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A Pocketful of Posies



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Wed Sep 19, 2018 8:38 am
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Panikos says...



Just going to keep the link to my wfp with all my planning notes because I'm tired of trawling back through my wall posts to find it

https://writerfeedpad.com/q2WIOLn17S

Edit: this one's important too. It sets out how the arc between Daisy and Hildegarde will develop.

https://blueafrica.writerfeedpad.com/50
The backs of my eyes hum with things I've never done.


~Radical Face
  





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Fri Nov 09, 2018 9:04 pm
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Panikos says...



Another landmark reached - I passed 35k this week! I'm probably not far off halfway. There are some big reveals coming up that I'm super excited for!
The backs of my eyes hum with things I've never done.


~Radical Face
  





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Sun Nov 25, 2018 12:08 am
Panikos says...



I found a Mark Twain quote that applies well to this novel:

"What, now, do we find the Primal Curse to have been? Plainly what it was in the beginning: the infliction upon man of the Moral Sense; the ability to distinguish good from evil; and with it, necessarily, the ability to do evil; for there can be no evil act without the presence of consciousness of it in the doer of it."


Spoiler! :
Therein lies my uncertainty about who, exactly, the villain is in this novel. Vie, because she has a posie, feels emotions, and knows full well the pain her actions will inflict? Paris, who has no real capacity for empathy yet causes pain anyway?
The backs of my eyes hum with things I've never done.


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563 Reviews

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Fri Nov 30, 2018 1:12 pm
Panikos says...



"Apathy is a sort of living oblivion" - Horace Greeley
The backs of my eyes hum with things I've never done.


~Radical Face
  





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Thu Mar 07, 2019 4:11 pm
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Panikos says...



Spoiler! :
Daisy slouched in the chair, watching Paris write. He’d lost his best pen, apparently, and had replaced it with one that was clearly meant for human hands. It looked like a toothpick against his long fingers, and it made his handwriting even more cramped than usual.
“Here,” she said, delving into a pot on the desk. She found a ballpoint pen, twice the length of the one he was using, and flicked it across the desk at him.
“Thank you, Daisy.”
He was the only degas in the house who ever thanked her. Degas without posies were always like that – they’d thank anyone, for anything, because it was all the same to them. She’d thrown a mouldy orange at Kesec once, to see if it might make him flinch. Thank you, he’d said, when it landed in his lap.
“Does he do it more or less?” Paris asked, picking up the new pen. “His dreaming, I mean. He dreams more or less?”
“Dunno. Less. Compared to a few weeks ago, anyway.”
“I see.”
As he made another note, Daisy glanced at the clock on the wall. It was three minutes fast, but even accounting for that, Hildegarde was late. Daisy had been listening out for a bang or a hiss of water, but there’d only been long, lolling silence. She wondered if one of the servants had caught her.
That would be bad, Daisy reminded herself. She pinched the inside of her wrist, hard. Bad. That’s what bad feels like.
“Does he dream about familiar things?” Paris asked. “I think it’s a good sign, if he does. Vie says it shows that his memory is intact.”
Daisy kept pinching her wrist. “He dreams about—”
Bang.
She jumped, half-out of the chair; her pinching nails tore her skin. Paris merely looked up.
“What was that?” he asked.
Daisy pointed, the adrenaline sinking back into her stomach. “The window—”
He turned round. The glass was cracked; a fractured spider’s web sprawled out from the middle. He tilted his head.
“How did that happen?”
A rock, Daisy almost said, but pain throbbed in her wrist, reminding her - bad, it would be bad to say that, bad for Hildegarde, bad for her. Be smart, because Hildegarde damn well isn’t, if she thought this was the best idea—
“I think it was a bird,” Daisy said. “Massive one, it looked like.”
“Oh,” Paris said. He got out of his seat and moved to the window, peering down through the cracks. “I should tell Hildegarde. She likes birds.”
“Not if it’s dead, she won’t,” Daisy said. She had a brainwave. “You should check it’s alright.”
“Shall I?” he said. “I think she’d like to see one. It might cheer her. Vie says she’s been quiet lately.”
“Go check on it, then.”
He went, saying he would be back in a moment. Daisy waited until his footsteps had faded, then rounded the desk and knelt in front of the drawer, which was open by a few inches. She reached in and pulled out a stack of papers, dumping them on the floor and starting to leaf through them.
Go quicker, said part of her brain. If she wasn’t quick, Paris would come back before she found it, and that would be bad – bad, like the pain in her wrist, but that was fading now, and she couldn’t remember what it felt like. Her hands moved slowly. Her eyes roamed over notes and written frames – all nonsense to her. There was nothing to do with the tower. After several pages, her hands grew heavier. Such a massive stack of paper. What was the point, really—?
“Daisy!”
She looked up. Hildegarde darted into the study, shutting the door behind her. She looked windswept, her hands a little muddy.
“You didn’t even shut the door!” Hildegarde hissed. “Are you stupid? What if someone’d walked past?”
She dropped to her knees in front of the stack of paper and started leafing through it furiously, her hands frenetic.
“You threw a rock,” Daisy said. “How’s that for stupid? Vie’s going to realise—”
“I had to improvise,” Hildegarde said, waving a hand. “There was a maid cleaning the bathroom, so I couldn’t get to the pipes. And I tried to shove my wardrobe over, but I couldn’t bloody lift it, so I– I didn’t know how else to distract him.” She sifted through more sheets. “Will you help me, please?”
Daisy returned her hands to the stack of paper and started searching again. Quicker! Hildegarde kept saying, and Daisy wondered when she had ever got so slow. Her mother used to tell her off for fidgeting, for never settling down. Kesec had said once that she talked too fast to follow.
“Here, this, this,” Hildegarde said. “Is this it?”
She held up a sheet; there was a frame drawn at the top, full of spirals and jagged turns and embellishments. Beneath it, Daisy read the words ‘for the purpose of denying entry to the tower to any individual not of the Matreau—’
“That’s it,” Daisy said. She scanned the further paragraph – her eyes caught on ‘condition one’, which said something about heather clippings. “Give it here. I’ve got a pocket—”
“He might notice if it’s gone,” Hildegarde said, lurching to her feet. She leant over the desk, grabbing a sheet of notepaper and the pen Paris had abandoned. It was too big for her hands, but she wrote quickly, wildly, muttering the words as she copied them. When she was done, she stuffed the sheet down her dress, then helped Daisy push the stack of paper back into the bottom drawer.
“Okay,” Hildegarde said, breathless. “Now we just have to—”
She turned towards the door just as it opened, stopping in her tracks. Paris looked down at her.
“Oh. I was just looking for you,” he said. “Daisy said a bird hit the window, and I thought you’d want to see it, but I can’t find it outside.”
“Must’ve flew off,” Hildegarde said, more smoothly than Daisy expected of her. “I thought I heard a massive bang- that’s why I came to look, but Daisy said you’d left—”
She lied quickly, easily. Only the high colour on her cheeks said anything of what she’d just done. When she turned to leave properly, saying that she’d go tell a servant about the crack, Paris released Daisy as well. They kept their distance from each other as they walked down the corridor, staying silent.
But when Hildegarde reached the stairs, she paused. She didn’t say anything – just turned, looked back, and grinned.
Daisy remembered that moment for a long time afterwards.


