Author: Babiidoll PM
Sort of my version of Beauty and the Beast. Better summary to come, if there's any interest in the story. Please R&R.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance - Words: 2,560 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 02-03-12 - Published: 11-24-10 - id: 2867621
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Allison Spence shifted the firewood from her arms into her apron and reached over to turn the lock on the door of her family's cottage. She quickly pulled her hand back as a log threatened to topple to the ground, and she kicked her foot out to keep the door from slamming shut before she could enter the house. A fire crackled in the hearth, where a pot of thick stew was boiling. She released her hold on the corners of her apron, allowing the tinder to fall into a basket near the stove.
She looked around the quiet room, noting how lonesome the house felt. At one time, she would have described how warm and cozy the snug house was. The only word she could think of to describe the room now was desolate. Even the large oak chair that was situated by the fireside was vacant, which meant that her father must still be at his desk tidying the ledgers for his store.
Brushing the dirt and twigs from the front of her dress, she moved down the hall to find her father. From the way the pot over the fire was bubbling, she knew that their dinner was ready to enjoy. The door to father's room was closed, just as it always was in the months since illnesses had plagued her mother's body. Her father said that he had business to attend to, though she knew all too well how he tried nightly to drown his sorrows behind the thick wooden door.
Allison brought her hand up to knock before entering, but hearing another gentleman's voice from the other side stopped her knuckles just short of rapping against the wood. Instead, she pressed her ear to the wall in hopes of discerning the identity of her father's visitor. Odd, there wasn't a carriage outside the house, she thought to herself as she listened.
"No! Please, anything but that! I will pay all of the money back! The store is doing well now. I can repay the debt in full! Just please, don't take her." Allison's father cried. She couldn't remember the last time he had spoken with such desperation, with such emotion. She supposed it had to have been as their family had come to terms of her mother's declining health. He now tried to hide behind an impassive mask that he believed no one could see through.
The sound of flesh striking wood caused her to jump, and she presumed that the sound was that of a fist hitting the table near the window. "Do not think that you can change the terms now. We had an agreement. I will not allow you to go back on your word. She's mine now." The man's voice was dark and commanding.
She heard the thud of knees hitting the rush strewn earthen floor, cringing at the thought of the pain this would have caused her father. "I'll pay you back, twice over."
"She's the only payment I require. Ready her things so we can be off." The man said, his tone brooking no further discussion.
Without warning, the door opened, sending Allison sprawling onto the floor. A pair of worn, dark brown boots rested just before her face. She lifted her gaze, taking in the man's shapely, stocking clad legs, to his black breeches, then the black velvet doublet slashed with crimson. She quickly recovered herself, picking herself up from the floor and dusting her skirts off.
Her cheeks burnt from the embarrassment of having been caught listening to the discussion, as well as falling at the man's feet, she tried to calm her nerves before looking the man in the face. Once their eyes met, she wished that she would have simple kept her gaze downcast, but knew it was too late. His eyes were a deep blue that pulled her into their depths. Instead of breaking eye contact as another might do, the man continued to stare at her in a decidedly fascinated way. She wanted to look away from his eyes, for the intensity of his attention was unsettling, but try as she might she could not seem to break the hold he had upon her.
Allison felt the warmth of a hand encircling her upper arm and looked away, breaking whatever spell had been cast by the man's strange eyes. She looked over to her father, whose forlorn expression worried her. The hand upon her arm trembled slightly, and she turned to fully face him. "Faither, what is wrong?" She asked quietly.
He shook his head, closing his eyes as if in doing so he might be able to close out whatever grim reality he was aware of. The man was the one to breech the silence that ensued. "Ach, just the lass we were in search of."
Her father cleared his throat. "Ah, yes Allison. You remember me telling you of my old friend's, the Caladar's?"
She eyed the man skeptically, having been told of her father's friends, the Caladar's, many times. But from his stories, she knew the man before her couldn't possibly be the one her father had spoken of, for he was too young to have been a friend of her father's since he was a young lad. She nodded slightly, knowing that her face still held a guarded look about it.
The man extended his hand, and she automatically did what was expected and gave him her own. He lightly brushed his lips against her knuckles. "Bhaltair Caladar, at your service." He said in a deep voice, looking up at her.
She couldn't help the blush that crept into her cheeks. "Allison Spence, m'lord." She said, giving a small curtsey. She was acutely aware of how rough the wool of her dress was, and the how the green dye had faded. She wished that she had known they would have company, she would have changed out of her work clothes and into one of her silk gowns.
"You are more beautiful than I had been told." He said with a smile. To her father, he gave an arch of the eyebrows and a tilt of his head.
"At the very least, let us spend this time together?" Her father asked in a thin voice.
The man, Bhaltair, conceded, and her father drew her down the hall and into her room. Once there, he pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. He let go of her then, and began taking her things and shoving them into her wooden chest. Her brow furrowed. "What is this for?" She inquired.
He looked at her sadly, opening his mouth to speak and then quickly snapping it shut. Whatever he had been about to say, he now swallowed down. "You are to reside at the Iron Palace."
It took Allison a moment to find her voice. What was her father talking about, that she was to reside there? "Why?"
Thought she could still detect his unhappiness, the set of his shoulders as he rose told her that he had accepted whatever the reason was. "You were promised to them." He said simply, as if that answered anything.
She shook her head, crossing her arms across her chest. No, her place was here, helping her father with the store and running the house. And her mother needed her. Who would be there for her mother when her father had been in his cups since the sun was high within the sky? "No, I cannot."
