darkness, he stood. His back to me, I watched him walk, into the
forest. Without hesitation I followed, picking up my skirts and
finding myself not caring that I wore no shoes. He was tall with
long, black, matted hair and torn clothes. But on his back were two
green wings. He wore trousers that no longer fit him, they were well
above his ankles and he wore no shoes either. I watched his feet as
they sunk into the wet earth. He would not stop for me, but I knew I
was shouting for him to slow down. "Tell me," I knew I was
saying, "tell me your name!" He spoke no words but I
heard a rumble of laughter from his chest. It filled the entire
darkness and surrounded me, taking hold of my heart and squeezing
very tightly. My feet stopped moving as I gasped for breath. I felt
myself struggling forward, trying to catch up to him, trying to touch
him, trying to discern just who he was. My body betrayed me. He
retreated out of sight in the forest. I moved forward at a snail's
pace but suddenly I was free. I was free because the scene had
changed. There I was, at Seven Dials, the slums of London. Up
ahead of me he stood, again, his back to me. People did not notice
him as he crept through the filth and the poverty, and I followed. We
seemed to be invisible to them, they did not stop me, nor did they
grope at the hem of my dress. But then I looked down at the people
sitting at my feet. There was Prince, eyes open, mouth agape, and I
leaned down. There was no breath, no pulse. Guilt-ridden and
disgusted I pulled back. Before me crouched the faerie-man. "Look,"
he spoke with a very deep voice. I did not see his face and yet he
pointed, back to Prince. "This is your doing, this is your
creation." I found myself trying to move backwards but I was
caught, caught in a spider-web. "Let yourself be consumed by
this..." Another laugh and he straightened up. His face
covered his hair and as he turned his face towards mine, I suddenly
knew that I did not want to know what he looked like, who he was. I
could not close my eyes, they were forced open. He continued to turn,
until I could see a pair of blood red lips...
He spoke no words but I heard a rumble of laughter from his chest. It filled the entire darkness and surrounded me, taking hold of my heart and squeezing very tightly. My feet stopped moving as I gasped for breath. I felt myself struggling forward, trying to catch up to him, trying to touch him, trying to discern just who he was. My body betrayed me. He retreated out of sight in the forest. I moved forward at a snail's pace but suddenly I was free. I was free because the scene had changed.
There I was, at Seven Dials, the slums of London. Up ahead of me he stood, again, his back to me. People did not notice him as he crept through the filth and the poverty, and I followed. We seemed to be invisible to them, they did not stop me, nor did they grope at the hem of my dress. But then I looked down at the people sitting at my feet. There was Prince, eyes open, mouth agape, and I leaned down. There was no breath, no pulse. Guilt-ridden and disgusted I pulled back. Before me crouched the faerie-man.
"Look," he spoke with a very deep voice. I did not see his face and yet he pointed, back to Prince. "This is your doing, this is your creation." I found myself trying to move backwards but I was caught, caught in a spider-web. "Let yourself be consumed by this..."
Another laugh and he straightened up. His face covered his hair and as he turned his face towards mine, I suddenly knew that I did not want to know what he looked like, who he was. I could not close my eyes, they were forced open. He continued to turn, until I could see a pair of blood red lips...
"Miss Brighton! Miss Brighton! Miss Faerie!"
The sound startled me awake and I instantly sat up. "Yes, yes?" I said quickly and looked to Jeannette, my ladies maid, who was standing at the foot of my bed looking very concerned. I took in a deep breath and surveyed the room. It was large with dark wood floors and white walls. It was not unlike the other home I'd had in London...the home where I'd lived with my mother and father...that was until my mother died and my father shipped me off to Northumberland to stay with a business associate of his, Mr. Charles Wainwright.
"You were screaming and moaning, miss. You seemed quite distraught." Her voice was thick with worry and I smiled. Something trickled from my hair down to my neck. I realized it was sweat. Repulsed, I quickly wiped it away.
Taking a deep breath, I looked to Jeannette. "Yes, I had a bad dream. Thank you for waking me. I think I shall um, dress myself today, if you don't mind. I shall call you if I need anything," I told her.
Jeannette curtsied. "Just remember, miss, tonight is your first appearance at Almack's. So I'll be dressing you for that." I nodded and she left me. With a groan, I lied back down on my bed. Not only was I still having that ridiculous nightmare, I had to go to Almack's tonight. Just yesterday I'd been presented at court in front of Prince-Regent George. Thankfully I had not done anything wrong (however the girl that was two behind me stumbled a bit on her curtsy, it was most embarassing) but I just did not feel like going to Almack's. A large building, Almack's was nothing more than a series of rooms where people talked, danced, gossiped, flirted...it was truly nothing different than my life at Deathcreeke.
Ah, Deathcreeke. I had gone there a mere girl who had just lost her mother. That was where I'd met Prince and Wren Morgenstern and their five relations. They were all a dangerous bunch, but not as dangerous as Charles Wainwright who technically still was my guardian. He'd taken me in under the pretense that he was doing my father a favor, however, it was a select few who knew the truth. He'd been madly in love with my mother and had turned into a desparate man when she'd died. I'd gone to him, unsuspecting that he was planning on killing me to make room for my mother's soul inside my body.
