"The Hunter's Moon"

written by kris-et-dan

Author's notes:
Hello, all, and welcome to the first chapter of this recently written penny dreadful! Here the locale is revealed and somewhat explored in a bit of detail, as well as the introduction the main characters cast. I hope you can ignore the large, expansive amount of clichés... I'm attempting to follow a traditional Gothic Novel style... and as such will assuredly have a great many stereotypes, but hopefully you can either ignore that or work it to your advantage as you read this chapter and the ones to follow. Also... This was originally, the longest chapter of the entire story, without match; At the advice of rather nice Solemn Coyote, I've split it into two... So stop cowering in your boots! Ah, as for any disclaimers, please read the prologue, as it should all be there. That aside, please enjoy!

'first chapter - waxing crescent I'

Renee read over the letter one more time before she folded it back, put it in the envelope, and looked out the window with a sigh. Outside the lightly warped glass, it was a continually rolling countryside, long expanses of flat green grass lined by angled groups of mounded trees that look nearly black between the soft mossy emerald of the grass and mottled white and robin's egg blue of the sky. As they neared closer to one such line of trees, she noticed the grey and browny rounded stones that were stacked up upon each other to form a rude fencing that had previously remained nearly hidden under the dark shade of the oak branches. Though... How could such soft looking grass appear so uncomfortable and bumpy? It was if they covered stones.

She gave the rock fence that now ran alongside the road another look. Ah, perhaps the grass did indeed cover such rocks. That would explain as to where the fencing material had come from... In the distance, the dark tiles of a roof could be seen just past the next softly rolling hill. Beyond that was but more rolling grassland, the monotony only broken up by the stone fences, which now lined the road and separated the land in obtuse angles, forming a strangely curious web across the land. Every once in awhile the carriage would pass by broken arches. that just spanned the width of the road. Several times, Renee pulled back into the cushioned bench when it appeared as if the stones would scrape the vehicle-sides.

Even so, it was lovely, certainly not what France was like, or at least what existed outside of Paris, which she was used to. The ground there was certainly not so bumpy with hidden rocks, it was much more smooth, and not so hilly. She was much more used to the serene valleys filled with wine gardens or with forests with white-capped mountains rising dramatically in the background. Here... everything felt certainly much more damp but also, in a queer sort of sense, older. Not quite foreboding, but wary of outsiders, if a landscape could appear so. It almost made her feel uneasy, her stomach starting to twist into tight knots, though that could just as easily be the rattling and lurching caused by the potholes or the chicken that she had been given for dining on the way. Renee shifted her gaze from the outside to something much closer. The girl studied the somewhat distorted reflection that peered back into the carriage at her from the glass-pane.

She was not ugly, though neither would she be considered particularly lovely. However, while she was more plain than the great beauties of Paris, her features were certainly not boring. Her hair brushed against her bare shoulders, the well-kempt golden-blonde locks victim to harsh bouncing from the bumpy ride in the back of the car. Certainly not at all what a heroine of a novel would look like, though that was the feeling she got from this entire journey. The girl couldn't help but pull the letter out one more time.

It had to be a joke. She had never even met a 'John Edward Micheals', so how could she be related? Her lips twisted into a gentle frown as she folded her hands gracefully in her lap to hold the envelope against the blue silk of her dress. And besides, she was a girl. A girl was never an heir, right? The frown darkened some, but she quickly hid it to avoid looking 'unlady-like' for too long. This was probably a set-up by her parents to introduce her to some man who would marry her and take the manor in her place. They had been getting impatient as of late...

Well, she'd just simply reject them politely, journey home, and get back to her book, which was written by some English author named Robert Browning. It was customary for the Blanc family to speak at least a bit of English, since their gowns were exported to England. The language was a bit hard to grasp, and sometimes she had to spend a few minutes to figure out a word or phrase, but she had been enjoying Browning's book, 'Dramatic Lyrics'. She especially liked 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin', even if it was supposed to be a child's story.

