Title: The Curse
Word Count: 1785
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Remember I mentioned a few months ago that I would be writing a story for Fandom For Preemies? If any of you donated and forwarded your receipt on, you'll have already read this. And I greatly appreciate your donation. Through the generous efforts of our friends and family, Fandom for Preemies raised over $400 for the March for Babies program, and over $2100 for other March of Dimes programs world-wide.
I promised that I would not post this story until May 20th, in order to allow those who did purchase the compilation a chance to enjoy it exclusively. But May 20th sounded like such an awkward day, so I decided to hold off until June 1st. And now, here we are.
This story is the backstory to a plot I came up with a couple months ago. I kept thinking about The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and wondered if someone living today would have the capability of doing that with photography. Which spun out into this elaborate plot featuring three girls (cousins, I think) who all have certain 'powers' dealing with photographs. I'm not sure I'll ever get around to writing the story that I did come up with, but I do have quite a bit of it planned out. So, motivation, once again, is the only thing lacking. Anyway, this story was the answer to my question 'How did it start?' Hope you enjoy!
Light streamed in through the window, causing the still wet paint to glisten slightly on the canvas. The young woman seated behind it glanced at her subject again, then wrinkled her nose and dabbed a bit more paint onto the portrait.
“I know portrait sitting is all about patience, but are we almost done for today, Aliénor?” the subject of the portrait whined.
Aliénor looked up. “Hmm? Oh, yes, just a few more minutes. The light has almost gone for today.”
“Merci! Oh, dear, I don't know how you can manage to sit in one spot for hours. I normally take multiple walks a day, just around the garden, you know.”
Aliénor smiled and turned back to her work. “Yes, Comtesse Candale. You have told me many times your normal routine. I do appreciate you taking so much time to allow me to paint your portrait.”
“Oh, nonsense, dear. You are the most renounced portrait artist in the region. You know I always get the best.” The older woman's eyes sparkled mischievously.
“Naturally, Comtesse. Only a few more minutes, s'il vous plait.”
The comtesse rolled her eyes theatrically, but remained still, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards in amusement. After a few more minutes, Aliénor stood and placed her palatte on her stool. She wiped off her hands on her apron and smiled. “All done for today, Comtesse. I think one more sitting should finish it up.”
The comtesse stood and let out a squeal of delight. “Oh, you must let me see what progress you've made, dear,” she said as she moved towards the easel.
Aliénor held up her hands and shook her head. “We had an agreement. No one sees my portraits until they are complete.”
“Oh, surely you can make an exception for me...”
“Desolée, madame, but no. It takes away the magic for you to see it before it is finished.”
The older woman raised her eyebrow, then gave a short nod. “Very well. You are clearly set in your ways. I will just have to wait for the surprise.”
Aliénor smiled and pulled off her apron. “One more day should do it, and then you can see the finished work. Allow me to show you out.”
The older woman picked up a cane resting beside her chair. “I expect to be able to see it tomorrow, then. No excuses next time.” She smiled and grasped Aliénor's hand. “Do tell your mother to join us for tea, then. It's been ages since I've seen her.”
“Of course, Comtesse. I'm sure she'll be delighted to see you again.”
A footman appeared in the doorway. “Oh, wonderful, Baxley. Show me out so young Aliénor here can finish her portrait. I am just dying to see the effect she has produced.”
“At your service, madame,” the footman replied, bowing and holding out his arm for the older woman.
Aliénor remained watching the door for a few moments before she turned back and walked towards her easel. Sighing, she ran her finger along the edge of the canvas, stopping when she came to the painted image of a clasped knife hovering behind the comtesse. “However am I going to cover you up this time?” she muttered to herself.
“I don't know why you continue to paint if you're so disturbed by the images you see,” a soft voice said behind her.
Aliénor shrugged and turned. “I enjoy it, maman. And not everything is disturbing. I did paint a beautiful ring on Clarisse's finger, and she ended up engaged by the end of the summer.”
“Yes, but you did have to field those questions about how you knew what Vicomte Grundie's ring would look like,” her mother reminded her.
“Yes, well. Still... not everything is disturbing.”
“This one certainly seems to be,” her mother muttered, examining the portrait.
Aliénor sighed. “I feel as if I have some duty to warn her, but I'm not sure how I could possibly start that conversation. I would be laughed out of France for even suggesting that the Comtesse was in danger.”
Her mother grasped her shoulders and squeezed them slightly. “Just because you've seen it, doesn't mean it will come true, ma petite. Just etch in some more shadows behind her chair and you'll hardly know it's there.”
Aliénor nodded silently and picked up her brush once again, hesitating only a moment before gently brushing a darker paint over the horrifying image.
