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E - Everyone

The Witch of the Rotten Borough, Chapter Six

by Horisun


A small boy in a messenger's cap appears at the Fitzgerald’s door. His face is caked in soot, and he hops from foot-to-bare-foot.

“Good morning, ma’am!” He chirps, extending to Jo a stack of envelopes wrapped tight with twine, “These came to the post office this morning, addressed to a Josephina Gundry. That you, stranger?”

“It is.” Says Jo. She reaches forward to take the letters, but the boy withdraws tactfully, dangling them just out of reach.

“These come from Sol,” his pale eyes are wide with wonder, “Is that where you’re from, too?”

“That’s right,” A scowl is forming on Jo’s lips.

The boy, oblivious, grins so big, his face is split into two. “Will you tell me something about it? Please, ma’am? I’ll count it as my tip.”

“Be serious.” Jo reaches into her skirt pocket and withdraws two glimmering gold coins. With her other hand, she snatches the letters from the boy and replaces them deftly with currency.

The messenger boy’s mouth falls agape, and his hands snap quickly shut around the gold. But then, to Jo’s horror, he unleashes the most heartbroken expression she has ever seen. His chin wobbles, and he tips his hat. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Jo sighs. “What’s your question?”

Almost instantly, the expression demanding pity is gone. “The Orabelle Bridge. How do you people get it to open when the ships pass through?”

She does not know the answer to that question.

“Magic,” she says, without the slightest inflection, before shutting the door.

-

Josie,

Remember that we love you, and wait for you to return home safely. You hate that we send these cards so soon after you depart- but it makes me feel that a piece of me goes with you. Now more than ever. A dragon? You’ve made mother ill with dread, dear sister.

-Loui.

Two more postcards from her older sisters, one from her mother, and a real letter from her husband, which reads, in his near illegible penmanship:

Josephina,

Fair tidings! I write to you from the bright side of Solace. I only wish I could package some of her sunshine and mail it across the world to you.

It’s been so long since we’ve seen one another. When was our wedding, two, three years ago now? I miss you dearly, and I’m certain you feel the same- alas, as we both know too well, duty calls.

But what an honor it is; everyday, we learn something new about the Southern Fae. Luna is populated with a myriad of fascinating creatures, who we previously had no inkling of. These were not soldiers in the war, and few have been seen since before it’s beginning eighty years ago. I understand the concerns you outlined in your last letter; and I concede that there has certainly been some danger, especially the further we traipse into enemy terrain. But by Jove, Josephina, at least I’m not off to slay a heavens forsaken dragon!

Your mother wrote to me about your ill-gotten mission. I’m rather hurt you couldn’t find the time to write to me yourself, to be quite frank. But really, it is inconceivable that Her Majesty would send my dear friend Oscar to kill a monster, with only my less-dear wife as protection!

Only kidding, love. I know you are formidable enough to take one dragon on, or more. My lone request is that you don’t bloody murder yourself in the endeavor. I’ve come to be quite fond of you, good friend. Write soon.

With that out of the way, let me tell you more about my misadventures…

The letter rambles for some time, describing each encounter in excruciating detail. Arnold meanders and Jo’s eyes tumble all the way to the back of her head; but she sets both the letter and her thoughts aside and moves on to the final note, written in flowing cursive on a worn piece of parchment. It’s return address is not Sol.

Dr. Gundry and Mr. Williams

My daughter has confided in us her plans to journey up Fotia with tomorrow’s sun. It would be my honor if you would join us for dinner tonight, so that we may know properly the faces of our brave heroes.

Mrs. Guinevere Peterson.

-

When they arrive at the Peterson’s place, it’s as quiet as a ghost house. The glass is dark, and all of the blinds are drawn tight. Someone has recently begun the arduous task of boarding up all the windows but has thus far only managed three; wood planks strewn about in a small pile beneath the fourth.

Smoke spews from the chimney- which Jo didn’t notice at first, gray against gray and all- it invokes less a feeling of warmth, and more a rising sense of dread. Oscar shivers beside her.

They step carefully up the rickety porch. It sags beneath their weight, croaking pitifully, like a long-winded fart. Fearing it will soon collapse completely, sending them plunging into some dark underworld of cobwebs and mud and moss, Jo knocks hastily on the door.

There is a long period of time when it does not open. Long enough that Jo and Oscar exchange an uneasy look. She raises her fist, prepared to knock again, and only then does the door swing wide open, revealing a familiar face.

