Our inspiration picture came from my Writing Inspiration Pinterest board this time. Patrick picked it for us. Such an odd little creature! We're loving it...
We've also given ourselves a 45 minute time limit now which makes it interesting!
And you might have noticed I changed our name to Typecast instead of Hubby vs. Wifey, because this group has become significantly bigger than just Patrick and me. Heck yes.
The sound of sobbing filled my ears. I buried my head in my pillow where the sound muffled and rang in my mind instead. I was the one weeping, and I didn't know if I'd ever stop.
My uncle had told me that I was to wed on the morrow, no matter my fears and tears, and he had turned a deaf ear to my entreaties. My love, the poor blacksmith from the village, had begged for my hand in gallant though humble fashion, and my uncle had thrown him from our stoop, giving orders to put him in stocks if he came near our land again.
It wasn't as if I were a princess or even a duchess to be held fast for political reasons! No, our land had come to us later in generations, but Uncle was determined to secure allies amongst the blue bloods, allies who coveted our wealth but had the family crests that commanded respect in the king's court.
So I was to be the bargaining chip in my uncle's grand gamble for power.
My father would never have consented to it, but he was ill since last year's accident hunting and often didn't even recognize me, let alone take an interest in my affairs. And my mother, my uncle's sister, was dead three years. So I was left alone to plead my case, plead for the life that I wanted to live. And he had turned me away to pursue his own end.
The wedding was tomorrow night, and I was bereft. My betrothed was a hard man who drove his horses cruelly and treated all but my uncle with contempt. I could see my future as if it were written across the wall over my bed frame, and I was heartbroken and desperately afraid.
As I gasped for air in hysterical gulps, feeling madness rise in me with my panic, I remembered a song my mother used to sing over my bed when I had nightmares. I cried out in a strangled whisper,
"Help me - oh help me! Dear candlestick man
Bring me your sword, lend me your hand!
The fires are rising, the moon now hangs low
If you do not help me, to the depths I will go."
I never understood why such a haunting tune, though sung so sweetly, could lend me such peace, but though my mother was not here to sing, that same calm washed over me, and I drew in breath without gasping. I raised my face, bleary eyed, and turned so that I lay on my back on the bed, my wet hair against my sopping pillow. As I stared, exhausted, as the gilded ceiling above, I noticed that the lone candle on my dresser opposite was flickering oddly.
I felt dull and spent, but a tiny interested spark entered my mind nonetheless. I watched it carefully - and with wide eyes saw the flame rise almost to the ceiling. I threw my legs over the bed to fetch my water pitcher, but my movement was arrested when I saw something much stranger.
The flame lowered again - and reached out a small hand to grasp the snuffer beside it. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Tiny arms had sprouted, a body, and finally, an odd little rounded head! I left my bed to approach the dresser, marveling, feeling no fear, only fascination. The big eyes looked up at me. The face ended in a small nose, like an animal's, with its mouth below. I should have been terrified, but I was only fascinated.
"Hello," I whispered, putting my hands on the dresser top.
It blinked at me seriously. Its body moved continually like the flame, in undulating movements that were mesmerizing.
I heard the voice in my mind - the creature had not moved its mouth. I saw it cock its head at me.
"The candlestick man?"
You have a request?
Its little voice was pensive, serious, in my mind.
"Yes," I choked, "Oh yes."
My mind whirled with my fears and dashed hopes.
It nodded again.
What do you want?
"I..." I stopped. How to ask for what I wanted? There was too much.
"I want to be free."
The creature's eyes closed. How free?
"Completely free," I whispered.
The big eyes opened and the head cocked to the side once more. Granted, the little voice inside my mind said.
For a moment, I saw nothing, felt nothing. Then, reality came to me once more. It was a state of being that I could not describe, however, and I realized that I was not in my room anymore. Instead, I saw the dark drapes and rich hangings of my uncle's room. I would have gasped, but I had no throat, no lungs, to do so. I was only a flame.
My uncle sat before me, counting coins in front of him, tallying numbers, hastily writing letters to four different influential men at a time. Sweat dripped down his brow.
"It won't be enough," he murmured. "I thought it would be enough last month, so why isn't it? I've got to have more, just a little more..."
