My sister said the bell tower rang out as soon as dawn’s light was visible through the trees. It was strange, she said. The bell sounded almost hollow through the glass, but she said it was deep and resonant. But the strangest thing was seeing people pour out from their doors, fully dressed and ready to begin the day. No one was even surprised to see her. They welcomed her, led her to the inn, and settled her in with some fresh bread and wild berries. They called the town Caeladrin. I scoured the maps after she told me, but there was no indication the town was real.
The castle sat atop a hill overlooking sea and land. At the foot of the hill, silver gates blocked the way to the path that wound upwards, but, directly across the wide avenue separating the hill from the city, was a large, lush garden. A cobblestone road, just wide enough for two carriages abreast, ran straight from the avenue to a large, imposing manor, looping around the large fountain in front of it.
Murant Manor wasn’t ostentatious, but it was commanding. The central section was crafted from a dark gray stone while the two wings, both long and a story shorter than the central part, had been built from a lighter gray stone. Gargoyles and smaller statues of various notable fae decorated the nooks and crannies from top to bottom. The double doors at the front were flanked by imposing statues of the first fae to lead the world and her husband.
The evening of Andalissa’s soiree was chilly, but the lanterns around the garden and within the manor were warm and bright, like twinkling stars through the hazy mist that wandered through the city. The doors were pulled wide, though the fae still stared down everyone entering under their watchful gazes.
Camille had to hide the small smile playing around her lips. Muriel couldn’t stop peeking out the window of the carriage, her mouth opening and closing much like a fish’s. Beside her, Madeline was a bit more restrained, turning her head slightly to peer with interested eyes out the other window. Riding backwards, Camille and Abigail couldn’t see the manor, but had visited enough in the past to know what it looked like.
It had been years since Murant Manor had hosted a gathering, so most of the city’s nobility and wealthy had turned out. The line up to the manor was barely crawling. Voices and laughter already rang out around them as guests alighted.
A thrill ran down her spine as the carriage came to a stop, the fountain on one side and the open doors of the manor on the other. Laughter and voices battled with the burbling of the fountain as the carriage door swung open, letting the chill air sweep in. Beside her, Abigail shivered and pulled her cloak closer around herself. Unlike the cloak she usually wore to the markets, this one was soft, thick, and a pristine white with the Olidan crest embroidered on the back.
A footman, dressed in the ruby red and golden yellow of Murant, bowed to them before holding out a hand. Camille watched with interest, wondering if Muriel knew the etiquette here. She felt a stab of disappointment when Abigail’s foot reached out to nudge Madeline’s, who quickly nudged her mother.
Muriel, her powdered head held high, took the man’s hand and allowed him to guide her out of the carriage. Behind her back, Camille rolled her eyes. Muriel had toned it down, but her skirts were still too wide and the sleeves too billowy, though the turquoise color was a pretty one. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Abigail had introduced Madeline to Clarice, so her stepsister was dressed in a deep blue ball gown, the hem and neckline sparkling with clear gems.
Camille, as the second eldest, alighted next, followed by Madeline and Abigail. Camille was surprised to see Muriel had swept on without them, leaving the three sisters to hurry after her, holding their cloaks tightly closed against the frigid air, though the flush of anger went a long way to warming her after the sudden chill.
Catch up on Sisters of String and Glass
Check out Queen of the Garden of Girls