Another Deleted Scene
I had a lot of epilogue material when I finished Smoke, Steel, & Ivy. This one was going to set up my sequel. Ultimately it got cut. Henry played too small of a role in Ivy’s story to deserve this much attention in the epilogue, but oh do I love him. I can’t wait to revise his manuscript. The Forgotten Storyteller is gorgeous, and Henry is fantastic throughout all of it. So here’s a taste of what’s to come and some foreshadowing to enjoy.
A bright wind skipped across the lake, sending small waves to the pebbled shore. It mixed with the magic of a warm spring night and spoke to Henry of hope tempered with caution. Yet only the oars sliding in and out of the water heeded the warning. The wind urged Henry to reconsider, but he was too young and far too determined. So the wind tussled Henry’s hair and played with the lace at his throat—it’d always been fond of the young man—before it ambled down the mountain. The seasoned wind knew how to avoid youthful folly.
Henry did not.
Twelve boats scraped onto the shore. Henry threw down his oars and leapt onto the dry pebbles. He had decided. He would propose to Ivy this night, here on the lakeshore. He would take her hand, promise her everything, and swear to make her happy. Ivy would say yes, maybe cry, shout the good news to her sisters, and then she and Henry would spend the rest of the night celebrating. And dancing. Ivy was a splendid dancer.
Henry adjusted the knot of his cravat. Ivy liked to tease Henry about his slapdash cravat. “Does the darling little boy not know how?” she’d asked as she retied the knot. Ivy was Henry’s senior and would not let him forget it. Henry addressed her as “Matron” when she insisted on being droll. She loved that.
Henry saw the soft glow of the procession through the cypress trees. The moonlight muted the colors of the girl’s gowns into an opalescent glow, but once inside the palace, candle light would restore their jeweled tones.
Henry stopped pacing. He willed himself to focus on the beat of the cicadas or the quiet breeze that tugged at his sleeves. He would not betray himself now—not with Ivy watching.
The other girls found their way to their boats in the moonlight. They were serene and smiling, lovely to be sure, but they were not Ivy. And they were avoiding his gaze, Henry thought, as if beholding him might spoil their merriment.
Henry turned to look back at the path up the beach. Ivy was nowhere to be seen.
“Henry?” Trina, Ivy’s sister and second eldest in the family, stood at the bow of his boat.
“Good evening, Trina. You look lovely as ever.” Henry hoped Ivy was listening.
Trina fidgeted with the button of her glove. “Henry, Ivy’s not coming tonight.”
“Ah.” Henry smoothed the lace of his cravat. He swallowed. “Well, then I will have to wait until tomorrow—”
“She’s not coming tomorrow,” Trina said quietly.
Henry winced. His cravat was tied too tight. “Trina, did something happen? Is Ivy sick?”
“No she’s fine—”
“Is she hurt?”
“Is she in danger—”
“She’s married, Henry!”
The entire beach went quiet. All Henry could hear was the soft slap of water against the sides of his boat.
Trina’s face was so grave, and her eyes so full of pity, Henry could not sustain his smile. “She wasn’t married yesterday.”
Trina continued in a hushed tone. “It happened just this morning.”
No. This was Ivy’s doing. A final test to prove that Henry was her perfect match, her complete equal… Then why did everyone look at Henry like he was a poor, lost lamb? Henry’s pulse roared in his ears. His voice was barely audible. “Who?”
“He was an officer in my father’s army.”
“A soldier?” The words stung in Henry’s throat. The details were communicated quickly.
“I’m sorry,” Trina said again, and then she turned to Phillip and left Henry alone on the beach.
It was some time before Henry returned to the old palace on the opposite shore. And when he finally pushed his boat onto the beach and threw his oars inside, he didn’t feel like dancing. What would be the point without Ivy? Ivy made every step, every movement, exciting. Even standing beside her was a dynamic experience. Now she was another man’s wife, and Henry was certain he would never dance again.
He sat on the marble balustrade and wiped the sweat from his bare neck. The old palace gleamed a soft white against the shale mountainside. The moonlight made its many cracks visible. Vines had grown through the windows and tangled themselves into the exposed buttresses. Music pulsed out of the open archways. How enchanting it used to look. How neglected it now appeared.
Peacocks picked their way through the grounds stopping to peck at unlucky crickets in the grassy mall. Henry sat with his head in his hands listening to the insectile chorus that continued without pause or acknowledgment of a compatriot’s tragic misfortune. His foot started to keep time with the music, but he could not bring himself to dance without Ivy. He was sure it would be like breathing underwater–painfully impossible.
As Henry contemplated the brittleness of his broken heart, a pair of women exited the palace. Their beauty had grown to include the graceful lines of age. Their dress was likewise costumed with age’s eccentricities.
“There he is!” The smaller woman, who had a life’s collection of jewels around her neck, said turning to her companion. “Oh Florence. Look at him.”
Florence nodded her head pertly, making the feathers tucked into her bun bob. “Poor fool.”
“You think he’d just seen his pony eaten by a pack of lions. Oh, we should help him!”
“We should leave him alone,” Florence said, fanning herself.
“Oh, let’s help him!”