A deleted part of chapter 24, which I hated but thought I ought to keep.
The backs of my eyes hum with things I've never done.


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Sat Apr 27, 2019 12:12 pm
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Panikos says...



Chapter 30.2, chapter 31, chapter 32, and the complete epilogue. Total: 9199 words.

Spoiler! :
She couldn’t tell if the smell of smoke was something of her mind’s conjuring – surely the fire couldn’t have spread that far, not already? – but there was no time to think on it. She climbed the attic stairs two at a time, pain driving through her legs at the steepness, and spilled into a sprawling space at the top. The attic was fractured images: two oversized skeletons, their bones black and warped, a skull of fired clay, trinkets, tools, clothes, aprons, glass, glass, glass cases everywhere.
She cast about, her heart drumming in her throat. Back of the room, where a square of light poured in through the window. The sun was sinking, bringing out the oranges in everything. A slat of it passed over a gilt-edged case, which stood alone.
She crouched in front of it, pressing her sweaty fingers against the glass. There was only one item inside, and she took in the carving knife with only a dull sense of recognition. It wasn’t impressive. Like the replica in York, it was no longer than a letter opener, the blade mottled and blunt. Her breath blurred on the case.
She pulled back, looking around. To her left, a gown hung from a metal mannequin – too tall and slim for a human; it had belonged to a degas once. She yanked at the gown, pulling at ties until it fell away like shed skin. Then she grabbed the mannequin at the base, almost buckling under the weight, the metal rim biting into her fingers.
Then she swung it around and smashed it into the case.
Glass sprayed everywhere, some pattering down across her shoes, over her skirts. When she threw the mannequin down, the knife lay nested amongst glittering shards. Hildegarde’s hand darted in and out the grab it, quick as a lunging snake, and she swore with the worst words she knew when the glass nicked her fingers. But she had the knife in her grasp, its scorched hilt gripped in her fist.
She glanced at it for a moment, her eyes skimming the blade, which was worryingly blunt – when she put a thumb to it, it made no more than an indent in the skin. Could it cut a degas, after all that time? Had the years dulled it beyond use? What if it—?
Far below her, but not far enough, came the crunch of something crumbling.
She wrenched a hole in the lining of her shoulder bag and shoved the knife inside of it, where she hoped it couldn’t be found. Then she ran back to the door of the attic, back down the stairs, back onto the landing. The smell of smoke was sharp now, acidic and undoubtedly real. It formed a haze above her head, misting the walls, but she ran through it nonetheless, hand over her nose.
The stairs, she urged herself, but when she reached them, she recoiled. Flames licked up the steps, and a swirl of smoke billowed from the blaze and made her cough. She backed down the corridor again, her heart wild and skipping in her chest. What now?
She wrestled her blazer off and bunched it up to her face, to keep out the worst of the smoke. Her eyes were streaming, dry, her skin itchy. How had it spread so fast? She remembered a lesson from school, years and years ago – something about the fire of London, a song they had to sing. A bridge falling down, falling down, falling down? No, that was the wrong one—
She wheeled back down the corridor, her legs shaking. A servants’ staircase? She didn’t know where it was, if the house had one. And there was no reason to think that wouldn’t be ablaze either. She tumbled into one of the rooms, slamming the door behind her to keep the smoke out. The alarm was still wailing, a weeping noise – it sounded worried for her, afraid for her.
She didn’t think. Her hands went to the window, struggled with the latch, heaved it upwards. It stuck halfway up and wouldn’t give, even when she put all her strength behind it. Probably to stop people falling out of it. She laughed, too high.
There was a chair by the door, probably for the attendants to rest on. She grabbed hold of it and hefted it towards the window, smacking and smacking it against the glass until it broke. That’s a lot of bad luck, Hildegarde thought, before she remembered that was for breaking mirrors. Why just mirrors? You could see your face in glass as well. You should still get a few years bad luck, or at least a few months—
The pane didn’t break cleanly. One of the legs was dangling from the chair, so she worked it free and used it to clear the jagged bits from around the rim of the pane as best she could. From behind her came the sound of crackling, louder now – but imagined, surely, because the alarms were so loud as to have become her new silence.
She threw the chair leg aside and climbed through the shattered window. Despite her efforts, stray shards dragged and ripped at her dress, and one drew a mark down Hildegarde’s upper arm. She stared at it, bemused, numb. Her blood was very red.
And then she was half-out into the open air, one foot on the window ledge, and the ground was a long, long way off. One floor didn’t seem very much from the outside, but it stretched to mountainous heights now. No trees nearby, not in this manicured garden. Nothing to grab onto. Only a thicket of tended bushes around the base of the house. Enough to break her fall? She had no idea.
Everything swayed. She coughed, gripping hard at the painted bricks. Blood marked the white.
She brought her other foot out onto the balcony and sank, slowly, to sit on the ledge. Dangled her legs, breathed through her mouth, looked at the close-knit branches of the bush.
Beyond the garden, tiny against the horizon, birds speckled the orange sky. Count them, she thought. There’s one. There’s two. Three. Four. Five.
She closed her eyes and pushed herself off the ledge.

31
Hildegarde opened her eyes. Above her, sky, so much sky – she wondered for a moment if she was dead. Then she twitched her fingers, felt grass prickling her neck, tasted soil in her mouth. Her legs and side throbbed. A sharp pain sickled across her cheek.
Everything seemed far away, too quiet. Her ears rang. She closed her eyes again and lay still, because every movement chased aches through her bones. She’d landed in the bush with a splintering of twigs, which raked gashes in her skin like talons, then rolled off to the side onto the lawn.
Her shoulder bag pressed into her side. She could feel the lump of the knife against her hipbone, but triumph seemed a long way away.
When she opened her eyes again, the moons of faces were above her, mouths moving. She saw syllables rather than hearing them, a tinny whine overlaying everything. A hand, gloved in leather, held onto hers, fingers crooked at an awkward angle, and then somebody was lifting her up. Put me down, she mumbled. And then there was a dim, glassy voice, saying that that wouldn’t be a good idea at all.