I felt sorrow and pity, not fear. I tried to reassure him, to speak to him, but then I was in another room; I was another flame.
Before me paced my fiancé, my greatest terror. His bare feet made no sound on the stone floor, and his face was pinched as he tore at his fingernails. I saw the darkness of his mind, and I recoiled, but behind the darkness, I saw the source, I saw the fear, the need to control all lest it slip through his fingers, lest the fear swallow him up completely. I felt pity and sorrow.
Then I was gone once more, and this time, I saw the hunched figure of my love, seated on a simple wooden chair as tears dripped slowly down his face. He stared at the small silver ring in his palm, and I saw his fear, his shame, his desire to have the courage to confront my uncle, to whisk me away...and though I saw his flaws and fears, I felt no pity and no sorrow.
I felt determination.
I will live again, I thought; I wished. I will not be completely free. I will bind myself to this world where people fear and grasp and sorrow. And I will be free to take my path, bound as I am, for now.
As soon as this thought rose in the air with the smoke from my flame, I felt a tug as if it were taking me with it. Again, I saw and felt nothingness - and then I was standing, hands on my dresser, looking at the Candlestick Man.
"Thank you," I said.
A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth - and the candle was flame and wick and wax once more.
“Come on, let’s move. I thought you said you knew how to pick locks.” A tall, well-built jock hissed under his breath.
“I’m trying, and you’re not helping.” A short woman with black hair in a tight bun whispered back. “I can do locks, but this one seems as old as the rest of the building.” She pulled back and rubbed her hands together in an attempt to return feeling to them. “Every other faculty member has updated doors and locks, I don’t know why Professor Le Fay doesn’t,” she complained mostly to herself.
Another girl with curly blond hair turned slowly in realization. “Wait, how many other faculty member’s offices have you broken into exactly?”
A thin man stepped between the two women. “I don’t know. How many profs are there? Look, the point is this is the first for Le Fay, and we’re pressed for time. So, shut it.” He turned away from the blond and to the lockpicker. “How’s it coming, sis?” He directed his words away from the others to conceal his concern.
“In your own words: shut it, Ash.” He caught the hint of warning in her voice.
“How long do we have?” The jock asked, keeping one eye on the hallway behind them.
The thin man flashed the screen of his phone on and off. “Gena said she’d keep Le Fay until at least seven. We’ve got roughly eight minutes.”
“Assuming Taylor can get the door open.”
At that moment, the door gave a satisfying click and swung open. Taylor, the dark-haired woman stepped back and gestured toward the door, stuffing a lockpick set back into her handbag.
Her brother clapped a hand on her shoulder and rushed into the office, the blond close behind. The jock gave an awkward half bow. “Ladies first.”
Taylor stared back unblinking. “Brett,” was all she replied. It wasn’t a suggestion. A shiver rattled Brett’s spine. He straightened and shuffled into the office. Taylor gave one last check down the hall and worked her way in backward, closing the door silently behind her.
She stopped only by bumping into the jock who had barely made it inside. She drew a breath deciding how much of it to spend on him, but it got caught in her throat. As she turned, she saw all of them had paused just feet inside the door, and she now knew why. The whole room was filled with hundreds of unlit but heavily used candles. The desk alone had nearly a dozen. They were on bookshelves, end tables, empty chairs, on the floor, on the windowsill, even a handful of small ones on the top of a particularly thick picture frame.
“How culty is this?” Ash asked rhetorically. “Riley, check it out,” he pointed up at the oil painting on the wall, “looks like you if you lived like, four hundred years ago.”
Riley approached the painting timidly and pushed aside her curls. “Yeah, kinda…” She stared a moment before shaking her head. “Okay, I don’t like this. Let’s get out.”
“Geez, calm down and give me a minute.” Ash worked his way around candles and small piles of books to a pile of loose papers on the desk. He started carefully lifting the corner of each one and checking the fronts and backs making sure to put them back in place.
“Hey,” Brett nudged Taylor’s shoulder, “check the halls real quick.”
Taylor straightened herself, not bothering to look at him. “She’s not out there. We’re fine.”
“Just check. You didn’t even look.”
