know that.

Lots of not racist people own Confederate flags or paraphernalia.  You see, while the resurrection of the flag may have come from racism, or at least a desire to maintain the status quo, symbols have the ability to change meaning.  It’s what they do.  So 60 years ago, a symbol represented a proud southern culture that still considered blacks as lesser human beings.  Now, after three generations (at least) have been brought up to understand that the war was about more than any one issue, the symbol has evolved for many so be a memorial for thousands of dead soldiers and a devastating conflict between the state and federal governments, as well as a clear expression of the rich and often separate culture of the South.

Symbols have no set meaning.  Both sides are right.

But I still want the flags down from government buildings.

A lot of people are using the Nazi flag as a comparable symbol here, but I find they aren’t a good fit.  The National Socialist Party of Germany was the elected government.  They decided to conquer the ENTIRE WORLD and wipe out all inferior races and people.  If you want to talk about the subjectivity of symbols, look up what the swastika means to Buddhists and Hindus.  The Nazi flag and Nazi paraphernalia is illegal in Germany, because Nazi=genocide and I’m sure that is embarrassing.  Some people see that and say we should do the same, but even 70 years later, I still hesitate to take my civil liberty cues from Germany.


I mean, we are Americans, right?  (U.S.A!  U.S.A)  We are WINNERS.  We are OBSESSED with winning.  Think I’m exaggerating?  How many people do you know who were hard-core women’s soccer fans before last week’s World Cup match against Japan?  How many did you know who followed any women’s sports?  How many even considered soccer a sport?

We are so obsessed with winning that it took decades for us to forgive the Vietnam vets for losing (as I loosely interpret the utter neglect of those veterans), or to even acknowledge that Vietnam was a “war” and that it was “lost.”

We are so obsessed with winning that there are big suits in DC wanting to send my friends back into Iraq to win someone else’s war.  [Yes, ISIS is bad bad juju, but people have to fight for themselves and if they won’t, sending more of my friends there isn’t going to change that.  We have become the freaking Helicopter Parents of the Middle East.]   Apparently if we don’t send more troops in, “we” are going to lose this war.  He may have been using the Royal We, but it sounded a lot like the American We.

Too political for you, yeah me too.  How about more sports analogies?  Do you know someone who is a fan of a crappy sports team?  The Cubs or the Raiders or whatever?  Do you congratulate them on their steadfast loyalty?  Or do you tease them relentlessly for being willing associates with LOSERS?  I’ve seen a lot of memes featuring sports flags that have been deemed “offensive” and should be taken down.  To my reasoning, the Confederate flag has much more to do with the Cowboys flag than it has with the Nazi flag.

I see no reason to censor the Confederate flag, which is exactly what making it illegal does.  We cannot change our history by deleting the unsavory bits and we can’t fix our future be focusing on the symbols rather than the problems.  Let’s never forget the horrible people we came from (North and South alike).  Otherwise, we’re going to start changing stuff to make it more correct to modern thinking.  Ban books with the n-word despite it being in common usage for a huge hunk of our history.  Redefine slavery as “unpaid apprenticeships.”  Reduce the CSA to a bunch of evil racists instead of thousands of people fighting for their rights and their way of life.  Ignore the complete neglect of the former slaves by the sainted US government during Reconstruction.


You try reading the Slave Narratives and not get pissed.

So by all means, show your Southern pride.  Knit it into doggie sweaters and fly it over your gun rack.  Drape it like a cape over your KKK dress for all I care.  It’s only offensive if I let it offend me.  And I realize that it does offend a lot of people because it is draped about the shoulders of KKK members and it is the rally mark for hate and senseless violence.  But outlawing the flag doesn’t fix any of that.  Just makes those people martyrs.

By all means, though stop displaying rival government flags at our government buildings.  The only flags that should be flown there are those which show that government’s loyalties.  Unless we want to start putting up the Union Jack in DC.  Or the French flag in Louisiana.  Or the Mexican flag at the Alamo.

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15AM00000082011 · 08:24

Regency Heroes 4

It is not to be wondered at that over the next twelvemonth, Lord Riverton and Miss Forster became exceedingly fond of each other. Elinor was often reckoned to be one of the prettiest girls in the county, was highly accomplished in music, art, and archery, and possessed a very fine talent for discourse. All this combined with a very sweet disposition and a generous heart made her quite the object for love, despite her lack of gifts . And while Lord Riverton was very senior to her, he had none of the graveness or solemnity of other gentlemen even ten years his junior. He was merry without being silly, witty without being cruel, and passionate without being a frivolous romantic. He was decidedly handsome in a way that no foppish youth could ever aspire to, all dignity and poise, but with laughing sea-green eyes. With only a few meetings the couple found themselves quite inclined to like each other. After six months, Elinor was resolved that if she couldn’t love him as a man (she did try, though her heart told her was impossible), she could certainly esteem his as a dear friend and so could look on their future with unreserved satisfaction.

“Dearest, Lily, why must you always run to your tree when you should be at your lessons? Miss Jane is worried sick she will be dismissed on your account,” Elinor called up into the branches, a laugh in her voice.

