Mirella didn’t move an inch.
“Perhaps we should dim the lights,” Etta said. “All of us at once is too much.”
There was a murmur of agreement and the caravan dimmed. When Mirella lifted her head, she could make out shapes and then some. Another light, less muted, came from a blue bottle set in a specially crafted shelf in the corner. From inside, came the sounds of continual weeping. The other bottles paid it no mind; their focus remained on her.
Suddenly, the yellow bottle upped her light.
“Hey, that’s not fair.” The hiss came from a tall, green bottle.
“Now, Envy, she needs to see us during the introductions. Smile, everyone!” The yellow bottle beamed. “I’m Etta, dear, chosen for the Bottle of Breath because of my listening abilities and incredible memory.”
“In other words, Rizla found the biggest gossip in the world and cut her throat,” The loud voice was followed by a boisterous laugh. “Mid- sentence, I heard, just to shut her up!”
The bottles twittered, even anger guffawed. Etta, whose stopper revealed eyes that continually roved from right to left, stiffly turned her bottle neck.
“Heard is right,” she said. “While I, on the other hand, actually saw Suga siphon a spirit from a sprawled drunk knocked cold after a tavern brawl.”
The bottles laughed again, this time but for the orange.
“Get this over with,” Even though the fire within him was banked, the red bottle looked like he might explode. “Besides, the girl isn’t listening, Etta. She undoing the basket top.”
“Oh, I very much think she’s listening,”said Etta. “Aren’t you, dear?”
Mirella nodded, taking out another stitch. Soon, she would have the flap undone by half, and she could fold it back and see if the little prince was sleeping or . . . She didn’t want to think about the alternative. She’s sworn on her life to prevent it.
“He threw him in, you know,” Etta sighed, looking down at the basket. “Faw Shandy. Suga hired for the trip. The Bless Cursed would have the gypsy’s head if he knew the Earth Child had been handled so roughly. Of course, I knew it was the Prince the minute the caravan doors opened. I’d heard them talking, the old nurse and the Queen, but would anyone listen? Oh, no, they had to shout me down and–”
“I’m Anger,” said the Red Bottle, breaking in. “I was eaten by wolves and that’s all I have to say about my past.”
“The poor baby,” sighed a White Bottle in a corner across from the blue bottle. “I would handle him gently.”
“But we aren’t going to, are we?” asked Etta, sharply, then looked Mirella again. “That’s Plague. He loves children.”
“I do,” The White Bottle sighed.
“You drank the blood of peasants,” The Purple Bottle, quiet until now, spoke sharply. “You must not drink royal.”
“Again,” added Plague softly. “I must not drink royal again.”
Mirella looked at the two, who seemed to be in a personal battle. Plague was a wisp, swaying like a milkweed. Purple showed thin lips and a receding chin, hooded eyes that seemed to be looking down. Male or female, she couldn’t tell. Mirella recognized condescending look of her own father, but the mouth was thin and pouty, as had most of the castle ladies.
“That’s Plague and Pride,” said Etta. ” Someone had a grandson who died of the Black Death and they spat from time to time although I must say there’s been relative peace until this evening when Suga put the—”
An outburst from the corner interrupted her. It was the Blue Bottle, wailing with all that was left of his heart and soul. Hearing the pathos, Mirella was reminded that these spirits, however far removed, had once been real people, before the Bottles of Breath had sucked them in, depriving them of skin and bone.
“This evening?” Mirella looked at Etta. “Do you mean tonight?”
“See? She can talk! I knew she’d come around!” Etta’s light flared up of it’s own volition, “Yes, tonight, during that awful rain, why, I thought we’d all be blown away when Suga wrenched open the door and said–
“He said he’d caught the traitor!” The Blue Bottle was screaming now. “I am not a traitor. Never, ever, did I mean for this to happen. He murdered me!”
‘Yes, that’s the way of it, dear,” said Etta knowingly. “Suga is quite skilled.”
All materials copyright: Joan Spilman 2021