The Final Death of Floretta Deliverance Hughes

The Following is an excerpt from my second YA fantasy novel, a work in progress titled A Dead Maiden’s Book of Songs.  In this passage one of the chief characters Floretta Deliverance Hughes falls to her death in a planned, staged suicide attempt that goes wrong.

floraFlora fought her way up the side of the moor.  She couldn’t breathe.  Throwing herself off the knife edge arête of Oswald’s Edge might not prove necessary.  Her corset would suffocate her long before she reached it.  She paused for breath and leaned against an outcropping of rock beside the pig track—the easiest method for ascending Grimsrigg Fell.

Ball gowns weren’t for hill trekking.  The bulky cage skirt and petticoat lay in a pale heap on the valley floor, far below.  Beneath the silken skirts of her fantastically red gown Flora shivered with cold in lacy pantalettes and struggled for breath under the confines of tight stays.

Atmospheric conditions were perfect.  Wisps of indigo cloud fell across the full moon, shifting and swirling like the curling tendrils of dancing girls.  An autumnal sort of fog settled along the heathery moorland, sneaking its fingers into crevices and wrapping its arms around the world in a hazy embrace.  It had been such a fine day she should have known the night would be bitter.  But Flora revelled in the artistry of it all.  This was weather to die for.

Pulling a cloak more tightly around her with one hand and gathering her skirts in the other, Flora pressed on.  In a rare moment of practicality, she had taken Priss’s sturdy hobnailed boots, the ones she wore to muck out the chickens.  Hopefully the family would not assume their devoted maidservant had stolen the embroidered scarlet slippers Flora left in their place.  How ridiculous I must look in my wool cloak, mud-spattered work boots and fashionably frilly ball gown.

Flora experienced a moment of doubt.  Would the questionable and arguably comical aesthetic of her attire ruin the overall effect?  Beaux Arts Macabre demanded Beaux de Mode.  I shall remove the cloak before I fall and perhaps the shoes as well.  Yes!  Barefoot beneath my gown adds a salacious touch of scandal.

Distracted by thoughts of a fashionable exit, Flora trod on the front hem of her gown and fell hard against the rocky path.  Not a particularly painful fall, but the poppy silk sustained a mortal injury.  A tear like a bloody wound rent the bottom-most ruffled tier.  With a defeated sigh, Flora ripped away the entire layer.  She grinned down at the effect of exposed lace pantaloons and grubby work boots beneath the silk scarlet frills then trudged on.

She turned out to be grateful for the rugged footwear.  The pig track was not as easy a route as she remembered from climbing it as an adventurous ten-year-old.  Flora stumbled often but Priss’s boots made the rocky path easier to bear.  It would be no good at all if she should fall at the wrong moment or even worse sustain an injury which might mar a graceful leap from the dramatic precipice.

By the time she reached the top of Oswald’s Edge the full moon was at its zenith beneath a veil of cloud and the entire Vale of Burr was blanketed in fog.  Perfect.  Flora shrugged off her woollen cloak.  A violent tremor shuddered through her brought on by the chill of the fell wind and her own fear.

Flora adjusted the neckline of her gown as if proper bodice arrangement might ease her terror.  She stepped closer to the rocky edge and looked down.  Not across the lovely valley vista but down.  Straight down.  Down the steeply sloping drop-off, over the jagged shards of rock, through the sheer distance from top to bottom of Oswald’s Edge.

‘Oh!’

This was too much.  This was too real.  This wasn’t some charming watery grave or a woozy poisoned fainting spell.  This was hard, brutal, painful death.  There would be no turning back once she began.  No possible way to change her mind.  And what if Hercules Bogg really did want to teach her about archery?  What if he wanted to learn more about roses and blossoming red flowers?  Who would feed Lord Byron?

There was no beauty here.  This was an ugly end.  Mals Arts Macabre. Mal!  Mal!

‘I can’t do this.’

Flora hastily retreated from the edge of Oswald’s Edge. She had to find the pig track. The pig track would take her home.  She wheeled on sturdy heels and walked straight into a pair of silvery blue eyes.

‘Wha—who—ha,’ stuttered Flora, backing away from the mysterious would-be priest whose face was a breath from hers.  His body swathed in black robes, made his face appear disembodied.  His eyes like twin moons, bathed her in a merciless glow.