“I don’t have to,” Talor retorted. “Professor Le Fay wears stilettos you can hear from all the way down the hall. We’d know if she was coming. Besides, if you’re so worried, why don’t you quit staring at Riley’s butt and check for yourself.”
Riley turned around surprisingly red even in the dark of the office. At that exact moment, Brett became exceedingly fascinated with the nearest shelf of books.
“Alright, here we go.” Ash perked up, seemingly unaware of the conversation. “Answer key… midterm… ancient European history… yeah, this is it.” Once again he pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of the sheet before sliding it back in its place.
There was the faint sound of a small bell. All the candles in the room lit up at once.
“Oh, what the…” Brett tripped over his own feet, barely catching himself on the bookshelf.
“Nope! Out!” Ash rasped something between a whisper and a squeal making his way around the desk and toward the door. Riley stood wide-eyed with a thousand-yard stare. He grabbed her arm and pulled her along with him. “Taylor, let’s go!”
She couldn’t move.
She wanted to, but she couldn’t move her legs. She could feel them beneath her, but they wouldn’t listen. A small voice in her head – not hers – whispered, “Stay.”
She could barely turn her head to face Ash. It was like a dream; the kind of dream where you know something dreadful is coming, but you can’t do anything about it. You can’t run. You can’t scream. You can’t even blink. She was able to crane her neck just far enough to see Ash out of the corner of her eye. He shoved Riley out the door and turned back for her but was thrust suddenly out of the office by an unseen force.
A single tear slid down Taylor’s face. All the candles went out.
Taylor was no longer alone. She could see a feminine figure by the window silhouetted against the night sky beyond. She could move.
She could move!
She had only thought about turning toward the door when the voice entered her mind again, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
This made her stop. Not out of force, but by her own will. Something in the voice intrigued her. No, it was more than that. It called to her. Something inside her stirred.
She faced the figure deciding not to show just how unsettled she was. She figured, even if it were a lie, a brave front was best. The figure bent down over the desk and produced a flame. There was no sound of friction, no chemical puff of smoke; just flame. One by one, three candles were lit. The one in the middle was significantly longer than the others and was an odd light green hue. At this point Taylor could finally make out who the woman was.
“Professor Le Fay?”
“A moment, please.” Le Fay responded, raising a slender finger. With this finger she reached down and extinguished the tall candle gently blowing at the smoke. But instead of disappearing, the smoke grew and swirled in unnatural shapes.
A small creature took shape. Taylor wasn’t sure whether it came out of or was formed by the candle smoke. It had a rather fat, bald head with long, drooping ears. In its hands was a staff, barely a few inches long, with a petite, brass bell on the end of it.
Le Fay leaned in and smiled maternally at the whisp of a creature. “Thank you, Eshan. I had a feeling they’d be coming. As always, you’re most helpful.”
The creature, Eshan, let out a snort through its nostrils which twisted the remaining smoke playfully.
“You… it, umm…” Taylor couldn’t find words.
“A familiar, dear.” Professor Le Fay stood to her full height. She wasn’t imposing as much as impressive both in height and presence.
“We don’t have long this evening, but I thought we’d have a chat. Taylor, was it?”
“You have skills, Taylor.”
Taylor half turned toward the door and then back. “I’m sorry, I don’t…”
Le Fey waved a hand. “Not the door, dear. Though, that was impressive.” Taylor stood still breathing heavily through parted lips. “No, I mean other skills. You may not know it yet, but you and I are more alike than you realize.”
A raven appeared at the window and pecked three times. It turned a head to stare directly at Le Fay.
She nodded casually to the raven and turned back to Taylor. “I’m sorry, but that’s my cue. Do be good and try to study. We’ll cover more of this later.”
Taylor blinked hard, trying to take in what she had just seen. As her eyes refocused, she found that she was standing in the middle of her dorm room. Her roommate was snoring gently in a large bed to the side. In the shock of the moment, the only thing that really caught Taylor’s attention was an abnormally long, mint green candle on the nightstand beside her bed that had definitely not been there that morning.
A soft creak came from the front door. It opened softly, muting the bell hanging from the ceiling. Soft, milky moonlight painted the floor before disappearing just as silently. Absolutely nothing stepped into the little thrift shop. Or, it appeared to be nothing.
