Contest #107 shortlist ⭐️

The Eternal Mask of Tanya

Submitted into Contest #107 in response to: Write about a character pretending to be someone they’re not.... view prompt

3 comments

Speculative Suspense

The Lady Chuprova Ioanna Yaroslavovna was an elegant woman. Highly regarded by her peers, the lady was well-known as generous and loving, having hosted countless charity balls in the past few years to fund projects all across the country. Despite being low-titled, she was known by every royal, peasant, and merchant. She was a high-quality woman. So high, in fact, that she was publicly known to be engaged to the second prince of the Empire. 

Tanya was not the Lady Ioanna. She just happened to share a face with her. 

It was a point of pride once. Tanya would go out and work at the local inn of her small town and strangers would come up to her and say how she “looked just like the young Lady Chuprova, you could be her twin!” And Tanya would smile, because being compared to the lady was a high compliment. 

She stopped considering it a compliment when the High Lord Chuprova’s men dragged her, dazed and bleeding, out of her family’s cabin one dreadful night in February. 

For earlier that week, the Lady Chuprova Ioanna Yaroslavovna committed suicide via hanging. 

It would be a disgrace, she was later told by a sneering High Lady Chuprova, mother of Ioanna, for the Empire to know their daughter killed herself. That the Chuprova family would be unable to produce a daughter for the second prince to wed that fall at harvest. 

How fortunate for them, to have found a girl sharing their dead daughter’s face, while also being within the boundaries of their dominion. 

How unfortunate for Tanya to share a dead woman’s face while that woman still had debts unpaid. 

And now, it was the harvest. Half a year had passed since she’d seen her family: Mama, Pa, and little Vanya, who had still been learning how to tie his shoes. They were safe, or so they reassured her. She wasn’t allowed to see them and all evidence of the existence of Zimina Tanya  was destroyed outside of the memories she left behind. Her family would continue, safe, if she did her job well.

To fool the second prince and the imperial family was a high task to ask anyone, let alone a former serving girl with only half a year of training in her head. Her body yearned for sleep, sustaining on five hours a day the moment she was taken, too busy learning reading and maths, having history crushed into her head, manners beaten into her fingers and wrists. Dancing was the easiest; Tanya was already light on her feet from working, but it complicated matters when  she didn’t dance “like Ioanna.” Tanya was too strong to be delicate Ioanna, to sturdy to be willowy Ioanna, too Tanya to be Ioanna.

But whether she liked it or not, she had to be Ioanna. 

(It felt wrong, even after six months, to call the lady by her first name, even in her head, but Tanya continued non-the-less. For surely, she could call the lady that if she was to become her?)

There was not a moment where her actions were not criticized, her expressions tamed, her manner corrected. If she was to spend the rest of her life as Ioanna, then her every action must be perfect. For the rest of her life, her mask could not drop or House Chuprova would execute her family, even if it was the last thing they did as a noble house. As long as she bore the second prince a son—the main clause of the marriage contract between his highness and House Chuprova—her family was hostage to the High Lord and Lady.

Tanya had been allowed to read the marriage contract, as part of her training. It had been odd, knowing that his highness, Prince Maklakov Erik Vitalievich, had sought Ioanna out for marriage, rather than House Chuprova appeal to the royal family, but after weeks of politic lessons, she understood. Prince Erik was the second prince and his strange behavior inspired rumors abound. Whispers of Prince Erik consorting with thieves and seeking to assassinate the first prince reached even Tanya’s remote village. When compared to his brother, the court currently favored the first prince as heir to the throne. By marrying Ioanna, a beloved socialite and charity worker, his favor would finally rise enough to rival his older brother.

If he discovered she was not Ioanna, that she had replaced her…

She would be killed.

Her act had to be perfect. Nothing else would save her life.

The day of the wedding was stressful, to the point where Tanya worried she would break out in spots. She allowed the maids to apply her makeup, covering the Tanya in her face. Despite their similarities, Tanya and Ioanna were not exactly the same; Ioanna had high cheekbones and a small forehead in all her portraits, but makeup could fix that. Fix her “imperfections,” as the High Lady (no, you’re supposed to call her “Mother” now) would say. Tanya could do her own makeup; it was one of the first things she was taught, as well as to rise well before her husband so he would never catch her without it. Typically, ladies weren’t to do their own makeup, Teacher Olga had lectured, but given her unique circumstances, a little eccentricity wouldn’t be amiss.

Her face changed in front of her eyes. Really, it was the last finishing touches to a long transformation. Extensions from a horse were grafted onto her hair, allowing for the flowing black to reach her hips. Rich food and inactivity had cut the muscle from her form, instead allowing for soft curves to form for the first time in her life. Her body had been rubbed down with oil and stripped of every stray hair follicle not on her head while her calluses had been scrubbed away.

It was like they were born twins.

The maid servants whipped around her in a frenzy as they prepared her wedding clothes, eternally silent for the High Lady had ordered their vocal cords cut (and everything in Tanya wailed at the injustice, because their only crimes were being Ioanna’s maids and finding her body. But if they didn’t have tongues, they could speak of their deception, the deception Tanya now participated in—). Her hair was braided multiple times at a speed she didn’t know possible, all so that the braids would loop back into a bun sitting on her nape. The corset pulled her curves tight, her gown sat heavy on her frame, and she couldn’t even bend over to slip into her shoes. Heels, of course, for a lady would not be caught without them.

Two maids helped her to her feet. She did not sway under the weight of her duty and her dress. Her movements made graceful by the thought behind her every action,

Ioanna was ready. 

August 21, 2021 01:06

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3 comments

Amanda Lieser
02:53 Aug 30, 2021

Oh my gosh! I really enjoyed this story. It was such a wonderfully imaginative approach to the prompt. I really loved the characterization of both women. I really really wanted a sequel to this story! You did such a great job of creating a fantasy world for the reader to dive into! Thank you for writing this story and congratulations on getting shortlisted.

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Lins E
17:25 Aug 27, 2021

Congratulations on the shortlist! I want to hear more of this story, curious to see how Tanya pulls this off.

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Suchi J
03:01 Aug 26, 2021

Hey! Being forced to take someone else's identity is one of the most cruel things that could happen to a person. And I think you captured the essence of that beautifully in this story. From the desolation, to the helplessness, to resigned acceptance and finally bravery, I was able to feel the plethora of emotions Tanya went through. Such a poignant story but with a strong lead character :)

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