I am delighted to welcome Emma Newman here today. I discovered Emma through her short stories – they are so good. I’ll leave it to Emma to explain this project. Enjoy the tale.
RED CARPET DAY
This is the sixth in a 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.
The Proud Mother
Even though she knew she shouldn’t, Anna kissed the tiny fingers wrapped around her thumb, and held the swaddled baby close to her chest. The nanny was frowning at her from the nursery doorway.
“Baby should be put down for his nap now my Lady,” the Nanny said, but Anna continued to ignore her, until she heard a door slam down the corridor.
“My husband?” she asked and the Nanny nodded before she hurried away. Anna had time to press a gentle kiss on her baby’s forehead before her husband brought his scowl to the door.
“I was told you were here,” he said. “I don’t like coming into Mundanus at the best of times, let alone to find my wife.”
“Is there a problem dear?”
“This is highly inappropriate behaviour. He’s four weeks old now.”
“Is it a crime to want to hold one’s firstborn?”
His shoulders dropped, some kindness returned to his eyes. “Darling,” he stepped into the nursery with obvious discomfort. “He should be with Nanny and you should be with me.”
“I just wanted to spend a moment with him before I take him out,” she said, brushing his tiny fingers with her lips. “It’s a beautiful day.”
He peered out at the blue sky with suspicion. “I need to talk to you about that. Your bizarre behaviour has been noticed.”
“The servants gossip, the Nanny’s talk to others. It doesn’t matter who it came from, the fact is the Patroon himself sent a note to me this very morning about it.”
“Is he angry?”
His smart grey frock coat was incongruous with the pastels of the nursery. “Must we discuss this here?”
“A few minutes in Mundanus won’t be the death of you. Dear,” she hurriedly added at the beginning of his frown. “What did the Patroon say?”
“He said he’d heard tell of my wife, previously held in good regard, insisting on promenading daily in the University Parks with her baby. He said that ordinarily, such uncouth behaviour would need to be stopped immediately,” he paused as she sucked in a tense breath. “But as Lady Wisteria herself has expressed an interest in a baby sighted in the Parks recently, the daily walks may continue.”
Anna dropped her face to breathe in her son’s scent, steadying her nerves.
“But only for one more week, on the understanding that our family will be represented with elegance, grace and perfect decorum. Do you understand?”
“Perfectly,” she sighed. “I’m not surprised he caught Lady Wisteria’s eye. He is beautiful, after all.”
“That may be so,” he muttered, “but there’s no need to be so sentimental about it.” The frown returned. “One week more Anna. Then this silliness has to end, for all our sakes.”
Anna left the house with the baby tucked into his perambulator later than usual, having ensured that her walking outfit was perfect. Her son, pink and already the embodiment of perfection, stared up at her with his huge blue eyes as they set out, Nanny and a minder following at a respectful distance.
She took the shortest route, still distrustful of the noise and fumes from the strange modern cars. They looked so different to the one Douglas had driven during their courtship, his had been one of the early Bentley’s, all curves and gleaming metal.
The University Parks had barely changed, Anna headed for the river, hoping that her friend would be there too. She kept an eye out for Lady Wisteria, but she couldn’t really believe that one of the Seelie Court would risk an outing in broad daylight, in a city heavily patrolled by Arbiters, just to see a baby.
Her friend was seated in the usual place, her obscenely modern perambulator beside her. Anna bribed the nanny and minder to stroll down the river as she always did; a daily conversation with a mundane mother was something she wanted to keep private.
“Hello,” her friend managed a tired smile. “I wondered if you were coming today. He slept four hours through last night, I’m still knackered.” Her son, born two days earlier than Anna’s, began to grizzle. She took him out of the pram and Anna did the same, eager for another cuddle. The two mothers shared a smile unlike any she had experienced in Society; one of empathy and gentle, unselfish pride.
Then a floral scent washed over them and Anna turned to see Lady Wisteria, lilac fabric floating about her as if underwater. It settled, taking the appearance of heavy silk. Once it behaved like a coat should in an autumnal park, Anna noticed the pale skin and golden ringlets, surprised by how terrifying supernatural beauty could be.
She didn’t know whether to stand and curtsey as manners dictated, or pretend that this impossibly beautiful woman was just out strolling, as one should when illegal fey activities were taking place.
Before she could decide, Lady Wisteria had reached them.
“What a beautiful baby!”
“Thank you,” the mundane said and Anna realised the delight wasn’t directed at her child.
Smile tumbling from her face, she hid her shame by hurriedly tucking her son back into the perambulator.
“May I hold him?”
That’s not the right baby, Anna wanted to scream. Instead, falling back on years of practice, she sat back down neatly and remained silent.
Lady Wisteria stroked the child’s cheek, he gurgled as his mother watched, oblivious to the danger. “He’s absolutely perfect,” she said, and brushed the mother’s arm with her fingertip.
The mundane became statue-like and Lady Wisteria looked at Anna. “Take your child out of the pram.”
“But… my Lady,” Anna croaked, her maternal instincts making her hesitate, even as she recalled the cautionary tales about the disobedient drilled into her from childhood.
“If you want him to live, take off the blanket and put him in there.” She pointed at the modern perambulator.
Anna clutched him to her chest for one last moment, kissing the top of his head, her tears falling onto his tiny face as she laid him down and took the blanket away. The other child’s blanket was passed to her, which she hurriedly tucked about him, watching as her son’s clothes changed colour where the new wool touched.
“This is your son now,” Lady Wisteria held out the other child, now appearing to be dressed in her son’s clothes under the effect of the same glamour. “The mundane will not know; your son will be loved as her own.”
“In Mundanus,” Anna wept as she took him, “with a different name.”
Lady Wisteria watched the tears fall with hungry fascination. “It’s hurting you,” she whispered, enraptured, and leaned towards her. Anna felt a flicker on her cheek, went rigid with fear as she realised the fey had stolen a tear with her dry tongue. “Such pure sorrow,” she smiled. “I shall treasure that. Console yourself with the knowledge that this child,” Lady Wisteria pointed at the replacement, “will bring me so much more joy than your dull offspring. Care for him as if he were your own and never speak of this, otherwise I will see that your son suffers the worst of the mundane life.” When Anna didn’t move, her eyes narrowed. “Be grateful that I didn’t punish you for bearing such a disappointing child. Now leave.”
She got up and began to push the perambulator away, ignoring the new eyes staring up at her. She looked back at her son for as long as she could, whilst Lady Wisteria wove a charm deep in the other mother’s heart. She knew this was her punishment, for not meeting her patron’s standards, for getting too attached; unlike her friend, she would know he wasn’t her son.
The Nanny and the minder were waiting at the gates. “Take him back to the nursery,” she said and returned to her husband in silence.
“I’m sorry for all the silliness,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “Nanny will take care of him now. You were right all along.”
Thanks for hosting Alberta! I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x
Another splendid dark tale Emma, I am really looking forward to reading the years worth. Thank you very much for coming here.