The Second Piece
Long, burnished wood panels and gold columns supported a pearly clock face, decorated with roman numerals and gilded cherubs. From somewhere inside the grandfather clock, a gong sounded, reminding its listeners that the hour was near.
An older woman and a young girl argued in front of the clock, which was situated at the end of a very long hallway. There was nothing remarkable about the hallway, with the exception of a few pictures here and there that were slashed to pieces.
“But I don’t want to go!” a little girl about nine or ten years old cried to an older woman dressed in a rather plain shift. The woman didn’t seem to like the little girl very much; her face was full of somber lines and thick powdered makeup. “Grandmother hates me, Nanna. She hates me.”
“I may be your new nanny, dear, but I can spot a lie when I see one,” scolded Nanna, her features grave with responsibility and duty. “What about your pretty, little dress?” Without saying it, Nanna had told her that the girl’s fine, lace dress was worth more than three month’s of her paltry salary.
The girl pouted, inspecting the yards of hand-dyed navy blue lace embroidered with intricate gold stitching. The girl knew that something about the dress was significant, but she wasn’t sure why. “Do I have to wear the veil, too?” she whispered, careful not to sound too disrespectful. “It’s itchy.”
Nanna regarded her with contempt. Secretly, she resented the brat and her constant string of tutors, nannies and visitors. Nanna thought that all the girl needed was a good whipping–especially since the girl’s father wouldn’t be around any longer. Still, it was up to her to earn her keep as she was told. “Serafina, your grandmother has always been only a wish away. I think it’s high time you go to see her. Put your veil on, now.”
“But I don’t want to wish! Wishes are for helpless, little girls who need to rely on magic to find their way in the world,” Serafina retorted, stamping her foot. “Father said that–”
“–hush now, child.” Nanna instructed her ward. “Do you want them to come again? You’re not allowed to–”
“I will say his name. I will!” the little girl yelled, full of purpose in the dimly lit hallway. Running up to an empty part of the wall, she pointed to a place where, until recently, a picture had hung. “I am not afraid of them, Nanna. I will say his name and there’s nothing they can do about it.”
At this Nanna clasped her chest and hung tightly to a leaf-shaped locket. “Do you know what they’ll do, Serafina?”
The girl shook her head, sadly.
“For every Seal you break, a life you’ll have to take,” Nanna shook her head. “He’s cursed, and there’s nothing you or I can do about it.”
“But that’s just a bedtime story, Nanna. There are no Seals.” Serafina regarded her nanny with a face full of confusion and doubt.
“Believe ye what ye will, child. If I were you, I’d make that wish and go see your grandmother.”
The battle lost, Serafina unhooked a long veil that hung from the side of her dress. Covered with geometric, gold markings in the shapes of stars, lotus blossoms and squares, Serafina covered her face with it–all except for her eyes. “Yes, Madam.”
Nanna breathed a sigh of relief; there were one too many Oathmakers running around these days. One too many. “Good girl, now please. Make your wish.”
Serafina straightened, clasped her gloved hands in front of her, and closed her eyes. “I wish…I wish…”
“Oh wait, dear. You forgot your grandmother’s gift!” Nanna scurried to a small table at the end of the hallway; Serafina thought she looked rather like a rabbit running a race. Fancy that.
Nanna ran faster than even she thought she could and returned with a bejeweled oil lamp, placing in the girl’s empty hands. “Don’t you look beautiful!” Nanna told her approvingly. “Now hurry it up, child, and remember to wish with the correct words in the precise order.”
Clutching the lamp between her arms, Nanna thought the little girl quite looked like the princess that everyone thought she was. Won’t her grandmother be surprised with that little trinket; if only Serafina knew what she held in her young hands.
“I wish I were standing next to my grandmother. Right now.”
As soon as the little girl’s words left her mouth, a bright puff of smoke burst in the hallway. Nanna didn’t need to look to see that the girl had already gone.
“What’s done is done, then,” Nanna whispered, hoping none of the wee fairies could hear her. “What’s done is done.”
Nanna scuttled off to the kitchen to finish making the night’s offering, and tried not to think about what she had just put in the arms of that spoiled child. After all, she already knew she would die soon. It was just a matter of when.