WITHIN HOURS, EVERYONE IN THE MANSE KNEW Lord Nicholas and Lady Phaidra had adopted a child. Indeed, with Ink requiring a wet nurse, there was really no way to keep it a secret. Rumors as to how they had come by the child varied wildly—as did descriptions of the stranger from those who had been in the Great Hall when he arrived.
The wet nurse, Deirdre, was understandably taken aback when she first laid eyes on the child. Her face paled to a shade comparable to Ink’s when Phaidra first proudly held the little girl out for her to see. She had to swallow several times, swaying uncertainly on her feet, her hands fisted in her skirts, before she could say faintly, “My, she has the clearest complexion I’ve ever seen on a wee one, milady.”
“Doesn’t she though?” Phaidra cooed at Ink, laughing in delight as the baby smiled at her. “And isn’t her hair lovely?”
Deirdre could agree in complete honesty that Ink had the loveliest black hair she’d ever seen on a child’s head. It was the rest of Ink she remained unsure about. “She’s got no color at all, save for shades of gray and that black hair,” she told her husband that evening. “White as flour, she is.” But then her voice and eyes softened. “The Lord and Lady are as taken with her as if she’d really been their own little one.”
The rest of Nicholas and Phaidra’s tenants and servants took longer to warm up to Ink. The idea of a child with skin whiter than their whitest linens alarmed people, as did the fact that she had been adopted.
“Faery child,” whispered some of the younger women.
“Witch’s child,” countered some of the older women.
“Not a son,” sighed the men.
But as the days slipped past, Ink began to win people over. Phaidra took her everywhere; she refused to be parted from her newfound daughter. In her eyes, Ink was a perfect miracle child. Phaidra cared not a whit that her adopted daughter looked different from other children. Neither did Nicholas.
Despite the sleepless nights they spent with her at the beginning, when Ink cried for parents who no longer lived and perhaps her godfather, she adapted quickly. Within a few short weeks, she had accepted Phaidra and Nicholas as her parents. She thrived under their care, growing into a fat, happy little baby. Her laughter made everyone else around her laugh; her wide, toothy grin brought joy to her new parents’ hearts.
Seasons passed and Ink grew with them—a happy, healthy child. The people of Dittforth relaxed when no strange tales wended their way from the Manse, and some even began to speculate that perhaps little Lady Ink had simply been born with a rare skin condition. It happened to some people, after all, the older villagers said sagely.
Everything sailed along smoothly until Ink learned to walk. Her steps were tiny and faltering at first, with frequent tumbles, but as her little muscles grew stronger, she grew more confident. Her newfound mobility enabled her to explore the Manse… and she did. Phaidra and Ink’s new nurse, Elsa, had a job on their hands trying to keep her out of trouble.
They soon noticed something strange: Ink’s little hands were often covered in something that looked suspiciously like black ink.
The first few times this happened, Phaidra and Elsa found Ink leaving black handprints on the walls and the floor. They thought nothing particular of it in the beginning. Phaidra blamed herself and Elsa for not keeping a closer watch on Ink; obviously the child had found a bottle of ink somewhere.
But when they continued to find Ink with black hands, they began to suspect something else was at work—namely that someone in the Manse had decided it would be amusing to give Ink an ink bottle.
“The problem with that theory, my love,” Nicholas pointed out one afternoon, glancing up from a sheaf of papers on his desk, “is that no one has actually found Ink with an ink bottle yet.”
“I don’t know what else it can be, Nicholas.” Phaidra set Ink down on the rug in one corner of the study and sank onto a footstool beside her. Ink squealed in delight and tottered forward to pick up a cloth doll lying on the rug, waiting for her. “Someone must be playing tricks on us.”
“He’ll regret it when the maids catch wind of it,” Nicholas said wryly. “If they knew who was behind it, I’m sure they would have already given him a good thrashing with their broomsticks.”
Phaidra sighed in mingled exasperation and frustration. “True.” The maids, she knew, were not particularly fond of Ink at the moment, on account of the recent spate of black handprints and other assorted smears she was leaving for them to clean.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Phaidra.” Nicholas sent her a smile. “Everything will sort itself out.”
“I certainly hope so. We’re having trouble keeping her in clean clothes.”
Ink giggled, and Phaidra glanced down at her with a smile that slipped when she caught sight of fresh black stains on Ink’s doll. “Ink!”
Tsking in disappointment, she scooped Ink up in her arms, being careful to avoid her inky hands and gingerly pried the doll free. “What have you gotten yourself into now, child?”
Ink babbled in distress, reaching for her doll, but Phaidra dropped it on the corner of her husband’s desk. “Nicholas, she’s done it again.”
“What?” He looked up in surprise. “How?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
Propping Ink on one hip, Phaidra produced a handkerchief from her sleeve and attempted to clean Ink’s hands. The more ink she wiped off, however, the more there seemed to be. After several bewildering moments of this, she was forced to concede temporary defeat.
The ink was not coming off that easily, and Ink was not happy with her mother.
“You’d best have Elsa bring some soap,” Nicholas observed.
Shaking her head, Phaidra called for Ink’s nurse to bring her a basin of warm water and some soap. A stout young woman with honey-brown hair, a round face, and kind brown eyes, Elsa had been a farmer’s daughter from the far side of Dittforth before she came to the Manse. She smiled at Ink as she entered with the basin.
“Thank you, Elsa. That is all.”
Elsa curtsied and departed, while Phaidra sat down on the window seat with the basin and proceeded to rinse Ink’s little hands in the water.
