NOW THAT INK WAS WALKING IN EARNEST, her mother and nurse encountered a bit of a snag. Stairs delighted Ink. The grand staircase in the Manse was an obstacle she made up her mind to conquer—one step at a time. Getting down was trickier; she had nearly fallen several times. Only Phaidra’s quick intervention—or, on the occasions Ink had slipped away from her, one of the servants’ intervention—prevented her from having a serious fall down the steps.
One morning, however, Ink took advantage of a conversation her mother was having with Myrtle, the head cook, to head for the back stairway. She toddled down the hallway and started up the staircase, ponderously climbing one step at a time. By the time Phaidra realized she had disappeared, Ink was halfway up the staircase.
“Ink!” Phaidra made an exasperated sound in the back of her throat. “You had better not be on those stairs again, my love!”
Hearing her mother’s voice, Ink giggled to herself. She loved this game they played. Soft footfalls told her that her mother was rapidly approaching the staircase; she climbed faster in order to reach the top before her mother’s strong arms scooped her up and took her away from her fun.
At least, she tried to climb faster.
In her haste, Ink tripped over her own feet. She had one startled second to wonder what had gone wrong before her world tipped upside down and she fell backwards. All the air was knocked out of her little lungs as she tumbled down the steps.
“Ink!” Phaidra cried, picking up her skirts and racing toward the staircase in a desperate bid to catch her daughter before she hit the stone floor at the bottom of the steps. She dropped to her knees on the second step from the bottom and her arms closed around Ink’s tiny form, snatching her safely up to her chest. Her heart thudded wildly against her bodice as she closed her eyes for a second in relief, visions of what could have been flashing across her mind.
Ink’s chest expanded as she sucked in a breath, and then her mouth opened in a wailing cry. Her head ached, her body ached, and she had not reached the top of the stairs. She fisted her hands in her mother’s clothes and bawled.
“My lady!” cried Myrtle. She was a stout, ample woman, with blonde hair now streaked liberally with gray. She reached Phaidra, puffing a little, and placed a hand on her side. “Is she all right, milady?” She took a closer look at Phaidra. “Are you all right, milady?”
Phaidra drew in a shaky breath and kissed the top of Ink’s head before she unfolded herself and sat back on her heels to examine her child. “I think so, Myrtle. I don’t think she’s broken anything.”
As Phaidra brushed Ink’s hair back to check her head, Myrtle gasped and took an involuntary step backward. Phaidra’s next breath caught in her throat and stuck. Ink had hit her head on the way down—and the cut oozed black liquid.
“Lady Phaidra…” Myrtle stammered, raising a tremulous finger to point at Ink while her other hand rose to her throat. “She—she—”
Drawn by the commotion, several of the kitchen maids and two footmen popped their heads out of the kitchen doorway. Their eyes were wide and round.
In the blink of an eye, Phaidra overcame her own astonishment and recovered. “Someone’s left an inkpot out again,” she said briskly. She patted a still-wailing Ink’s back and struggled to her feet. Her knees ached, but she did not feel it. Right now the only thing registering in her mind was the fact that her baby had been hurt.
“Send someone to fetch Elsa for me, please, Myrtle.” Phaidra dismissed the cook with a flick of her head and continued smoothing one hand down Ink’s back. “There, there, my darling,” she cooed softly. “You’re all right. This is why Mother and Father don’t want you climbing up the stairs all by yourself.”
Black ink continued to drip down the side of Ink’s head. Phaidra wanted to tell herself that Ink had to have been drawing on herself, but the fact that she could faintly make out split skin beneath the ink made her stomach churn. Who has black blood? she thought, a little wildly.
Common sense finally overcame shock. Black blood or no, it won’t clean itself up, said a practical voice inside her mind. The child has had a shock and so have you, but you’ve got to stop the bleeding.
Forcing her shaky legs to support her weight, Phaidra hitched up her skirt with one hand, renewed her hold on Ink with the other, and sailed upstairs to Ink’s bedchamber.