“Mrs. Miriam,” says Oscar, as Jo still fumbles in search of her name. “Thank you for your families hospitality.”

Her resemblance to Angelique is weak. Only as tall as Jo is, with lighter eyes and an olive complexion. But they share that same bemused look, “It’s our pleasure. Come on in.”

The house is small and crammed, with a dangerously low ceiling and lower light; but contrary to what it’s exterior would suggest, it’s not uninhabitable. Worn cushioned chairs sit in a small semi-circle, decorated with embroidered pillows; a fireplace, glowing with the remnants of a fire; and a staircase, twisting upward and vanishing into the second story.

There’s a framed photograph hung on the wall opposite her. It’s an uncommon sight, even in Sol. Jo examines it’s faces.

A slightly younger Angelique towers over her neighbors, which include a grim-faced woman with thundercloud hair and a rumbling expression, a lanky young fellow with a mop of a beard clinging to his chin, and at least a dozen others. All range anywhere from eighteen to eighty.

In the very front is a little kid, who can be no one other than Susanne.

Unlike the rest of her family, she allows herself a wide, earnest beam, flashing the gaps where her two front teeth used to be. She looks like a very small version of her older sister. Her eyes, even in black and white, have the same lantern-like glow. The unencumbered enthusiasm sticks out -not just in the grayscale photo, not just in the grieving house- but in ashen Monsbury as a whole. A distant lantern on a foggy night.

Light, leaking from a boarded window in another room, beckons them down the hall. Oscar and Jo follow Miriam.

“They’re here,” she calls.

“I figured!” Comes the shouting reply.

“Get in here,” yells Angelique, her voice rattling the old houses bones, “your foods getting cold.”

Miriam takes a step forward, before stuttering to a halt. She turns to Jo and Oscar, voice a whisper, “Don’t mind them, all loud and stuff,” she says, “they’re fresh out another fight.”

Jo lifts her eyebrow a fraction, but follows silently into the kitchen, where Angelique and Guinevere wait for them.

The table they offer is shabby in comparison to the Fitzgerald’s- both the literal piece of furniture and the selection of food atop it. The steaming soup smells very strongly of tomato and little else. The drink brimming the mugs is the color of sewage. Through no fault of their own, it all appears extremely haphazard.

Angelique stands up as they enter, while her mother remains seated. She’s the severe woman from the photograph, her face a knot of anger. Unsure whether this is her resting expression, or an accurate depiction of what races through her mind, Jo bows her head.

“Thank you for the dinner invitation. It smells incredible.”

“There’s a nonzero chance she’s poisoned it,” says Angelique, “but you’d better eat it anyway- the alternative is that she’d strangle you.”

Jo can’t help it. She gapes like a fish at the audacity.

“If I were to kill anyone in this room,” grumbles Guinevere, “It would be you, child, sit.”

Angelique, glowering, sinks slowly back into her seat at the opposite end of the table from her mother. Miriam takes the seat next to Guinevere, and Jo and Oscar file into the gaps.

This, by and by, makes for extremely unpleasant company. Even with the watery soup to serve as a shield between Jo and stilted conversation, the seconds seem to drip by with the thickness of molasses: squeezing each moment for everything that it’s worth. At last, and only when Jo has found the bottom of her glass, does Guinevere arrive at the invitations purpose.

“You will die on that mountaintop,” her words are sharp, clear, and biting, “your hands and feet will blister from the cold; your stomach will gnaw itself inside out; your lips will crack like the surface of a desert from lack of water- and one of these things will be the thing to kill you.”

“Not the dragon?” Oscar asks with a meek attempt at a smile.

“The dragon would be a mercy.” She drawls.

When no one replies to the impenetrable silence, Guinevere continues. “I will not be sad when you die. In fact, I will be much more likely to laugh, for it is just like the Queen and her court to send their jesters to put on a show for us. To perform their elfish, evil magic to keep us distracted and dreaming.”

Jo winces. Many, many years ago, during the war, the very concept of sorcery was completely entwined with the fairies. That wild, unpredictable magic that flattened armies- that killed thousands of their men, women, and children.

“But I will never, ever,” Guinevere spits the words, like they are a chorus of curses, “ever, ever, forgive you, if you take my daughter to die by your side. I will burn more towns then this dragon has; I will personally slit the Queens throat.”

