In 2013 the marvellous Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and called Between Two Thorns. This story is part of a crazy thing I decided to do before I got the book deal and was forging ahead with the project on my own: releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds. I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details. It’s also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.
This is the forty-seventh tale in the year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
Full story is behind the cut. Thanks, Emma!
The letter had remained unopened for precisely fifty-four years, six months and three days. She had decided to break the seal, today, at sunset.
It lay in a box impossible for anyone else to open, with or without the key. It was protected by a Charm she’d bought from the Emporium of Things in Between and Besides for the princely sum of a tear wept with bitter regret. Weeping in front of the Shopkeeper was rather demeaning, but there was no other way she could afford it and she had many to spare.
Her husband was at Black’s and wouldn’t return until the small hours. It was too late in the evening for any unexpected guests and she’d told her lady’s maid she planned to retire early. Being dressed for bed made it easier to change into the mundane clothes she’d had bought for a fancy dress party.
The dress, supposedly in fashion in England, was hardly flattering without her corset but she needed to blend in. She checked her hair and examined her face. Both looked exactly as they had the day she’d been given the letter. She felt cheated, wanting her face to show the years she’d suffered since then. She had no right to look so youthful when her heart felt like a pile of dry leaves.
Positioning the heavy box on her hip, she walked with calm purpose towards the nursery wing. She opened the door and stepped through. There was the feeling of silk brushing across her face as she crossed the threshold and the irreplaceable scent of fresh air.
Through the window at the end of the hallway she could see the beautiful orange glow of an evening sky. She had no idea why they still kept the mundane nursery wing now their family was complete. It was one of her husband’s more charming idiosyncrasies.
The park was a short walk away. She only knew because her children drew pictures of it and explained what they were. She would have loved to sit and watch them like the Nanny had but she wasn’t brave enough to break the rules back then.
It was full of young couples holding hands, sharing ice-creams, sitting close together as they wove love’s cloth with whispered conversations. The mundanes were so open, so free to express themselves these days. She blushed when she saw one couple kissing passionately in plain view with no chaperone in sight.
She sat on a bench and rested the box on her lap. Even though it hadn’t been used for decades the key turned the lock effortlessly and she put it back in her locket.
Its contents were no longer in the neat places she’d positioned them. The lock of hair was the first thing she saw and the memory of her tears whilst cutting it returned with a terrible intensity. They had both wept that day, knowing it was the last time they’d be able to see each other in private. It was just as soft and deep a brown as she remembered and she pressed her lips to it before resting it on the bench beside her.
Beneath was a silk handkerchief edged with lilac lace. The drop of blood in the corner was a dull brown now, a stain only magic could remove. She looked at her finger but there was no scar to find.
Then the letter. The handwriting made her feel excited for the first time in years.
‘Isabella’ was written on the front with extravagant loops. On the back, above the seal, was the writing that had stopped her from opening it all those years ago. “To be read alone, when you are certain you love me more than anything and anyone else.”
It had taken more than fifty years for her to admit she did. She slipped her thumb underneath the flap and broke the seal.
Only when you can look inside yourself and realise that we cannot live apart, only when you realise that acknowledging this love between us has greater purpose than any expectation our families or Society can place upon us, only when you are willing to face the wrath of your Patroon and of the Fae…
…come to me. I’ll be at the place on the cliffs I told you about. Being apart and denying ourselves true happiness is nothing more than a quiet death for the benefit of others.
I love you beyond reason, beyond the place where fear keeps us prisoner.
Come to me.
She smiled at the overwrought prose but it soon faded. She’d waited too long. If she’d opened the letter when she received it, neither of their marriages would have taken place.
The sun sank low and she put everything back in the box. Isabella could remember where the cliffs were and every detail described in stolen moments. She saw a large black car pass with ‘Taxi’ written on a sign on its roof and decided to leave London. She’d throw the box from the cliff, dash it against the rocks to kill these memories – and the better part of herself – once and for all.
Isabella clutched the box to her chest for the entire journey, memories of kisses and the brushing of fingertips as they passed each other at parties mixing with her dozing thoughts. The moon rose as the car took her out to the coast, a pale yellow coin in a starless sky.
She told the driver to wait and he said something about a metre. It made no sense to her but he seemed content enough. She climbed out when she realised he wasn’t going to open the door for her.
The land ahead of her was as black as a mourning veil. She could only make out its edge by where the reflected moonlight on the water ended. She strode ahead, feeling the heels of her shoes sink into the grass of the headland.
Isabella went as close to the edge as she dared but she couldn’t let the box go. When her arms started to tremble she set it down and stood there, trying to imagine what her life would have been like if she’d been braver fifty years before.
The scent of lilac and vanilla came to her on the breeze and she turned, fearing her memory would have distorted her love over time.
“Too late, I fear.”
“No. Even if it had been a hundred years it wouldn’t be too late.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“Magic. You’re just as beautiful as I remember.”
Isabella smiled. “And you, my darling.”
They embraced and kissed, their infidelity etched in moonlight.
“Are you willing to leave your husband?”
Isabella nodded. “Are you?”
Marianne smiled and kissed her again. “Yes. I love you. We’ll find a way.”
Isabella pulled her close. “Yes, we will. Together.”