Twisted Paths

The following is a revised extract from the first chapter of Twisted Paths, the first book of Beyond the Face of the World.

Tammie stared at her slender fingers, wishing she dared stick them in her ears. A shudder ran down her back at the thought. Her mother would surely slaughter her. Instead, she sat unmoving, perched precariously on the edge of her bed, her hands palms down on her knees gripping the soft silks of her dress till her knuckles turned white.

“Look at those ridiculous clothes!” Her mother’s voice rang out harsh and unforgiving. “Was it that stupid maid that gave you the idea?”

Tammie shook her head in denial.

“I always knew you had no brains,” her mother continued, “but this is far worse than I thought.”

The Queen towered over Tammie, her features etched in disgust, her hands clenched in angry fists, a perfect model for those scowling maiden warriors whose pictures hung defiant, all muscles bulging, on the walls of her mother’s suite. To think that she had once admired them, wishing she could be one too. If only she could retreat into her own world and stem the tide of words that assailed her, but they formed a barrier between her and that haven. She was helpless against them. They carried her away in their senseless torrent.

“Why did I have to bring such a weak and worthless daughter into the world? Would that you had died at birth,” her mother spat.

Tammie whimpered, unable to conceal her feelings. Disgusted, her mother let fly with her right hand, sending Tammie sprawling on the floor. Tammie fought the tears that spurted from her eyes as she struggled to her feet. Her face smarted from the blow, her vision blurred. If only she were stronger. Not to fight back, no, just to buy some peace and quiet. One thing was sure, it would do no good to show herself any weaker.

“You will are confined to your room till I decide what to do with you,” her mother barked.

With that she turned away, snapping the steel heals of her boots together as she did so, and marched to the door. The double click of the key in the lock finally freed Tammie from her mother’s stranglehold. She flung herself on her bed, burying her head in the thick woollen blankets as she tried to muffle the sobs that wracked her body.

She awoke several hours later, her legs stiff and cold where her dress had ridden up her thighs. Her face must be a disaster. Her jaw continued to throb and her eyes smarted from crying. The fire in the hearth had burnt down leaving only glowing embers. The candles spluttered as they struggled against the growing gloom.

A rustling close by startled her. Surely the door was locked. Only her mother and her maid had the key. The single window was far too high off the ground to reach. Nobody could get in. Yet there it was again, a faint, but distinct rustle of tissue. A giant rat? An assassin? The witch her mother had so often threatened her with? Tammie dared not open her eyes and look. Didn’t witches slink into your soul through your eyes and eat you up from the inside. Having suffered the onslaught of her mother’s words she wondered if witches could also gain access through your ears. She pulled up her knees, covering herself with the many skirts of her dress and rolled into a tight ball.

“Tammie,” a soft voice whispered, cat-like, smooth and inviting.

An unfamiliar fluttering stirred deep in her stomach. She held her breath, struggling to put a stop to the worrying feeling. Was she imagining the voice? She was good at imagining things. It was one of the activities her mother reviled in her: whiling away time in dreams when she should be working to develop strength and self-control.

“Tammie,” the persuasive voice purred, shifting closer.

A mouth-watering smell of butterscotch and toffee accompanied the voice. It gripped her by both her ears and her nostrils. She buried her nose in the blankets, clenched her eyes and cupped her hands over her ears trying to curb its hold over her.

“Don’t be afraid. I’ve come to help,” the soft voice said winningly, its tone like a caress.

Her thoughts crumbled in confusion. She’d heard how the sweet voices of the Other World lured you into their embrace.

“Leave me alone,” she growled, shifting her position to stuff her fingers in her ears.

“OK,” the sweet voice acquiesced, startling her. How could such a small word be so heart wrenching?

The room fell silent, as yearning gave way to a sinking feeling of loss and emptiness. How annoyingly disappointing! Had she been standing, she might have been tempted to stamp her foot. Had the person really gone? For all the silence, she couldn’t be sure. She’d won too easily. Maybe it was a trick. She lay still for a long time, her ears straining to hear, her limbs getting colder and stiffer. She wished she had her shawl as the flimsy bodice of her dress offered little protection against the growing cold.

The breeches, shirt and waistcoat that her mother advocated would have been much warmer, but Tammie had donned her favourite dress to annoy the woman and it had worked too well. She had an aching jaw to prove it. Was it her fault if she loved the feel of layers of silks brushing against her legs as she moved? She wanted to be a girl not a maiden warrior.

Enough! Patience wasn’t one of her virtues. She rolled over and peered cautiously in the direction of the delicious voice, only to snap her eyes shut immediately. There, next to her bed, stood a ravishingly beautiful child. It must have been about her own age and height, but had nothing of her build or strength. It was slight and looked almost fragile. What a welcome change to meet someone less robust than herself when she was always mocked as the weakest of all. One thing troubled her though: she couldn’t decide if it was a boy or a girl.

“Go away!” she said roughly, seeking to gain time to think.

When the child said nothing, she peeked again. It stood unmoving, smiling at her, gorgeous. Tammie’s heart faltered then skipped clumsily forward. He, for she thought it might be a boy, had long, light brown curls cascading down onto his shoulders. His eyes were brown too, a deep chocolate brown that made her mouth water. His high cheekbones and narrow face made him look girlish, as did his ample lips painted red with rouge.

“What do you want?” she snapped, not budging from her defensive position.

His eyes sparkled, but he remained wordless. Tammie’s heart stuttered over another handful of beats. She raised her head onto cupped hands and studied him more closely in an effort to appear nonchalant. In truth, wherever she looked, her eyes constantly veered back to him. He was wearing brightly coloured trousers under an equally brightly coloured tunic that stretched almost to his knees. It was so long it could have been a dress, she thought. No wonder she’d taken him for a girl. He remained unmoving, a picture of an angel.

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