Chuck Wendig issued a challenge (he does almost every week) and this week I decided to take him up on it. This month’s challenge: one-word titles. I let my “executive decision makers” (dice) choose for me. Here we go:
“Congratulation,” the topiary said as Lady Ella walked by.
“The ceremony really was quite beautiful.” It continued as Lady Ella looked around to see who else might have notice the talking topiary. It wasn’t the topiary talking. A savage stepped out from behind the sculpted bush. “You really do look better in that dress than I would have.”
“Lady Derra?” Ella asked. “You… You’re dead.”
The savage, or Lady Derra, laughed. “No, not dead, and thankfully not a Lady either. Thank you.”
Ella remembered that tea on the veranda of Lord Hank’s estate almost a year ago. Lady Derra had invited her for an afternoon, just the two of them.
“I see it all worked out as I predicted.” Derra gave Ella a good look up and down. “It really does suit you.”
Ella gave her the same treatment. Her clothes were made of rough leather and fitted in such a scandalous manner. There was nothing left to the imagination as far as Derra’s body was concerned.
“No one survives beyond the wall.” That was the one truth no one questioned.
“No one except the savages.” Derra grinned. “Do you remember what I told you?”
Ella remembered that day. It haunted her. Lady Derra, sitting there so regal. It was no wonder Lord Hank had chosen her. She smiled as she poured the tea.
“You want to be me, don’t you?” She’d said as she passed the cup to Ella.
“Everyone wants to be you.” Ella took the cup and tried to hide the blush. Of course she wanted to be Derra. The most powerful woman in the village.
“No,” Derra poured her own cup. “Everyone wants the privileges, the dresses, the honor, and Lord Hank. You want it all. You want the responsibilities and duties, not just the admiration.” She stirred in a bit of sugar then set the cup on the table. “I’ll give it to you.”
“How? You can’t make me become you.”
Derra smiled, and for the first time Ella saw real happiness in the expression. “It’s simple. The tea’s been poisoned.” She tugged at the waistline of her dress. “Once I’m gone, take one sip – no more than one – and scream. Then all you have to do is be the most fervent in trying to bring me back from the bush. In less than a year, you’ll be Lady Ella, wife of Lord Hank and most powerful woman in the city.”
“When you’re gone?” Ella glanced at the tea. “Where?”
With a great rip, the skirts of her dress fell away revealing leather leggings. She pulled a loose leather shirt over the top of her dress. “I’m being kidnapped by a couple of savages.”
A savage appeared on the garden wall at that point and Lady Derra ran to join him. She even turned back to wave before the two of them disappeared.
“I did exactly as you said.” Ella sighed. “I still don’t understand.”
“Of course not.” Derra slipped her arm through Ella’s and led her down the garden path. “Do you remember my mother?”
“Didn’t she die when you were small?”
Derra laughed. “Savages don’t die in the wild.”
“Your mother was… but she left you. What kind of mother does that?”
“The kind that is never left alone with her daughter so she can’t abscond with the child.” Derra directed them toward the lawn where the guests were gathering for the festivities of Lord Hank’s wedding. “She left me because she had to, but she didn’t abandon me.”
Ella stopped and pulled her arm from Derra’s “You mean your mother… She came back?”
Derra nodded. “Often. She was the one who came to get me that day. Oh, did you think it was a man?” Derra laughed. “Nah, we wouldn’t risk the men coming into the city like that. We need them for hunting.”
Ella nodded, though her sense of the world crumbled. “Then,” she picked her words carefully, “your mother was in and out of the city?”
“Many of our warriors are in and out of the city all the time.” Derra looked up and nodded to a tree. “We just don’t let you know about it.”
“Why are you telling me now?”
Derra’s smile broadened. “I was right. You are a smart one.” She looked up to another tree, then to the top of one of the out buildings, nodding each time.
Ella looked, but couldn’t see anyone there. “You want me to know.”
“We need someone to negotiate with, and Lord Hank…” She sighed. “Lord Hank knew that I wasn’t happy with my position and you know what he said?”
Ella continued to search the trees around them. There was no one there.
“He said that the colonists needed me to negotiate with the savages, but he didn’t mean for me to be part of the negotiations.”
“You were a hostage.”
“How am I different.”
“You want the job.” Derra smiled again. “And, you’ll be the one we negotiate with, if you accept.”
Ella’s chest filled with pride. “You could negotiate with Lord Hank yourself, now.”
Derra shook her head. “He rejected that option when he refused my offer before I left. He had no respect for me then, I’ll not reward him for it.”
A burst of laughter from the lawn reminded Ella she still had wedding duties. “If I accept?”
“We’re about to be discovered.” Derra nodded to the trees again. “You’re first negotiation will be releasing me.”
“I’d rather be released, but I won’t stay long.” Derra nodded to Ella and turned just as a couple of men came around the corner.
Ella began composing her arguments.