Of course, while she had always enjoyed the written word, plays were also a grand favorite of hers. It was certainly a virtue to have the money to see any and all the plays she could possibly want. Why, just last January was Gioacchino Rossini's opera, Stabat Mater, possibly one of the greatest ones she had been to watch so far! The frown had melted into a smile the more she thought about it, but a stoic expression found its place when the carriage hit a particularly vicious hole in the road. Renee winced as she painfully met the seat again. This sort of long travel certainly was not enjoyable. Though she could not have taken a train. Besides, even if taking the train would have made the journey that much easier, there were no bridges of any sort across that river... The English Channel, was it? And as far as she knew, there were no trains to take her to her destination once she arrived. Of course, perhaps it was all for the better. After all, a train would certainly lend her no privacy, and she had heard a great deal of bad things of traveling long distances by train. Besides, hadn't there been that terribly tragic train accident just a few months ago? It had been all over the papers for weeks! Certainly enough fodder to keep the maids flush with gossip.

Ah well, at least this journey was nearly at its end. It had been several days... Had it even been a week of traveling yet? She couldn't remember for sure, the weariness of traveling eventually wearing her down. Well, the horses did have to stop to rest often, and it had taken some time to wait for the boat to arrive. Then even longer to arrive in England... Or was it Great Britain? Either way, the arrival in a new country was rather down-spirited. To be honest, Renee had been expecting to be welcomed, or see something new and different, or at least get the feeling of having grown as a person. Instead all she got was shuffled through a dull grey county-town to the carriage she was in now. The clouds that blocked the sun had been dark grey, heavy with potent promises of heavy rainfall. The water that had carried her across had been a dingy grey, the same sort of dirty grey that the houses that lined the bank of the swirling waterway had been. Even the people seemed washed-out, dressed in heavy solemn colors, their faces pasty white from the trip. The only source of real color was a rather foreboding yellowy-amber color that filled the far edges horizon as the sun slowly sank in the far background.

From there, she had been assigned a number scribbled on a sheet of paper and stood in a line. There, a man with a dark suit and high top-hat read out numbers and the corresponding names from a yellowing book, his veiny hands clenching the lectern as if he would fall over otherwise. After standing until her legs felt much like what she assumed lead would feel like, her name was called and answered by a tall chunky sort of man who seemed to glare at everyone, even her when she smiled uncertainly in greeting. Perhaps he was just tired from the trip or the noise. It seemed everything echoed in that cavernous building.

After being bustled into the carriage, she attempted to sleep for the night, laying stretched out on the bench. However, she had quickly given that up after leaving the cobbled stone roads of the city. It was simply just too bumpy to get anything past a few moments of rest. There had been a few stops at stations along the way to rest the horses, change the driver and pick up meal-baskets for the day, but it felt so long since she had last had the time to get out from the wheeled vehicle and stretch her legs. It was not as if riding in the carriage was burdensome for the most part, though. After all, Renee was unable to think of how long it would have taken her to travel this far on foot, let alone swim that big channel. She didn't even know how to swim! Renee blinked blearily at her reflection, wondering for a brief moment why she hadn't noticed the dark circles under her eyes...

The girl rested her chin on her hand, looking out the window, yet not really seeing through it, and let her eyes drift shut until another hole was successfully found. It was a pity that they had not had the chance to stop in London when the carriage passed it by, especially after hearing so much about it from her parents. All she had been able to see was some brackish looking clouds in the area with tall smokestacks silhouetted behind before it was left behind as they went through a seemingly endless forest. She was in the middle of puzzling over it and wondering what she could have done in the city of London when all of a sudden the carriage slowed to a halting stop.

There were sounds from the front, the driver conversing with someone else and that of horses. Curious, Renee peeked out the window as best she could, but only managed to see a few cloudy dark shapes. She jerked back, started, when the side-door opened suddenly, the bright afternoon light flooding into the carriage. A tall, husky man poked his head in, shoulder-length hair the same color as damp redwood pulled back into a ponytail complete with the long sideburns that were in the current fashion. "Oh, ayup there!" he said with a toothy grin. "Sorry about tha', I missed me ride over, and I had t' hurry t' cop up wi' thee."

He pulled himself into the carriage, broad shoulders barely covered by the dark brown tweed of the overcoat. He sat opposite of her, pulling the door shut (which made Renee rather glad, as the light was truly bright) behind him as sounds from the back told that his luggage was being strapped in. "Onnyroad, I'm thy escort, John Clarkson. I'm the son of some family friends with thy family, an' gettet volunteered to help settle thee in. It won't be much longer, by the way, but I just knew I'd gerr it if I di'n't arri' wi' thee." He grinned again, the action giving his broad boyish face the quality not unlike that of a friendly neighborhood stray. "Any questions 'bout thy new manor?"

