Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Savage Writing: Burning Tapers

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Theme for this week was castle and/or flame, so I did both. Also, had to check that everyone at the club called them “tapers” because Google refused to acknowledge that wooden tapers – like the ones we used to use in science class all the time – exist.

She had been playing with the fire tapers for five minutes now without speaking to him. He watched her the entire time, waiting for her to break the silence, but she had only repeated the same actions over and over: she dipped the long strip of wood into the fireplace, waited until it caught, then watched the flame burn down until it nearly touched her fingers, before blowing it out. The room stank of smoke; charred wooden remnants lay in a pile next to her chair leg, carelessly close to the fireplace sparks.

 Finally, his patience grew thin.

‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’

She blew on the weak flame of the one she currently held.

‘I’ve made my choice,’ she said. ‘No-one can convince me otherwise.’

‘He’ll keep you in here for weeks, Madeleine. Maybe more. You can’t spend your life staring at these walls.’

He said “walls”, but in that small tower room, there was only one curving, encompassing wall. One dingy four-poster-bed, one half-ruined expensive rug, a tarnished, ornate table, and her magnificent fireside chair whose carved wings were splintered and broken; it was as sparsely furnished as such an opulent castle, and such an opulent king, could bear.

‘I’ll stay here as long as I like,’ she said, keeping her eyes on the flame. She had not looked at him once since he entered. ‘I’ll leave here dead before I leave on his terms.’

Her behaviour already had him unnerved; this casual mention of death finally broke his composure.

‘Father made a promise!’ he burst out. ‘You can’t just make a promise to a king and then not keep it – you can’t turn on your deal! Think of what this makes us all look like, sister!’

She said nothing. Was he mistaken, or was she smiling faintly at the flame?

‘You don’t know what pressure we’ve been under. Father hasn’t slept in weeks. Mother’s kept to her room for the shame of it. I’ve been running from person to person trying to make them understand, but they’re all leaving us, Maddy, everyone’s abandoning us – and you know it’s your fault. If you would just say yes–’

‘No,’ she said immediately. ‘I’ll never say yes.’

He stared at her, confounded by her determination. Any woman would want to be queen, he had always thought – it was the highest honour a woman could have. Their father had worked so hard to make their family indispensable to the monarch, and given up so much for him – butchering friends, forgiving enemies, even disowning his first-born son – that, now he was a breath away from securing royalty for his descendents, Madeleine’s final betrayal was killing him. Edwin hated to see his father shrivelled like this; he hated to watch his own fortunes crumble in front of him; and he hated that the girl he had loved and protected while growing up could sit here, and play with her tapers, without a single concern for them all.

She blew out the flame and the remainder of the taper dropped from her fingers to the floor, beside all the others.

‘The longer he waits for you,’ Edwin said feebly, ‘the more he doubts whether he wants you at all. If you had another man who wanted you, another man who had your heart, then I could perhaps understand your objections – but you’ve no-one. You’re going to ruin us, purely from stubbornness.’

She turned to grab another strip of wood, and finally her eyes met his. The most beautiful lady in all the court, they called her, for her blonde curls and button lips and huge blue eyes. She had a smile full of light and could sing like a lark, but she had done neither for a long time. Her curls were in disarray, her mouth was set at the corners, and her eyes held no fear, no worry, no pity for her plight or her family’s. All she had now, as she looked at her brother, was scorn.

‘You ruined yourselves,’ she said, slowly and calmly, ‘when father tried to make a promise on behalf of another person. You cannot make me promise anything – and you will never make me promise to spend my life with that beast.’

She took the piece of wood, lightly, deliberately nonchalant, and turned back to the fire, ready to destroy another one. He knew he should be furious, knew he should feel willing to slap her – that was how he had felt all week, when defending her actions – but in the face of her resolution, he could only feel admiration; aggravated, fear-filled admiration. It’s over, he thought. It’s over for us all.

He watched her burn another three tapers before he felt able to speak again.

‘I understand,’ he said, surprised at the melancholy he heard in his own voice. ‘God help you, sister. You’ve made your decision.’

She spun round, shocked, and as they looked at each other, a glorious smile broke out on her face, returning her for a moment to the shining maiden she had once been.

‘Thank you, Edwin,’ she said. ‘You don’t know how happy that makes me.’

He bowed and left her before he could humiliate himself further. His parents pressed him and scolded him, and he bore the brunt of everyone’s anger for failing to turn her when he was one of their last hopes. He took it all without any defence or explanation. And that night, when the shouts rang out that the tower was burning, and when he saw the flames roaring from the window where she had sat that very afternoon, he knew he had done what was right.



I’m off to Newcastle this weekend so there’ll be no Sunday post. Have been redrafting That Thing I Wrote and am at the climactic chapters, so Riverboats may be put on hold until that’s done. I’m a jobless bum at the moment anyway, so in theory I have enough time for both, but you know how it goes.


Written by G.J.

05/09/2012 at 10:59 pm

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