Freebie Mondays: The Art of the Twist (Story 7 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: The Art of the Twist (Story 7 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea). This time, one of my main characters does appear in the short. But he isn’t narrating and is just kind of in the background, so I figure that fits the ‘rule’ (loose though it is).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “You know what they say about family…”

This story takes place in my “Maids” setting (everyone’s favorite working title). Learn more about the setting and characters here!
. . .

Seibel heaved a sigh that lifted his shoulders as he leaned closer to the wide mirror mounted in the center of the vanity where he perched. No matter how he shifted the hair forming the delicate ringlets that flowed from his scalp, he simply could not control his curls. Either they looked too flat and dull, or they formed uncontrolled curtains that bounced with each of his movements.

It had been a long time since he actually cared what his hair did. For the last decade, it sufficed if the locks remained slick and even instead of sticking up wildly in all directions. But that was when he expected to see no one but the house staff as he moved throughout the master’s many halls.

High society balls demanded a completely different level of preparation, not to mention meticulous scrutiny of the finest details. His hair needed to catch the light just so, which meant his curls had to be contained while seeming spectacularly natural all at the same time.

And he could hardly spend all day on his hair when he still had to pick what outfit he intended to wear. Not to mention his face. He slid his fingers free of his dark hair and tugged at the strap to his eye patch, though he didn’t disturb the soft leather enough to reveal what lay beneath.

Injuries were not so rare that the members of high society turned up their noses at seeing evidence of demonic attacks, but he had never before wished it had been possible to heal the horrid scar that now dominated his right eye socket. He had never once cared about fashionable eye patches before today, but now he felt that black was too boring. Certainly it matched everything, but it felt plain. Color matching would have been the best option, but he didn’t have time to gallivant through the city to find a single such an irregular accessory.

What he wanted to do was sweep everything scattered across the desktop in front of him onto the floor. Then, perhaps, just to satisfy the temper building within his gut, he would spill the vanity on top of it all. For the first time in more than a decade, he wanted to retreat back to his bed and pull the silken sheets over his head. The world had spun for so very long without his input or notice, why should it suddenly tug so ferociously at his limbs?

Only the fact that someone would have to clean up the considerable mess he was contemplating creating – and that until very recently he would have been in charge of delegating such a task – stayed his hand. He settled instead for slamming his palm against the polished wood. The impact jostled the various jars, brushes and combs scattered across the desk but, ultimately didn’t displace any.

The sound was loud enough to irritate his sensitive ears, causing him to jump at the same time as the contents of his desk. A muttered curse slid past his lips, and Seibel pushed his chair away from the vanity before he could cause further damage.

He was rather at a loss as to what he should do next, when a soft knock sounded on his door, giving him something else to focus on. He somewhat hoped Domerin would be waiting in the hallway, though he had no idea what he would say to the man if that were the case. He was bound to ask how Seibel’s preparations were proceeding, and he didn’t want to admit that he had run into brick walls down every path.

He was both mildly disappointed and relieved the familiar face of Elian – the head maid in training – greeted him on the other side of the door. The elf had drawn his wavy blond hair into a tight braid, though a few strands managed to escape to frame his flushed face. Beneath the work clothes and hasty preparations for the day, Elian possessed handsome features easily enhanced with a light coat of makeup and a few choice accessories. Emeralds to bring out the green in his eyes. A dark overcoat to contrast his light hair. Binding but half of his golden locks so that the rest could tumble across his shoulders like a waterfall.

Why couldn’t Seibel dress himself so easily?

“Can I help you with something?” he demanded curtly when the head maid in training offered little more than a bow of greeting. “Was something amiss with the day’s duty roster?”

“Not at all,” Elian replied quickly, though displeasure flashed through his eyes at the insinuation that he might have missed something. “Rather, I thought I might be able to assist you, Master Seibel.”

Seibel pursed his lips, silently demanding an explanation.

Once again, Elian dipped his head, causing the few stray locks of his flaxen hair to fall in front of his eyes. “I heard a noise, sir, and thought perhaps something had gone amiss.” The younger elf straightened and brazenly met Seibel’s one-eyed gaze. “Perhaps you could use some help preparing for the ball?”

Had they not been coworkers until quite recently, Seibel would have smacked the young upstart across the face for speaking so out of turn. None of the maids in his house would have dared address him in such a way.

But the master of this house was quite a bit more relaxed with portions of his staff than Seibel had ever been. And it was clear Elian meant no disrespect. In fact,  offering his services allowed Seibel to speak a little more freely without losing face.

“You do seem like a man who understands curly hair,” the former head maid mused, and allowed a hint of a sigh to slip past his lips. After one last moment of consideration, Seibel stepped aside and motioned for Elian to enter his chamber.

He was still new to these rooms, still getting used to how large and spacious they were. When he announced his retirement, Domerin had offered him almost an entire wing of the house, though some of those rooms were set aside for his sons when they visited.