That was the moment Phaidra realized the black ink was actually seeping out of her daughter’s fingertips.
Absolutely astonished, she sat frozen with Ink in her lap and watched black droplets drip from Ink’s tiny fingers, slowly turning the water in the basin a watery black. She was too numb to notice the black droplets Ink splashed on her green skirt.
This, Phaidra thought with a heavy heart, is not natural. Her mind flashed back to the stranger’s hesitance. Ink is different. She had to clear her throat twice before she could say, “Nicholas.”
“I know where she’s getting the ink.”
Surprised, Nicholas glanced over his shoulder. “What? Already?” The smile forming on his lips died when he saw his wife’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Phaidra swallowed and nodded down to the basin of inky water. “It’s coming from her fingers.”
Ink laughed too, and clapped her hands together, spattering watery ink on herself and her mother.
Phaidra’s expression did not change. “I mean it, Nicholas. Look.”
His laughter died away as she rose to her feet and moved closer, lowering Ink to the desk and allowing her to trace black streaks on one of his papers.
“Well,” Nicholas said at last, when he could speak, “it would seem you named our daughter better than we knew, my love.” He took Ink from her and settled her on one knee so he could examine her fingers.
Ink chattered happily at her father before reaching for his papers again.
Phaidra wrung her hands together. “What are we going to do, Nicholas? How do we make it stop?”
“No, no, darling. I’m afraid the King won’t appreciate your artistic efforts.” Nicholas moved his papers away and bounced Ink on his knee when she protested. He looked up at Phaidra. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never heard of anything like this happening before.” He shook his head slightly. “It seems to be something she can control, at least partly.”
Phaidra continued to look worried.
Nicholas glanced over his shoulder at the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. “The weather has warmed up,” he said thoughtfully. “Have you considered taking her outside?”
They both looked at Ink, who was now leaning forward against her father’s arm with hands outstretched for a shiny letter opener. Nicholas rescued it before her little fingers closed around it. “No, no, little one. That’s too sharp for you.”
“I thought it still too cold yet.” Phaidra sighed as she took in the new black smears on Ink’s blue dress. “But, we’ll just have to try it. At least the grass won’t mind if she paints it black.” She sighed again. “I don’t know what I’m going to tell Elsa.”
“Tell her the truth,” Nicholas advised, “but tell her to keep it to herself. She’s a good girl, Elsa.”
“All right. If you think it best.” Phaidra scooped Ink up in her arms again, mindful of the fresh ink, and planted a kiss on her hair. Softly, she murmured in her ear, “I don’t care if you do drip ink—” the child looked up at her as she heard what she thought was her name, “—I’m so glad I have you.”
Elsa took the news with less fuss than Phaidra had feared. In a halting voice, the young woman explained that she’d had her suspicions about Ink, but she had not said anything because she was half-convinced she must be imagining things. She would happily keep the secret.
Until the weather warmed enough for Phaidra to deign it suitable for Ink to be introduced to the outdoors, she took a pragmatic approach to dealing with the child’s inky fingers. She knitted little black gloves and put them on her daughter’s hands. Needless to say, Ink did not like this at all. She cried and fussed whenever her mother or Elsa slid the gloves on her hands, and did her best to pull them off. The two women ultimately resorted to tying them on her little wrists.
They were all happy the morning Phaidra carried Ink outside and set her down in the grass beneath a big oak tree near the gardens. She took the gloves off and allowed Ink to toddle around and explore. Ink found grass fascinating. After an initial hesitation at its strange, prickly texture beneath her feet—for a few minutes, she clung to her mother, unwilling to step on it at all—she plopped down and began grabbing it in fistfuls.
Phaidra intervened to keep Ink from eating the grass, but otherwise left her alone while she enjoyed the sunshine and balmy spring air. After a little while, she registered absolute silence and swiftly turned to see what her daughter had gotten herself into now. A quiet child meant one of two things: she was either asleep, or she had found something that spelled trouble.
To her amazement, Ink had made her way over to the edge of the flower beds and was staring at them in rapture. She stuck a finger in her mouth and sucked, but quickly yanked her finger away, leaving a faint black smudge in her mouth. Instead, she stretched out a hand for a bright red bloom.
Before Phaidra could reach her, Ink had pulled the first bloom off and was staring at it in wonder. When she started to grab another bloom, this one bright yellow, Phaidra stopped her. “No, Ink.” She helped her daughter stroke the flower gently. “Don’t pull it off. You’ll hurt the flower. You can touch them like this.”
Following her mother’s cue, Ink gently stroked the flower with her tiny finger.
“That’s a good girl.” Phaidra took in the wonder and delight on the little girl’s face and made a decision. “Would you like to see more flowers?”
Over the course of the next half-hour, she carried Ink around the flower gardens and showed everything to her. When they came in for lunch, she was laughing and jabbering in the few words she could say so far and a musical baby language all her own. Her paper white skin, however, carried an angry gray flush of something they concluded must be sunburn.
From that point on, Nicholas and Phaidra could safely say three things about their little girl. One, she loved to draw. Two, she loved flowers. And, three, she did not do well out in the sun.
This concerned Phaidra greatly, because having tasted the outdoors, Ink wanted to be outside at all times. Particularly around the flower beds. A few of them, such as pansies, were in the shade, since some of them did not need as much sun as others, but Phaidra soon learned that Ink, much like her namesake, could not be confined to any one area. And, just like flowers, she craved the sun.
Even if prolonged exposure raised painful, weltering gray blisters on her porcelain skin.
Ink Realm: Lady Ink is available at: