"Pippa?" I hiss as I enter our room. She has forgotten to snuff out the candle again, so very like a child. It flickers feebly on the desk. "Pip, are you awake?" I capriole over to her bed and perch myself at the edge of her mattress. I reach over to shake her awake, but my hand stops midway. She is so very lovely when she sleeps. Dark, silken hair bound in a braid down her back; ivory skin illuminated by moonlight. Even asleep, her lips are the color of fresh roses. They look so soft, so inviting.
No! my mind screams. You mustn't think such things, Felicity. It's unnatural. Unnatural and wicked and foul.
Pippa's eyelids flutter. "Fee?" she asks, her voice thick with the grip of dreams. "Fee, what are you doing? What time is it?"
The corners of my mouth twist upwards. "I couldn't sleep, so I went for a walk. And I . . . ah . . ." I cannot think of an excuse for waking her, aside from hearing her voice.
"Nightmares again?" She sits up, and looks at me. Her violet eyes seem almost black in the darkness. "You can tell me about them, if you like." I turn my head away from her, and stare at the floor. "Or don't. I only mean to help, Felicity." She reaches for my hand, and I loathe myself for how wondrous it feels.
"It is nothing," I whisper. "Truly, I . . . I'm fine."
"How was your walk?" she inquires, and I can see the weariness in her eyes.
"Oh, ordinary. Go back to sleep Pip, I'm sorry I woke you."
She looks about to protest, but nods nonetheless, letting her head slip back onto the pillow, and her mind back into dreams.
Dreams of princes and castles and beautiful gowns, no doubt. No room for another princess among them, I think bitterly. My legs drift over to my bed, and I drop onto the mattress without any semblance of grace.
My eyes ache to shut, but I cannot allow them to. I cannot face the monsters that lurk behind my eyelids. The tall, regal figures whispering Your fault, your fault, you wicked, wicked child; The iron bars descending around me, a cage and a corset and a husband to trap me; An older woman resembling me, delicate and simple, traipsing around Paris without a care in the world, no daughter, no family, only the mind of a girl in the body of a fading beauty.
But above all my dreams would be of her, sinful, delectable dreams to taunt me. I reach over to the table beside my bed for the silver hand mirror. I can scarcely make out my features in this dimness, but I tell myself that they are strong, that they are fierce.
"You are strong," I tell the girl in the mirror. "You are strong and you are free and there is nothing wrong with you."
She does not believe me.