A dress hanging from a mannequin swayed as an invisible finger brushed over its soft fabric. On a display table, a spyglass was lifted before being set down again. Similarly, a book on a shelf, a necklace, a pair of leather shoes, and pocket watch were disturbed in their place by, what appeared to be, nothing.
“Uh, who are you?” a small, squeaky voice whispered.
Any and all movement ceased and the invisible force stopped.
“I know you’re there?” the small voice asked. It could have been a child’s voice, but even a child’s voice wasn’t this high-pitched. “I saw you.”
Silence blanketed the store before a low whisper finally replied. “No, you don’t.”
“Ha!” the small voice celebrated. “I knew it!”
A light sparked from the far right corner of the shop’s main room, in tune with the small voice’s glee. “I knew it. I knew it.”
The voice came from a flame alight on a single taper in a candlestick, resting on a long retired hearth. The flame danced and fluttered like any other flame, but held faintly discernable features to that of a face.
“I knew you were there,” the flame continued to chant teasingly. “I knew.”
But the celebration came to a swift halt when the taper was snatched into the air and was held suspended a couple of feet off the ground. The taper flashed red in terror, facing an invisible force that held it hostage.
“And what’s your prize?” the low, whispering voice asked, a smile in their tone.
The flame searched frantically for their oppressor and was disheartened when none could be found.
“I’m sorry!” they shouted. “I…I didn’t mean it. Just…”
Suddenly, a deep groan came from an adjacent room. It reverberated in the floor boards and echoed in the bones. The flame immediately fell silent and held still until the sound stopped.
“What was that?” the low whisper asked, still holding the flame hostage.
“Just let me go,” the spark begged quietly. “Put me down, please!”
Beginning at the top of the head and spilling down into the extremities, the intruder revealed themselves. It was a female of some species with human features and pale, purple skin. Her golden eyes flashed under locks of black hair and thin lips poorly concealed sharp, predator-like teeth. A dark green robes cloaked her figure and was draped over her head elegantly.
“Or what?” the woman asked, her voice just as deep and soft as before.
“I’ll…I’ll burn you,” the flame stuttered, unsure of what else to say. As if to present an example, a flurry of sparks flashed away from the flame’s body. The minor attack singed the woman’s fingers but not enough to make her drop the candlestick.
“Cute,” she purred, showing a few sharp teeth in a cruelly timed smirk. “So tell me, what is in the other room?”
The flame sputtered anxiously. It’s eyes, although only vague shapes in the total of its body, were wide in fear. “You’re not from here, are you?”
The woman glanced around the room before resting on her heels and pulling her shoulders back confidently. “Here? You mean Alimary City? Sure, I’m not from here. Does it show?”
The flame’s color eased away from a blinding yellow into a soft orange. “What are you doing here? Who are you?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “All of these questions…why can’t I learn something about you, huh? What are you anyway?”
Doing her own investigating, she looked at the candlestick from every angle, even turning it on its side for a moment. Wax dripped from the taper and caused the flame to dance wildly in fear.
“Stop it!” it demanded. “Please!”
“Will you die if you’re blown out?” the woman asked nonchalantly. “What if I were to snuff you out? What would happen?”
“I’m a flame troll!” the little creature blurted. “And yes! You’d be killing me.”
The woman raised a single eyebrow. “Interesting. Can’t say I’ve seen one of your likes before. And that’s saying something. I’m a thief, you see.”
The flame troll took a moment’s pause. “A thief?” it squeaked quietly. “And you came here?”
The woman smiled and nodded. “Sure. I’ve heard tell of this place.” She glanced around the room with hungry eyes. “Many good things for the taking.” Her gaze returned to the flame troll. “I just need to make sure there aren’t any spying eyes that are going to burn me in the future.”
She laughed quietly at her own joke. The flame troll simply waited and watched with his sparkling body fading into a soft, calm red.
The woman seemed to sense the troll’s confident air and stopped laughing in order to narrow her eyes.
“What is it?” she asked, her mouth down turning in a playful pout. “Are you angry? What do you need all this stuff for anyways? You’re a flame troll!”