He gave her a stern look. "You can, and you will. I don't relish the idea any more than you do, but an oath is an oath. And the Caladar's are not one's to allow a promise to remain unfulfilled. You will travel with Bhaltair this eve, and be at the Iron Palace on the morrow."
"What of you? Of Mother?" She asked, tears stingy her eyes. She dug her nails into the palms of her hands, willing herself to quell the anger that rose within her.
He glanced over to her as he threw the top of the chest down with an audible thud. "Your mother is getting stronger with each passing day." He pulled the leather straps tight on the chest, using the brass buckles and clasps to ensure that it would not pop open on their journey.
"She's dying, Father." She said quietly, willing him to look at her.
"She will live. Get dressed." He said, throwing a pale blue silk gown at her. He hoisted the large chest onto his shoulder and carried it out into the yard, where a large black carriage awaited. Bhaltair was leaning against the side of it, one knee bent to where his foot rested upon one giant wheel. She quickly closed the door and did as she was bid before meeting them outside.
Her face burned from anger rather than embarrassment now. Bhaltair strode forward, taking the chest from her father and fastening it to the carriage. He opened the door for Allison himself, sweeping into a bow. She gave her father one last pleading look, and then took the man's proffered hand and stepped into the coach. He stepped in after her and shut the door tightly before tapping on the roof. The driver moved the horses forward.
The seats were cushioned in scarlet, and were padded so thickly that the jostling of the carriage didn't bother as it would have in her father's wagon. She pulled the curtain from the window, watching as the hills and trees of her home rushed past her. Her eyes stung, and she bit her lip to keep the tears from spilling over. Would she ever see this land again? Would she ever make the trips down to the stream to fill the buckets with cool, fresh water? Would she ever walk the lane into town, to stand behind the smooth counter at her father's store, or help him to stock the shelves with vials of imported oils or jars of dried herbs?
"Don't fret, my lady." Bhaltair said over her shoulder.
She whirled around, not having noticed he had come to sit by her side on the seat. "I am fine." She said in a quiet voice.
He shook his head. "The Iron Palace, it isn't so bad. You will have servants to bring you water for your bath, to dress your hair for you. And there are gardens where you can walk and smell the blooming roses and sample the first fruits of the apple and pear trees."
"I am not a child that I need help dressing, and I had flowers and fruit trees around my home as well." She replied.
He nodded and looked away, the thick muscles in his neck tightening. She immediately regretted her hateful reply. "I am sorry…" She began.
He held up and hand and gave a small smile. "No, don't. I fear I would be upset as well if I was being taken to unfamiliar house to live, and without warning or explanation. It is I who should beg your pardon."
She didn't know what to say to that, so Allison turned and looked out the window again. The sun was setting now, dusk settling in and dimming the view. She watched as they went deeper into the woods, leaving her home behind them. "Tell me about it?" She asked her companion.
He exhaled and settled himself against the cushions. "Well, it is very large, with a great curtained wall and a moat dug around. It is a dark grey, looks like iron, hence the name. The palace within the wall is quite grand, with winding tunnels and great halls and enough rooms that you could get lost for days if you turned down the wrong hall. We have a large flower garden, and plenty of fruit trees and a vegetable garden as well."
"Is there one for herbs as well?" She asked him. She had always enjoyed keeping the herb garden with her mother.
He shook his head. "Not a very good one, I'm afraid. Though if you wanted it improved upon, that can be arranged."
She nodded. "I would like that very much." Allison looked at him for a moment, and he did the same, curiosity in his eyes. "So why am I being taken to your palace?"
He sat forward and took one of her hands in his own large ones. She thought of pulling away, but thought better of it. "I won't lie to you." He told her, looked at her from the dark hair that had fallen in front of his eyes. "My father and yours, they made an oath of sorts. My father offered to help your mother. In exchange, you were promised to one of his sons."
She nodded, having already guessed as much. "And who is my betrothed?" Allison heard herself ask, despite her nervousness.
He stroked her hand gently, watching as his thumb smoothed across the skin. After a moment, he lifted his gaze. "I am not sure."
She shook her head in disbelief. Did he take her for a fool? She pulled her hand from his and scooted away from him. "I thought you wouldn't lie to me." Her voice stung with the accusation.
He moved towards her. "And I won't. I am unsure who you are to wed; my father has said you will decide."
She wasn't sure if she should trust him or not, for it wasn't customary to allow the women her choice. "Why would he allow that?"
He shrugged. "Honor? I am not sure. He believes that it is the least he can do after how difficult this must be for you."
She narrowed her eyes. "Arranged marriages happen every day. Why should your father care for my feelings?"
"Lady Allison, I do not know. I tell you the truth. My father allowed me to be the one to bring you back, in hopes that you might choose me. I am his heir, which would make you the lady of the keep one day."
She shook her head. "I still don't understand. I am just the daughter of a shopkeeper, a commoner."
"You and your family may live as commoners now, but your mother came from a very old, strong bloodline. That carries a lot a weight, regardless of your current standings. My father, he keeps to the old ways. This is his wish."
Their conversation died down, with only the sounds of horse hooves beating against the cobblestone road as they neared the town being the only sound that filled the silence. Allison rubbed her hands together nervously as the palace rose up before them.
"Welcome to your new home." She heard her companion say.
She swallowed down her uneasiness as the carriage rolled down the streets, making its way to its destination. She would be strong; it wouldn't do to show weakness in a place like this. She steeled herself with the knowledge that she had her own choice in her fate, as small a concession as it was.