She woke up in flat, quiet darkness, her head overladen by mist. The sheets packed over her were heavy, stifling her with warmth. Everything was iron. Her thoughts were metal discs, thudding through the whorls of her brain. She had the feeling of being trapped within a well of herself, the sky shrinking to a pinpoint.
With the thought came a slash of fear, which made her recoil and jerk upwards. Arms aching, she shoved back the sheets on her bed, kicking out—
“Hildegarde?”
She fell still, her eyes adjusting to the dark. She was in her bedroom, at the estate – no, not the estate. The London house. They were in London. Paris sat at the desk near the window, a notepad beneath his splayed hand, mask half-illuminated by the moonlight. Somewhere, a clock ticked.
“What’s going on?” she breathed.
Paris tilted his head. “There was a fire. Do you remember?”
Memories whirled like hot ash. She smelt smoke again, hear the wail of an alarm, remembered shards of glass dragging at her dress. A long drop, weightlessness, then weight. Hildegarde leaned forward, fingers pressing into her temples.
“My head…” she murmured, but it came out as a whine. “I can’t remember properly.”
“I think you hit it. You jumped out of the window.” Paris shifted around in his seat. “The man at the hospital says it isn’t bad, but if you start vomiting everywhere, we should bring you back.”
“Hospital?”
Paris nodded. “I brought you back a few hours ago. You went to sleep.”
Hildegarde swallowed, her throat like sandpaper. Went to sleep. The words echoed through her, making discomfort stir in her stomach, but she couldn’t remember why. As she wrapped her arms around her legs, several memories from the last few hours bubbled up through the cracks in her mind. She remembered a doctor – hairy hands, but a soft voice. A nurse tweezering glass from her palms. She remembered the smell of the rubbing alcohol, the bite of the mannequin as she hefted it round and down.
Remembered the knife.
“Is my…?” Hildegarde crawled to the edge of the bed. “My bag…?”
“Here,” Paris said, pointing further up the desk.
Hildegarde shifted herself off the bed and crossed the room. When she slid her hand into the bag, she found the tear in the lining after some hidden, frantic grasping, then the bluntness of the blade hidden inside. The metal seemed so much colder than it should’ve been, and there was something about the texture of it against her thumb that made her shudder. She drew her hand away, then searched for something else to pull out instead. She found a leftover coffee biscuit, still in its wrapper, and tore it open with her teeth. The majority of her fingers were bandaged and clumsy.
“Are you hungry?” Paris asked, as she ate it.
“Mm,” Hildegarde said.
“Do you want ice cream?”
Hildegarde gave him a look. “It’s night time.”
“Yes.”
“Everywhere’ll be shut.”
“There’s a parlour that stays open until eleven. I checked. It serves ice cream in all colours, but I’m not sure you’d like that, because it might be a bit like having blue cheese. There are lots of other flavours, though.”
Hildegarde hesitated for a moment, but her stomach growled, even though she felt vaguely sick. You got the knife, she told herself, distantly. Celebrate. You should celebrate.
“Alright,” she said. “I’ll get…find some clothes.”
Paris nodded twice, then stood up to leave. He took his notepad with him, tucked close to his side. Hildegarde listened to him leave, feeling as though she’d forgotten something.

“We were supposed to go to Sweet Charity,” Hildegarde said, digging into her sundae.
“Yes,” Paris said. “I kept mentioning it to the doctors, because they were working very slowly. I think it was the wrong thing to say, because one of the nurses frowned at me.”
Hildegarde stifled a smirk. “Maybe they really hate musicals.”
“Do you think so?” Paris said, stirring his ice cream around. “I don’t like them very much either, but I wouldn’t stop someone from attending one.”
“Why’d you book tickets to a musical if you don’t like them?”
“I thought you would enjoy it.”
Hildegarde’s grip tightened on her spoon. The lighting was low over the booth, tinged lilac, and she hoped it hid the expression on her face. Because she knew what he was, and what that meant, but she couldn’t fight the lazy warmth in her stomach. He’d never learned to fake emotion, Daisy had said – he was too young for that. And yet here, now, he sounded as sincere as anyone.
“Oh well,” Hildegarde said breezily, twiddling her spoon in her clumsy fingers. “I can go to the theatre whenever. Getting almost burnt to death? That’s a once in a lifetime thing.”
Paris paused for a long moment. Then, triumphantly: “Sarcasm?”
This time, Hildegarde let herself smile.

Back at the house, Hildegarde splashed her face with water and swallowed some pills that the hospital had given her, which eased her headache slightly. Paris came in as she was pulling the plaits out of her hair, a steaming cup of tea in his hands.
“I can’t remember the name of the tea. It begins with C,” he said. “I think it helps you sleep.”
“Just set it down there,” Hildegarde said, gesturing to the bedside table. “Thanks.”
Paris left unceremoniously, without a goodnight, but Hildegarde was used to that. She peeled her dress off slowly, arms aching, every inch of her sore and bruised. It still didn’t feel real, what she’d done earlier. There was a haze over the memories, but it wasn’t just from hitting her head – she felt disconnected from everything here, from Daisy, from Kesec, from everything she’d been told. For the first time in months, the fear had lifted. Things didn’t seem to matter as much.
After she shrugged her dress off, she crouched down painfully next to her suitcase and pulled out a fresh nightgown. She shook it out.
Something fell from the fabric, landing on the floor with a rattle. A bag. A paper bag.
The coffee beans.
A peculiar feeling spread through Hildegarde then. It was something like waking up, or blowing dust from the crannies of an old sculpture. She felt alert. Afraid. She remembered Daisy tapping the packet with her grubby nails, saying don’t fall asleep.
She’d fallen asleep.
Only then did her earlier memories of the day roll fully back into her thoughts – the ten pigeons on the railings, the lawyer’s sweaty forehead, the pen in her hand. She’d signed her name. A quick, messy loop. She was a posie now, in law. Paris could do as he liked with her.
He’d been in her room. He’d had a notepad, the notepad he used to draw frames, and he’d left with it tucked under his arm, the page hidden against his side.
She didn’t know what entanglement required, not in detail. Daisy had only said that they would have to do it while she slept. But she knew from Paris’s work that long magical processes, big requests, had to be done in parts. Frame after frame. Gradually. Lots of small, subtle conditions, all building towards a final result, not taking a firm hold until all of them had been completed.
Earlier, when she first woke, she’d had the feeling of being trapped within a well of herself, the sky shrinking smaller and smaller with every moment.
The fear had lifted. Things didn’t seem to matter as much.
All of a sudden, Hildegarde’s hands were shaking. She dug one into the bag and scooped out a palmful of coffee beans. They tasted like dirt, but she chewed her way through one fistful, then another, until her mouth was raw with the bitterness.
She climbed back into bed with the coffee beans under one arm and her shoulder bag under the other. The tea, she left to go cold. Her heart thudded, and she drew relief from every pulse. She was afraid, thank god. What a glorious thing it was, to still be afraid.
Every half-hour, she nibbled a few more beans. When she felt her eyes drooping regardless, she got to her feet and paced across the creakiest floorboards, so Paris would hear and know she was awake. Nightmares, she’d tell him in the morning. I kept dreaming that a monster was trying to get into my room.

32
The journey back to York, even in their fine, swift motorcar, took over five hours. Hildegarde was leaden with lack of sleep, her head throbbing with tiredness, caffeine withdrawal, and perhaps the last dregs of the injury. The beans were long since gone, so she kept herself awake through sheer uncomfortableness – not a difficult feat, given how bruised her arms and legs were. She didn’t suppose that Paris would perform the entanglement here. The car juddered too much for frame-drawing, for one thing.
But she wasn’t taking chances.
Fields rolled past the window, the grasses rippling in the breeze. It all looked the same, this country, what little she’d seen of it. She wondered where they might go if – when – they found Dante. Would Daisy stay with them? Would she even want to, once she’d sloughed the entanglement off? Daisy had little enough affection for Hildegarde now. She didn’t know what would remain, once her feelings came back.
Hildegarde felt her eyelids droop, then flinched awake again. Not long. Not much longer. She just had to make it back to the estate, and then…
She didn’t know. She couldn’t stay awake forever; perhaps she should’ve tried her luck in this car, got a few hours while she could. Too late for that now. But she had a friend at the estate, at least. Daisy had been working towards undoing the final condition. She might have it all figured out, what they needed to do. And they had the knife, hidden deep in the lining of Hildegarde’s bag. They could leave tonight, if the world was kind.
The car lurched over a bump.
If the world was kind.
*
Hildegarde imagined Daisy waiting for her arrival, perhaps staring down from one of the windows, but they were blank. Only Vie came to greet them, crouching down and fussing over Hildegarde’s bandaged hands, saying she’d been beside herself with worry when Paris called.
“How on earth did it happen, my dear?” she said, and Hildegarde didn’t know if she was imagining the suspicion beneath her words. “Paris said they sounded alarms, cleared everyone out—”
“I was in the loo,” Hildegarde mumbled. “I tried to get out when the alarms started, but the lock just- it wouldn’t shift. Nobody came to find me. By the time I got it open, it was…”
Vie patted her arm, shushing her. “You poor girl. You’re safe now – we’ll get you some tea, yes? Paris, take her up to her room. She looks exhausted.”
Hildegarde clung to Paris’s arm as he led her up the stairs, a footman following behind with her suitcase. He offered to carry her shoulder bag as well, but Hildegarde shook her head. She didn’t let go of it even after Paris had guided her into her chambers, to sit on the sofa by the fireplace. The grate was cold.
“I’ll wash, I think,” she murmured, rolling her shoulders.
“The bandages – I think you should leave them on,” Paris said.
“I’ll hang my hands over the edge of the bath,” she lied. “It’ll be fine.”
Paris dithered for a moment, then he nodded and left, saying he’d come back for her at dinner time. Hildegarde’s stomach coiled with anger. The hell he would. He’d be back to check on her in minutes, she was sure – or Vie would be, or one of the servants. Eyes peeled for whenever she fell asleep, either with the help of the tea or without it.
Hildegarde crossed the room to the bathroom. It felt good to lock a door behind her, to sink onto the floor and let the exhaustion roll over her.
She’d get up in a moment. In a minute. In two. She had to find Daisy.
Her head leaned against the wall. Three minutes, she thought, before she fell asleep.

A bang awoke her.
Hildegarde jerked, her heart racing. For a moment, everything was strange angles – where was she? What room? Gradually, the colours of the bathroom walls came into focus, the marbled curve of the toilet, the bathtub. She was on the floor, tiles cool against her cheek. Mouth dry.
Asleep. She’d fallen asleep.
The knock on the door came again, quieter than it had seemed a moment ago. Hildegarde fumbled for the shoulder bag, which had slipped down her arm at some point, and dug her hand inside to find the hilt of the knife. It felt better to hold it, even if she couldn’t use it—
“Will you open the door?” Daisy drawled, voice low. “Need to be quick.”
Relief pooled in Hildegarde’s chest, but only for a moment. She pulled herself to her feet and unlocked the door, only for Daisy to slink inside and latch it shut again. She stood with her back to the sink, feet bare, her olive dress hanging low off her shoulders. The fabric drew a green tinge from her skin.
“Heard you jumped out of a window,” she said, looking over Hildegarde’s bruised arms.
“Something like that,” Hildegarde muttered, wiping her nose. She scrabbled inside her bag and pulled the knife out, its blade mossy and dull under the electric light. “Got this, though.”
Daisy’s eyebrows arched. “Arson and theft, all for that ugly bugger?”
Hildegarde bristled. “How’s about a ‘thank you’? I did this for you, remember.”
Daisy scratched at a scab on her knuckle, her eyes flickering. She said nothing. Hildegarde felt the silence like a hand between her ribs, pushing hard on her heart.
“Has something happened?” she blurted. Her worst fear swelled in her throat. “You didn’t- is it the last condition? You don’t know how to undo it?”
Daisy picked the scab off and flicked it away. “No. I know exactly what we have to do.”
“Tell me, then, instead of standing there being all stupid and dramatic!”
Daisy scratched at her brow. In the eyes, she looked as old as anyone – as old as Manon, as old as Vie, as old as the graves out in the woods. Her irises were the colour of weeds left to riot over long-abandoned monuments.
She told her.

Hildegarde sat on the edge of the bathtub, a piece of paper clutched loosely between her fingers. She’d never seen Daisy’s handwriting – not her real handwriting. It couldn’t have looked further from Dante’s. It was worse than Hildegarde’s, a proper spider’s scrawl. Perhaps she thought if she bunched the letters close enough, it would hide the spelling mistakes.
Hildegarde read the notes again, and again. Possible translations, all crossed out. Circled words, underlinings, amendments. She scoured the page for a translation that she wanted to read, but they all amounted to the same thing.
“It’ll suggest something else, if you keep searching,” Hildegarde said steadily, folding the paper over. “You can do that.”
Daisy looked up at her. She was sprawled on the floor, leaning against the bath. “You going to stay awake for another month?”
“It might not take that long—”
“It might, though.” Daisy scratched the back of her head. “Took me a month to get this answer. Tried altering the question, but it keeps coming back to that. I’d have to overhaul the whole request, reframe all of it. Takes time.”
Hildegarde rubbed her face with her hands. Opened the piece of paper, her eyes finding the sentence at the bottom once more. As if the words might have rearranged themselves.
Hold two coins beneath your tongue, one bronze, one silver, and speak your most guarded secret to the people you should least like to hear it.
“Anything could be a guarded secret,” Hildegarde said, swallowing.
“Most guarded secret,” Daisy said.
“How’s magic supposed to know what that is?” Hildegarde snapped. “I don’t even know what it is.”
“If you didn’t,” she said, “you wouldn’t be arguing this much.”
Hildegarde pressed her nails into her palms, aggravating the cuts, not caring. “Maybe- maybe we could tell them, but then make a run for it—”
“You wouldn’t get away.” Daisy tapped the word ‘people’. “There’ll be more of them. And they’re lanky bastards. Just because you’ve never seen degas run, it doesn’t mean they can’t.”
A burning fullness was gathering behind Hildegarde’s eyes. She stared at the page, as if willing it to blister, to turn to ash. The knife sat atop the toilet seat, and Hildegarde noticed only now the slight curve of the blade. Like a smirk.
“Just leave,” Daisy said. “Get some candleholders, some jewellery – that knife, too, because god knows what it’s worth. Wait ‘til it gets dark. I’ll make a ruckus to distract them, if you want. Once you’re out of the estate, it’s not going to be easy to find you. The police don’t have to look for missing posies, not unless there’s reason to think they’ve been stolen.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re not people, not in law. More like property. If we get kidnapped, there’s a crime there, sure. If we go missing? Not really anything to do with the cops, no more than your dog disappearing.” Daisy tilted her head. “Doesn’t mean people won’t look for you. They can get private detectives, put out rewards for your return. Big rewards. But if you get straight to Albie, you’ve got a good chance of getting away.”
Hildegarde’s grip tightened on the paper. She knew Daisy was right. She had somewhere to go, someone to look out for her. On that front, she’d been ready to leave months ago.
“What’ll you do?” Hildegarde asked.
Daisy shrugged. “Stay here.”
“But I said I’d get you—”
“Doesn’t matter,” Daisy said, waving a hand at her. “You don’t need to feel guilty. Can hardly be angry about it, can I?”
“You should be,” Hildegarde said, crumpling the paper up, her eyes stinging. “You’ll die here.”
“Ice, no ice,” Daisy said, balancing her hands. “We gave it a go. Go find your brother.”
Hildegarde got to her feet and went to the sink, leaning on it with her forearms. She eyed the bandages, the cuts, the bruises. All of that, for a knife she couldn’t use. It would be so easy to leave; she knew that in her bones. And she knew that Daisy meant what she said. She didn’t mind. She wouldn’t be angry, wouldn’t resent her, wouldn’t mourn the future she’d lost. She’d die here, by Vie’s hands, and there would be no family to miss her. Be returned to the dirt, without even a headstone to mark her place.
Hildegarde unclenched her fist, looking at the crumped remains on the paper, Daisy’s scratchy writing. Cause and effect. That’s what magic was, according to Paris. And yet out of all the possibilities in the world, all the millions of actions, it had suggested this.
A memory came back to Hildegarde then – Paris’s, explaining magic to her for the first time, giving her an overview of the mainstream theories. She remembered his fingers, pressed together at the tips. The smell of ink on the desk.
They say it thinks, his voice murmured to her. It lays out the conditions as a test.
A test of what? she asked.
Of commitment.
Hildegarde breathed out, dropping the paper into the sink. She turned the tap on and let hissing water fill the basin, breaking the sheet into soggy shreds, whisking it away down the plughole.
“Paris’s theory,” Hildegarde said, quietly. “It’s wrong, isn’t it?”
“Maybe,” Daisy said. “Seems like it, sometimes.”
Hildegarde turned the tap off and dried her hands on a towel. Her bandages, soggy with water, were dark where the cuts showed through. She turned back to Daisy. Then she took a deep breath and started to speak.