The head maid’s room in the servant’s quarters was generous with its own private bathing chamber and study in addition to the bed chamber. But it was still a servant’s accommodations which made it efficient in its use of space.

In some ways, Seibel loathed the amount of space his new chambers afforded him. He felt like he had to walk half a mile to reach his bed from the vanity. A door beside the vanity lead to the lounge which served as his sitting room, and a door beyond that afforded entry to his own private study. It was more space than he could possible make effective use of, yet he supposed Domerin couldn’t offer him anything less without risking criticism of his affection.

Seibel settled in the vanity and peered at Elian in the polished mirror. The head maid in training stood behind him at perfect attention, his back straight, his hands folded in front of him while he waited for instructions.

Seibel shifted his focus to his unruly curls, running the fingers of one hand through their length. “I simply can’t get my hair to do what I wish.” He may as well start with the simplest problem.

Elian peered over Seibel’s shoulder at the jars and brushes scattered across his desk. Then he murmured, “Excuse me,” and disappeared across the bed chamber into the bathroom.

Seibel waited impatiently for his return, tapping his feet under the vanity, trying his hardest not to list all the things he still needed to worry about.

The head maid in training returned in short order clutching an ornate bottle between both hands. He upturned the long neck and shook some of the thick liquid it contained into his hand before setting it on the desk in front of Seibel.

Before he had a chance to protest, Elian’s hands were in his hair, his fingers working through the individual chunks and curls, leaving slick dampness in their wake. Elian never hesitated, despite Seibel’s unveiled uncertainty. Instead his fingers moved with expert grace, shaping Seibel’s hair into a perfect series of layered curls.

When he was finished, Seibel shook his head rapidly from side to side, but each and every one of the locks remained in place. A hint of a smile graced his lips, and he relaxed ever so slightly.

“I shall not ask how you knew of this remedy,” Seibel declared as he memorized the bottle Elian had fetched from the bathing chamber. “I shall only be grateful you shared it.”

“Of course, sir,” Elian replied with a polite bow of his head, though he did allow a hint of a grin to briefly brush his lips. “It shall no doubt be my duty to help the master of the house prepare for such occasions in the near future, so I thought it best I brush up on such matters.”

Seibel frowned. Helping Domerin dress for formal gatherings was a duty he still intended to hoard for himself. But he supposed it wouldn’t do to leave a gap in the new head maid’s knowledge.

Of course, they both knew that Elian possessed this information for entirely different reasons, but Seibel decided not to press.

Again, he fiddled with the strap to his eye patch, adjusting the way it sat over his blighted eye without revealing the scars concealed beneath. I had never bothered him before that the leather seemed just a few inches off center as it conformed to the contours of his skin, but it now seemed like the sort of thing every party guess was bound to notice – or worse, comment on.

“I wouldn’t let it trouble you too much, Master Seibel,” Elian murmured, once again brazenly offering an unsolicited opinion. “I sincerely doubt your host or their guests will be foolish enough to draw attention to such a well-known wound.”

The words hung heavily between them, and Seibel couldn’t help narrowing his good eye to express displeasure with the chosen topic. It was clear, however, that his ire did not daunt Elian the way it might have a few weeks ago. And try though he did to find a flaw in the younger elf’s logic, Seibel was forced to admit that he had a point.

Again he sighed and, this time, he allowed all the tension to leak from his back and shoulders, realizing only when his muscles started to ache how tense he had been for the last few hours.

“Having one less thing to worry about is hardly the boon it might seem when even the tiniest thread out of place will result in being laughed off the premises,” Seibel muttered, though he melted deeper into his chair rather than tensing again.

A bemused smile flitted across Elian’s lips. “As I said, Master Seibel, I wouldn’t let it trouble you too much. You know as well as I do that even if you arrive to that ball looking absolutely flawless – as you will, I have no doubt – people are going to talk. You can’t halt the whispers, and you’ll go mad if you try. So why not go to the ball to enjoy yourself and let people say what they’re going to say?”

“A noble sentiment,” Seibel murmured, smiling despite his displeasure. No doubt Elian’s nonchalance could be attributed to his youth and relative inexperience with the upper echelons of society. “But it has been a long time since I found gatherings of this nature even remotely entertaining.” He retreated from society in part because it never held any particular appeal to him. He traveled among the court solely to support his wife while she still lived. As soon as she died, he had no reason to continue playing the game.

“Most people make their own fun,” Elian replied with a small shrug. “Most of them do it with gossip,” he added, casting Seibel a knowing look in the mirror. “But that does not mean that you can’t beat them at their own game. Most of those party guests are little more than vultures, carrion scavengers that will jump at the first offering to fall at their feet. Whenever they try to twist your presence or intentions, simply twist the narrative back on them. Eventually they will learn that you are too witty to best and turn their claws elsewhere.”