Oh, if I told anyone that, they'd think I was mad. But I knew the truth. The Wainwrights and the Morgensterns had dabbled in alchemy - a so-called science that was supposed to be obsolete. Quite the opposite was true, however. Alchemy was a dark art, and I'd been told that the Morgensterns had found a way to make the Philosopher's Stone, the thing that the alchemists most coveted. The legend went that the Philosopher's Stone was able to turn lead into gold, water into wine and give it's bearer everlasting life. This unfortunately, was untrue. The Philsopher's Stone was actually a person - in this case, the son of Charles Wainwright - and the properties of their blood made reanimation of dead humans possible. It was all too terrible to believe, and yet I had to.
For on the night of Alphonse Wainwright's eighteenth birthday, the properties in his blood had matured and he became able to bring back the dead. The process itself, was another horrifying experience that had only ended in tragedy. The Morgensterns were trained from birth to go into Niflheim, the frozen land of the dead, to bring back dead souls. On the night of Alphonse's birthday - called the Night of the Blood Moon because of how, exactly at midnight, the moon had turned blood red and a completley White Woman had come to scream to it - Charles had shot his wife, Lily Wainwright. And Prince Morgenstern had ventured into Niflheim to bring her soul back. He'd assured us that it would be nothing too terrible, but he'd never returned.
And Alphonse? My dear, beloved Alphonse? My one true love, my only light? He'd dissappeared after Charles Wainwright, who'd managed to escape the Night of the Blood Moon. He'd gone to seek Charles out, to kill him, to find him wherever he was...and he'd promised to come back to me, to marry me. That, that was in November, 1815. And it was now March, 1816 and I was seventeen now and Alphonse had not returned to me.
In my heart, I knew he had no intention to.
After I dragged myself out of bed, I chose a blue taffeta walking dress and dressed quickly and quietly. I was now officially a lady, but I'd felt like a lady for so long now, it did not matter. After finding out that my mother had been killed (albeit accidentally) by my father when she was going to tell me that she was not quite human, that she was, in fact, a faerie, a changeling, and after discovering the man that was my legal guardian had been planning to kill me and after letting my love run away from me with hatred and blackness in his heart and after being told it was my fault that Prince Morgenstern was trapped in Niflheim with no way to get out until Alphonse returned...after all that, I could not feel like a child. I just couldn't.
Lily Wainwright and I had departed Deathcreeke for London a day after her husband's faked funeral. We thought it would be easier for us if we told everyone he was dead - and by a miracle, everyone believed us. The months I'd spent in London then had been used for lessons. I'd learned how to curtsy, how to walk straight, how to dance more dances than I hoped I'd ever need, how to make witty and amiable conversation and how to be an all around charming and coy lady. Then of course, were my violin lessons.
Alphonse had played the violin. Before we met, he'd been hidden away in the North Wing of Deathcreeke Manor. But he'd played his violin and a particularly beautiful song and I had become curious about him. I wanted to know him. So I'd followed the sound. And now, now I learned to play in hopes that Alphonse, too, would follow the sound of my violin.
I dressed myself despondently, trying not to think about the nightmare. It was the same dream I'd had night after night now...and I always woke up at the same place. Right before I was to see the man's face. In my dream, I'd never wanted to see his face but now, now I did. For he was a question that I wanted the answer to. I'd seen him once before, in person, at Criewulf Estate, the ancestral home of the Morgenstern family. He'd walked along the moor and Glenn Morgenstern, a round cherub of a man, had pointed him out to me. Since then he'd been on my mind...but he was not the only thing I'd been thinking about.
In my free time I'd been doing all I could to learn more about the White Woman, the woman who had screamed at the red moon the night of Alphonse's birthday. So far, I'd uncovered very little, but I was diligent. I was also looking up anything I could on the nature of looking-glasses. I'd been left one in my old home by a mysterious benefactor. My father said that it had belonged to my mother and was given to her by her faerie parents. It was not a normal looking glass, I knew.
I lazily made my way down to the breakfast room where Lily was eating a crumpet with jam and butter. I took myself a croissant and some fruit and sat down with her. Words were not spoken, but we talked fairly little anyway. In each other's company, words were hardly needed. She finally looked up to me and smiled. "Oh, just wanted to make sure you knew, I received that book on the faeries of Ireland for you. There is much in there about the Seelie court, so hopefully you can find out a little bit more about that looking glass of yours," she told me. I couldn't help a sheepish grin.
"I have absolutely no idea what I'd do without you, Lily. Thank you."
Lily seemed pleased. "Well I know that it is hardly acceptable for an unmarried lady to go around wandering into bookstores by herself, so I thought I could be of some use." She tactfully skirted around the issue of Charles. Once upon a time, Charles had told me that Lily hated him. I, for one, did not believe this. I said nothing, however, for I did not wish to upset her.
