I wrote this story earlier in the year near Valentine’s Day. It deals with some of the characters in my WIP in a way that I’ve never really used them before. I just entered this for a contest, and I am quite fond of this piece after the rewrites. I don’t know if I will end up using this for the main text, but since I am usually so hesitant to share anything from my main series of novels I thought this might be a great introduction to my triplets. Of course the main series starts with all of them much younger and separated. This is a scene that would take place long after they’ve been reunited and have had a chance to develop their own unique personalities.
Also, it deals with a winter dance during a fictional holiday. Thought this might be relatable to some. Especially if you’ve ever been dragged somewhere that you didn’t want to go.
Roses are Red and Blood is Too
Roses are red. The color of blood. Duke couldn’t understand why his sister insisted on making him wear the overgrown flower on his jacket at the dance tonight. Elegant balls, rhythmic feet shuffling, and midnight twirls to the sounds of bladder pipes and untuned lyres was her thing. Holidays, he thought with a smirk. Who needs them? He had never kept a faith of any kind. He certainly didn’t know any of the old saints of MAI, so why did he have to attend a festival in the middle of winter that celebrated some old dead guy? About the only thing Duke was interested in at the evening’s festivities—other than removing the stuffy white dress robes he was forced to wear—was whether or not the Underdomers stocked cold ale in their murky dance hall.
Why in MAI’s name would anyone have a dance down here? He traversed what seemed like a thousand creaky steps to the hot caverns below the Underdome reluctantly; his twin sister dragged him along the whole way. There’s no sight of winter in this sweat pit, he told himself.
“Promise me you’ll at least try to have a good time,” Trinity pleaded with him. She had to keep looking ahead so as to not lose her footing or trip herself up on her fiery, auburn dress.
Duke pretended to ignore her. He was too busy picking individual petals off of the rose. He wondered if she’d notice his handiwork. Maybe she’d even send him up to fetch another. Here’s hoping. Anything to get out of that roasting cavern.
The people below were shifting alright. He never figured out the purpose of dancing. Moving his feet in patterns without a bloodhungry axe in his hand felt wrong somehow. He peered through the barrage of dulled gray suits and milky black dresses lining the dusty floor. Unfortunately, he saw the one color he detested above all.
A flop of messy yellow hair started heading their way. Not this dumbass. Trinity must’ve recognized the approaching figure at once—despite the dim light the torch sconces here provided—for she started waving as if she hadn’t just seen him above ground a half hour earlier.
“Hi guys!” exclaimed their other twin brother, Leo. “Boy, some party, huh?” His boyish grin sickened Duke. Worse yet, there wasn’t a bead of sweat on his brow. Bastard.
“Sorry we’re late,” Trinity said. “Had to drag this one the whole way.”
“No worries. The dance is really heating up now. How bout a beer, Duke?”
Duke was trying to decide for himself if his brother had just made a joke about the temperature. No, far too clever for him.
“Suit yourself. They’re nice and toasty if you change your mind,” he said, before he sauntered off. Most likely to annoy someone else.
Trinity released her falcon-like clasp on Duke’s arm. “I see Schobe!” she screeched.
Duke could sense her eagerness to run over and tackle her fiancée, and he was sure everyone else at the dance could sense it now too. She seemed torn though as she remained frozen by his side.
“Trinity, go to him.”
“A-are you sure you’ll be alright? I said I would come as your date. Schobe understood.”
“You don’t need to babysit me. Have fun.”
She gave him a reassuring squeeze on his shoulder and a peck on his cheek. “You too.”
He wouldn’t. But he managed a smile for her sake, and watched her as she dashed away clumsily on her orange heels while holding her long skirt in her hand. Duke wondered then how long he’d have to suffer here now that she was gone. Maybe he could sneak back up the stairs without anyone noticing his absence.
Just as he was about to put his escape into action, the band changed songs. The lyres plucked a slow, pleasant tune. The pipes swooned and a cooling sensation radiated from their direction. Duke paused his ascent to the world above. He turned back and looked across the room at a color that caught his one and only eye.
There in the center of the dance hall was a woman in a form-fitting red gown. Her face glowed brighter than the torches on the wall. Her flowing red hair graced her bare back like a cherry waterfall. And those freckles. The way he’d always teased her about those freckles. Maybe it was the low light, or maybe the heat was finally getting to him. But right now, those freckles looked as if they were painted on her high cheeks by none other than MAI himself. They were speckled surfaces below the glimmering jade eyes now locking with his own blue eye across the way.
He wanted to walk to her, but he couldn’t find the strength to move forward. He—who had faced charging armies and menacing beasts with nothing but an axe and a bloodstained grin—was now glued to his spot in fear. His hands felt like they were sweating worse than his pits and face. He felt a rushed beating inside his chest, which echoed through his empty stomach. Should’ve had the beer.
She stepped forward. Why was she walking over here? He didn’t even know she was coming tonight. A few hours ago, she was wearing loose-fitting men’s breeches, and chewing on a half-block of old cheese while scowling over a book she’d read three times already. He knew, because he’d counted.
Before she could reach him, she was stopped by another. Leo. That idiot of a brother. Duke watched as his twin sibling with two perfect eyes bowed before the freckle-faced beauty before taking her hand without much resistance. Her gaze fell from Duke then. She wasn’t wearing her glasses tonight, Duke realized. Maybe, she didn’t even see me.
Up and out became his only goal then. Retreating was easy now that he had no one watching him. He scaled the steps four at a time and didn’t slow his pace until at last he caught a breath of the crisp, fresh air below the charcoal evening sky. He felt a strange comfort in the crunch his boots made upon the snow. Yet despite the cold, he removed his handkerchief and wiped at his face as if he’d just been caught in a summer storm.
There was a soft tap on his shoulder then. His eye widened. He turned around slowly and there she was. “Midla?”
She was huffing and struggling to breathe as she rested her hands on her thighs. “Can I…can I borrow…your handkerchief?”
Duke gave her what she asked him. Midla cleaned her damp brow with the soggy rag. She took a while to catch her breath. Duke couldn’t help but smile at her attempts.
“Damn…you wanted to get out of there…faster than I did,” she said.
“Midla, I thought you were dancing. I saw—I thought you were with Leo.”
“Oh—no, are you joking? It was too hot to dance down there. Besides…I’ve never really understood dances. Or holidays. Seems like a pretty stupid way to spend an evening, you ask me.”
“…I couldn’t agree more.”
She started to laugh at the sight of him. “Oh, but this I had to see. Duke, Duke, Duke. The slayer of kings, wearing dress robes. And shiny white ones no less.”
“What about you Mills? I didn’t even know you owned a dress. Sure you don’t have boots under that skirt of yours?”
“Heels,” Midla said, scoffing. “Red ones. To match my dress. Hey, sort of like your rose.” She reached up and caressed the plucked flower.
“Sort of like my rose,” he repeated, his blue eye never losing sight of her dancing green pair.
“Trinity made you wear it. Didn’t she?” Her eyes narrowed as she smiled. “She’s the only one I showed my dress to.”
“And now I’ve seen it too.”
“…And now you’ve seen it too.”
The fear from before had been replaced with feelings—that like holidays and dancing—Duke could not explain either. Midla had always been a calming, though mostly annoying presence in his life. Her jokes usually riled him, and on more than one occasion they’d ended their conversations with a shouting match. But there was something different about her tonight. Something breathtaking. Maybe this was a feeling to be feared. But he thought not. For he had known fear in the darkness from which he was raised. And this…was something else. Because for the first time in his whole life, the color red did not make him think of blood.