"The Hunter's Moon"

written by kris-et-dan

Authors' notes:
Welcome to the fourth chapter. Reaching the center of the story, our heroine leaves the manor, returns to it and enjoys some alone-time with the butler. There are also a few clues to be found, though certainly not like the ones to come in future chapters... Having stated that, I have been able to achieve me goal. I have finally found a place to type in the word 'night-soil'. I have been wanting to type that in a story for so long (haha), it's a bit pathetic, really... (I am so juvenile. hahaha) Also, for the relevant disclaimers, please read the prologue, as it will all be there for your viewing. That aside, please enjoy this chapter!

'fourth chapter - first quarter'

Renee awoke with a jolt, going from lying to sitting up in a fractional second, crying out in fear all the while. She silenced, however, when she saw the familiar white gauze of her bed curtain. "Un... un reve?" She lifted her trembling hands to touch her face, then gave a small, short laugh, filled with relief. "Juste un reve!" She fell back and rolled onto her side so her back faced the world while she curled up to pull her knees to her chest. "Juste un reve, Renee... c'est tout." Though she mumbled it a few more times, the image of the broken figure as it stumbled towards her, one hand twisted into a pointing, accusatory claw, remained clear in her mind as if imprinted on her eyes themselves. "A dream..." At her own softly spoken English, her whole body began to tremble as she remembered the face, the hand, the noise in that much more detail... Of their own accord, thick, salty tear droplets dribbled down her cheeks and she whimpered, "John... pourquoi... pourquoi vous m'etes parti seul?"

It was nearly half of an hour when her bedroom door was rapped upon. "Mistress Renee? May I come in? I have brought you your morning meal."

Renee sniffed lightly and rubbed at her face. Though the girl had stopped crying a long while ago, she had never been allowed the virtue of crying prettily, instead getting blotchy cheeks and puffy, reddened eyes. It would be disgraceful to be seen just now. "Non, Monsieur Aldric... I am not hungry this morning, but thank you."

There was a moment of silence before the butler knocked the wood with his hand softly. "Mistress Renee... May I..." There was a pause as he took a slow, thoughtful pause. "Ah, may I ask a favor of you? It needn't be done right away, but... if it would not be too much trouble?"

Renee sat for a moment before drawing in a great sigh and shifting into a sitting position. "Of course." She got off the bed, walking to the door and opening it. It took her a fractional moment to remember, but she managed her old trained, gentle smile, hoping she didn't look too worse for wear. "What is it, Monsieur Aldric?"

The man frowned lightly as he saw her weary face. "Mistress Renee... Ah... Please forget what I was saying and lay back down." He went through the motions of easing her back to the soft mattress. "Please rest longer."

Renee sighed but didn't bother to fight him. Once she was on the bed, she looked up at him with as much curiosity as she could muster. "Non, it was simply a bad dreaming- dream. What is it that you need?"

Aldric turned his head, his voice heavy, seeming to carry all of the sorrow in the world. "No, no. It is not needed today." he said simply. "Please just rest today and regain your strength."

"Non!" She clasped her hands around one of his, feeling warmer already, the fears evaporating like morning dew in the fresh light. "Please. I simply did not sleep well last night, that is all." She smiled and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "Tell me, please?"

The butler smiled wearily, though more genuinely. "I thought perhaps you might wish to leave this place, if only for a day, and thought that perhaps you may like to visit the nearby community. It is not large, though it might do good for a lady such as yourself to be able to mingle with others... Of course, it would be under the guise of shopping for me. It must be difficult to be kept here with little company for so long." His smile became much more genuine.

Renee's whole demeanor seemed to light up at the prospect of getting away for a little bit. "Ah! I would love to!" She paused to bite her tongue. "Non, please do not misunderstand. I very much love it here, but I have been wanting to see the surrounding area. Would I be able to go alone?" She pulled her hands away and folded them neatly in her lap, shifting her gaze to the fireplace. "I do not need Monsieur John to escort me everywhere."

Aldric nodded. "Of course, I would dislike to disrupt his work, though..." he paused and bit his lower lip. "Ah, I will give you money for a boy from the village to drive you to and back. That way, you will not need to carry all of the items yourself." He straightened, soft smile on his face. "I will ready the list, and feel free to leave at which-ever time you find preferable."

"Oh, non! I would like to walk myself down." The girl smiled.

Aldric blinked curiously, but nodded all the same. "Ah.. If you are sure... Alright..." He started to the door, but paused at the threshold and turned hesitantly, an undefinable expression on his face, full lips twisted downwards, eyes suddenly troubled by some unknown burden. "You... will return, will you not?"

There was a moment of silence before Renee smiled, if a bit confusedly. "Oui, of course I will. Here, as a promise..." She got up and walked over to her case, fishing out a small, black pouch, which she held out for him. "Take this. I would never leave it behind with no intention of returning, so if you keep it, I will have to come back." She smiled. "Okay?"

He stared at her silently before slowly reaching for the pouch and then looking down at the bag in his hand with an intense look of concentration. "Yes." he finally said, back to as he was. "Yes, I apologize for this." Even so, he gently handled the small pouch with all the reverence of a Holy Artifact. "Yes." he repeated, much stronger this time. "I will ready the list for you. Thank you."