“No, I’m surprised,” the troll replied, its voice as calm as it had ever been.
“And why is that?”
The groaning in the other room began again. This time, it grew into a growl that shook the very structure of the shop, rattling in the thief’s bones. She looked around the shop frantically before resting her gaze on the door to the other room.
“Because, you’re stealing from a dragon.”
Amanda (new member!): "DON’T FOLLOW THE LIGHT"
I was always told one rule when in the forest, “don’t follow the light.” “The will-o-wisps will always lead you astray. The lights are enchanting, flickering between blue and white, ethereal, even. But they will lead you to your demise. They will lead you into the swamp waters and you will drown in the mud, or they will lead you off a ravine and you will fall to your death.” The moral of the story is, “don’t follow the lights." I get it, I know, don’t follow the light.
That, for me, was never an issue. I was never one to wonder outside after dark, or really even during the day. Nature is beautiful, yes, but it is also hot, wet, sticky, squishy, and many other things that I rather not think about. I much prefer to stay in the library reading among the stacks of books and tomes. The smell of leather, paper, and ink. It smells like home, so it is where I stay, never worrying about following the lights. Day or night, reading by sun or candlelight seems like a perfect way to spend my time.
But what my elders never mentioned was that following the light and looking at the light were essentially the same, “don’t look into the light”. While reading late one night, I glanced up at my candle. I noticed how the flame twitched and moved, dancing as if it heard a song playing especially just for it. Entrancing, beautiful, warm, comforting feelings surrounded me while watching the flame flicker. But then I noticed something strange: I swear I could see the flame take shape. An ethereal, beautiful figure moved in time to a strange beat. She was small and her movements so fluid that I could not make out any features of her face. So graceful, entrancing, enthralling, I could not look away. The orange figure flickered and danced, twisting and turning in the flame. “Don’t look into the light.”
Then the flame shifted in color, suddenly green as if something was put into the flame. The figure changed, less ethereal, her form more skeletal even though I could not see her face, but still beautiful moving just as gracefully to a new song. This dance was faster and the rhythm pounding. It was if I could actually hear the song. The drums and the beat...I couldn’t help but tap my feet to the rhythm watching the figure moving so fast, never tiring and with a smile on my face she seemed to smile back, or so I thought. “Don’t look into the light.”
As she danced on, the color shifted once again, now a light blue. The song must have changed for the dancing slowed down. I could no longer hear the drums and my feet ceased to tap to the beat. This dance seemed sad, but the movement was still ever so graceful. The song I could hear screamed of lament, sadness, grieving. My heart hurt as I now heard the mournful song. I stilled, hesitating even to breathe. I could see her face clearly; she was even less ethereal now and more skeletal. Her eyes were haunted as she danced. I was trapped, caught in her stare, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to break my gaze with her eyes. “Don’t look into the light.”
The song shifted once again; this time the cadence was back. Weaker than before, but the pounding of the drums was there. I could hear the thump-thump of the drums. The rhythm wasn’t steady this time. The cadence was drifting off. Slower and slower until it felt like a full minute in between each beat. The flame shifted white, and the figure stopped dancing, never breaking our locked gaze. She moved closer, in time with the cadence, until she was but a whisper away from my face. “Look into my light.”
The flame went out and the drumming stopped. All was silent, quiet, deafening…peaceful. I cared no more about the rules, staying inside or going outside, darkness or lights. I felt no warmth or cold, no hunger or pain. I just was or rather were.
As you stand over my bones reading my notes, remember the rule “don’t look into the light.” For the flame will always have a dance but it will come with a price. One that is too steep for you to pay, but payment is always accepted by a sprite.
Your joints ached as you kept circling wet cloth in your hand around and around on the marble floors you were currently kneeling upon. Face ever hung downward as the clicking of heels of roaming nobles went further down the hall behind you. Your knees ached in protest, the thin layer of cloth of your pants the only thing cushioning them from the continued time of them meeting the floor beneath.
Another nobleman of some esteem came waltzing through the room past you, leaving a trail of dirty footprints behind him. You grumbled and moved on your knees to clean it up before any of your masters or mistresses saw them while you were the one on cleaning duty this wing.