“I would not for all the world wish Miss Jane to be dismissed before she finishes my instruction in Greek. It would be like unto a tragedy by Aristophanes,” Lily replied in the affected the high oval tones of her poor governess.

“Aristophanes, as you well know, wrote comedies. You will never be equal to me in your wit if you do not attend to your studies. But I suppose if you are determined to commune with nature to attain your learning, then I shall take my letter and read it alone, for you shan’t comprehend any of it.” Elinor had taken barely three steps before the loud report of bare feet hitting the dirt announced Lily’s return to earth.

“Is it from Christopher, um, Lord Riverton?”

“Do I have your promise to finish your work and apologize to Miss Jane for your negligence?” There is a heavy sigh and sullen assent, but it is enough for the elder sister to excitedly open the letter and read the contents from atop one of the many great tree roots that seemed to grow just for the purpose of saving Elinor’s petticoats from sitting long in the dirt. Sir Christopher was especially eloquent in his letters, though he spent little time divulging any deeply felt romantic pains. He often shared humorous stories “from the village,” of which he had such an endless supply that Elinor strongly suspected his being the author of all tales. It was not what most girls of seventeen would expect from a lover, but it was a delightful diversion for Elinor and an excellent inducement for Lily to behave somewhat as she ought. The young miss was not allowed the enjoyment of Sir Christopher’s letters if she was lacking in shoes, for instance, and she frequently had to sacrifice time in the forest to time in the schoolroom. But the entertainment was sufficient to make such pains worth it.

Elinor was at quite a loss as to how Lily’s education could possibly progress once she left the estate and there ceased to be letters to draw her obedience. She was not aware of Nanny’s own exertions on that same subject or she needn’t have worried. Had Lily remained in her perch a half an hour more, it would have been the witch calling her to heel, a situation the girl was becoming more than ever eager to avoid. Yet as the leaves changed, the girl felt driven to the outdoors by some need for activity. She had no focus for history or language because her hands itched to be working at something more than copying down tables or dates. When pressed, Nanny suggested that the land was preparing for winter, storing up what it could save and devouring what couldn’t last. “You, gel, are naught but a chipmunk anxious to be collecting nuts. Won’t ease your spirits none, not till you’re of age to perform the rituals. Best use that energy as you can in your studies and your training.” Nanny would hear neither excuses nor entreaties, only assured Lily that neglecting her education would have the type of dire consequences that need not be voiced to be understood.

The letter left the girls breathless from laughter, featuring as it did the antics of a very ornery and almost entirely deaf grandmother and her equally difficult ass. Dusting off their dresses, they began the short walk from the Lady’s Clearing to the house just as the sky came all over in heavy clouds. Lily’s spirits were unexpectedly oppressed by the change in weather, so much so that she stopped more than once to stare at the purpling sky as though trying to divine its purpose in ruining a good mood so hard-fought for. It was only when fat drops of rain spattered the girl’s freckled face that Elinor managed to drag her into a run for the shelter of the house, where they were met by a post-horse and a messenger soaked through and shivering.

It was a matter of moments between the delivering of a letter to the butler for Lord Forster and his being taken down to the servant’s quarters for dry clothes and a remedy for the cold. Elinor only took notice long enough to ensure he was well-tended, then turned to Lily with prepared orders for dry clothes and hot tea dying quickly on her lips. The girl was almost entirely dry but for her face which was uncommonly pale and wet with tears. When interrogated she only claimed complete ignorance of their cause. “I did not notice them, Elinor. Perhaps it is just the rain, but I feel ever so sad.”

Miss Forster led her sister straight to her room, changed her into a night-dress, drew the curtains, and with all felicity urged her sister to rest herself. Miss Jane was sent for to watch over the girl and then Elinor went in search of her father. Lily did have strange moods at times, but this was no surprise since her mother was of the same disposition. Changes in seasons were the hardest because it seemed to make her much more sensitive to every alteration. Sir John was pacing in his study when Elinor found him. She related Lily’s sudden depression, blamed it handily on the rising storm, and promised to send for Nanny should it turn out to be more than a passing mood. As she turned to leave, her father called for her to sit by the fire.

“I assure you, father, we were not caught much in the rain. My bonnet is already dry and my slippers barely damp.”

“You saw I received a message?”  She answered in the positive and further stated that she assumed some business matter could be the only purpose for such a rushed communication. “Yes, of a sort. I am afraid it concerns you and I would ask that you sit before I tell of it.”  Warily she obeyed. “Lord Riverton sent me letter a few days ago indicating his intentions of a visit here with his son and two elder daughters. He had some idea of doing a ball for the children, a sort of Hallow’s Eve celebration. It was to be a surprise.”

“That sounds quite the diversion Sir Christopher would devise. I shall tease him for keeping secrets. Oh, but I hope this weather has not detained him.”