He bowed deeply before hurriedly leaving.

Renee held up the smile for a while before practically collapsing on the floor. It was too perfect! A chance to get out, clear her mind, and forget about John and that dream. She looked down at her hand as she opened and closed it, frowning. Dream or otherwise, he shouldn't have let go and left her alone. So this time around, she'd leave him! With a confident, self-assured nod, she set about getting dressed, wondering who she'd meet and what she'd see. She would not feel guilt, she would not!

As she walked into the dining room, John, who had been leaning back in on of the chairs and absently staring up at the ceiling immediately sat straight upon the sight of her. The wooden chair creaked at the sudden motion and hit the carpeted floor with a muffled crack.

"Er... mornin'" he managed, steadfastly looking out the windowpanes, with a sudden fascination of the early birds outsides, instead of her. "'ow'd- How'd you sleep?"

Renee looked at him for a few moments in silence. Her lips lifted into a smile and she gave a gentle, absent shrug of her shoulders. "I have slept better, I will admit. What about you?"

He hunched over some, still refusing to look at her. "...fine." He was silent for a moment, muscles tightening and clenching, much like an aged canine wondering if it was worth getting up to chase a hare or not. Finally, he jerked his head to the side to face her. "I'm sorry!" he shouted. "I was a stupid li'l fool, I was! I shou'n't o' let y' be alone li' tha'!"

"What?!" she cried, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. "Y-y-you mean..." She slumped into a nearby chair and stared at him with wide eyes. "It was real?" Her hands slid up to cover her whole face as a wave of trembling raked through her. She lifted her head suddenly as a spark of hope appeared. "Did you see it?" she asked hesitantly.

Half-standing, half leaning his weight onto the table. "See what?" he asked in a tone both curious and worried.

The girl stared at him incredulously. "H-her!"

"Wha'? I jus' foun' thee, layin' against th' wall... Thee was alone."

"B-but her!"

"Her?" Aldric said with a smile, both apologetic and strained. He had his head poked from the kitchen doorway, a slip of yellowed parchment in a clasped hand. "Do you mean the... Er.." He halted in place, holding the paper to his chest hesitantly.

Renee looked over at Aldric, the spark now a flame. "So then, I am not crazy? I really did see something?" She moved from her chair and over to Aldric in a fluid, near seamless motion. "Who is she? What happened to her?"

"I, ah, N-No, there is no need to allow yourself to be restrained by useless information." Aldric's smile turned a bit helpless as he tried to chide her playfully, though it was quickly replaced with a light lifting of his lips. "There is no need, ah, please do not be worried, for there is nothing to be told."

"'Ey. Wha' 'bout me, mm? I'd like t' kno'!" John scowled at the other man.

"There is nothing to be told." The butler repeated, this time with annoyed force.


Aldric ignored him, favoring Renee and placed the slip into her hands carefully. "Though, perhaps you would like to join me tonight, and we may talk?" He made sure to lean slightly to keep his whispered words secret.

Renee sighed lightly and nodded. "Oui... that is fine." She lifted her head, a triumphant smile on her lips. "I shall not be laid aside, Monsieur Aldric." She brushed past John, who still stood turning his head to the other two in confusion, like a puppy. Putting on her own over-coat, she nodded at Aldric. "When would you like me to return home?"

He stepped ever-closer to the girl, resting a pale slender hand on her own thin shoulder, a kind smile gracing his face. "Please come when you are able to mean the smiles you give."

"'Ey!" John jumped up, skulking to pull Aldric away from the girl, a large hand clasping the back of the butler's delicately sewn silk vest. "Wha' are thee two talkin' about?!"

Renee frowned at John for a brief moment before she turned and walked away, heading for the door. "I will be home when I feel better, then. Au revoir, Aldric et Monsieur John."

"Please follow the path, Mistress Renee! Further directions are on the paper!" Aldric's voice called from the doorway, though he disappeared before she could thank him properly, though this was more likely due to John stalking after him than herself.

As she exited the building, there was a annoyed voice from John as he was barred from the kitchen by a solidly-locked door, though exactly what was said would not be determined before the door shut. However, Renee gave it no second thought. This day was just too lovely! The warmth of the day was rather uncharacteristic as fall was supposed to soon appear. Even though time was growing short, there were still some small ground plants growing around the gravel way putting out deep richly colored buds that swayed back and forth in the light breeze on bright yellowy stalks. From the trees lining the road were conversations from various birds, though whether they were native to the area, or simply those whom had already arrived to stay over the winter season, Renee could not be sure. Perhaps she would ask John about them, to soothe any bad feelings.

The map, as well as the list of needed items, written the paper given to her was drawn in an elegant fashion; thin, precise strokes of the quill with curled lettering noting landmarks and pathways to help guide her way. It actually reminded her of the way her own mother wrote, for some strange reason. She ignored the flippant thought. It was rude to think of such a respectable man as 'womanly'. After all, to focus on such details on this fine day!

The walk was pleasurable, neither too long, nor too strenuous, and the map was easy to follow. It was actually quite relaxing to be able to take a slow stroll, for it was quite different from the great city of Paris, with all of it's lights, sights and people! Here the air was clean, and the sounds of the trees and birds were calming to the mind... In fact, the change the bright, warm sunlight brought on the mind was significant! Even the thought of the experiences of the night previous were hard to consider seriously. It was easy to banish the thoughts in the safe light of day, enough so to cause her to feel foolish for acting as she had.