Seibel’s eyebrows drifted ever higher as Elian spoke. At last, he turned in his chair so that he could regard the young elf directly. “You seem shockingly experienced with this particular game.” More so than Seibel expected.

Elian grinned sheepishly and ducked his head to avoid meeting Seibel’s direct gaze. It had nothing to do with propriety; Seibel could tell he had embarrassed his protégé. “You were not the only one who ran to this house to avoid the rigors of higher society,” he admitted softly. “There seems no point in denying it anymore. Though in my case, it was my family I wished to avoid rather than the rumor mill.”

“The right family’s claws can rend as effectively as the snootiest aristocrat’s,” Seibel replied, though he couldn’t help wondering exactly what transpired to drive Elian so deeply into hiding. Thus far, the master of the house had avoided asking after Elian’s history, but Seibel couldn’t help feeling he wouldn’t be able to avoid sharing the details much longer. Now that Domerin was likely to start hosting in his own house, Elian’s face would grow more visible to the outside world.

As the sole remaining Archmage, Domerin had the power to protect the members of his house – but even that would only extend so far.

“We understand each other,” Elian replied with a light chuckle. “In truth, it was never the balls I minded so much as the family gatherings. You know what they say about family, after all.”

Seibel arched an eyebrow, not at all certain he did know what Elian was hinting at this time. “If you are referring to that tripe about blood being thicker than water, it’s a misnomer. The saying is meant to convey that the blood of covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

Elian laughed. “Oh, I’m well aware of that. Why do you think I’m still here? No I meant the one about how family is hard to live with but even harder to escape because family is always the first suspect in a murder trial.”

“I’m not sure I’m familiar with that one,” Seibel replied, not as amused by the joke as his young protégé.

But then, Seibel had always been close with his family. Even after he retreated into the shadows, he maintained a connection with his sons. They wrote often. And whenever he saw them, it was as if no time had passed. Even his wife’s extended relatives understood the way he dealt with his grief. They hadn’t hounded him to move forward or give up his haven – though no doubt they were thrilled he had finally decided to throw off his mantle of shadow and step again into the light.

He was well aware, however, that many families were as Elian described. Like the members of the king’s court, they pushed for what they wanted – relentlessly and without care for whatever harm they might cause along the way. If Elian was used to receiving the court’s treatment under his own roof, it was no wonder he ran for cover.

“I don’t suppose it matters.” Elian coughed once into his hand, then adopted a more formal stance, once again ready to perform any task that might be asked of him. “The point, Master Seibel, is that Master Domerin cares for you more than he cares about what the court thinks. And none of them would bother to whisper the way they do if they weren’t jealous of your position at his side. So while I’ve no doubt you’ll achieve your high standard of perfection long before you walk out the door, I don’t think you need to string yourself out over your reception. You can’t, after all, dissolve the flock. They will inevitably eventually reform.”

Seibel narrowed his eye as he raked his gaze across his young protégé’s figure. Whyever if he was so good at playing the court’s games had he retreated to the relative obscurity of Domerin’s household service?

Aside from the obvious answer of getting closer to the man.

He was about to ask the question, but swallowed it. Instead, he shifted in his chair and regarded himself in the mirror again. His hair remained perfectly textured since Elian had applied the cream from the bottle. And now that he stopped to think about it, he did have the perfect outfit for tonight’s ball. It was of an older style, but he purchased it only a few days ago because he appreciated the fabric design. It would serve as a blend between the old him and the new, just as it molded older fashion sense with newer styles. Surely the court would find this particular trend acceptable.

That left only the accessories and, as Elian said, perhaps he need not worry about some of them as much as he initially believed.

After all, it didn’t matter why Elian wished to remain concealed. Just because Seibel had agreed to return to the limelight did not mean Elian needed to follow his footsteps. And the young man had not asked him to try to solve any of his problems; he had merely offered a solution to Seibel’s current predicament.

“Perhaps I have been thinking about my new debut all wrong,” he murmured, a hint of a grin flitting across his lips. “Perhaps I should treat these occasions more like I used to treat the running of the household.” If he compared the trouble posed by the court to the nature of the maids he had spent the last decade governing, that should provide ready answers in the moment.

“A wise choice, indeed, Master Seibel,” Elian replied with a deferential nod. “I dare say that I have never seen you miss a beat since I came to work in this house, and I highly doubt you acted otherwise before my arrival.”

“Indeed,” Seibel declared as he reached for the jewelry box tucked into the top drawer of his vanity. “You have served me well this morning, Elian, but I do not wish to keep you from the rest of your duties.”

Elian bowed low and turned smartly toward the door, accepting the statement as the dismissal it was. Seibel shifted one last time in his chair, however, and cleared his throat as Elian opened the door to depart.

“Do let me know if you encounter any difficulties. I would be most pleased to return your generous favor.”

Elian smiled, accepting the hidden compliment, though he said nothing before disappearing and closing the door in his wake.

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