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October 2017 Writing Contest: Untitled

By Lupin #71059

The dying sun cast a miraculous flaxen light over the greenhouse leaves. Edges appearing ablaze with an eerie yellow fire, the foliage in this perfect sanctuary was captured in eternal, picturesque summer. This place was one of the many jewels in the young king’s crown- an unwavering, stalwart daydream for the nobility to amble leisurely through whether it be sunny or rainy beyond the misted glass doors. Even in the depths of October, when the jack-o-lanterns of The Great Harvest lit the night sky throughout the darkest hours, and children chased the invisible candy fairy across the sky or through the woods, the greenhouse was a haven of grande, golden summer in the kingdom’s tiny, reserved corner of Dragonsmaw.

A thin, frail, lupine figure moved through the greenery. The rattle of the chains slithering behind it in the grass cut the peaceful burble of the stream and the buzz of busy bumblebees. Lawrence the greenhouse keeper looked particularly melancholy among the bright yellow marigolds and shockingly pink dahlias. He tended them dutifully, pulling weeds even as his hands trembled, only looking up at the sharp squeal of the opening door.

The king himself strolled in, his black coat laced with gold filigree trailing behind him over the cobbled stones of the greenhouse path. The crown-shaped moonstone on the gembound’s chest was polished to a shimmering, moonlit blue. His mottled fur was swirled with golden paint, accented with pumpkin orange in great splotches to pay homage to the ongoing festivities. He wore his crown, too big for his slender head, slanted on top of his large, gray ears.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, the king popped a candy into his parted lips, and slurped loudly. His eyes found Lawrence crouched among the flowers like a beast in hiding, and he froze. A lazy, saccharine smile curled his lips. King Etienne was a master at that look; a princely demurity in his smile spoke of a tortured upbringing and a pure spirit. His smile could be as sweet as the candy he now rolled over on his tongue. The truth, which lingered beneath the surface of his pure blue eyes like ghosts spinning across an endless expanse of sky, could not be farther. “How’s my little pet doing?” He crooned, and his voice was a pair of bolt cutters cracking down upon the chain of a door, releasing a beast.

With tired eyes framed by cracked glasses, Lawrence lifted his head to look up at his king from where he slumped among the flowers. A bee wreathed his ear as though deciding whether or not it wanted to enter such a strange flower. Lawrence did not bat it away. He was stone-faced, eyes glazed with the pain of the horrors of the night to come. He did not need to see the fading sky to know that it was a full moon tonight. Etienne did not have to ask after his well-being to know the captive werewolf’s plight.

Etienne raised a knowing brow, half-cocked smile glimmering with barely concealed malice. “Poor thing,” the king crooned. “You look even more pitiful than usual. Are you hungry? Children roam our peaceful streets. How much you must loathe being trapped in here while such delicious morsels scamper about.”

His words stung like a blow to the face, and Lawrence recoiled, becoming even smaller among the plants. “I would never hurt them,” he half-whimpered, his voice as small as his haggard frame. He lifted one foot, gently shaking the chain that trailed behind him and bound him to the greenhouse. “Even if I could.”

The king’s expression soured. He sucked thoughtfully on his candy, and drew his foot over the edge of the stone path to crush a blooming dandelion beneath his toes. “It’s the anniversary of her death, you know. Do you remember?”

Lawrence closed his eyes. He did remember. He remembered the fair princess, her pale fur like shimmering spider silks. She loved to come to the garden at night. She loved to tend the flowers. She wore a crown of moonstones and her claws were always crusted with dry soil when he saw her. Lawrence always made sure to lock the door with exceptional care every full moon, in case she came wandering too close to his hut. If he remembered too hard, he could see the radiance of her fear in the moments before he struck her. The glow of Harvest Lanterns shimmered in her wide eyes. “I remember,” he trembled, feeling small and tired. “You pardoned me, and decided to keep me here, in chains.”

That taunting brow lifted impossibly higher. “You don’t sound grateful,” the king said, splaying one clawed paw over his heart and feigning hurt. “After all you took from this kingdom, many would have gladly clamoured to see your death. I didn’t want to begin my reign with violence. Don’t you understand what I’ve sacrificed, to keep you alive, and give you a home?”

Lawrence did not speak. He could not, for he knew that a lie was hidden among the truth like a creeping shadow. Drunk off the pain of his transformations each month, he had never quite managed to grasp at what was wrong with this situation. He only knew that he had begged for a merciful death, and instead, he was still living. He tipped his nose toward the ground.

Etienne let the silence stretch on for a few tense moments. He lowered his hands to his sides. “Very well.” Sweeping his cloak around himself, Etienne made a show of reaching into the inner pocket. “If you’re not grateful for this home I’ve graciously given you, and the chains that come with it, perhaps I should simply free you from them.”

This captured Lawrence’s attention. His head snapped up, ears suddenly alert and heart stuttering into his throat in fear. “No!” He yelped. “You can’t!”

Etienne’s smile illuminated the room. He slid the key from his cloak. Eyes wild with terror, Lawrence scrambled back from the king. “Please,” he pleaded quietly, his voice too weak for the scream that rattled in his pounding heart. “Forgive me for my-- my insolence,” he choked on the last words, not quite believing he was being insolent at all. “I want the chains, I want them. Don’t you know what will happen without them?”

“Don’t be silly-- of course I know.” Etienne’s voice was the honeyed purr of well-schooled royalty. “That’s why I’m doing it.” He planted one foot on a retreating chain as it slithered past him. Lawrence tipped forward into the dirt, his paws scrabbling weakly at the stones, but it was a useless fight. He had no strength left as nightfall drew nearer, and his body prepared to die and be reborn again once more.

Etienne waited until his frantic pleading dimmed to a low whimper before leaning over the frightened wolf. “Hush now, my pet,” he cooed gently, and slipped the key into the shackle lock at Lawrence’s ankle. “It’s a festival, after all,” Etienne cooed gently, his voice the honeyed purr of well-schooled royalty. “The perfect night for the beasts of Dragonsmaw Manor to come out and play, don’t you think?”

Lawrence whimpered pitifully. Outside the greenhouse, the light of the sun was dimming to a dull, gray haze as the moon rose above the peaks of the distant mountains. One by one, the yellow-orange glow of hundreds of jack-o-lanterns came to light beyond the glass, as the groundskeepers lit the lanterns for the night in preparation of the candy fairy’s arrival. The joyful screams of children rose to a fever pitch as they frolicked freely through the castle’s gardens, a privilege not so often enjoyed. King Etienne’s eyes were blue flames lit by a carnal delight. His smile, often so sweet, looked like a gash filled with pointed teeth as the lantern light struck fire across his river blue eyes. Lawrence’s shackles clicked open. “Now let’s have some fun.”