‘Find her for me, little vicar’s daughter.  Find her.  Bring her back.’

Flora didn’t even have time to ask who he meant before Priss’s hobnailed boots stepped back into nothingness.

Floretta Deliverance Hughes fell gracefully from the knife edge arête of Oswald’s Edge.  Her red dress billowed, her red plaits rippled and her fair skin shone beautifully in the moonlight all the way down.  And she could see every moment of it.  Her beautiful death reflected in his pale, disembodied eyes.

Illustration by Elizabeth Snider

The Tragic Legend of St Becket of Burly

Graveyard All SaintswebCredit must go to my father-in-law Mike who came up with the majority of this story, to my friend Jacqui for giving her son the coolest freaking name ever and to my brother-in-law Jona for the inspirational photograph of his home village’s churchyard.  

In 1348, the Priest of All Hallowed Souls in Burly-the-Wath was called away to Canterbury. In his absence, a promising young monk Truman Becket assumed the duties of Parish Priest. Plague came to Burly later that year…a strange plague out of sync with the surrounding countryside. Becket became convinced the plague was no natural disease but evidence of sorcery and witchcraft. Under Becket’s direction, a witch hunt began. Eighteen in the village were burned—twelve after exhibiting signs of plague and six accused of visiting this pestilence on the village through associations with the Devil.

At this time, an abbess from the south came through Burly on pilgrimage to York. Agnes Wymark stayed to assist Becket in his duties. The two zealots fell secretly in love as they continued to annihilate Satan’s presence. Until the day Agnes herself fell ill. There were rumours her symptoms may have been the product of a concealed pregnancy, but it made no difference to her fate. When the villagers came for her, Becket was distraught. Grief and fury turned him wild, violent and so he too was believed to be possessed. After purification, the remains of Truman and Agnes were concealed in iron urns to protect the village from their enraged souls.

For centuries, their tragic tale thrived. If a baby died, old women said Agnes Wymark must have taken it for her own. When the wind off the moor howled in the church tower, old men claimed it was Truman Becket’s screams.

Then in 1563, another mysterious plague came to Burly-the-Wath. A young boy from the newly established village school began experiencing visions of a medieval monk. The boy Tom claimed the monk was showing him the way to cure the village. At first the Senior House Master dismissed these as mere fantasy. But as the days went by, more villagers died and Tom’s visions grew more detailed. One night a beautiful woman in holy robes took him by the hand and led him to a well where the monk knelt in prayer. In the morning, Tom was discovered standing by the well, staring as if in a trance, his finger pointing down into its depths.

At last the House Master and the Parish Priest descended into the well, where they found the decomposing remains of a child—the House Master’s daughter believed missing for several months. Her corpse had contaminated the water supply. Once removed, the village plague vanished. In deference to their good service, the remains of Truman and Agnes were buried side by side in the churchyard. For many years, the parish campaigned to have Becket canonised but to no avail. The village alone refers to him as St Becket, a name they gave to the new school.

Iron bars and chains still surround the grave markers of Truman and Agnes…just in case.

Fashion resources for Historical Writers

250_l_AC004844I have often boasted of just how blessed I am in my circle of creative friends and family.  When I put out a plaintive plea for assistance with adding detail to my Victorian characters in Floretta Deliverance Hughes, my brilliant costume student cousin Lizzie picked up my  thrown gauntlet with gusto.

78_l_AC09475The Kyoto Costume Institute’s online archive is quickly becoming an addiction for me now.  Almost two hundred years worth of images and historical details available at a click.  It’s the accompanying information that make this such an essential resource for historical writers.  Quick and easy way to get a basic education in fashion, though exclusively focused on women’s styles.

For a slightly more balanced approach, and a site which offers an even broader education into historical fashion, there is the Victoria and Albert museum website.

 

circ.96-1963_cabinet_1000pxIn addition to information and inspiration for character clothing, there are articles on furnishing styles to aid in descriptions of the rooms your characters sit in whilst wearing their fabulous frocks.  Bigger picture articles such as the one on Gothic Revival explore architecture as well.

These images here have given me some much needed inspiration.