It was as easy and straightforward as your basic defense rune—I didn’t break a sweat, not that Wilds ever actually sweat, but no, escaping from my brother Stephen and his family at the opera was something I’d been trained for since I was a child. It was nothing more than that—child’s play. There was no trouble at the crowded airport with my immaculately forged passport, the only actual trouble I had was with my conscience.
I, Helen, daughter to the House of Slide, at the age of twenty-two, was running away from home. I leaned against the seat on the plane, ignoring the stares of the other passengers. I’d changed my opera gown into the forest green suit, so it wasn’t the dress. Perhaps it was the sunglasses. All right, it may have been because I was incredibly beautiful, but I liked to think there was something about me more interesting than that. That’s part of the reason that I was leaving—every time I met a Wild boy who was father approved, he made a comment about my face launching ships, except for one guy who was so flustered, he messed up the analogy and compared my figure to a ship. I kind of liked that one. It was always like that, always the same Wild boys who were looking for a continuation of their line instead of anything that was really me. I wanted to be more than a pretty face with good blood.
It hadn’t been so bad before my mother got sick. It had thrown everything off; Wilds aren’t supposed to get sick. They’re supposed to die some horrific violent death, like getting blown to bits or decapitated because it takes so much to kill most Wilds, what with the tattoos and all. My mother hadn’t been able to get tattoos though, they hadn’t taken. Apparently the fun of having your skin scraped off and special metal compounds poured into you is even worse if they don’t take. I have tattoos. They were done by the Slide House tattoo artist, so naturally, they’re as good as tattoos get. I don’t have as many as my brother Saturn, but no one has as many as he does. He’s like that—always has to be bigger, faster, whatever. I think it’s to make up for the fact that as far as I can tell, he has no real talents—he doesn’t need talents though, not with his runes and his tattoos.
My mother…I hate it. Every time I think about my family I see her face there, that face that kept getting more gaunt, hollow cheeked, sunken eyed, eyes that burned as she looked at me. She seemed to look through me, to see every crack and schism in my soul and to love me anyway. Love. Wilds don’t really love, not the way that overly hormonal Hotbloods do, or that regular people in storybooks love. We don’t need it, not when we have family bonds that are stronger than something as ephemeral as love. My mother though, she was different; I almost think that father loved her. He certainly was devastated when she died.
I tell myself that’s why he went completely crazy and decided that I was going to have my coming out ball—a ball where I would get a selection of highly primped and plucked Wilds to choose from. It wasn’t my selection, but my father’s. It wasn’t only the fact that I was still working through mother’s death, or the fact that I resented my father deciding when the time was right for me to become a propagator for the breed, it was the fact that the only boy that I was even slightly interested in, wasn’t good enough for my father. He was Wild, descended from a very noble house, but because he was from a Red House he was out of the question. It was completely hypocritical because Slide before my father married my mother had always traditionally been Red. My grandfather would not allow her to marry into a Red house so father changed to White. It was so unjust. I couldn’t sit there and let my life be handed over to someone I didn’t like when I could be happy with someone I actually knew.
It isn’t that I’m against feminism and women’s rights, because my brothers had as little leeway when it came to continuing the line as I had. Like I said, Wilds are all about family. If I wanted, I could abandon Slide, marry a cute Warmblood who didn’t know anything about the hidden world around him, and have some nice children without the strength of blood. I could do that. When I turned eighteen, my father made it perfectly clear that I had a choice. I wasn’t rebelling against the House, not only because it’s family but also because it would kill me to stop playing with the wind. That’s the only time I feel really whole, particularly since my mother… Anyway, when the wind whips my long black hair behind me and my skin feels like it’s going to peel off my body, the rush, the thrill of pure elemental force is the only thing in this world that’s all mine, completely me. I love it the way that people in storybooks love each other.
I didn’t expect love, didn’t really want it, but I did want to marry someone that I liked and ccould respect. It makes no sense that father would call Carve a house of butchers, I mean, the name is unfortunate, but what else was he all through the Hollow wars?
The woman sitting beside me said, “Hello, dear. Do you cross the Atlantic very often?”
“No.” I didn’t bother trying to contain my irritation. People really shouldn’t talk to you when you’re perfect strangers.
“Oh, it’s such a long trip. I’m sure we’ll be good friends before it’s over.” She smiled, beamed really. She was probably my mother’s age, but likely without the eight children. Wild Houses didn’t usually have many children, not like Slide.
“I’m sure,” I said coolly before I bent down to pull out the magazine I’d gotten for the trip. It was something to keep me looking occupied so I wouldn’t have to say anything to the blonde, well-dressed woman.
