It was Lia’s Aunt Iseult who bought her the pink cloak.
When she was little, Lia never really saw the attraction of the colour pink. Other little girls from neighbouring aristocratic families, the servants’ children and daughters of merchants in the village would all wear pink. They would pluck pink flowers from gardens to put in their hair. They used pink ribbons tying up their braids, their aprons, their shoes. Lia’s mother would try and encourage Lia to do the same, but she wasn’t convinced. She preferred purple and blue and dark colours like her mother wore. While other little girls traipsed after the travelling fairies, hoping for a glint of pixie dust abandoned on the road, Lia would take off her shoes and socks and go paddling. She would search for tadpoles, smearing her face and long brown hair with greenish mud, listening to the world around her.
Her mother's smooth laugh would ring out and Lady Dewmont would take her daughter in her arms. She would clean Lia up, kiss her head and say, “Oh, Lia, why can’t you be like other little girls?” But Lia could hear her beneath the words, knew her mother was really telling her that she loved her.
One day, she asked her mother what was so special about pink.
“Pink is the colour of new life. It’s the colour of blossom, and new babies’ skin, and the sun rising. People think white is the opposite of black, and black is death and sadness. But white is so sombre. White is the colour of ill skin, of bones. We wear black to mourn. But I think that little girls have a right to wear pink. You are new life, and some day, you will bring new life into this world. That deserves to be celebrated.”
“But you don’t wear pink.”
“I’m not new life anymore, am I?” she said, ruffling Lia’s hair and laughing, the sound running over Lia like silk. She inhaled her mother, the honeysuckle perfume off her black hair and the smell of soap on her weathered skin.
When her mother clutched her head and fell to the ground dead one day when Lia was ten, Lia was told to wear black for six weeks. She did so, watching her mother’s black-and-white body be lowered into the ground, new earth spilt onto the box.
Her name was whispered around the manor, “What are they going to do about Aurelia?” bandied between servants. “My lady never once used a nurse maid or a governess. It would be wrong to introduce one now.”
“They say the child can Hear. That's why she never let anybody go near her.”
She heard her name used by raised voices in her father’s office. Her father, usually so quiet and reserved, was angry all the time now. “I will not have that woman raising my daughter!”
“Sir, under the circumstances-“
“No, absolutely not!”
“Then who else?”
Sitting on the windowseat of her bedroom, looking out at the blossom trees shedding their petals in a pinkish snow, Lia heard her father lose the battle downstairs.
Aunt Iseult came to the door on foot, wearing boots and a straw hat, her black hair in a single long braid down to her hips.
It was pouring with rain that night. Lia hugged her knees and listened as Aunt Iseult and her father fought.
“Bertrand, believe me, I’d much rather not be here, but I am. My father believes that Lia needs a female influence in her life and I quite agree, and since my sister is gone…”
“I’m just afraid she’s going to get too much of a female influence from you.”
“Oh, as if you understand anything about women! Or love. That sort of thing can’t be influenced. Aurelia needs me in her life. What other option do you have?”
"I'll hire a woman."
"A woman who won't panic when she discovers that your daughter Hears everything in this house?"
Her father was struck dumb, and after a second of pacing, stormed out of the room. Lia could hear the door slam with her ordinary ears.
The next day, Aunt Iseult came into her bedroom, her hair still in one long braid. “Hello, Lia. I’m your Aunt Iseult. Your mother was my sister. But she was twelve years older than me. I’m only ten years older than you. Which makes you a bit like my sister, right? Look, we even have the same eyes.” She pointed at her own bright green eyes.
Lia nodded, curling up into a slightly tighter ball under the sheets. Her aunt was not wearing black, she was wearing a dress striped with peppermint and white. “The thing is, I don't have a little girl of my own of whom I could take care. So I was wondering, do you think I could help take care of you?” Aunt Iseult continued.
Lia nodded again. She really did think so, anything was better than the housekeeper who kept scolding Lia for not crying about her mother and boxing her about the ears whenever Lia was trying to listen.
“Good," Aunt Iseult said. "I promise we're going to be friends. What's the first thing I can do for you?" Her bright lips split into a smile and Lia saw all the possibilities of the world in front of her, a world where she didn't have to wear black and mourn, where she could do whatever she liked.
Lia opened her mouth very slightly. “Could you buy me a pink dress?”
Iseult’s frown only lasted a fraction of a second. Then her face smoothed, and Lia saw her mother's face hiding underneath Iseult's. “My dear, every pink thing you have ever wanted, I promise you will have."