Sylvia set her mouth in a pout. “Florence, look.” The pair of women watched as Henry, unaware of the ladies’ attention, sighed deeply. “Well that answers it! He needs us.”
Before Florence could object further, Sylvia was seated beside Henry. “Hello,” she said brightly.
Henry remained silent and continued to stare at the gravel walk.
“I’m Sylvia, and this is Florence.” Sylvia continued in a somewhat hushed tone. “We heard all about your…”
Henry slowly looked up at Sylvia. His eyes narrowed and his mouth pressed into a hard line.
“Well, we heard all about it.” Sylvia nodded. “Yes—haven’t we, Florence?” Sylvia nodded again and continued before her friend had a chance to say anything. “Just dreadful. You know Florence and I have been hosting balls like these since…” She blew out a breath. “But never have we seen such dancing as we witnessed between you and Ivy.”
The muscles in Henry’s neck tightened. “She is a beautiful dancer,” he said hoarsely.
“She is a competent dancer. You are the true artist,” Sylvia clarified.
Sylvia continued. “Your talent—”
“And passion,” Florence interjected. She had seated herself on the balustrade next to Henry too.
Sylvia nodded. “Yes, of course. Your talent and passion, could make anyone of these girls appear a rare talent.”
Henry rubbed his eyes. “No. I’m not… It’s not me.”
“Yes, it is,” Sylvia insisted.
Henry kicked the ground. “It hardly matters as I no longer have a partner.”
“And we’ve come to it.” Florence mumbled.
Sylvia eyed her friend sharply. She smiled again at Henry. “You’ll get over her,” she told him.
“I don’t want to,” Henry said.
“You’ll find someone else,” Sylvia offered.
“I will never find someone else,” Henry said.
Sylvia’s smile didn’t fade. “Well, then she will find you.”
Florence hmphed. “The poor girl will have no choice.”
Henry was silent. He dug his toe into the pebbles and gripped the railing tighter.
“You know Ivy would have turned you down.” Sylvia examined an opulent andalusite ring on her weathered hand.
“Excuse me?” Henry said turning to Sylvia.
Sylvia nodded. “Ivy would never have agreed to marry you.”
“How did you know–” Henry caught himself and continued in more measured tones. “You don’t know that.”
Sylvia shrugged and wiggled the bodice of her dress straight. “Ivy never would have agreed to spend the rest of her life with you. She liked you well enough when you twirled her around and made everyone stop and stare. As a dance partner you were indispensable. But even so… the night is only so long. Do you see?”
Henry was quiet for a moment. He sat staring at his hands. Perhaps it was true. Perhaps Ivy had only seen him as an excellent partner, a boy that was fun to dance with and had a knack for drawing everyone’s attention. Perhaps Henry always knew this. Still, it didn’t make his disappointment any easier to bear.
“There now.” Sylvia’s smile widened. “The light of reason is shining a little brighter. Now come inside and have a dance. The night is young, eh?”
Henry slowly shook his head. “To dance with anyone else would be a curse.”
“Oh, don’t say that! You are so young to waste such a gift. Now come inside. Lots of pretty young girls to meet. Who knows? One of them might even like that sour pout on your face.”
“No! Dancing would bring me nothing but pain now. It would fill me with despair and–” Henry stood up. “And my body and soul would be united in the most absolute wretchedness. Every step, every movement would remind me of what I’ve lost. It would be torture!”
“All the more reason to find someone else now, make some new memories.” Sylvia’s worried eyes did not match the brightness of her words.
Henry swore an oath too unseemly to repeat. “There is no one for me inside! There is no one for me in this whole kingdom or in any of these mountains!”
“Henry, don’t be impertinent.” Sylvia stood up. “Of course there is someone for you. Maybe not inside—”
Florence chuckled. “Definitely not inside. With a curse like that, he’d have to go all the way to the Coastlands to find her now.”
Sylvia continued. “But she will find you, and you will love her more than you even dared dream was possible. And when you dance with her—”
“No!” Henry shouted.
Sylvia’s voice was straining now. “When you dance with her you will realize just how silly you’ve been. Now come inside!”
“I’d sooner eat a peacock,” Henry said bitterly.
Sylvia paused, and the little party sat motionless as they watched a peacock strut across the mall in front of them. It was a beautiful creature. Even in the pale moonlight its many feathered eyes glowed a distinct indigo.
Sylvia shook her head. “I tried.” And turned back toward the palace.
Florence stood to follow, but paused before Henry. “Young man,” she said sternly, “we make our own magic in this world. Good and bad. You remember that.” And then she too followed her companion back into the revelry.
Henry, alone once more, sank to the gravel walk. The music swelled, and a beautiful mountain jig tumbled out of the open archways. It was one of Ivy’s favorite dances, merry and fast. Initially Henry thought the steps simplistic and childish, but with Ivy as a partner it quickly had become his favorite too. He had spent the last weeks happily humming the tune morning and night, counting the days until he could dance with her again. Now… The sound of it was painful.
Henry shivered and felt the sweat-dried skin of his neck prickle. A dull ache spread in Henry’s legs with the memory of Ivy’s steps mirroring his own. Henry staggered to his stiff feet and ran away from the old palace by the lake.