Renee stared at him with blue eyes, looking both curious and distinctly amused, though she tried to level it down to keep from causing any offense. "A few." What a strange and wonderful accent! Of course, it did make her feel slightly self-conscious of her own. "I apologize if it is hard to understand my accent. I do not speak with men of England often." She looked down at her hands, which were now clasped nervously in her lap, her right thumb rubbing against her left. "Why me? I have heard not of this man. How am I the heir?"

The man laughed cheerfully, both hands gripping his knees. "Well, I'm towd tha' I call tooa much onnyroad an' then I nip on back intoa th' accent me parents used. Since we moved a bit, I guess me accent is a bit queer, so I think we'll make a gran' pair." He rubbed his neck. "Well, let's see..." he paused, relaxing into the seat cushions, crossing his legs. "Apparently th' old lad, th' 'un who built th' manor, he requested t' 'ave th' place given t' his next-o'-kin, bur nay'un went up t' claim it, so they searched th' family down, an' there thee cam'n!"

He leaned his head back, looking up at the plain wood paneling of the carriage roof. "It's a lush place. I've seen it often enough, 'cause I used t' li' nearby afore we moved. That's why I were asked t' be an escort, I guess." He learned forward, a boyish twinkle in his eye as he grinned toothily. "'Ay, speakin o' which, 'ave thee 'eard a'bout..." He pulled back immediately, as if confronted with a snake. "Ah, sorry. When I gerr excited, I ten' t' gerr 'arder t' understan'. It mun be especially difficult t' understan' sin' thee 'ave nivva 'eard it afore..." He grinned sheepishly.

Renee looked at him a bit helplessly. What strange words! She would just have to remain quiet and listen closely to what he was saying. "It is nothing to apologize for, honest. I have read books of England that were written very strangely, not like how you speak, but... Though hearing it is much different than reading it." She gave him a well-practiced gentle smile. "I am not very good with your tongue in words. My professor was French, so his accent made it hard to learn very much." She leaned forward almost as if to encourage him. "But what were you going to say? Was it not something about, ah, hearing?"

"Ah!" His eyes widened and he quickly shook his head. "Nay, nay, I were warned about this, bur I can't just gi'o'a callin! I certainly don't want t' cause thee t' worry unnecessarily! It's just chasty th' guys a' th' market call about! It's nowt owt."

Renee smiled sincerely now, her eyes lit up with curiosity as it dawned on her that he was a source of information. "'Chasty'? And I believe you said 'calling'? What in all of the world are you speaking of?"

The man shrugged it off absently with a wave of his hand. "Though..." He flashed another sheepish grin before leaning forward confidentially. "Alright, well, thee seem li' a smart sorts o' lass who wouldn't let stories botha 'er, right? It really's not real, just stories thee call about a' th' market." John leaned closer, eyebrows furrowed and a happy little grin in place. "Well, thee say th' place is 'aunted. Don't believe a wurd o' it though, I sure don't. I've been there plenty o' times an' it's a gran' owd place. They're just jealous 'ti'n't their's."

"Haunted? Like..." She lifted her hands in hopes of getting across what she was thinking and waggled her fingers. "'Boo!'? Les fantômes?"

He laughed and grinned gleefully. "Thee aren't as green as tha's cabbage lookin'! I thought so!" He leaned back, a light smile on his face, his vest and coat crinkled from the movement. "It's mainly just call since th' masta o' th' place died. They foun' 'im right I' 'is study, dead as a doornail."

John paused, realization blooming on his ruddy face. "Oh!" He raised a large hand and waved it dismissively. "Don't min' a word I said! It's just talk. 'Sides..." He smiled and winked a chocolate brown eye. "I'll keep thee fra 'arm."

Renee's cheeks took on a red hue and she looked away, as if something interesting had just flew by outside the window, conveniently away from him. "Thank you. I am grateful for your kindness." Her insides felt tight and all bunched up, but she wasn't sure if it was because he was attractive in a strange, 'cute puppy' manner that made her want to pat his head and offer choice tidbits, or because some man she cannot recall ever meeting had died in a house they wanted her to live in. Even if it wasn't haunted, it would still scare her to walk by the room...

After nearly an hour of long bumpy traveling in silence, excluding John's continuous movement, complete with finger and toe tapping, it seemed he was unable to remain still, the carriage finally pulled to a sudden stop. The man started from his light doze (Seeing him sleep so easily made her rather jealous, she had to admit). "'Ay, are we there already?"

He sat up, pulling back one of the window curtains and peered out, squinting in the bright sunset. "'Ay! We are 'ere!" With all of the enthusiasm of a little boy with a bright new package to open, he jerked the door open, hopping out excitedly. He stood there, his arm out-stretched to help her out of the carriage. "'ere thee are Miss! I'd li' t' welcome thee t' 'unter's Moon Manor!"

It was a large sort of monstrosity of a place, though it was nearly hard to tell as it was neatly outlined by the setting sun. It loomed almost menacingly from it's stoop, tall spindle-like towers jutting from the plump-sized stonework frame on either side, gingerbread just in view from the darkened eaves of the front sidled next to tall dark stained columns that accented the large wooden and metal-framed door. A single candle burnt valiantly from a black metal lamp by the door as another light shone cheerfully from inside a small slanted window, though due to the curtains no details of what the inside may look like could be made out. The non-descript fabric let nothing but a warm cream color out, and nothing but curious questions back in again.

Bushes of all sorts ran wild alongside the monstrous manor, a set of climbing roses as well as morning glory and honey suckle clung to the stone walls and the front courtyard was a large overgrown prairie, the sounds of various insects and frogs chirping and twitting cheerfully as dusk darkened into night. The atmosphere was added to a cool breeze that blew leaves through the rotting wooden fence that looked wildly out of place in front of such a gigantic building. It encompassed the front, passing down one side of the manor and then disappearing into a tall grouping of hedges on the other. There was no gate in the fence, only a gaping hole where one should be that led to a graveled stone path that cut through the overgrown grass to the front porch. The horizon was slowly being darkened by rain-heavy clouds, tinted bright hues of pinks and oranges, that completed the setting as they peeked out from behind the hills and trees.

"'ow is it?" John asked excitedly, looking as if he might start bounding through the grass at any moment.

"Oh!" Renee clutched the envelope tight in both hands as if it would protect her as she stared up at the manor with absolute awe. "Elle est so beautiful!" she exclaimed, slipping in and out of French. "Je ne prevoyais pas something like this! It is comme les chateaux dans the books I read!" She looked from the castle to him. "May I see the inside of it? S'il vous plait?"

John nodded with a vague sort of grin that suggested he had only understood a small portion of what she had said. "Course! It's thy'n, thee can do owt thee want wi' it!" He started forward, looping her arm with his own as he led her up the graveled path. "Don't want thee t' fall wi' this gravel or owt. Th' butler 'ere 'as been wo'kin' on it, bur 'e's onny 'un bloke, an' there's umpteen o' cleanin' t' do!"

He were just walking her through where the gate should have been when the metal latch front door gave a clang as it jostled upwards before the great wooden door struggled open with a great sigh of effort and a tall, if lithe, form twisted out from behind it.

"Good evening!" came a light cultured tenor from the figure as it stepped forward off the stone porch. "Peace, peace!" The neatly-dressed form continued before stepping into the fading evening light to greet them, arms spread open with gentle welcoming. There were a few small hops in his step as he gracefully avoided areas where the grass had begun to encroach upon the gravel. "You are the Miss Blanc, and the Mr. Clarkson, are you not?" He was tall in stature, though shorter than John and certainly no match in physical size. Instead, he was an effeminate man, slight in form and trim in figure, with a sharp foxish chin, slim nose and full cherry-red lips.

John stepped forward, marching through a small dip in the path, his chocolate brown eyes meeting with the other man's matching, if lighter, brown-colored eyes. "Aye, an' thy's th' butler?" He grinned wider and pulled the other man to him, clasping hands tightly. "Gran' t' meet thee!"