Hildegarde worked slowly through her venison. She had to stop every few minutes to let Paris retighten one of her bandages. She suspected he was making it worse – he kept accidentally winding it the wrong way, and he wouldn’t pull it taut in case he hurt her. She didn’t mind. The longer the meal lasted, the better.
Hildegarde poured herself a little wine. The bottle nearest to her was still nearly full, because Daisy hadn’t come down to join them. Hildegarde drank one small glass, then another, and wondered if she was finally getting a taste for it. Or perhaps she was just losing her taste for everything. The venison was stuffed with herbs and blue cheese, but Hildegarde didn’t recoil from the flavour.
For dessert, they ate Eton mess, with glasses of sherry to wash it down. Vie tapped hers with the edge of her spoon, with a chiming sound not unlike her laugh, and the conversation stilled.
“A toast,” she said, lifting her glass. “To Hildegarde, the latest member of our growing family. Paris couldn’t have asked for a more thoughtful, passionate posie.”
Hildegarde lifted her glasses with the others – Gaiv was a beat behind the rest; Paris had finished his sherry, but clinked his empty flute against everybody else’s so as not to be left out. Hildegarde downed the contents of her glass and placed it gently down on the tablecloth.
Her hand slid under the table, into the skirts of her yellow dress. She found the penny waiting in her lap, the sixpence, and she lifted them quietly to her mouth, pretending to wipe her lips with a napkin.
“Thank you,” she said. The coins tasted sweaty and metallic, flat under her tongue. “He could’ve bought a stupider one, though.”
Silence. All heads turned towards her.
“I’m sorry?” Vie said.
“A stupider one,” Hildegarde said, louder, her words made indistinct by the coins. “You know. One that wouldn’t figure out what you were going to do to it.”
“I don’t—”
“I’ve known for months,” Hildegarde blurted – how much did she need to say, for it to work? “Everything – I know you burnt my letters, and about entanglement, and why you got me from a posie garden, and- and I know all about Kesec—”
Vie lurched to her feet, and that’s when Hildegarde knew it was enough. Hildegarde jumped onto her seat and ran across the table, kicking flagons and plates everywhere, eyes on the door, thinking getoutgetoutgetout. Daisy might’ve said she couldn’t run, but she had to try, had to at least try. She leapt off the table, pain cracking up her legs, threw herself against the door, made it one step into the corridor—
“Stop her! Stop her!”
An arm locked around her stomach and throat, pulling her back. From the warmth, she knew it was a person – one of the footmen, who’d nodded and called her ‘miss’ as he served her. She reached round and clawed at his face, his eyes, but he wrenched her off her feet and slammed down onto the floor. Her teeth clacked down against the coins, blood filling her mouth. She writhed and screamed against the footman’s weight on her back, thrashing like a trapped eel. The coins slid out of her mouth and onto the carpet, wet with spit and blood.
Vie stooped down next to her and picked one up, heedless of her white gloves. Her body went rigid.
“Where’s Daisy?” Vie shouted, wheeling round. “Where did she- who saw her last? Where is she?”
But the fear in her voice said that she knew. Hildegarde felt the thundering footsteps in her cheek as Vie ran to the door, into the corridor, shouting for Sen to come with her. The footman raised his head to ask someone – Gaiv? – what he should do with Hildegarde. She struggled harder.
“Just – take her upstairs,” fe said. “Paris, you go with them. Find a room with a lock, get something to subdue her. I’ll be back soon.”
Fe swept from the room, doubtless to follow Vie and Sen. It was a long trek down to the lake, even at a run – long enough for Daisy to escape, Hildegarde told herself. It had to be. As the footman heaved her back to her feet, Hildegarde arched her back and kicked backwards, trying to bite at his hands. She felt his grip loosen, just for a moment—
“I’ll take her. I don’t think you’re strong enough.”
Paris’s voice was as delicate as it always was, but it hit Hildegarde in the gut. Her eyes burned as he took hold of her, arms locked around her waist, and carried her out of the dining room and up the stairs. She kicked out at him, but he never flinched. She pleaded with him through heaved sobs, with words she wasn’t even aware of. Things about sorry, and please, and her brother, her brother, her brother.
He carried her to a room in the guest wing, telling the footman to lock it behind them. Hildegarde’s brain brushed against the question of why it had a lock in the first place – had other posies been trapped in here, once? Had Harrison? Had Manon? What about those posies in the dirt, sleeping in the graves with their degas?
Paris placed her down on the bed gently, even while she slapped at him. After a few moments, her arms and legs burning with pain, she found herself clinging instead, wailing like an animal. His shirt was wet with tears and snot and blood.
“Please,” she sobbed. “Please let me leave. Please. I’m begging you.”
There was a moment where he said nothing, and he held onto her elbows, and she thought he might relent. He’d sat with her, asked her to explain why she liked birds so much, that first day they met. Bought her a camera so she could take photos of them, let her call Dante when he knew it was forbidden, bought theatre tickets because it might make her happy.
He let go of her arms.
“I apologise,” he said evenly. “But I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
He stepped back from the bed and walked to the door. Before he knocked for the guards to let him out, he turned back and said he’d bring up a cup of tea for her – with two sugars and cream, so it might cheer her up.

And meanwhile, wind whipped at Daisy’s hair as she put her hand to the tower door. It gave easily, swinging inwards to darkness. The dank smell of old water furled out.
She stepped into the unlit space. A small tower, not impressive in the slightest. The steps were wooden, soft with almost-rot, and Daisy had to lean against the wall as she climbed. Water tinkled and dripped. A bird, trapped high in the rafters, sent ghostly twitters bounding between the walls. Hildegarde would probably know what kind it was.
They most likely had her trapped now. Daisy wondered if she’d ever see her again, despite the promise she’d made. “Get Dante”, Hildegarde had said, her fingers biting into Daisy’s arm. “You get Dante, then you come back for me. Promise me.”
Daisy had, but she had to keep pinching her arm just to make herself keep moving. A promise that vast scarcely felt real. She was tired, and water had spilled into the boat when she climbed into it, soaking her dress and her tights. Her coat wasn’t thick enough. She wanted to crouch down and close her eyes, but there was no time.
Eventually, the staircase led her into the room above. The floor was wooden just as the steps were, groaning like a wounded animal whenever she shifted her weight. The bird chirped and squawked above her, wings beating against the dark like a heartbeat.
Kesec lay in the middle of the room.
In the back of her mind, she’d expected that he might have been inside something. A glass container, maybe, as if he were some overgrown specimen in a lab. Or a coffin, just to save them the hassle once he corked it. Or at least a bed. But whatever precautions Paris had taken to save his life, keeping him comfortable hadn’t been one of them. He lay atop a large, wooden table, a sheet spread over him, only his mask visible in the dying light from the window.
It wasn’t one of his. He’d worn bright, clashing colours, but this was plain porcelain. He could’ve been anyone.
Except he wasn’t – she could feel the static of his fractured thoughts brushing up alongside her own. She stepped closer to him, laying her hand on the cold surface of the mask. He’d asked if she wanted to see under it once, just out of the blue.
“Not particularly,” she’d said. “You’re ugly enough with it.”
Now, she hooked her fingers beneath the porcelain and pulled it free. There was no face beneath, just a polished, glassy surface like obsidian. Beneath it, colours ran over each other like quicksilver, thought made liquid, or perhaps liquid made thought. Their movements were sluggish. She traced her nails across his featureless face, down to where his throat might be. Her fingertip found the jagged scar left by Ghel’s knife.
“Dumb bastard,” she murmured. “Vie’s going to miss you, you know.”
She reached into her coat pocket, twiddling the knife round to grip the hilt. It was easy to put it to his throat, so easy that it almost disconcerted her. A memory rose in her mind; the two of them milling around a parade of shops on the seafront, the air heavy with the smell of salt and fish. She’d thrown a tacky seashell garland over his head. He’d walked off without paying for it, not noticing until the shopkeeper came screaming after them.
“Dumb bastard,” she said again, quieter.
She drew the knife across his neck.












Part 3


When Gaiv had left for France, fe had taken the gardener with fen, and nobody had arrived to replace him yet. The dandelions seemed to have realised that. When Hildegarde glanced backwards, the valley was spangled with them, hundreds upon hundreds of golden heads nodding in the breeze. A few feet away, a bee drifted lazily from one to the next, before coming to rest in the lap of her dress. It poked at the floral pattern for a moment, then, once it realised there was no nectar to be had, drifted off again.
“Are they weeds?” she asked.
Paris looked up from his paper. “What?”
“The dandelions.”
“They are. Quite pretty though, aren’t they? I like the yellow.”
He bent over the paper again. He liked to work outside, when the weather was fine. She’d liked the sun too, at one point, but she couldn’t remember why. She squinted into the light glaring off the lake, rubbing the sweat off her neck with the palm of her hand.
“Can I walk?” she said.
“Of course. Don’t go too far.”
Little chance of that, she thought, as she hitched her skirts up and started climbing up the valley, away from the lake. She didn’t know where she was going. It happened often, this urge to walk, but there was never anything in her head about where to walk to. She just let her legs move, her arms swing, and moved until the urge passed. Or until she went too far, and the band closed around her chest and stopped her in her tracks.
She made the woods, because at least they were shaded. As she stepped under the canopy, she smelt warm glass and soil, saw midges sifting through the air like dust motes. She pushed on through clouds of them.
At some point, the trees opened into a clearing full of gravestones. Vie didn’t tend them anymore, and Paris and Sen never had. Lichen had grown over the oldest ones, the grasses rearing so tall as to hide them from view. There was a patch of shorter grass, in the spot where they’d recently buried Vie. Hildegarde wondered if she was bones by now. She’d looked like bones for years – when they’d lowered her into the ground, Hildegarde’s only thought was to wonder why she’d hung on so long.
Kesecmatreau’s headstone was still legible, but it was the only one that was. She didn’t remember that burial, nor his death, but his name had a familiar itch. Something else she’d forgotten. She’d asked Paris about him before, but she never knew if he was telling the truth, and never cared anyway.
She wound her way further through the woods, tracing her fingers over the tree trunks. Birds took flight occasionally. As she made her way back to the treeline, she saw a footman crouched by the raspberry bush, a basket hanging from his elbow.
“I’ll take some,” she said.
He jumped at her voice, whipping round to face her. He was a footboy more than a man – one of the new ones, probably no older than her. His eyes blinked rapidly behind his glasses.
“Sorry,” he said.
“What for?” Hildegarde said, watching his fidgety hands. “Were you stealing?”
“No – no, of course not.”
“Were you pissing in the bush?”
“No!”
“Then don’t apologise.”
She dug her hand into the basket of raspberries and pulled out a handful, walking past him and around the broad trunk of an oak. She put two raspberries in her mouth – the left side, because one of her right molars was missing. She couldn’t remember how it had happened. Another itch.
A twig snapped behind her. “Hildegarde—”
A hand touched the side of her arm, only lightly, but enough to make her stop. Hildegarde turned round. The footman was within a foot of her. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. His hand fell away.
“Sorry,” he said. “Enjoy the raspberries.”
Hildegarde frowned for a moment, then turned and walked away, popping more berries in her mouth. They were sourer than she remembered them being.

Hildegarde didn’t pay attention to many things anymore, but she paid attention to him. There wasn’t much cause for her to talk to the male servants. She only saw footmen at mealtimes, when they stood close by to pour wine and clear the plates. The boy was only third footman, so she saw him the least of any of them – she might pass him sweeping the halls or the library, but nothing other than that.
He was easy to forget, and yet she didn’t.
“What’s the name of that young footman?” she asked Paris one afternoon, as she copied out a letter.
“I haven’t the foggiest, actually,” he said. “James, or something? It seems like all human men are called James.”
There was no itch at the name. Hildegarde blotted ink all over the letter and had to start again.

But then there came a night when she awoke to candlelight, with a hand pressed gently over her mouth to stop her crying out. She stayed silent beneath his palm, and only rubbed her eyes and looked up at him. He carried a stub of candle on a dish, and the light glanced off his glasses. He wasn’t wearing his livery, so he looked younger still.
“I know this seems strange,” he whispered. “But I need you to come with me.”
“Is this a kidnapping?” Hildegarde asked.
He winced at her volume, shushing her. “No, no, of course not! If you’ll just—”
“Probably what a kidnapper would say,” Hildegarde murmured. “I can’t go very far, you know.”
“I know you can’t,” he said, and something wobbled beneath his voice. He swept a curl out of his face with his free hand. “Please. Just – will you trust me?”
He held his free hand out. Hildegarde looked at his nails – square and short, rather like hers. Trust? She wasn’t sure what that had felt like, after this long. She could still remember the heat of anger, or the gnaw of sadness, as objective descriptions. Trust was long eroded.
She grasped his hand anyway. He’d woken her up, and she felt like a walk. She didn’t have the effort to dress, but he didn’t ask her to. Once he let go of her hand, he picked up a suitcase from the floor and went to the door, candlelight pooling over the angles of his face. She had to turn the handle for him.
He kept looking back as they wound down the stairs, as if to make sure she was still following. When they reached the kitchen, he set the candle and the suitcase down and went to the back door, grabbing the ring of keys off the hook and pushing one into the lock. Even once it was unlocked, the door stuck when he pulled at it.
“You’ve got to really yank it,” came a muffled voice from the other side, then a thump like someone kicking the base of the door. “Try it now.”
The footman pulled, and at last the door gave and swung inwards. A woman ducked into the kitchen – taller and older than both her and the footman. She was dressed like a man, in breeches and a blazer, but her blonde hair fell to her shoulder in thick coils. When she looked at Hildegarde, she stopped.
“There she is,” she said, putting her hands in her pockets. “Christ. You almost look like a lady.”
“Who are you?” Hildegarde said.
“Not a lady,” Daisy said. She turned to the footman. “Both of you through the gate; it’s still open. If I’m not back in half an hour, assume I’m not coming back.” She patted Hildegarde’s shoulder as she passed. “But let’s hope I am, because you don’t want him at the wheel.”
“Where are you going?” Hildegarde asked, as Daisy pulled the kitchen door open.
“To return a favour,” she said, picking up the stub of candle. She nodded at the footman. “Go.”
She disappeared into the hall. The footman picked up the case, urging Hildegarde out into the open air, taking her hand now. His hand was clammy but his grip was tight, and she didn’t have the energy to work her free of it. The grass was wet beneath her bare feet as they climbed up the valley towards the gate.
“What’s happening?” Hildegarde asked, because she thought she ought to. “Who are you lot?”
“I can’t- I’ll explain soon,” the boy said, pulling her onwards. “I mean- I might not have to, but I don’t know – with any luck—”
The bars of the gate grew clearer. Hildegarde opened her mouth to say she couldn’t go much further – Paris slept at the back of the house, and she could never walk more than a mile from him, give or take a few meters. They’d have to stop.
But then the breath left her.
She had a sensation of a thread breaking, deep in the heart of her, and of something breaking and bleeding and coursing through her chest. The strength vanished from her legs; she hit the ground with her knees first, then tasted mud and grass in her mouth. The footman was gabbling something, all smeary words, and his hands gripping her shoulders while she shook, and shook, and shook. The sky seemed much closer than it had before.