“It has. He sends word from an inn two days from here to say that the roads were badly washed away causing them to become lost, and his coach overturned at a fording. I’m afraid all parties were badly injured and young Nathan,” his voice caught and he took the seat opposite his daughter, unable any longer to look at her paling face. More brusquely, he said, “Young Nathan suffered a knock to his head and drown before the coachman could fetch him. The girls won’t wake and Christopher, he writes that he is as well as can be, but the apothecary’s note marks him very ill from cold.”

Unwilling to sit still, Miss Forster began an agitated stalk before the blazing fire. “We mustn’t delay,” said she at length.  “A message will have to be sent for Nanny, as no apothecary can answer for this. She will be able to ride ahead if the rain slackens soon. We can take the carriage and retrieve them all here, since it is closest, just as soon as they may be fit for travel. If we leave now, and take all four horses, I’m sure we can be there in time, father.”  All the urgency in her voice and stance did nothing to stir him from his seat. She was only answered by a throaty grumble of thunder.

“Do you ever recall a storm so severe as this?”  She avowed she hadn’t, but that certainly there must have been one. It was far from her first acquaintance with thunder and lightning. “No, listen to it.  The hail dashing to bits, Thor raging with his hammer, all the sky weeping, and that howl like wolves in dead of winter. This storm is not like any you have seen because you were not yet born when the old Lord Riverton died. It is the torrent of the river losing its master. And this is worse yet than that, because the river has no son to follow without Nathan.”

Without any order from her higher faculties, Elinor’s knees gave and sat her on the scorched hearthrug. “You cannot be certain,” she said, surprised at the high pitch of her voice. “Surely there is something,” but she cannot continue, finding her breath trapped in her swelling heart.

“Nanny will be sent, as I still have hope for the girls. But it was important that you understood. I would have you free of any undo delusions.”  He stood to leave, yet made one last attempt to alleviate her disappointment. “You need not fear for his children. He had a sister who should be charged with them.” He did not add that the next Lord Riverton may well be younger and better suited as a match and that at least timing had saved her from being a widow.

Elinor sat for a very long time trying to cry. She certainly felt the weight of grief, an oppression on her chest and an ache behind her eyes. And there was a well of sadness and disappointment. She had at last come to terms with the arrangement, had become resigned to it, and even endeavored to call herself well-pleased by the sham it would have been. Still, stirring inside her was a most treacherous seed of relief. She was free from her obligation without neglecting her duty as a poor, gift-less daughter. Moreover, she was free from the guilt that had been digging away at her in equal proportion with her growing regard for her intended. Understanding struck and she knew the relief was not for her own freedom, but for his. He could not now be shackled to a child for the sake of a friendship, nor have the ignominy of being the sport of his neighbors for entering in what would be seen as a perverted relationship. He would never be assumed a lecher and a cuckold for marrying so young and unloving a partner.

Miss Forster stood and composed herself, then adjourned to her sister’s room, where, in the day made dark by the pounding hail and flashing lightning, she told all of the day’s tragedy. They lay under the covers while Lily wept for Nathan and the girls who might never wake and their siblings orphaned. She cried for Elinor who couldn’t and her father who wouldn’t, and when Henry snuck in, he was welcomed and held until the storm washed the grief away.

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Regency Heroes 3

The position of village witch, while certainly out of fashion in town, was still of some considerable importance in the country, especially in proximity of those estates still ruled by the traditions which gave authority to those with gifts.  When men were first placed above their fellows to act as protectors and custodians of the land, they were chosen based on the strength of their gifts as well as their character and loyalty.  All the great families, therefore, had at their Seat a person of abilities well beyond those of normal men.  As time passed, however, and civil wars gave way to domestic peace, the need for physical prowess became less imperative and most were satisfied that at least the family name still survived in authority.  If the male heir was without gifts, it was a simple matter of finding him an afflicted wife (for in men they are gifts while in women they could be naught but a curse on their delicacy).  And if no suitable wife could be procured, which seemed more and more the case as the powers bled into the working classes, it was no worry at all.  Lords need not fret about defending their lands from Vikings or Romans or Celts as they once were and had no more worry than maintaining the flow of taxes into the estate that might maintain their expected lifestyle.

Many of the great families had abandoned the tradition of the Seat of Power, especially in the cases where a girl was set to take possession as this contradicted the widespread knowledge that women were not suitable vessels for such power.  Male heirs were preferable purely for their strength of mind which made them superior to handling the complexities of managing an estate.  Women, with their delicate nerves and generally inferior make up, were easy targets for disease in mind and body, and could be counted upon to falter under the types of stresses which men dealt with everyday.  It became the fashion for gentle ladies to wear bits of iron jewelry (even when unburdened by any condition affected by iron), to deny and repress their afflictions rather than pretend any equality to men.  This to many displayed their perfect agreement that it does not do for a woman to have pretensions of superiority, as it demonstrates a meanness of spirit and a want of proper femininity.

No one, however, no matter their rank or fortune, would dare make any such arguments to a witch.  Unfashionable though they may be, witches were still regarded with wary respect and held by most to be above the reproach of any person, excepting the Queen herself.  In truth, the only other person held in the same degree of reverence was invariably the blacksmith, who carried no extraordinary ability save the power to work with iron.

It was the witch who was present at every birth of man and beast.  She it was who remembered the rituals and traditions of the land and it was she who presided over those sacred ceremonies which accompany the lives of small persons (clerics and acolytes of the Queen stood over those rites for higher personages as was proper).  Every spring, it was the dual task of the witch and the blacksmith to perform the Iron Trial for all the children come of age.  The iron of the blacksmith would reveal those with gifts, but it was the witch who determined the strength and inclination of those gifts.  She further stood as an expert in remedies and was often counted above apothecaries and doctors in the esteem of the village wife.  And as she was present for every birth, so must she be for every death.

It is not to be supposed that after the unfortunate circumstances of the twins’ birth, that Nanny should find herself unwelcome in the Forster home.  To the contrary, she was a frequent resident from the first day owing to the desperate need Sir John had of her expertise and guidance.  Nursemaids were to be acquired, a governess engaged for Elinor, and all manner of attention for little Henry whom it was feared may not have the strength of life necessary to survive.  Under her tutelage, all was settled amiably and her personal ministrations to Henry were so successful that he was quickly outstripping his sister in his development.  Lord Forster became so accustomed to the convenience of her presence that he insisted on building her a proper cottage on his grounds that she may be ever near should he have need of her.  This being a welcome improvement on her current residence, a small rented room in the village with barely dirt enough for her kitchen herbs, she readily acquiesced to the proposed cottage.  It was only a matter of ensuring that all her requirements were met as would suit her responsibilities, namely room for a sizable garden and goats, a serviceable road to the village for ease of travel, and a sturdy horse for emergencies.

Very early on, it was apparent that the Forster children had a steady regard for Nanny.  Elinor found in her a companion akin to an elder sister, who acted as an adviser and instructor as needed.  Though it came as no surprise, it was to Nanny that Elinor turned with the disappointment of her failing the Iron Trial.  The twins were very much enamored of the wild-haired woman who trounced about the estate in men’s work boots, chasing after loose goats or riding astride her buckskin mare.  Henry was only ever talkative to her, exclaiming over his most recent literary discoveries, while Lily could never be willful while under the scrutiny of the witch’s hazel gaze.

When Lord Forster decided that his children would benefit from his having a new wife, it was from Nanny that he sought recommendations for suitable candidates, and Lady Mary was only approved of after a private interview with the witch.  And when Lord Riverton had sought the hand of Elinor, it was Nanny who was consulted before even his daughter.

“He’s a good fellow, I can tell you based on our lengthy acquaintance.  Never an unjust word, nor any habit I can find to fault him.  His elder brother, I believe, was a bit of a war hero, but John has no violence in his soul.  Very like a water-gifted, you know.  Easy temper, and not so changeable as those charged with greater waterways.  Been nary a flood nor drought since he took the Seat, as far as I can recall.”  Sir John continued in his praise for some time.  The tenants all loved him, the crops all healthy, his estate wealthy and well-tended, and his children well-behaved.  And the gentleman was indeed a few years his senior, but with such a young and jovial countenance, it was Sir John who was most oft deemed the elder.

Nanny stood gazing out of the window of the drawing-room during this exposition, transfixed apparently by the sunset.  She was not one for words and found silence a better instrument when dealing with Sir John.  His ramblings told her he was uncertain of the match, despite its overwhelming material advantage, otherwise she would not have been summoned for an opinion.  When he began to run out praise for the suitor, she turned from the window to observe him.  Lady Mary, who was vastly surprised to be included in this discussion, had sat through the whole his oration in utter silence from her seat by the fire, working diligently at the embroidery on her favorite kerchief.  Of her opinion, there could be no doubt as to its being completely unnecessary, though she could perceive no reason for any hesitancy in her husband’s agreement to the suit.

“You see, Nanny, it is a most desirable match,” said Sir John after a lengthy reprieve from Lord Riverton’s accolades.  The words implied that Nanny had been prepared to argue against him, though the depressed tone gave the lie.  Nanny held her tongue, and soon enough it all burst forth.  “But he has no inclination for more children.  His design, he told me quite plain as his long-time and dearest friend, was to do me this favor of relieving me of a daughter I might otherwise be burdened with.  He sees Elinor as a nice girl of a good family who might act as a glorified governess!  Is this to be borne?  That she may never bear children of her own?  That she must live in a marriage bereft of all the physical attentions due a wife from her husband?”

In despair for a daughter’s deferred motherhood, Sir John collapsed into a chair, startling his young wife into pricking her finger.  “Now, that is silly, John, that a man could marry a woman without intending to, I mean, really!  Whatever his intentions concerning their relations, he certainly can’t think of celibacy, even at his age.”  After this pronouncement, Lady Mary was sufficiently embarrassed by the subject and her own audacity in commenting on it, that she immediately set to undoing a dozen stitches which she was certain had been misplaced and determined not to say a word more until she had finished her work.

