A/N: Here we have a bit more length :) Thanks for reviewing, iPods-rock! Feedback always much appreciated.

I perched awkwardly upon the uncomfortable chair placed in front of my employer's imposing desk. This certainly was a change, I thought. I had never been given a task such as this...

'You...wish me to write the biography of a dying man?' I repeated, feeling a little unsettled even by merely mentioning it.

Mr Fulchester's voluminous moustache twitched in assent. 'Indeed, Miss Brookley - a most singular case,' he replied. 'The man is a particularly eminent figure of his class, and he wishes to dictate the events of his life to a willing scribe.'

I could not answer. All I could do was watch him with wide eyes, shocked as I was at the nature of my next piece of work. My silence went unheeded; Mr Fulchester shuffled a few papers upon his desk, and then continued: 'I presumed that you would be very much up to the task, Miss Brookley: you are a promising writer already, and I deemed it excellent practice for you to write the biography of this gentleman. Experience is a noteworthy quality for an up-and-coming young woman like yourself, which is why you are to leave for Rookfield Manor in no less than two days.' A grave look shifted those bushy eyebrows of his, and he ran a thumb pensively through his luxuriant side-whiskers. 'In this case time is, after all, of the essence.'

I was slowly beginning to grasp the sheer importance of my newest task. Already I was succumbing to the first tremors of horror and sympathy. 'Might I ask...who this gentleman is, sir?' I asked in a quiet voice.

'He is the owner of the Rookfield estate some way north from here, and I believe his name is Mr Edward Harlock. As to his situation - well, a tragic affair, really,' Mr Fulchester commented rather dispassionately, smartly stacking papers. 'Apparently a fire broke out in the gentleman's summer home and consumed it entirely, including his poor wife. The man himself was grievously injured in the blaze, and his burns are so severe that he shall, with much certitude, never walk again. His wounds are deep and serious - his days are numbered.'

My body was frozen, my heart leaping as if suddenly seized by an icy hand. 'H-Harlock, did you say?' I whispered.

'Are you acquainted?' he asked, greatly lacking in interest.

I looked out of the heavily curtained window, my gaze shocked. 'In a manner - very distantly,' I replied softly. 'When I was a very small girl...'

'Well, then you shall save many precious minutes introducing yourselves,' Mr Fulchester remarked thoughtlessly. My lips tightened in shock, but I did not voice my indignation at his callous reply; he was, after all, my superior. 'Good day then, Miss Brookley.'

'Good day, sir,' I answered, slightly coldly, and left the room.

The moment I was in my home, I turned around and leaned heavily against the door. Mr Harlock...Mr Harlock! Oh, of course I was acquainted with him! At least, I had been, many, many years ago...

I had first met Mr Edward Harlock when I had been but a small child; I was perhaps no more than nine years old at the time of our meeting. Even though I was now a full-grown young woman of five-and-twenty, I still recalled with perfect clarity the way he had appeared to me then.

I remembered him as a tremendously tall man with long, thin legs, whose distinguished lean frame gave him a rather elegant and graceful allure. He was always excellent company for whomever chose to converse with him, and was greatly admired by all the menfolk in our village.

At that time, Mr Harlock must have been somewhere in his mid-twenties, but his youth had only accentuated in a lively way the gentlemanly manners he possessed. He was greatly admired by all - especially by the women. They all adored his ways, as in addition to his elegance he was a rather comely man as well. Some of the less gallant, younger men envied him and his easy charm - not to mention his large family fortune - but none of this had seemed to vex Edward Harlock in any way.

I recalled peeping at a party around the drawing-room door one night in a bout of secret rebellion when I was a child; I had been so enthralled by the rich collection of powdered, corseted ladies and smart, haughty gentlemen milling about together. Presently my eyes were drawn towards the centre of the congregation - to Mr Harlock himself. He talked so easily with everybody, his voice so vibrant and smooth and melodic that I could do little else but stand there and watch him. For several minutes I had drank in his velvety speech, the shine of his teeth and the grace in his gestures, before I slowly began to tire.

However, no sooner had I turned away from the gathering and tiptoed halfway back across the hall to return upstairs to my chamber, than I heard the soft, amused clearing of a throat behind me. I spun around, and came face to face with Mr Harlock himself, standing in the doorway. I had obviously been so engrossed in the sight of the adults paying such attention to his words, that I had not noticed him catch sight of my face peeping curiously around the door. I blushed, fearing that he would scold me or inform my parents, but when I had softly squeaked that I would be retiring back to bed immediately and would be grateful if he did not tell my Papa, he had only chuckled. With the warm light behind him, his dark hair glowed and his grey eyes glimmered with humour in the semi-gloom, and to my surprise he winked at me.

'If you go quietly to your bed now, Miss Rose, I promise you I shall speak nothing of it,' he told me in a conspiratorial tone.

That was the last I saw of him; after that, he had apparently embarked upon various exciting travels across the world, and had eventually disappeared from the local gossiping altogether. I had always distantly hoped that I would have a chance to learn what had become of him; however, I had never dreamed that it would ever be in this terrible, sad way...

Sighing, I made my way up to my bedroom, knowing with a heavy heart that I would do best to begin packing immediately. Inside, I was torn between horror, sadness and fright...half of me wished for this task I had been given to be taken up by someone else. It would be so very painful, to see Mr Harlock broken and dying - I would have wanted to remember him as I had when I was a child: tall, strong, lively...not like he was now.

I sat down upon my bed, putting my head in my hands. The poor man...even though I did not know him well, I still felt sick to the stomach at the thought of him being in such a terrible condition. How on earth could I face him...

Abruptly, I realised what I was thinking, and began to feel rather guilty. It would be awful of me to decline this opportunity, to refuse a final meeting with the man! I couldn't possibly pass up this chance - I would live to regret it if I did. Besides, I needed to be thankful for having been given this task to do; at least I would know to be kind and gentle with poor Mr Harlock, and take things at his own pace...

Trying to regain a semblance of strength, I got to my feet and took a few breaths to calm myself, before setting about deciding what to bring with me. Keeping myself busy served to alleviate some of the nervous fear, but nonetheless I could not prevent a sense of great trepidation stealing over me, as if something ominous and dark was drawing closer with every hour...

(C) 2010 GNW