Jo gasps. Her face burns. Before she can gather herself to say a word, Angelique snaps. Her words a sudden fury, “I am an adult woman. I was always going to go up there and get Susie back- there’s no need to take your anger out on these two innocent strangers, who have only agreed to help me. My odds of living are greater with them here. What do you suppose scaring them off will accomplish?”

Jo launches to her feet. Her chair grinds harshly against the floor, like a saw slicing against wood. She is aware that her face is as red as the tomato soup stewing in the pot, and she could not care less.

“Your traitorous tongue will not dissuade us from what we came here to do,” she just barely keeps from shouting, “You take us into your home, only to offer insult after insult after insult. We will be taking our leave.”

Oscar fumbles to his feet to follow after Jo as she storms out the kitchen, past the photograph, and through the door.

The wind howls in their face, bitterly cold. The chill is a reprieve from the stifling heat, a gift from the towering mountains framing the sky. Jo takes a deep breath.

“Wait,” calls Miriam from behind. Her ears and nose are capped in a violent shade of pink, and her lips are pinched together in a wavering frown. Oscar stops. Jo takes a few more steps before following suit.

“I’m sorry,” she says once caught up. “I knew she was angry; I didn’t think she’d go after you like that.”

“Well, she did,” Jo huffs, “and not only that, but she went after Her Majesty as well. Forgive us if we never speak with that wicked woman again.”

Miriam sighs, says, “I would not fault you,” and looks like she’s about to cry.

She does not, however. Instead, she just sighs again and bids them goodbye. Oscar watches her go; sympathy etched into his face.

“What are you looking so mopey about.” Jo asks.

“I won’t say,” Oscar replies, “you’ll only be annoyed with me.”

“I will wager that you are right, and suggest that rather than speak on it, we put the matter aside and leave this condemned farm.”

Oscar shakes his head, but turns his back to the house and begins to walk, wrapping his arms around himself. “Yes. That sounds like a plan.”


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Sat Mar 30, 2024 1:14 am
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goodolnoah wrote a review...



Hello again!

The night grows with the first scourge of black, I must review!

Writing Commentary

This chapter is gripping, as always. There are some especially nice descriptions and character interactions here. One of my favorite quotes is when Jo and Oscar are eating with the Peterson family.

This, by and by, makes for extremely unpleasant company. Even with the watery soup to serve as a shield between Jo and stilted conversation, the seconds seem to drip by with the thickness of molasses: squeezing each moment for everything that it’s worth. At last, and only when Jo has found the bottom of her glass, does Guinevere arrive at the invitations purpose.


The stillness in the room and sorrow that the family experiences is underlined in this sequence. Like the silence of the room is only filled with bygone memories of Susie, who seemed to be the light of the entire family.

Story Commentary

In the beginning, Jo gets a collection of letters from her family. The letter from her husband, in particular, is very cute. He respects her and her abilities as a sorcerer, and only seems to want to spend more time with her if their jobs were not in the way. While much of Jo’s response to this isn’t too telling, it seems like she is wholly focused on the mission at hand.

When they go to meet with the Peterson family, Guinevere has much to say against Jo and Oscar’s plans. While she is pleasant enough to let them sit down to eat, she seems to only harbor resentment for sorcerers.

“But I will never, ever,” Guinevere spits the words, like they are a chorus of curses, “ever, ever, forgive you, if you take my daughter to die by your side. I will burn more towns then this dragon has; I will personally slit the Queens throat.”


Her comment here, even going as far to threaten the Queen’s name (which may be punishable, I will add). Jo’s reaction to this doesn’t even seem to be one of contempt, she seems to understand at first, before she fires back at Guinevere.

This also adds to Jo’s character, despite disliking authority, she seems to hold a special place for the Queen, being so quick to storm out of the house upon this insult. Oscar, while a tad more tolerable of this behavior, doesn’t have the same response as Jo.

Closer

So I am left with suspense, and heartbreak. Because I have caught up to this story, and on a cliffhanger, even! I wonder what will come of the Peterson’s, and if Angelique will still try to help Jo and Oscar going forward. Overall, great job!




Horisun says...


Thank you for taking the time to review these chapters! :D



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Fri Mar 22, 2024 4:10 pm
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RavenAkuma wrote a review...



Hello Again, My Friend!

It's me, Raven, and I'd like to review the next chapter in this great story using my Familiar method! Let's dive in, shall we? Heh heh heh...

What The Black Eyes See...

Ah, so we get a deeper look into the Petersons and the dynamic between this much larger-than-anticipated family! And to add to it, more to learn about Jo's character. Let's get into the details though.