“But can I deny this match on such a condition?  I have little enough to give her.  The estate must go to Henry or Lily.  With only a thousand pounds from her mother’s bequest, there is nothing but her name and her good character to lure a husband.  And without gifts, I’m afraid she will find no gentleman willing to take her.”

Nanny took the seat nearest Sir John and waited a moment to compose her response.  She fancied herself better acquainted with the feelings and inclinations of his daughter, having been Elinor’s chief confidant throughout her development.  She alone knew how painfully Lady Forster’s death had imprinted on the girl and how much she dreaded her future marital responsibilities.  “This is a good match, ’tis true,” she said after a time.  “And Lord Riverton is a man known to me by the good word of his tenants.  It’s a good man as can tame a river, big or small, and a good friend who seeks to be the benefactor rather than the possessor of a girl so young.  Can’t say I could approve of a man looking for more children at his time of life.  But one looking for the gentle companionship of a steady gel, like Elinor, who can certainly be a balm on the stresses of life, that’s a man with sense.  I suggest you let me present the offer to Miss Forster.  Then, if she’s amenable, he can try courting to see if they suit each other.”

Sir John was immediately cheered by this announcement and seemed on the verge of rushing into the night to report the good news to Riverton, but he was stayed by Nanny’s cautious hand on his arm.

“I won’t permit no hand-fasting till she’s eighteen, mind.  They need to know each others character before contracting any long-term agreements and she’ll need tutoring on what’s expected in running a household.  His estate’s not so grand as this, so she’ll be expected to have more of a hand in its management, I dare say.”

All this was found to be right and proper and awaited only the consultation with Miss Forster to begin.  One might expect a violent effusion of emotions from a young girl told she is to wed a man near twenty years her senior, but Elinor was never one for violence where quiet contemplation would better serve (excepting when she dealt with Lily, who was anathema to quiet and could make even the most patient, sedate person become violent in mere moments).  The fact that she would be under no obligation to produce an heir, or children at all, readily decided her and she was the only one who saw no rationale to any delay.  There could be little purpose in divining the attractiveness of her intended if the marriage would answer all her desires of avoiding the birthing room.

Her only regret was the inevitable removal of her from her long-time home to a place too far distant for easy visitation from her family.  Wretched as the twins could be, and Lily may well have been determined to be a constant trial on her nerves, they were her family and she could not countenance any great time spent apart from them.  She further worried that without her censure, Henry and especially Lily would be far too indulged by her father and Lady Mary to gain any sort of good understanding or manners.

But she need not worry on that front, because Nanny was newly determined to bring an end to the unruly behaviors so long unchecked by firm authority.  It was already becoming apparent that Lily had inherited her mother’s power and each day made it more urgent that the girl learn self-control, else she was bound to be banded, and Nanny had seen how quickly iron had destroyed Lady Forster’s mind.  The long-term effects could not be estimated and were to be avoided most fervently.  To that end, Nanny set out for the Lady’s Clearing to begin the education of Lily Forster.

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Regency Heroes 2

Henry Forster had the unfortunate condition of being a very large boy with a very gentle temperament.  While his cousins enjoyed sports and hunting, he found contentment in his mother’s vast library and was the favorite of his tutors.  His twin sister, Lily, though she shared much in the way of physical similarities, did not share his love for dusty knowledge.  No amount of cajoling or threats could induce her to remain indoors when she so desperately needed to be outside.  Her father bemoaned her ever being properly educated while her step-mother lamented only that the sun turned her so dreadfully brown.  The new Lady Forster was ever ready to coddle her step-children.  She had heard too many tales of wicked step-mothers to feel any sort of security in her present position and was only too aware that were it not for her handsome fortune she would have little to recommend herself in the ways of intelligence or skill.  So while she had no talent for art or music and was eminently stupid, at least she was kind.

Miss Forster had no great liking for her step-mother, conscious that the woman was barely ten years her senior as well as being dull and silly.  But she endeavored to be civil, if only because Lady Mary doted so genuinely upon the twins and was so humorously discomfited by Elinor’s presence.  It was perhaps cruel that she did nothing to alleviate that discomfort, but at least she was aware of that cruelty and mildly ashamed of it.

The twins, for their part, could not understand the coldness exhibited by their elder sister and loved Lady Mary with all the ardor of small children who have all their wishes acquiesced by someone who should be controlling their behavior.  So it was that Henry was allowed to neglect his physical education while Lily was allowed to wander the grounds without escort and often (to Elinor’s horror) without shoes.

“Lily, I shan’t speak with you like this.  Civilized persons do not converse from trees.”  Lily was in her mother’s tree, which had grown to be a great oak over the last ten years.  Since she could walk, she had been drawn to the clearing and her first clear utterance was concerning its origins.  The bark, though strangely smooth, still bore three scars on the trunk which looked very nearly like the hand prints of a small child and two infants.

“I don’t see why you cannot join me.  If I can get Henry to read outside, surely I can tempt you to greater heights,” she called from among the branches, her bare legs dangling carelessly.  Henry looked abashed and hid behind his ornithology text.  He had never been tempted to the heights of those branches, but he did admit to a certain comfort in reading at its base.

“You know very well how inappropriate it would be for a lady of my standing to behave like such a buffoon.  You continue this way and the whole village will think the faeries exchanged my sister for an ape.”  Both twins blushed at this remark, Henry in embarrassment and Lily with anger.  Elinor immediately regretted the insult.  It was said in temper by the spiteful part of her which knew exactly the best way to cause the most harm.

“Well, if I am the changeling chimp of your real sister, then perhaps I should start acting like it.  Henry, fetch me some manure.  I am certain I have a strong desire to fling it at unsuspecting ladies.”  Henry did his utmost to disappear into the trunk of the tree.

“Oh, Lily!”  A dozen threats skittered through Elinor’s mind.  Why was she given such an unruly sister?  What would happen to the twins without her to give them some semblance of order?  With that thought, her anger dissipated and she was left only with the deep melancholy with which she had set out to find her siblings.  “Lily, please.  I have some news and I would like very much to speak of it with dignity, not scream it into foliage.”  Lily responded with ape-like shrieks and some rude noises, so Elinor placed one slim hand on the tree trunk and asked her mother to dislodge her troublesome sister.  Moments later, Lily found herself unceremoniously tossed to the ground next to her brother.  Henry, seeing the resigned set of Elinor’s shoulders, reverently put down his book and draped a massive arm over Lily’s shoulder to keep her from scurrying off again.  Lily resigned herself to sulking.

Elinor paced from one side of the small clearing to the other.  Now that it had come to it, she couldn’t quite bring herself to blurt out what she had come to say.  She really wished the twins had found some place less personal to seclude themselves.  For all that she didn’t want to tell the twins, she was especially reticent for this news to reach her mother.

You are lucky, dear Elinor.  You are the eldest, yes, but you are not the heir.  I married out of duty.  Fond of your father as I have become, our wedding was the bitterest of days because my heart felt nothing for the stranger I was joined to.  You have no duty to this house but to leave it.  They will tell you to marry well and I urge you to do so by marrying him to whom you may give your heart.  You have no other duty.  To do less would break my heart.

“I’m to be married to Lord Riverton twelve months hence.”  The admission gave her no relief, only adding to the oppression she felt with her father’s announcement.

“But…Nathan is only twelve this year,” said Henry slowly.

“Good God, you can’t mean Old Riverton?” exclaimed Lily with undisguised revulsion.  “Why, he’s older than father!”

Elinor colored at this remark.  “Lord Riverton is a very fine gentleman and father says it is a most desirable match for me.  I have little enough to offer a suitor.”

“But you cannot seriously accept that old man as your husband.  He’ll be dead and buried before an heir is born.”  Elinor was shocked so utterly by this inappropriate statement that all manner of composure was forgotten.

“Fortuitously, as Henry pointed out, there is already an heir to the title.  I, at least, am not only a broodmare to carry on the family affliction!”  The words passed her lips with no input from years of genteel upbringing, or she never would have uttered them.  Lily’s face paled, but instead of lashing out, she shook off her brother’s arm and dashed further into the forest in a flash of copper curls.  There would be no finding her now.  The trees would hide the girl until she chose to come home.  Without the least concern for her skirts, Elinor sat on the grass with a heavy sigh.

“Wish you wouldn’t fight,” Henry moaned into his chest.

“I know.”  Silence but for the chirping of some songbirds and the clicking of insects.  “I’m nearly seventeen, Henry.  This is the only offer I may ever get.  I have no fortune and I have no gifts.”  She hesitated to share her full reasoning with her brother.  It might hurt him, yet she could not leave him with only the impression that she sought only security and fortune in this arrangement.  “Young Nathan has taken the iron testing* and shown great promise, so there is no pressure for me to provide an heir, as I said.  Can you understand the fear this alleviates?  I have lived in terror of the birthing room my whole childhood.  Thrice did I watch my mother suffer through it, each time more painful and more prolonged.  Last of all I watched the iron take her to madness.  I heard my gentle mother, who never raised her voice or spoke a harsh word, ranting and shrieking as I lay in bed in the dark.  And after all the screaming and pain, when it was over, she was a stranger to me, the life drawn out of her into those hated bracelets.”  She wiped her face with a kerchief.  “At least Lord Riverton is kind.”

To this, Henry had no reply.  He had always been in awe of his sister, who had seemed like an adult from his earliest memories.  She had acted as their mother in a way that nursemaids and tutors could not.  While she and Lily were constantly at odds, he had every confidence that Elinor always acted for their betterment.  To see her so resigned, so helpless, so defeated by her circumstance suddenly made him feel much older.

“He does have a nice estate.  A very fine library, I understand,” he ventured at length.  To this she smiled, acknowledging that from him it was high praise indeed.  It was only when she smiled that Elinor took on the visage of her mother, the only one of her children to take after her in looks.  Henry and Lily both took after their father in figure, though only Henry has his blonde hair and brown eyes.  Lily’s eyes are a shocking shade of emerald like her mother’s, an early indicator that she inherited her mother’s power.

“Nanny approves.”

“Next time, I suggest you start with that information.  Lily is always more amenable to Nanny’s opinions.”

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Regency Heroes

It was with mild trepidation that Lady Jonathan Forster entered her confinement.  This was only to be expected, as it was her fourth time since turning twenty and only her seven-year-old daughter Miss Elinor Forster yet lived.  Still, the pregnancy itself had been far easier than the first three to reach term and she had the advantage of the services of the village midwife, a witch universally called Nanny Winston, though she was barely older than Lady Forster herself.  Since taking the position of village witch last spring, the whole county had benefited from her talents, bringing an unprecedented amount of successful births, an ease of common maladies, and far fewer cases of mortal illness.

Nanny’s greatest contribution to birthings was to disabuse the public of many practices that she considered detrimental to the health and safety of both mother and infant.  So rather than being enclosed in a dark room made sweltering by a blazing fire and sealed windows, Lady Forster’s room was filled with sunlight and fresh air.  She was made to bathe every day in hot water, as was her lady’s maid (the only person besides Nanny herself permitted into the room).  In only one circumstance was she in conflict with Lady Forster.

Nanny insists that I need not wear the iron bracelets, not even during the ordeal itself.  She claims that she has borne the process with women of all manner of gifts, yet I cannot imagine any of them had a condition as severe as mine.  I cannot risk my child or the estate on the hope that a woman’s protective instinct will prove stronger than my affliction.

So when Lady Forster entered her confinement, it was the blacksmith who welcomed her with two bands of iron an inch wide and one-quarter of an inch thick, the seams of which were carefully welded together once they encircled the lady’s thin wrists.  She tested their strength and made sure that no amount of contortion could slide them passed her delicate hands.  Nanny looked on with disapproval, but said nothing.  There could be no harm in this tradition except its perpetuating the innate destructive nature of a woman’s power.  Lord Forster was assured that his wife and child were in the best hands and then firmly dismissed from the room.

After a week, Nanny began to note an increasing degree of agitation in her patient.  The lady paced as much as she could, being unwilling or unable to sit still for any of the restful activities Nanny suggested.  No book could hold her attention and embroidery was swiftly abandoned as well.  At night, the lady could find no rest, spending the whole of it shifting about as though the mattress was full of itchy hay.  Nanny also noted that the lady’s hands were in constant contact with the bracelets, spinning and twisting the bands until they left her wrists positively raw.  Nanny would have liked to pack the soft skin with a soothing poultice but the iron was to close to leave room for such a remedy and the lady refused any binding that would cover the iron seeming positively alarmed to have the iron thus bound tight to her arms.

Lady Forster was barely aware of her outward behavior and certainly took no note of Nanny’s concern.  All she knew was that the child must come soon.  From the moment the iron had touched her skin she had felt its effect, drawing her affliction into itself.  The sensation was abhorrent, like the onset of a wasting sickness, though she knew the necessity.  Her condition had been under her control since she was a young child, but it could be brought out by severe physical or emotional duress.  At the age of twelve, she had learned this to her horror when bandits had set upon her family’s carriage in town and her father had been shot.  Very little of the bandits had been recovered for burial and it was only through the intervention of her uncle that she was left unbanded* as the law would normally require for girls with such strong gifts.

However, accepting the necessity of the bracelets made them no less easy to bear.

Each day that passes  takes me further from myself.  I feel cut off from the earth, caged in my own flesh.  I begin to imagine the iron no longer draws my power so much as it invades my temple.  What once was a mere irritations now burns.  I see the hellish glow of the bands when my eyes close and feel the poison seep into my skin.

By the second week, it was clear to Nanny that Lady Forster was not, as she had been made to believe, the secondary strength of the estate.  The lady was the Seat of Power and true heir.  Her husband was heir in name only, a distant cousin chosen for convenience to act as figurehead.  Lady Forster’s uncle, who had been chosen as Seat over his elder brother because he had inherited the family gifts, would have named his niece heir if the law had permitted, but was forced instead to name his cousin John on the condition that he marry his niece.  Lady Forster was a vessel of terrible power and as such bore a greater sensitivity to iron than Nanny had ever witnessed.  Her pacing was an expression of her natural desire to flee the iron as a threat.  While her body was weakened daily by continued contact her mind worked ceaselessly to fight the attack against her.

Nanny wanted very much to insist on the removal of the bands, yet for the first time, she was unsure of herself.  Her gift gave her a natural affinity for the health of her patients.  Before her was a gentlewoman of no small ability and the knowledge of her strength made Nanny nervous.  Though she had often argued that a gifted woman would be incapable of destructive outbursts during labor, seeing Lady Forster’s increasingly agitated state made her wonder.  And no amount of subtle arguments against the bands could make the lady waver on her belief that the bands were all that could keep everyone safe from her power.  After a particularly bad night where the lady had left bloody gouges in her wrists from her unconscious scratching, Nanny made sure to trim her nails short and eventually insisted the lady wear gloves to bed.

Nanny looks grimly on my bracelets.  As if she could possibly comprehend how dangerous I would be without them.  Her hearth skills are nothing but a shadow of what I am.  My body hates the poison upon my wrists, yet my mind knows that without them I could kill them all.  Even my sweet Elinor.  This is no gift, as she calls it.  It is my affliction which I live with as is my duty in the hopes that I may pass it on to a son who may be strong enough to wield it.

Three weeks into her confinement, the flowers in the room died all at once.  This decided Nanny against removing the bracelets.  Here was a clear sign that the lady still had unconscious access to her abilities, which had either been keeping the flowers fresh or had killed them out of spite.  Lady Forster no longer spent all her time pacing, though she still had no concentration for any diversions.  She would lounge on the chaise for hours, staring at nothing with her fingers feverishly spun the bands on her raw wrists.

I have insisted that the windows be closed against the fresh air, which has become a torment to me.  It no longer sings as it once did, sweet melodies at ease with my soul.  The melody is wrong, jarring, grating against me because I am separated from it.  The iron turns sweet music into screams of agony.  When I dream, it is of shrieking children locked in iron cages.  Iron thickens my blood so I cannot move for the lethargy in my veins.  Send for the leechman that he may draw the iron from my heart and serve it to the blacksmith for nails.

In the fourth week, the grounds about the house began to sicken as though fall had come half a year too soon.  Even the sheep, pigs, and horses who resided on the grounds took ill.  Nanny insisted that the house be emptied of all living creatures, even the servants.  This was done with alacrity, the entire household packed off for town while the field hands transported the livestock and domestics to nearby farms for the time being.  Only Lord Forster and his daughter were permitted to remain with Nanny.  When the time came, against all tradition, Lord Forster acted as aid to the midwife while Elinor was instructed to play at the pianoforte which had been moved to the hall directly outside the birthing room.  Lady Forster, whose distress had increased exponentially since the pains had started, begged for the music as the only cure for her nerves.  As soon as Elinor began her exercises, the lady had calmed considerably.

It was only when Nanny began her physical examinations of her patient that she realized how badly she had misjudged the situation.  Lady Forster’s skin was hot and dry, her breathing unsteady, her heart fluttering, and her eyes saw little.  Nanny’s gift to naturally sense and ease the duress of her patients was actively being blocked by the iron.  She was no better than a mundane midwife.  There was a spike of fear at being so robbed of the power she had come to rely upon, but she was a witch.  It is not power the that makes a good witch.  It is strength of will and mind.  It was too late to remove the bands, certainly too late to save Lady Forster, but the child would survive.

It was only a short time from when the pains started that a baby girl was born to only mild disappointment.  Though she was eminently healthy, a boy was always preferred.  Moments later to the astonishment of even the midwife, a rather small spindly boy was born.  It took some minutes of work, but Nanny convinced him to breathe on his own and pronounced him healthy.  As she turned to help Lady Forster finish, it became apparent that the lady would need no further care except to close her eyes.

The blacksmith was the first to be summoned to remove the iron bands.  The rest of the household was quick to return and nursemaids were easily attained from the village.  It was with a somber air that Lady Forster was laid to rest that evening.  The procession followed a well-tended though little used path into the forest, past trees that bore no crude carvings and forest creatures with no fear of man.  Once under the verdant canopy, the air took on the brisk freshness of the first frost.  Faerie lights twinkled on either side of the path, but no one was foolish enough to follow them.  Lord Forster led the procession, marking his steps with a weathered staff of smooth wood, blackened by generations of hands.  Nanny brought up the rear with a basket of protective herbs.

The clearing was only large enough for the grieving family to stand around the edges, so the village stood about under the trees.  The Milky Way was a thick ribbon arching over the little clearing so uncounted stars witnessed Lady Forster’s return to the earth.  In silence, Lord Forster and the blacksmith dug the grave, gently lay the silk-wrapped body in the dark earth, and covered her again.  Lord Forster took Miss Forster’s hand and pressed it to the fresh dirt, then did the same with each of the twins so that each left a definite print mere feet above their mother’s face.  Nanny spread the flowers and herbs from her basket around the grave and without any outward cue the entire procession left.  Before the forest was long empty of the people, a strong sapling had grown up from grave with three knolls on the bark which looked very like the hand prints of three small children.
*When a person was deemed to have abilities too strong to control or has used said abilities to commit a serious crime, the person is banded (given permanent bands of iron which encircle the wrists and ankles).  This procedure was often done on females once their abilities presented because it was believed women were physically incapable of ever gaining control.

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Filed under Misc Short Stories, Super Heroes


Stop asking me how I’m doing/feeling.  As sincere as you might be in your concern, you don’t really want to know because it’s complicated and depressing and there’s nothing you can do except maybe stop drawing attention to my less-than-ideal situation.  In general, I am fine.  Obviously, I could be better.

Other ways to help:

Answer my texts.

Show up when I invite you over.

If you can’t make it, let me know.

Eat my food.

Also, if you are in need of a movie buddy, I am accepting applications.


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