The man gave a strangled sound as he struggled out of the other's fierce grip, frowning as he narrowly missed stepping back into the same dip as he tried to avoid the other man. "Yes." he said with a darkened tone. "Yes I am." His face lightened as he turned to Renee, his words much lighter in tone. "And you, my dear, I hope I can welcome you to your home. I apologize for the lack of work I've put into it, but I hope that it pleases you all the same?"

Renee looked up at him in silence for a while. "A... butler?" She paused to look around her as if she had forgotten where she was. "For a place this big, a butler is needed, but..." She smiled when she looked back at him. "I am sorry." She held out her hand daintily. "May I ask your name?"

The man started but quickly smiled, gently pulling her hand up to his lips for a chaste kiss. "I, my mistress, am Aldric Adamson. Please refer to me as Addy if you wish. Many prefer to call me that out of simplicity's sake."

Behind him, John frowned sulkily at him, but didn't barge into the conversation. Instead he crossed his arms over his creased jacket and steadfastly stared at the manor in a sullen manner.

"Non, I would be displeased if I was called Renny." She forgot all of her earlier hesitations about the whole ordeal and tilted her head just enough to the side for it to be noticeable, but not too much so that she looked like a confused puppy. "Would you prefer Monsieur Adamson or Aldric? In return, call me Renee, if it pleases you. Miss Blanc is too much."

Aldric bowed genially, a light guarded smile on his face. "Do only what pleases yourself, Mistress Renee." With a fluid twist of his hand, he offered it to her. "Please allow me to escort you inside, where it is much warmer than the outside air."

At this point, John made motions to start to break Aldric's advances apart, but didn't manage to complete the motions. He sighed sullenly and trailed behind the two as they started to the door.

"Do you have any question, Mistress? I would enjoy being of what little help I can be." Aldric said conversationally as they breached the entrance. He pulled away from her as he waited for John to silently talk past. As soon as the large man did, Aldric pushed the thickly laid doors shut with a soft grunt and resounding deep boom as the wood met the frame.

The foyer room was high-ceilinged, though detailing was hard to make out, not only due to it's extreme height, but also due to the lack of light in the room. A small candle flittered about bravely against the looming darkness near a large stone doorway, it's light glinting back on the reflective stone that made up a looming fireplace.

Renee found herself absorbed in her dark surroundings. "At the moment, I have only one question. Will it be only you and I here?" Her smile took on an almost sad tinge. "It would feel so lonely if such a grande place was not used to the full extent."

"Well, it is goin-"

"Nay! I'll be stayin' too!" John stepped forward, the shadows on his face making his grin seem wider than it really was. "I'd 'ate for owt t' 'app'n t' thee, besides, I'd said I'd protect thee!"

Aldric's face twinged slightly as he grabbed the candle by the door. "I am sure that both Mistress Renee and myself will feel much safer in our beds with you nearby." he said almost patronizingly before turning back to Renee with a smile, though the candle lit it into wild exaggeration of what it really was. "Now then, if you will allow me, I have prepared the evening meal, for I have taken the liberty of assuming that neither of you have been given food for the night?" He soothed the white ribbon that tied his long, long straight ashen hair back in place.

"Nesh gloit." John muttered to himself from his spot in the darkened corner by the door. "Don't even 'ave propa sideburns."

Renee glanced at John with a displeased frown before she smiled at Aldric. "I would very much appreciate something for dinner. Thank you, Monsieur Aldric." She paused to mull it over, then nodded. "Yes, I like that. That is what I will call you. Though..." She lightly stepped forward, a sudden thought running through her head. "What should be done with my trunk? It is still on the carriage outside."

"Ah, of course, how foolish of me to have forgotten." The man stepped backwards, gesturing through a darkened window to the vehicle. "I believe that the carriage driver will unload it. He knows where they should go, so please do not fear for its safety. I have given him the strictest of instructions."

"Thank you, Monsieur Aldric." She still clutched the envelope tightly in one hand and used her other to grasp John's sleeve, giving Aldric an apologetic smile. "Ah, pardon, before the meal, I would like to speak with Monsieur John for one moment. It will not take long."

Aldric smiled in a pleased fashion, lightly bowing his head. "Oh, no, do not let me bother you. I will leave you with the candle, and go ahead and get the table set for your arrival. Please take all the time you need. It is simply in the next room over." He bowed and quickly scurried from the room, leaving the candle on a small desk by the door.

John frowned sullenly, but sighed and tried to make his face more neutral when he looked down at Renee. He leaned back against the cold stone wall. "Wha' is it?"

"Why is it that you do not like him?" she asked softly, peering up at him through her long eyelashes, head tilted downward almost submissively. "I am sorry if you are mad that I have singled you out in this manner. But I do not see anything dislikable about Monsieur Aldric. Why do you disagree?"

John stared at her, wide-eyed before quickly shaking his head. "Nay, nay!" he said hurriedly. "Sorry, I dint mean t' gi' thee tha' impression or owt!" He grinned as best he could and offered his arm. "I don't kno' about thee, bur I'm starvin'! 'ope th' food's champion."

Renee looked at the offered arm with a thoughtful expression. She wanted to console him somehow, but decided against it as he would probably feel patronized if she patted his head, and instead gently hooked her forearm around his, her hand resting on the top of his arm. "Oui." She looked to the door. "I have hunger, as well."

John smiled cheerfully at her actions and did his best to gallantly escort her across the darkened room, though he nearly bumped into an unseen table that lined the wall. They entered the dining room where Aldric was just righting himself, having finished placing a delicate china plate on the table. They were decorated with cloudy wildflowers that seemed to blend onto the simple white lace table clothe. As he looked up, showing them their places, there was a distinct rumbling outside.

"Ah..." Aldric said softly. "It would appear that we are soon going to have a storm. I was worried once I saw the clouds begin to gather in the west, and it seems that my fears are to be soon confirmed. I find it fortunate that you did not have to drive through it."

"Sounds wicked." John added with a grin as he pulled out Renee's seat for her, scooting it back in after she had seated herself.

"Indeed." the butler said softer still. "Let us hope that it will simply blow over quickly."

Dinner was rather simplistic, consisting of only a small fresh salad, a shepherd's pie and rolls. Conversation was also stinted, as Aldric and John refrained from making complete statements to each other, leaving Renee to keep the conversation going in their stead. Not soon after a small bottle of wine was brought out for their enjoyment, the window panes rattled in their frames as a brisk wind-wrapped rain pelted the manor. The angry ranting of the outside weather and rumbling of thunder echoed through the empty halls and corridors. Only the dining room seemed immune to the threatening racket, the bright cheerful light of the lamp and candles keeping the storm at bay.

There was a brief knocking on the doorframe to the yellow-walled room. There stood the carriage driver. The man was short, stocky with fading brown hair and an aged, wrinkled face, two hands stuffed into the front pocket of a dripping over-coat. "Where's me brass, eh?" There was a soft pinking sound as rain-water dripped to the floor.

Aldric stepped forward from his station at the table with a calm smile, hands delicately clasped behind his back. "Ah, yes, please allow me a moment to gather your payment." He quickly left and returned, a small envelope in his hands, depositing it the driver's outstretched hand. It was quickly stuffed into a dirty pocket on the inside of his coat.

"Perhaps you would like to stay a while and warm up? Perhaps have something to eat?" Renee piped up from her chair, offering a small smile.

The man sneered at her with a curl of his lip and a furrowing of his bushy brow. "I wouldn't stay 'ere if I were t' die!" He jutted his chin out at the three before quickly leaving, the door slamming heavily behind him. Out the window, his dark shadowed figure could be seen sloshing through some puddles along the graveled path, climbing up onto the front of the car and within seconds, the carriage disappeared into the darkness.

"Perhaps he wishes to get home soon." Aldric commented with a reassuring smile in Renee's direction as he poured her some more drink. "After all, he must have been away for quite awhile. Though... I do wish he had taken off his shoes first. Now I shall have to mop the room once again.." He bent over to wipe at one such footprint, and though she couldn't say for sure, Renee thought she heard a bitter mutter coming from the crouched man.

The girl was quick to reply, nodding vigorously with a smile, turning back to her plate. "Oh, oui, that must be it."

Almost all too soon dinner was over, and Aldric pulling out two wax candles from the bottom of a china cabinet as well as a small, worn cardboard box of matches. With a flick of his wrist, he lit both plain white candles and set them into separate burnished brass candlesticks, each simple in design with a imprinted set of the moon through its phases on the sloped base.