It was not long before she reached the town, the forest halting suddenly at the edge. A small cobble-stone bridge led Renee over the small trickling brook that babbled and bubbled over rocks and sticks before disappearing underneath the bridge and exposing itself again on the other side. There were a small group of children who could not have been older than ten laughing and splashing on the shallower, more open side of the bridge, an older girl sitting on the stream-side wreathing a circlet of late-summer flowers to place on the blonde curly-haired babe in her lap. She glanced up at Renee, waving lightly with a wide smile before hurriedly jerking a small bouquet of grasses from the baby's mouth. There was a cry of excitement as one bare-chested boy playfully chased a shrieking girl with a small mud-colored turtle.

Soon over the stream, and out of sight of the water-bound group of children and on into the collection of homes that was labeled on Aldric's map as the 'Town of Westbury-under-the-Plain". It was a simple line of stone and wooden white-washed buildings strung along a wide dirt-turned-cobblestone road that led to a small circle before winding away around the far, distant hills. On the home nearest, an elderly lady hobbled out her door before noticing Renee paused on the roadside.

"Hey, Missy!" she cried with a snaggle-toothed grin, wiping a hand on her dirtied apron before beckoning her with arthritic-riddled hands. "Missy! I've not seen ya here afore!"

Renee smiled at the woman. "This is my first time into town, I am afraid." She lifted the hem of her gown off the ground as she gave a small, respectful curtsy and simultaneous bow of the head. "My name is Renee Blanc. What is yours?"

"I'm called Granny Liz." With a quick hobble, she plopped her plump body into an old rocking chair with a sigh of relief. "Missus Renee, mind if you took some time to talk to an old bitter spinster as myself?"

"Oh, not at all." She walked over and sat down on the steps, smoothing out a few wrinkles and folding her hands in her lap. "My time is yours, Grand-mere Liz."

The old lady cackled to herself gleefully. "I like a respectable girl as you. Now then, you said you were new, did ya? I should 'ave known by your accent. Where might such a girl as you be from then?"

"I am from France." She smiled wistfully. "It is a nice place, but I much prefer it here. Too loud and noisy and busy in Paris."

Granny Liz grinned smugly at this and leant forward. "Really? I wished my grandgirls would have the same sense as you. All they've spoken of is how they want to see London!" She scowled and tapped her cane on the wood. "I've lived here all my life. Born, raised, and I'll die here too. I've raised children, and buried some and my husband. You'd think they'd be grateful to live here!" Her face smoothed out immediately. "Though, to be new here.. You don't live here in town, for I'd've heard gossip o' you 'fore then." She paused before a wicked grin popped onto her face, her wizened and wrinkled eyes gleaming with a youthful countenance. "You wouldn't be the one that's gotten that big manor 'ave ya?"

"Ah-" Renee paused, her face scrunching up slightly in thought, before she nodded. "Oui, that would be me. I have been living there for around a week now, and this is my first time out." She looked down at the paper clutched in her hand. "Monsieur Aldric sent me on an errand as an excuse to get me out of the house."

The gleam in the old woman's eye seemed to gather strength as she cackled happily at the news. "Hah! I've got one-up on that pesky ole' Janie! She'll never beleive I've talked to the mysterious young lady that's moved on in!" She bent ever closer eagerly, head tilted slightly to offer her better ear, for the other was getting hard of hearing. "And? Have you seen anythin' excitin'?"

"Oh, other than the time I thought I got lost, I am afraid nothing 'exciting' has happened." She turned her head to gaze out at the rest of the village, a forlorn look on her face while she fiddled idly with the paper. "Monsieur Aldric told me the story of the mansion... I feel sorry for her. The poor house has sheltered such things and endured so much. Oh, dieu!" A soft, subdued laugh escaped her. "I apologize. I was raised under the belief that homes absorb the souls of those that live in them. It must sound silly to you for me to talk of such things."

It was as if all the air was let out of her, as the old woman slumped backwards. "Naw, my father thought the same sort of things. 'Course his senses left him just after I became of marryin' age, so that can be taken with a grain o' salt and then some. The man would talk to 'is bedpost, he would, but he was my father all th' same." She laid both knobby hands on the tip of her cane, and stared straight out, eyes seeing nothing but the long-ago past. "I don' know this Aldric-fellow, but what all has he told you, eh?" The gleam was back.

As the Granny Liz's gleam returned, Renee's own dwindled and came close to dying. "Monsieur Aldric told me of the mysterious murders that happened there. All sorts of awful things... but," she continued, hoping to lighten her own mood. "the manor is very beautiful, and so far, I have no complaints about living there."

"Oh." She was silent for a moment, Renee's answer not satisfying enough. "Well, I don't know about murders. I heard the lady-wife o' his was off her rocker. Though, heaven knows, a daughter can be troublesome beast, especially one tha's not your own. Men!" She scoffed with an accented thump of her cane. "They're nothing but bothersome beasts that do nothing but drink, fornicate and cause trouble to the good women of God's grand earth!"