Elsa came rushing around the corner a moment later and practically flew up the stairs after them. “Lady Phaidra!” she gasped. “Is she all right?”
Ink was still wailing.
“I think so,” Phaidra said above the noise. “She’s had a bit of shock and she seems to have hit her head.”
Elsa’s face paled as she got a good look at Ink’s injury—the black liquid dripping down Ink’s face contrasted wonderfully with her skin—but she kept her head. “We must take care of this, milady,” she said, and hurried out to get a basin of water and clean cloths.
Phaidra sank down in a chair in Ink’s chamber, and cradled the little girl to her chest. “You’re all right, my love. No need for tears. You’re quite all right.”
Ink’s wails slowly turned to sobs, and then finally to little hiccups. Phaidra held her still while Elsa helped clean her up. The nurse did her best to maintain a straight face, but the frightened look in her eyes as she cleaned the wound told Phaidra what she herself had feared.
Ink’s blood was black.
Nevertheless, Phaidra forced herself to speak. “Can you tell what it is, Elsa?”
Elsa swallowed heavily. “I—I’m not sure, milady. If it were—if it looked like normal blood, I’d say it is blood, but it’s—” she cut herself off, unwilling to say more.
“But it’s not.” Phaidra held back a sigh. Turning Ink’s face toward her, she examined the cut at the little girl’s hairline. There was no trace of anything remotely resembling red blood around it. Phaidra could not even determine what color the flesh inside the cut was; her black blood—or whatever it was—discolored everything else.
The only thing Phaidra knew for certain was that Ink’s body was somehow producing the black liquid.
Shifting her grip on Ink slightly, Phaidra swiped a fingertip to along the gash and then touched the tip of her tongue. Instead of the familiar metallic taste of blood, she tasted ink. For half a second, she sat frozen in bewilderment. She could not give way to it, however; too much depended on these next few moments.
Straightening, Phaidra met Elsa’s frightened gaze and modulated her voice to sound calm and matter-of-fact. “It’s ink.”
Elsa’s eyes widened comically. “But why—”
“I don’t know.” Phaidra motioned for the nurse to hand her a cloth; as soon as she had it, she pressed it gently to the gash. “We’ve always known Ink is a little… different.”
“Where did she come from, my lady?”
Phaidra shook her head. She was not about to tell Ink’s nurse—no matter how much the girl loved Ink—that a strange man had pulled her from a piece of paper. “A kingdom very far from here.”
Elsa knelt beside the chair and looked somberly at both Phaidra and Ink. “We can’t hide something like this forever, milady.” She watched Ink rub a tiny fist in her puffy, tearstained eyes and something like deep grief settled over her features.
It sent cold chills pirouetting down Phaidra’s spine, and her voice, when she spoke, was sharper than she had intended. “We shan’t shout it to the world, girl, if that’s what you mean.”
“I mean when she grows up, milady. Black ink instead of blood…” Elsa shook her head. “It’s not natural.”
I know, Phaidra thought, her heart aching in her chest. But all she said was, “No matter what, Elsa, she is my daughter. You will do well to keep this to yourself.”
For a second, Elsa’s face whitened as though she had just been slapped. Then she leaned closer to rest a hand on Ink’s back. “On my word, milady, I’ll never do anything to harm this little one.”
A tight knot of grief welled up in Phaidra’s throat, preventing her from speaking. She could only nod and tighten her grip on Ink.
That night, when she was certain they were safely alone, Phaidra told Nicholas what had happened. She showed him the black ink on the cloth they had used on Ink’s head and watched his face pale behind his brown beard.
“Best not let the old hags in the village hear of this,” he growled, pacing back and forth across the length of their bedchamber. Ink lay asleep two rooms over, with Elsa to guard her. “They’d have her branded a witch by midmorning.”
From her seat on their bed, Phaidra watched him pace with worry written all over her face. She clasped her knees to her chest, taking care to avoid touching the spots where she had hit the stairs earlier. “What do we do, Nicholas?”
