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My Glass Box Knight
Eyes flicked up to meet mine from beneath the polished surface. I made sure to gently shut the drawing room door before rushing to the coffee table. Inside the drawer was a knight that couldn’t have been taller than my palm, her helmet a thimble’s width, and her horse’s ears barely level with the jewelry box in the table’s drawer. Ever since I had turned six, my warrior and I met to ponder each other from either side of the glass tabletop, and occasionally to show the other some small artifact of interest. It had become habitual: each week I would wait for her to ride from her world into the glass enclosure.
It was the end of the month, which meant that it was her turn to bring something. She had promised a special gift in celebration of my sixteenth birthday tomorrow, but I was dismayed to see that she carried nothing with her. She saw my frown and lifted a gauntleted hand to tell me to wait; language was less of a barrier between us than the glass. I itched to lift the surface, but the lock held it stubbornly in place. No amount of scouring the mansion had produced a key.
The door swung open. “There you are, young sir.” The housekeeper gathered her skirts and hurried towards me, her gray bun bobbing behind her. “You know very well that you are to be in your room awaiting the doctor.”
I gripped the table as she drew near. My warrior adjusted the helmet over her red curls and galloped off. “But she was about to show me.”
“Who?” The housekeeper glanced at the glass and the wrinkles in her forehead deepened. “Oh you poor thing, not this again. Come along.” She swept an arm around me and pulled me towards the door. “The doctor will sort all of this out,” she assured me all up the staircase, and then she switched to, “Stop struggling. I’m sure everything will be quite alright,” the rest of the way to my room.
“I’m not crazy,” I insisted.
“Of course not, dear. Your professors all tell me you are one the brightest in Britain.”
“I don’t want any compliments out of pity.”
“One has nothing but respect for the son of a nobleman.”
Both maids averted their eyes as we passed. We paused only so the butler could be ordered to attend to the doctor when he arrived. The housekeeper locked me in my chamber this time; a turn of the handle confirmed it. I wondered into my adjoining studio and tried the trap door. Also locked. I paced around the studio, and my warrior watched through the canvases. Moments later, the lock clicked open.
“Sir Rordan,” the doctor called from my bedchamber, “it’s time for your appointment.” The tall, waif-like man paraded into the studio. “Ah, very well then, shall we begin?”
“When will I die?”
“I do beg your pardon, sir. We prefer not to speak of such morbid subjects with our patients.”
“In that case, produce for me a cure.”
“I will try to, of course, but at the moment --”
“If you cannot tell me when I will die, and cannot help me to live, then what use have you been?”
The doctor’s eyes narrowed, indignant. He took a breath, cleared his throat, and sat on the wooden bench. “I see you have been painting.”
“What else am I to do when you won’t let me out of the house?”
“There is still plenty that a young nobleman may accomplish even with a condition such as yours. The famous poet --”
“Yes, yes, I know. My composition professor has taught me as much.”
“Who is this knight in your works?”
“She’s the one I have been meeting.”
“Ah.” He smirked as if amused.
I glared back, still refusing to sit. He stood instead and walked around the studio.
At the opposite end of the room, he suddenly stopped. “A female warrior. You sympathize with her.”
“Why would you say that?”
“A woman has as much of a chance to become a knight as a boy of your feeble stature.”
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“We do not pay you to talk down to those better than you. Get out of my estate.”
The doctor gave a half-bow. “Your father will hear of this.” He left and locked the door behind him.
I found my brush and set to work finishing my latest painting: my warrior on her stallion riding into a fortress aflame. Moments later, the duke stomped in.
“What is this?” he demanded.
I didn’t bother to look up. “He disrespected me.”
“He was the highest educated doctor of the best university in the country. Do you wish to waste my money and dishonor our name?”
“It was your mistake to pay that dolt.”
There was the ring of metal before my father split the canvas with his sword. “You will not disobey me.”
I swung around, fury boiling in my gut.
My father held his blade to my neck. “You, boy, are a disgrace.”
The anger flared to my fingertips and I clenched my hands.
He retracted his weapon. “You don’t belong here any more.”
I swung at him, wrath blazing throughout my body. My fist connected with his ribs and smoke billowed out from the impact zone. The room became black.
A white star glimmered at the edge of the darkness. As my warrior galloped closer, her outline solidified: a slender knight in green armor on a charcoal horse, with her helmet under her right arm. The smoke was thick around her upper body so that I could not see her face. I bowed as she reached me.
“It’s an honor to finally meet you,” I said, and bowed deeper.
She dismounted and laid a hand on my shoulder. I straightened, ready to look her in the eyes. Smoke poured from her neck where a head was missing. I gasped and stumbled back.
“Rordan,” the dullahan’s voice came from the helmet.
My heart fought the walls of my chest.
She gripped my shoulder tighter, and then pulled me into a hug. “Do not be afraid. It’s time to leave, my son.”
Something in her tone melted away my fear. “Mother.”
Together, we mounted her stallion and escaped into the light.