The book might give me some clues about that looking-glass and that was the only thing that mattered to me right now. My mother was a changeling, meaning she had been switched with a human at birth, and when she'd become old enough, she'd realized she was not human and had gone looking for her birth parents. They were apparantely not hard to find. Her faerie parents belonged to the Seelie, or holy, court of faeries and were a lot less malevolent than the Unseelie, or unholy, court of faeries. The looking-glass had been a present to her from her parents.
And that was the how the day went on. I read more about the faeries of Ireland, finding all the history quite fascinating, and went to lessons. Just another quadrille had to be learned and then of course there was the art of fans...in the afternoon there was a hearty luncheon, more reading, more lessons, tea, more lessons, a light supper and then it was upstairs for me to get dressed. Jeannette helped me now but she said nothing to me of what she had heard that morning. For this, I was grateful.
By the time we'd left in our carriage for Almack's, I had made myself believe that I was excited to be plunging into the excitement of a london season. At the very least, I was truly excited to see my friends, especially Victoria Landry and Olive Abbott. They were both perfectly beautiful and had wealthy families - I knew they would receive marriage proposals by the handful. I had seen them yesterday at the presentation, but we had not had much time for chatter, especially since we'd stood far away from each other.
The carriage rattled through the cobblestone streets of London and I watched as Lily fixed a diamond ear-bob. She caught me watching her and smiled. "Your violin lessons, how are those going?" she asked.
Uncomfortably, I sighed. I looked out the window to the townhouses beyond and then looked back to Lily with what I knew was a pained face. Suddenly, I let out a deep breath and let it all come out, "terrible," I told her. "I'm awful. I sound like a dying cat!"
With a laugh, Lily crossed her ankles in a carriage. It was unfair that men could cross their knees but ladies had to cross their ankles. Ankle-crossing made my legs numb. "Do not despair. I'm sure you'll continue to improve. Why, it took Alphonse at least six months before he could even get out one note properly!" We laughed then, a laugh that wilted quickly. Talk of Charles was not permitted at all, and talk of Alphonse usually left us feeling down-hearted.
"I refuse to give up, though," I told her, "I was thinking once I'm good enough, I should have a recital. I know a few girls who might be interested." This thought had been intruding into my brain quite a lot lately. And while I told myself it was to show the world I was actually good at something, I knew it was really to try and catch Alphonse's attention. Wherever he was, maybe, just maybe, he'd hear news of a young girl who played brilliantly on a pure white violin...
Silly daydreams of Alphonse coming back on his noble steed to rescue me soon were dashed, however. We had made it to Almack's. The buzz around the building was quite large...carriages lined the streets thickly and they would still be letting people in for another two hours. Lily straightened her shoulders, leaned over and picked an invisible speck of dust off my dress. "There, you are perfect." Her words were nervous. She was worried about me.
"Honestly, Lily, you musn't worry so much! I shall be all right," I told her, laughter in my throat.
With a furrowed brow, Lily inspected me one last time. "Oh yes, I know...it's just that...I've never had to worry about a young girl's season before! And honestly, I never thought I'd need to."
I smiled. "You are doing a wonderful job, Lily," I told her. "My mother would be proud." With a smile, I added, "actually, I think my mother would be ecstatic. She always wanted me to have a season but was never too interested in you know, the work part of it."
The door to the carriage opened and we were helped out by a powdered footman. "Yes, a flighty sort of thing, your mother was," mused Lily. She then turned to me. "You know, I hate to thrust this upon you now, but there were so many dissaprovals of your not attending parish up in Huntsville. I think it might be in your best interest if you were to-"
"Oh yes, yes, yes I know," I sighed. "I was going to tell you that I planned on attending Church. The season is important, I must get a husband. And if Isaac Ewanthorpe's reaction to my not attending Church is any indication of what other eligable young men might think...well I'd much rather just attend Church and keep my head down." Isaac Ewanthorpe had been a sort of beastly young man I'd well...used to get a journal that talked about the Blood Moon from him. He thought I honestly liked him and was appalled when he found out that I did not attend church. However, that also could have been due to the fact that he was an apprentice at the parish in Huntsville. But he'd said he planned on marrying me! How awful!
Thankfully, I'd been informed by Victoria that he was not coming to London for at least two more years and that I had nothing to worry about in the meantime.
Speaking of...in the crowd I saw Victoria with her parents going into Almack's. She looked over and I raised my hand. She quickly aknowledged me and whispered something to her mother. Her mother looked over and waved jovially to Lily and I. They entered before us and I smiled. It would my turn soon...my first night as a true lady. I would accomplish everything a lady should. I would be poised, graceful and beautiful. I would not speak my mind or my heart, I would discuss nothing of actual interest. I would catch a suitable husband. Once I'd been naive and thought that I would marry no one that I didn't love. Now I understood.
I could not afford to be so foolish. I had no parents, no money and my only guardian was a widowed woman. I had to marry quickly and marry well, and for that, I must use all my little arts to secure a proper husband. Not only that, but I was through with love. Love blinded, love made you idiotic, love broke everything inside you. I'd loved once and it was once more than I wished now.
So as Lily and I entered Almack's and I waited to be introduced, I held my head high and made sure all my buried fears, guilts and losses were tucked away inside of me. This was my path. This was the true path of a lady.