Ten hours later I was jolted awake as the plane hit the tarmac. I turned to my companion, wondering where the time had gone. I hadn’t slept much since the funeral, since the day my mother fell, actually. I felt tired still, like I hadn’t lost that much time in transition. The sky was lightening. I stretched and tried not to yawn. It was embarrassing to fall asleep in public. I’d probably drooled or something—not really the image you want to have as a fierce daughter of a House. I closed my eyes as the plane bumped, as passengers mumbled and stirred while more people woke up. I smoothed my hair as I tried not to be nervous, but it was ridiculous. I was nervous. You see, in all the years that I’d known him, I’d never met the boy that I liked. Camilla, daughter of Carve, was in school with me when I was thirteen or so. She was required to write home and report all of her activities to her brother, Jarvais. Camilla was brilliant when it came to distracting the chaperone so I could sneak something into the dorm room we shared. Once it had been a goat. Really strange to think what I thought was funny, but you know, I was young, and the memory of it nibbling on Madame Cheuparde’s favorite hat still could make me smile. At any rate, at diversions she was genius. At writing, not so much. She blackmailed/persuaded me to do her writing for her. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind too much, not when she passed his letters in return unopened so that I would know how to respond, she explained, and found out that her brother wasn’t nearly as bad at writing as she was. He didn’t write about anything very interesting, at least it wasn’t anything that should have been interesting to me, and yet, I read every word with a fascination I didn’t begin to understand. He seemed to travel a good deal and wrote me beautiful, poetic descriptions about whatever place he visited, or he would talk about books he’d read. His letters inspired me to read poetry and literature that had always seemed dull before. On one level, was flaunting authority, playing a trick on a Wild like one of my brothers; on another, I was communing with a soul that was different than all the Wilds I’d ever met before.
One more year together, then Camilla went to a European school, to broaden her cultural studies I suppose, and I stayed there at dear old Dogwood Academy. I expected the letters to stop, but at the beginning of the school year, there was a letter with Camilla’s name on it in the letterbox outside my then single dorm room. For a while I wondered if her brother didn’t know that she’d changed schools, but once I managed to call Camilla, to talk to her and listen to her complain about the letters she had to write home again. Her brother knew that I wasn’t his sister and yet he kept writing.
As far as I could tell, he had no idea that I was anything like a noble daughter of some house. For all he knew, I was the maid who came in to do laundry, but the letters continued. They changed over time becoming more personal, until I could see what it was like for him, to feel the pressure to become someone he could never be, how it felt for him to live in a House where he felt always alone, never accepted or understood. In a House full of brothers, I felt the same way.
While his letters would come from Argentina, or Russia, he didn’t talk about what he did there, he talked about the beauty, the sadness that he saw, experienced. For me, it was astonishing that I could talk to someone about all the little things that I’d never been able to open up with anyone else.
I didn’t spend all my time at school. Holidays were long and classes were short. I took weeks at a time off to do my tattoos. While I was enduring the torture they really shouldn’t put a sixteen year old through, I wrote to him as often as I could. He replied, as often as I wrote and always with words that made me forget the pain. My mother was there, my brothers, but for them, I was Helen, daughter of the House of Slide. I wouldn’t show them my tears, talk about my fears and desolation, particularly after my mother got sick. There was a period of about three months, the autumn of my seventeenth year right after my birthday, when he stopped writing. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal, but always, at the back of my mind I was wondering what had happened, if he’d been killed, if something else horrible had happened, something like becoming intended to someone esle. I checked the society news and saw Jarvias’ beside Camilla in a photo of some official state something or other. I didn’t know, not being British what all they did, but there he was, healthy, and as handsome as Camilla was beautiful. Hair the color of gold, eyes rich chocolate, but the picture didn’t satisfy me somehow. He was too beautiful, too Wild, too much like every other Wild I’d had to dance with at other girls’ coming outs. Exactly like all the boys I’d drunk tea with, painfully—wanted to pour my tea on half the time.
I kept checking the mail, all the way down the gloriously long drive through the immaculate grounds. The House is in the city, but when you’re in the extensive gardens, you can barely hear sirens in the distance, and that mostly because my hearing was so acute since I got my tattoos. At any rate, long walk, no mail, until one day, the letters resumed. He didn’t say what had happened, or why he kept writing, particularly when Camilla wasn’t in school anymore. Carve House was outside London, and from what I heard from local Wilds who travelled more than I did, she kept up quite the social life. If she lived with her brother, there was no reason for him to keep up the pretense of writing to her, and yet, he did.
I could have asked, I wanted to, except then I’d have to admit that I didn’t know. Yes, I’m a vain, stupid, basically arrogant girl, but knowing what I am doesn’t change it. It’s who I’m supposed to be. I never flinch. Of course, I never drool in public either.
It seemed to take an eternity for the plane to circle around to the airport, for the cheerful flight lady to give us the okay to get out of our seats. I realized that I should have gotten up and stretched a few times. I forget sometimes that my body gets stiff like any other tool if left unused for too long. I waited until the plane was mostly empty before standing to reach for my carry on. It wasn’t much, an opera gown and cash in a simple black case. I’d never been overseas before. It was hard to act like you were the most experienced world wise person when your family never let you do anything, and yet, I managed. I felt slightly nervous but mostly exited because my whole life I’d been trained for danger but being the youngest child with seven brothers there didn’t seem to be a reason for me to engage in any action. Well, that was about to change.
I was smiling as I stepped off the plane and the smell of England hit me. Everything smelled a little bit like an old wet wool blanket. The wind was a tired thing as it curled around my ankles, brushed my wrists. I let it be, not wanting to cause a stir right off. I would though.
Mind you, it's not edited, so be kind. Or not. I can take criticism, particularly when I'm drinking my almond butter smoothie, which I'm off to make. ciao!