"I hope you know where you shall be staying, Master John?" the lithe man asked cordially, handing over a simply brass candle holder. "It will be the same as when you were staying here previously, when the flooring in the main hall was replaced."

"O' course." John replied reproachfully. He slid the candle closer to himself. "I'll be upstairs, just down th' 'all." he said with a grin and wink in Renee's direction. "If thee need onnythin' just shout, an' I'll come runnin'!"

"Of course. I am sure that we shall all sleep better knowing as such." Aldric said dismissively in turn, starting to the opposite door which led into a forlornly long hall. "I assume Master John will be wanting a brief after dinner smoke, and as such, I'll direct Mistress Renee to her room. Is that satisfactory?"

Renee nodded, though she didn't move from where she stood. Her earlier apprehensiveness was settling in and she wrung her hands, looking about the room. It didn't storm often where she lived so to her, they were rare monsters that threatened to keep her up all night - and worst of all, she had to endure one in an unfamiliar environment. At least at home she felt safe and protected by the familiarity of everything. She sighed and gathered up all her courage to ask, "Pardon, but... I..." She looked away and held out her hand, practically begging for comfort. "I am afraid... I do not encounter storms very much at home."

John jumped forward. "I can-"

Aldric smiled pleasantly as he took her hand within his. "No, I would hate to disrupt your pleasures. Please allow me, I insist. After all, I have prepared a special room for her to stay in. You would be unable to find it yourself."

"...Fine." the large man allowed grudgingly and turned away to stare sullenly out the windows.

"Now then, Mistress Renee." Aldric turned his smile on her and led her down a darkened hall. "Please hold a candle for yourself, and let me guide you to your room. I should hope it is to your liking."

Every few feet lay a small pillar-like window that was sunk into the grey stone of the wall, allowing the flashes of lightening from outside to light up the long passageway every few seconds before a resounding low boom would causes the manor to tremble to its core in its terrible fight against the storm. The light itself allowed Renee to see the dusty paintings and portraits of sullen-faced people. One in particular had a pair of rather unpleasant children who stared out sulkily at anyone who felt it wise to stare back. If Renee has paused to turn behind her, she would have seen that both her and the man beside her's footsteps leaving a trail of prints in a thick layer of dust.

"I apologize for the manner of my cleaning. I put your room on first priority, and have not had the chance to clean the passageways leading to it." He chuckled lightly as she gripped his arm as another bolt of lightening lit up the hall. His small laugh mixed with the sounds of the copious and heavy rain that pelted the manor.

Renee did her best to smile sincerely. "Please do not apologize. I am amazed you take such good care of everything by yourself." She started to ease up, but gave a small quip of a whimper when thunder rumbled through the house. "L-Le fait prend d'assaut often here?"

Aldric smiled apologetically. "I must apologize, I have never had the time to learn any languages other than my own native English." He led her down a turn and up a small flight of stone stairs. With now windows to allow even the lightening in, there was only the candlestick to battle the shadows, which it did valiantly, and to avail, for the shadows always strayed back in fear of the flame's light.

Renee followed closely at his heels much like an obedient dog, one hand gripping her candle, the other used to lift up the front of her gown so she didn't trip on it and rip it. "I apologize," she finally piped up, having gone silent out of embarrassment. "for my actions earlier... I have a terrible habit of speaking French if I don't pay attention to my words. I will try to do better in the future."

"Nonsense!" the man said mildly with a smile. "I find it a very endearing trait to have."

Their steps echoed back at them here, for there were no decor of any sort to muffle the sound, only a plain stonework doorway leading to another undoctored stone hall. The wooden floor creaked under them and Renee was rather glad it was dark, for she had a feeling that there were silky spiderwebs all throughout. The inside wall was white-washed with paneled doors sunk in every few steps. The plain wooden doors with dull brass knobs was suddenly ended by the final door. However, unlike the others, the final one was neatly sanded, and the handle had been recently cleaned, for both wood and metal shone brilliantly, joyful at the prospect of being inhabited, something it had never experienced in its entire history of being.

"This will be your room, Mistress Renee." Aldric said as he pulled out a old corroded skeleton key from his breech's left pocket. "I hope it meets your approval?" There was a click from the inner mechanism of the doorknob that was audible even over the raging storm outside. The door opened without the slow groan most of the other doors in the manor had acquired over the many years of neglect and disuse.

The butler quickly ushered her inside, hurriedly lighting a fire in the fireplace. The warm glow of the fire slowly thrust the darkness away, leaving them to only hide in the very corners of the room, creating a warm and inviting room. Standing, Aldric gestured gallantly across the span of the room. "Will this suffice? I do apologize for the size. It must be terribly small compared to your own room."

The bed chamber was boxy in shape, with a extra-ordinarily large circular oriental rug detailed with roses and other flowers in muted reds, violets, greens and blues of all sorts of shades and hues that covered the wooden floors in front of the brick-stone fireplace. A black-metaled screen kept the intricate fabric roses, vines and beaded tassels safe from the burning flames. Along the walls hung gorgeously decorated and braided rugs with fairy-tale scenes with princesses and unicorns and castles spread out liberally. On these were numerous pastel-colored paintings of the English countryside while a large portrait of a richly-brocaded woman hung demurely by the curtained bedside window. She smiled maternally from her gilded frame upon the heavily-made feather-bed with it's good-down pillows and cotton sheet covered with decorative flowers and butterflies. The thin gauze of the curtain that hung from the rounded beams of the bed promised a peaceful slumber while the fire kept the room safe from the raging storm outside.

Renee stared at the room in shock and awe. She walked carefully, each step precisely placed as if afraid to disturb anything. She sat down in the center of the room with her dress splayed out around her so that she was surrounded by a sea of white lace and blue silk. "It..." Her gaze traveled across the room and she shook her head. "Non..." She smiled wistfully. "It is beyond that which I could have imagined. It is beautiful." She looked up at him. "I must be dreaming."

Aldric smiled softly. "Then I am happy that you find it to your satisfaction. If you will please excuse me, I will allow you to get some much needed rest after such a long journey." He opened the door. "Should you need anything, there is a small lever beside your bed. Should you pull it, I will come running. Also, I believe Master John's room is simply a few doors down."

Stepping out the door, he bowed his head lightly. "Please get some rest. I will have breakfast ready at whatever time you awaken. Have the sweetest of dreams." With that, he slowly shut the door, a click and then pattering of footsteps as he walked down the hall.

Renee sat there a moment, still dumbfounded by the room until lightning struck again and she sighed. She wanted to cry and seek out Aldric or John or anyone who she happened to meet first, mais non. She would be strong. After all, it was just a bit of thunder and rain. Confident in herself, she stood and began to undress. It was a long and tedious process, especially since she had to wear so many layers. Her mother or the one of the maids usually helped her, but it was about time she did it herself - she reached back and started to unthread the corset until it was just beyond her reach at the small of her back. She whipped around as if expecting to see someone there holding her arms to keep her from finishing her task and bit her lip.

What would she do?! She couldn't ask for help. To have a man see her like this... was embarrassing and against everything her upbringing had taught her. "Oh, non..." she cried desperately to the air and struggled some more to reach. Despite her best efforts, the threading held fast and just beyond the tips of her fingertips. Finally, she collapsed on the bed, her face buried in her hands. "Que maintenant?" she mumbled, feeling helpless and bitter at being unable to perform even this simple task.

After a bit of more struggling, she decided it futile and laid down to sleep. As she wearily closed her eyes, and let her mind slowly wander into sleep, she failed to notice a pair of eyes peering down at her still form. And outside of her warm, safe sanctuary, the storm raged on until the early morning hours.

'first chapter - waxing crescent I'

To Be Continued...

Thus, the first chapter! I hope it was good enough... I'm trying to remain consistently detailed, as well as realistic and with the time period. Ah, I apologize for any inconsistencies with John's little accenting. Admittedly, I was originally trying for a Yorkshire accent, mainly because The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett has always been a favorite book of mine, and I've loved attempting to try it out with my bad American grammar (haha), but... it might have ended up into something more... skewed? Please feel free to correct any needed corrections or inconsistencies or anything like that. Well, in either case I would appreciate any reviews, of course, whether it's for praising, criticizing, etc... (long pause) However, please continue to read! Chapter two should be uploaded by the end of May, if not sooner. Thank you for your patience! (low bow)

yours sincerely,