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Flower Among Them All

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She felt it sometimes, the pull of the past. Kate wished she could say that she put her time under the Hill behind her when she awoke in her bed with its embroidered curtains at Elvenwood Hall. She felt, somehow, that she ought to have had done with it, but she had spoken truly to the Lady when they met in the shadows of the terrace long ago. In most ways she had become again a women of her own kind, though no longer the girl she was before descending to the Lady’s stony chambers. But in a few unmistakable ways, she still lived as the Fairy Folk did and they had left their mark upon her.

The Lady in the Green stood, both fair and terrible, in the great palace of Whitehall. The courtiers, as if in a daze, began to tremble and finally to bend. One by one they dropped into deep bows, though none near as graceful as those of the figures gathered behind the Lady. The men and women of the court, so recently cast into mourning for the departed Queen, struggled to understand what was happening. Their hearts were filled with gladness and terror mixed together. As a solitary figure slipped from among them to join the Lady on the dais, a seeming mixture of ordinary woman and some other kind, a cry rose from each throat into the chilling air: “Gloriana is dead; long live Gloriana.”

Kate had always been clever, but now she was shrewd. Peddlers, merchants, and nobles alike knew better than to cross Lady Heron in matters of business. If they once laughed up their sleeves at the way Sir Christopher included his wife in his dealings, they soon learned the error of their ways. No trick could fool her, no blandishment sway or half-truth deceive her.

Queen Elizabeth beckoned Katherine toward her, calling her to stand beside the throne. Since Kate had emerged from her long years of self-exile at the Perilous Gard, she had become quite the favorite of the young Queen. Even before, when they had been merely the Princess Elizabeth and Mistress Kate, she had been quick in mind and perception. Now the Queen found this newer, graver Katherine both endearing and a touch frightening. Her self-possession bordered on the eerie, and yet- it called to Elizabeth somehow and invited her to draw Kate in among her circle. After all, it is a rare monarch who cannot make use of a gifted confidant.

She and Christopher had poured all of their efforts and most of their hearts into the manor for years before the place had begun to turn itself around. Draining the fens was no mean feat, and she sometimes wondered if it was really worth it. But then Christopher would come grinning through the doors of the rebuilt house and catch her up in his arms, swinging her around and around. Once Kate was back on her feet, he would tell her about the successful harvest or the expanding dairy or, heavens above, the endless manure, and she would know. It was worth every minute of time they spent bringing the place back to life.

Her breath almost caught in her throat, but she quickly stifled it back down to the appropriate rhythm. Now that she had been granted this chance, she would not throw it away by acting any way but that instilled by hours of careful lessons and practice. She would move as she ought, and breathe as she ought, and speak only as she ought, as one of the Lady’s chosen. She stood at the end of the line, least among them but among them still. As the procession began, she held her candle high and glided out, her green gown trailing after her. If the enchanted women in the shadows made a noise or movement, she did not hear them.

Kate kept the grace she had learned during all those long hours in Gwenhyfara’s chamber. When she and Christopher were called to the Queen’s court, Kate’s dancing was noticed and remarked for entirely different reasons than she had imagined in her clumsy youth. Even when her back curved, supporting the weight of their children in her belly, she could not deny the essential change wrought in her movement by learning the art of falling.

This time, Kate did not hesitate to follow the others along the path, rushing and singing as they went. She burst out past the waterfall and into the chill night air, drawing it into her lungs with a sharp cry of pleasure. As the cup was passed, she drank deeply and immediately flung herself into the dance. The oak was bare, and the ground covered in snow, but still they danced on and on into the night. She tossed her head and swung her arms. As she flashed round the tree once, she thought she saw a familiar face, but it was just a mortal, face dark and pointed, who played and sang and watched the dancers in their wild abandon.

Her hand ached when the weather changed or when she used it too hard in a day’s work. Each of her children had, at one time or another, noticed the scar on their mother’s hand and run their fingers over it. They asked her what mischance had created such a wound, and Kate usually answered lightly that she had hurt it in the woods, long ago. She and Christopher talked about whether they should teach the children about the Fairy Folk and the Lady in the Green. With her power broken, there seemed no need, yet Katherine feared that even a subdued danger forgotten could be a danger reborn. But all of that was so far away that she could not bear to trouble their young sons and daughters.

Kate stood upon the green, watching as the torchbearers took their positions around the Standing Stone. She could not hold such a place of honor this time, certainly, but perhaps by the next… She could not sing the songs nor chant the words from time before time, but she was caught in the power of the moment nonetheless. She watched as the King of the land rode down into the circle, slow and unearthly like nothing she had ever seen before. She listened as he answered the questions put to him by the Guardian. If Kate shivered as she looked away when the Guardian asked who spoke for the teind-payer, she could not quite think why. As the compelling dance and the strange voice reached its peak and the flames leapt into the night, she watched the sparks fly up. Afterwards, she followed the Lady down along the passage, and she did not look back.

Kate woke sometimes in the night, breathing hard and reaching out for Christopher’s hand. The feeling was like the weight come upon her again, like the press of the rock and the cold and the darkness unending. She knew it was only memories, memories and dreams of things that had never come to pass, but still she shook with it and drew her husband close to her. In the morning’s light, with Christopher’s fair head beside her on the pillow, she would believe in her good life and fair fortune, but this was the dark of night and she wondered where the Lady traveled, unseen.