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Philomela

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Emma worked as if in a frenzy, riffling through scraps of fabric and lavish gowns alike, sewing until her remaining fingers cramped. But even the most forceful burst of energy can only last so long, and gradually, her mind began to drift…

A woman, working in a tower overlooking the wilderness. A sister, absent and dearly missed, too happy in prosperity to see and fear the danger close to home. I am making this not for myself but for you. But perhaps for herself … could she hope for an escape? Or, mutilated and lost, could she only hope to offer a warning?

The sewing frame stretched into a great loom. Bits of damask became crimson and golden threads. As the scissors snipped, she heard the clack of a shuttle. Slowly, thoughts took on form.

I will show my sister-at-heart, Arabella. Surely she would understand at once, would rise up in indignation, would lay bare this unspeakable wickedness for all to see. They would all listen – listen to her relayed words and not to the lying magician. So many people who refused to pay attention, who dismissed her as feeble or hysterical or mad. She heard the whispers in the hallways, saw the averted glances. Even Sir Walter, who should have been her staunchest defender, hid embarrassment behind his placating tones and polite airs. But all their wrongs paled next to his.

She would be vindicated. Free or still bound, this half of her life, at least, would be her own. Those who had dismissed her would feel the shame of it; those who had wronged her would be punished. The charlatan would be cast down from his lofty position in society, exposed and disgraced. Faithless man! Liar and fraud! Bending her will in pursuit of his whims and aims – treating her mind, her voice, and her body as his to assign and control! (For a moment, she imagined the other one hurled down from his throne, dragged from his wretched halls and maniacal revelry … then she shuddered away from the thought as too dangerous to contemplate.)

Perhaps we will bake Norrell’s books into a pie, she thought. He certainly loves them as his children.

* * *

There was a rose on her mouth.

One night, she awoke unable to move at all. For a moment, she was sure that brambles had grown over her limbs. She lay on a hillside, stonework and mortar crumbling. Briars crept over her walls, obscuring her face and form, burying her more deeply with each passing century. When at last she could stir, her flesh still seemed stony and unyielding.

There was a rose in her mouth. At night, as she tried not to sleep, the thorns seemed to pierce into her gums, fishhook barbs of an unseen angler. When she woke, lightheaded and gasping, she would check for blood on the pillow, surprised each time to find its white surface pristine. Her whole life moved through a green-grey twilight, one with neither up nor down. The air in her dreams seemed sharp and thin – the air in her rooms dense and cloying.

Dancing and twisting on a line, she yearned to fly above the sea. (They say the Aureate magicians could transform themselves into all manner of things, from mice to great beasts to nightingales.) Her pursuer might bare his own talons, but free of his nets, free of his traps and lime-snares, she might yet win out. Surely she could win out.

* * *

Staring at the tattered frame, Emma thought, You could have been merciful and cut out my tongue instead.