Lessons

Her bedroom door opened a moment after the single knock, announcing her mother. Everyone else in her family waited for invitation, but not Selina. The Blackwood matriarch let you know she was coming and that was enough. Selina swept in, hips swaying her skirts across the floor. Her mother plucked the brush from her hand  and took her place behind Lillian as they both looked into the vanity’s mirror. They shared delicate heart shaped faces, narrow shoulders and quick thin fingers.

Lillian winced as her mother went to work on the black curls. Unlike most girls she did not set her hair loose to sleep and pin it up in the mornings. If she left her hair to its own devices she’d awake with a brier brush of tangles atop her head. Thus the entire waist length mess had to be tamed into braids each night and then brushed again in the morning.

“Where’s Nora?” She named the maid who usually attacked the nightly chore.

Selina gathered the dark hair in one hand and pulling a brush through it with the other. “I wished to speak with you, so Nora has the night to do as she pleases.”

Lillian froze for a moment. “This is about Monday.”

Selina nodded. She was silent, waiting for her daughter to set the tone of the conversation. It was always easier to react. Lillian knew the tactic. Playing black instead of white in chess.

“Its not fair. You let Ryan run with the dogs off into the woods and do whatever she wants. It was one day of lessons I missed. I have so many more than them!” Lillian’s temper coiled and snapped before she realized it had been there.

Selina’s even brush strokes never wavered. “And what did you do with your day of freedom?”

“A troupe was in town. I watched them perform.” Lillian crossed her arms.

Her mother’s gaze hardened and Lillian obediently relaxed her shoulders and set hands in lap instead. “You will need to break yourself of that habit Lillian. Is that why you skipped lessons, to see this troupe?”

Lillian worked to school her expression into the easy control of her mother’s. “No. But I should be allowed to skip lessons if Ryan and Richard can.”

The barest of smiles curved Selina’s lips. “Ah. You were evening a score. Righting an injustice.” Lillian narrowed her eyes, feeling as if she was being mocked. Her mother continued. “If you chafe at your responsibilities now I worry for the upcoming years. You are almost thirteen.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Lillian said quickly. It just hadn’t been fair, seeing her brother and sister run off into their own passions while she was stuck learning the endless genealogies and familial customs of their class.

Selina put down the brush and began to twist the curls into loose plaits. “Your responsibilities come with your position. You cannot possess one without the other.”

“Because I’m eldest.”

Her mother’s quick fingers paused. Selina bent down so their faces were next to one another’s. “It is because you are my eldest. Oh contentious daughter of mine, and you are set to lead this family when the time comes.” Her lips brushed the top of Lillian’s temple with a kiss. Selina straitened and resumed braiding. “I will only be harder on you in years to come, as my mother was to me. I hated her for it some days.”

“I don’t hate you.” Lillian jerked her chin up a little wide eyed.

“Of course not.” Her hand rested on Lillian’s shoulder for a moment. “But you already struggle against me and the efforts preparing you for the power you’ll inherit. There are times to gamble that power. I certainly did. But you should do so with the knowledge of all you pose to lose.”

Lillian looked curiously at her mother as Selina secured the long braid. “You did? When?”

“Those are stories for another time. My point, your adventure was a senseless gesture against your own family. Your brother and sister pursue their own ends, as you should chase yours. Your birthright is yours if you can accept the responsibilities that accompany it. That is your choice, I won’t force you.”

Lillian nodded slowly. She did not doubt her role as heir. She never had.

“Then now is the time to learn. Save these defiant displays for your enemies, not your family. We are here to help you.”  Selina stepped back and Lillian stood from the cushion. It was already dark, the delicate lanterns casting a warm glow over the two of them.

“What enemies?” Lillian asked dryly. It seemed a pertinent question if she was supposed to be saving her energy for some future conflict.

Selina smiled and lead her daughter to the bed. “The ones you’ll make. Anyone who’s accomplished anything worthwhile has more than a few, and I have faith you will have many.” That got Selina an odd look but Lillian climbed into bed. “Tomorrow you’ll make up the dancing lessons you missed. With interest.”

“I hate dancing.” Lillian sighed.

“That is because you are not good at it. Hence, lessons.” Selina bent to kiss her daughter on the forehead, ignoring the glare she received at the last comment. She left after extinguishing the glass lanterns, skirts sweeping the ground.

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