There is a book that I- well, I was going to say "read", but that's not quite correct. There is a book that I recite to Neeps every night, as part of our bedtime routine. I say recite and not read, because after reading it for a week or two, I had it memorized. Once upon a time I tried to have poetry memorized for recitation- now it's board books. Oh the times, they are a'changin'.
As I was reciting it last night, it occurred to me that I basically use it as a sleep spell, which got me thinking about spells and teaching rhymes and such, and I started wondering how I might turn the silly little children's book into a darker tale. Like Ring-Around-the-Rosies is actually about the Black Death.
What follows is (part one of) the result of that- feel free to let me know if you figure out the source material!
The boy watched the sun sink in bloody splendor behind the black tangle of trees on the horizon. Not long now, he thought to himself, and shivered.
"Miguel!" his mother's voice, tight with worry, lashed out at him from the vault door. "Quit dawdling!"
"Yes mother," he called, and obediently turned back towards the house. He couldn't help a glance behind, for one last look at the warring colors of the sky, indigo slowly winning out over flame.
"What part of 'quit dawdling' didn't make sense to you?" his mother snapped as he reached the stairs at last.
"Mom, the sun's just now set-"
"Precisely! Now get below," she gave him a light swat to the back of his head. "You say you want to be a Harrier- start showing the discipline of one!" Miguel felt his face heat, the words stinging far more than the blow.
"Sorry," he mumbled, and took off at a trot towards the Youngling's Bath before she could remind him.
He wasn't the last one there, by any stretch of the imagination- but he also wasn't among the first. His best friend, Lydia, who made it a point to be first at everything she possibly could, waved him down as he entered the enormous, steam-filled chamber.
"Miguel! Over here!" Miguel waved back so she'd stop shouting, then shed his clothing, dropping them into the proper baskets and grabbing a small cake of soap from another as he went.
"What took you so long?" Lydia demanded. She was sitting on the edge of the pool, already covered in white lather, and was systematically working the soap through her short hair.
"The sun has just set," Miguel groused, and jumped into the pool, making a point to splash her as he did so. When he emerged and blinked the water from his eyes she was glaring at him, re-soaping the parts of her skin the water had cleared.
"Well hurry up, anyway. I don't want the Titter Twins to take our spot."
Miguel grunted at that, but didn't argue as he began working his own soap into a lather. Lydia called her cousins, Mariah and Grace, the Titter Twins due to their (admittedly annoying) habit of giggling whenever they thought they'd been particularly clever. Which was often. He could see them on the other side of the steaming pool, already working on one another's backs.
"Turn," Lydia said, and Miguel obeyed, letting her scrub the hard-to-reach spot between his shoulder-blades as he finished up his arms. When she'd finished she presented her own back in turn. She was more flexible than he, and didn't technically need the assistance, but he eyed the area carefully, anyway. All it took was one moment of stupid assumption for Contagion to take root.
"Looks good," he said at last. Lydia didn't respond with words, but instead dunked beneath the water.
Once rinsed, the two of them grabbed towels from the stack, dried off, and hurried into the next chamber to find fresh clothes in their size. Miguel took a little longer than Lydia- he'd had another growth spurt, and the size he'd been able to wear last week no longer fit. Lydia tapped her foot, glancing back towards the pool to check on the progress of the Titter Twins. She frowned, unable to spot them.
At last they were on their way to the Kennel, where the massive, shining Day Hounds awaited their ministrations.
"Damn it," Lydia hissed under her breath. Miguel followed her gaze upwards to where Mariah and Grace were already climbing into position near the teeth.
"Don't sweat it, Lydia- no one's on the claws, yet, we can still-"
"I hate being beneath them!" Lydia snapped. They'll drop their brushes on purpose, see if they don't, and then we'll have to interrupt our work to fetch it back for them, the rotten little-"
"Maybe they won't," said Miguel, although he didn't really believe it. He grabbed two buckets of tools, and shoved one against Lydia's chest, forcing her to grab it. "C'mon, before someone else takes the claws and we're left doing something tedious, like the hinges."