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She Rises Still

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Every now and then at night-time Emma would rise while her body still lay warm and breathing by Flora's side.

Some of those nights Flora would only know it by the clack of the window-frame, and wake to see the moonlight bear down on the room. Other nights the shape of Emma's nightdress, or only her hair, would be drawn in shadows in a dark corner of the room. Sometimes it was her shuffling footsteps, crossing the floorboards from one end of the room to the other.

Emma never danced, but she grew restless at night, and paced the rooms of this house she had bought in the Cotswolds after her separation from Sir Walter Pole. At daytime it was a cheerful, if rather ancient place, with a blooming garden tended to by Arabella and her coterie of gardeners, and a never-ending bustle downstairs as the servants--of which Emma had hired rather too many--gossiped over their chores. At night, it tended to creak and whisper, even when Emma's feet did not pad across the cold room, or she did not sit down just to rise again, her candle flitting about the room in search of a book to read.

Even so her two dearest friends preferred those nocturnal wanderings to what Emma did when her feet stayed firmly in bed. She was both there and not there--something Mr Segundus had tried to explain, but never had been able to, only to say that it was not different from how she slept during the period she had been in his care, and away every night at the Fairy King's court.

Emma no longer went to Faerie, but stayed here at her home, spending a part of her night half-alive, half-dead, and waking up drowsy. She would nap until noon, and be quite herself again in the afternoon.

As a scholar, Flora found it interesting, but the notebook of observations she had started now lay untouched in her desk. It felt morbid, like documenting the progress of a disease. Mostly, she did not mention what was happening, and she believed her lovers preferred it that way. When Arabella went to hug Emma in a certain way on evenings when the wind bit into the wood, to sway with her to its whistling tune, she let them be, stayed out of their bubble. They shared something Flora would never fully understand, as much as she loved them, as much as they both loved her.

Flora lay awake and watched Emma, now a shimmering shape with her free-flowing hair framed in the window. Arabella's breathing changed on her other side, and Flora knew she had seen it too. Emma's body lay limp against her other side; a quick check confirmed that it still breathed.

Flora could not shake the feeling that one day she would wake like this, and lay her hand on Emma's chest, just so, and it would never rise again.