“Almost done.... there,” Aliénor said triumpantly, standing back to examine her work.
“Can I see it now?” the Comtesse asked eagerly, picking up her cane and standing up without waiting for an answer.
“Of course, just don't touch it. The paint is still wet yet.” Aliénor smiled stood to the side as the older woman sidled up beside her.
“Absolutely breathtaking, dear. I've never seen such details, almost as if the ruffles of my skirt would float away with a slight breeze.”
Aliénor opened her mouth to respond when shouting erupted in the hallway.
“Unhand me! I told you I would not leave until I saw her. How dare you!” A woman with a bright red dress and hair black as night stormed into the room, several footmen on her heels.
“Sorry, madamoiselle, but we could not stop her,” one of the footmen muttered, looking down at the ground.
Aliénor dismissed his concerns with a flick of her wrist and addressed the intruder. “Very well, here I am. Speak your piece.”
The woman's eyes flashed and she straightened her back like a snake preparing to strike. “I have come to denounce you as a witch!” she announced.
The Comtesse gasped and seemed to stumble back a few steps, but Aliénor only pursed her lips. “You dare come into my home uninvited and make such callous threats?”
“Oh, you can act as sweet an charming as you wish, but I know about your magic. You think it clever, hiding your little charms in your portraits, but I see through it.”
“Madame, what is your reason for denouncing her so?” the comtesse spoke up, seeming to regain her presence.
“Oh, you must be her latest victim. See, she hides these little things in her portraits, telling of things to come. Her portrait of me resulted in my husband forcing me to leave his house.”
“A portrait caused you to become dishonored by your husband? Typically that is the work of the woman, not of her portrait artist.”
The woman glared daggers at the comtesse and turned back towards Aliénor. “You remember, don't you? You painted me with my husband's family. Except that I wasn't looking at my husband in your portrait, I was looking at his brother. Henri spotted this and became suspicious. He left town on business last week, and came back early to find his brother and I in a rather... compromising position.”
Aliénor cleared her throat, clasping her hands before her to calm her nerves. “I only paint what I see, madame. It sounds as if you were the root cause of the problem, not me.”
The woman laughed coldly, sending shivers up Aliénor's spine. “Oh, I know no one will believe me, but I've heard whispers of your other portraits. A slightly rounder belly for a newly married woman, and a short while later she gives birth. A man without his ring loses his estate within a year. An unmarried woman with a ring becomes betrothed within months. A slight alteration in a crest, and the nobleman is banished. If you truly paint what you see, then you clearly see things that normal people do not.”
“This is preposterous!” the countess shouted, gesturing towards the footmen. “Take her out of here, she is disturbing my peace.”
“Oh, I'll leave, but take note. You may be well loved, Aliénor de Monspey, but for the humiliation you have brought onto me, your children will be outcasts for their magic, until the day that they feel the same humiliation I have felt.” Her eyes flashed green for a fraction of a second, then she spun on her heel and left the room, the footmen trailing after her.
Aliénor remained rooted on the spot, her heart pounding in her chest as the woman spoke her words. She glanced over her shoulder at the portrait of the comtesse again and bit her lip as her eyes danced across the now concealed dagger.
“Don't look so frightened, dear. Scary as she seems, her words are just that: words. She's no more a witch than you are, she just wanted to take her anger out on someone, and you seemed a good target.”
Aliénor smiled weakly and nodded. “Of course. I'm just not used to such confrontations. I'll have the portrait wrapped and sent to you in the morning, once it has dried completely.”
The comtesse leaned against her cane with both arms. “I do expect you over for tea, darling. Your mother too. No later than Thursday, you understand?”
Aliénor smiled warmly. “Of course. We will send word as soon as we are available.” Pulling off her dirty apron, she leaned over and kissed each of the comtesse's cheeks. With a significant look back at the portrait, she added, “Do be careful. With women like her running around, it's a wonder we're all as safe as we are,” she added with a weak chuckle and a glance at the portrait.
The comtesse frowned slightly, but nodded. “Of course dear. I look forward to seeing your portrait in my gallery.” With her smile locked in place, the comtesse turned and hobbled towards the door.
Once alone, Aliénor picked up her supplies and sighed softly. Hearing footsteps, she turned to see Baxley standing in the doorway. “Is anything amiss, madamoiselle?”
Aliénor swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head. “No, no, just a little rattled. Thank you Baxley.” She smiled and turned on her heel, leaving the room with a swirl of her skirts.
“What was all that about, cherie?”
Aliénor turned to face her mother. “One of my past clients was upset about the way her image was represented in her portrait. She accused me of being a witch.”
The older woman pursed her lips, but Aliénor shook her head. “No, maman. I don't want to hear it again. I'm going to take a break from painting. Your wish has come true.”