Half an hour passed before you were finally able to clean up all of the man’s dirty shoeprints that appeared within your wing of the estate. You began an uneasy ascension, your knees flaring in pain. You leaned over a windowsill, resting your elbows and panting briefly. You stared down at the lush and colorful greenery as you noted two nobles riding lazily on horseback around the gardens.
You turned your back towards the window, wiping the sweat from your forehead with your forearm. With a final breath, you kicked off the windowsill before you began making your way down one of the estate’s many hallways, water bucket in hand and eyes vigilant for any speck of dirt, dust or any other unseemly cleanliness ne’er-do-wells.
Your eyes caught the double doors of the estate’s small ballroom, one of them ajar. You sighed and trudged over to it. Beyond the door, your eye caught something glowing from within. How peculiar. Better investigate, if it is something dangerous that were to get worse and your masters and mistresses found out you knew something of it, your punishment would not be light.
You opened one of the white wood doors, inlaid with designs in gold and purple paint. Your eyes met the estate’s ballroom, a large room with a hard floor decorated in a pale purple diamond pattern from one end of the room to the other, the entire wall to the left of you covered in large windows and glass doorways to the balcony further beyond. Candle holders decorated the other walls around ornate portraits of landscapes and long-gone family members of your masters and mistresses. From one of these candlesticks, on the other side of the room is where the mysterious glow you spotted illuminates from. Quite curious: it is still midday, no one would be lighting the candles in here when there’s so much natural light to fill the room.
You inched closer to the candlestick; the closer you got to it and the longer you stared at it, the burning flame created more questions in your mind. This flame was unusually bright, unusually powerful, and moved as if there was a persistent breeze flowing through the room. You glanced over at the doorways to the balcony, noting they were closed, so a wayward breeze from outside was likely out of the question.
Irrespective of the suspiciousness of the flame, you continued making your way towards the flame to blow it out before one of your masters or mistresses find out it was left alight for whatever reason. You took in a breath and blew it against the flame. Again, much like before, the flame seemed to bend like a tree branch with your blowing breath but stayed alight. You breathed in and tried again. Same result. Again. Same result. Your brows furrowed.
Suddenly you heard the faint sound of a bell reach your ears as the flame flickered and light filled your vision. You dropped your water bucket and brought your fists up to rub at your eyes, spotty lights dancing in your vision. When your vision returned, you were met with a much more curious sight. A small humanoid creature, the size of which was able to fit in the palm of your hand. It had a thin body, and a cartoonishly big head, like one of those caricature painters from the festivals in the city. In it’s ‘arms,’ it held a small wooden twig with a small bell connected to tip.
Despite its rather cute appearance, it didn’t seem quite at all happy with you, its cheeks puffed out and mouth in a very obvious frown. It stuck its staff out at you, the bell ringing faintly and bouncing off the nearby walls of the ballroom. You raised your hands up in instinct at the small creature’s lightning quick movement. It stared into your eyes with its own large ones before it slowly moved its bellstaff back over its shoulder. You slowly lower your hands. That turned out to be a rather unwise move as it brought its staff back out and thrust it as if it were coming at you with a spear. You suddenly flinched backward, slipping on the spilled water from your bucket and landing square upon your buttocks.
While nursing both your wounded buttocks and wounded pride, you heard a small chittering. Looking up at the creature, you noticed it with a hand over its mouth as its body bounced, at least as much as a living candlelight could. Was it laughing at you? You so suppose it might seem a little comical for a fully grown human to be scared of such a small and rather adorable little flicker like this, but you’re not sure your pride wanted to admit that quite yet.
You stood and put your fits on your hips, placing an admonishing expression on your face as the creature kept chittering at your misfortune. It stopped, upon noticing your face and its eyes flickered down to the knocked over water bucket and water spilled across the floor. It waved one of its hands. The water seemed to coalesce together upon the ground as the bucket flipped on its own to stand upward as the water made its own way back to the bucket.
Your eyes flickered between the bucket and the flaming creature. It nodded its head toward the bucket in a show of good will. You bent over, brought the bucket back into your hands and when you looked back to the creature, it had disappeared, a burnt wick a thin trail of smoke leading to the ceiling the only thing left.
Very, very, very curious indeed.
Ronnie: "The Candleguard"
Catherine sat contentedly in her chair by the fire darning yet another pair of socks for her highly active boys. She was humming to herself as she made the repairs, appreciating the warmth from the fire that protected from the onslaught of snow just outside her cozy abode. A crash was heard upstairs. No doubt the sound of her boys rough-housing beyond her view. It was to be expected. Her boys had been causing a ruckus all afternoon and evening due to the weather that prevented them from playing out of doors. She smiled to herself at the sound, a small chuckle escaping her lips. Nearby, playing quietly to herself with pair of dolls, sat her daughter, Elizabeth.
After a particularly loud thump and the sound of scampering feet coming down the stairs, she was greeted by the sight of her boys running breathlessly into the room.
“Ma! Ma! You won’t believe what we saw!” The boys yelled, each one talking over the other.
“One at a time, one at a time. What has got you boys so excited?”
Simon, her eldest, responded. “Mom, we were upstairs minding our own business—“ (Catherine tried not to roll her eyes at that statement for she knew her boys much better than that.) “And the candle almost got knocked over. I went to steady it and I saw—“
“We saw a face in the candle, Ma!” Timothy chimed.
“I was going to tell her!” Simon pushed his younger brother straight to the ground and started to wrestle him.
“Boys! Boys! That’s enough. Stop that this instant.” Catherine sighed as the boys stood up, still nudging each other in the side. She set aside her darning, placed her hands in her lap, and eyed each of her boys.
“Where is the candle?”
“Well…,” Timothy began, “I saw the face and, uhm…”
“He blew out the candle, ma. He was so scared!”
“Was not!” Timothy retorted.
“I see.” Catherine paused for a moment as she took her eyes away from her sons. She heaved a sigh and returned her gaze to them. “I think it’s time I told you about our little friends.”
At that, each boy stopped moving and looked at their mother with their mouths open wide in surprise. Her daughter, who had up until this moment been undisturbed by her brothers, stopped her playing and turned her attention to her mother.
“Gather round, children, and I will tell you about the Candleguard.” After but a moment’s hesitation, her boys and little girl quickly curled into her awaiting arms and settled in for a story.
“When I was a little girl, my father sat my brothers and sisters and I down and told us about the Candleguard. He said that if you looked closely at each little flame atop the candles we used to read and write and light our way, we would see a small creature carefully tending the flame. These creatures are little flame sprites that live alone inside the candles and only come out to do their important work: to guard the flame. It is their sole purpose and they love it. But it is also a sad life they live, for to tend the flame they must give up their lives. You see, as each candle burns and grows small, they age until the candle is too small to be burned and they must die. That is why we must always be careful not to burn our candles frivolously and only use them when it is very important. We must respect the lives of these small creatures and the cause that drives them. But, if you are kind and treat them right perhaps they will offer you their light.
“Now, I didn’t believe him at the time. But that very night, as he tucked me into bed and read me story I looked over and poof! I saw one! It was a small creature with large knowing eyes and a small coat of grey. And he was listening to the story too!”
Each child let out a sound of awe at this. “In every candle, ma?”
“In every candle.”
Later that evening, after kissing each of her children good night, Catherine settled in for bed her candle placed on her bedside table. The candle was short, nearly at its end. She retrieved a small book and placed it on her lap. Then she addressed the candle.
“Good evening, Bartholomew.”
A small wispy creature emerged from the light with large knowing eyes and a blue button down coat. “Good evening, ma’am.”
“My dear friend, I believe this is our final night together.”
“Yes, ma’am. Shall we begin where we left off?”
“Yes.” She lovingly touched the book, and, just before opening it paused to look over at the small flame sprite that had attended her nightly reading all these weeks.
“Thank you for your light. I am every grateful.”
“Of course, ma’am. It has been a pleasure to serve you.” The small sprite stood at attention and bowed with an exquisite flourish, the flame bending and waving with the movement, the light dancing on the walls. Catherine, in turn, bowed her head ever so slightly and opened her book.
“Now, where were we? Ah yes! The duke had just asked Lady Felicia for her hand.”