Renee laughed softy, politely covering her mouth with a hand. "Oh, non... are the men of England that bad?" She paused to lower her hand. "Men of France can be rude, but they are very good at.. ah, I believe the word is 'courting'. Do men of England not court the women here?"

A heavily-wrinkled eye stared down at her. "All men are the same, girl. Some may be better lookin' than others, but they all want one thing..." She trailed off, her eyes growing dull with memories. "Though, my Jeremiah. He was a good, good man, he was. Harder workin' than the others, and he never strayed... He was a good, good man... Though.." The eyes were back to staring at Renee, sharp as those of a hawk or eagle, prepared to glean every bit of information she could. "You, girl..." she paused, staring out blankly in front of herself, though at what, it was impossible to say.

Renee blinked a few times. She wondered, in her silence, what the one thing that guys wanted was, but she smiled gently. "What were you going to say, grand-mere Liz?"

"Mmm..." She was still as a statue for a moment before she struggled to get her feet back on the wooden porch. "I forget. That's somethin' that happens lots when one gets old like me. Whoo! It gets harder everyday!" The old woman wiggled her body, rocking the chair back and forth with her weight to get herself back on her feet.

Renee was on her feet with a hand held out to help in a near-instant. "Please, do not over-exert yourself, grand-mere Liz. Let me help you."

The two strained for a bit of time, during which a small child of indeterminable age and gender came out of the building clad in only a pair of dirty brown overalls. The very same blue-eyed child giggled, as if watching an old fat woman struggling to be pulled upright by a much younger, slim woman was the height of hilarity. Finally, Granny Liz rapped her cane angrily on the side of her chair in the young child's direction.

"If y' don' stop that this very instant, lad, I'll tan your hide, you can be sure of that!"

The child chose very wisely to scurry quickly back into the house, dark brown hair soon disappearing in the shadows of the inside. Finally, both were panting, though they were also both vertical, or rather, Liz was as vertical as she could be, her back hunched over from age.

"Come girl." she said in a no-nonsense tone. "Let me take you to the bakery. My little Ashton and his little wife work it."

Renee nodded, thought she looked more like she wanted to rest. "You must be proud, grand-mere Liz, to see your children and their children live prosperous lives."

"No' t' brag..." She grinned youthfully and led the way down the road to a cobbled square, lined on all sides by businesses and other buildings, a small green circle with a statue in the middle. Ignoring all else, even some good-natured waving and greetings to her from other people walking by, the old woman went on her mission, heading straight into a short squat building made of smoothed brick and river-stone.

"Granny!" cried a tall, stocky man from behind the counter. He placed a fresh loaf, wrapped in thin brown paper, onto the counter for a small girl dressed in a red dress, an once-white pinafore covering it. "What'd'you want? It's not Sunday."

"I've come for a gift for this'un. Make 'er your best bread. She'll come back by later, so she can take it home fresh an' warm."

The girl stood on her tip-toes, the tips of her shoes scuffing the floor as she gripped the paper to her chest protectively. A gloved hand dropped some coin on the counter. They clinked and one nearly rolled off to the floor.

"Ahh..." The man grimaced lightly, jerking out his hand to keep the coin from falling. "Yes, Granny, of course." He thanked the girl, who skittered out quickly, the bread held determinedly to her chest.

Renee blinked a few times, startled, before she waved her hands. "Oh, non! I cannot accept a gift like that. Please, I have money to pay for it with. How much?"

"No, girl." Liz fixed a stare on her that was almost motherly, in a stern way. "You'll best be takin' it as it'll be my welcomin' gift for you."

A short, thin woman laughed merrily as she walked in with a small rack of dough to place on the shelving that lines the wall before moving to join the man at the counter. She laid her hands on the counter. "It'd be best t' accept it, Miss. Granny Liz'll always win somehow."

Renee smiled, defeated, and nodded. "Then, thank you for the gift, grand-mere Liz." She looked back at the man and the woman, her expression brighter. "So, are you the Ashton and his wife that grand-mere Liz spoke of?"

The man grunted and the wife interpreted with a laugh. "Yes, that would be th' two o' us. Oh, that reminds me... Mister Remus were here earlier and asked me t' tell y' somethin'.." She paused for a second as she thought of what it was. "Something about... fish?"

Granny Liz scowled darkly at the mention of this name. "Ooh, that damnable fool."

"What was that, my dear?"

The old woman's wrinkled face grew even darker at the deep, though quivery, voice from the doorway. She turned to show off her expression to the tiny, shriveled old man, who held a cane in each hand, dressed in pressed trousers and a stark-white shirt, the top two buttons undone, thick lenses glasses filling half of his face, making his eyes seem unnaturally large. "I say you're a fool, you old fool." she said vehemently. "And just what makes a fool like you show up like this?"

"I happened to notice you taking a morning stroll and came to talk with you." He blinked his brown eyes owlishly through his glasses at her, balancing gingerly.

"Then you're e'en a bigger fool than I thought. Go away. I've no mind to bother with ya."

However, the man was already stumbling into the building, ignoring Granny Liz's words, nearly slipping against the wall more than once, and peering intently on Renee. "Is this the mysterious beauty that's making friends with the ghosties?" he paused and furrowed his bushy brow in utter confusion. "Or was it potatoes?"