“Do?” He pivoted to face her. “What can we do, save continue to love her as our own?” He threw his hands into the air. “Yes, if the stranger had told me at the start about this, I might have hesitated to accept her. But…” He dropped his hands, thinking of Ink’s tinkling laughter and the joy her presence had brought to their lives, and looked helplessly at his wife. “She’s our daughter now, Phaidra. I can’t imagine our lives without her.”
“Neither can I,” Phaidra agreed quietly. She opened her arms to her husband and he came, folding his own arms around her in turn. She looked at him, the same question reflected in both their eyes.
With what looked like ink for blood, was their daughter even human?
And if she was not human… what was she?
The discovery that even Ink’s blood was different precipitated a few changes in Phaidra and Nicholas’s plans to raise their daughter. They resolved to keep this new information to as small a group as possible—which meant themselves, Elsa, Guyre (since Nicholas decided it would be unwise to keep it from him), and, unfortunately, Myrtle. They hoped the cook chalked the black blood up to Ink touching her face with inky hands; it should certainly make more sense to her than the alternative.
How to keep Ink from hurting herself again was a different—and more complicated—matter.
Having once been introduced to the outdoors and the flower gardens, not even the threat of sunburn could keep her inside for long. Vegetables thrived under her care, but her real love were flowers. It mattered little what kind; Ink loved them all. She would ooh and ahh over big, bold, vivacious blooms and then drop to her knees to cradle a delicate little blossom in her hands.
Over the next few years, Ink and her mother fought many battles about how much time she spent in the flower gardens. Phaidra always insisted Ink wear gloves and a cloak to shield her from the sun’s rays, and Ink vehemently protested this encumberment until she was old enough to understand the direct correlation between her time outside and the painful sunburns she experienced.
“Maybe you were meant to live under moonlight,” her father teased her.
“Maybe so,” Ink huffed back, wrinkling her nose, “but I’d miss the sunshine.”
Nicholas eventually promised Ink a steady supply of paper and canvas for her sketches if she limited her time out in the sun to the early mornings and late afternoons, when the odds of her being burned were less likely, and if she diligently worked with her mother to learn how to run the Manse.
This was difficult when she was little, since Ink did not always have control over when black ink dripped from her fingertips. But, just as Phaidra had hoped, she did learn how to turn it on and off. This made mundane tasks like mending, sewing, tatting, and other fine arts less likely to be ruined by an inopportune spill of ink.
Realizing Ink’s penchant for bright colors, Phaidra took care to dress her in as colorful an array as they could afford. One of their older servants, a woman who had been in charge of fabric production for most of her life, took a shine to Ink when she saw how interested she was in plants. She taught Ink the different plants used in dyes.
Ink even became a regular—and well-loved—fixture in the village. She made the rounds with her mother, cheerfully—though sometimes shyly—greeting people. The villagers themselves fiercely guarded her; the only people ever allowed to make comments about strange little Lady Ink were they themselves. All outsiders were to be pummeled for such remarks.
In the afternoons, she spent an hour drawing and an hour or two reading everything from the poetry to the history of Traxlin and its surrounding kingdoms. Nicholas oversaw this portion of her education; he was more than content to have his daughter occupy a corner of his study while he and Guyre went over various matters pertaining to the management of Dittforth.
At the beginning, Ink never used a brush, pen, or pencil. She drew with her fingers, sketching lines and curves—sometimes with both hands—across the paper. Ink flowed from her fingertips and, to her parents’ astonishment, modified itself at times to fit whatever she needed, be it thin strokes or fat.
Nicholas put a stop to that, however—or at least he attempted to. He sat Ink down one day and explained to her that from now on, she needed to use a brush or a pen like other people. He demonstrated how to dip a pen into ink and draw with it and Ink copied him, though privately she thought the entire thing was quite silly. What need had she for an inkpot when she could simply achieve the same effect with her fingers?
The day before her twelfth birthday, Ink’s life changed forever.
Ink Realm: Lady Ink is available at: