Chapter 1 : Welcome Home

Tuesday 8.34 a.m.

Heavy beads of sweat trickled down her forehead as she clutched violently at the sheets enveloping her shaking body. With a piercing scream, she awoke with a start. She blinked hard. Twice. Then she took in deep breaths to calm her shaken soul while she looked around to recollect her thoughts. Morning rays shone fittingly through the creeks of the maroon curtains that hung over the large windows. She edged down her four-poster bed and smoothen her silk nightdress. She pushed away the wild strands of burgundy hair that clung to her face as she stepped timidly towards the windows. She drew the curtains back a little and squinted as the bright rays blinded her for a second.

The bright sun glorified the beautiful day outside. The rows of aspens along the flowing stream were a magnificent sight to behold. A peaceful and endearing symphony arose as the gentle autumn breeze tickled the shimmering gold aspen leaves. The mesmerizing trees reminded her of the nightmare...and…him. If only he was there, beside her, to share the mesmerizing sight. Maybe that would have stopped the tears from flooding her hazel eyes.

Winter 1916

The white Christmas attracted miniscule attention compared to the rising death toll of the battle of the Somme during the First World War. Corina paced back and forth. She had received news that the Master of the house would be returning. The General was said to be battered and bruised, but was not one of the unfortunate 420000 who fell during the battle. Corina had made it her personal duty to tidy the halls, his study, his bedroom and every single inch of Aspen Manor, making it a fitting home for the General to return to.

Corina was of French descent and was once saved by the late Jeffrey Warrick, father of the current Master. She was merely a teenager when she started serving Jeffrey and his wife, watching as they ushered baby William into the world, only to leave him seven years later as a result of a frightening tragedy. William, young, fresh, bright and courageous, boarded a royal military school and did not return to Aspen Manor until he turned 18, when he became the sole heir to his father's legions of fortune. Not long after, he left again. As empty and lifeless as the manor was, William kept Corina and the other maids in the manor for many more years. Corina often found her job meaningless without a Master in the manor, but her loyalty to the Warrick descendant never wavered. William finally returned to Aspen Manor for good after being promoted to become Lieutenant-General, the youngest chap to hold such a high rank in the history of the British Army. Two years ago, when World War One began to brew like a hot stew in the pot, William was promoted to be a General, also the youngest in the records of the British Army.

Corina stopped pacing at the sounds of horses trotting and a wooden coach moving up the gravel towards the manor. She opened the heavy rosewood door and rushed down the polished steps in anticipation of the General. The wooden carriage halted before her. Her heart leaped as her breath caught her throat. The coachman stepped down and bowed politely towards Corina before proceeding to open the door on the coach. There were low muffles as the coachman helped the passenger alight.

A rugged but handsome face poked out of the coach and he immediately flashed a brilliant smile when he saw Corina. Corina squealed in delight and embraced him tightly and with no veiled excitement as he slowly stepped down with a groan. She stepped back to have a better look at him but was appalled at the image before her eyes. His left hand firmly held a crutch while his right arm was wrapped in a white sling tied around his neck. He could barely stand steadily on the spot. A little white cloth hanging beneath his shirt told Corina that his ribs were in bandages as well. He was still athletic, but his clothes hung loosely around his shrunken frame. Corina could feel an air of despair and pain emanating from him. Hot tears began to roll down her cheeks. She reached out and gently held his arm.

"Madame…how I've missed you," William said.

"Oh William, mon fils, I am here now. I am glad you are home."