The wife chuckled merrily at the exchange and leaned up against the counter-top, a work-calloused hand worrying at her sleeve. Her husband, however, quickly abandoned the room, in favor of finding more work to do.

Renee blushed faintly at his words. "Oh, non. I believe you have me mistaken. I am neither, nor have I made friends with any les fantomes." She gave a slight tilt of the head, in hopes of changing the subject. "Who are you, Monsieur?" She curtsied politely. "My name is Renee Blanc."

"Oh, bless me!" he hopped forward some at her words and had to steady himself on both canes. "I am the mister Remus Kinley. Though... Are you sure you're not the one living in that delightful manor? How saddening..."

There was a exasperated huff from Granny Liz as she jostled forward, pushing Renee. "Of course she is, you fool!"

Remus turned to stare at her with misty-dull eyes. "But she has said she was not."

"No, she was sayin' she wasn't a potato!"

"Who said that?"

"You did, you damned fool!" (This made Renee gasp, as she had never heard a woman curse as easily as Granny Liz seemed to be able to.)

"Did I say that?"

"I don't think anyone knows half of what you say!"

"How rude! I was only going to give her a warning of the place! Really!" He frowned his thin lips at her in vague annoyance.

Renee glanced between the two, startled at how easy it was to get the two old persons riled up. Really, she had meant she wasn't mysterious or a beauty, but she dared not comment on that now, for fear of bringing the rage onto herself. Instead, she whipped up another well-practiced smile. "A warning of the manor? What is there to warn about, other than the rumors of les fantomes?"

He fixed both luminous eyes on her, whipping his head over. "The curse! Any woman living there will die by dire circumstances!" He cried, as if he had not just been arguing.

"You fool. There is no curse." The old woman rapped her cane, though she looked as if it were his head and not the floor she was hitting. "You'd blame the comet o' 1811 if you could make someone believe such drivel."

"Oh really?" He rapped both canes in return. "Then what happened to the daughter, mm? And the wife, mm?"

"Then 'ow do you explain the baby, eh? Tha' was no girl!"

Silence reigned for a second. "Perhaps... perhaps..." he fell silent once more, staring at the floor before looking up hesitantly. "Perhaps the babe was no male!"

"And why would they cover it up, then?" A long white eyebrow raised itself on Granny Liz's face.

"The curse!"

"You're a damned fool."

Renee's expression dulled for a moment with thought, feeling rather addled by the flying words and confusing references, but she quickly regained composure, eager to learn what she could. "A daughter? Monsieur Aldric made mention of no daughter... perhaps you can tell me more of her?"

Granny Liz and Mister Remus turned to stare at her. Remus recovered quicker, and his eyes glowed with interest. "The daughter! You don't know of the daughter! She was only seen a few times here when the family moved in and then she just up and disappeared!" He hobbled up to Renee, full of surprisingly youthful eagerness, misty eyes peering up at her, though they seemed to see more past her, over her shoulder, than actually at her. "Some say she was playing in the woods and got herself lost; others say she was killed in a accident, but I say she died 'cause of the curse!"

The older woman quickly bustled over to protect the younger girl, briefly turning to the counter. Ashton's wife had long gone to help with the baking, as these confrontations between the two older ones was strikingly commonplace. "Stop your babblin', you damn fool!" she said harshly. "you sound like an old cock jus' parading about! It's enough t' rattle anyone's ears! Now go bother someone else with your damned babblin'!"

The man sniffed up at her disdainfully. "I can see when I'm not needed!" Not willing to let his ambition be crushed, Remus looked at Renee before turning. "I fear that my words only wash over the ignorant like water off a duck's back. Good day!" And with a slip and a step, he beat a hasty retreat at the cool glare the old woman gave for his words. With a hurried hobble he was out the door, quickly disappearing in the harshly bright mid-morning sunlight.

"Don' let his ramblin' bother you none." Granny liz said, a arm over her plentiful bosom in a disagreeable manner. "No one even knows half the things that spews from his mouth, and he understands even less. Damned fool."

Renee smiled idly, staring after the man. The onslaught of information was a bit overwhelming, especially considering she had no idea how revelant any of it really was. "I suppose... I am afraid I must take my leave soon, though. All of this talk of the deaths is making me feel a little unwell." She looked back at Liz. "How long will the bread take to finish?"

Renee got out of the small hay-wagon, carrying only a wrapped loaf of bread in her arms, the slip of paper clutched in one hand. She walked up to Aldric, handed him the loaf and the paper, and walked past him toward the manor. Throughout this, she said absolutely nothing but had a quite displeased look on her face, with the slightest hint of a sad undertone. She ignored both he and John when she ran into the two and instead kept straight on her path to her bedroom, where she shut the door and barricaded it with her trunk. Though it was empty, it was still rather heavy. She didn't want to speak to either of them.

The ride back had only given her more time to think, which seemed to make everything all the more complicated. She still hadn't completely forgiven John, and now that she knew he was only after something (though she didn't know exactly what; of course the entire meeting with Mounsoir Remus had been rather queer). The more she thought about it, the more betrayed she felt. Maybe that woman just meant one thing in general, not specifically. John had said that he had always wanted to work on the manor. Was all that she was to him was an easy ride to what he wanted - the manor? She slumped on the floor in a huddled mess, leaning against the wall. And Aldric. Why had he kept the daughter from her?