Daisy wiped the blade off on the sheets, her teeth ground together tight. There’d been a moment where Paris had stirred, taken her in, jerked backwards. No, he’d said, because he could feel now – and because she could too, she’d almost hesitated. Then she’d whipped the knife across his throat in one motion, because unpleasant things were better done quickly.
He was still now, sagging among the sheets. She wiped the knife once more, swallowing a hard kernel of guilt. It was done.
She tucked the knife back into her blazer, in and amongst the lockpicks and hairpins, and made for the door again, not looking back. She let herself back into the hall, passing by her old room, the cabinets, back to the stairs. It looked different now, or perhaps she saw things differently. Everything seemed smaller.
She’d heard from Albie that Gaiv had gone, and they’d deliberately waited until Sen went away to see fen, just to reduce the numbers. Vie was still here, but Vie was always here. According to Albie, from his intermittent rumours, she hadn’t left the house since—
She slowed as she climbed down the last staircase. Someone was sitting on the steps at the bottom. In the half-light, Daisy could only just make out the red of her headscarf.
She turned, looking over her shoulder. The mask was new, plainer than the ones she used to wear.
“I thought you might be here,” she murmured. “Saw Hildegarde leaving from the window.”
Daisy gripped the knife tighter in her pocket, her throat closing. “They’ll be long gone by now.”
Vie sighed. “I imagine so.”
Neither of them moved. The silence hung.
“Did you kill Paris?” Vie asked, in a loose voice.
Daisy hesitated. “Had to.”
“Thought so.” Vie faced forward again, picking at the ends of her fingers. She wasn’t wearing gloves. “We don’t have a grave dug for him…”
“Are you going to kill me?” Daisy interrupted.
Vie didn’t look round again. The curve of her shoulders was slack, to match her voice. Albie had heard rumours that she hadn’t left the house since Manon died, and nor had she made any move to purchase another posie to replace her.
“I probably should do,” Vie muttered. “But I haven’t the energy, if I’m honest.”
She got to her feet, climbing the stairs as if wading through water. Daisy watched her move past, still gripping tight to the knife, eyes on the messy trail of her headscarf. Vie was three centuries old, but barely middle-aged for a degas. A lot of time left. A lot to will away.
“I could leave the knife here,” Daisy blurted. “If you – want.”
“No need,” Vie said distantly.
Then she turned left on the staircase, vanishing from sight.

To Hildegarde, it seemed that they drove for years. She learnt the names of her travelling companions – Daisy and Dante – yet forgot them the day after, when she fell asleep on the back seat and woke up writhing and crying. There were days where she felt angry, so angry she tore at her own hangnails, and days she couldn’t settle to one thought, and found herself weeping for no reason.
Mostly, she slept. In the back of the motorcar, with the wheels juddering beneath her, the engine rattling in her teeth. They didn’t stay in proper beds often, and nor did they seem to be moving anywhere in particular. They just drove, as she had walked, and the aimlessness made her pull at her hangnails. So she slept, instead.
And sometimes she pretended to sleep, her face mashed up against the seat. Daisy and Dante would talk, then, rather than sharing looks over her head like they usually did.
“She still seems so…” Dante said, at some unfathomable point. “She doesn’t seem better.”
“Give her time, Christ,” Daisy said. The car swung left. “She’s learning how to feel shit all over again. She’s not going to snap back to normal overnight.”
“She’s never going to. She doesn’t remember anything.” Dante’s tone darkened. “You said if we killed—”
“I said her memories might come back,” Daisy said. “They still might.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Then they don’t,” Daisy snapped. “Just leave it. You’ll wake her up.”
They never talked like that in front of her, as if to shield her for it, as if she didn’t itch with the knowledge of what she’d lost. She couldn’t settle to anything, any memories, any train of thought. One night, she dreamt of Daisy whipping a knife across Paris’s neck, and woke up wailing. When Dante asked her what was wrong, she hit him, because it was all she could think to do.
But gradually, gradually, Hildegarde felt her body mellowing. She sat upright more in the backseat, to watch the countryside rolling past and the arc of the sun through the sky. She didn’t often ask where they were, or where they were going, what she had forgotten – too many questions made her heart spike, brought the panic upon her. But she allowed herself a question a day. Small things. Why do you not eat the crusts on the bread? she asked Dante, and he said it was because he didn’t like them. Why do you dress like a man? she asked Daisy, and she said it was because she damn well wanted to.
There came an evening where the car guttered and spat, rolling to a stop atop a cliffside road where the sky seemed close enough to touch. Daisy sweated for an hour with her hands under the bonnet, snapping at Dante to ‘stop bloody trying to help her’, until the sun started to set and she gave up for the night.
“Hildegarde, get that bread out of the back,” she called.
She went to the boot, pulling out a half-eaten loaf and a bag of apples. There was nowhere to sit up here, but the air was warm, so they wandered further along the cliff edge and sat cross-legged on the rocks, tearing off hunks of bread with their hands.
Hildegarde let Dante and Daisy talk. She still felt like an intruder in their conversations, though she couldn’t tell them that. Instead, she chewed her bread and let her eyes drift rightwards. Beyond the cliff, the sea and the sky sprawled outwards, both of them honeyed by the setting sun. She could see cliffs running jaggedly on for miles around, saw-toothed and grey. They were speckled with white where the sea birds nested.
Dante saw the path of her eyes. “What are you looking at?”
She pointed. “The birds.”
Dante and Daisy shared another one of their looks, but Hildegarde hardly noticed it. She stood up against the wind, moving further down the cliff to get a better look at the birds. Dante called after her to be careful, but she wasn’t listening. There were so many of them, now she looked closely – they were winging across the water, falling in arcs, some barely meters below her, others no larger than midges.
“We could try and count them,” Hildegarde said, looking back to Dante and Daisy. “Can we try that?”
Dante looked stunned for a moment, only staring at her. Daisy rose to her feet first.
“Sounds like a great idea,” she said, hopping down to join her at the edge. “I’ll scout the far cliff. Four eyes over there better take the nearest one.”
Dante blurted something about loose rocks and dangerous drops, but eventually got to his feet. They tried their best to count, but the numbers kept changing – was that thirty-five, or thirty-six? No, I just said thirty-six, Hildegarde said, and Daisy rolled her eyes. Dante pointed out a thirty-seventh, only for it to turn out to be a plastic bag rolling on the waves.
As they reached forty-eight – or was it forty-nine? – there came a rumble from the middle cliff – some great hunk of rock dislodging itself, to fall and shatter against the cove below, filling the air with a crash like the sky tearing down the middle. Hildegarde saw the birds move as one great mass, springing away from the crags, scattering into the air like dust. Soon, the sky was alive with them, and Hildegarde was laughing amid the sound of wings.
The backs of my eyes hum with things I've never done.


~Radical Face
  








In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.
— Robert Frost