Where The Dagger Points...

No recommendations for content! I love the moment with Jo and her letters as a way to build on what her at-home life may look like, and the conversation with the three Peterson women had rich dialogue that built anticipation and pushed the story forward. There were two sentences where I would recommend minor grammar touchups:

“Get in here,” yells Angelique, her voice rattling the old houses bones, “your foods getting cold.”


Just a missing apostrophe in "house's" and "food's."

“What are you looking so mopey about.” Jo asks.


Just a missing question mark here.

That is all. Great writing job ~

Why The Grin Widened...

Ah, you've once again given me much to mention here!

First of all, once again, I have to compliment your descriptions; I notice more and more that you not only have great physical descriptions, but you do an incredible job at describing what certain moments feel like between characters. Like here:

Even with the watery soup to serve as a shield between Jo and stilted conversation, the seconds seem to drip by with the thickness of molasses: squeezing each moment for everything that it’s worth.


Such a vivid line that really built up the atmosphere, I loved reading this!

Jo's interaction with the boy was cute, how she tipped him and still fell for the puppy eyes. I felt like it was a glimpse at her well-hidden softer side.

Speaking of which, the letters from her family provided a very interesting glimpse into her home life. It sounds like she's close to her brother, and her mother is a more elusive story; maybe she's supportive of Jo's endeavors despite being worried, or critical because it's too dangerous. And of course, there are a lot of ways to take the message from Jo's husband. The details of their careers were great to read, and the tone/delivery was interesting:

But really, it is inconceivable that Her Majesty would send my dear friend Oscar to kill a monster, with only my less-dear wife as protection!

Only kidding, love. I know you are formidable enough to take one dragon on, or more. My lone request is that you don’t bloody murder yourself in the endeavor.


Quite a sense of humor! And quite the blabbermouth, considering even Jo doesn't want to read the drawn-out accounts of his work. It gives the impression that he may be a sort of adventurous but "geeky" character, kind of like Milo Thatch from Atlantis. There were equal (if not more) points of sincerity throughout as well, but also slightly suspicious details like Jo not updating him about the mission. What does this mean? I have no idea, but I like to think they're on generally good terms and the rest is just another little mystery in Jo's story.

Moving on to the Petersons, sheesh! What a ride! The initial tension between Guinevere and Angelique shows off the sort of dynamic they have, how Guinevere could very well be overprotective, but Angelique may be taking the warnings for granted and be overeager. The threat toward Jo and Oscar, and the queen herself, came as quite a shock. Again, showing a sense of overprotection, but also a lack of respect for authority -which is understandable from their perspective.

I was also very surprised by one line from Jo:

“Your traitorous tongue will not dissuade us from what we came here to do,” she just barely keeps from shouting,


We know Jo has a lack of respect for nobles and authority, much like Guinevere seems to have, yet one of the points that pushed her fury was the "traitorous" tongue about the queen. Maybe she's just reaching for a point to use because she doesn't like being insulted (that would make sense with her confident nature), or maybe she has an uncharacteristic -perhaps personal- level of respect for the queen in particular. Intriguing...

Either way, with how this chapter ended, it gives a sense of uncertainty that I enjoy. Leaving the Petersons on such an unsavory note instills doubt in whether Angelique will be able to help them, or if she does, if there will be tension or even repercussions to face. Perhaps even jeopardizing the mission entirely.

Our Mad Thoughts...

Overall, awesome job, nicely done! :)

Image




Horisun says...


Thank you for the review! There are probably going to be some inconsistencies about Jo%u2019s %u201Cpolitical%u201D beliefs while I figure out exactly what I want to do with them. In my head she%u2019s a bit of a monarchist who has a very low opinion of the %u201Cscheming%u201D aristocratic houses, and a lower still opinion of the court, who place some pretty heavy limits on her power.

As for Jo having a more personal connection with the queen, that%u2019s definitely something I%u2019ve played with, but haven%u2019t totally settled on, either. There are couple of (spoiler!) reasons I like the use, but because I%u2019m not totally settled on it, you might see some more inconsistencies there, as well

Anyway, I%u2019ve gotten rather ramble-y with this reply; all things said, I%u2019ve got a lot of different ideas for these characters that Im still trying to puzzle together how to communicate in a concise and no!-info dumpy fashion, lol

Again, thank you for the review! I really appreciate you taking the time to read and react to what I%u2019ve written :D



RavenAkuma says...


That all makes sense though! And no problem! :)




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