There had to be a reason for it... some significance that her life held that would alter the story he told her. She clenched her eyes shut as she started to feel like crying. She really had been betrayed. Aldric betrayed her trust in him by keeping something that was probably important from her, and John... for one thing, he had truly left her back there despite her blatant wish to not be alone, and for another, he was using her.

She was left to her own devices until the sun was low in the sky. There was a soft knocking on the door. "Mistress Renee?" Aldric called from the hall. "May I inquire about dinner?"

Renee, who had preoccupied herself with a book, dropped it to the ground and looked up at the door petulantly. "I am not hungry, so leave me alone."

"Mistress Renee... please let me at least leave the meal out your door... You have not even eaten a meal at noon." there was silence for a moment before, "Mistress Renee... I want to humbly apologize for whatever it was that I have offended.. Please forgive me."

"Non." She turned her gaze to the fireplace, empty and desolate, the embers having died out long ago. "I will not. You have been keeping a secret from me, Monsieur Aldric. I do not know what or why yet, but I will not forgive you for keeping it from me."

"What have I withheld from you, Mistress?" His voice was sorrowful, if a bit confused. "Please let me correct my mistake, I beg you. Please?"

Renee went silent. He sounded so sincere... but what if it was an act? How could she trust him, or know for sure? After a moment that lasted under a minute, but felt like longer, she moved closer to the door. "Why did you not tell me of the daughter?" she asked softly.

There was a silence that seemed somehow strained as the butler openly stared at her. "Daughter? What daughter?"

"The daughter, the one that died." She now leaned against the wall beside the door. "Monsieur Remus spoke of a curse and a daughter, and you have told me of neither."

Immediately there were peals of relieved high-laughter that rang throughout the manor. "Curse?" Aldric finally was able to say incredulously. "There is no curse! There is no such thing! And there was a daughter, yes, but she has no bearings on anything! I was told that she left before the manor was even finished, certainly before I came to work here. I suspect she's been married off somewhere."

"Then... then!" She placed a hand on the chest, staring up at where she knew Aldric's face was, behind the door. "What of Monsieur John? Grand-mere Liz told me that men are only interested in one thing! If I can trust you, am I to trust him again, as well?"

"Men? I must admit I am certainly lost. Of course, I am sure I am nothing like him, but I would like to offer some advice nonetheless... It is not always wise to take everything you hear as truth."

"Why not?" Her brow furrowed. "Why would they lie to me? I have done nothing to deserve being lied to... have I?" She ended on a pitiful note, much like a poor kitten unsure of why it was being scolded for bringing in a dead bird as a gift.

"I... Let me.." Aldric went silent for a long amount of time, at a loss on how to correct the situation. "Well, surely in France there are people who say things that are not true, even though they themselves may believe it?"

"I do not understand... perhaps it is that I do not know." She sighed. "I do not speak with many people. I only wear the clothes my parents make and follow them. Do many people tell lies?"

"No, er... Ple.. Um... Ah, I know. People think many things, and believe them to be true when they are really not true. It is their opinion that what they believe it true, but..." He trailed off, wondering how to make it more clear. "Ah, I know. For example, there are many people who still believe the world to be flat as a coin, when it is truth that the world is not so. Therefore, while they are wrong, those people do not believe they are wrong, and as such, tell other people that the world is flat as if it were really true. Does that make any sense?"

"Oui, a little..." She sighed. "It makes some sense. Merci, Monsieur Aldric. I am sorry for believing in things that were not true." She paused to think about it, then huffed and leaned against the wall again. "But Grand-mere Liz and me are not wrong about Monsieur John."

"What about?"

"Monsieur John is like all men! He is only concerned with himself. Though... Grand-mere Liz never did answer my question." She turned once again to face the door. "Do men of England court the women of England? Men of France court women with gifts and poetry."

"What proof do you have of this? Of course, I may not like Master John, but once more, I will warn you not to simply take idle word as fact until you have researched it yourself." Aldric chuckled lightly into his hand, doing his best to hide his smile. "And I would certainly hope I am like 'all men'."

Renee put on a sulky face. "You will not answer my question, also! Is there something wrong with it?" She slumped some. "Is it against English culture?"

"Of course, please forgive me, Mistress Renee. I do not know about what men may do when they court a woman, but I would certainly do my best to woo her. Is that satisfactory?"

"I suppose..." She got up and walked over to the bed, where she laid down and closed her eyes. "I will be going to bed early tonight, Monsieur Aldric." She paused to add quietly, "I am sorry for doubting you, Aldric."

There was a moment of silence. "If I may, Mistress, perhaps you would enjoy a moon-viewing later tonight? To ease your mind?"

"A moon-viewing? Is there something special about the moon tonight?"

"Ah..." The man's face fell, though he covered it up bravely. "...No, no, there isn't. Ah, please forgive me. I must be going. I will see you in the morning, then. Please sleep well, Mistress Renee."

Renee laid there for a while in silence before she closed her eyes. She wasn't feeling particularly tired, so odds were she'd wake up in the middle of the night.

Which she did. At about half past midnight she stirred, yawned, and stretched. Perfect! She smiled to herself and moved the makeshift barricade, then went over to the rope and gave it a hesitant pull. She had never actually used it before, so she wasn't sure how it worked, so after she pulled it, she turned to face the door with an almost proud smile on her face.

There were several minutes of silence before there were near-silent footsteps coming up the hall and a slow, hesitant knocking on the door before it opened, Aldric sticking his head in the room, hair hastily tied back. "Mistress Renee? Is something the matter?"

Renee opened the door, still smiling. "It is time to view the moon, I believe." She glanced behind him. "Is Monsieur John awake?"

The butler bowed his head lightly, his face neutral in expression, almost as if he was unsure if he should smile or frown. "I am unsure. Would you have me knock his door to find out whether he is or is not?"

"Oh, non. If you knew that he was, then I would ask him if he was interested, but if there is a chance that he is asleep, I do not want to wake him." She smiled and started past him. "Let us go, before the moon gives up waiting for us."

"Of course, Mistress..." He paused, scuffling his feet unceremoniously. "Though, first.. I wish to apologize for my actions this evening. I did not mean to cause offense of any sort..."

"Huh?" She tilted her head in thought as she walked. "I do not remember you causing any offense... what did you do?"

"For... many things." He frowned unhappily. "I let you and Master John go exploring about the house unaided, as well as talking in such a superior fashion and assuming you would be interested in something like this..." He broke off before continuing, almost shyly. "And here I am talking in such a mood!" Aldric looked up with a smile. "I am sorry. I fear that I am nearing, excuse me, I am one who suffers from changes of the mood at times."

"Nonsense!" she said, smiling happily at finally getting to use the word she learned from him. "Monsieur John and I went exploring on our own, so it was our fault... and I have never gone to view the moon. You should not be so hard on yourself, Aldric. I am very interested in viewing the moon."

"Of course, Mistress Renee. Thank you for your understanding." He past her, his natural smile on his lips. "I fear that it may prove to be dreadfully boring for yourself," the butler said as he led her down the stairs. "but it has grown to be a comfort for myself." He picked up a candle he had set as they entered the hallway of paintings, through the dining room, the entrance room, the library... Finally they came to a set of stairs that spun up into darkness. "Please follow me." Aldric murmered. "While this tower was never completed, it has proven to be the most sufficient room for sky-gazing."

Renee froze at the foot of the stairs and gave a small whimper. "U-um... pardon me for my childishness, but this feels too similar to the last time..." She grabbed his hand and stepped closer to him. "I do not want to be left alone again."

"Nonsense." He gently squeezed her hand. "I promise that nothing will happen to you while you are with me. Simply follow me. If you wish, you may hold the candle. I know my way around enough."

"Non, you are leading, you should have the candle. I will be fine as long as you do not let go." She smiled weakly. "Shall we continue?"

"Let us."

They walked in silence, though after a few steps, silvery moonlight draped inside the tower stair-way through tall narrow glassless openings to the outside. The air was not chill, but pleasant to the bare skin. Outside, there was a lone bird calling out from the trees, and though the cry was plaintiff, it did not seem to carry feelings of lonely or regret.

"We are here." Aldric said softly as he led Renee onto a platform of creaking wood. It was a circular room, with one half partially defaced of both wall and roof, thick vines taking over one side with a vengeance, their tendrils burying themselves deeply into the mortar. The moon was clearly visible through the gaping hole that covered the greater extent of the room. Numerous twinkling stars also glittered and beamed from the midnight sky, warmly dark as night-soil, with thin milky streams that whispered the length of the sky. The tops of the surrounding forest could just be seen from the stairs, lightly glowing in the moonshine. Some dark shadowy-purple clouds floated aimlessly, creating a dark line along the far, far horizon.

"Is it sufficient?" the butler asked as he left her side, placing the candle inside a small lantern box that appeared as if it had been sitting there since the beginning of time. "Please sit, Mistress." he motioned towards an aged chair covered with tattered velvet. "Do not worry, it is clean, simply old."

Renee smiled and sat, her hands folded neatly in her lap, forgetting her earlier fears. "Oh, dieu... I cannot describe it in either English or French. It is beyond beautiful." She took a deep inhale of the crisp night air, held it, and slowly exhaled. "Thank you for bringing me."

"Nonsense. Thank you, Mistress Renee, for allowing me to bring you here. Please feel free to come whenever you wish." Aldric turned from her to the sky above and pointed at the moon. "This is not quite the full moon, for that happened only last night, but even so... This particular one is called the Corn Moon. There are other names that go with the separate months, but I rarely use them..." He scuffled around in an old wooden trunk, its top not even attached anymore and instead falling to the floor with a healthy thump, and pulled out a small quilt. After replacing the lid, he spread the blanket on the floor, sitting himself down upon it. "I have come to enjoy the moon. It makes a much more delightful companion than the sun. I have heard that the moon is associated with women, so perhaps that it why?"

Renee looked down at him with a somewhat curious expression. "Do you prefer the company of women over the company of men, then?" She smiled innocently. "I find women to gossip too much. I do not know if the moon gossips, though." She returned her gaze to the white, pockmarked orb in the sky. "We call her 'Lune'."

"Ah, that is a fine name for a moon..." The butler leaned backward to lay on his back, arms down crossed over his stomach. Deep brown eyes were focused on the sky and its shimmering lights. "Next month, the name will change, as it will with the month after." He was silent for a still moment. "Do you have monthly names for the moon in France?"

"Non, merely Lune. She does go through phases like humans... childhood to old age and back again. When she is reborn as a babe, she is Nouvelle Lune, and when she is on the verge of rebirth, she is Lune Pleine." She gigged at the thought. "It reminds me of Grand-mere Liz... I wonder what she was called when she was young?"

The butler smiled at the mention of the rather crotchety older woman. "How lovely... We have separate terms for the changes of her, but none can compare to your lovely words." He fell silent, though his gaze moved to Renee. "The silver of the light makes you even more beautiful."

Renee looked down at him, her cheeks now a bright red. "Q-Que?" She shook her head frantically. "Dieu, non! I am very plain compared to other french women, Monsieur Aldric. You must look at Lune too much and have forgotten what women are supposed to look like."

"Nonsense. I am very envious of you." He smiled secretly before turning back to the sky. "You have lovely skin, and beautiful hair." There was a pause before he continued. "Though, it must seem very strange to hear a man speak such words, is it not?"

"Non, that is not it... it is very unsettling for anyone to say it. I have to worry for your mental condition." She smiled playfully and looked out at the treetops, leaning forward onto her knees. "Perhaps you should get out of the manor for a while to understand."

Aldric laughed softly. "No, I have lived here for a great portion of my life. It is all I have ever known."

"That is why you do not realize the absurdity of your statement." She confidently with a short stern nod, though she smiled in spite of herself.

"Nonsense." He sighed lightly and peered out through the gaping hole. "I cannot imagine living anywhere else but here..."

The man fell silent, letting the dark calm of the night overtake him. In the silence, Renee turn to look at him secretively. For all his talk, he was a very handsome man, though it was not that of John, but something... more hidden, more secretive. She relaxed against the wooden back of the chair and positioned herself to better study him. While it felt strange to think of it like that, Renee thought it fit him. With the light of the moon bleaching his skin and hair of color, he looked like a serene marble statue. If he wasn't a man, she would have even considered Aldric beautiful. He turned to her, mouth lifted in a hint of a smile.

She quickly turned away, cheeks lightly red.

"Of course, I hope that you will be able to live here as well and call it home."

Renee's eyes widened in remembrance. "Ah! Thank you for reminding me." Her gaze turned on him, filled with curiosity, seriousness, and a little bit of fear. "Who is 'her'?"

"Ah..." Aldric fell silent as he composed himself. "I fear that I do not know very much. I cannot remember her very far, but I feel it was she who tormented my late mistress and her baby. I simply cannot answer with very much of substance, but I do feel that she is a real being." He paused before smiling at her sofly. "Ah, but I feel that you should not worry. I doubt you will be harmed by her in any way."

"Easy for you to believe!" She hugged herself and shivered, leaning forward to curl up as best she could while sitting, her hair falling to block out her features. "How can I not worry? The girl... whoever it was suffered a terrible death. The pain she is forced to endure... I cannot begin to imagine..."

"'Suffer a terrible death'?" he repeated, sitting up. "What makes you feel so?"

"The blood... her face..." She shivered violently. "It could not have been a peaceful death."

Aldric hurried to his mistress' side. He laid a slender hand on her shoulder, before reaching with the other and clasping her hands within his own slightly longer one. "I am sorry that you have seen such a poor creature... Perhaps she was provoked? Perhaps... I simply cannot say. Here, the air has become chill. Please let me escort you back to bed."

Renee gave a meek nod. "I am sorry for ruining your time with Lune." She stood, clutching his hand, not lifting her gaze from the floor. "Please forgive me."

"Nonsense. I have had my fill of her." He eased her to her feet. "Besides, why would I wish to spend time with a woman who will never be mine, when I can spend it with one who may?" He smiled puckishly at her flush. "I tease, I tease."

"It is not very nice to tease, Monsieur Aldric." She gave him a light, chiding mock-glare, keeping her hands securely clasped around his, all previous worries forgotten. "What if someone were to take you seriously? You would be in trouble!"

Aldric simply laughed merrily as he led her safely back through the dark.

'fourth chapter - first quarter'

To Be Continued...

And we reach the middling point of the story, as we've only until the full moon before all comes to an end. As this chapter was surprisingly easy to edit, the next chapter should be up sooner than I'd originally though, by the end of June or so (here's to hoping!).

That aside, for any mistakes, please feel free to correct any needed corrections or inconsistencies or anything of the sort (I would thank you for it, really). Well, in either case I would appreciate any reviews, of course, whether it's for praising, criticizing, etc... (pause) My excuse this chapter for spelling mistakes is that I used the fictionpress spell-checker this time about. I've never used it before and was rather disappointed... Honestly. 'with', 'secret' and 'mouth' are honest-to-god words. I promise. (sigh)

And, of course, once again, a gigantic 'THANK YOU' to Solemn Coyote for being (my only) an amazing reviewer. Praise is indeed warranted, since I always enjoy a good ego-boost, and I need nitpicky-ness (I miss the little things so very-very easily). And on a side-note, no... I've never watched 'The Others'... Recommend it?

However, that aside, I hope you will continue to read! Thank you so very-very much! (low bow)

yours sincerely,