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“Why Faolan, you look flushed. Are you feeling alright?” Darlene cocked her head to one side, causing a cascade of impracticable golden ringlets to fall away from her face. Her small brow crinkled in concern.
Faolan paused as he willed the words to fall into place. “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch...Char...”
“Charlotte.” Darlene smiled brightly. “Of course - you want my older sister.”
Faolan ground his teeth, berating his infirmity.
Darlene approached another girl, statelier in poise, with a meaningful and sustained gaze in Faolan’s direction as they spoke. The magnificent bow of the other girl’s back, draped in white and wine-red silk, half-turned so that the fabric did not so much hang but coil about the cursive splendour of her spine.
The Ackart sisters’ dialogue was faint, but once the taller girl turned her head in Faolan’s direction, momentarily, as though confirming something, but as soon as she had turned away again, turned back a second time, now with a longer look and an air of quiet despair. The pale walls and insistent candlelight gathered about her head like dandelion down so that her face seemed to shine, and the look she had, the one of melancholy, seemed marked.
Now she walked to Faolan, and he found his confidence returning.
“Faolan,” Charlotte took his hand in hers and led him away from the throng of people. “You shouldn’t be here. You have to leave.”
“Why should I? That’s all I’ve ever done.”
“No. I mean it. The boys – they’re planning something.”
“I’ll handle it.”
“Why did you come here?” She sighed, though not through annoyance. “You know you hate these glittery antique affairs.”
“And you...” Faolan paused, swallowed. “Adore them.”
She smiled knowingly. A two-colour fiddle song played in the background – one part jumping, dancing frothily; the other heavy and agitating in its clockwork cuffs of bow against steel.
“Come back with me,” Faolan spoke again, moving his head to follow her lowering lashes. “I planted some bay laurel by the porch. It’s just like that Greek book, your book you read to me. You can hide behind the bay laurel with me and Apollo will never find you there. It’s in a secret place. They won’t bother us anymore. I know you’ve pledged yourself to Grayson, but there’s nothing keeping you by his inglenook each night. You said yourself – you’ve never loved him.” He garbled breathlessly. When she did not reply, he added, “You do want us to be together, don’t you?”
Charlotte now stared intently at him, then, shaking her head, said, “You can’t stay here, Fay.”
“Wait -” he cut in. “Before you say any more, there’s something I need to give you.” He reached into his jerkin and produced a russet and fawn-flecked sculpture. It was a lady, eyeless. Form shadowy, like an impression, a dimple of laughter left in the air under a darkling porch. Featureless but for the tome idling from her hand, a noticeable flower pressed between its leaves. The flower had been whittled from the sunnier sapwood, contrasting subtly with the dark heartwood of the rest of the piece.
“She looks so... certain,” Charlotte said, brushing its cheek with her little finger.
“She is you,” Faolan said quickly, eyes bright. “She is a teacher, just like you should be.”
“I could never be a teacher, Faolan...”
“You taught me to speak.”
“You tell it differently.”
“To me, that’s what it is. You drew the words out of me.”
Charlotte smiled. She was watching him contentedly, before her smile dissipated.
“Grab the mute.” A voice.
Suddenly, Faolan’s feet disappeared from underneath him and his mouth was sealed with hard, dry earth as his body was dragged from behind by unseen hands to the centre of the rapidly widening loop of onlookers – faces retreated darkly, cautious waves avoiding the pull of the monstrous form of the passing ship. All the while, he thought of Charlotte, and instead of the sudden departure of his own voice, the lack of protest of hers.
A bell clanked crudely, ending all other noise and movement, save the sluggish rotation of the bronzed hog that glittered before the man that whose boots grazed Faolan’s nose. The village elder wore a cream brocade tunic with golden sleeves, and beamed effusively. “Get the bane,” he said to a man by his side, with a steady urgency. “We’ll draw the moon-shy creature out.”
Faolan attempted to rise, but a yellow flare and stinging overwhelmed his eyes, and nostrils, and he slumped to the ground. Raising his vision, he saw the thing in the man’s hand; a simple flower.
“See how he shrinks from the wolfsbane!” The man bellowed. “And hark! His eyes themselves betray their sincerest shade; a crow’s foot yellow.”
“Doubtless, friends, this is the wolf we seek. His want for words was, indeed, the Good Lord’s warning.” These last words took on the dreadful evenness of seconds pattering; the discipline of a treacherous heart. A constancy that Faolan both envied and loathed. These heart-seconds wounded Faolan.
If only he could speak. He ordered himself to. Speak. Willed his voice to find the route, and wrench through it.
Faolan looked to Charlotte in amazement, throat muscles constricting hotly, but her face had retreated into the sickly gold candlelight, extending from the wax in gilt-yellow lion tooth shafts around his head.
Within seconds his voice had abandoned him and he the town, and he had vowed never to carve wood again. After all, wood – unlike stone - is yielding; offers itself without demur to a room, the inglenook by the fire; the caresses of human sentiment.